Chuck D flips the script on minstrel show

by Amy Kingsley

The founder of seminal rap group Public Enemy put aside his beef with the police in a speech delivered to UNCG students on Aug. 17 and instead directed his ire at the mass media.

Dressed simply in a green T-shirt and backwards baseball hat, Chuck D appeared before about 100 audience members half-filling a room in the student union. He told students that he was not there to lecture, but wanted to engage in a conversation or vibe session.

Chuck D headed off any direct questions about his former bandmate Flava Flav, who has been in the spotlight because of recent involvement with the reality television series “Flavor of Love.” But he did use the show as an example of how the mass media portrays blacks in a stereotypical and negative light.

“In America right about now black people and people of color are being used as fodder to be laughed at,” Chuck D said.

Chuck D said that the reality TV producers used Flava Flav, a person he described as outlandish and addicted to fame. He didn’t confine his criticism to television: Chuck D also lamented the state of modern hip hop, particularly the absence of female rap groups and dearth of female producers.

“[Hip hop] is bigger than it’s ever been if you just want to count the numbers,” he said. “But what about the quality within? How many people is it really touching? How big can hip hop be if there is no woman involvement?”

College students should be commended and lead the charge against “anti-lectualism and dumbassification,” he said. Adults between the ages of 35 and 50 have let down the younger generations by not acting their age, Chuck D added.

“Hip hop has turned into a male crib,” he said.

In addition to pointing out the problems with modern society, Chuck D doled out some practical advice for students. He advised them not to dumb themselves down and encouraged everyone to get a passport, even if they never use it. As part of his own crusade against the simplification and dumbing down of society, Chuck D elaborated on American history from slavery until the Eisenhower administration.

He talked about the recent history of Hurricane Katrina, then traveled back in time to discuss the city’s origin as a slave-trading hub and how that had an impact on musical development in America.

“Most of the music we listen to today comes from a spot called Congo Square,” he said. “That was the place where everybody was distributed as slaves.”

Blues and jazz music originated as a musical code to warn slaves when their owners or overseers were nearby or in a bad mood, he said. Rap music up until the 1990s functioned in the same manner, said the man who once described rap as “CNN for black people.”

“When you look at music today it’s not code music,” he said.

Songs that describe violence and jealousies between members of the black community defy the original purpose of hip hop, he said.

“Is hip hop the new black Cointelpro?” he asked.

Cointelpro is a “counter intelligence program.” An operation of the FBI, it functioned from the mid-1960s to early 1970s for the purpose of discrediting and disrupting dissident organizations.

Chuck D encouraged students to stay true to themselves, avoid selling out and think critically. He told them to broaden their historical and geographic horizons and demonstrated his own deep knowledge of American history. Pointing once again to the media, from urban radio stations to Black Entertainment Television, he told the students to focus on education.

“Your mind is the real estate of the millennium,” he said. “You are facing a country of mass distractions, really a whole world of mass distractions.”

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