Chuck D Challenges Me to Confront Myself

This is the eleventh entry in the series Honoring Black History.

Few people in hip-hop command as much respect as Chuck D. But unlike many who’ve achieved his level of critical and commercial success, Chuck D has never stopped fighting for others. And he’s challenged me to do my part.

Growing up, I vividly remember my first introduction to Chuck D in the guise of Public Enemy. I was thumbing through the bins at my local record shop and was confronted by the bold cover of Fear of a Black Planet, Public Enemy’s third record. Given my musical taste at the time, I was probably on the hunt for a Pet Shop Boys’ record or something, so its unsurprising Fear didn’t come home with me that day.

My musical tastes did broaden a bit over the next few years, however, and I began to gravitate toward more overtly political punk and rap. And when I did, Public Enemy was there for me. Growing up a middle class white boy in suburban Orlando, their music was… challenging to say the least. Not only was it aggressive, but the content challenged my worldview.

Unlike many people who reacted negatively when confronted with the themes of Public Enemy’s records—black radicalism, white supremacy, institutional racism—I felt driven to reflect on my own existence, my own privilege. In many ways, I didn’t feel like Chuck D’s lyrics were confronting me, but rather challenging me to confront myself.

As an adult, I experienced Chuck D in a new way as one of the hosts of Unfiltered on Air America Radio. I found a lot of solace in his wisdom and politics—and those of his co-hosts Lizz Winstead and Rachel Maddow—at the start of George W. Bush’s second term.1 And, as I’d come to expect by that point, he continued to challenge my comfortable life and made me question what I was doing to help others less fortunate than myself.

Though many years have passed since I first discovered Chuck D, I feel like he’s shaped both my life and my politics. He’s encouraged me to be more aware and take a greater—which is to say active—interest in the lives and well-being of my fellow humans. And, of course, he’s also provided a killer soundtrack to boot.

Thank you Chuck!

  1. Which, and I feel shocked to say this, I almost look back on with fondness in light of the U.S.’s current leadership. 


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