FEAR OF A SLACK PLANET ~ first published in SWERVE Magazine, September 1994
FEAR OF A SLACK PLANET
a Public Enemy interview/story, first published in SWERVE Magazine, September 1994…
It was quite a shock meeting Public Enemy in person two years ago. Flavor Flav was bouncing off the walls, bug-eyed, and making no sense at all. I thought at the time that he was definitely on something but PE was so vehemently anti-drugs I dismissed that idea. He was probably jet-lagged and besides, everyone knew Flav’s personality was ‘out there’.
In November of last year William Drayton a.k.a. Flavor Flav was arrested for firing a round in the general direction of his neighbour, who he thought was screwing his girlfriend. The charges were eventually dropped, but not before Flav had checked himself into the Betty Ford Clinic. While his partner in rhyme Chuck D could state proudly that he was drug free, Flav had become hooked on the pipe. Crack cocaine, the scourge of the black community, had claimed the Clown Prince of Hip Hop. Shit, he’s a grown man, older than me. How can I tell another man what do to?
The reaction was immediate: PE were busted, exposed as hypocrites, suckas who played themselves. All their talk about fighting the power - that drugs were a white weapon to oppress the black race - wasn’t enough to stop one of their own looking for the dopeman. This idea amazes Chuck D. ‘To me it was a simple thing’, he told The Source magazine. ‘Everybody makes mistakes. I asked Flav: Yo, are we still family or what? You still down? If you are then let’s work this out’ If Chuck D was willing to stand by his man, Flav was willing to confront his addiction. He emerged from the Betty Ford Clinic drug-free and immediately joined the rest of PE to complete their fifth album in eight years: Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age.
The response from the music press has been mixed, the predominant opinion being that PE are out of step with the modern rap. That their sound and message hasn’t changed or progressed beyond their earlier works. Their last album Apocolypse 91: Fear of a Black Planet, was released early 1991. Chuck D gave me a hint as to why there has been such a delay in releasing new material when I interviewed him in Auckland prior to PE’s live concert with Ice T. He told me then that he was impressed with Ice T’s business savvy, how Ice had managed to hang on to every dollar that was due him, and that despite the worldwide acclaim and profile that PE enjoyed they were not a rich band. Reminding me of the history of naive black artists who over the decades been cheated out of their money through their naivety, Chuck D seemed almost embarrassed to have fallen into the same trap. He admitted that their compilation remix album Greatest Misses was a stop-gap while he took time out to re-organise the Public Enemy organisation. The organisation was much larger than the band, and concerned with raising black consciousness and ensuring that the black community got the message. Certain people had been thrown out of this organisation and some contracts with major companies still had to be renegotiated.
It seems bizzarre to me that critics should now be dissing PE for not having anything new to say. Chuck D is not a gangsta, so why should he rap about driving thru the hood strapped and looking to smoke some bitches? What pissed him off most was that these people ‘were brothers’. While many new rap acts are smoking blunts and promoting its use in their music and videos Chuck D sees it as the thin edge of the wedge. ‘40’s and blunts are gateway drugs to bigger highs, confusion, and destruction’ explains Chuck D, describing the message behind Give It Up, their first single off the album. ‘[We have to] question what we put in our bodies without thinking. Some of us treat our cars better than ourselves’.
Chuck D comes down hard on those that betray their own community. He refers to Niggatrons, people who’ve been programmed by White America to sell drugs and shoot eachother. Acknowledging that most black urban youth would rather be down with Snoop Dogg than Arrested Development, Chuck D says ‘we can’t blame the youth. They must be made to follow order, and if adult Black people don’t make order, we can’t expect our young to respect guidelines we can’t make.’
A laudible sentiment however Chuck D’s method of bringing about order may shock those unfamiliar with Louis Farrakhan’s interpretation of the Muslim faith. Believe it or not, Chuck D’s solution to those that perpetrate Black on Black violence is the final solution. In Death of a Carjacka Chuck D rhymes about having his car wired to blow when someone tries to steal it. ‘In Africa people lose their heads and hands for taking something that’s not theirs’ says Chuck D, a follower of the Muslim faith.
Carjacking, dopedealing, drive by shootings; they’re all facets of the Black on Black violence that PE maintain is something stage managed by racist White America to destroy the Black community. For Chuck D the proof is clear: ‘Black people still don’t have control over our economic, educational, and law enforcement situations. Though we often call ourselves a ‘community’ without control what you actually have is a plantation’.
The slave metaphors come thick and fast, with a whole song (Hitler Day) dedicated to the stupidity of celebrating the discovery of America on Columbus Day. Columbus did not discover America, it was already inhabited by Native Americans, and led to the slave trade ‘People have to realise how we - Blacks, Native Americans, and others of colour - feel [about slavery]’ says Chuck D ‘whites have to understand how they are responsible for wounds that have yet to be healed’.
If the message gets to heavy to handle then there’s always Flavour Flav. In What Kind of Power We Got? he rocks with the anthem refrain ‘What kind of Power we got? Soul Power!’. It’s a rap you know is going to huge live. While there are some strong lyrics hidden in the verses, the chorus’ make it Flav’s answer for all the kids who wanna be down with O.P.P. In I Aint Madd At All Flav jams with a live horn section and a girlie chorus in a 70s style soul swing. It’s a rap with two meanings: is he saying he’s not upset about being arrested ‘Who put the cuffs on Flava/Why you gonna do that?’ or is he warning us he’s not the madman he seems. ‘First there was Superfly/But Flavor’s got more style/And you can’t tell cos you’re cracking up’
Flavor Flav is certainly not the jester he portrays on stage. He can play any instrument he cares to pick up, and has been described as the only member of the group who could go into a studio and make a whole record himself. Clearly it’s a side he prefers not to show. Once, when spotted in a hotel lobby playing a medley of classical music, Flav immediately began banging away on the keys like a chimpanzee in a PG Tipps commercial. It has been suggested that this frustrated genius was the root of his drug problem. ‘Everybody got individual lives’ says Flav.
As a fan I hope he manages to stay clean. When PE first broke out in 1986 with My Uzi Weighs A Ton they captured the hearts and minds of Black youth all across America. That message got appropriated by NWA who dispensed with looking at the reasons behind the violence and just stuck with telling us that life ‘aint nothing but bitches and money’. With such negative imagery it’s no wonder Gangsta rap has proven itself to be a self fulfilling prophecy. While it may seem hypocritical for PE to preach their messages whilst one of their own members was abusing drugs, at least they’re not glamourising the lifestyle. After all these years they continue to speak out for their own people, hoping they might see the changes they themselves need to make. As Chuck D himself says in the sleeve notes: ‘Some people will foolishly look to this album for solutions then criticize the lack of them, when they know damn well a positive rap record can only add balance to the chaotic side of rap.’
PE just want you to know what’s up. They can diagnose the ailment and offer the medicine, but it’s up to you to take it down. ‘Nuff said.
NB: This word file was recovered from 1994 via Text Recover, and came out slightly jumbled, meaning I had it to put it back together from memory. Some bits I couldn’t fathom so I left them out. An example:
Yet Chuck D eses reality th. ‘W. ‘Tall for one and one for allto ,piano told ‘you can stand for something [no drugs] you can stand for something [Drugs Are Bad but that don’t mean it won’t happen in your life. Some things are just beyond your control. Drugs are more powerful than the average man. I wanna tell people that. [Drugs] still call me, but I’m like Captain America out there and it’s just bouncing off my sheild’.decay of the Black communtity they continue to speak out that people With such a heavy mantle placed upon them it’s really no wonder one of them cracked.