Public Enemy

Chuck D, Don Imus Controversy, & White Stripes Review

Ever since Don Imus uttered those controversial words on his radio show, hip hop has been feeling the heat. To make sense of recent debates about the genre, Jim and Greg will talk with rapper Chuck D and a panel of hip hop insiders about language, race, gender, and of course, music.

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reviewMy DecemberMy December available on iTunes

Kelly Clarkson My December

On June 14, Live Nation, or the concert promoters formerly known as Clear Channel canceled American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson's first nationwide arena tour due to“lackluster ticket sales.”This event, combined with the firing of her manager and the anticipation of the release of her third album My December has made for a dramatic couple of weeks for the singer. Clive Davis, the music mogul responsible for signing a ton of hit acts ranging from Whitney Houston to Barry Manilow to the Notorious B.I.G., has been overseeing the careers of Clarkson and all the Idol products thus far. But, much to the chagrin of Davis and her label RCA, Clarkson took My December as an opportunity to do her own songwriting and drift away from the guaranteed success of hit-makers like "Since You've Been Gone" scribe Max Martin. Jim and Greg commentate ringside for the blow by blow between America's first pop princess and the pop recording legend. Listening to the album, Greg cannot understand the controversy surrounding the album's pop potential, finding it reminiscent of a post-Dave Coulier Alanis Morrisette. Jim, on the other hand, thanks Clive Davis for trying to spare us the torment of this record. He thinks Clarkson is“at the level of a sub-par Midwestern bar band.”Greg gives it a Burn It, and Jim gives it a triple Trash It.


Chuck D

In the wake of Don Imus‘ offensive comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team a couple of months ago, there's been a lot of discussion about language, race and sexism that has spilled over to the hip hop realm. Black leaders such as Oprah Winfrey and Al Sharpton have been questioning the use of certain words and imagery in the hip hop lexicon, but perhaps the most significant statement was made by one of the architects of the music genre, Russell Simmons. The Def Jam Recordings founder and leader of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network released a statement that recommended members of the recording and broadcast industry self-censor their use of the words“bitch,”"ho" and the n-word.

Jim and Greg wanted to dedicate this segment of the show to asking the question: Do these words still have a place in hip hop? To get the answer they first invited on Public Enemy rapper and radio personality Chuck D Chuck explains he was on tour oversees when the Imus controversy went down, and it reminded him of how“funny”language can be in America. Chuck says that he wishes people like Russell Simmons had approached long-standing members of the hip hop community and tapped into grassroots movements before crafting his statement, but he agrees that not all words should be accessible to everyone all the time. Sometimes an artist does need to use strong language, but commerce shouldn't be built around it. And, because they craft words for a living, he expects that rappers in particular should be able to be more creative with language and not rely on the same set of words.


Mark Anthony Neal and Joan Morgan

Next Jim and Greg welcome Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of Black Popular Culture at Duke University and author of New Black Man: Rethinking Black Masculinity, and Joan Morgan, a writer and critic who recently left her post as Executive Editor of Essence Magazine. Joan and Mark have been debating the merits and demerits of hip hop since they grew up as friends and neighbors in "Boogie Down Bronx." And Joan was one of the first music critics to examine the dichotomy of hip hop fandom and feminism in her 1990 Village Voice review of Ice Cube's first classic album AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted. Greg asks Joan what she makes of misogyny in modern hip hop. She explains that it was always there, but the level of it has changed. That concept of women has consumed commercial rap music, so listeners don‘t hear a lot of balance in perspective and tone. She also explains that something like the Ice Cube album is actually easier to wrestle with because it’s a brilliant album. Joan and Mark explain that labels are as complicit as artists in perpetuating a certain level of misogyny since they are the ones actually limiting the range of what you hear in hip hop.

Greg wonders if perhaps the consumer has already begun to speak out. Last year's top hip hop act, T.I., sold 1.7 million copies of his album King. Those aren‘t paltry figures to be sure, but they are definitely much smaller than what we’ve seen from star rappers in years past. Mark sees less revenue and less investment in major-label hip hop as a good thing; it's an opportunity for fresher sounds to come into the marketplace. Jim likens the trend to the development of indie rock in the '80s. That market was also glutted with big name acts like Poison and Mötley Crüe, leaving music fans to seek out underground rock from bands like Hüsker Dü and The Minutemen. Perhaps next we'll enter into an era of indie hip hop.

When asked about the effectiveness of banning certain words in hip hop music, Joan first expresses disappointment in what came out of Simmons and the Hip Hop Summit Action Network's meetings. Without doubting Simmons‘ sincerity, she calls the resulting call to action anemic at best and disingenuous at worst. Mark also grates against people, especially members of the“old guard,”making proclamations about culture or language. This kind of criticism is compounded by the fact that critics of rap music often don’t understand aesthetics. Mark's specific example is the hit hip hop single "In Da Club." People that take issue with the shallow nature of 50 Cent's lyrics may be failing to hear what makes a song like that so popular — the production and the beats. Mark furthers that rulings against specific words don't take into consideration that some rappers can make really complex, compelling statements using racial or sexist epithets. Joan adds that you can also say some really sexist, racist and homophobic things without using any“bad words”at all.

reviewIcky Thump

The White Stripes Icky Thump

Jim and Greg spend the last leg of the show discussing the new album from Detroit natives Meg and Jack White. Icky Thump is The White Stripes‘ sixth studio effort in nearly ten years. Jim and Greg trace the duo’s trajectory from their 1999 self-titled debut, to most recently, their 2005 commercial success and sonic departure, Get Behind Me Satan. Icky Thump continues this development, demonstrating how one of the biggest rock acts in the world are truly junk collectors. You hear them flirting with mariachi and flamenco music, referencing Scottish folk songs, and even covering traditional pop singer Patti Page. The album shows exactly how well-listened Jack White truly is. Greg calls Meg White,“terrific,”standing behind the oft-discredited drummer. He doesn't think Icky Thump is a beginning-to-end perfect album, but believes it's the band's best work to date. He gives it a Buy It. Jim goes even further calling this release“a masterpiece.”That gives the White Stripes latest a double Buy It.


Featured Songs

  1. Kelly Clarkson,“Never Again,”My December, 2007
  2. Kelly Clarkson,“Hole”My December, 2007
  3. Public Enemy,“Bring the Noise (instrumental),”It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
  4. Public Enemy,“Fight the Power,”Fear of a Black Planet, 1988
  5. N.W.A.,“A Bitch Iz A Bitch,”N.W.A. and the Posse, 1987
  6. De La Soul,“Me Myself and I,”3 Feet High and Rising, 1989
  7. Clarence Carter,“Strokin',”Nasty Blues, 1989
  8. A Tribe Called Quest,“Sucka Nigga,”Midnight Marauders, 1993
  9. Ice Cube,“Endangered Species (Tales from the Darkside),”AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, 1990
  10. Jay-Z,“Minority Report,”Kingdom Come, 2006
  11. 50 Cent,“In Da Club,”Get Rich or Die Tryin', 2003
  12. T.I.,“What You Know (instrumental),”King, 2006
  13. White Stripes, "Rag and Bone, Icky Thump, 2007
  14. White Stripes,“You Don't Know What Love Is,”Icky Thump, 2007
  15. White Stripes,“Prickly Thorn But Sweetly Worn,”Icky Thump, 2007
  16. Patti Page, Conquest, The Patti Page Collection: The Mercury Years, Vol. 1, 1991
  17. White Stripes,“Conquest,”Icky Thump, 2007
  18. Kid Sister, "Control"
  19. Blondie,“Hanging on the Telephone,”Parallel Lines, 1978
  20. Mavis Staples,“This Little Light of Mine,”We'll Never Turn Back, 2007
  21. Air,“Mer Du Japon,”Pocket Symphony, 2007
  22. Dan Deacon,“Wham City,”Spiderman of the Rings, 2007

Footnotes Live Nation American Idol homepage Kelly Clarkson axes her manager My December Barry Manilow's homepage On Clive Davis and the American Idols: Building A Better Pop Star RCA Records Max Martin's musical credits The Imus Fallout: Who Can Say What? Russell Simmons' PBS profile Def Jam Recordings Public Enemy's homepage Chuck D's profile in Mother Jones Mark Anthony Neal's blog Mark Anthony's book, New Black Man: Rethinking Black Masculinity, on Amazon Joan Morgan's book, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: My Life as A Hip Hop Feminist, on Amazon Essence Magazine Village Voice Ice Cube's homepage AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted on AllMusic T.I.'s homepage Michael Azerrad's book on the 1980s indie rock underground, Our Band Could Be Your Life, on Amazon Poison's homepage Mötley Crüe's homepage Hüsker Dü on AllMusic Rev. Jesse Jackson demands racial slur ban 50 Cent's homepage Icky Thump on Metacritic The White Stripes' homepage The White Stripes' debut on AllMusic Get Behind Me Satan on AllMusic“Icky Thump”music video Patti Page's homepage