Next April, Public Enemy will become the fourth hip hop act to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Right now, however, Chuck D is extremely frustrated. He just wrapped a grueling cross-country Hip Hop Gods tour featuring Public Enemy, X-Clan, Monie Love, Schoolly D, Leaders of the New School and Awesome Dre, and he feels it didn't receive enough attention.
"I'm perturbed at the major media for not covering us," he says. "You didn't hear about any tours over the last 10 years that weren't Eminem or Rick Ross or Dre or Jay-Z or Kanye. The media was licking their ass, but we did quite well across the country and got no attention."
Older rap acts are often called "old school," but Chuck D thinks they need to be rebranded. "We created another genre called 'classic rap,'" he says. "I was inspired by the classic rock radio of the Seventies. They separated Chuck Berry and the Beatles from the Led Zeppelins and Bostons and Peter Framptons of the time. In many ways, classic rock became bigger than mainstream rock."
He also drew inspiration from an unlikely source. "I turned on the TV and saw Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus still golfing," he says. "I'm like, 'I thought they were retired.' Someone was like, 'Nah, that's the senior circuit.' The same thing can be happening in hip-hop. To confuse Schoolly D from Drake is absolutely ridiculous. It's related, and there can be some interaction there, but the fan bases are different. The meanings are different. These categories protect the legacy of hip-hop."
Classic rap artists have been playing together for years, but Chuck D was dismayed by the quality of their shows. "They were being treated like shit," he says. "They threw a bunch of artists on a bald stage. People would come, see a bunch of old records and go home. I realized there had to be a better way to do this. I called up a bunch of people personally and told them the idea for this tour is that nobody is bigger than anybody else. It's like what Ozzy Osbourne did with Ozzfest. We have a great camaraderie between the artists. We put 33 people on two buses and we all had the same agenda."
The first Hip Hop Gods tour just wrapped with a show in Los Angeles, but Chuck D is already planning five more for 2013. "I'm not physically going on all of them," he says. "I'm going to orchestrate them, and my team will actually be an integral part of them. I won't let them become a circus, which has happened to tours in the past. If you look at hip hop touring now, it's practically nonexistent. There's a lot of one-offs like Rock the Bells, but a tour that goes east to west, north to south, 3,000 miles, it's a different kind of animal."
In the meantime, Chuck D is extremely gratified that Public Enemy are entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year. "I'm very fortunate to be acknowledged by my peers," he says. "I take this very seriously. I grew up as a sports fan, and I know that a hall of fame is very different than an award for being the best of the year. It's a nod to the longevity of our accomplishment. When it comes to Public Enemy, we did this on our own terms. I imagine this as a trophy made out of crystal. I'd like to smash it into 10,000 pieces and hand each piece to a contributor."
Chuck D has little patience for people who say hip-hop acts don't belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "Hip-hop is a part of rock & roll because it comes from DJ culture," he says. "DJ culture is the embodiment of all genres and all recorded music, if you actually pay attention to it."
Public Enemy will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on April 18th at a Los Angeles ceremony alongside Rush, Heart, Randy Newman, Donna Summer and Albert King. "We guarantee we're going to tear that damn place down," says Chuck D. "I might tell DJ Lord to rock the beginning of 'Tom Sawyer.' Then people will be shaking their heads like, 'What the fuck is going on?' That's the ability of what I consider probably one of the greatest performing bands in hip-hop history. It's not bragging, because I don't brag about myself, but my guys are the best in the business. There's nobody that can touch Flava Flav. There's nobody else like him in the world."
There's been no talk of any onstage collaborations with any of the other artists, but Public Enemy has a long history of working with rock groups. They recorded a new version of "Bring the Noise" with Anthrax in 1991, toured with U2 in 1992 and recorded "He Got Game" with Stephen Stills in 1998.
"The goal was to enhance ['For What It's Worth'], to take it to another level," Chuck D says. "I totally hate when somebody takes a classic and desecrates it. I like Jimmy Page and P. Diddy, but what they did to 'Kasmhir' was a debacle. They are giants in their own way – and you can print this – but that was a fucking travesty. When I get involved with a classic, I knock the fucking ceiling out of it or I leave it the fuck alone."