Media assassin Harry Allen was not on hand to ask Chuck D questions Thursday night at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex. And nobody asked about the future of Public Enemy, because if they ever listened to the seminal album "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back," they knew the answer. Chuck spoke during the launch of SoundCTRL, a new monthly event series for the music industry. But if some of those in attendence were representative of the future of the music industry, well then, to paraphrase, "The future of the music industry got ..."
When Chuck D talks people listen. Even if they are unsure of who exactly the guy with the booming voice in front of the room is. Overheard at the start of the talk: "Hey, you know who that is? That's Chuck D." The response: "Who's that?" Oy. And the response to that. "He invented rap." Double oy.
This is not to say that there weren't plenty in the room who remember seeing Public Enemy's stage show back in the day -- when the S1Ws arrived in vans brandishing uzis and Flavor Flav carried hosting duties on his back while Chuck D glared and Terminator X brought a level of performance and showmanship to supplying the beats unheard of at todays live hip-hop shows.
When asked, after his Hall of Fame talk, whatever happened to live hip-hop production values, Chuck D gave what amounted to a short dissertation on the history of black music. He explained to the crowd of ProTools junkies and and digerati (this was an Internet Week event, after all) the roots of performance in soul music, and said that when a performer got the stage the goal was leave the crowd walking out saying they had never seen any shit like that before. That's a paraphrase, but true nonetheness.
The hype -- and people believing it, of course -- might have eaten hip-hop. Chuck points to the fact that every hip-hop artist wants to be solo now. And the record industry wants them solo. Less to manage. And, Chuck says, "There's only one person to pay."
Chuck D, as old-school as they come, is a lover of technology. He recounted once taking two power PCs as paymetn for hosting the first-ever live webcast of the Grammys. He paraphrased Prince saying, "You need to get on top of technology before technolgy gets on top of you."
And technology is returrning music to the people. Record executives "treated the masses like asses," said Chuck. As the industry crumbles, anybody with a laptop can get his music out. Chuck pointed out that people can turn over in bed and recoord their song right there at the the side of the bed when they just woke up. "And some of it sounds like that," he said, moaning in imititation and cracking himself up. But the best artists will get noticed. He summed it up thus: "Just because you play basketball does not make you Lebron James," he said.
Then Chuck D had to go. He made his excuses saying he had to catch a cab uptown to rehearse with the Roots, who will be P.E.'s band when they play all of "It Takes a Nation ..." straight through at the Roots Picnic on Saturday June 6, at Festival Pier in Philly -- the Roots hometown. As excuses go, this was a pretty good one.