Chuck D. Is on a Mission to Protect the History of Hip-Hop

And so there was an excellent new Public Enemy album earlier this year—“we gave it away for free; we can make money off it later”—a massive tour and album from his rock-rap hybrid supergroup Prophets of Rage, and the online, not to mention his work as a mentor to a host of up-and-coming voices in the musical community and an active Twitter feed that has marked D. as one of the leading voices of #TheResistance.

And now he’s turning his sights to another venture close to his heart: making sure the history of rap and hip-hop is chronicled so that it can take its rightful place as the most monumental and ground-breaking musical and cultural artistic force of the late-20th and early-21st Centuries.

“You know, you’ve got to take care of what you say you love,” D. says of the original impetus behind his crusade. “What’s the reason for a 16-year-old wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt? What’s the rhyme and reason? Rock has a whole machine around it that perpetuates these legends, and it began at a time when the culture was obsessed with music. But I think there’s been this neglect or absence of accountability by rappers in hip-hop to say, ‘Hey, look man, this thing is a wonderful art form that can go for 50 to 100 years. It can be revered as much as The Beatles if you look deeply enough into it.’”

That sensibility has led to a seemingly one-man crusade, and a new book, Chuck D. Presents This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History, out this week, which tracks the origins of the genre from its earliest rumblings at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx in 1973, through Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys, Snoop and Kanye, right up to The Get Down and a host of artists that D. says are proudly carrying rap’s torch.

“Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five really sparked the area of call and response in modern music and that’s what you still hear today, in everyone from Drake to Kendrick Lamar,” D. says, explaining how rap and hip-hop’s evolution has led it from the bragging, preening style that was so prevalent 10 or 20 years ago back to its roots in many of today’s best young artists. “So when I hear a guy like Royce 5’9”, I’m like, ‘Wow, OK, he’s talking about his neighborhood.’ So we’re back to that. He’s got a unique, blockade style, but it goes right back to the roots of rap. At the same time, Lil D just did a song called ‘Woke,’ and delivered it in a completely 21st century style, with his own vernacular and utilizing his own unique vocal abilities. So I do think artists are starting to venture into different areas, coming up with their own styles in their own particular ways, but with a sense of what came before them, too.”

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