Controversial rapper and outspoken cultural critic Chuck D, a man who Cornel R. West '74 called the "freedom fighter of his generation," spoke on the need to fight the power of the mainstream media before a packed crowd of about 500 at the Graduate School of Education last night.
Chuck D first came onto the national scene as the lead rapper of Public Enemy, a pioneering group that emerged in 1987. He recently co-authored a new book on "rap, race, and reality" and he is also a correspondent for Fox News.
The rapper urged his audience and current hip-hop artists not to be "sheep" and to express their individuality.
"People only say and do things because of the media--Do you really think that someone is sitting on the porch and says, 'I think I'll do this.' No. Those Huckleberry Finn days are mother-fucking over."
Chuck D chronicled the history of rap since its inception in the early '80s, arguing that the emergence of black videos on television in the late '80s had the potential to unite otherwise isolated urban pockets throughout America, but that the white-controlled media "clamped down" on it.
"White kids wanted to be black, black kids wanted to be like those in the video. MTV executives said, 'Let's kill rap and hip-hop, it's bringing people together--we can't have MTV be nigger TV,'" said.
Although "Yo! MTV Raps" was the highest rated show in MTV's history, executives at the station feared that it would overshadow all their other programming, according to Chuck D.
He said that a new generation of black culture was quickly emerging, and that it is the responsibility of older generations to try to understand it.
"Right now America has the biggest generation gap in this recorded history," he said. "For the first time a generation of adults are scared shitless of their children."
He said that he was currently conducting a nation-wide study of city schools in order to understand the disparity between childrens' vision of adults and adults' vision of children.
"I just came from Dorchester High School, and in every situation administrators are throwing up their hand and saying 'I don't know, these kids are off the hook,'" he said.
The generation gap could have dangerous consequences for Harvard students, he said, as a changing job market might mean violence between different socio-economic classes.
"If you're in the 21st century and know what to do, and they're in the 20th and you're living next to each other--look out for your laptop to be jacked," he said.
Chuck D also denounced materialism, saying that in everything modern America--even education--came down to money.
"Schools are about money--You don't pay your bills they kick you out, particularly of this money-hungry mother-fucker," he said referring to Harvard.
The mostly young, racially mixed audience, filled Longfellow Hall, as well as the designated overflow room and almost everyone stayed until the end of the two hour speech.
"I was there when he dropped it in 1987," said a graduate student from Boston University in Public Health. "You can't talk to any hip-hop artist who doesn't have a Public Enemy CD in their collection."
Chuck D said Public Enemy plans to release an album next year, and in the meantime he strives to be the "hip-hop Charles Kuralt.