Still out to do the right thing.
At 46, Chuck D is one of the grandfathers of hip-hop. But he hardly qualifies for a senior discount on his breakfast.
That didn't stop the veteran rapper and intellectual from asking a waitress for the senior portion on the grits he ordered with his two-egg breakfast at a diner outside of San Diego, where Public Enemy was embarking on its 56th tour earlier this month.
The 20 or so members of the crew must have almost taken over the restaurant as they conducted a morning meeting before placing orders.
When their meeting ended, Chuck D moved to another table to field a string of phone interviews and eat his breakfast alone.
The hip-hop pioneer was heading to the second stop on the West Coast portion of the tour - the first fully staffed tour since 1999. It comes through the McDonald Theatre today with instrumental backing and an opening set from the baNNed and support from X-Clan.
Chuck D's group, Public Enemy, first hit the scene in 1987 with "Yo! Bum Rush the Show." It entered the mainstream when filmmaker Spike Lee featured the group's anthem, "Fight the Power," in the 1989 hit "Do the Right Thing."
Since then, Chuck D has made albums, written two books, hosted a radio show, started a record label, lectured at colleges (including last year at Lane Community College) and made countless television appearances.
He also keeps a blog on www.publicenemy.com, which he said was one of the first Web sites in hip-hop. This year, he launched Chuck D Mobile, a service that offers hip-hop related ringtones, videos and other content for mobile phones.
The Public Enemy comic book is on its third issue. And Chuck D hosts an America Online program called "Worldwide Hip Hop Countdown."
Born Carlton Douglas Ridenhour, Chuck D has never stopped creating or trying to spread his political messages. But after breaking into the mainstream, the group's image has endured some public body blows, and its style of selecting message-packed rhymes over inventive beats has fallen out of favor in this day of commercially viable hip-hop that focuses on partying and overindulgence.
Some of the pioneers in the conscious hip-hop movement are working to reverse that trend; X-Clan is calling it the New Golden Era of hip-hop. Part of X-Clan's intention on this tour is to bridge the gap between the first generation of hip-hop and emerging fans who, at present, seem to be drawn to lighter fare.
There's still plenty of power to fight, but willing soldiers seem to be in short supply these days. The crew's wires sometimes cross out there between the million-miles-a-minute mind of Chuck D and the outrageous Flavor Flav.
Flav always has taken the hype role for the crew. But his much-publicized drug-related arrests and his recent starring role on the VH1 reality shows "The Surreal Life" and "Flavor of Love" have put Flav, and by association Public Enemy, in the public eye - but maybe not in the most desirable light.
The Flavor Flav flap
Chuck D writes about Flavor Flav's recent television stardom in a Sept. 20 entry in his blog.
To paraphrase, Chuck D says Flav may be addicted to fame, but he's fundamentally the same person he met 25 years ago. Flav's had problems with drugs and the TV programs weren't flattering, but Chuck D says those shows play into racist archetypes that are money makers in this culture.
Chuck D says Public Enemy, on the other hand, represents the true spectrum of personalities and interests and can't be categorized in cookie-cutter images.
In the 1980s, "Flav was Skittles and Starburst to Professor Griff's okra and beets, and everything else we did was in between," he writes. "Somehow along the way, black life and culture was deemed profitable, and the big great white male took interest.
"I'm glad Flav is busy, really not surprised at all. ... But it's a double wince at times when the stats say that it's a well-watched program by the masses of black folk and the topic the next day amongst black folk at school and work. Grown people mind you."
Public Enemy's new mater- ial has stayed contemporary, decrying high levels of African-American male incarceration, railing against the Bush administration and its Iraq policy, and criticizing a celebrity-driven culture.
"Celebrity the new drug/ In America/ Gotta have it/ Gotta be it/ So the young ones see it," Chuck D writes in "Preachin' to the Quiet" off the 2005 release, "New Whirl Odor."
In the '80s, Public Enemy declared its desire to identify 5,000 new black leaders. But when asked if he thought that had happened, Chuck D didn't say yes or no.
"You're either a leader or a follower," he said. "Unfortunately, there are more followers than leaders. ... In this country, we need to have more am- bassadors."
He said he's still fighting the stereotypes and working to get more women in music.
"Female empowerment is something we really need to understand," he said. His label, SLAMJamz, is featuring a new album from Crew Grrl Order: "B Grrl Stance."
Chuck D has been touring colleges for 16 years and speaks on almost every topic - from the legacy of Elvis Presley to the global music industry - and is widely regarded as hip-hop's most respected intel- lectual.
While sociopolitical content remains his meat, Chuck D doesn't believe mainstream rappers are devoid of consciousness. He said he thinks Jay-Z, who works on African water issues, is "the greatest rapper of all time."
The X-Clan comeback
Public Enemy headlining this tour is not a comeback, but choosing X-Clan as support will certainly help the lesser-known group's comeback album, "Return From Mecca," out in January on Suburban Noize Re- cords.
Led by Brother J, X-Clan emerged in the '90s as a strong voice in the Afro-centric, conscious hip-hop movement. But the group never had a breakthrough hit.
"No one is doing what X-Clan is doing right now," Brother J said in a recent phone interview. "There's no one that can compete with the music of the Game and Eminem and 50 Cent.
`These guys are killing the waves because their music is banging. And we finally have those elements with conscious music. ...
`Our sound sounds triumphant. It echoes in your mind. I have that kind of confidence that the people will embrace our material like that."
The Brooklyn-based collective has released a pair of albums, which its bio calls "historic": "To the East, Black- wards" in 1990 and "Xodus" in 1992. Then it disbanded.
"X-Clan were activists both inside the booth and out," the bio says, `as they were Blackwatch members and very vocal supporters of several pro-black organizations.'
Blackwatch was a black nationalist movement founded by Lumumba Carson and Professor X, who both later became members of X-Clan.
"The goal of Blackwatch was to take those kids that were bored of the same old approach of black nationalism," Brother J says in a 2005 interview published at www.blackelectorate .com. "We wanted to get people to stand up for their rights a little closer.
`And although we say black nationalism, it's basically aimed at improving the black environment. We're not meant to be a prejudiced circle."
Co-founder and group spokesman Brother J explained that the new incarnation of X-Clan is still a black nationalist group, but that term is not always understood.
The X-Clan itself is nontraditional in that many of its members don't do hip-hop, but rather are teachers and mentors of Brother J. Members serve in a New York foundation that teaches everything from architecture, to martial arts to technology courses, Brother J said.
"We have to bring knowledge, we have to have people in our crew who can offer solutions," he said. "X-Clan now, that type of craft, is now a chamber where it can be a classroom for the youth that we attract to our music.
"As we are older men now, I want to bring more of a teaching aspect to the house, because a lot of the crowd that the X-Clan attracted in the past are now teachers," he said.
"We want to pass on that gift of knowledge, you know, teach this in your home, teach something positive."
CONCERT PREVIEW Public Enemy with the baNNed, X-Clan The lineup: Chuck D and Flavor Flav are the MCs, backed by the baNNed (bassist Brian Hardgroove, guitarist Khari Wynn, drummer Michael Faulkner and turntablists DJ Johnny Juice and DJ LORD), who will open with a short set What: Conscious hip-hop When: 8 p.m. today Where: McDonald Theatre, 1010 Willamette St. Tickets: $30 Listen: Visit www.registerguard.com/ publicenemy.php to hear sound clippings from Public Enemy, Crew Grrl Order and X-Clan
You can call Serena Markstrom at 338-2371 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.