With a new Public Enemy album, Man Plans God Laughs, out now, we asked Chuck D to tell us what he thought of eight songs — including old favorites sampled on the group's records, classic influences, new jams and more. Read on to see what the rebel without a pause thinks of N.W.A, the Rolling Stones, Kendrick Lamar and more.
Public Enemy's Bomb Squad used to crowd in a room and play mix-and-mash records. The room, orchestrated by Hank Shocklee, was a den of noise from every corner. Eric "Vietnam" Sadler would come up from his studio and add a musician's sense to the fray. We used to record this room of mess and listen back to the cassettes. This song by Isaac Hayes — a massive-length masterpiece, and one of four songs on Hot Buttered Soul — had a snatch that stood out. Initially it wasn't gonna be a PE-inspired track, but it was fumbled out of bounds by the artist it was intended for, and I ran it into the end zone as "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos."
I've been hearing the Rolling Stones all my life — at least 50 years of it. As a 10-year-old, I had no idea what this song meant, but heard it all over 77 WABC AM radio in New York. I listened to that station religiously from 1967 to 1977. And Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ron are still doing it. WTF?
Thanks to YouTube, my inspiration for writing a rapped interpolation called "Honky Tonk Rules" on Public Enemy's new album, Man Plans God Laughs, was based on their live performance at London's Hyde Park in 1969. Funky and brand new, with fire to prove after Brian Jones' death, it struck my beat bone — especially the Charlie Watts fill in the second verse over Mick's vocals. Damn near hip-hop.
My dad was a member of the Columbia Record Club in the Sixties. These records would get delivered to the crib, and the pictures were half my size. The cover art was everything, but as a child my mom's Motown, Atlantic, Stax, theater soundtracks and AM radio swayed my ears. Jazz was something I heard Sunday nights as "take your lil ass to bed" sad music.
Later, the aesthetics of jazz still strike me more than the sounds itself. But I get it. Miles' attitude and intensity I absorb. Even in a silent way.
Professor Griff forewarned the public in 1988 saying that Public Enemy was the safest bet for the music and social world to get together, because the next dudes were taking their finger out the dike. That group was N.W.A. Ice T and King Tee got seriously on base about police brutality in the USA and SoCal — then N.W.A hit it in the upper deck.
Rap was one thing. The collective posse approach made it a threat. Police one-sidedness seemed to work well with individuals, but a group of similar thinkers was not only a force, but a threat to the core of Amerikkka. Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, Eazy E and DJ Yella knew as a team that the USA could be won from the West. And the Jordan-Pippen combo of Cube and Ren was straight spit. Give it Dre's Phil Jax, Yella's John Pax and Eazy E's Dennis Rodman. This group was tough when it was together. The songs were even tougher against the USA way.
Zack de la Rocha added his instrument to the already wise Southern vet, Killer Mike, on top of El-P rounding the spit over his lab explosives. This record is like running into a Pujols swing head first, with jarring info slicing at you. If you love tender rhymes, this song is intentionally out to hurt you — with damn good reason.
Kendrick must love unorthodox arrangements. I can dig the fact that he cares less if you can maintain balance as he chops into the listener's head. He fills every space with a lot of damn nerve. Smacks you when you least expect it. We can thank the Nola MC Mystikal for carving that style for rap confidence.
When I was on tour, all I heard on social media and from folk is how Diddy and Pharrell went "Terrordome" at the BET thing. I'm honored at the similarity, and whenever this happens, you want it to do well. It's okay for producers to keep digging until a shirt fits. The hardest thing is to cop a voice inflection, though. Machines still can't do it good. So these cats putting their personality on it makes it more interesting — although I think the N-word is a lyrical crutch for an MC.
I first heard this record in the West at a party for kids under 10 at a zoo. I was like, WTF? It's one of those songs that the hook can go on for 15 minutes vamping. I mean, James Brown seemed to invent that. I'm a person who digs driving and turning sound up until it's distorted. Hank Shocklee used to always clown me on that. He would say, "A speaker is busted in the back window, what are you hearing?" I'd say, "I don't know, maybe I'd hear better if it was lower, but shit is banging!" "Turn Down for What"? LOL.