When was the first time you either heard or did something where you realized that rap could be really important?
That happened more or less by having people walk up to me and say, "Thank you," versus just saying, "I like your beats, I like your track," or whatever. People would walk up to me and say, "Thanks, man, thanks for telling motherfuckers what time it is." And that's when I realized I owed people something, that they enjoyed the message versus the beat.
What do you think when you see rappers on the news and in the papers every day?
I just look at it as, if there wasn't rap, where would the voice of the eiehteen-year-old black male be? He would never be on TV, he ain't writing no book. He is not in the movies. So he's hidden, he's not heard. And with rap you gave people the option of "Here's the beat, and say whatever the fuck you want." It's like the true vehicle of free speech because you're not bound by a melody or anything.
When I met Neil Young, he said, "Hey, man, this is the coolest shit." He said a lot of times he would have a lyric that he would want to say, but he wouldn't want to sing it. And he said, "Man, with rap you say what the fuck you want to say." So he dug it.
When you first heard rap, did it immediately make sense to you?
Well, I used to write rhymes before I knew there was raps. I used to write gang slogans and things on the walls: crips don't die, they multiply and shit like that. All these little slogans. And I had these stories I used to know how to tell in rhymes, and everybody thought they was real cool. So when I first heard this record by the Sugar Hill Gang, I said, "Oh, shit, I can do that," but I really didn't rap so beat oriented, so it took me a little while to get a hold of it. I used to try to rap like them, rap about house parties and shit. My friends were like "Why don't you rap about other stuff, you used to say those other rhymes about crime." I thought, "Okay, cool." I started doing that, and that's when I invented another style of rap, reality-based rap.
You've said that you figure seventy-five or eighty percent of your records sell to white kids.
Yeah. Body Count would maybe be even more closer to ninety-percent white. I'd honestly say that more than fifty percent are going to white kids. Black kids buy the records, but the white kid buys the cassette, the CD, the album, the tour jacket, the hats, everything. Black kids might just be buying the bootleg on the street. It's only due to economics.
And the white kids are getting something different out of it. They're getting a lot more information. A lot of rap I listen to, to me it's like "Okay, whatever," but I listen to white kids listen to it, and they're like "Holy shit, this is incredible." The funny thing about white kids is that once they get real hip and deep into it, they dig for the hardest form of this shit that you can find. They're totally the hardest critics.
What do you think that's about?
I think generally when you go for something different, you go for the most true form of it. Plus these white kids are hard in their own way. These are the skateboard kids, these are the kids that are pretty rough in their league. To me it's like a double rebellion. You have a rebellion against parents, which goes to rock, and then they rebel a little bit against rock and go rap; it's like being ultra-ultracool, taking the risk. And a lot of them when they first start liking rap had to stand up to a lot of their white friends, so I give them a lot of respect. But they just want to know. They know their parents ain't teaching them shit about black people. They know that's nowhere to get an answer. So they're saying, "Fuck it, I'll go right to the source." And the source is more likely Eazy-E than Young M.C.
Some critics have said that when white kids are listening to hard-core rap, it's more about the cheap thrills of looking in on another culture and not really having to worry about it.
I don't really care. I think a lot more of them get compassion and understanding. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't trip like that. I think that criticism, "Oh, the white kids are just getting off on it, and they don't care" a lot of black kids are getting off on it, and they don't care either.
It sounds like the album you're working on now is more of a street record, more stripped down. You were saying you didn't want to have to explain the political stuff as much.
I don't really like listening to a whole bunch of political shit myself. To me it gets boring. I was thinking this morning about doing a real political record, then I said: "Shit, I don't want to hear it. Who am I doing it for? For the critics that are going to say that Ice lost his politics or whatever?" I think it's too obvious to come out this year and be very political. So for that particular reason I say, "Fuck them, I'm going to talk about the 'hood, man."
What are your feelings about the presidential election?
If I was going to vote for anybody, I'd vote for Jerry Brown. I have never registered to vote, but I think I'm going to do it this year. I've always had low beliefs in the traditional system, but I don't want to be a hypocrite and dis the government so badly and not get involved. So I'm going to register, and if he's on the ballot, I'll vote for Brown, and if not, I'll just vote for none of the above. I ain't with Perot. Clinton, he seems like a used-car salesman or some shit. I definitely ain't with Bush he was the head of the CIA.
What do you think about Perot?
Perot's crazy. Perot's a billionaire. He owns Bush and Clinton. He controls people like that, so he's a true power monger. We never had a president with that kind of money. He's just saying, "Hey, I've got enough money to get in here, I'll be the fucking president, you know, why not?" Why fucking not? He's from Texas, too. He's a good ol' boy. This lets you know where America is at. I say, "If God had wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates."
So what should we do? Is getting people to register and vote an answer?
I think we do have to register to vote. If you go back to the Simi Valley situation, all those people on that jury were registered voters, so it's like, you can't even be in the game if you don't register. It's like you're just nobody. They don't want to sign the motor-voter bill that lets you register just by getting a driver's license. They're tricky they don't want us to vote, but the people who read Rolling Stone and people that watch MTV, if all of those people voted, we could really shake America and throw it. I think if a lot of younger people would get into politics, some people with more Nineties ideas, maybe the next decade we could see one cool person in there.
Somebody from the hip-hop generation?
Well, Ice Cube says he's running for president. Souljah's going to be vice-president Chuck D will be secretary of state, and KRS-One will be secretary of labor.
And what about you?
I'd be secretary of defense. That would be real wild. It would be funny if Cube did it, though. We might get a few votes. You know, we might even get a few million votes. We sell a few million records.
This story is from the August 20th, 1992 issue of Rolling Stone.
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