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Public Enemy battles on at Grammy Museum
LOS ANGELES — There’s something truly revolutionary about Public Enemy leading a crowd through a version of “Fight the Power” in the Clive Davis Theater of The Grammy Museum, with artifacts from Whitney Houston’s life just outside the door. Music really can be the great equalizer.
“Fight the Power” capped a night of discussion Tuesday about the Roosevelt hip-hop group’s legendary career, part of a three-day celebration culminating in their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Thursday night. The Grammy Museum event was part of its ongoing series of talks to create a “permanent record” of music’s greatest artists speaking for themselves to preserve their experiences for historians.
Grammy Museum executive director Robert Santelli interviewed early Public Enemy DJ Johnny Juice, the group’s current DJ, DJ Lord, Professor Griff and the S1Ws, as well as Chuck D.
And they all showed how Public Enemy is, and has always been, a multifaceted group, unifying music, activism, politics and history.
“We always thought that we were more than just one-dimensional,” Chuck D. said. “You can laugh with us. You can be serious with us. You can get something out of us with a heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul, hand-to-hand type of thing. Many times, our interviews would be better than most people’s shows.”
However, the embrace of the mainstream, honoring Public Enemy for its achievements, hasn’t tempered its outsider status or kept Chuck D. from speaking his mind.
He plans to lead a coalition to petition the FCC this summer to require radio stations to dedicate 40 percent of their airtime to its local market, hoping to garner airplay for local artists. He says that today’s hip-hop is struggling. “It hasn’t been the youth that have failed hip-hop,” he said. “It’s been the corrupt order — or disorder — that is throwing it right down the tubes.”
Chuck D. says radio stations and major networks have chosen to promote only one kind of hip-hop, the kind that promotes “a derogatory way of looking at our culture.”
“It was once our life blood,” he said. “It gave us our sense of reality. It gave us our sense of work and thought and meaning and soul. Now, it’s worked in reverse.”
When Santelli brought up the famous quote comparing hip-hop to “CNN for black people,” Chuck D. interrupted him.
“That’s giving CNN too much credit,” he said. “CNN does less now than the Cartoon Network and Animal Planet. Back when Ted Turner was running it, I always thought that the dude, being a rebel in his own way, had the integrity to go up against the odds. That’s been Public Enemy’s story — as an underdog, climbing against the odds, and persevering for what is right. Truth don’t lie.”