Bringing Down The Grid: Chuck D And Public Enemy's Ongoing Mission
America, Britain and the western world at large has done little to truly address street level bigotry, or the systemic racism which upholds it; these cold lands are as toxic and anti-Black as ever. Which is exactly why Chuck D and Public Enemy’s brand of polemical, political, subtle-as-a-sledgehammer hip-hop remains so resonant. 32 years on from the release of their groundbreaking album, ‘It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back’, the group requires no introduction, with a towering catalogue of work which speaks for itself.
Their latest offering, ‘What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down’, released against the backdrop of an America convulsing under the growing weight of Donald Trump’s maniacal, killer-clownish presidency and his murderous response to a resurgent Black Lives Matter movement, is a solid return which at times reaches the thrilling heights of Public Enemy’s best work.
Clash caught up with the group’s pioneering frontman, as Americans take to the polls today and finally, hopefully (surely) send Trump packing from the White House and back to his hideous tower.
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As an artist who has always consistently, rigorously spoken truth to power, your music and message is as relevant today as it was in the mid 1980s. How do you feel about that?
We spent those years trying to irradicate “isms” and ills in society but we have to keep working because generations come and go, there’s always a new one to speak to.
At the beginning of your journey with Public Enemy, did you imagine you'd still be fighting the same fight 33/35 years later?
I knew that systemic racism was a stain in the clothes not the clothes itself.
What's the key to maintaining your forward energy, and not losing hope?
Studying the battles and the achievements of the past and trying to draw from that energy for the future and passing it on. We should never forget the accomplishments.
Here in the UK, our current PM is a quasi-fascist clown, and for that reason I'd say he's the most British PM we've ever had. Is Donald Trump the American equivalent?
No, Donald Trump is all over the place, highly inept and narcissistic and therein lies the danger.
What are your views on the upcoming US election? Would a presidential change signal genuine change?
It’s imperative that people vote and understand that they gotta work harder after election day - harder than they ever have in the past - to maintain the accountability of the people they voted for.
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Was 'What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?' something long-planned, or more in response to what feels like a critical juncture in American history?
The song is meant to ask everybody to think about what’s going on right now. It’s basically asking everybody, ‘what are you going to do about change?’
Does the title refer to making sure one is on the right side of history, at a time when revolution again feels on the horizon? What would revolution look like?
A revolution today would probably look different than any other before because it would probably involve everybody’s gadgets. The revolution will be amongst netizens with a price paid by citizens. Revolution always means change. You gotta demand that things change, though.
Hip-hop is a broad church, encompassing a huge array of sounds and styles. It's been commodified and globalised on a monumental scale. Has it lost its revolutionary essence in the process?
Hip-hop is just a soundtrack for the real movement of the people. The people haven’t lost their attitude. But a song or music no longer leads the narrative. A gadget does, and everything that runs through it.
Which artists excite you when they drop something? Who really catches your attention?
Immortal Technique and Brother Ali always got something to say in the moment. And I like the courage of TI and Jahi. Jahi, and also Retina MC, are on my label - they speak immediately to what they see is wrong.
Are there any British artists on your radar?
There are always plenty of great British artists. All of them run through the cHIP sHOP radio show on Rapstation, headed by DJ Shorty and curated by Wizywig. The cHIP sHOP in Brixton is the center of the universe for hip-hop performance and content and music.
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'What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down' is out now on Def Jam Records.
Words: Robert Kazandjian
Photo Credit: Eitan Miskevich
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