Still Public Enemy #1

Twenty years after Black Planet, Chuck D continues to fight the powers that be
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  August 6, 2010

FOLLOW THE HERD: “Some people are tweeting about how they just got out of a cab,” says Chuck D (left). “They’re twending, they need twerapy, and they’re twurning into twitiots and twack addicts.”

FROM THE ARCHIVES:Vintage photos of Public Enemy.

What you missed while you were sleeping on Public Enemy. By Chris Faraone.

Don't call it a comeback tour. Or a Public Enemy reunion. Even if you snoozed on their last few discs and festival romps across five continents, Chuck D and Flavor Flav have perpetually marched forth in raucous righteousness. Not even the latter's gig as a VH1 sideshow held back the locomotive. When you're hip-hop's longest-lasting instrument for change, with a celebration-worthy catalogue, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

"Just because we're not in the United States doesn't mean that we aren't doing something," Chuck tells me from Long Island, explaining how Fear of a Black Planet will be immortalized at the House of Blues this Monday. "The typical journalist still asks what got us back together, but we never stop touring. In 2007, it was 20 years of the group existing. Then in 2008, it was 20 years of It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back. Then in 2009, it was 20 years of 'Fight the Power.' And now this."

Although he's the positive MC archetype, Chuck D is hardly content, and he likely never will be. Public Enemy have achieved more road success than any other rap group ever, but fans, accolades, and tour rewards don't come in a vacuum, and the one-time Air America host recognizes dire socio-political realities perhaps better than his contemporaries. Not to hate on Ice Cube, but he appears to have changed his opinion of Tinseltown since recording "Burn Hollywood Burn" with Public Enemy two decades ago. Chuck took more revolutionary routes, spitting rhymes for justice, volunteering, and schooling folks on hip-hop and progressive values on the lecture circuit.

Despite their ties to the foundation, however, it would be imprudent to count Public Enemy out of the multimedia marathon. Many of the conversations Chuck leads at colleges pertain to technology, and his group wear as a badge of honor their status as one of the first rap acts to have an interactive Web site, in the late '90s. Long Island's rebel outfit has always fed off grassroots — for some time before Flav became cable's most unlikely gigolo, Public Enemy relied on uncensored online avenues for exposure.

At the same time, Chuck, who uses Twitter to push thoughts and music, will never become Tweetle Dee. All the social networking muscle in the world, he says, is useless unless you have important news to share. "Some people are tweeting about how they just got out of a cab. They're twending, they need twerapy, and they're twurning into twitiots and twack addicts. People think they're making their own decisions — and I know it fills up their time — but I can't be part of that. Still, at the same time, Prince said it best: 'If you're not on top of technology, then technology will be on top of you.' It's like swimming — you have to stay afloat, or just stay far away from it on your own little island."

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Related: Photos: Public Enemy: 1988-1998, Wolf Parade | Expo 86, Photos: Rogue Wave at the WFNX Clambake, More more >
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