Hip-hop became a cultural phenomenon against the backdrop of American history, and now Public Enemy’s Chuck D has committed himself to explore the artform’s origins.
Chuck D rounded up several rap greats — including Ice-T, Run DMC and MC Lyte — who offered their firsthand accounts ahead of this year’s 50th anniversary of hip-hop. Their reflections are explored in the four-part docuseries “Fight the Power: How Hip Hop Changed the World,” that aired on PBS and is available to stream on its platforms and YouTube with a premium subscription.
The series delves into the history of hip-hop including the genre’s radical rise from the New York City streets, creating a platform for political expression and being a leading voice for social justice
“Fight the Power” touches on how the hip-hop has played an impactful role in speaking up against injustice in the aftermath of America’s racial and political reckoning in 2020 after George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police. The series, executive produced by Chuck D, features archival footage and insightful interviews from of rap’s most integral figures.
AP: You mentioned in your docuseries that hip-hop was a catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement. How so?
CHUCK D: It’s a collective where people felt the same way. It spoke politically to the injustice regarding George Floyd and was a spark that connected around the world. Hip-hop has done the same thing. Hip-hop ties human beings for their similarities and knocks the differences to the side. It’s a movement, when you talk about collective people feeling similar, enact upon something and still even stay within the constraints of the law. Younger people say, “OK, listen, we’re going to speak truth to power right now. We’re going to protest march. We’re going to show you numbers that you ain’t seen in a long time about something you probably didn’t care about.” That’s hip-hop, right?
AP: During the birth of hip-hop, how did it help encourage Black voices?
CHUCK D: Black men didn’t have a voice. You might’ve sung records for people who were fortunate to become recording artists. Our music has always been code. Hip-hop is the term for our creativity, maybe for the last 50 years. But before that, we always was creative and musicianship, vocalization, arts and craft, and also the movement of dance. Just that the elements had gotten refined in another period in the ’70s out of another Big Bang Theory of socio political environments. That’s where that voice came out and it came out culturally. It still speaks loudly, culturally.
AP: What do you want people to take away from your documentary?
CHUCK D: I don’t want people to do what they don’t want to do. If you say you love hip-hop, then you should be able to know about what you love. You don’t have to love hip-hop. I used to ask people straight out, “Do you love hip-hop?” They would respond “Oh yeah. I love it.” Then I was ask, “Do you love Black people?” They would say “What’s that got to do with it?” I’m here to tell you that the culture and the music comes out of the people. Sometimes your love of it got to infuse and give something back to the people. That’s the cycle.