Chuck D – Overall 83
(Flow 7, Lyrics 10, Distinctiveness 10, Charisma 5, Consistency 7, Longevity 9, Punchlines 7, Subject Matter 10, Quality 8, Influence 10)
It’s painful for me to even write this because Chuck D is either #1 or #2 on my personal list. (There is a troika of Kool G Rap, Chuck D, and KRS-1 in my head for the top two spots and I a lot of time debating the order.) As far as I’m concerned, Chuck D is the centerpiece of the greatest rap group of them all. His legacy is cemented. When the media wants to talk to an intelligent black man in the rap game, they call Chuck D.
They call Chuck D because he headed a group so extraordinary, there still isn’t anything quite like it. There are conscious rap groups, but most of them lack steam on the production side. There have been angry groups, but they lacked intelligence. There have been smart groups, but they lacked impact. There has not been a Public Enemy, a hip-hop group with the spontaneity and aggression of heavy metal, an intimidating amount of perception, and a balance between the monomaniacal focus of Chuck, and the puckish improvisation of Flavor Flav.
At times, Chuck is quite nearly prophetic (Quite nearly all of non-premium cable television is Channel Zero at this point, for instance). And I don’t know if there’s ever been a more interesting rapper in the entire genre. Chuck D is the musical extension of Paul Mooney, the person who fearlessly points out what no one else wants to mention.
In fact, it is only his decision to focus on the message that kept him from rising further up the list, as stylistically he disciplines his flow to get the message across, and for the most part eschews punchlines.
The other problem is that it’s hard for rappers to be conscious and not be condemned at preachy, no matter how they deliver their message, which affected the charisma category. Personally, I would rather listen to Public Enemy that someone who pretends to be a gangster, but it’s sad to say a lot of people don’t feel that way.
What we are left with is a huge body of work, most of it exceptional if topheavy, even though that isn’t particularly Chuck’s fault either. With producers the Bomb Squad, Public Enemy created a sonically dense, volatile and unique sound using samples – but some of those samples only being fractions of a second. (In fact samplers could only use two seconds at a time in the 80’s. There was a distinction made between sampling and looping, and most of what we hear in hip-hop today would be called looping then. Royalties were paid with looping.)
Records companies were able to incite older (and mostly black) artists to sue younger hip-hop artists for the “theft” of their work. Sadly, they got hustled again. Most of the actual revenue went record company lawyers. Public Enemy was not able to replicate their sound again, which has been an obstacle in their revolutionary sound.
But the group endures. Why shouldn’t they? Nothing better has come along, and nothing will. Chuck calls his plan C.L.A.M.P. (Concept, Lyrics, Attitude, Music and Performance) a concept that he’s taught to others as well. Clamp onto your product and you clamp onto the game. He’s done just that.