For a long time, Chuck D has been fighting the powers that be.
Since forming the politically toned rap group Public Enemy in 1986, the rapper (né Carlton Ridenhour) has been vocal about all sorts of issues — from empowering African-Americans through self-sufficiency (“Brothers Gonna Work It Out”) to extolling black leaders like Malcolm X (It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back).
Now, he’s getting the message out about technology and the Internet, and what he feels is the future of music. And one thing Chuck D has proved being good at is being vocal.
The group’s second album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back, was ranked as one of the best rap recordings ever by People magazine. The group wrote the politicized anthem “Fight the Power” for Spike Lee’s acclaimed 1989 film Do the Right Thing. And in 1991 Rolling Stone rated Public Enemy as the best rap group.
After Chuck D went solo for several years the original crew got back together in 1998 for the soundtrack to Spike Lee’s He Got Game (1998). Then in the fall of 1999, after publicly embracing file-sharing and the Internet, the rapper put his money where his mouth was and launched Rapstation.com, a Web site “for the global hip hop community.”
Chuck D spoke with ABCNEWS.com about the recent Napster injunction, file-sharing, the Internet, technology and the future of music.
Following is an edited transcript of the interview.
Q: If Metallica has become the voice of anti-Napster sentiment, can you be thought of as the pro-Napster voice? Chuck D: I’m pro-file-sharing, and I think file-sharing is the process that Napster specializes in, and you have tons and tons of situations are going to join the process. We at Rapstation have Gnutella, and Gnutella does file-sharing as well. So my whole thing is the government is looking at file-sharing like they can stop it and they just can’t. They’re stopping one company, and I think that’s shortsighted of the industry, but I don’t really give credit to the industry for being too smart anyway.
Q: Why have you decided to become outspoken about file-sharing? Chuck D: I take an outspoken role on everything I think is progressive for art. And I think this is progressive for the art because the industry and corporations have dominated and monopolized the outlets for the art whether it be radio, television or even the skewing of the price factor. Dominance of record companies dominating over retail and other outlets. Why should I care about that?
Q: In your New York Times editorial in April, you said we should think of the Internet as the radio of the future. Chuck D: We should think of file-sharing as a new kind of radio. We should think of the Internet as a parallel industry to the traditional one that is run by lawyers and accountants.
Q: What are your feelings about the judge temporarily shutting down Napster last night? Chuck D: If Judge Patel was in the last century, we’d still be stuck … depending on horses and buggies and boats and trains to get around. People like that don’t have the big picture.