Public Enemy gets a key to Durham

Jun. 16, 2013 @ 10:29 PM

Following the honor earlier this year of being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, legendary rap group Public Enemy received a key to Durham on Father’s Day.

The key to the city was given to the group by Durham Mayor Bill Bell, who briefed the group on the demographics, history and state of the Bull City.

Chuck D, Professor Griff, Malik Muhammad and Brother James  were on hand in Durham’s City Hall to receive the key.  Public Enemy has also received the key to New Orleans.

Prior to the ceremony, the group talked about music, including what it was, what it’s become and what they plan to do to address it.

Performing on the Durham Performing Arts Center stage Sunday night as part of the Kings of the Mic tour, the group took time to talk about the state of rap and hip-hop music and an initiative they are starting called Occupy FreeAir to give local radio back to communities and local artists across the country.

“Act locally but think globally,” said Public Enemy frontman Chuck D. “Hip hop is about invigorating and sparking change and making a good use of everyone’s talent.”

Chuck D said Occupy FreeAir, following a Canadian model, is an initiative to urge radio stations to play 40 percent local talent. Noting the tie between communities and the arts and culture, Chuck D said that reciprocity is the key to urban economic survival.

“If the city doesn’t support the arts, the arts can’t support the city,” he said. “It’s not a self-serving thing. It’s about the community and the local area artists. “

Public Enemy released its first album, “Yo! Bum Rush the Show,” in 1987. Its second in 1988, “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,” catapulted Public Enemy to the national spotlight. Often called the group’s most popular song, “Fight the Power,” was the theme to Spike Lee’s film “Do the Right Thing” in 1989.

Founder of the New Righteous Movement, Durham Minister Paul Scott recounted his first encounter with Public Enemy as a student at North Carolina Central University.

“When I was a senior at NCCU I was not thinking about politics, then I heard an album,” he explained to the group. “My whole political ideology changed. Public Enemy is the anti-dumb-down in so much rap music today.”

Public Enemy is known for socially conscious rap that brings attention to many issues facing the black and urban communities.

The group released two albums in 2012, “Most of My heroes Still Don’t Appear on Stamps” and “The Evil Empire of Everything”.

Professor Griff said that hip-hop is a culture that needs to be treated as such, not a side issue that is periodically recognized.

“Young kids across the spectrum participate and resonate with hip-hop,” Griff said. “I think it’s wise that a minister and a mayor and a politically conscious, socially conscious hip-hop group can come together to have this particular type of discussion. We’re just hoping that that key opens up some doors and some minds because there was a great poet who said that we’re tired of having young people pick this electronic cotton in the digital age and that writer was Chuck D.”

Chuck D said that he wants audiences to leave Public Enemy concerts awestruck, setting the bar for the way hip-hop is supposed to be performed.

“It’s a performance that’s invigorating, that actually reaches and touched people then you can infiltrate people with something that’s good for them,” he said.

Bell said he supports the ideas that Public Enemy put forth during the meeting and that work needs to be done to address a younger generation that is going astray.

“Somehow we’ve got to connect with them and get them off of the path that they’re on,” Bell said. “I just hope your music helps go that way. We’re going to have a lost generation if we don’t help them.”