Chuck D, of the group Public Enemy and Rapstation.com, is not your average successful rapper. You won’t see him showing off his plasma TV’s and tricked out Hummer on MTV. He isn’t likely to be hanging in the VIP room with Paris Hilton and P Diddy. If you’re lucky, though, you might catch him speaking at one of the 50 college campuses he visits each year, currently touring with his State of the Union Address and Vibe Session.
For 14 years, he has been on the lecture circuit, attempting to represent what is currently described as the “Hip Hop culture” in a positive manner. Don’t let the word “positive” fool you, though. While his voice may copy the rhythm and tone of a preacher at times, you aren’t likely to hear a sermon so heavily laced with “nigger”, unless you attend church with the Ku Klux Klan.
Chuck D spends a fair amount of his speech using “the ‘N’ word” as an example of the harmful effects of mass media, or what he calls the “radiation of a radio-TV-movie nation”. He isn’t happy that a word which was a degrading insult for hundreds of years, and likely yelled “on a slave ship at the crack of a whip”, has been sold as harmless slang to the current generation.
In fact, there is plenty that Chuck D is unhappy about. As he said, if he only talked about positive things, he would be finished in “10 minutes”. Instead, he spoke for almost two hours and then stayed after to answer questions and sign autographs for the audience.
The gist of his presentation was how important a good education and critical thinking are. Stupidity is what gets attention, rather than logic and reason. In his opinion, too many people believe the distorted view of reality shown on television. They need to recognize that the Media’s image is as realistic as “a cartoon”, and trying to live our lives based on what we see on TV would be about as successful as “the coyote is chasing the road runner off the edge of a cliff”.
He also covered politics in the music business, with some tough words for BET (“booty and thug network”), The Source magazine, Jay-Z and Russell Simmons. His imitations of Simmons talking to his wife about her huge collection of shoes and ‘renting’ religious leaders had the audience cracking up. There was even time to discuss the currently hot topic of Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl half-time show.
Chuck D hit on a number of topics, and while he is a very talented and charismatic speaker, I felt a tighter outline and more structure would have made him even better. He was freestylin’ in what he calls a “Vibe Session”, rather than a formal speech, and that was his biggest weakness, it seemed to me.
Overall, it was a very interesting evening, listening to someone in my age group (I’m 45 and Chuck D is 44) who has lived a different lifestyle and yet has come to many of the same conclusions about the world that I and other thinking people have. As a person that travels around the globe each year, he was able to point out the importance of broadening out in our viewpoint. “The best American”, he said “is the one who is able to see outside this 3,000 mile box called ‘the United States’ .”
You may not agree with everything Chuck D has to say, but he will make you think about your own beliefs in a new way, and that has to be a positive thing. I definitely recommend attending his vibe session, when he appears at a college in your area. It won’t hurt a bit.