You might think that Chuck D (real name, Carlton Ridenhour) would run out of things to say, especially after more than 20 years in the hip-hop music scene. But you'd be wrong.
The Air America radio host, rapper, self-professed musicologist, music-label chief (for Slamjamz Recordings) and political pundit is even more outspoken today.
"The more things change, the more they stay the same," Ridenhour said. "We're still fighting wars over in the Middle East for oil. People are still bad to one another and are killing people over the color of their skin or their political or religious beliefs. And in the meantime, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
"When is the breaking point finally going to come? It's a depressing world situation, and it's got to change."
Now in his 40s, Ridenhour says he wants to be "a force for change." He's never been afraid to criticize political leaders through speeches and writing and through his songs with hip-hop/rap act Public Enemy.
"Music is the great communicator. You can convey things through music that you can't through speech and talk," he said by phone from Long Island, N.Y. "If you've got a good groove going, the next thing you know, the message is seeping in. You don't have to beat people over the head with a musical message despite what some people might say about me and my music."
His combo Public Enemy is still on a roll after two decades. The group burst onto the scene in 1987 with the racial-equality anthem "Public Enemy #1," then continued with such hits as "Fight the Power" and "Bring the Noise," a musical crossover single that pairs Public Enemy with heavy metal act Anthrax.
"I'm proud of what we've accomplished during that time," Ridenhour said, "but there's still a lot of work to do out there. Evidently we still haven't convinced enough people just how bad things really are, so we're back."
Public Enemy may have taken a brief respite in the late '90s, but it has returned with a vengeance in the 21st century. The past five years have seen a half-dozen releases from the band including the latest, "How Do You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?"
The CD has earned some of the strongest reviews of Public Enemy's career. "Yeah, the reviews have been great. They always have been. But you can't live off reviews. You've got to make sure that people are actually listening, by playing shows and getting the music out there."
Speaking of which, Ridenhour may be a longtime proponent of music-sharing and downloads, but he is also trying to find ways for fans to justify buying his label's releases in the conventional CD format. "You can call me old-school, but I do like to have that option available."
So the "How Do You Sell Soul?" release is a dual CD/DVD, which includes live performances, a video collection, a photo gallery and a "making-of" feature about the Public Enemy comic book. "We're coming at you from all sides."
Ridenhour was also eager to discuss his relationship with longtime Public Enemy cohort Flavor Flav (aka William Drayton), who serves as the band's "court jester" and is "the one person who reminds me not to take myself too seriously, to have some fun with music. Otherwise people would have to put up with just me for a couple of hours. Even I would get bored of me at that point."Current Public Enemy live performances also feature a backing band (guitar, bass and drums), giving the group a musical "crunch" that recalls early Beastie Boys and Run-DMC. "I really don't think we've ever sounded better than we do now. I'm honestly excited to play shows with this version of Public Enemy."
If you go
What: Public Enemy
Where: Suede, 1612 High Ute Blvd., Park City
When: Tonight, 9 p.m.
How much: $25 (21 or older)
Phone: 435-658-2665, 800-888-8499Web: www.suedepc.com, www.smithstix.com
E-mail: [email protected]