a most unlikely summit meeting when
CHUCK D, Public Enemy's motormouth
mainspring and founding father of lopitical rap, met Bristol maverick TRICKY,
hip-hop's bizarre British cousin.
VOX was there to take the minutes...
|MIDDAY. MIDTOWN Manhattan,
New York City. The
waiters in this fashionably downmarket Mexican
restaurant do not like the look of their latest customers. Shifty eyes and incredulous stares suggest they certainly don't want any black people to lower the tone of their chic establishment and offend the corporate high-fliers and clients who make their living possible. The looks say: "We don't
want your kind in here," the politeness says: "OK, we see you can afford your meals," the slow service says: "Always remember your place." and the rudeness and hostility that surfaces as the afternoon unfolds says: "Shut up already and get the fuck out of here!"
Would the treatment be different if the haughty waiters realised this was an historic occasion? Are they so used to playing host to Al Pacino and Robert De Niro that today's meeting of minds from both sides of the Atlantic is srnall beer?
Today's gathering is an alternative hip-hop summit like no other, the day that Tricky finally gets to meet Chuck D and exchange friendly words. When two mavericks renowned for going against the grain and speaking their minds meet, surely sparks must fly.
Perhaps the waiters know this. Perhaps they want an easy life... Well, they're not getting one.
HUCK D is loved and loathed around
the world in equal measure for his position as the lead rapper in Public
Enemy. For ten years, he has been making controversial statements both
on and off the record about the sad plight and serious situation of the
majority of black people in America.
|Of Mistachuck' LP will
certainly rattle a few cages while PE remain in limbo until next year
Tricky, for his part, is the golden child of British alternative hip-hop - the author of uncompromising tales of darkness, alienation and paranoia. A sometime associate of Massive Attack, he's made the Bristol sound global, and paved the way for Portishead amongst others. What distinguishes Tricky from his peers is a willingness to play around with extreme images and do outlandish things in the name of art.
You certainly wouldn't get many self-respecting rappers posing in a dress and holding a gun for a promotional shot, let alone allowing a female accomplice - Martina - to sing their own words of dislocation and loss, but that's what he did on his debut LP, 'Maxinquaye', which was shortlisted for, but didn't win, a Mercury Prize. If anything, the splendid follow-up, 'Pre-Millennium Tension', is even more bitter and twisted than its predecessor, with rougher musical textures and a more political slant.
TRICKY is 45 minutes late. He's just
moved from K London to New York City and is without a telephone, so it's
relief when he finally makes the appointment. In contrast, Chuck D flew
in from Atlanta this morning and has already had a few meetings about his
new label, Slam Jamz, es well as paying a visit to City Hall for a voter
registration drive, to try to make a difference in this American election
|out a book next year,
just to let it all out. I have a bad memory when it comes to my lyrics.
I can't remember my songs for shit.
Tricky: But you've done a lot.
Chuck D: The latest songs I've written, I studied them, I practised them, still don't know 'em.
Tricky: But it's wicked, so wicked - your new album is so wicked. I ain't been listening to any new music for 12 months. I listen to old music. That's the first album I've listened to and got any pleasure out of it. Since I've been doing my album, it's not pleasure any more, it's business. But your album, man, is the first one I've listened to for ages, like, listened to in bed. I ain't done that for a long, long time.
Chuck D: Yeah, it's a smoked album or somebody that doesn't smoke pot to think how somebody who smokes thinks (laughter). So all I did, l had to stimulate things, I spun around 15 times and got dizzy. Busta Rhyme came to me the other day and said: "Yo, you must've been on
something " I was like: "I spun around 15 times, man, and caught up with you guys. I mean, I caught a contact off your vibe."
Why have you moved to New York, Tricky?
Tricky: Pressure. I'm doing a lot of press in England, my face is everywhere and people are treating me differently.
Chuck D: They love you in this motherfucker |New York City|, man.
Tricky: Yeah. It's not always a good thing, though, is it? I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but people are treating me differently. I'm going to clubs and things are different in clubs. Now I'm getting grief. I got attacked in a club last night.
Chuck D: Oh yeah?
Tricky: Yeah. In New York. Weird shit popping off. It's abnormal. Being recognised in a club is abnormal. You know, I just try to get away from that.
The main thing that links you to Chuck D is that you did a cover version of Public Enemy's 'Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos'.
Tricky: No, that's not it. The main thing is I grew up listening to him. I'm from a deprived area, no education, so I never had a Shakespeare. Seriously. I didn't get off on people like Shakespeare, It was Chuck D and Rakim. Slick Rick...
|Chuck D cups his head, embarrassed.|
Chuck D: I'm not good at handling this.
Tricky: That's the truth.
The original 'Black Steel' was a song about a black man being jailed for refusing to fight for Uncle Sam, and the way
|he inspired a jail uprising
and subsequent jailbreak.
When you wrote the song, Chuck, the situation wasn't as serious as it is now. A disproportionate percentage of African-Americans are now in jail...
Chuck D: Increasing by the day. And concentration camps for he year 2000. You know what? Jail in the United States are becoming more and more beautiful.
Tricky: And they're becoming privatised. Lock in everybody and make money off them. It's slavery.
Chuck D: Originally when I wrote 'Black Steel', it was talking about the history of lockdowns |heavy manners in maximum security prisons|. That was the situation nine years ago, now it's more intense, but thoroughly prevaricated and tucked under the rug. Brothers in jail respect me, 'cos they say: "Chuck, you're on the real 'cos you're trying to keep a young motherfucker out of this motherfucker". Myself and Ice-T are saying things to try and keep people out of jail. A lot of times when people talk about "keeping it real", they're only talking about a limited reality.
Tricky: It's almost a trendy thing. It's trendy to be a bad man.
Chuck D: I'll tell you something. People still bug the tuck out of you over here that there are black people in England. It's stupid.
Tricky: I said: "There's a ghetto in England," and people were surprised. They think black people over there play cricket and drink Pimms.
Chuck D: That's a lot better than it used to be. They used to think it was you guys and The Oueen.
Tricky: They don't know, they never realise... To me, you're still fighting mad... and I don't know where you get your energy to fight.
Chuck D: You fight or you die.
Tricky: Yeah, but you're still fighting. What's weirder is that when I was young I was going astray, but through education by Chuck D and Rakim, I kinda educated myself.
Chuck D: You're getting older.
Tricky: Yeah, but I don't think things are getting better, I can't see these people changing it. The music industry is making us minstrels. Take four girls, have their hair done, get some sweet music and put them in the charts. It's getting worse.
'Pre-Millennium Tension' can hardly be described as minstrel music.
Tricky: No. What I'm saying is about the industry itself. Everybody knows where the real money is. Corporations, property, da-da-da... but we think it's Mercedes Benzes and gold chains.
D: The things we were taught.
Tricky: If I got caught with a gun and it got into the newspapers, that's cool. That's very good for me.
Chuck D: You could do a thousand great things and go one step over the line... That's why I got angry with the Daily News. After everything Flavor Flav has done for this city on the plus side, when he had a little sniffing situation it was in every newspaper, page three.
Tricky: They tried to crucify him.
Chuck D: Tried?
Tricky: Good things don't get you respect; if you've done bad things, that'll get you the most respect.
Chuck D: If I get up and have a fight with that man at that table, man |points to next table|, I've got front-page news. Yet I've just come from City Hall, where I did a voter registration drive.
Tricky: What did you do?
Chuck D: I'm part of a whole bunch of voting campaigns.
Tricky: If you ran for election, I'd vote for you, Chuck.
THERE'S A spoken-word track on Tricky's
new LP called 'Ghetto Youth', in which a Jamaican guy talks about his life,
his philosophy and experiences.
I don't really agree with religion. I went to Helsinki to do an interview
and the person was really nasty, so I met the devil there. Then I met a
Christian on the plane going to Christiansands. It's the song, innit? |Laughter|
No deep meaning.
Chuck D: Respect for a natural order.
How do your approaches to live performance differ?
Tricky: There's no difference, it's energy. There's a lot of weak stuff live in hip-hop and a lot of weak live stuff in rock. If you tap into energy, you're gonna come across. Some people wanna go onstage like they live their lives: I ain't gonna shake my ass around. Usually, I stand there with my eyes closed. But that's just my energy.
Chuck D: Exactly. I had to overcome the obstacle of people saying rap doesn't mean shit live. And my whole thing was to redefine my goals. To redefine the meaning of what people do when they come to a concert.
Tricky: What you guys did was a show. I felt I was sinking every time I went to see you. These days people think a lot more about acting.
Chuck D: Acting?
Tricky: Getting paid.
What is this whole rigmarole about getting paid? The history of hip-hop is littered with people who wanted to make money at any cost.
Chuck D: I think Tricky said it. The whole ghetto concept of getting paid is more a concept of getting paid than actually getting paid. It seems that white supremacy has made it possible that we've gotta pay the most for God's gifts - land, water, fresh air. We've got a lot of free shit, like concrete, sometimes we have mass transit for a dollar or whatever, but the ghetto way of getting paid is to be the best consumer possible for somebody else's backed business.
Tricky: That's the truth.
Chuck D: Money is a tool and influence ispower. Sometimes, getting paid can be the worst thing that can happen.
Tricky: Where's the passion? I used to listen to you guys and just want to write lyrics. Passion ain't worrying about getting paid.
Chuck D: It should be fun. One of the things that turned me on to Tricky is not so much that I was bashful him covering one of my records but that I was much more pleased in the way he flipped it. He just took it there. And a lot of cynics came out of the left-field, like: "This is shit, he didn't do it justice," but it's the fact that he turned it to fit his vision - to me, that's the same thing I try to do with R&B, or other songs that came before me.
Tricky: People forget what a cover is. A cover now has become a good jingle. If I wanna do good business I can cover a Madonna song, but it's not what I feel. I don't
know about business deals. Everything I do is for my love and passion.
How do you handle attention?
Tricky: Not very well. Things haven't changed for me since I was 15. I'm still the same person. My career has run off so
|fast that I need to catch
up with it. I need to stop smoking spliff. Not because Chuck says so, but
because I've been smoking since I was 15.I need to stop drinking alcohol
because I'm scared. It's my weakness.
Chuck D: I've never pushed my beliefs on anybody. I do it, number one, 'cos I've always played ball, so, if I smoked, I wouldn't be able to run, and, as for drink, I never liked the taste or the smell. And I was the designated driver when we had clubs - I didn't wanna die under someone's steering-wheel. I come up with these reasons. It helped me.
Public Enemy's sound has always been out there. Why did you go for noise?
Chuck D: It made us stand out. It was distinct.
Tricky: Thinking music. Brainbox music.
Chuck D: It's love at first hate. It's a reflection of my personality. I've always been against the grain. I'd always be the person that if everybody had an Afro, I'd cut my hair bald; if everybody cut their hair bald, I'd grow some serious shit. So, with noise, the aim was to stand out. And we did.
Tricky: All my albums are the same thing. There ain't no music on my albums, just noise.
Have you got the late 20th-century angst and the pre-millennium blues?
Tricky: The 'Pre-Millennium Tension' idea is a bit of a joke. It's nothing to do with the millennium. We're tense anyway. We're bust. We're going. We've gone too fast, too quickly. We're in trouble.
Chuck D: That's true.
Tricky: It's just playing with words. Everyone's on about the millennium... I don't think that's got anything to do with it. We're just bust. We've got no chance. It's not looking good. We've gotta pay, now.
Chuck D: Hey, man, I know what he's saying. My last album |PE's 'Muse Sick N Hour Mess Age'| was made for 1999 anyway, it wasn't really made for 1994. We looked five years ahead. My label sometimes hates me for this.
Tricky: What? Def Jam?
Chuck D: My dealings with Mercury for the solo LP have nothing to do with Def lam. Def Jam is not sophisticated enough and they can't always understand that this is about fun, it's about art. It's not about pop-chasing. They can never tell me what to do. I find joy in doing the unexpected. They're like: "Chuck! What makes you tick?" I'm like:
"What makes me tick is something you don't understand."
I'm a normal, regular, human being, but when I'm making lyrics or verses up, I don't know what the fuck it is. It's almost like I'm already naturally high and crazy. I dare to wonder what weed would do to my ass. I'd probably have
||makes alien noises|
coming out of my mouth. Take an LSD trip: "Chuck takes an LSD trip, what
the fuck did he write? Oh, yo, fuck some seventh dimension shit. A viper
comes out of the last verse and sucks every listener in the bowels with
Tricky: That's what I try to do with my lyrics. I don't want to be nice to people. I wanna cut. I've got that negative energy in me.
Tricky: 'Cos I'm conditioned. I grew up with it.
Chuck D: We were forced upon with The King's English: "You speak this way, nigger! And you respond this way. Forget everything you've learned before." So you've taken the King's English and reversed its fortune.
Chuck D: In defiance. He threw some shit at you, and you've taken it, picked it up, repackaged it, and thrown it right back.
Tricky: Like with 'Sex Drive' on the new album. Martina sings it and I've kinda got her on... I've never written straightforward lyrics before, but it's strange. She sings: "I live in the ghetto forever/So you manufacture the ghetto-blaster." What's a ghetto-blaster? They're not made in the ghetto, are they? Through our lyrics I can live in the same space as people who don't want me to live there. I love it. Lyrics change people's minds by taking them out and putting them back.
Chuck D: Have you ever heard of the phrase 'kitting a car out'? You have a car And you put all kinds of things on the car, give it an extra fender, etc. What we're doing is kitting out words. You take the word and you customise it for your own use and hurl it back. And then, there's the thought: "Who said you could get away with this shit?" It's a matter of semantics. But the thing is, on our own semantic end it happens to be entrusted and enveloped within a culture. So the culture puts a supercharger on it, and it comes back as a mutated monster All it is is a word.
Chuck D: The music, too.
CHUCK D talks about being made to
cater to an 18-35- year-old demographic and the real value of old age and
the value of wisdom, how you can't learn anything from your peers because
they're just as confused as you are. Tricky talks about being brought up
by his grandmother, despite great odds, then the conversation turns to
New York City and Western civilisation..
|got kids who love the
ghetto saying: "I'm from the ghetto and I love it." That's crazy. You can
make money now saying you're from the ghetto. All my life I've been running
away from this place. What there should be is like a ghetto exchange, right,
so rich people go and live in the ghetto and we can live where they fucking
Chuck D: The ghetto? The projects are not the place for fucking peace. In the '20s here, they set up a situation where they did an experiment with rats in a place that looked like a project, then they took some of the conditions and started with project building programs after World War Two, where black folks were... channelled into the projects. The concept was based on an experiment they were going through on how people respond when compacted into a situation. It was a trap that still maligns black people to this day...
Think about the migration of people from land in the South during Jim Crow |when black/white segregation was enforced by law|, to go towards the Northern cities for want of a better place, jobs and money. After 1955, families and generations were stuck in the concrete urban jungle. What you have here are families who are tucked in the ghetto with no hopes of getting out 'cos they have nothing to go back to.
My great-grandmother moved to Harlem in the '30s/'40s. My father's mother moved here in 1939. All her sisters followed from North Carolina. Everybody came to tucking New York. Therefore in 1996, large remnants of my family are stuck with ghetto problems - in the ghetto, can't get out, been to jail... drugs, the whole nine, because the city has devoured large portions of my family. Where before, they had the land. It was a different setting. Jim Crow chased us out of the South.
Tricky: Who's Jim Crow?
Chuck D: Jim Crow is the concept of racism and segregation in the South, the exact terms escape me, but the Jim Crow laws were there to separate: go to two different bathrooms, drink out of two different faucets, black here and white there.
OUR FELLOW diners are attentive now,
carrying on conversations at a reasonable volume and laughing raucously,
but surreptitiously taking in every word. It's not every day you get to
hear Chuck D at full volume and full pelt.
| It was like:
"I've been the master of this plantation since I was 25, when my father
gave it to me, I'm 65 and I've been doing it for 40 years, making my slaves,
taking any woman I wanted, kids growing up... That's why it goes deep,
man. And people are like: "Fuck it! I wanna figure out how I get paid.
I ain't trying to hear that kind of shit. I'm trying to stay out of jail.
I've got two seeds |children|
I've gotta teed."
People in the West say: "Why are you so angry?" I ain't angry. I could be angry and I got a reason to be angry if I happen to sit down for a minute and say: "You know what? I'm gonna have a drink. I'm gonna have my shit over here, roll my shit up, I'm gonna get puff and I'm gonna fucking just wreck shit." Mentally, at least, and be frustrated.
Tension is just there. And the only way that the tension can get spread out is that we've gotta have a part of the land, too. Land. Space. Trees. Water. That's money. God, this civilisation makes you pay for it.
Tricky: That lyric on your new album about Hilfiger's is so true. Tommy Hilfiger |trendy clothes designer adopted by the streetwise| is like guns. Guns become like socks. I get up and put my socks on everyday. Guns have become like that. As well as Hiftiger's |clothes|. You can't shoot anyone unless you've got a Hilfiger on, looking good.
Chuck D: You saw Independence Day, right?
Chuck D: The thing that made that shit so corny, is that if an alien motherfucker did decide to come down here and say: "You know what? We're gonna wreck shop," you're gonna see everybody saying: "We have no differences, do we?" Alien motherfucker'll be like: 'Yo! We're taking this motherfucker!' You'll see a white racist guy and a black guy from Namibia and the white guy will be like: "Bro, what can we do? Help me out." The black struggle has never been about "We're better than you." The black struggle has always been "Respect us as human beings, too".
Chuck D: We're all part of this motherfucking thing. When people say it's a small world, it ain't no small world. It's a big motherfucker. I flew for 15 hours at 700mph from Sydney to LA. There's enough to go around for everybody. When you see a motherfucker over here and he's got $7 billion - what the fucking shit is that about? What are you gonna do with it? You got people out there dying and starving in the street and this motherfucker has $7 billion, what the fuck?
Tricky: That's a weird concept. When I think of some recording artists who've got that much money and what do they do? They arrange a show for charity, when they could just give them a couple of billion. How much can you make? How much money do you want?
Chuck D: You can't take a motherfucking thing with you. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Now, what you do along the line of happiness is you have a good time on earth. If a person was hitting crack or whatever. My whole thing is like: "Yo, if that's what's gonna make you happy, and if you can find that shit, go in the middle of a field and just fucking get
|cracked out. The problem
is, when you're fucking with anybody else, robbing motherfuckers |laughter|,
or trying to get your hustle on by stepping on somebody else - yo,
you're infiltrating motherfucker's shit, man." I mean, everybody can find
Utopia on this planet and everybody is given an equal shot and an equal
understanding, of knowing how to steer, because you're only borrowing shit
anyway, you ain't keeping shit.
You gotta borrow some shit, then you pass down a legacy to your children that they have to hold on to for life. And all this shit like: "I got $90 billion and I wanna take it with me when I die." What kind of shit is that? That's crazy. Or when you see someone like: "I made $1 billion, now I wanna make $2 billion..." The fuck!? What does it mean?"
Yo! Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Shakespeare, John F. Kennedy... Those motherfuckers been dead like a motherfucker, they've been dead. It's just that they're still here. It's part of the deeds, the legacy. That's the thing that we as black artists can at least say: "You know what? They can kill me. But it's when I die, it's gonna be a hell of a day. When I die, I'm gonna have shit that they can't remove, because it's intangible." That's what luxury we have to do these things.
Tricky: Leaving something behind.
Chuck D: Whether we're here or not here. I could be on a plane and motherfucking land in the water. It's just that, whatever I leave, I always wanna make it known, it's like: "We killed Chuck. Can we kill Chuck? (Laughter) Killing him might be worse, 'cos if you kill him, that motherfucker will last 100 years. So let the motherfucker live and maybe he'll kill some aspects of himself off." It's a crazy game. People can say they control your copyright, but they can't control your spirit.
Tricky: People have heard it. It's in the mind, man.
Chuck D: Look at Marvin Gaye. You can't scrape Marvin Gaye from the mindset of someone that's into R&B here in America or wherever. You cannot scrape the legacy of Enrico Caruso in opera. It's there. That's the good thing about art. Leonardo Da Vinci, Egyptian artwork... is just there.
"If you talk about the pyramids, you could talk about them as a cultural edifice or you could talk about them as a spirit of an effort. That's the shit they can't get rid of. They could probably use an atom bomb to destroy the pyramids, but they can't destroy the strength of the spirit.
Going into Africa, it was like: "First of all, you know we have to break the spirit of these people." And they've broken down a lot of the spirit, but the spirit of Africa is getting stronger by the day as it's being eaten alive. It's strange, right. It's like there's a spirit there that's just setting off the rest of the world. People say: "You know what? We've attacked it from all around, it's eating itself, culturally it's attacking itself, and there's still that spirit."
And that's why the plan... who knows what the plan was? And I'm gonna end off talking this shit before I get into some zones. The best plan possible
|for the Western
world is to say: "Well, let all these countries go independent with our
help." These countries. They're only countries 'cos they were infiltrated
in the first place. Spirit is something you can't wreck...
Tricky: That's what I don't mind. Spirit is feeling, but as long as... I can't talk a line. I don't even know how to get about, how to deal with day-to-day life. 'Cos this ain't really day-to-day life. It's not very normal. So I have to just run things by feelings and energy. I know of good energy, I know of bad energy. You choose what you want. I don't know how to go day to day. Even this interview, when to get up... It's all wrong. It's so wrong.
We ain't supposed to be living in these conditions. We ain't supposed to be living with four walls. And I feel it. You can sense it. The senses are all wrong.
Chuck D: I don't think the senses of the human spirit are being underestimated, even in art. When you study art from the past, the only thing other than this natural form, which is two-dimensional, the thing that exists in the third dimension is the spirit of it. Whether we wanna be stupid or whether we wanna be smart about it. Intellectual values. You know what has spirit? The fucking swastika. That shit has got so much spirit in that shit. Swastika? Nazi swastika...?
Tricky: You know, the Indians used to use it.
Chuck D: Exactly.
Tricky: It means peace, that's the strange thing.
Chuck D: It means peace, and Hitler put a whole 'nother fucking spirit to it. It's so strong that if you write this shit on a piece of paper, it'll cause this whole fucking place to be in uproar. The spirit of that shit is just so fucking deep. Well, enough of me talking...
CLICK. THERE was no reason to bring
up the subject of the swastika, was there? We can only be thankful Chuck
D didn't actually attempt to draw a swastika in a somewhat hostile Mexican
restaurant that keeps crayons handy for patrons to write goodwill messages
on the paper tablecloths.
photos: Roger Sargent