By Enrique Lopetegui
Public Enemy will be at Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest's Blue stage on Friday, Nov. 4, at 8:30pm. For those outside of Austin, Pitchfork will be streaming the festival live starting at noon on November 4-6.
Man, you won’t believe the crap I have to hear. Why do most young, up-and-coming rappers seem unable to take the Public Enemy-approach to hip-hop to new heights?
(laughs) Yeah, I know, I know
Once the corporations started dangling their money on top of the art form, it turned the “we” into “I.” When you care about “we” you care about what affects “we” and the community and the people, so therefore you make songs that we and the community can relate to. I have nothing against these [new] songs, because people want to actually get away from what affects their everyday life. They want to have a good time and drink and and stuff like that, but there [used to be] a balance when it came down to black music, and that’s where we come from. Somebody’s got to protect the door at the party, you know what I’m saying?
Today I was reading a quote by Malcolm X where he says that, if we’re not careful, the media will make us hate the oppressed and love the oppressor. The current political climate seems made-to-order for Public Enemy
Yeah, pretty much. This is the silent sea of media in the United States. For example, you have so many people who are anti-immigration that come from immigrants. It’s a damn shame. They don’t even understand the true histories of this land, and that’s why we put things in our music. I have a song from last year called “Tear Down This Wall,” and it takes Ronald Reagan to tear down that wall but you know what? The United States has spent billions on a wall between Mexico and the United States that makes no sense in the modern day. You can go check it out on publicenemy.com or just put down “Tear Down That Wall.” My statement is, we got to occupy hip hop.
How do you do that?
You occupy hip hop by supporting many of the artists who make songs that support the people of their community instead of the corporations trying to get money from the community by any means necessary. I think that’s a good way to start. Support the artists that are saying something, and there’s plenty of artists who are doing it on the Internet. We can occupy hip-hop by supporting those that are speaking for the people instead of against the people.
Fortunately, there are still some people doing good things. What contemporary rappers do you like?
I have a radio show. I play people like Common. I support the Roots. I support Lupe Fiasco, who’s saying some things. Also, Dead Prez has always been strong and powerful, but they’ve been kept out of mainstream opportunities. People like J-Live, Immortal Technique, KRS-One have always been fantastic and great. These guys don’t get worse; they get better.
Do you see any chance for Obama in 2012?
He’s a great driver on a bad vehicle, like a good captain with a bad boat. I think the two-party system in America is outdated. I think it does nothing for the people, and the politicians have to spend most of their time fighting each other for position. This is why you see these occupy movements come out. The politicians and corporations seem to be moving further away from the needs of the people. I don’t expect miracles from anybody in government.
But Obama blew it with all of his conciliatory bullshit
That’s a bad position to be in. The minute that you get into office, you’re going to have to be on the defense. When you talk about the people, the people have to be fought for. A job can’t be defended more than the people. That’s the issue.
Bad position for him or me to take?
I think no one could do a good job in that presidential suite. The only thing you can do in that presidential suit is do worse, and you have to say basically, “Fuck the people” and “Fuck the world,” like Bush said, and then you can probably be successful at being a U.S. president because you followed the American agenda. Is that too strong for you?
It’s pretty hopeless...
When you have people sitting in the same section who are anti-immigration law, I don’t understand what that’s about. I have no idea what that’s about. This is one world, and countries and governments are just like corporations. They control people. The fact that you have to ask permission from a government to go to the world that God gave us is actually ridiculous to me. Maybe I’m a believer and a purist, but that’s the way I feel, Enrique. That’s the way I feel.
So what should we do in November 2012?
I’m going to vote for Obama again. I don’t want no cowboy up in there like Governor Rick Perry ... I don’t expect miracles by any of these people. I just think that we should be able to do things [for ourselves]. I don’t rely on government for anything. I believe that most Americans, if they’re able to work with the world, they would be able to do better. But America doesn’t serve us the world. It just consumes now. It’s just some individual, selfish bullshit to me.
I don’t understand: you admit even Obama can’t do shit, that that’s the nature of the position, but you’re still going to vote for him? I’m not saying we should vote Republican, but there’s a third alternative.
What third alternative?
Democrats always get away with murder because they know most liberals would never vote for the GOP. But what Obama did is incredible. He had the momentum, the popularity, the mandate, everything served on a silver platter, and he kept “negotiating” with people who told him on his face their main goal is “to make sure he’s a one-term president.” We should fuck the Democrats until they learn they have to deliver what they promise instead of trying to be like Republicans. At least they should try. We should vote for a real socially conscious third party. And if the GOP wins, fine — I survived eight years of Bush, I can take four more years of whatever clown the GOP nominates. What I can’t take is Obama shitting on all of us who were hoping for him to stand up for what’s right.
I don’t know, man. To me, it ain’t no baseball game. I mean, I think the two-party system in America is bullshit. Maybe it needs to be one party. Everybody knows that the party comes along and you end up voting for the person inside the party. Look, the Democrats are damn near Republicans and the Republicans are Democrats in some kind of way. The Republicans seriously want to get into the dynamic of identity, and they’re Klansmen. But I don’t even want to get into that. It’s all one big political game, and people don’t want politics to play with them like it’s a big game, and they can’t help it.
OK, I’m pissed now. Let’s change the subject. Tell me about the new album you’re working on.
It’ll be called Most Of Our Heroes Still Don’t Appear On No Stamp.
That’s based on a line from “Fight the Power,” right?
Yes. I like making one song at a time to make it very relevant, but I am committed to doing this album because it’s a project, but it’s still a band project to show how things are put together in a digital type of way. I’m committed to making an album. It’s going to say a lot of things. It’s going to be a concept album. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll tell you, I have always started making one song at a time because you can make a song based on how you feel at the moment and then release it the next day if you need to. That’s what I like, I like the fact of making things a cappella and letting it out there and seeing remixes come back with something.
But will it be singles, an EP, or a full album?
It’s going to be a whole album. I just told you what I like. I like making one song at a time and releasing them separately, but I’m going to release an album. It’s going to be fun, but I enjoy making new roads with new music. That’s what I enjoy. I think that’s really exciting, knowing that you can put an a cappella out there and see what comes back.
Were you surprised by the impact of It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back? Why is it so powerful? It still sounds great.
As far as hip hop, the album format was new. It was a new expression at the time, and we knew that very few people had tackled an album that actually meant something, with strong topics, and we took to that task. We wanted to make an album full of uptempo fight songs. That was our goal, and we knew it wasn’t being done. We just said, “OK, let’s do what isn’t being done.” That was new and refreshing at the time. What challenges me is doing something new that hasn’t really been done. That’s what I like.
Once and for all: What’s your take on homosexuality?
My whole take is people should not have anybody telling them what to do with their lives. Whatever goes on in their lives, why would a government have the final say on whether you should get married or not, whether you should be with someone or not? I’m very strong about people having their human rights and sexual rights, and leave it at that. I really don’t don’t care what anybody does.
What about lyrics like “Man to man/I don’t know if they can/From what I know/the parts don’t fit,” for which you got some flack in the past? (From “Meet the G That Killed Me”)
I was addressing the germ that I think was created in a lab. You can call me crazy or whatever, but I think that AIDS was biological warfare on people designed by some person in some kind of laboratory. You know, it’s affected gays, it’s affected a lot of different people, so therefore I was addressing that in my song. [The “G” in the song title] could be replaced with God, girls, gay, germ, but it basically shows how something was created to take the whole area of love and use the area of love
Look, you can’t get no more diabolical than that, because it can’t get better than [having sex]. So if they can figure out a way to have you die doing something that natural, that’s a diabolical war. When I made it, it basically talked about how the germ was transferred. At the end of the song, Flavor goes up and introduces me to some girl that he’s with and goes, “Hey Chuck, meet this G that killed me.” It could have been, “Meet this girl that killed me, meet the germ that killed me.” Basically, at that particular time in 1989, if you caught the germ it was automatically and socially instant death. That’s what the song “Meet the G That Killed Me” [means]. It was basically talking in past tense. I was very angry at the fact that this germ, I thought, was manufactured to kill people. [I’m still angry] to this day, there’s not a legitimate answer to any of this. It’s mind-boggling
One of the big discrimination areas in hip-hop and music is discrimination against women and gays. We built shemovement.com as that portal that really has women making music on their own terms without having a man dictate what kind of music they should do or what kind of art they should do. I think that’s the biggest crime going in hip-hop right now— the destruction of groups, collectives, and also the destruction of women [making] music on their own terms.
Was Flavor Flav ever out of the band?
People would come to us and be like, “Oh, we hope you get back together.” And I’d say, "Who the hell thought we broke up?" They might have said it when they saw Flavor on a TV show, "How could he do a TV show and still be in the band?" It only takes two weeks to film one of those things that last all year. So he has to deal with the ignorance of people that don’t know the industry, that’ll just throw anything at us. And we have to be like, “Well, where’d you get that from?”
Twenty-five years later, things are different. Hip hop is dominated by corporations and Public Enemy is not an as influential as it used to be. Do you agree?
Well, we’re not mainstream. Never really were. We never had a record that was in the top 20. Never. Never had any Grammy awards. Never had no Rolling Stone covers. We had to fight for our influence. These other guys, instead of having to fight for their influence, just happen to be mainstream and successful. We can’t even be put in the same category. We’re more like pioneers of what we did instead of being influenced. Our influence is in the creation of these acts, not trying to be influenced so people can say, “Oh there’s Public Enemy; I’ll go hang them up on my wall.” We’re way past that. Look, would you say the Beatles are influential?
Would you say they’re more influential than Eminem?
In the big scheme of things, probably. But I think It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is the Sgt. Pepper of hip hop.
Most people say Fear of a Black Planet was. We’re happy to have two.
Do you feel 2007’s How You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul is underrated? I believe it should have had more of an impact.
We don’t really look at other places for respect. We play those songs off that album, either we smack the crap [unintelligible] or we don’t. That’s what we do. We don’t really care what anybody thinks. When we come live and perform, when we come down to Austin, we’re going to give a show that if somebody sees us for the first time, they’re going to say, “Oh my God.” That’s our only goal. A song can be anything, but if you can’t perform the song, what good are you? We don’t need no explosions. We don’t need none of that pyrotechnic shit. What we gotta do is get down.