Chuck D visited the main branch of Akron’s public library last week as part of its excellent series of free lectures. The introduction described his hip-hop squad, Public Enemy, as “arguably the most important rap group in history.” PE brought combined intellectual substance, militant style, and dense, sampled-based funk in tunes like “Bring the Noise.”
Behind a podium, Chuck presided as a true master of ceremonies, letting a capacity crowd know that he was there to “untwist some minds” and talk about three topics: rap, race, and reality. He started off by saying it wouldn’t be a lecture, instead preferring to call it “a conversation.”
“I’m the black Charles Kurault,” he announced in a booming voice that filled the near-capacity auditorium even when he accidentally turned off the mic. Chuck spoke for over two hours, then answered questions and signed books in the lobby.
The Quotable Chuck D, Part One: RapActive in hip-hop since 1976, Chuck recalled his early thoughts on the possibility of a rap record: “I thought a rap record was inconceivable. Inconceivable, because how’ you gonna put a whole party on a record?”
Definition of hip-hop: “Hip-hop is the definition for black creativity since the middle of the 70s, when it was spawned in the Bronx.”
On hip-hop as a cultural ghetto: “Hip-hop has turned into a bachelor pad that hasn’t been cleaned in a long time.”
On Snoop Dogg, a rapper turned mogul, who splits his time between producing porn and coaching a youth football team: “This is my thing about Snoop: You’ve got porn here, and you’ve got little league teams here. Yo, dawg: Make up your mind.”
On NWA, who set new standards for explicit rap in the late 80s: “The success of NWA was just rehashing old funk records that New York wouldn’t play, with crazy curses on it.”
On NWA’s superstar lineup: “[Ice] Cube is like a little brother to me. He was the only one that had any sense of the bunch.”
On NWA’s second album, 1990’s Niggaz4life, a landmark in shock content, which included violence, misogyny, and talkin’ loud without sayin’ nothin’: “Niggaz4life was a step down from [1998’s hip-hop classic] Straight Outta Compton. I thought it was a whack album. [The over-the-top subject matter] became like a white dude’s fantasy. I liked what [departed key lyricist] Ice Cube was doing better.”
On the music industry: “The music business is deader than dead. People talk about [hip-hop moguls] Russell Simmons and Jay-Z and how they’re worth $250 million; they didn’t make their money selling records – they made it selling clothes.”
On approaching music as a career choice: “Making music, money should not enter the equation. Do what you do, and do it well, and a financial conversation will find you.”
On Jay-Z’s approach to worldwide philanthropy and activism: “Jay-Z goes to Africa, and you do a wave-by, like you’re Kennedy? Get your ass out there with the people.”
On Ohio’s contribution to rap: “Ohio rap never gets acknowledged in hip-hop. They invented the freestyle here – [pioneers like] Chill, Bingo, my man Johnny O.”
On hip-hop culture following the ascension of gun culture and thug life: “We’re in a zone of anti-intellectualism and dumb-ass-ification. Rap music looks the same, but like a lobotomy – they took the brain out.”
On Black Entertainment Television: “B.E.T. – Booty En’ Thug TV.”
On Flavor Flav, once the slapsticky yin to Chuck’s politically stern yang in Public Enemy, lately better known as the star of The Flavor of Love, which some see as a new low in the presentation of black culture: “Y’all seen my partner Flavor Flav on TV… This is the same Flavor Flav. He ain’t never changed. People are surprised he’s not a black revolutionary: He wears a clock, and he’s 48. I’m not amazed at Flavor; I’m amazed at America.” – D.X. Ferris
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