Chuck D talks Ice Cube, N.W.A, Death of Hip Hop groups, Hip Hop needing Black Leaders + More
Nick Huff Barili of Hard Knock TV, in collaboration with www.GRAMMY.com sits down with the legendary Chuck D for in-depth interview. In part 2, Chuck talks about the death of Hip Hop groups, influence of N.W.A, working with Ice Cube, lack of Blacks in leadership roles in Hip Hop and more. Transcript below:
Nick Huff Barili:I don’t see as many legendary groups in Hip Hop as there used to be.
CHUCK D: (overlapping) You don’t see groups.
Nick Huff Barili: Why do you think that is?
CHUCK D: The biggest difference between then and now is that it was a group effort in the ’80s. The elements were all in conference with each other. Emcee and break dancing, DJ’ing, which was the ruler of the roots and even, graffiti, part of it, art expression. When the recording contracts came about and they recorded four people and then they, like, five people that sound like one, like the Furious Five used to say, well, the problem came into the area of renegotiation.
If something was hot, you had to renegotiate with, like, five people, so that’s not on record company time, and when it came to black music, it was the re-negrotiation or re-niggergotiation when it came to rap, and some of these obstacles of dealing with five to four heads as opposed to one company trying to deal with one became the pattern. It’s easy to cut a deal with one person and just deal with the lawyer.
So it’s still a team, but it was a team of others, not the team of makers and creators, and so that, over a long period of time, had sort of, like, been the evolution or the devolution of Hip Hop as far as being the master of its own sphere, you know? Now, it’s individuals, and people point to individuals. And I’m telling you, it ain’t no one person could do it better than a group that’s wired right, that’s on focus and on point.
They might get paid more money, but that’s probably it. Or the, you know, they might get all the exposure. Like, for example, I think Jay-Z and Kanye West, if you took the amount of radio play that they’ve had over the last 20 years, you know, I mean, I think it’s probably 10,000 times has to be 100,000 times anybody had gotten in the ’80s and ’90s. A hundred thousand times.
Like, when you hear a record like 16 times a day. These rap records didn’t do that. Nobody made that happen. So therefore, the–all those spoils go to that one situation now. So you have legends, but they’re individual legends.
Nick Huff Barili: I can’t believe it’s been 27 years since It Takes a Nation came out.
CHUCK D: I can. (interviewer laughs) Twenty–yeah, twenty-six years.
Nick Huff Barili: I read that the first two copies, you gave to Dr. Dre and Easy E. Is that right?
CHUCK D: Well, they were copies I had, and we’d play in Vegas together, and they were back there. I’m, like, man, boom. When I left them, they were staring at it, turning it over, you know, like, this is the shit, which wasn’t–I think it influenced them to make, you know, Straight out of Compton.
Nick Huff Barili: What was your take on NWA at the time?
CHUCK D: They were nice, young guys. (interviewer laughs) I mean, I knew they probably scared white America, but to us, we was, like, we were grown men. We was, like, man, these are nice little guys. I remember the NWA and the Posse and it just, like, well, they were influenced by Bum Rush the Show, you know, and I just said, this is a force, because I said this is taking place–this is Hip Hop in another city.
And, and we befriended them. I mean, matter of fact, I befriended Ice Cube, so when the whole thing happened with Cube and NWA, I tried to tell Cube just stay with the group, man. The group is the thing, but he said it was impossible for him to do so. So I had to tell my team that we had to figure out (laugh) we didn’t want to jar their situation by, like, but he wasn’t gonna go back to the situation, so we had to agree to helping Ice Cube, you know, make his first album.
And that’s when the whole shit changed. That’s when the west was won. Uh, because after Straight out of Compton, you know, came America’s Most Wanted in 1990, along with Fear of a Black Planet and the bread seeds were already laid when Cube was coming to visit us, and me and Kane had been talking for the longest period of time about collaborating with a song, and I said, well, this is the title, Burn, Hollywood, Burn, and Cube happened to be there at the same time when Kane came to the studio in Green Street Studios, and Cube was sitting there and me and Kane was talking, and Cube, you know, we was working out the beginnings of his America’s Most Wanted, but he said, yo, I want to be down on that shit.
So we looked–me and Kane looked at him, like, yeah, well, fuck it, why not? (laugh) And that’s where me, Big Daddy Kane and Ice Cube did Burn, Hollywood, Burn, and it was hell to get these record companies to agree on three different labeled artists to collaborate on one song. Damn fucking lawyers. (interviewer laughs)
Nick Huff Barili: Last year we interviewed Scar Face, uh, and he told–
CHUCK D:Brad Jordan.
Nick Huff Barili: Yes. And he–
CHUCK D: (overlapping) That’s my man.
Nick Huff Barili:He, talked about Hip Hop becoming white now, and he said that the (current state of Hip Hop reminds him what happened with the blues and rock and roll. Do you see it going that way?
CHUCK D: There’s a bunch of different circumstances that are different there. Well, number one, I talked about what made–what’s the difference between Hip Hop now and Hip Hop then. Hip Hop then was a group collaborative effort, in the making of it, and you also have people kind of, like, sprinkled into some of the governing of it. Recently, you know, and then you had a period where at least you had some people into the administration, the governing of it, that resembled at least where the music came from, black faces, but, you know, I mean, that has been weaned down into a company having a say-so in the hired person.
That isn’t gonna–that’s not gonna last for long, but if you’re gonna say the whitening of Hip Hop, I think even what Scarface what was talking about, we need more black people in the governing in smart areas. Who is the general manager here? Who is doing some of the administration? I mean, and true to the art form and the people it comes from, just because you have a black face up in there, but you’re doing the same dumb ass shit doesn’t make it better, so we need black people who are accountable into the running of Hip Hop and curating it as well as everybody else, ’cause, I mean, culture is supposed to be spread to everybody, and it’s supposed to be shared, but once you start looking at it as being, oh, this is dominated by people, because people ain’t into that, you know?
But at the end of the day, then people is making decisions, happen to say, wow, okay. I know white people are into Hip Hop, but everybody is here? It’s gonna govern us, gonna be white and there’s not gonna be any black participation in there? So you–so it’s a two-sided thing. You want to be hard on the importance of administering it and being in key areas instead of always being on the stage and being–making the song.
And, you know, you’ve got to be in all areas. It should be diverse in all areas, and you’ve got to really, seriously put a, uh, an effort into curating the art to teach young, black kids in schools as well as just saying, okay. At the end of the day, you’re gonna just consume it. Whenever you throw it out there, say, okay, you know, we need people to consume this and just be consumers and you don’t teach, then anything goes.
But you’ve got to teach this art form, because when you teach this art form, you’re teaching history. You’re teaching history and the legacy of a people, too. It’s very important. You can’t just have a person that’s unqualified running the administration of your art form, so you’ve got to teach people to at least be enthusiastic to know that they could be qualified.
It’s important for people to know the importance of knowing that they have a shot to working inside the music business as well as just saying they was just gonna be somebody who was gonna buy the product and consume.
That’s just whackery, so that’s what Scarface was talking about. He says, like, where’s the diversity behind the scenes. When you look on television right now, you see a lot of diversity on the camera, but behind the scenes, you’re, like, wow, this company is just (laugh) not as diverse as what they’re putting on the forefront. That’s helpful.
I’m not offended by, like, what, for example, Macklemore up against the I’m not offended by that. Hip Hop needs to really seriously grow up and govern its own thing for a minute, but you can’t wish for it. You’ve got to work for it, and if it ever happens, it’s gonna have to come after some period of work that makes it govern itself, you know? And, uh, and for it to be fair and just.