I'm a huge Public Enemy fan. Have been since I was 14. Earlier this week, my co-host Bob Mackowycz and I had a chance to speak to one of the most influential voices of my lifetime, PE frontman Chuck D. For 25 years, he's been fighting the power and his love of sports has proven to be a driving force behind it. As a huge Knicks fan, he's also believing the hype about Linsanity...
TSN: Can you explain to me why sports and hip-hop are so intertwined, and you think back to so many videos over the year there's always seems to be at least one dude wearing a jersey of whatever sports team it may be. You don't see it in rock, you don't see it in country, but in hip-hop it seems like sports and hip-hop are intertwined, can you explain why?
Chuck D: I'll just give you a brief take on it. I think it's just like the quest for respect and identity I think it has something to do with it. So I think when it came down to sports teams, a lot of black youth especially coming up in the 70's and 80's, you know we identified with coming together with teams and liking some of the same things so I think the formation of hip-hop and when you start seeing more black faces talking and doing more things in sports in the 80's, I think they came together, people coming from the same environment, so it went hand in hand, athletes and entertainment in the black community seemed to have a voice that was allowed. If it was allowed and then it was loud also at the same time then you have a combination that kinda like put us out there in the forefront.
TSN: You're a New York guy tried and true and I've seen you wearing Chicago Bear hats over the years or Pittsburgh Pirates over the years as well...
Chuck: But I have reasons, because Chicago if you saw C on my hat because its Chuck. I wore a Bulls jersey in the 'Anthrax' video because I lost a bet cause the Knicks lost to the Bulls. P is for the Pirates but also has significance because the great Roberto Clemente transcended sports with being a humanitarian. The Pirates with the first all black starting lineup in 1971 and P is also for Public Enemy so there's rhyme and reason behind me wearing some sports things.
TSN: What was the bet that you had to lose that jersey in the video with Anthrax?
Chuck: That the Knicks would beat the Bulls.
TSN: Is that still eating at you 20 years later?
Chuck: Oh yeah, yeah I'm a Knicks fan, but I've been really happy the last couple of days with Jeremy Lin. I think he is giving me more satisfaction than the last 10-15 years of free agent, big money spending. This dude comes from seemingly no place, and you know Asian-American coming in and stepping in and showing that it can be done from anybody at any particular time without no hype attached to it.
TSN: Oh but Chuck, I gotta take you to task on that. The New York papers are calling it 'Lin-Sanity' as though he was like Vince and 'Vince-sanity.' Come on - and you're the guy who says don't believe the hype.
Chuck D: But I would tell you this, New York always wants the underdog, somebody who actually doesn't seem like we actually bought a player or we drafted a No. 1 with high expectations. Somebody who seems lke they come from nowhere, and that's usually gonna get the pat on the back from somebody who is actually giving 150 percent. You know as a Knicks fan I haven't seen a championship since I was 13 years old. I'm 51 years old now so all I want to do is see my team work hard and play hard and that's what that dude signifies right now.
TSN: 10-15 if you could sit down with Carmelo Anthony right now, what would you say to him?
Chuck: Keep diving for loose balls.
TSN: It sounds like you still miss Charles Oakley...
Chuck D: That's my man, that's my man, I was ticked off when the Knicks traded Oak to the Raptors.
TSN: Your love of the Knicks runs deep and it's not just a sports thing - you've gone on and said that some of your rap style is developed from listening to Marv Albert's call.
Chuck: Yeah, it wasn't just Marv Albert announcing the Knicks, it's Marv Albert announcing the Rangers his play by play on radio is just impeccable. Even when he did the news, he was great and he just has a way – he always has soul.
TSN: Give me your New York sports hierarchy here…rank them in terms of your importance, like Knicks, Jets, Giants, where's the allegiances for your New York sports hierarchy?
Chuck: Well we have two football teams, so everybody you know, I've seen four Giants championships in my lifetime, but I'm not a Giants fan, I'm a Jets fan. So when everyone says "oh you should be happy" I'm like there's two football teams, it's like there's two baseball teams. I'm not a Yankees fan at all, I'm a Mets fan. So I mean, you can't be a fan of both, not a real fan, so I mean that's where that stands. As far as basketball, I grew up a Knicks fan, also you follow the same teams as your father follows or you got kicked out of the house. And I'm a Mets fan because my father is a National League fan, because as a kid he was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. And he was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan because he was a black kid growing up in Harlem, and Jackie Robinson became the first black ball player. So everyone followed the Brooklyn Dodgers, although the New York Giants had a chance and later on they got a black player, but it seemed like the Dodgers jumped and they made it happen first, so therefore there was no National League team for four years after the Giants and the Dodgers moved out, so when the Mets started up in 1962, they assumed all those fans by default.
TSN: Did you have a chance to see Flavor Flav hugging Tom Coughlin after the Super Bowl win?
Chuck: No, but he told me he did he said it was all over the news. I don't even think he knows Tom Coughlin's name, but he's part of the championship parade, he was hugging Tom Coughlin and at the same time he was part of a Super Bowl commercial with Elton John and everybody, so for a guy who doesn't know anything about sports he was really ramped up in to this week.
TSN: Did you ever try to talk to him about sports? When you were on tour constantly?
Chuck: No, he don't care. He don't care. Flava Flav cares about the planet of Flavor Flav. Flave didn't even know Charles Barkley at first and Barkley was really upset back when they were doing their commercials and Charles was like, "How do you not know me man, I know you," and Flav was like, "I don't know man." Obviously, he knows Charles Barkley now but when he first got the chance to meet him he was like, "Chuck, who's that?"
TSN: Would he at least identify with Michael Jordan?
Chuck: Yeah, well he knows Michael Jordan, at the same time we did Saturday Night Live in '91 together. Flav has this thing, "Make the crowd make some noise," and the crowd was really quiet, you know. It's a Saturday Night Live audience and we're a rap group, so Flav says, "Come on, this is New York not North Carolina." And then Michael turned and looked, and he had no idea that Michael Jordan is from North Carolina and played in North Carolina. He had no idea, he was just using North Carolina as a figure of his speech where he would say, "This is New York, this ain't North Carolina, this ain't Wichita." You had to see Michael Jordan's face when he said that.
TSN: You've rhymed about the White House and your problems with the establishment in the past. Tim Thomas, goaltender from the Boston Bruins, they win the Stanley Cup last year, they get their invite to the White House a few weeks ago and Tim Thomas decides to skip out on the opportunity to meet the president. Do you have a problem with Tim Thomas skipping out on the White House?
Chuck: Politically speaking, I really respect President Obama I think he's a great guy, I think he's a great symbol. But he's a good guy with a bad car. He's a great driver in a car that needs an engine job. So politically speaking, if you don't stand up for something then you'll fall for anything, so maybe Tim Thomas really truly believes he wanted to stand up and his statement ranged loud, so why not you know? If you do something you that you really set against doing, and really what does the White House have to do with the Bruins winning anways? It has nothing to do with it. So I don't think it's something that's disrespectful to the sport. I think he made a statement. If he says I'm not gonna go cause I don't like the guy, that's something else. But if he says look he lays out the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or what he feels uneasy against, against government I think maybe he should have been commended for that.
TSN: A statement like Tim Thomas's speaks to anger and American culture is very angry right now for a lot of good reasons.
Chuck: Well, American culture can stand to learn about history and history doesn't really make you angry. It happens to let you know the real deal, you know once you learn history kinda thorough, you kinda know what's been left out, and you kinda know the real deal and it makes you less angry and makes your statements a little more pointed. I think people confuse my anger cause they heard me rapping loud and hard.
TSN: If you were to start Public Enemy today how would that message be different, given everything that you're seeing around you. At the time, you were really able to cut through because you represented kind of a frankness, an honesty and a forth rightness more than anything, it was just a band that stood there and said here's the problems.
Chuck: The conditions were different, it was like R and B was taking place in the United States - Reagan and Bush. Margaret Thatcher was the head of the UK, Nelson Mandela still in prison in South Africa with apartheid ringing loud. You had a lot of things that were happening. Matter of fact we were going to play Europe and had to get on busses and on the middle of the night had to get woken up by a flashlight and dogs from the East German side before we got to the West German side, so the war was still up. Lot of things were happening, so why would I be a silent black man from Roosevelt, Long Island with an opportunity to speak and travel to the world. It took a little bit of boldness, but I wasn't stupid I was saying these things, I could talk about these things, but better yet I could make music to these things, and music is the universal language. So I would start Public Enemy today with maybe a group of a lot of MC's. Maybe they have a lot of vocalists saying a lot of different things with different languages and coming from different parts of the world to talk about things, so that's how I would start it
TSN: You look at what's happening with Ryan Braun right now, here he is the MVP of the National League from the Milwaukee Brewers, could do no wrong until he suddenly tests positives for PED's, performance enhancing drugs and you know almost ever since the new broke its been quiet, and I'd be curious – some are kind of speculating that this all might go away now. But, you look at athletes in the past who have been absolutely raked over the coals for testing positive for banned substances, but could it be possible that he's getting a hall pass because he's white?
Chuck: No, I think that this will not go away. When the Hall of Fame nominees pop up next year and for the next four or five years and names pop up like Palmeiro, Sosa or Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens I mean you know this won't go away it won't leave broad anytime soon. I mean it might look upon to be a lesser thing, but I mean it really gets disturbing about baseball when you have the all-time hit leader and the all-time home run leader its not gonna probably be in the Hall of Fame because of something else. That alone chases people away from the game.
TSN: As a guy who grow up in Roosevelt, Long Island as you mentioned, what's more likely to win first: Jets win a Super Bowl, Islanders win a Stanley Cup or the Knicks win a world title?
D: When I grew up in Roosevelt, trust me, I waited for the Knicks to win another championship, all these things happen, the Islanders won four in a row, right there, ten minutes from the crib. So you can imagine, the Rangers fans that was shaking their heads like, "Yo, this upstart team comes from nowhere and takes four championships!" So I remember seeing a lot of people shaking heads on that. So I was fortunate to come from the same town that sported Julius "Dr. J" Irving. So for the longest period of time we had the best basketball player in the world, so it was great.
Cybulski: You got bragging rights still to this date. Chuck, I gotta tell ya, on behalf of both Bob and I, thank you for just being awesome over the last quarter century.
D: You know I'm just a person that just tries to work and try to make the thing that I work in a little more respected than what it is.