By Maranda Pleasant

Maranda (Origin): So what is that thing in life that you are most excited about. Why do you want to wake up? What is the thing that you are most passionate about at your core right now in your life?

Chuck D: Well I’m most passionate about, you know, making everybody understand that we should all have equal access on this earth. And when somebody greedily comes along and thinks that they gonna snatch everything, and you have so many people that have not, the passion that drives me is trying to make them understand that they have to share. So, my art reflects that; the whole reason I do what I do reflects that. You can’t take anything with you. So I don’t understand this whole psychotic area of greed, I don’t get it…

M: What is the thing in your life that you feel the most vulnerability around?

Chuck D: Well, everybody knows your name and all your adversaries still strike at you. I think that’s some coward shit, but you know. I tell people all the time, I say, “Look, to counter a point of view that I have, which is basically—share and enjoy the fruits of this planet—then anybody who really feels opposed to that should identify themselves and put their name next to that ridiculous greedy statement, right?”

M: Yeah, I can only imagine on the level that you’re on, there must be a lot of trust issues and hearing things about yourself. I’m sure that you can’t even walk around without people knowing who you are, so how do you keep an open heart and still keep a thick skin so it doesn’t get to you and drain you emotionally?

Chuck D: I don’t have any exteriors that would actually put me into some kind of different air that would actually intimidate somebody to stay away from me. Anybody can always come up to me and tell me I’m full of shit, and I’m good with that ‘cause I don’t believe everybody. I don’t believe that everybody is out of some kind of cookie cutter, so the thing that protects me is always being level with myself, even to myself. The minute I get swelled up about something, something has always brought me back down to earth… Ever since I was a teenager, I was always kind of, like, checking myself. You know, like, “Come on man, don’t get your head all swollen. Life and time itself will give you perspective on what you’re doing.” So, that’s actually what’s always been a reminder in my own head.

M: How do you transform your pain? How do you deal? How do you dance with it, or how do you work with it?

Chuck D: Oh pain! Pain for a songwriter is already, you know, been talked about by songwriters over the years. You know, you can actually take your pain and processes it into some kind of form of art. So I mean, I’ve easily always been able to do that, but also I’ve always been able to give myself perspective—or, you know, older people always give you perspective. The best medicine for pain sometimes is some kind of logic and common sense from older folks. They tell you, “Okay, you’re not the only one who actually went through this.”

M: How do you let go, what is your process for really just having to let things go?

Chuck D: I let go usually by talking to many people in different areas, in different realms of life that make me look at what I’m dealing with as being small fries stuff, you know?

M: Right.

Chuck D: I mean look, no matter what’s in your head, you go up into any hospital, up to a terminal ward and it’ll smack you right back into reality that, “Hey man, whatever you’re dealing with, if it’s heavy on your heart and head, you’re gonna have to let that go, because there, some people are dealing with unavoidable situations that they can’t let go.” And then they eventually let those go, so, I mean, that’s helpful. One thing that’s always been able to free me up: I’ve always been fortunate to be in different parts of the country. Getting on the road and driving along a road at night, or even in the daytime and seeing the oceans or whatever, is always liberating. I like to drive and I like to travel. When I drive on the open road, it’s like sometimes the car turns into a pen and the road is a piece of paper. You know, I’ve written many of my songs while driving—which is against the law in many cases.

M: I’ve been following you on Twitter for a while, and I noticed some of the comments when it talks about hip hop getting a bad rap. What I’m thinking is we need more voices like you associated with the art form and it seems like the media is driven by drama.
Do you feel like the industry is driven by this commercialism that’s dumbed down?

Chuck D: Yeah, of course! Certain things you can’t have them sit in your mind as being something that’s real. I mean, corporations have steered the industry into what it wants, and a lot of times they will make artists record what it wants or to make songs talk to who they want to talk to. But sometimes the heart and the head have to be able to talk and deal with a situation that’s evident. And for a long period of time, the media covered rap music and hip hop the same way they cover a lot of black people, people of color, you know, the bad news happens to be news. They used to have these little stupid colloquialisms that pop up like, “You know what? No news is bad news!” They trick the masses into thinking that any news is great for you. And I just think that’s a piece of crap. And now you have an industry that says, “By any means necessary, as long as somebody is talking about you, it’s good.” But they never mention that there’s an area of diminishing returns on people respecting you. So, respect is thrown out the window and they’ve replaced it to the point where it’s, “You know what? We’ll respect you if you have a lot of money!” And money is created by a machine… but you can’t really create respect with a machine. Every time something tries to create respect with a machine it crumbles! Now, they can fabricate respect, like, “Okay, this artist came through and they sold 600 trillion hubcaps,” or whatever the fuck {laughing} and that’s why you should respect him. “With that song they moved 20 million cans of dog food,” and, “Oh, wow!” But that’s the electricity for a robot, isn’t it?

MP: Oh my God! {laughing}

Chuck D: You know, they just throwing batteries at robots and robots are just putting it in their backs and suddenly they’re just like “Wow, this is great!” I’m just saying to operate from your head and your heart is a whole different mechanism than that part that says that, “Oh, ‘Street Cred’ is a real thing.” The streets are created, so how can you put too much credence behind the credibility of something that’s already made, created, by man? The real thing is the heart, you know the heart shouldn’t be covered with concrete.

MP: Beautiful…

Chuck D: I’m not forcing it between peoples’ ears, you know, I tell people this, this is my motto: “Truth is truth no matter what the f*ck I think.” So, it’s not really about what I think, you know, the truth has no form, you know. It’s not like walking around trying to actually ask for favors and to be acknowledged, it is what it is.

M: Wow. Has it changed, the value system or do you remember when it shifted.

Chuck D: Yeah I totally felt it. I felt it like an oncoming Katrina. You know? With no weather forecast in sight.

M: When was that?

Chuck D: It was when rap music and rap records used to always be like this: we get one or two shots to a piece cause it was a singles marketplace and when the major record companies saw that it could also handle the sales of the albums then they started to force everybody to expand their topics from 1 to about 10 and you gotta deliver 12 songs, so a lot of times if you took a person who wasn’t really developed, and the diversity of trying say 12 different things, you know the companies were like “Cool! Say the same thing 12 different ways.”

Once they found that formula, and then furthered the formula into like, “Well, it seems like negativity in the black community seems to be exciting and shocking to so many people that it happens to move 2 million units, as opposed to something that sounds like it’s our Bob Dylan, which moves 30,000 units. That’s just not our realm of business, and we don’t need to have all these black rappers mad at us for taking their money, so the hell we need a conscious movement for?” But you know they can all relate to the situations that’s in their own hoods and the situations within their own hood we can actually say, “Hey look, this is a story from the hood, it’s authentic, it’s real.” And you know, a visit to the hood through a record, or through a video, or through a film, is a lot safer than actually visiting the people in real life. It became a business model. It became a revenue engine that, you know, you can get to the hood without ever going there. And once again truth is truth no matter what I think. You know, let the voice be the voice of the voiceless and let it come from the world of rap music to keep the stereotype and the peace at the same time.
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