“They aren’t being charged?” asks Chuck D, frustration ringing in his voice. It’s early on Wednesday afternoon in California, where the 60 year-old Public Enemy frontman has been doing back-to-back phone interviews since 7am about their new album ‘What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?’. That means he hasn’t yet heard the news from Kentucky that the Louisville police officers who killed Breonna Taylor in her home will not face any charges related to her death.
When I clarify that the only charges being brought are for a single officer firing his gun recklessly into other people’s apartments, the frustration in Chuck’s deep, sonorous voice gives way to fury. “Of course, of course,” he spits. “It’s obvious. It’s dumb fucking police stupidity. They’ve failed to man or woman up and say: ‘Damn, our fucking mistake.’ ‘Our bad.’ ‘Our tragedy.’ We’ve got to reform this ridiculousness of police just fucking firing off at the handle at every jump of the nerve.”
It feels almost trite to say that the return of Public Enemy is timely, but you’re certainly not alone if you’ve been turning or returning to their incendiary music to help make sense of the world in 2020. Earlier this year, The Roots’ drummer and producer Questlove approached Chuck about remixing PE’s classic 1989 protest anthem ‘Fight The Power’ to open June’s BET Awards, drafting in new verses from Nas, YG, Rapsody, Jahi and Black Thought.
On the new version, both Rapsody and Jahi rap about the fight to deliver some semblance of justice in Breonna Taylor’s name. For Chuck, it’s no surprise that the track still resonates three decades on. “It’s a long time in culture, but a short time in real life,” he points out. “Since ‘Fight The Power’ first came out in ‘89, a lot of people have been born and a lot of people have died. You still attack the ills and the -isms with the same vigour, but you can’t say: ‘Damn, didn’t we do this before?’ The way I look at it is there are people that haven’t gone through this at all, so why not bring some of the things we’ve done before back in a new language? It’s a long life.”