Public Enemy’s Chuck D on Breonna Taylor case: ‘It was a teachable moment’

Public Enemy is still ready to “Fight the Power.”

Thirty-one years after that classic track dropped, the legendary Long Island posse returns Friday with a new LP, “What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down?” It marks the group’s return to Def Jam, the iconic hip-hop label that they helped build, and features “Fight the Power: Remix 2020,” an all-star update of the 1989 anthem.

The Post spoke to PE leader Chuck D, 60, shortly after Wednesday’s controversial Breonna Taylor decision. Here, he sounds off on being an “OG” in the Black Lives Matter movement, why “Fight the Power” is still relevant and getting the surviving Beastie Boys to record again.

How does it feel that “Fight the Power” is still so relevant, maybe even more so, 31 years later?

The bones of the song are supposed to carry it through decades, and [it doesn’t] have to be currently popular to be relevant. Philosophically, people come to me and say, “Aren’t you a little dismayed that not a lot has changed since ’89?” … It still smells the same odor. This is why a song could make you think.

When the Black Lives Matter movement intensified this year, what did you think about Public Enemy’s responsibility to be a voice?

Your OG status shouldn’t overshadow the movement of young energy. I believe young energy is leadership. I believe old energy is counsel and advice and direction … Based on the atrocities and exposure of what happened to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and so on — especially with [Wednesday’s] decision — it was a reachable moment and a teachable moment. When you have a side that basically blatantly says that you don’t matter, that’s just spreading hatred, man.

Chuck D from Public Enemy
Chuck D from Public EnemyDavid Wolff – Patrick/Redferns

You take aim at Trump on “State of the Union (STFU).” Is it safe to say Biden’s got your vote?

It’s the side that you’re on versus the side that hates you. There’s no time for microscopic differences, man.

It’s a great moment on the new album when you rock with Mike D and Ad-Rock, from the Beastie Boys, and Run-DMC on “Public Enemy Number Won” as middle-aged rappers now.

It’s a moment, man. It wasn’t easy, because the Beastie Boys have a pact that they’re not gonna be rhyming again [after Adam “MCA” Yauch’s death in 2012]. And what they were able to give to that song, to me, was just amazing … Run-DMC, Jam Master Jay, Ad-Rock, Mike D and MCA, they had brought me into the Def Jam thing. We’ve come full circle to do “Public Enemy Number Won.” It was the perfect 60th birthday present.

All of you guys came up during this golden era in the New York rap scene. What was in the air that made it so special?

The thing that made it so special is nobody knew what was next. And you did it scraping and carving at the future [with] what your claws could bear, you know? And that was the joy. There’s a beauty in clawing, scratching for the future, for the love of it.

public enemy
Eitan Miskevich

What do you think about the state of today’s New York rap scene?

New York’s rap scene is always evolving; it’s cool … New York City — and the surrounding metropolitan area — knows rap music, and they’re not just gonna accept any ol’ anything because it’s popular across whatever.

How do you feel about being an elder statesman in the game now?

Like with golf, I’m part of the senior circuit … We do our own thing in our own way.

What did you do to celebrate your 60th birthday last month?

I celebrated with close fam in silence. I like to listen more than talk. And it’s good to be silent more than run my mouth.


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