"There was a voice that needed to be heard..."

When the producers of Spotify’s new BBC studios produced podcast Stay Free: The Story Of The Clash were looking for someone to narrate the tale of punk’s last gang in town they couldn’t find anyone better than Public Enemy’s Chuck D.

The legendary rapper and his band shared much of the same ideals with The Clash and were committed to using their music and their message to promote change in their society in the same firebrand way as Strummer & Co.

We caught up with Chuck to find out about the new podcast and Public Enemy’s plans for the year.

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So, how did you get involved with The Clash podcast?

We were talking with the BBC and when they brought up this podcast, the band’s whole story and their path were things I learned from and could connect to.

What has been your relationship with The Clash throughout your life?

From a systemic point of view, we were at the same record company. 10 years after they broke through with punk, we broke through with hip-hop and rap.

Bill Stephney connected PE and The Clash on a conceptual level. He’s a longtime partner and friend of mine who actually helped usher in PE and was Def Jam’s first president. His vision was for PE to become like the Clash of hip-hop and that’s part of the reason why we got signed to Def Jam.

What similarities have you found between the scene that The Clash grew up in and Public Enemy’s own formative years?

There was a voice that needed to be heard and a band that played notes to the words alongside that angst.

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Was there anything that surprised you while you were making the series?

Lots of things surprised me. Both our groups encountered a resistance to what we wanted to present. That was strikingly similar. We were the resistance to that resistance. It was also surprising to find out that there were a lot of people that we knew in common, particularly at the record company.

The Clash in their original form only lasted for about seven year while your group Public Enemy are into your fourth decade - what’s been the secret to your longevity?

Traveling the world is the secret to our longevity. Music. Following music and stories. To me, music is sight, sound, story and style. I think sight and sound is not enough. There’s got to be a story that needs to be known and a style that needs to be felt.

Do you think a group as vital as The Clash or PE can emerge again in the current musical climate?

I think music is more than just delivering a record and a sound these days. An artist has to deliver sight, sound, story and style very clearly.

Before, all we had to do was reach out via the radio and cassette but now people are locked into their phones so they’re not just listening. Today, you have to develop and use a lot more to grab the attention of the people.

You’re heading out on tour this year with Wu-Tang Clan and De La Soul, how excited are you for those shows and does it feel like a validation of your status at the very top of rap’s legendary tree?

I’m excited because I’m presenting Public Enemy Radio as a refreshing take on Public Enemy classics – it’s like going back to our roots and is a DJ-MC concept. I’m excited about Public Enemy Radio.

What’s your message for, say, a 14-year-old kid listening to ‘Rebel Without A Pause’ for the first time in 2019?

There’s nothing popular about it. It’s music and a message and some good beats.

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Words: Martyn Young // @MartynMYoung
Photo Credit: Peter Anderson

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