Chuck D On The Real Off The Record: Rap getting less and less relevant to today’s world
CHUCK D, RAPTAVIST, MEMBER OF PUBLIC ENEMY: We’re back On The Real Off The Record on The Real News Network, and I’m Chuck D, talking to probably the most fascinating man I know, DJ Johnny Juice, John Rosado, a contributor on many hip-hop classics, really in the frameworks behind the scenes, and in front of the scenes, DJ culture, hip-hop culture, one of the contributing members of the co-founding of Public Enemy, and works on “Yo! Bum Rush the Show” and, most importantly, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, who they say—somebody out there says it’s probably the greatest rap and hip-hop album of all time. That’s 21 years ago. We fast forward it to 2009, and DJ Johnny Juice is sitting right here and—.
DJ JOHNNY “JUICE” ROSADO, PRODUCER AND TURNTABLIST: Aging.
CHUCK D: Let’s pick it up—well, pick it up on what we, you know, were talking about before. You know, you’re the father of teenage daughters, and I have a 15-year-old, and, seriously, I end up talking to my daughter, who you know quite well. I asked her about the Barack Obama significance. You know. It’s like—it’s almost you try to instill the meaning and the significance into them. But at the same time, being born in 1993, you know, she’s only been through two other presidents, and this is the third president, and she’s used to the presidents having eight-year terms. So here we go into the third president. So how do you actually get the significance into a person who doesn’t have the perspective of the cold ’80s of R & B (that’s Reagan and Bush)? And, you know, me, I go further back, since I’m an old head. So I remember when Nixon and Ford and Carter and Lyndon Johnson—and I wanted to say Kennedy, but I’m going to stop right there.
DJ JOHNNY JUICE: You can keep going back, right? Well, you know, it’s a good question. You know, it’s hard, it’s hard to have somebody, you know, as a third party, explain to you something that was so significant that they’ve never seen. You try to explain to somebody the Beatles phenomenon. You’re like, what made them so special? You know, I guess you really just had to be there. I mean, Run-D.M.C. picking up their Adidas at Madison Square Garden, and everybody taking off their Adidas, putting them there. I mean, you were there.
CHUCK D: Right.
DJ JOHNNY JUICE: I was there. And that’s like, wow. That led to the first, like, sneaker deal for a hip hop group. I mean, you know, things that you have to really be there to see, it’s hard to instill that in anybody, because, you know, everything’s relative. You know. So only thing you can do is, you know, teach her history and, you know, explain, you know, what you’ve gone through and hope that they can put it into proper perspective once they get to an age where they’re mature enough to understand that. And you have to leave it in their hands. You know. And some people are mature enough to make that, you know, transition; some people aren’t. You know, I’d like to think my daughters are smart enough to understand it, and I think they are. You know, my little six-year-old, she’s grasping things a lot more significantly. The other day, some kid brought a book to school that had Malcolm X on the cover, and the first thing she said was, “Hey, that’s the guy that was on the wall at Uncle Chuck’s house,” and “What’s that about?” So I explained to her who Malcolm X was. And she gets it, you know, but they’re not all going to get it. But you’ve just got to keep doing it and hope that they do the right thing.
CHUCK D: When it comes down to the elements of hip hop, you know, you’re talking about the emceeing, the graffiti, we talk about the break dancing, you know, all those areas that you were proficient in, but then, you know, the area of deejaying, and it always seemed to be like the DJs were the smartest guys in the room. They had the greatest sense of the history, and they have spent, especially in black hip hop, if I can use such a term, they have been, like, the most absent, or they’ve been, like, the most, I guess, disrespected when it comes down to hip hop or being recognized in hip hop. Why do you think it’s so? I mean, because the DJ, I mean, without the DJ, you have nothing. And maybe they think just because you’re not the MC, the MC can say it all, but the MCs are saying nada.
DJ JOHNNY JUICE: Well, you know, I think the reason why, you know, you would say DJs are probably the smartest, and I would probably agree—not just ’cause I’m a DJ, but that’s probably why I wanted to be a DJ—there’s a chronology that has to be known. You have to know records. You have to know what came before. You have to know that this record came out in ’72, and that led to a sound that was later enhanced in ’79, which led to a group that came out in ’84. I was just explaining to [inaudible] today, I’m like, “Yo, remember this record?” and I’d put on the Invisible Man’s Band, right, “All Night Thing.” I’m like, “You know, that used to be The Five Stairsteps, right?” He’s like, “Wait a minute. The Five Stairsteps? ‘O-o-h Child (Things are going to be—)’?” “Yeah. You know, the bass player was Kenny Burke [inaudible] ‘Rising to the Top.’” “Oh, I didn’t know that.” So that’s stuff that you have to know. You have to know things to play records in a proper context of rocking a dance floor and moving people to a—. You know, you have to take people on a journey as a DJ. You know, rappers kind of replaced that, you know, unfortunately, due to the fact that music and equipment became more accessible a technology. It’s still happening now. Now you got iPod DJs that—you ain’t got to know music at all; all you got to do is throw a bunch of songs on an iPod and just play them at a party.
CHUCK D: Yeah, but it’s your knowledge of the songs that makes you rock the party.
DJ JOHNNY JUICE: The knowledge of songs. Right. But, see, the thing is, if you have an MC, you don’t have to have knowledge of the songs, ’cause your MC could fill in the gaps where you necessarily didn’t have to have—. You know, you had to be able to transition properly. Now you don’t. And we can hear on the radio right now somebody playing a record [inaudible] mix? No. They start mixing, it’s messed up, r-r-r! “Yeah, that’s right! It’s going down!” You know, and whatever. And it’s like, okay, well you just covered that whole train wreck with an MC-style delivery, and then people forget about it, and they’d be—. It’s almost like sleight of hand. It’s like a magician. So what happened was the MC replaced skill. You know what I’m saying? But MCs used to point at the skill of the DJ. When he became the center of attention, the DJ didn’t—you know, if he messed up or he got busy, it didn’t matter.
CHUCK D: You have a Palestinian artist underneath your stable, and also you’re well aware on hip hop across the planet. Tell us about your Palestinian artist. And also tell us why is there a gap between, you know, artists in the United States who seem to be, like, at a fifth- to seventh-grade level with 28-year-old topics, and the rest of the planet seems to always have a homage for the art.
DJ JOHNNY JUICE: Well, you know, my Palestinian rapper—and I’m getting more, actually, as we speak—Shadia Mansour, she broke into the UK, but she’s Palestinian. Parents are from Palestine. And when you live that kind of life, when you really live it, you can see all the fakers and all the posers. And, you know, you’ve got guys in Brooklyn talking about “my part of town is similar to Vietnam.” What do you know about Vietnam, other than watching Full Metal Jacket or, you know, whatever the movie? I mean, everything that people know—when I say “people,” I’m using it in general terms, obviously—and this isn’t—you know, I’m not generalizing, but most people learn what they see, and what they see is movies and the TV movie of the week and things like that. So they have a skewed vision of what reality is around the world. But people around the world see things for real. Palestinians look out the window and they see the rubble and they see young children dying; people in Darfur seeing people dying every day; you know, people in Russia are freezing and they have no food; you know, North Korea, they’ve been starving there for years. There’s a lot of things that happen, and those people see this. And then they hear a rapper talking about how much money he has. Think they respect that? So they don’t respect American rappers. They feel that they’ve squandered their right [inaudible]
CHUCK D: So you also feel like the black rapper who gets, you know, promoted on BET or whatever, to the Viacom network—I call BET the Booty and Thug Network—I mean, the black rapper seems to have lost their ghetto pass around the world, because now it seems like, you know, people can’t relate to the black rapper, ’cause they’re not talking about coming up from the bottom, they’re talking about just having and bragging.
DJ JOHNNY JUICE: Yeah, but even if they do talk about coming from the bottom, their bottom is relative. You know, some black rapper talking about how bad he has it, I mean, that’s understandable when nobody knew. But everybody knows the black plight now. It’s been all over everywhere, and everybody’s talked about it a million times. Now somebody needs to just talk about it correctly and put it in context. As bad as it is—and it’s been bad in this country—there’s a lot of countries that have been bad. And those countries, like Brazil, you know, they have their ghettos. I mean, the US doesn’t have a monopoly on ghettos. You know what I’m saying?
CHUCK D: Right.
DJ JOHNNY JUICE: You remember the City of the Dead in Egypt, where cats live in mausoleums and in tombs, you know, ’cause they have no place to live? I mean, really, how bad do you have it? Brooklyn’s bad? Brooklyn’s bad? You’re living in a hou-—at least, like, an apartment.
CHUCK D: Well, that’s what the press releases say, that’s what the media says is, like, you know, this is the real rough and came from nowhere in the United States. And so you’re saying that, you know, how long is this American message going to fascinate, you know, people who still love hip hop around the world as being, okay, this has got to be the end-all, be-all, just because it used to be.
DJ JOHNNY JUICE: Well, initially it got respect around the world because people said, “Wow—you can talk about your problems like that?” and it makes a profound statement. But it became a caricature of itself. Now, all of a sudden, well, I’m not talking about my problems; I’m glorifying how my problems are. They make me rougher than you. Really? It’s like, wait a minute, it wasn’t about how rough it was. If you listen to the message, Melle Mel and them dudes were saying how they wanted to get out. You know? “I tried to get out. I tried to get away. But I couldn’t get far, ’cause a man with a tow truck repossessed my car.” They wanted to get out of the ghetto. And then you’ve got rappers talking about “No matter how large I get, I’m staying in the projects.”
CHUCK D: Yeah, because, I mean, you know, the Notorious B.I.G. movie comes out, and, you know, his mother, you know, coming from a Caribbean background, you know, Caribbean kids, you know, descendants, were always—they were the smartest in the class. Their mothers that, you know, kind of fed them,—
DJ JOHNNY JUICE: Strictest.
CHUCK D: —strictest, you know, smartest kids, like I said. And, you know, all of a sudden, you know, the stories that came out from Biggie is totally different from his stories of where he really came from. And in that area of Brooklyn, you know, it is not really that—you know, the worst area of [inaudible] was the area where, you know, people worked hard and well-to-do. How come those qualities don’t get talked about in the music as much as, you know, the story that happens to just come out of the ghetto? Because really, seriously, I mean, there’s more people in the black community trying to do better, trying to do better for their family, or trying to do better for the people and themselves, as opposed to those not.
DJ JOHNNY JUICE: Well, you know, apparently a lot of people have been to jail, and when they come out of jail, you know, their lives get glorified. You know. And you remember we were talking awhile back, man, when somebody went to jail, you kind of had to lie about your uncle or your cousin that was in jail? Yeah, you know, you went, “He’s down south for a couple, uh, you know, from five to ten.” You know, sort of like—.
CHUCK D: Yeah. It was a shameful thing.
DJ JOHNNY JUICE: Yeah. You know what I’m saying? “Yeah, Easy’s visiting family for five.” You know? But now, you know, it’s like, “Yeah, my man’s up north, man. He’s doing his thing in jail.” It was like you’re proud of that now.
CHUCK D: There’s that needle to stick in their chest after somebody comes out and [inaudible] p-s-s-s!
DJ JOHNNY JUICE: Yeah. So, you know, when they come out, you know, they—you know, to mask all the humiliation that they’ve been through, ’cause jail is a humiliating experience, and I’ve never been through it, and I don’t want to go through it. But these cats come out, I mean, and they are deified by these young kids who say, “Yo, this guy must have really been tough. He survived ten years up north.” So now, you know, they follow this guy and they want to be like him, you know, even if they’re not like him. And that’s the ultimate form of super-thug, you know, the guy who’s been in jail for so long and made it out alive, you know, and they can tell stories that you’ll never really know are true ’cause you ain’t been there. So that leads them young kids to tell stories that aren’t really true. And who’s going to question them? He can’t question his boy that’s been up north. You know, so, you know, it’s just a huge cycle. It’s a ball of confusion, like what you said earlier, you know, and it’s something that’s not easily broken, because to break that would mean to show vulnerability, it would mean to show what is perceived by a race—and I’m not just talking about the black people: Latino people, all the minorities—as something that you really shouldn’t show, a weakness. You show a weakness? A weakness? No, I can’t show weakness. I can’t show weakness to these people. I’ve got to show I’m strong. I’m always—. You know, and vulnerability—man, love is the biggest strength of all, and it’s not taught as such. You know, if you go to Africa Africa, you know, the love for one’s family drives these dudes to do things that are superhuman. Yet over here, hate is used as the supreme, you know, emotion that drives you to be strong, for some reason.
CHUCK D: We’ll get more strong verses coming out of John Rosado. We’ve got the final segment coming up right here on The Real News Network. This is Chuck D On The Real Off The Record. Stay tuned until we return to burn.
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