Pop Culture

Chuck D takes his act to Air America

As the founder of the groundbreaking rap group Public Enemy, Chuck D blended music and politics in hits like the 1989 anthem “Fight the Power.”

Now he’s “rapping” about politics on Air America Radio, a new and unabashedly liberal radio network.

His show “Unfiltered,” which began this month in five markets, teams the rapper with comedian Lizz Winstead and radio veteran Rachel Maddow in a three-hour format that promises to examine the state of U.S. politics and culture.

The 43-year-old musician is promising to put his unique stamp on the show, using it to revitalize black political commentary.

“I was weaned as a young adult on black talk radio. It should never have disappeared from the landscape. So when Air America talked to me, I thought this could be the spark for more talk about the black situation,” he said in an interview at the New York studios of Air America.

Davey D, author of a recent editorial in The Source magazine on the need for a liberal host accessible to the minority community, said the rapper has the right blend of street credibility and political consciousness to appeal to that particular demographic.

“Chuck D is a lightning rod. People will go out of their way to listen to him,” said Davey D.

Still, this won’t be your typical liberal show. “Don’t think I’m going to be here just calling out the right,” Chuck D said. “There’s some things the left looks upon as being cool and hip that’s derogatory to us as black people and I’ll be addressing that on the show.”

Diversity of guests
Chuck D, born Carlton Ridenhour, said the show’s emphasis would be on a diverse roster of guests.

“We’ll have the Spike Lees and the Kevin Powells (an author and activist), but at the same time we want to bring people who are rarely heard.”

In New York, Air America is broadcasting on an AM radio station, WLIB, that had been built around a music and Caribbean-focused format.

The irony of a network promising diverse opinions effectively co-opting a vibrant, if financially strapped, minority voice in the community is not lost on Chuck D.

“It’s almost like you’ve been invited into somebody’s house and they couldn’t pay the rent and now you’re inside but some of your friends are out on the street,” the rapper said.

“Maybe my place here is to spark the conversation about why this was necessary, talk to those 25-year-olds who want to win concert tickets and tell them that this is something they should care about.”

To that end, Chuck D said he would be open to inviting a wide range of people onto the show, including conservative Bill O’Reilly, host of Fox TV’s “O’Reilly Factor” and rival of his Radio America cohort, Al Franken.

The black CNNIt’s all about encouraging dialogue and understanding, he said.

“There are glaring mistakes in the way the left handles things so that makes it easy for people like Bill O’Reilly to come out and criticize,” he said.

The man who once called rap music the “black CNN” said music would not be as important on “Unfiltered” as the political commentary, although he still wants to someday host a Top-20 hip hop countdown show.

Besides Franken, Chuck D shares the Air America airwaves with actress Janeane Garofalo, radio personality Mark Riley and talk veteran Randi Rhodes.

“Unfiltered” co-host Lizz Winstead said, “Everyone at Air America Radio thinks the administration is taking the country in the wrong direction. We just come at it in different ways.”

Added Chuck D: “Whatever I do is a reflection of my convictions.”

A similar conviction ran through Public Enemy’s lyrics in the 1980s and 1990s, which, according to some, should make the show a success.

“If he brings that same passion to the radio, it’s going to be good,” said Adisa Banjoko, host of the West Coast Internet political culture show, “One Mic.”

“Talk radio is a medium with a lot of talk but no action,” said James Clingman, author of the weekly syndicated column “Blackonomics” and former editor of the Cincinnati Herald newspaper. “Chuck D speaks to a different audience (and) I hope this will spur people to action.”

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