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Public Enemy: Our 1988 Interview With Chuck D and Flavor Flav

NEW YORK - CIRCA 1988: Flavor Flav and Chuck D of the rap group "Public Enemy" perform onstage in circa 1988 in New York, New York. (Photo by Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

This article originally appeared in the January 1988 issue of SPIN

Critics don’t like them. Black radio stations won’t play them. But in less than a year Public Enemy has managed to sell 275,000 copies of their debut LP, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, and has toured the U.S. and Europe with L.L. Cool J.

They hit the stage like an alliance of shock troop and rap group. Behind them stand the S1Ws (which stands for Security of the First World), their gun-toting, Muslim backup crew (the guns are unloaded). The music is hard and the message is strong—maybe too strong for some. Chuck D is the meat of the message, and Flavor Flav is the spice—the younger sidekick who tempers the militance.

“You wear a clock to know what time it is. And when you know what time it is, that means you are aware. And we are very aware, so we wear bigger clocks than many.” —Chuck D

SPIN: Why Public Enemy?
CHUCK D: It’s to the public that totally believes in the goodness of the system and that believes that the system is good. I’m their enemy because the system is not good and the system has treated black people on the whole in one of the cruelest manners in mankind. And this is the same system that uses people on the whole—their hands over their hearts and swear to a flag. Or, you know, saying, “In God We Trust.” But whose God? Whose God do they trust? It’s the same country that had blacks in slavery and bondage for three hundred years and then another mental slavery that’s going on now which has gotten to the point of a brainwashing that has blacks killing themselves. So whose God is this country’s God? Hmm? So basically then, to the people that believe in this system and believe that America is beautiful—I’m their enemy. I’m the public enemy: the black man is the public enemy.

SPIN: Is that what you’re talking about in “You’re Gonna Get Yours”?
CHUCK D: “You’re Gonna Get Yours” is about police arrest in black neighborhoods. If you have a fly car and you drive around, the police will tend to stop you more often than not. And I’ve been stopped plenty of times.

SPIN: Because you’re driving the ultimate homeboy car? The ’98?
CHUCK D: Right. That’s like a Kangol hat. Oldsmobile ’98 is the ultimate homeboy car, you know? And just because you’re drivin’ it, a lot of times police will stop you because they think you’re a drug dealer and they tend to stereotype. So basically, I’m attacking the stereotype. Drug dealers don’t drive ’98s.


Public Enemy: Our 1988 Interview With Chuck D and Flavor Flav


SPIN: You’re very outspoken about Louis Farrakhan….
CHUCK D: Well, basically I support the black leaders that want to take a stand. My whole issue is the us-against-us campaign and trying to convince black people to respect each other and love each other. And, politically, Farrakhan speaks for the same thing. But media blows it out of proportion. When I say I support Farrakhan, a lot of people in the media just think I’m a racist and that I agree with hate mongers. The media has always taken Louis Farrakhan out of context. You have to understand the man in order to judge the man. And the media in America is the one to blame for the brainwashing of a lot of people in the public. So politically, I stand by any black leaders that take a stand and defend what they say and basically attack the American system. That goes for Farrakhan. It goes to some degree for Jesse Jackson, goes back to the Panthers.

SPIN: Why all the Uzi imagery onstage and in the song “Miuzi Weighs a Ton”?
FLAVOR FLAV: Because my Uzi weighs a ton. My Uzi weighs more than a ton. There’s no limitation to the weight of my Uzi. My Uzi is my mind, the bullets are the words I speak. You know what I’m sayin’? So there’s no limitation to that. You know the mind is heavy. And words are heavy. The words are comin’ at you rapid-fire. Like a machine gun—da-d-da-d-da-da-da-da-da. But it’s not promotin’ guns. It’s not promotin’ violence.

SPIN: In “Bring the Noise” on the Less Than Zero soundtrack, Flavor says, “They’re sayin’ we’re too black, man.” Who’s “they”?
CHUCK D: People are saying that records I made on my last album and “Rebel Without a Pause” were the most offensive records ever, just on the basis of how I sounded. My records are “too black.” People said, “You guys are preachin’ that black militancy stuff and we ain’t into that.” Most of the people sayin’ that are black radio stations. They figure our message is too black and too strong and not realizing that black radio is before the downfall of the black American mind … because they’re not educating, they’re not stimulating, they’re just pacifying with the R&B typical bullshit. I’d like to blame radio stations and that’s what “Bring the Noise” is about. If they’re callin’ my music “noise.” If they’re saying that I’m really getting out of character being a black person in America, then fine—I’m bringin’ more noise. The message is aimed at black youth and at the same time, it’s aimed at the black bourgeoisie because basically, they really don’t give a damn about the black youth—whether they say so or not.

SPIN: You’re very outspoken about critics….
CHUCK D: Yeah, that part is about rock critics that don’t consider rap music being legitimate as much as rock ‘n’ roll is. We say, you know, “You call ’em demos, but we ride limos, too.” You know, people gettin’ paid and billin’ arenas just the same as Def Leppard and the rest of these clowns. If the critics are gonna consider it just a music that’s just gonna be here and disappear or that it’s just supposed to be party music, then they better realize that they earn their bread and butter off some of this, too. That’s basically who that half of “Bring the Noise” is dedicated to: half of it’s for black radio and the other half is for critics. Like the one who wrote a story on L.L. Cool J [SPIN, Sept. ’87]. Excuse my language, but that fuckin’ bitch, you know, she tried to play us off like when we did a show in New Orleans with Kool Moe Dee and just tried to make a joke of what we stood for, sayin’, “These guys look like they came out of Platoon.” You know what I’m sayin’? At the same time, the whole article was sarcastic as far as rap was approached anyways. So I’m saying, that fuckin’ bitch is in trouble. Who the fuck is she?

Fuck her, Christgau, Leland, and the goddamn fuckin’ bullshit-assed newspapers they write for. F-U-C-K T-H-E-M, exclamation point. And point blank, you know, words are cheap.