Prophet of Rage
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During the 90s, Public Enemy leader Chuck D's voice sounded like a clarion call. At one point he promised to use his music to train 1000 young black leaders for the new millennium. Now that the 21st century is here, he hasn't stopped fighting. Aside from independently distributing his music and ideas through his websites, www.rapstation.com and www.slamjamz.com, he is starting up a new book imprint and setting his lectures to music on a new album by the Fine Arts Militia. A new Public Enemy album is also slated for later this year.
More recently, he has appeared in the media to debate the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, including a recent interview on CNN in which he was set against Maureen Faulkner, the wife of officer Daniel Faulkner, the man Mumia allegedly murdered. I spoke to him at his Long Island home about Mumia. He hasn't lost any sense of urgency. We spoke about Mumia's resentencing, the culture industry, and what they both mean for the future of a generation that Chuck fears could be lost.
Q: When you first heard about the decision by U.S. District Judge William Yohn to have Mumia resentenced and taken off death row, what were your thoughts?
I thought it was a step forward. But you can't jump off and celebrate because when they talk about the appeals and the resentencing, a step forward can still mean three steps back.
Q: Are you worried about the possibility he could get resentenced to death?
Yeah, of course. You're in America. I'm one person, a quote unquote celebrity who has lent his profile to explaining the reasons and the causes around this. I divert a lot of the attention to Pam Africa and Ramona Africa and also people that have been in the mix, like Sam Jordan, cats that have been working diligently at this everyday. So if someone wants to put me on CNN, I have to be really specific about why I'm there. We have to understand our roles. My role is being an antenna to the situation, not overstepping my bounds.
Q: Let me ask you about your CNN appearance, because they put you alongside Maureen Faulkner.
Yeah, I thought that was very unfair. This is a company looking to get eyeballs and some kind of spat started. It figures.
Q: Faulkner and a lot of editorialists contend that many people support Mumia more as an icon than as an individual who might have committed murder. The implication, of course, is that people who support Mumia are either caught up with his aura, or they're just plain malicious in refusing to see the truth. The CNN host, for instance, asked you, "Did you ever think you were wrong [about Mumia]?"
Nobody was there. All this is speculation. They say, OK, a person got shot and killed, and they're saying this black man has done it. He's spent close to 20 years in jail, even though they don't know for sure.
But you gotta understand, I'll tell you right now, I am biased. Judging the history of America, I have a right to be biased. If we're caught in the aura of Mumia and the hyperbole of the situation of Mumia, then why not? If you don't fight for something that stands in the face of wrong, you're gonna collapse to that storm.
My whole thing is to inform people so we won't be "sheeple". People are programmed to be robots in these times, to not challenge anything that comes across, to not use their common sense. I'm answering questions to lend to the situation, and all of a sudden I find myself juxtaposed against the man's wife. Her husband got killed. I can't say she shouldn't feel that way, I can't tell her how not to feel.
Q: Do you think it's impossible for Mumia to prove his innocence given the way they media and the courts are set up?
There's a lot of folks that moved up--from Mumia himself telling me--that moved up the ladder in the judicial system and the governmental system of Pennsylvania. That state is the Alabama of the fucking millennium. So if Mumia is let go, heads are gonna roll, you understand? People are 20 years deep on moving up the ladder. You don't know how much that corruption has leaked to the top.
But at the same time, it's not about getting frustrated, because this shit has been here before we was born. It just that you gotta overstand, ride the situation, and figure out how to get in where you fit in. And then be able to say to shorties around you that, ok, have fun with your young life, but this is what's happening on this other end. When you get past 18, first it's about accountabilities and responsibilities and then you have your fun. And that's what folks are getting twisted about. They trying to extend their teenage years to 29 and then they get fucked up.
See, another situation that's gonna go down in this decade and it's gonna fuck up a lotta cats that turned 20 in the 90s is the hurdle of 30. I've been having conversations with cats that all of a sudden they turn around, they got three seeds, two baby mamas, and they come out of the haze like, "Damn, I got no skills, for real. Fuck a regular goddamn job and these young cats is out-hustling me. At the same time, yo, the weed and the Playstation is wearing off." What you're gonna see in the next ten years is a large suicide rate.
Q: You think so?
Yeah man, cause they can't handle the hurdle of 30. Your years from 18 to 25 are key areas of development for understanding and handling the period from 30 to 50. That's why jail is such a detriment to the black community. Because from 18 to 26, black males is in fucking jail. That's college-age category, that's critical to be able to live through 30 to 50, as opposed to just survive. You're just surviving because you didn't understand the road map, or wasn't given a roadmap at that key developmental age.
There are so many distractions and releases and escapes, that a lot of cats don't even have talking skills anymore. When it comes to talking to a female, those guys are not really saying anything. The security blanket is the Xbox or Playstation 2. I gotta talk to a bunch of guys and tell them, "Hey look, you gotta be able to get out of yourself for a second."
But it's a whole mentoring thing. They're trained by the culture that's being processed around them. They're living vicariously through their cultural outlets. You ever watch the NBA when somebody dunk on somebody and jump in somebody's face? They ain't fighters, why are they fighting? That's in the game, leave it there. But it's the hip-hop mentality which has been twisted by corporate processes. Everyone thinks they gotta slump down and shimmy the shoulder and have the skully halfway over the eyelid, and think that this [look] is gonna keep a motherfucker off me. OK alright, now how you gonna engage upon expressing yourself? And there are not a lot of roadmaps there.
All this is new, because new mediums of trying to get into people have been developed in the last 15 years. The difference when I was growing up is that when you went to a female's house you had to say something. But now it's so many distractions that a cat can leave. My friend was talking about this cat came over to her house and he brought an Xbox! He's thirty years old. She was like, 'Yo set the Xbox by the door.' He sets the Xbox by the door, so they on the couch and she's dozing off a little. I said, 'So how many times did he turn around and look at the door?'
Q: Instant gratification.
And when that stuff is more gratification than your woman, you got problems.
Q: You met Mumia for the first time last year. What was that like?
Going to Greene County in southwest Pennsylvania? It was wack. It was enlightening to talk to him face to face. But through plexiglass and handcuffs, the whole nine, it was wack. Why wouldn't it be? You can't go in there with some dumb shit like, "Yo, so whassup?" And so it was a lot of talking without saying a lot of words, but nodding heads like, yup, the shit is fucked.
The thing that got me the most is that he does a lot of writing, but they don't even give him the outside of a pen. He has to write with a filament, because they don't want him to have hard plastic. So therefore he has calluses on his hands from writing with the plastic tubing. Also, he can look on TV and when he looks at it, he's blown out because he says when he went in, he says it was all about Soul Train. Now when he sees some MTV video he's looking at it like, 'What the fuck?'
Q: Which goes back to what you were saying about the cultural distractions having taken over everybody's lives.
He says, "Yeah, I see black folks on TV but, at the same time--OK, what does that mean?"