Public Enemy: Don’t Tell Me That You Understand Until You Hear The Men

Today is the 55th birthday of Chuck D of the rap group Public Enemy. The ensemble have many fans. They also have their fair share of detractors. A large portion of the latter have never heard the group’s music, basing their dislike of the group from what they’ve learned about them through the white media, which painted them as anti-Semitic and homophobic.

Let’s examine these accusations.

About gay people, Chuck D (born Carlton Ridenhour, and let’s face it – Carlton is a terrible name for a rapper. It’s a good name for Rhoda’s doorman.) told music writer/critic Robert Christgau “I think they’re a little confused.” On its face that sounds offensive, but to be fair, he didn’t say we’re confused about our sexuality. I, for one, am confused about why someone would think they are heroic for killing a wounded lion. I know I’m not the only gay who feels this way. Lonnie, a gay at the Starbucks around the corner from my condo, agrees.

In the spring of 1988, Professor Griff, the group’s Minister of Information (What? Your band doesn’t have a Minister of Information?), told the UK press “There’s no place for gays. When God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, it was for that sort of behavior” and “If the Palestinians took up arms, went into Israel and killed all the Jews, it’d be alright.” A few months later Chuck defended Griff’s comments, telling Spin magazine “I back Griff. Whatever he says, he can prove.” He can prove there is no place for gays? Clearly he has never been to the Starbucks around the corner from my condo.

Griff later said he dared Jews to send “their faggot little hit men” after him and revealed how “the Jews finance these experiments on AIDS with black people in South Africa.” What a relief! I thought he was going to blame the gays for AIDS!

A 1989 story in the Washington Times quotes Griff as saying “’The Jews are wicked. And we can prove this.” He helpfully added that Jews are responsible for “the majority of wickedness that goes on across the globe.” All I can say in response to that is I hope that the dentist who killed the lion isn’t Jewish. Please don’t let him be Jewish!

To his credit, Public Enemy’s Chuck D swiftly kicked Griff out of the group (swiftly being a relative term, i.e. relative to how successful and popular the group had become since Griff made his comments the year prior). D then hired him back into the group seven weeks later, demoted to Supreme Allied Chief of Community Relations. (What? Your band doesn’t have a Supreme Allied Chief of Community Relations?) Griff rid himself of his anti-Semitic feelings in just seven weeks. That’s why he was put in charge of community relations.

Mr. D has also taken heat for being a follower of Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. He rapped “Farrakhan’s a prophet and I think you ought to listen to what he can say to you” and “Don’t tell me that you understand until you hear the man.” Fair enough. Let’s hear him:

“The Jews don’t like Farrakhan, so they call me Hitler. Well, that’s a good name. Hitler was a very great man.” March 1984
“Murder and lying comes easy for white people.” February 1994
“Did you know that the Koran says that Jews are the most violent of people? I didn’t write it, but I’m living to see it.” February 2012
“They stole land in Palestine and this Synagogue of Satan knows that the end of their time of rule is up.” October 2010

I listened. I heard the man. I’m not sure I understand, but then again, I’m gay and therefore confused.

(By the way, for more of Reverend Farrakhan’s greatest anti-Semitic hits, go to the Anti-defamation League website. Then read how the Nation of Islam’s head said it was Jews responsible for the 9/11 attacks.)

In “Welcome to the Terrordome,” Chuck D raps “Crucifixion ain’t no fiction / So-called chosen frozen / Apologies made to whoever pleases / Still they got me like Jesus.” On behalf of the so-called chosen people, I accept this beautiful, heartfelt apology. It’s beautiful to see a man learn from his missteps. In return I’d like to say I’m sorry we killed Jesus.

In the group’s song “Meet the G That Killed Me,” Chuck D raps the classic homophobic line “Man to man, I don’t know if they can, from what I know, the parts don’t fit.” Work harder, Carlton. The parts will fit.

In “A Letter to the NY Post,” the group’s resident felon Flavor Flav (born William Drayton) rails against his domestic abuse arrest being reported by the titular newspaper. He raps “It only brings agony / Ask James Cagney / He beat up on a guy when he found he was a fagney / Cagney is a favorite / He is my boy.” A true poet, Flav is. I did an internet search and could not find any evidence of Cagney beating up any fagneys. So Flav likens making public his arrest for assaulting his girlfriend to James Cagney beating a fagney, considers Cagney a hero for beating up a fagney, and makes up the story of Cagney beating up a fagney. When asked about this lyric, Chuck D told Robert Christgau “Flavor doesn’t like homos.” Ah, thanks for clearing that up. I was confused, as homosexuals are, you know. By the way, since the NY Post printed the story that led Flav to write that song, he has been arrested for attempted murder, domestic violence, driving with a suspended license, driving without insurance, possession of marijuana, unlicensed operation of a vehicle, driving under the influence, speeding, assault with a deadly weapon, battery, and something having to do with cocaine. Though I’m upset this fine upstanding human being doesn’t like homos, as an olive branch form the gay community, I’m suggesting some rhymes for all the songs he needs to write about how his arrests keep being reported by the media: Emily Kagan/fagin, Sammy Hagar/fagar, Bilbo Baggins/faggins, Dolly Dagger/fagger, George Burns/fagurns, Marilyn Monroe/fagrow, Pagliacci/fagliacci. You’re welcome.

While speaking as the authority on who women of color should date, Chuck was quoted as saying “Homosexuality among brothers is another barrier cutting into the numbers [of men available for black women].” I have a solution – more black lesbians! Balance this shit out! You’re welcome.

Don’t try to get Chuck to elaborate on his views on gay people. Robert Christgau tried and was told by D, “Talking about homosexuality is almost like talking about Jews, you know, it’s a waste of my fucking time. I don’t spend much of my day talking about either.” True. He doesn’t spend much of his time talking about either. He succinctly says gays are confused and Jews are evil and then he moves on to whine about the group’s critics.

In 2003, Chuck D co-hosted a nationally-syndicated daily radio show alongside Lizz Winstead and Rachel Maddow. No Jews, but a big gay. Said D “[Rachel] steers the bus. Rachel is one of the best professional broadcasters I’ve worked with.” And so all is forgiven.

And now onto the music!

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