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Chuck D is a rebel without a pause. The co-founder of seminal hip-hop group Public Enemy is a rapper, author and activist. He refers to himself as a "raptivist," and "an ambassador for hip-hop."
Thursday night, D will give a free speech at Sacramento State, where he'll be talking about rap, race, technology and communication. The event will also be a celebration of Black History Month.
D likes to talk. Given that he writes a blog, tours the world on speaking gigs, and owns the SLAMjams music label, which recently threw together an iTunes album for Haiti, he is surprisingly available. He called me for an unscheduled interview, just a few minutes after I e-mailed him.
"You can't go through life afraid to speak your mind," he said. "That is what you have your mind for. You're not a robot. Companies make robots. You have the capacity to think beyond that."
Public Enemy holds itself to the same mantra. Including its debut, "Yo, Bum Rush The Show" in 1987, Public Enemy has released 10 ten albums, each one a complete reinvention for the group. It even released albums online before MP3s were popular.
Most importantly, Public Enemy defied listeners to remain open to different types of music and people. Their collaboration and tour with thrash metal group Anthrax is still groundbreaking. On top of that, Public Enemy was one of the first hip-hop acts to use songs like "Fight the Power," "Bring the Noise" and "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos," as political statements.
"I think that people want to be (politically) active, but the business, the music industry, has not encouraged artists to go far out of the box," he said. "It's kind of like a controlled state."
But the future has hope. D wants artists to reach inside themselves and form their own opinions, he said.
"I think the thing that inspires me is young minds, especially on the collegiate level," he said. "It's important to understand that a lot of young minds are not corrupted by the things that have plagued society — they're like an open book."
Relative fame and fortune aside, the nearly 50-year-old D is still humble. He still has love for his longtime friend and Public Enemy co-founder Flavor Flav.
"He's the same Flavor Flav as he was on day one," D said. "It's no different than Bruce Springsteen and Little Stephen. (We're) still in the same band."
When the earthquake struck Haiti last month, he threw together a Haiti benefit album in five days by asking artists on his label to contribute songs. D reasoned that any dollar he can donate will be a dollar more than what the Haitians have now.
Chuck D, 7:30 - 10:30 p.m., CSUS University Union Ballroom, all ages, free.
Photograph credit Walter Leaphart