jazz and conversation, from the foot of Mt Belzoni (ikkyu2) wrote,
jazz and conversation, from the foot of Mt Belzoni
ikkyu2

Kick it, Chuck: a Public Enemy review

I’ve been playing Watch Dogs.

But I’m not here to talk about that game very much, although I had fun and am still having fun.

No, I’m here to talk about I Shall Not Be Moved, by Public Enemy. As you’re driving around in-game, it’s a track that might come on your radio. And it got me thinking and I thought I would write about it.

In fact, I’m writing this review of I Shall Not Be Moved because Chuck D knew someone would write it. Go listen to it now - I’ll wait. If you need lyrics help, like I did, it’s here.

Tough, isn’t it? Dope. Old school. Chuck D is angry, I thought, when I heard it. Didn’t you think so?

And then I remembered; that’s Chuck D’s thing. He’s angry. He does angry the way Earl Scheib paints your car. It’s an everyday thing for him and it’s not at a premium. Chuck D’s angry, but it’s quality anger, and while it comes at a cost it’s not particularly expensive; it’s anger for the common man. Head noddin’. Posing. Fronting like a motherfucker.

Then I watched the video. Go ahead and re-watch it if you want - oh, no time? OK. That's how it is, these days, isn't it.

I rewatched it, gentle reader. I watched it several times because it is really an odd little construction.

That’s D, all right. Head noddin’. Posing. Fronting like a motherfucker. Public Enemy Number One. He’s older. He really is on the senior circuit. He’s old school - motel, hotel, he’s going in - but he’s not particularly proud of being old school. Look at the expression on his face. He’s seen it all, took two home and hung them on the wall, waited by the phone but everything never called. He could give a fuck - but not the way Snoop doesn’t give a fuck. Chuck doesn’t give a fuck the way a retired guy sitting on his lawn doesn’t give a fuck, he’s going to do his own thing and he really doesn’t give a damn who knows it or what you think about it. He actually seems not to care.

Right?

Flava Flav is on this track, did I mention? It’s a very different Flav. He’s old too. The years have been even less kind to him than they have to D. He was the hype man to end all hype men - he did for hype what Axl Rose did for heavy metal, killed it in the act of perfecting it - and he’s limited on this track to an almost-tentative “Kick it, Chuck.” Mr William Drayton has been in jail for crack possession, took Brigitte Nielsen on in her own turf - the place where crazy, not-too-bright white people go to have a last little dwindle of a third career - and fought her to a standstill, if not bested her outright. He had a career in reality, and reality gave him a few lumps back for his trouble.

People fucking love Flava Flav. Did you know that? I was rooting for him all along.

But on this track he is tentative. He’s back to doing the one thing, I think, that he ever really believed in - hyping the mic for his master of ceremonies, the man he believes is qualified to hold the mic: Chuck D.

And, unlike Flav, D is keeping it real. He’s holding this track down like a mad man. I don’t know if he knew this track was going to make it onto the Watch Dogs soundtrack when he laid it down. The look on his face in the video, I think he probably thought no one was ever going to hear it or see it. He even says so: what good is learning from some record / when y’all only listen to 15 seconds?

Chuck breaks composure after the first verse. He says something controversial: “the new curse word is black” - and then exhorts his DJ, “Still keep me on this track. Still keep me on this track. Don’t take me off it.” He mumbles this last. He sounds worried. As he says it, someone says, “I got you, Chuck.” It’s not Flav. Is it what’s left of the Security of the First World? Maybe. Maybe it’s Terminator X. Whoever it is, he sounds confident. He sounds pretty damn sure that Chuck D is, in fact, going to be kept on this track, and not be taken off it.

He sounds like Curtis singing “Beautiful Brother of Mine,” in fact. He sounds like Marvin singing “Talk to me.. so you can see.. What’s going on.” He sounds like brotherhood and solidarity. And suddenly you realize that Chuck has done it again. He’s pretended not to give a damn about anything just so he can put this little play on for you. So he can show you what counts. What counts is that Chuck D has a brother, this brother has Chuck D’s back, and with the power of that brotherhood and that solidarity Chuck is going to be kept on this track and he is going to continue to rhyme on this track. And that’s important.

If you’ve been listening to Chuck D for 30 years like I have - Jesus - you understand in this moment that Chuck D has not changed. Chuck D is going to teach you something and he is going to do it Chuck D’s way and you are going to understand it because of the way he teaches it to you.

Suddenly, over the entire globe, in fact: imagine kids playing Watch Dogs, hacking into Chicago’s computer systems and jacking cars in the Loop; kids who have never heard of Public Enemy because they were conceived decades after P.E. fell from the crosshairs; these kids are captivated by the incredibly odd, incredibly old school beat and by Chuck’s dominating voice and furious technique and they pull their virtual car over to the side of the virtual road and put their playlist on repeat and think to themselves “Who the hell is this guy, and what’s he spitting?”

And they turn their headphones up and prepare for a lesson.

And Chuck D. serves one up.

You know, I’ve been thinking about rappers a lot. Dr. Dre has been on my mind a lot. In 1985 he was a kid, a dope dealing small time hustler from Compton; in 1992, he wanted nothing better than a track “that you can kick back.. and smoke a fat-ass joint to. This is definitely one of those tracks.”

Dre sold Beats to Apple and pocketed $750 million on the day. He’s not quite the first rapper to make a billion, most sources estimate - but he will be in a few months.

Dre doesn’t talk much any more. He sure doesn’t spit any flows. He’s not a businessman - he’s a business, man. He’s hustlin’ for dough. He’s out of the rap game. He’s in the stocks and bonds and securities game, the mergers and acquisitions game.

What’s Chuck up to? Chuck's aim is to forget his name, he ain't famous to be famous. “All I got is my word.”

This is what he says with it:


Swarming to your art form
Because there’s a party going on
Hotel motel I’m going in (now that shit is old school, kick it, Chuck)
Don’t care what they spent
Can’t prevent the event

Some run to it
Shunned from it
Been through it
Still rock to it


And you begin to understand that Chuck - even if the only folks who show up are Black Thought’s coffee house chicks and white dudes - Chuck is still faithful to rap and he still has something to say.

What the fuck are you saying, Chuck?

After his fit of pique, he takes his own fifteen second challenge. The beat changes up - to something really weird, really marked, it gets your attention. And then Chuck states:

“On Wi-fi got you gaggin’ on Gaga, ‘pac made women cry from the very first rhyme.”

Chuck says this about ten times, as the beat builds to a really unusual crescendo. It doesn’t sound like a hip-hop beat. It sounds like a bad trip in the chillout room of an old time rave.

I understood what he said but not why he said it. Gaga - that part I got. Tupac? Chuck, the last time I really listened to what you had to say, Tupac not only wasn’t dead, he wasn’t famous yet. No one had ever heard of him. What the fuck, Chuck? Are you really getting into that West Coast dick licking thing - 18 years later? And why are you telling me that Tupac made women cry? Do you hate women now? I always wondered whether you hate white people, Chuck - whether you would even say it, if you did; do you hate women, too?

I had to look it up on the Internet. Here is what Rap Genius had to say about it:

But before I tell you what Rap Genius had to say about it - do you see? Do you see what Chuck D did to me, there? I was playing a computer game, middle-aged, white, a little overweight; tired and lonely and alone in my house after a long day of work, meaningful or meaningless work depending on how you look at it.

And suddenly I was wondering about racism and misogyny; not parroting; really thinking about it, getting on the Internet to run a search about it. Chuck D reached out over the years and the barriers and the boundaries and he kicked my brain in the ass the same way he used to do when I was 14 and every bass kick was blowing my skull in like an incendiary bomb.

It’s *hard* to do that to my brain these days. It’s old and tired and sluggish and it thinks it figured all this stuff out a long time ago. But Chuck D., apparently, still has the firepower to make it happen.

Here’s what Rap Genius said:

“Referring to modern day ‘worship’ of pop stars in comparison to the late rapper Tupac Shakur, whose music usually carried meaning and purpose e.g. womens' rights.”

Well, that’s what Chuck heard in Tupac, then. Why he wanted to bring him up. Socially conscious. A righteous prophet, agitating for change, dying too young. The Tupac who put in a star turn - quite credible one, too - in John Singleton’s “Poetic Justice.” The one who should have had limitless potential. I watched that film not knowing what it was, missed the opening credits, didn’t even realize it was ‘pac and Janet - I was riveted. Women crying, then, not from sorrow but from a different emotion - solidarity? There’s not a right answer to this one. But Chuck wants his listeners to think about it.

Rap Genius also pointed out that Lady Ga Ga’s father made his fortune selling hotel Wi-Fi and used a lot of that money to promote his daughter’s way to the vapid stardom she now enjoys.

Wow.

I wonder if Chuck hoped someone would unpack this little jewel of a track. It doesn’t sound like it. Public Enemy always sounded like a bomb that was midway through going off, never a calculated, premixed product for consumption.

But I think he knew some dude was going to sit down and write this review, somewhere. He must have known.

Kick it, Chuck.
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