Home Arts & Culture School of hip-hop: Public Enemy’s Chuck D talks music, education at NCC

School of hip-hop: Public Enemy’s Chuck D talks music, education at NCC

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BETHLEHEM, Pa. — For hip-hop fans, it was a night of nostalgia when Chuck D came onstage at Northampton Community College on Tuesday.

In front of a crowd of about 300 fans and students, the Public Enemy co-founder talked about his start in music, the origins of hip-hop and the need for education.

Throughout the two-hour discussion, Chuck D, a natural storyteller/jokester elaborated on many historical facts about the music business.

His trivia knowledge covered diverse notables like Run-DMC, Henry Ford, Clive Davis, Berry Gordon, Woody Guthrie and Bestie Boys and was met with laughter, applause and standing ovations.

Shortly before he came out, the bass boomed from large speakers as DJ Cap Cee of Macungie, set the tone for the night — spinning some of Public Enemy’s hits.

Ignored phone calls

Chuck D, whose real name is Carlton Douglas Ridenhour, co-founded Public Enemy in 1983 with Flavor Fav.

In 2013, the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In 2020, with Public Enemy group, he also was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

But as he explained he did not intend to become a rap legend.

In the 80s, while studying graphic design at Adelphi University, he experimented with the microphone and hosted a college radio show with record producer Hank Shocklee.

Shocklee encouraged Chuck D to begin rapping and they recorded what would eventually become the first Public Enemy song: “Public Enemy No.1.”

The song eventually made its way to Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin who signed the group — something Chuck D said Rubin had to convince him of.

“He would call my house and my mom would pick up and I would ignore the calls,” the 63-year-old said.

While working with Def Jam, Chuck D got involved with the label’s art department.

“I [wanted] to be a graphic designer in a record company because they don’t know how to properly treat hip-hop records. So I’m going to transform and revolutionize the art departments of record companies. And you know the crazy thing about it? I ended up doing it because I didn’t want to be a rapper,” he told the audience.

“When I came into Def Jam, I revolutionized the art department. I helped out create the first art department touring board for hip-hop and rap. We wanted hip-hop to be high art — high art in sound. High art in recording. High art in graphics. High art in, you know, right across the board. Because we feel anybody can do art.”

Props to Philly

Chuck D, who grew up in the same neighborhood as equally-as-famous siblings, Eddie and Charlie Murphy, gave props to Philadelphia during his two-hour discussion, noting how music evolved during the civil rights riots in the 1970s.

“Philadelphia was the most dancing, music city on the planet Earth,” he said.

“In the 1950s, American bass there and then, you know, again, what came out of that and all the killings and what Don Cornelius did in Chicago, he grabbed that whole spirit out of Philadelphia and made a soul trip.”

Education is important

As the evening came to a close, four NCC students joined him, and sociology professor Andrew McIntosh onstage. McInstosh, a part-time deejay, teaches classes on the cultural impacts of hip-hop at Lehigh University and NCC and led the discussion alongside the rap legend.

He stressed the importance of education stating there are “enough conspirators” on social media nowadays.

He advised the audience to use their education as a way to develop skills.

After the discussion, Chuck D graciously met with fans, who stood in line to pose for selfies.

Chuck D’s appearance at Northampton Community College (NCC) was part of the school’s “50 Years Down the Line: A Celebration of Hip Hop History and College.”

The evening also served as the keynote speech for NCC’s 2024 Annual Humanities Lecture.

The hip-hop series started last August, has been ongoing throughout the year and was organized by McIntosh.

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