It’s 9:30 in the morning, and Chuck D is ripping into my first question. “What kind of thing is that to ask? The most amateur question of all interviewers is ‘What are you listening to, Chuck?’ I’m listening to everything, anything, just like y’all cuz I got the gigabytes — 15,000 songs on one device, check it.” I am a little bewildered. I understand his point, but I’ve also seen the pictures of him hanging with Skrillex and read the hype about how the new Public Enemy records are influenced by electronic dance music. Hell, I’ve even heard some of the tracks. But Chuck D is not finished. “I could be listening to Big Joe Turner one minute and Bryan Adams the next. I could still be listening to the Leaders of the New School. All I need is the iPod. Before, you relied on your memory, but today all you need is that tickle, that little sparking of the memory, and then you can Google it and find out what the hell you were thinking of. It’s different.” Okay, if you say so, Mistachuck.
Another question, this one about how busy he seems to be with two new albums coming out and a world tour with Public Enemy, but the same weather forecast holds — blustery. “I’m always busy. That’s a classic misperception, that because I’m not in the media, I’m not working. I’ve been self-employed for 25 years, and when people finally notice the product that I’ve been working on, they say, ‘Chuck, you’ve been busy.’ I say, ‘Yes, I’ve been busy every day for 25 years. I haven’t gone away just because you have.’” And then, for the first of several times, Chuck makes the comparison that seems to work best for him these days. “People don’t ask the Rolling Stones if this is their ‘comeback album.’ Come back from what? I haven’t gone anywhere.” And so it goes, for the next 10 minutes or so, as the most formidable intellect in the history of rap sends out a series of reality checks.
When asked about his active Twitter account, Chuck observes, “That’s not really new. I started one of the first blogs about hip-hop, but now, with Twitter, I understand the constraints — less is more, you know, 140 characters. It’s led to some interesting developments, such as twibonics, which is Twitter-length Ebonics. Some of that even I can’t understand.”
And then he laughs. Maybe the test is over. What’s foremost in Chuck D’s mind these days? That would have to be keeping it real, adult-style. Asked about the incredible impact of his long-verse singles on the evolution of rap, he is circumspect. “That was quite intentional,” he explains. “It was a case of wanting to establish a viewpoint, not only to say who you are, but to say who you are not. … Listen,” he says with a sense of urgency, “when a black person crosses 50 [he’s 52], it’s kind of what you see is what you get, you know? If I’m still making something that’s different at this point, you can assume that I am different.”
And so he is and will be when he appears at The Savoy on Friday, November 9, at 4:10 p.m. for a discussion with Topspin Media’s Ian Rogers as part of this year’s New Noise Music Conference & Festival. For info, visit newnoisesb.org.