Why would one of hip-hop’s most legendary lyricists recruit another MC to write him an album full of rhymes? According to Public Enemy’s Chuck D, it’s an experiment he’s been wanting to try for some time, finally realized on Rebirth of a Nation, due March 7th.
The album features veteran Bay Area rapper, producer and activist Paris, who not only created the music but also wrote “98 percent” of Chuck’s verses. “I was gonna have somebody do it one time, and he happened to be the one,” says Chuck, who adds that he hadn’t seriously considered any other collaborators. “I told Paris that he would have to come more than halfway to make this happen. There was a diligence he had that was very thorough.”
However, Chuck considers the album — billed as “Public Enemy featuring Paris” — “a special project,” separate from the rest of the group’s catalog. “I look at this album as a work [un]to itself,” he says. “I don’t mix it with anything else that I do.”
The collaboration began in 2002, when Paris contributed a song to Public Enemy’s Revolverlution album, and Chuck says their work on Rebirth of a Nation went smoothly. “There were things where I would say, ‘I’m not really agreeing with that line,’ and he would just redo it and come right back,” he says. “He worked me through the inflections. It was a lot of meticulous work.”
Rebirth, to be released on Paris’ own Guerilla Funk label, deals with militantly leftist themes that will be familiar to Public Enemy fans. The opening cut, “Raw Shit,” features guest vocalist MC Ren of West Coast gangsta-rap pioneers N.W.A., and addresses a litany of issues — from Iraq to American poverty and racism. On the cut, which quotes from the 1988 Public Enemy classic “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos,” Chuck sneers, “Don’t tell me that the war is won.”
Public Enemy’s Minister of Information, Professor Griff, appears on the rock-influenced title track, while Flavor Flav is featured throughout. “Flav’s recordings are what they always have been since the Eighties,” Chuck says of Flav, whose appearances on reality shows like VH1’s Strange Love stirred up more controversy for the group last year. “Flav has a day of recording, and then his vocals are dispersed around,” says Chuck. “So it’s not like he’s sitting in the studio, waiting for an ad-lib. He has the easiest job, really, of anybody.”
Rebirth was originally slated for release last August, but was delayed, Chuck says, when retailers and distributors objected to carrying two Public Enemy albums within months of one another. The other disc, New Whirl Odor, hit stores late last year through Chuck’s Slam Jamz imprint. (Chuck D removed Public Enemy from its longtime home at Def Jam several years ago after a dispute over free downloads.) “This is not 1967,” he says, “where you have cats put out an album and another one four months later.”
That said, the next Chuck D-penned Public Enemy album, How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who’ve Sold Their Soul, featuring production from longtime friend and Bomb Squad member Gary G-Wiz, will hit next spring.
“New Whirl Odor had to come out first, and then here comes a curveball,” Chuck says. “And next comes How You Sell Soul. So it’s, like, fastball, curveball, fastball.”