Public Enemy: Rockin' the Joint

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After another blast of PE's incendiary music, "Bring the Noise," Flavor Flav reminisced about his brief jail term for possessing two "keys" of cocaine. "Those were the keys to my jail cell, man," he said. "Don't be like me."

Then Griff, addressing the white people in the audience – mainly the press – said, "When y'all lived in the caves of Europe in the Caucasus Mountains, and you did, you made it with animals. And you still do it today! That is the truth, brothers! Am I right or wrong?" There were cheers and applause from the inmates as Griff invited the press to call him a liar.

Not coincidentally, the next song was "Don't Believe the Hype," which dismisses the more sensational statements attributed to group members as media distortions.

After breaking the tension over "Black Steel" by saying the group would not perform the song, Chuck D then summed up Public Enemy's message. "Our goal in life," said Chuck D, "is to get ourselves out of this mess and be responsible to our sons and daughters so they can lead a better life." Flav added, "When you get out, think about your future, because there's no future in this motherfucker." The show was over. As the inmates filed out eyeing the cameras, some smiled and said, "Don't believe the hype!"

That night, after Public Enemy had opened for Run-D.M.C. at Long Island's Nassau Coliseum, Chuck D elaborated on Griff's comment about whites and bestiality.

"There are nicer ways of putting it, but it is the truth," he said, adding that Europe, "which is nothing but mountains," was a hostile environment that created a hostile culture of people living in caves. He claimed that Africa never had cave men and that slavery and hostility are white inventions.

Despite all the strong words, Chuck D maintained that he is not a black separatist. "First, you build amongst yourself," he said. "It's no different from what the Jews do, no different than what the Japanese have done. My job is to build 5000 potential black leaders through my means of communication in America. A black leader is just someone who takes responsibility."

Earlier that day, one prison employee had said, "The message? Their message probably went in one ear and out the other. They just want to see some guys chillin'."

But Chuck D believed he had made his point. "You get happy on the fact that people understood what you was saying, and it was some light in an otherwise dark situation."

This story appeared in the September 22, 1988 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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