On the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN had the privilege of sitting down with the iconic rapper and social activist Chuck D to discuss giving Busta Rhymes his rap name, launching the social media app Bring The Noise, and “Fight The Power,” among other topics.
Born Carlton Douglas Ridenhour in Queens, New York, Chuck D has been a prominent figure in the music industry for over four decades. In 1982, he formed the hip hop group Public Enemy, comprised of past and present members such as Flavor Flav, DJ Lord, James Bomb, and several others. They quickly gained a following for their politically charged lyrics and powerful message. The collective’s groundbreaking 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back cemented the group’s status as a force to be reckoned with in the genre. With hits such as “Fight The Power” and “Don’t Believe the Hype,” their music has always been a powerful tool for promoting political awareness and social change. Chuck D’s lyrical style is characterized by his strong, commanding voice and his ability to deliver poignant and thought-provoking messages that resonate with his audience.
Throughout their career, Public Enemy continued to release groundbreaking and influential albums, including 1990’s Fear of a Black Planet and 1991’s Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black, the latter of which debuted at No. 4 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart and was later RIAA-certified Platinum. In recognition of their contributions to hip hop and social activism, Public Enemy was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, and Chuck D has also received numerous awards and accolades for his work and art.
To help give fans a recap, REVOLT compiled a list of nine facts we learned from the Chuck D “Drink Champs” episode. Check them out below, and watch the full episode here.
1. On giving Busta Rhymes his moniker
Busta Rhymes got his start as an adolescent in Brooklyn in the mid-’80s under the alias Chill-O-SKi. A rare and once-in-a-lifetime chance to open for Public Enemy soon presented itself, which led to his current moniker. During the performance, Busta got to meet Chuck, who named him “Busta” after NFL wide receiver George “Buster” Rhymes. To kick the interview off, he opened up about giving the rapper his name and the inspiration behind it.
“I’m a big sports fan, so one thing about sports, you can just come off the top of your head and say what’s what. It’s fact, it’s fact and you gotta go off the facts. I was like, ‘Listen, man, we need something to represent the way you spit, the way you guys rhyme, but we gotta rename y’all. Out there, there’s a million rappers,’” Chuck explained. “His name was Buster Rhymes. He played later on for the Minnesota Vikings. I think Busta met him later on.”
2. On “Fight The Power”
The Isley Brothers‘ 1975 track of the same name served as inspiration for Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power,” which became a success and a call to action for activists and hip hop fans alike. Spike Lee, who was looking for a musical theme for his 1989 picture Do the Right Thing, requested the creation of the song. Lyrically, the track addressed problems that were fundamental to the film’s story and are still topical today, including police brutality, racism, and systematic corruption.
“Nina Simone once said that an artist should speak in the time in which they live. ‘Fight The Power’ was one of those things. At the time, you have all these companies in our neighborhoods, but they’re not giving back,” James Bomb explained. “That was a pivotal time because these generations, they get lost. Right now… How are you gonna be a boy at 35? You’re a man. They’re dumbing down rap.”
3. On Run-DMC being blamed for starting riots
A concert brawl in 1986 in Long Beach left 40 people hurt, at which point the press began blaming Run-DMC for gang violence. Given the dearth of urban-centric media at the time, the group and hip hop genre were held responsible. Being a fellow New Yorker, Chuck recalled the events of the riot and how it followed Run-DMC to their hometown.
“There was no music press at all for Black artists in the ‘80s. You know Prince and Michael Jackson wasn’t f**king with no interviews… Run-DMC got accused of starting riots in 1986 because there was a big conflict. Crips and Bloods, 1986, Long Beach, California and the press didn’t even know what to call it, so it must’ve been Run-DMC,” Chuck shared regarding the times. “It’s like where’s this thing coming from? In ‘86, they got everybody listening to rap music, KD is the radio station out there. They got everybody at the spot, and that used to be where cats convened and something broke out, and they blamed it on rap music.”
4. On Yo! Bum Rush the Show
Public Enemy signed to Def Jam Records, releasing their first album aptly titled Yo! Bum Rush the Show in 1987. Widely considered one of the most influential projects of early hip hop, it helmed records like “Public Enemy No. 1” and “You’re Gonna Get Yours.” Chuck talked about the significance of the album.
“Our gigs had [a] standoff between the ‘98 Posse and S1W for who was security. Then they finally came together, saying that anybody come to our gigs, you better not f**k up,” Chuck explained. “[Yo!] Bum Rush the Show was our first album and it operated around something similar to Los Angeles. You ain’t catching the bus out there. You ain’t got no car, especially if you’re in Carson or them outskirt cities, you ain’t getting nowhere. So they understood.”
5. On N.W.A. performing at The Apollo
Although N.W.A., who was less well-known at the time, was convinced they’d rock the crowd in New York, Chuck D recalled a point in time when the group was booed while playing at The Apollo. He revealed that the venue was a hard crowd to please, even for fellow New York rappers, stating it’s make or break for many artists. In an interview with Pigeons & Planes, Ice Cube stated that it was because of their jheri curls.
“In 1989, N.W.A. played The Apollo. New York roasted them. Anyway you want to put roasted, it ain’t gon’ end well,” shared Chuck. “They’ve been passing coffins out of here for the past seven years. There’s Hertz waiting at the back of The Apollo every show. Sure enough, Ice Cube comes back the next year after we do the AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted.”
6. On Uncle Luke’s impact on music in the south
Uncle Luke‘s influence on Southern hip hop is undeniable. Luke battled for his right to free expression and won, courtesy of the Supreme Court. He started the first independent record label in the South as well as created the mandatory “parental advisory” stickers found on explicit music releases. Midway through the conversation, Chuck talked about his influence before reminiscing about staying in his mansion during his earlier years.
“Luke moved so much music and cultural weight in the South… People like to say Luke is booty and that’s it. Luke commanded the record industry because no one wanted the South,” Chuck revealed. “Luke was the first celebrity house I stayed in. I did the thing that night and Luke said, ‘No, stay at my house.’ A white woman comes out with tea and I was like, ‘What the f**k?’ I’m looking around and it was damn near, like, British.”
7. On Flavor Flav and Boosie Badazz potentially being related
Boosie Badazz, tired of the constant comparisons to Flavor Flav, cast him as his father in the blockbuster film Where’s MJ?, released earlier this year. Boosie has been made aware of his resemblance to the Public Enemy founding member for quite some time. Back in January, he even took to social media to voice his annoyance at being mistaken for Flav at an airport.
According to Chuck D, “We always come up with questions of who we think Flavor Flav is pops of. My good brother, N.O.R.E., if you study the diaspora, you’ll know that many of us got twins and triplets everywhere. Matter of fact, when we first played Ghana, they wouldn’t let Flav leave.”
8. On suing Universal Music Group
In 2011, Chuck D filed a class-action lawsuit against Universal Music Group, claiming that the music industry behemoth underpaid its artists and producers in licensing arrangements for digital downloads and ringtones. The action alleged that the artists and producers signed with Universal should get 50 percent of the profits made from digital downloads and ringtones. Until then, the label reportedly handled these deals as regular product sales. In 2015, the label reached a settlement with various parties for $11.5 million. The future royalty percentage received by these parties was also increased.
“I’ve sued and been sued. In that world, the average person has no f**king idea how many times you’re sued — it’s a gunfight. I’ve been part of many class-action suits,” he told N.O.R.E. and EFN. “It’s such a thick business and then you got a contract that’s like this. Somebody told me the reason that the contracts are like this is because every single page is a lawsuit.”
9. On launching a new social media app called Bring The Noise
In an effort to counteract the negativity that has spread across other social media platforms, Chuck announced the release of a new cultural media app called Bring The Noise earlier this month. While everyone is welcome to join, the legendary rapper revealed that hip hop enthusiasts over the age of 35 are the primary audience he wanted to reach.
“There ain’t no reason why a 15-year-old should try to appeal to a 20-year-old. If a 40-year-old appeals to a 20-year-old, just be yourself. If they come, cool. If they don’t come, cool. With social media, cats is competing against each other,” Chuck stated. “I built my own platform and it’s whatever. We’ll stick to the culture.”