Chuck D has been shouting “Fight the Power” for more than 30 years. As Public Enemy’s de facto leader, the rapper/ orator has witnessed hip-hop in all of its phases and iterations since his early teens.
Along the way, he’s evolved into a living encyclopedia of music and sports. A self-described “old hippie” at heart, Chuck’s love of Led Zeppelin, Seals & Crofts and the Rolling Stones makes the 61-year-old very much a child of the ‘60s.
That background — not to mention his booming, commanding voice — is presumably what led Grammy Award-winning producer T Bone Burnett, a Producer of a several pieces in Audible’s Words + Music franchise, to advocate on behalf of the Long Island native for the latest installment in the Audible Original series, “Songs That Shook the Planet,” which premieres today (Feb. 3). Executive produced by Lorrie Boula with Chuck D, the series aims to steer listeners to indelible music from songs from artists who spoke up while providing a soundtrack of civil uprising that still resonates decades later.
Selections include such naturals as Marvin Gaye’s 1971 opus “What’s Going On,” Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” and Billie Holiday’s 1939 classic “Strange Fruit,” but Chuck says his vast knowledge of music from multiple genres and eras actually made the list more difficult.
“If you’ve lived a long life, you have a long list,” he tells Variety. “I always try to avoid the obvious and do a little bit more digging to come up with something different, that people might have heard less than the usual suspects. At 61 years old, even when I say something is normal to me, it might be totally different for somebody 40 and under — and it might be also something that’s due to be discovered.”
“What’s Going On” was the most obvious track to include on the list, he says, noting that the song was released at a critical time in history.
“It was recorded in 1970, which followed probably one of the most turbulent periods of change in our time, and came out in ’71, three years after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated,” Chuck says. “And also coming from Motown [Records], which changed and revolutionized young America culturally.”
As usual, “Songs That Shook the Planet” is hardly the only project emanating from the office of Chuck D. Earlier this month, PBS announced that he will star in the forthcoming docuseries, “The Story of Hip-Hop with Chuck D (w/t).” Produced by the BBC and developed by Chuck and longtime manager Lorrie Boula, the four-part series traces hip-hop culture’s story beginning with its 1973 inception in the Bronx.
“The hip-hop community has, from the start, been doing what the rest of media is only now catching up to,” Chuck said in a statement about the show. “Long before any conglomerate realized it was time to wake up, hip-hop had been speaking out and telling truths. Working with PBS and BBC is an opportunity to deliver these messages through new ways and help explain hip-hop’s place in history and hopefully inspire us all to take it further.”
As Chuck looks ahead to the next chapter, his focus will pivot toward his blossoming art career, building his RAPstation network and releasing music via Public Enemy’s recently inked deal with its original label home, Def Jam (although without his former partner-in-rhyme Flavor Flav — at least for the moment).
“I’m going to solidify RAPstation in RSTV as being an incredible service,” he says. “I think all the pieces are there. It just takes some tightening up on the visual side in our app. Then, I’ve got the SpitSlam record company with C-Doc, and Enemy Books that we will break open with great writings and great illustrations.
“My art career is pretty much something I want to signify as being my major thing for the next 15 years anyway. I’m trying to jumpstart another realm of hip-hop performances, and that’s rocking the museums and exhibit halls. That’s probably what I’ll name the next album, ‘Chuck D and the Near Def Experience,’ which will give me the ability to rock music, a lecture and the walls with artwork in the same night. That’s what Chuck D and the Near Def Experience is all about.”