In the daytime the radio’s scared of me,
Cause I’m mad, cause I’m the enemy,
They can’t come on and play me in primetime,
Cause I know the time, plus I’m gettin’ mine.”
I was seventeen years old in 1989 when I first heard the sound of Public Enemy reverberating through the speakers in my friend Jeff’s bedroom. Jeff and I were both skipping school that day and I had walked over to his house to hang out, smoke a little weed and listen to some music. Normally he would play something like Jimmy Hendrix or Pink Floyd but on that day he was listening to something different, something that you would not typically hear on the lily-white, suburban streets of Smithtown, LI. I will never forget Jeff standing six-foot-something behind his keyboard, headphones on, bobbing his head as Chuck D’s voice powered through Terminator X’s scratching, while samples of James Brown blared over and over in the background. Never mind Flavor Flav’s intermittent interjections, it was almost too much for my small, not yet fully developed brain to handle. At the time I could barely recognize the genius. I just knew that I loved it.
Fast-forward 24 years to Roseland Ballroom in NYC. A packed house of all ages, shapes and colors. As I stood on the extremely long line to the ladies bathroom I struck up a conversation with a fifty-one year old black woman who was also looking forward to PE’s performance. Like me she was from Long Island but she did not have the luxury of growing up in one of the upper middle class areas. She told me how Chuck D was the first person from her community that she felt was able to speak to her and the issues that other blacks were confronting. They were not rapping about partying; they were rapping about real issues that affected a community, a community that had basically been ignored for far too long. If PE did anything, it was that they made you pay attention. They brought you vital information in a tightly produced, raw, revealing package.
No disrespect to any of the other acts on the bill, (the line-up was actually quite impressive) but I was there for one thing and one thing only, Public Enemy. At forty years old I can finally wrap my mind around the genius of Chuck D and his lyrics. You can plug any one of PE’s songs from their early career into current times and it is equally as relevant – and arguably more pertinent to a larger segment of the population. Chuck was rapping about injustice and greedy corporations way before a large portion of the Occupy Movement was even a gleam in their parent’s eyes.
“I like Nike but wait a minute, the neighborhood supports so put some money in it. Corporations owe they gotta give up the dough to the town or else we gotta shut em down.”
As they took the stage, the crowd went nuts. They came out strong and did the first few lines of their newest song called “Get Up Stand Up.” It’s one of those songs that proves that the best days of PE may very well be in front of them. Chuck D has become a mentor to so many young Artists who are trying to recreate what he did so many years ago: write lyrics that bring about awareness and inspire people to change the status quo. Rap music has been hijacked by labels that only seem to care about putting out the most superficial of messages. I would just assume shoot myself in the face rather than listen to the self-indulgent, over the top vapidity of most current day rap.
But thankfully there is hope for conscientious rap. There are Artists like Immortal Technique, Brother Ali, Jasiri X, Bambu, Invincible and Rebel Diaz who are speaking truth to power.
This is not a black thing. It’s not a white thing. It’s a human thing. The faster we can unite against injustice, the better legacy we will leave behind for the next generation. We have cared about things that don’t matter for way too long – it’s time to start caring about the things that do. So while you might think it’s a bit strange that a seventeen year old white girl from Smithtown could be so inspired by a band called Public Enemy so many years ago, I say listen to “Get Up Stand Up” and work your way back.
“This song don’t give a damn, if you can’t sing to dance to it, can’t romance to it. This song ain’t arrogant, if you don’t try it, buy it, if your radio deny it. Don’t care bout what who got, what’s cool on TV or what spots hot – I forgot. I ain’t mad at evolution but I stand for revolution. Enough is enough, somebody stand up!”
Cynthia Cone is a heavily tattooed Ex-Con with no college education and very bad punctuation. She currently lives on Long Island, NY where she pays extremely high taxes, likes to drink, rage against the machine and shop at the GAP.
Cynthia is also a satellite producer for the radio show Dangerous Conversation which can be heard on radioio.com.
Contact Cynthia at firstname.lastname@example.org