Q&A: Chuck D raps on politics in music and the future of Public Enemy

The MC and hip-hop pioneer is now a member of rock-rap supergroup, Prophets of Rage, which is performing at Rockfest in Montebello, Que., later tonight.

The MC and hip-hop pioneer is now a member of the rock-rap supergroup, Prophets of Rage

Chuck D is now a member of Prophets of Rage, a rock-rap, supergroup that features Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine and Cyprus Hill frontman B-Real. (Marilla Steuter-Martin/CBC)

Chuck D has never shied away from making a political statement.

The MC and hip-hop pioneer co-founded Public Enemy in New York in the 1980s, fearlessly tackling issues like racism and police brutality alongside his longtime collaborator Flavor Flav.

"Nothing's more powerful than a group," he told CBC Montreal's Duke Eatmon this afternoon in Montreal.

A desire to collaborate with other artists again — and take Public Enemy's political message even further — are some of the reasons Chuck D agreed to join a new supergroup, Prophets of Rage.

A rock-rap hybrid that includes Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Cyprus Hill frontman B-Real, the group is performing at Rockfest in Montebello, Que., later tonight.

"I've done Prophets of Rage because [that] would be the only other way I would be touring, as a part of a collective and a group — and it better be more powerful than Public Enemy," Chuck D said.

CBC spoke to Chuck D about where Prophets of Rage fits into today's political climate, how groups can get their political messages across and what the future holds for Public Enemy.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Where does Prophets of Rage fit into the political climate we're in now, especially in the U.S.?

It's 21st-century-made; It's gotta be louder, stronger and harder to get across and defeat the radiation of ignorance.

Do you think young people who missed Public Enemy's political message will get it with Prophets of Rage?

They'll get it in a different way.

Everything is visual. They're locked into their phones. They're locked into social media. So you have to impress upon them … [that] you're omnipresent and you're also engaging.

It's got to [be] more than just a sound. We're not in a sonic time where somebody just hears you and that's it. You have to present them with sight, sound, story and style.

You recently did a song with Logic, a young, up-and-coming artist. How do you see Logic in regards to carrying on the torch of Public Enemy?

Today the biggest difference in rap music and hip hop is that you have individuals [now] instead of groups.

Nothing's more powerful than a group.

There is no individual replacement for Public Enemy.… You have super MCs, such as Big Daddy Kane and KRS-One and Ice-T. [But] that group collective is a hard thing to push to the side as being unimportant.

Chuck D co-founded Public Enemy with Flavor Flav in New York in the 1980s. (The Associated Press)

So Public Enemy is on a temporary hiatus… 

It's not even on hiatus; it's just that I can't do both [Public Enemy and Prophets of Rage] at the same time.

When is Public Enemy gonna get back together and tour again?

Prophets of Rage has already played in front of 3.1 million people in two years and we're always recording.

So I told Flava [Flav] the other day … I said, 'Look. Time is not promised, and we gotta map out time at least seven months in advance, and still we gotta live our lives.'

Which is ironic, you explaining time to a guy who walks around with a giant clock on his chest.

I told him to get a battery.

With files from CBC Montreal's Homerun

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