He took the podium at PCC with the vigor of someone who has been in the music industry for almost three decades.
“This is my first time to Pasadena City College. I’ve been coming to Pasadena, California for twenty-five years,” he said. “I’m here to tell you that you’re in one of the special places of the world, especially from a historical aspect.”
He brought up Jackie Robinson attending Pasadena Junior College, and that the world changed because of it. But he also prefaced, letting the group of 18-30 year olds know, that he isn’t an educator in the traditional sense.
“I’m here to breath into you some encouragement. I’m not here to teach you anything new or teach you something that you’re already learning. I will tell you, that you’re over 18 now and I’m here to tell you that you’re adults,” he said with a raised voice. He added, “That means that your Play school, Lil Wayne lollipop days are over.”
Public Enemy was the voice of a new generation, embracing politically charged lyrics. Chuck D, Flava Flav and crew flooded the airwaves with topics that were not touched in the mainstream media, like Black America in the 1980s. Since the band emulated a military like presence on stage, they were often criticized as being controversial and obscene, with track albums like Pollywanacraka and Leave This Off Your Fu*kin Charts.
The 1990 Fear of a Black Planet seemed to have struck a nerve with the rest of America, because it was nominated for a Grammy and in 2005 the Library of Congress chose the album for preservation.
He tells the students at PCC that they shouldn’t take the idea of celebrity too seriously, adding, “You see some dumb shit on TV. And you question if you’re doing the right thing. You not only see anti-intellectualism, but you see dumb-ass-ification,” he says.
The crowd begins to laugh. This is a lecturer who cusses often and throws hyperboles, but all his points connect with the students and staff.
“The smarter you become, you ask yourself, ‘Am I wrong for seeing this as crazy or is something wrong with the world or something wrong with me?’ But I’m here to tell you to hold onto your heads,” he added.
Chuck D isn’t to censor himself. In 1999 he launched Rapstation.com, a hub for rappers and it was one of the first websites to offer music for download. But record labels were not interested in distributing music online. Since then, Chuck D has been a vocal supporter of music distribution online.
“They will send your 18-year-old assess off to war and die,” he says about the government. “It’s mostly for old white men playing Grand Theft Auto with your life,” he said. “The government is the cancer of civilization,” he added at PCC and over the phone.
Giving a two-hour lecture on all these topics showed that the rapper, who is capable of selling out large venues, really does have a lot to say to young adults.
“If you’ve got yourself a criminal mind now, get that out of your head, because there is no such thing as a criminal collegiate,” he told the crowd, where the group was predominately Latinos and African-Americans.
Pasadena Weekly: Tell me a bit about what you’re doing with your visits to colleges across the country?
Chuck D: I’ve been talking about rap, race, reality and technology. Those are the things that are culturally introduced to people, but they know very little about it. A lot of people say they love rap music, but they don’t know where it came from.
Pasadena Weekly: What’s the general response?
Chuck D: It’s always positive. It’s invigorating to people, because it’s teaching people things that they claim they like. It’s not like I’m talking about something that’s not interesting. People say they love hip-hop and culture and I give them what’s important. Don’t you think that’s important?
Pasadena Weekly: Of course, people claim they know what the blues are, but they don’t even know who Nina Simone is.
Chuck D: There are people out there who don’t know Tribe Called Quest. So I try to educate them as much as possible.
Pasadena Weekly: I saw your show at Rock the Bells and I have to say that it was an amazing show.
Chuck D: Well I appreciate that. I have to tell my guys, because we’re much older, we can either look much older or much more experienced.
Pasadena Weekly: Is there any music that you’re not into?
Chuck D: Being hip-hop, you have to be open to all music. I think it’s when people do music and they don’t really do it with conviction, then it kind of throws me off of it.
Pasadena Weekly: Where do you see the record industry in the next ten years?
Chuck D: I can’t look at it in ten years. I go by five years. I think five years from now – I think that the record industry, has a hard time knowing that there are ten million artists out there right now. It’s ten million of us. Thank god for Youtube, because people can go there and get all the videos they want. I don’t think the people in charge of music right now know what they’re doing. We have too many older people, trying to make decisions for younger people, as far as the entertainment industry. And you’ll hear that the young people are choosing this music, but I don’t think that’s true. I think that it’s the older people who are doing it.”
Pasadena Weekly: Do you think the race issue is being ignored?
Chuck D: Of course it can’t be ignored. No 20-year old has to tell me that. I’m a Black man who has been living in this country close to 50 years.
By Nathan Solis