Chuck D Talks Hip-Hop's Past, Present and Future in Colorado Springs

Throughout the congested rows of seats in Armstrong Hall on the Colorado College campus in Colorado Springs, students and guests of all ages gathered in the tight quarters to listen intently to the legendary Chuck D of Public Enemy. Chuck had come to speak with Idris Goodwin, (CC’s own hip-hop professor) on the movement of hip-hop, where it was and where it's heading. Chuck hit the stage after being introduced by his own words, “The incredible rhyme animal, Chuck D.”

The auditorium was packed to the brim, and the audience was very responsive to Chuck’s presence, which gave me — being the bitter old hip-hop head — assurance for the future of the culture and the music.

Goodwin and Chuck D talked on a wide range of topics, all relating to the goal of connecting and living peacefully throughout our time here on the planet Earth, one individual to another. The two began by speaking about Chuck D’s influences.

Chuck explained that during his childhood and throughout his teenage years, rappers didn’t exist; they didn't have a presence until he was around age nineteen. His main influence was AM radio. “1964 to '74 was the greatest time of music: Three Dog Knight got funky and Stevie Wonder got rocky," he said. Groups like Chic, bassist Niles Rogers, Sly and the Family Stone, and James Brown influenced Chuck D in his youthful years growing up on Long Island.

The two danced around in conversation, next arriving on the topic of Long Island. How did Public Enemy come together, and what’s up with Long Island? There’s a roster of amazing artists that have come out of Long Island, including Rakim, De La Soul, EPMD and KMD, to name a few.

“Segregation formed Long Island,” Chuck said. Everyone moved from Harlem, the Bronx and Brooklyn to Long Island in the 1950s and '60s. This is when white flight began: Long Island went from 80 percent white to 90 percent black within a ten-year span. The neighborhoods throughout Long Island were occupied by transplants who communicated with one another by staying true to their original homes in places like the Bronx and Harlem, rather than where they were at the time.

As the night went on, Goodwin and Chuck D spoke abut the downfall of the music industry and the creation of the Internet. “The record business fell due to negligence. Music people were the heads of record labels in the 1970s, but not in the '80s or '90s,” said Chuck. In the late '70s, drugs were heavily trafficked throughout the music industry, and the heads of labels got a little too loose, resulting in their downfall. Entertainment lawyers and accountants replaced the heads of record labels, initiating strategies for the industry that magnified their own monetary gain but loosened the integrity of the music, giving you what you now see as the modern music industry: a business rather than an art form.

The night ended on a very positive and uplifting note. Chuck D spoke on what the youth of America can do to sustain the culture of hip-hop and broke it down into two parts. First, know your history. What reason would an artist have to kick knowledge to the world if they have no backing to that knowledge? Learn about your environments, and in return you will learn how to manipulate those environments in a positive manner — but be honest with yourself and your audience.

And, he said, any type of change starts in your community. There's no sense in changing the world if you can’t change your community. “Unity in numbers will dictate the strength in the art community.” For this rap fan, it was an honor to listen to Chuck D, one of hip-hop's best curators, speak on how to preserve the elements of the culture in the future— not just for the culture itself, but for future generations.
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Alex Warzel