Chuck D.

(b. 1960)

Public Enemy founder/leader Chuck D is one of Hip-Hop's most influential artists, as well as one of its most respected minds.  His booming, authoritative voice is regarded as one of the most distinctive in Rap, and his righteous, politically charged lyrics helped to raise the genre's creative stakes during PE's rise to prominence in the late 80s. In the years since, he's continued to build a prestigious body of work that's kept him on Hip-Hop's cutting edge, while remaining one of Hip-Hop's most articulate spokesmen.

Born Carlton Douglas Ridenhour to politically active parents in Roosevelt, Long Island, Chuck turned down an architecture scholarship to study graphic design at Adelphi University.  There, he helped to promote live Hip Hop events and co-hosted a show on the campus radio station with fellow Rap enthusiasts Bill Stephney and Hank Shocklee. As Chuckie D, he rapped on Shocklee's demo recording "Public Enemy No. 1," which caught the attention of Def Jam Records co-founder Rick Rubin.  Although Chuck hadn't intended to pursue a recording career, Rubin's interest prompted him to assemble Public Enemy, with Stephney as publicist and Shocklee as leader of the band's visionary production team, the Bomb Squad. To balance his deadly-serious lyrics and performing style, Chuck recruited Flavor Flav (William Drayton) as his comic-relief sidekick.

Public Enemy's early albums — Yo! Bum Rush the Show, It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Fear of a Black Planet — established the group as the period's most innovative Hip Hop act, thanks to Chuck's aggressive eloquence and the Bomb Squad's inventive, avant-garde soundscapes. The group generated media controversy when "Minister of Information" Professor Griff made a series of anti-Semitic statements, causing Chuck to fire and then reinstate Griff, before temporarily disbanding PE, which returned (minus Griff) with 1991's Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black.

 

Despite the controversy, Public Enemy was widely recognized as a potent musical force, with Chuck emerging as a thoughtful commentator on matters related to both Hip Hop and the African-American community. He became an in-demand public speaker, often sought out to provide political commentary on TV news shows.

When the 1994 Public Enemy album Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age was released to negative reviews and underwhelming sales, Chuck once again disbanded the group, and released his solo debut, The Autobiography of Mistachuck. After the publication of his first book, Fight the Power: Rap, Race and Reality in 1997, he reactivated PE once again, with the original Bomb Squad in tow, for the well-received soundtrack album for Spike Lee's He Got Game. An early and outspoken proponent of digital music distribution, Chuck then signed with the Internet-savvy Atomic Pop label, and pushed to make PE's 1999 album There's A Poison Goin' On the first album by a major artist to be released as a download before it was available on CD.

Chuck has continued to create new music with Public Enemy into the 2000s, while remaining an influential political activist, speaker and media commentator.  In 2004, he became one of the original hosts on the liberal talk-radio network Air America.