Mental Megaphone: Inspired By Chuck D

Legendary Public Enemy frontman sounds off on racial slang, industry manipulation and cultural decay, and one writer continues the conversation.

Johnny Firecloudby Johnny Firecloud

This is the beginning of what I hope to make a regular perspective feature here on CraveOnline, in which we examine the current words & wisdom of men and women who carry a torch of principle and true progress in a veritable blizzard of cheap gimmickry and cultural decay. Consider it my personal penance to the gods of pop culture for taking part in the hype tide from time to time.

Both media and the attentive public claim reverence to vocal, insightful artists like Public Enemy frontman Chuck D, Henry Rollins, KRS-One and Jack White, broadcasting our adoration of their transcendent discipline and "telling it like it is". All the while, we're promoting the very antithesis of their message by giving and drawing attention to the antics of industry-clown superstars who are crowned not for excellence but image, industry push and marketability. Most often, the "message" we hear and see from artists is a manifestation of a larger manipulation, aimed at moving product – be it albums, headphones, luxury vehicles or beyond. 

We're in an incredible time, however, when artists can speak their minds directly through social media, unfettered by managers, publicists and overseers checking and crafting the message. A certain balance can be found, and from time to time it's important to be reminded of that, however uncomfortable the conversation may be.

The kickoff of this possibly-recurring feature was inspired by P.E.'s Chuck D, a pioneer in not only rap but using the megaphone of celebrity to draw attention to injustice, power deceit and our collective need to improve as human beings despite widespread, wildly encouraged complacence. Through socially-conscious lyrical wrecking balls in songs such as "Can't Truss It" and "By The Time I Get To Arizona," Chuck and P.E. laid the groundwork for the Immortal Techniques and Zack de la Rochas of the world to come, painting devastatingly poignant pictures of racial strife and inequality under explosive beats and calling for a catalyst of change.

What follows on Page 2 is a stream-of-consciousness collection of the legendary rapper's Twitter messages from the past weekend, wherein Mr. D goes in hard on use of the word "nigga" in rap culture. When a blizzard of press releases and writers (whose jobs rely on amassing clicks) dictate the majority of what readers/consumers consider to be the meat of modern entertainment (or news, for that matter), words of essential wisdom and guidance from those who have endured the struggle are inevitably drowned out in the mix. They're relegated to the sidelines of efficacy as fringe opinions of a minority voice, when in fact a great many of us would love a greater dose of true value in the 24-hour consumption cycle we're locked into. 

I'm caucasian by racial definition, so I don't have a legitimate dog in the "N-word" fight, but that doesn't nullify a lifetime of observation between my upbringing in the suburbs of Detroit to the melting pot of L.A. It doesn't demand default silence when addressing the fact that using the term "nigga," "the N-word" or any variation therein actually gives the taboo more power on all sides of the race card. 

The charade of "reclaiming" the most derogatory of insults to a black man by switching the "er" to an "a" and using it as a social reference device has a greater depth of acceptance in some areas than others. But the predicament is merely a symptom of a larger cultural rot that extends beyond the hangups over pigmentation. When non-blacks drop the word "nigga" in comfortable quarters just as frequently as blacks (and do they ever), the argument evaporates that the word possesses an established ownership. 

Is there a conscience backlash in wait resulting from the fact that the favorite social callout is derived from a word to describe those considered sub-human, a word still used rampantly by millions in this country? Perhaps. But we'll likely find it interwoven with the eventual fallout of America's obsession with the vapid, violent and unrefined, whichever form or function it may take. 

Suffice to say, it's a dark, shameful era in rap when a street-preaching legend like Chuck D can enthusiastically endorse a phenomenally gifted rapper like Brother Ali, and the vast majority turns a blind eye in favor of the new Chris Brown single or whatever baby-talking nonsense Lil Wayne is spitting today. This is not a matter of quality discrepancy, but by the packaging and persistence in shifting the culture to meet the industry desire – which is a factory-line cycle of of thoughtless consumption, with scant variation. 

We intentionally cast aside the pictures of Rihanna's bloodied, swollen face from Chris Brown's vicious double-fisted assault the night of the 2009 Grammys for the sake of what we're told is the next smash hit from the emperor of "Team Breezy". We're fed the surgically orchestrated hype illusion, and we make it so with our wallets, mouse clicks and television remotes. Advertising has become a self-fulfilling dumptruck of bullshit, backing up to drop the latest load on masses that have grown to only recognize two groups of stimuli: sugar and salt. 

Social rot is all around us, the accelerating norm. While we reserve more and more of our grey matter for processing the ever-complicated and relentlessly evolving tech infiltrating our existence, dumbing down of our culture extends to the far outer reaches, whether in politics or academia, whether spiritually or through intentionally blind consumption without regard to source or consequence of soul. We need it compact. We need it instant and untethered.

In a genre of hyperfocused wordplay, use of such a derogatory definer as "nigga" subtracts skill and indicates laziness, according to Chuck. When so many heavyweight MCs claim undying reverence to P.E.'s chief MC, it's a telling sign of superficiality that no steps are taken to adopt and share his more evolved perspective, abandoning self-assaulting slang and aiming for depth and longevity that moves beyond the material. This epidemic is, of course, facilitated and ensured by an industry that sees little to no profit potential in enlightening and enhancing their consumer base. Market-tested saturation has become a specific science, and soul is rarely a part of the equation. Only a select few *cough* Rhymesayers *cough* put art and heart before the dollar, and operate upon a core family value we all yearn for at the center of the storm.

As Chuck explains, the messages you hear from the biggest names in the game are written by their owners. The celebrity endorsements aren't for quality of product, but the masses flood the market with open wallets, driven by clever advertising deals arranged by corporate giants to give a new shine to their product. Chrysler's 300 sales skyrocketed after Eminem appeared in a high-flying ad for the brand, giving the company a $116 million showing in profits in the first three months of 2011, versus a loss of a staggering $197 million during the same period last year. In today's economy, how many people, Eminem fans specifically, can drop $25,000 in today's market, because Eminem told them to? A hell of a lot, apparently. 

Chuck goes on to address the detriment of our consumer culture as it pertains to Hip-Hop, and how a lazy & complicit unspoken agreement between talent, representatives, owners and media has sucked the any true value or relevance out of our modern culture. That laziness, he explains, is what causes black Americans to feel comfort assigning a nickname of drastic inequality, blind to the fact that major industry despises equality, because it can't be packaged and sold.

Read Chuck D's words on Page 2.


As mentioned on page 1, the following is a collection of Twitter messages by Public Enemy frontman Chuck D on fame, derogatory racial epithets and industry manipulation. The tweets have been combined to form paragraphs, but no other revisions were made. 

From Chuck:

Nigger/Nigga being dropped in current day rap says to me: You are not thinking hard enough. Question, racially speaking since the USA still is color stricken like a TV set, what do white folk REALLY think of this NEW N WORD explosion? In this time, folks looking in other countries are stunned at this N Word explosion coming from a select few yet Powerless cast of idiots.

36 million blackfolk, 12.6% of the population decides on what? The powerlessness of acceptance is stunning, as 87% secretly laugh at us. I get TONS of mail from across the EARTH, and here in the USA who are baffled why black people are NOT embarrassed. Rampant use of the word out of any context, as commerce and fake love sounds like COMIC VIEW for the KKK, and any other racist agenda to me.

12.6% heres another question. What real clout is within that % of population that says the Nword is cool, over the 87.4% that are laughing?

I was in CapeTown in 2009 and an AfriKan man called me a nigga… I was momentarily Confused.. cant STOP a word. But we have to magnify its context as terrible, fighting word. Would a brother ever tolerate being called a p#**y? Brothers will fight you If you call them a p**#y. But somehow the OWNERS reversed the charges on the Nword since 1980, and made the NWORD cool?

Usin' the NWORD b4 R&B (ReaganAndBush1980) usually brought a hard stare, got you cut, shot or knocked the FK out. Same w calling a bro a P today. In bizzaro world my man someone is saying "YOU MY P***Y" and giving them fist bump. #wtf You via music. Me via comedy. SO, the question IS to all you PRO N worders,if RAP can turn Nword around in 15 years, WHEN will a bro ACCEPT with love being called a p**#y?

Hmmm so I'm seeing that a bro wont tolerate bein called anything feminine but he will lovingly accept being called somethin LESS than a SLAVE. IMHO Fewer than 1000 people in media and entertainment have sold to a billion person planet an endorsed use of a term ushered in by RAPPERS? The word is always a backroom word whether whipping a person in the barn or a poolroom.The problem is when a CLIVEIOVINE turns a deaf ear $$.

History normally written by the victors, N word hands victory back without consideration for right to such generosity. Since a record about "I just shitted on them" can be a hit, I won't be surprised when brothers calling themselves pussies is ok. Likesaid I said the word in context is NOT a peaceful loving thing at all. Its not a piece of jewelry that industries SELL. But the context as in NAS approach was to be considered in what was trying to be addressed, was courageous in my opinion.

What got me started with the Nword thing WAS the sheer LAZY use of it by the last 15 years of RAP, in genre of word use it subtracts skill. Repeat use of a word in RAP is like traveling in ball.The Nword is like carrying but then again if it wasnt for Refs the NBA would be terrble. Nobody really would pay to see the NBA if it didnt have rules.Same with RAP it needs a ref because the SHT is sloppy as FK.I didnt say wack.

Bottomline if you dig an artist you want them to serve back with their talent, NOT act like some spoiled privileged brat waitin to get your $. So all this I gotta relate to my n#**as is BS because they don't visit schools nor jails, absent in their hoods, but easy to see on TV. ITs LAZY. YOU the public suck it up because they SHOW up on TV, and you misconstrue THAT as POWER. They appear to be everywhere & nowhere at the same time.

You dont see somebody on TV or mainstream media and you think they've vanished. Waiting for TV and radio to deliver a hologram is a detriment. I have an open ear but apparently people are trained by MTV BET Clearchannel and sanctioned NY-LA based mags for their mainstream opinion. Check where we have DJs from across the planet UPLOAD their radio shows& check MY show AndYouDontStop! it wont cost YOU. I play Joell BroAli, JeanGrae, as expected,my point IS i have a problem with cats spittin sht they really deep down don't BELIEVE themselves.

I been fanatic about HipHop since 1977 I dug every decade. but the MAIN unacceptable thing is robbing the public of it's entertaining value. Not who got arrested,not who slapped somebody, I mean cats girlfriends are getting more attention than the artist themselves. It's called LAZY. A lazy press, a lazy artist, a lazy media, a lazy agent lawyer, a lazy exec. An a spoonfed public who feels niglect but thinks It's official BIG.

3 years ago doing Hot97 Summerjam I had to pull dude aside who introduces us to 40000 as these n**gas brought the revolution". He was a confused 30 plus cat who meant well but was languageless. He thought he was relating. This laziness doesn't come from the youth. I say this today because I live a good life, I dont wake up mad. But I cant take the public being slapped by the enemy into stuptor submission.

There are 100 or fewer names that control your mindsets in the sht you say you love, in media music sport and entertainment. Twitter has replaced what RAP used to do, the difference is that YOU the public has an equal voice.The industry HATES equality can't sell it.

My goals are how to stop The-Masses from bein Them-Asses. I'm not here to teach,but I'm not afraid when pressed.We ave enough bold shakers in RAP that I fight for. I kick ass for the Talibs, Alis etc. The industry runs and hides from me as they should. I fight for the Mos Defs the Roots etc. We can't expect them to fight and have careers too.

These are peeps doin sht right in front of you, and broadcasting their techniques. Btw check out a funny scary sci-fi flick Idiocracy.