The leader of Public Enemy, fathers of political hip hop, reflects on the burning racial conflict, Donald Trump and the urgency to prevent his re-election
In March 1989, a racist group shot dead a 16-year-old black teenager in Brooklyn. In April, five other young African Americans were arrested and convicted of raping and beating a woman in Central Park. The press portrayed them as a “pack of wolves”, although more than 20 years later it would be shown that all the procedural rights of innocent boys had been trampled. In June 1989, Fight the Power, the preview of the third album Public Enemy, one of the most precise and danceable allegations against the sources of structural racism in the US. The song that Spike Lee chose to reach the climax and detonate all the fury of his film Do what you have to, the other milestone of black culture in that turbulent year.
More than three decades later, the wheel has turned again in another tragic spring on the streets of the US In May, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black citizen, was killed by police after a brutal arrest in Houston. The fuse of the racial conflict was burning again with a wave of protests that, while crossing borders, precipitating police reforms and demolishing colonial monuments, has also been rescuing other symbols that gave meaning and energy to the demands for equality and justice. And through those cracks it sneaked back Fight the Power with slogans in his handwriting such as: “Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me. A racist is what he was. Fuck him and John Wayne, because I’m black and I’m proud. ” Like a kind of soundtrack to rage, that first single of the prophetic Fear of a Black Planet It has been one of the songs with the highest increase in listenership on the platforms of streaming during these months.
“It’s a song that spoke directly to power, and continues to do so at a time like this. 30 years is a long time for culture, but not so long for real life. We must continue working to eradicate social diseases such as racism, sexism, or fascism ”, says by video call from New York, Chuck D (60 years old), founder, composer and indisputable leader of Public Enemy, responsible for changing ethics and hip-hop aesthetic. From rapping about the neighborhood and the battles of egos, to explicit political consciousness; from taking one or two borrowed rhythms per song, to overdrive samples —Only within Fight The Power there are more than 20—, phrases and sounds of other music in a formidable beat mixer.
On their latest album, released this summer, they continue with the same thing. What you gonna do when the grid goes down (What are you going to do when the power grid doesn’t go down? A message boomer to the fetishization of digital activism) is above all a love letter to the golden age of hip-hop. Productions boom-bap, the onomatopoeia of the square sound of the bass drum –boom– and the crispy box –bap-, and a pilgrimage of collaborations of classic big names: Beastie Boys, Run-DMC, Ice-T, Nas, DJ Premier. On the disc, there is also a new version of Fight The power, with rhymes adapted to the times of the Black Lives Matter.
“The name Black Lives Matter may be relatively new but in reality the movement against white supremacy has been in the US for a long time,” emphasizes Carlton Ridenhour, the rapper’s real name, to remind us that he has been in this for many years. During his college days, he combined his graphic design career with non-regulated studies in African American culture and history. Meanwhile, he was witnessing how his neighborhood, a suburb of Long Island, southern New York, suddenly began to change. The houses of popular black families were replaced by golf courses and country clubs, which in turn raised the price of houses and drove out more African American families. “Gentrification and real estate speculation is at the origin of hip hop. Robert Moses (a powerful real estate mogul) destroyed the Bronx in the 1970s and that caused young black and mixed race people to rebel through music. By the way, Trump has followed the same steps as Moses. “
“You know Donald Trump well.”
“Sure, he’s spent his whole life here in New York, like me.” In the eighties he became a celebrity of the real estate boom, a success based on taking advantage of the most humble people and crushing their rights. And nothing happens, because blacks are almost never homeowners and can kick them out of their homes whenever they want.
“What do you think of your policy?”
– His way of doing politics is very similar to his way of doing the real estate business. From downtown New York he has been twisting the hand to the rest of the country with the same gambling tricks with marked cards. A person like Trump involved in politics is the most dangerous thing that could happen to us.
—What would be the consequence of a Trump reelection?
“Fascism.” This is not the time to stay home. Trump is fascism.
– How do you understand that there are African Americans who vote and support you?