The music business. as we knew it. has changed.'
Although Chuck D isn't the kind of person to let people get in his way (or at least admit that people have got in his way). he found the consolidation of the music industry into five large companies and the way his music was marginalised to be a steep learning curve. ‘I have tried to find a voice that would transcend those normal surroundings of music and try to speak in those other areas.‘ he says.
Chuck D is a man adept at saying what he wants to say. In interview he is a difficult man to pin down. not because he is aggressive — that seems to be solely part of his stage persona — but because he is something of a politician. He ignores questions that don't interest him or he would rather not answer. or makes sure he sticks to his agenda. ‘The label is called slamjamz.com.' he says. ‘That‘s with a lee. Or a zed if you are British.‘
Not that he has forgotten how to be outspoken. ()n the subject of the Academy's decision to award the best actor and actress awards to black Americans on the same night that they honoured Sidney Poitier. he says: ‘I knew it was just a matter of time before they threw a couple of those things otrr way for the day.‘
When he says ‘I guess you could call me the Bin Laden of the music business‘. he does so knowing exactly what effect it will have. If anyone is disappointed that Chuck D comes to Scotland to lecture not rap. relax. [I is going to be interesting.
His most innovative work is still in music however. He has championed downloadable musical formats such as MP3 on the internet. a move. he admits was taken in response to his music not finding favour with the big record companies. ‘We released There's .-l Poisin (Ioin'On on the internet through a combination of choice and necessity.. he says. ‘Now. I can get an artist into a studio and in a week there are people buying it. I feel like Berry Gordy [founder of .Motownl. I‘m shouting: “Cut it" and the next minute it‘s out there. There‘s a romantic feeling you get with the web.’
Typically though for Chuck D. there is another edge to his programme and it is one he regards as revolutionary. ‘I can‘t see the record labels getting to grips with the internet.’ he says gleefully. ‘I see people hoarding all the cash they can while they get ready to jtrrnp ship when it all goes wrong. From a corporate standpoint there's maybe some investment in the means to control file-sharing. but individually everybody is ready to run out of the burning house.’
The greatest talent Chuck D has. though. is to take what he knows a lot about. namely the music industry. and apply what he has learned there to other situations. This is what makes him an interesting speaker. Sure there are contradictions. Today he may say: ‘I always respected the fact that Elvis respected black music: I just had a problem with the way white America raised him too high.‘ but you remember him saying: ‘Straight up racist that sucker was.’ back in I994. He is a man who berates the extreme capitalism of the music industry yet he produced the prototype album for all boy bands. Bell Biv Devoe‘s Poison in 199].
The real brilliance of Chuck D. though. is the way he responds to these inconsistencies and the way he explains the contradictions of racial politics in the States. It is what makes his Fig/1! The Power the most important book ever written about hip hop. He fights
back whenever he‘s in a corner and has a catalogue of
media-savvy techniques with which to respond: the cleverest of these being the way he has learned to speak to the public over the heads of the media. Anyone interested in the world should listen to him.
Chuck D talks at the Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, Sat 27 Apr and George Square Theatre, Edinburgh, Sun 28 Apr.
12 THE LIST " ‘ ~25 Apr 2002
He’s worked with everyone from Martin Scorsese to the Aphex Twin, but when push comes to shove PHILIP GLASS will always jump back in his taxi. Words: Brian Donaldson
reaking the ice with Philip Glass is
easy. These days. he doesn‘t even get
riled when you mention the 'M‘
word. ‘I don‘t blame your profession
entirely. but the whole minimalist thing was
invented by journalists because editors want
that shorthand.~ he says. ‘It makes it easier to
write about. but at the same time you have to be careful you don't mislead people.~
As Glass prepares for trip’l‘ych where he
will be joined by Japanese electronic master
Susumu Yokota. he's boning up on his back
catalogue. promising to perform some of
‘It was interesting to hear music so new I didn’t know where it was from’
the minimalist pieces written in the late 70s as well as sounds reflecting his more recent. swirly. whooshy. soundscape work.
He may have recently celebrated his 6511] birthday. but Glass clearly has no plans to pension himself off just yet. Projects he’s just completed include a new symphony that received its world premiere at Carnegie Hall and the score to Godfrey Reggio's new documentary film .\'uquu_vqursi. the final part to their collaboration which began in l%’3 with the jaw-dropping Krrvuunisqutsi.
Also in his pipeline is an opera about Galileo and a Broadway play about John Merrick (aka the lilephant Man). And no doubt. he has some fascinating co-projects up his sleeve. .\'ever one to be content creating 'wheels within wheels' on his lonesome. he has previously thrust himself into the collalmrative arms of Robert Wilson. Laurie .»\nderson. Allen Ginsberg. Lucinda (‘hilds. Martin Scorsese. lirrol Morris and Ravi Shankar.
Though. perhaps most intriguing of all is the work he did with Richard 1). James — better known to his mum as Aphex Twin —
and another artist who has been deemed 'diflicult' by those with little patience. ‘I forget who called who. but he wanted me to do a remix on a record he was working on so he sent me five or six tracks: two of them I liked a lot. others I didn’t understand at all. But it was interesting to hear music that was so new to me that I didn’t know where it was coming from. It was so set apart from everything else and I felt I could learn from it.‘
Course. it's not always been cyclical rhythmic glory and being lampooned on South Park ('.\'o one makes fun of you to make you feel bad. they make ftrn of you because it's fun‘). He may have been an accomplished player by his teenage years. but he only started making proper cash from music in his early 40s. making ends meet through plumbing and taxi driving.
Indeed. he briefly jumped back into his New York cab after running into debt through the vastly expensive stagework of Iii/Isiah ()h The Beach. ‘When I was in my late 30s I was driving 100 miles a night around New York.‘ he says. ‘I knew the city top to bottom.‘
Though he visits the home he retreats to every year in Nova Scotia to get a taste of that 'Scottish environment’. the last time he played in Real licosse was in 198‘) with l()()() Airplanes ()n The Roof. The excitement should be enough for any Glasshead btrt if you've got a leaking tap or need a ride home . . .
Philip Glass plays at Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Fri 26 Apr; Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Sun 28 Apr; he presents Koyaanisqatsi at GFT, Glasgow, Sat 27 Apr; Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Sun 28 Apr.