Q&A: Public Enemy's Chuck D
Chuck D is one of the true icons of the hip-hop world -- and music in general. Ever the rebel, the Public Enemy founder was one of the first major artists to embrace the Internet as a distribution medChuck D is one of the true icons of the hip-hop world -- and music in general. Ever the rebel, the Public Enemy founder was one of the first major artists to embrace the Internet as a distribution medium.
In 1999, he released P.E.'s album "There's a Poison Goin' On" on the Internet before it was made available in stores. Soon after he launched the multi-format Web site Rapstation.com -- a hip-hop community site featuring streaming TV, radio, downloads and more -- and the Internet radio station Bringthenoise.com.
He's since eschewed major label involvement, instead operating his own Slam Jamz label. He recently expanded his digital interests to include the mobile space with Chuck D Mobile and Chuck D Mobile All Stars.
He's also been a vocal critic of the state of hip-hip music, routinely criticizing the misogynistic lyrics and materialistic thug lifestyle that largely define the genre today.
A frequent public speaker, Chuck D has discussed these ideas on many stages worldwide, most recently at Billboard's MECCA mobile entertainment conference. Here are highlights of his question-and-answer session with Billboard's Tamara Conniff at that event:
As a musician, how did you get so involved in with the Internet and now mobile?
I got involved in the Internet world simply because I was tired of taking content and delivering it to a small table full of middle people who had the judgment call on the content. If you got a mass market out there, and people making something for it, why are these middle people stopping it based on the marketing concerns of their company? Mobile is the next realm of that. People have these antennas in their pocket as an extension of themselves, and that's a good thing.
How is music over mobile different than music over the Internet?
First, you can carry it with you. You keep it, personalize it. It's interactive programming. Chuck D Mobile is an extension of some of the roads that I wanted to pave years ago, of taking content and bringing it to the masses and trying to make people not just consumers, but participants. For artists with an established profile-who previously had to rely on television, radio and traditional forms of media to get across to the public-now have this new beautiful world to get their art to the masses.
So digital and mobile technology puts more power in the hands of the artist and less than the record label?
I think there has to be a balance between the business people and also the content creative people and that combination could make a healthy industry for all. But maybe that's not capitalism.
One thing that still lasts is that people want to be entertained. They want to be able to communicate with their loved ones and maybe communicate with someone they admire as an artist. Or maybe some people have something inside them that they want to communicate to the rest of the world that they didn't have the chance to before. Before the Internet, singing without a record contract was singing in the bathroom to themselves. Now with the Internet and the mobile space, all my friends can actually hear me and see me.
Is mobile a platform where an unknown artist can gain attention, fans and exposure?
Most definitely. It depends on if the artist can do all those things necessary to make it people love your art and then using this new delivery system as an asset to what they're already doing.
How does all this affect the end the music?
We try to offer that counterbalance of artists that are not trying to deliver their art based on someone else's bottom line. We're in a society where the bottom line of so-called hip-hop is how much bling and ho's and pimps you got going on. I don't think that balance is going to come from TV or radio. They're not there for balance, they're there to try to take something they think is hot, then boost it so they can get to that bottom line. It could be caviar or dog food.
We're trying to put something out there via an avenue that can put that diversity out there. It can't compete with TV and radio as we know it today. But here's a platform where you can still do what you do, and maybe reach more people, even internationally.
Is that why urban music has such a strong hold on the mobile channel?
The urban market is strong because it's immediate. The phone's immediate. The signal's immediate. Out of 30 radio stations maybe there's one urban station. So whenever doors are closed to you, you're going to come out in all these different areas of dominance, or perceived dominance.
So what does all this mean for the future of hip-hop or music in general?
I think that the mobile world can bring it back to a focal point so that a lot of people can continue in the art form to make a steady living based on delivery to the rest of the world. I've made a living, not a killing, but a living over the last 25 years as an artist. Those two sides of business are diametrically opposed-making a living and making a killing. If you have people making a killing nobody else can make a living. That's cultural strip mining. I think for all the profile that hip-hop has, it will have to take new diverse avenues to have records that can last in the long-term and not just disposable in-and-out hits.
How do you feel about the way hip-hop is marketed?
I think it's terrible. The minute they figured out urban music would be the bottom line for the major record companies, it was the beginning of the end for real artists. Artist development has been thrown out the window. Therefore it brings diminishing returns. Somebody might sell a lot of records, but the audience is less awestruck because of the lack of development. They think they could do better than the person on stage, and that's a problem. Artists have to be able to raise their standing and leave the crowd awestruck.
What worries you, and what turns you on?
People not only don't understand technology, but they don't understand the news and they don't understand the difference between cultures. So they wait for a delivery system to inform them and prepare them for their day. I think that's something to be concerned about.
What turns me on is that we can communicate across the waters and across the borders. The communication of human beings on this planet no matter where you're at is important and I think that's a step in the right direction, and art has always been the universal language.