Chuck D. brings the noise with Anthrax

Public Enemy's MC discusses groundbreaking thrash-rap collaboration

By Peter Lindblad

Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation of Millions
to Hold Us Back 1988
At first, doing a thrash-metal remake of his own group’s utterly explosive diatribe “Bring the Noise” with Anthrax made little sense to Public Enemy’s Chuck D.

Though he certainly appreciated Anthrax’s enthusiasm for the idea, as well as their feverish support for all that Public Enemy stood for, this political firebrand of an MC had no interest in doing it over again – especially since this wasn’t exactly virgin territory for Public Enemy. They’d already combined hip-hop and rock before in startlingly original fashion. Still, this collaboration with Anthrax was different.

“I should say the first time we went into a rock-rap was Vernon Reid [Living Color] playing on ‘Sophisticated Bitch’ on Yo, Bum Rush the Show, and then on the second album, we had that Slayer sample [‘Angel of Death’] on ‘She Watches Channel Zero,’” recalls Chuck D.

That got the attention of Anthrax’s Charlie Benante and Scott Ian, who were already fans of the band and Public Enemy’s biggest ambassadors among the thrash-metal community.

“This actually got across to the Anthrax guys, Charlie Benante and Scott Ian,” remembers Chuck D. “And Scottie Ian was a fan from the jump, man. Charlie and him thought it was cool to wear our t-shirts in front of a hundred thousand people at the Monsters of Rock gig. People were asking, ‘Ooooh, who’s Public Enemy?’ So, he was our first guy, man (laughs).”

With Ian in their corner, Public Enemy suddenly had crossover potential, as the heavy metal market was, however slowly, opening its collective mind to rap. To show how much he thought of Anthrax, Chuck D. invoked the name of New York City’s most aggressive thrash-metal street gang in the hard-hitting, fiery original version “Bring the Noise” that appeared on PE’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.

Anthrax - Attack of the Killer B's 1991
“That was what made me name check them in the song, ‘Bring the Noise,’” says Chuck D. “I was telling ‘em that music is all the same – ‘Wax is for Anthrax.’ And so I’m name checking everybody from Eric B. to Sonny Bono and Yoko Ono and Anthrax – imagine (laughs)? So Charlie and Scott came back and said, ‘Look, we want to do a thrash version, Chuck. Let’s get on it.’ And I was like, at that time, ‘Well, I mean, I already did the song. You guys cover it.’ They said, “But we want you on it.” And they just went ahead and did it, and I got on and we did the video, and we did the tour and Charlie and Scott made history.”

This past fall, Chuck D. participated in another kind of tour, the first-ever Classic Tourfest Revue. The concerts featured Public Enemy and a revolving lineup of rap artists from the golden age of hip-hop. Among the participants: X Clan, Schoolly D, Leaders of the New School, Monie Love, Son of Bazerk, Wise Intelligent (of Poor Righteous Teachers), Awesome Dre and Davy DMX.

Working with is a labor of love for Chuck D., who feels it’s important for hip-hop fans to maintain a connection with those artists who fought to establish rap as a respected art form.

“Well, somebody has to do it,” says Chuck D. “I was really impressed with what they did, over the years, with classic rock, how they separated classic rock from the mainstream – I guess [I wanted to do the same for] the pioneering, golden era and spirit of rap and what was happening in the mainstream, contemporary, major record industry. And I looked at all of this and I wanted to make sure that this happens, and then after a while, you say, ‘Look, I guess we might as well do this … we wanted to be able to say, this is our old crew, this what we do and for Lynyrd Skynyrd and all the brothers who are still touring and doing their thing and still draw big crowds. We need to take care of it.’”

It’s a sure bet that nobody will ever forget about Public Enemy. Controversial, innovative and powerful – Public Enemy started a revolution, both sonically and lyrically. Not surprisingly, they were named as a 2013 inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an honor Chuck D. is sincerely awed by.

“I take all halls of fame seriously,” he says. “It’s respect from your peers.”

And for Chuck D. respect is serious business. Stay tuned for more from the Public Enemy MC in the coming weeks.

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