What They Don’t Like (for Chuck D), 2007 (6′)
for the Newspeak Ensemble (bass clarinet, violin, cello, electric guitar, keyboard, drums, and sampler)
What They Don’t Like (For Chuck D) is a first effort of mine to directly engage with my life as a hip hop producer in a concert music setting. When I was talking to David Little about writing a piece for Newspeak, we talked about hip hop, and how hip hop as a social movement was co-opted, compromised, and undercut by the music industry in the course of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Anyone familiar with the history of music in the 20th century would not find the exploitation of an African-American (and Puerto Rican) art form for predominantly White economic ends to be a surprising turn, nor is the suppression of progressive and radical voices from within that art movement, in favor of more commercially exploitable and less subversive ones, anything unusual in the broader 20th century trends of cultural production. These are the conditions on the ground to which What They Don’t Like responds, conditions that are joined with a deep personal affinity for, connection with, and history in engaging with hip hop. How does a White, Jewish, educationally, socially, and economically privileged composer who grew up on hip hop in the 1980s and 1990s, producing beats and rapping himself, possibly respond to these issues in a manner that does not continue that process of exploitation?
I don’t think that the answer you’ll hear in this work is the best one, from the standpoint of not-stepping-on-toes, nor do I see it as the end of my exploration in this direction. I am jumping into the water on the deep end, sampling Chuck D, who (along with the rest of the Public Enemy crew) represented simultaneously the most popular and subversive voice in hip hop for a period of at least 3 years, years that coincided with my own introduction to hip hop, and which represented the last moment (until, arguably, the present one) in which hip hop carried with it the possibility for real social change. The samples I have taken are from the song Hazy Shade of Criminal, a song that deals with racism, lynching, and hypocrisy. I do not mean to in any way marginalize those issues by using these samples in my own song, but rather, I hope to reaffirm Chuck D’s message by rebroadcasting it in a new context, broadening the scope to include the exploitation of hip hop as a whole. I also use cobbled-together samples from a James Brown song, for two reasons: first, as an homage to the late, great, Godfather, without whom hip hop might be possible but would not sound nearly as good as it does, and second, because part of my goal is to recreate the many-layered approach of The Bomb Squad, Public Enemy’s production team (led by Hank Shocklee), and that means having a bunch of samples in the mix. There’s something a little crude about my approach to this song, but that seems appropriate for a first effort. What They Don’t Like (for Chuck D) is dedicated to Chuck D and to Public Enemy, in memory of James Brown, and written with many thanks for the fantastic Newspeak Ensemble.