I know you got soul…

Chuck D at Metro in Chicago
Chuck D at Metro in Chicago

by Leila Wills

Chuck D, the iconic legend and leader of Public Enemy, was this year’s Louder Than A Bomb’s (LTAB) special guest. March 18th, part of the month long youth poetry festival hosted by Young Chicago Authors, featured a discussion and performance by Chuck D at the Metro nightclub. He was joined onstage by his wife, Professor Gaye Johnson and LTAB’s Jamila Woods.

Chuck began making records in the eighties and became one of the most prolific voices in rap. Heavy bass, hard beats, controversial lyrics and the tenor voice of Flavor Flav playing against Chuck’s deep tone all worked to make Public Enemy an incomparable rap group with worldwide respect.

In Chicago, during the protests against Rahm Emanuel and Anita Alvarez, Public Enemy’s song, “Shut ‘Em Down” became the official theme song.

Chuck, now 56, said that at this stage of his career, his primary area is service to the people and service to other artists. Rapstation, his online radio station, is Chuck’s “baby,” and he uses it to promote artists who do not get radio airplay. There is also Spit Digital where he and other successful artists develop new talent and provide tools on how artists can be their own record label and distribute their own music.

In an interview with LTAB’s Kevin Coval at Metro, here’s some of what he said about the state of music:

“Well, it’s [self-distribution] necessary because radio is garbage. I’ll tell you how garbage radio is…it’s the next movement in Shut ‘Em Down. Shutting down what doesn’t support you. All the artists who have been in Chicago for the longest should have been supported by Chicago and northern Illinois media.

Louder Than A Bomb's Kevin Coval interviews Chuck D
Louder Than A Bomb’s Kevin Coval interviews Chuck D

“When you hear artists on the radio that aren’t even from the city all day long, and who aren’t even going to visit the city, it doesn’t make any sense. You got people who live here and want to make a living where they live so Chicago radio stations should be supporting Chicago’s local talent.

“You should be hearing Chicago talent 85% of the time and everybody else 15% of the time. So if you want to start a movement of shutting something down, shut down your radio station until they support. You can easily do it.

“I give a salute to everybody that stopped Trump in Chicago…stop your bullshit radio stations. Stop them from going to work for a day. If you do that you’ll make news around the world because every local artist needs to be heard in their local area because that’s where they should make a living and that’s where they should do their art and get work.

“You ask me where my mind is for 2016, it ain’t about the national artist, it’s about the local artist who needs to get fed in their hometown.

Chuck D and his wife, Professor Gaye Johnson
Chuck D and his wife, Professor Gaye Johnson

“Growing up in the sixties, in the house was Chicago’s own Curtis Mayfield, Mavis Staples and the Staples Singers, Chicago’s own Maurice White and Earth, Wind and Fire. Chicago’s own exposed us to music because artists were like family members. Chicago’s own, the late, great Don Cornelius started Soul Train and was also a DJ on V.O.N., which stood for Voice of the Negro.

“All this black music that came across was invited like they were aunts and uncles because what they were saying in their music was welcome and what they were saying in their music never hurt the family, it only enhanced the family. So every single artist that came through whether through a “Chi” artist or Motown or Soul Train, their music actually enhanced us as a people as much as Ebony and Jet…also from Chicago. These were like relatives when they [parents] played the records.

“If you just study the past music here, you’ll know the future of music. Culture is the thing that ties us as human beings together and knocks the differences aside. That’s why in this country they don’t allow us to learn culture because culture is the truth.

Louder Than A Bomb's Associate Art Director, Jamila Woods
Louder Than A Bomb’s Associate Art Director, Jamila Woods

“I’ve been to 104 countries. Countries around the world are realizing that music and art is the thing that is going to progress their societies. They’re smaller countries and they’re stealth and they’re going to the future faster because they know art is important. This country does not realize that the arts are the blood of the society.”