Rap Legend Chuck D Speaks For The Unspoken In New PBS Docuseries

Chuck D, the legendary frontman of Public Enemy and Prophets of Rage, rings in the 50th celebration of hip-hop with an ode to the 1990s immortal anthem, “Fight The Power.”

At a recent appearance, Chuck D, armed with passion and perspective, left visitors at the historic Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem with confidence that hip-hop is still changing the world.

Harlem, NY – (left to right) Nelson George, Lorrie Boula, Chuck D Source: Atiya Jordan / Black Enterprise

Inspired by The Isley Brothers’ song of the same name, Chuck D created what Spike Lee would ultimately use for the soundtrack and the socio-political theme of the 1989 film Do the Right Thing. People forget that Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” was not a standalone song, and it came at a time when the golden age of Black radio illuminated the issues of civil and racial unrest in late 70s New York.

“One of the connecting forces to lead me into Public Enemy in the first place was WLIB,” Chuck D spoke of  the radio station that the Rev. Al Sharpton once called ‘the heartbeat of the Black community.’ “Because at that time in New York City, that was the thing that connected the boroughs and the surrounding tri-state area.”

“So we take heed to that, that hip-hop was in that circulation,” he added.

Hip-hop speaks truth to power

For Chuck D, the global movement continues. He feels responsible for steering the narrative forward about hip-hop and its unapologetic, fierce, and empowering impact on the world.

FIGHT THE POWER: HOW HIP HOP CHANGED THE WORLD, developed and co-produced by Chuck D and his producing partner, Lorrie Boula, in partnership with BBC Music, is a new four-part PBS docuseries that tells the story of hip-hop as it spoke truth to power and informed a nation through a different lens.

“The key in this statement of Fight the Power: How Hip Hop Changed the World is ‘world.’ If you allow this government to keep you in a 2000 by 3000-mile United States of America box, you’re not in line with what the culture has already done for the last 40 years anyway,” the Long Island native said.

He added: “This is for us. So yeah, yeah, Chuck D’s name on it, but as in any leadership position, you have an accountability and a responsibility.” 

From Chuck D and Grandmaster Caz to LL Cool J and Melle Mel, some of rap’s icons share firsthand accounts about the Bronx-bred art form that became a cultural phenomenon against the backdrop of American history.

“We got together and said, this is something where I have to basically be seen to make you hear somebody who you’d least expect sound like a scholar in this art form,” Chuck D said.

Following the debut of Do the Right Thing, “Fight the Power” skyrocketed to No. 20 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Chart. It became a powerful manifesto for the working-class youth who were fed up with the manipulation, the violence, and the neglect induced by the system of racism destroying their communities.

Source: Facebook (Chuck D)

“What I got tired of is basically having every other narrative but the narrative that they would sacrifice being able to speak,” Chuck D said. “When we get the opportunity, then we make our way to speak for the unspoken. That’s where the art form came from.”

As Public Enemy says: “Our freedom of speech is freedom or death / We got to fight the powers that be.”

The series premiere sheds light on the turbulent factors that led to the birth of hip-hop and its first socially conscious hit, The Message, by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in 1982. It only marks the beginning of an anthology of how hip-hop inspired a palpable consciousness through the voices and creativity of those who were there at the beginning.

Streaming is available on Tuesday, Feb. 7 and airs on PBS Tuesday, Feb. 14.

The art of Chuck D

(Left) Chuck D / Jonn Leffmann (Wikimedia Creative Commons) (Right) LIVIN’ LOUD
by Chuck D / Genesis Publications

The hip-hop pioneer is poised to revolutionize the art game, too. A graduate of New York’s Adelphia University with a B.F.A. in Graphic Design, Chuck D’s career as an internationally celebrated performer has only amplified his visual art endeavors.

Since his first-ever exhibition, Chuck D has created revolutionary art from the point of view of one who has lived it. From systemic racism and racial profiling to the undocumented aspects of pop culture history, he has always been outspoken.

In the spirit of his groundbreaking activism, Chuck D is looking forward to sharing more of his story in the upcoming fine art book LIVIN’ LOUD, hitting shelves on Feb. 7 by Genesis Publications.

Featuring over 250 artworks created by Chuck D, the book immortalizes his thought process and inspirations. Commentary will guide readers through his early experiences growing up in the ’60s through his early roots in hip-hop. He nods to central figures that critically shaped him and his voice, the formation of Public Enemy to their Rock’ n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction, his time with Prophets of Rage to current day world affairs.