PE Logo


PE Logo

-Public Enemy

Archived Headlines
(from January 1999)

1.31.99 3:01 am est Revisiting A Dark Corner Of Public Enemy's Past
(from SonicNet web site)
'Swindler's Lust' may give pause to those who remember band's brushes with anti-Semitism.

Four years ago, Public Enemy's Chuck D was considered by many to be done and gone, an old-school moralist in a young gangsta's game. Though he kept bringing the noise, hip-hop heads had stopped listening to his prophecies of rage.

Today, you won't find a more exciting musician than Public Enemy's Chuck D. As outspoken as ever, the 38-year-old MC has taken his battles from the airwaves to the Internet, where he's not only challenging the status quo but pushing down walls to make the future happen now. 

He's been one of the most vocal critics of the recent merger between music corporations PolyGram and Universal, a $10.4 billion deal that should result in a more efficient operation, but also cause the loss of 3,000 jobs and hundreds of artist contracts.

More interestingly, Chuck D (born Carlton Ridenhour) has used the official P.E. website ( to release new remixes of songs in the controversial MP3 format.

Public Enemy's former label, Def Jam, which owns the masters of the songs, demanded they be removed from the site. Public Enemy complied with the label's wishes, and then posted a new song, "Swindler's Lust" (RealAudio excerpt). Although it doesn't name names, "Swindler's Lust" is a scathing attack on an industry Chuck D claims is run by corporate suits who care more about the bottom line than the well-being of their artists.

Slamming as the cut is -- it's some of P.E.'s most hard-hitting lyrical work in years -- it's also, for me, the source of some uneasiness.

Fans of Public Enemy are well aware of the charges of anti-Semitism leveled at the group in the past. Peripheral member Professor Griff (Richard Griffin) was dismissed in 1989 for telling the Washington Times that he holds Jews responsible for the "majority of the wickedness that goes on across the globe."

The next year, a lyric in "Welcome to the Terrordome" -- "Apology made to whoever pleases/ Still they got me like Jesus" -- was thought by many to be a reference to the Griff incident, and it further rankled critics.

As recently as 1997, on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" program, Chuck D refused to shrink from the charges, saying, "I told people, 'Griff was wrong, but let's talk now. For example, let's talk about people that have benefited off the slave trade that still have money today.' "

Recently, I asked Chuck D if he was concerned that "Swindler's Lust" would attract new allegations of anti-Semitism. The track, after all, levels charges of graft and greed against an industry in which Jews have played a significant role (among the many labels founded or run by people of Jewish descent are Blue Note, Chess, Geffen and the hip-hop imprints Def Jam and Loud). To some, that might teeter perilously close to the ugly stereotype of Jewish people as money-hungry.

In addition, the song appropriates the title of "Schindler's List," a book and film about the Holocaust.

"I'm a wordsmith," Chuck D told me. "I knew I was going to raise some attention. There was no harm intended towards anyone."

But again, he didn't back down. "The truth is the truth," he said. "Black people have been blindsided by all [types of people], including black people. I think it's a hell of a title. People gotta check out the song and tell me whether I'm right or wrong."

The song's lyrics don't mention Jews, an important distinction for Myra Shinbaum, director of media relations for the Anti-Defamation League, an anti-Semitism watchdog group. Shinbaum said recently that the ADL had not received any complaints about the song.

"We listened to 'Swindler's Lust' and found no apparent anti-Semitism," Shinbaum told me. "ADL believes it is just as important to say what is not anti- Semitism as what is."

Without mentioning Jewish people explicitly, Chuck D does rap: "Laughing all the way to the bank/ Remember them own the banks/ And them goddamn tanks/ Now what company do I thank?/ Ain't this a bitch/ Heard they owned slaves and the ship that sank."

Whether those lines are a pointed allusion to Jews or a broad reference to the ever-more-integrated financial-entertainment-government complex is unclear. But people such as Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan -- whom P.E. once deemed a "prophet" -- have charged Jews with playing a significant role in both the slave trade and modern global finance, according to the ADL's website.

Naturally, I have to balance the sound of Chuck D rapping "Swindler's Lust" in my ears with my memory of him on last year's "MTV Video Music Awards." There, as he has done before, he gave mad props to the Beastie Boys, three of the most prominent Jewish musicians in the world today.

Is "Swindler's Lust" anti-Semitic?

I don't know that such a charge is fair, but I do know there are elements of the song that make me uncomfortable, particularly in light of Public Enemy's history.

Like I said -- as the doors open on 1999, Chuck D is one of the most exciting and thought-provoking people in music. Back in 1989, I didn't think I'd still be saying this a decade on. But 10 years after Professor Griff let his bigoted accusations fly, I also didn't think I'd still be getting that uneasy feeling in my stomach when I nod my head to the new P.E. beat. 

1.25.99 11:01 pm est QUOTE (UNQUOTE) Chuck D
(from SonicNet web site)
"I'm not as thrilled about what the Rio player does now as I am thrilled about what the Rio player will be, once you have software you can put up in the player. That's when it's really going to be on. You'll have your Zip disks putting 200 minutes of music on there, dropping it from your computer. That's when the record companies really have to get scared."

1.19.99 Public Enemy To Release Album Free On Net
(from Yahoo web site)
SonicNet Daily Music News Reports: Public Enemy leader Chuck D is hell-bent on making the future happen now, and for him that means a time in which record companies take a back seat to the Internet, and making CDs is reduced to "a second priority."

Not only will Public Enemy release their next album, There's a Poison Goin' On, in downloadable form through their website, the outspoken rap group plans to make the download free for the first four to eight weeks.

"We feel much better having it downloaded for free from our fanbase rather than having a record company make up 10,000 copies and giving them out free to DJs," Chuck D said Friday.

Public Enemy have severed their ties with Def Jam Records, a label that Chuck D (born Carlton Ridenhour) said didn't share his support for online music. He admitted he knows his band is venturing into uncharted territory.

"I want to step through that dark room swinging my machete," he said, speaking from a car traveling on a Georgia highway.

In recent months, the 38-year-old rapper has become a de facto spokesman for the movement supporting the near-CD-quality, downloadable music files known as MP3s, short for MPEG-1, layer 3. In December, he posted several songs from an unreleased remix album, Bring the Noise 2000, in MP3 format on the P.E. website (

The cuts were later removed -- at the demand of Def Jam, according to Chuck D. Representatives for Def Jam have declined to comment.

But now, having left Def Jam, P.E. have posted another song, "Swindler's Lust," on the site in MP3 format. ("Swindler's Lust" is also available as an "MP4," something of a misleading term since the cut uses a different type of technology and is not the MPEG-1, layer 4 format now in development.) Chuck D said the band has yet to decide in which format the songs from There's a Poison Goin' On will be posted. But they'll be available for download as early as this spring, either as a complete work or as individual song files.

The album will include the tracks "Do You Wanna Go Our Way," "I" and "L.S.D." (The latter stands for "Lawyers Should Die" or "Lawyers Suck D---," depending on Chuck D's mood.)

The rapper of such hip-hop classics as "Fight the Power" and "Louder Than a Bomb" (RealAudio excerpt) said he believes corruption is rampant in the music world, and that There's a Poison Goin' On will, in part, address P.E.'s struggles with the industry. "I got three adversaries that I think have been a poison to the industry as far as hip-hop is concerned the last five years: record companies, radio and retail," he said.

Michael Robertson, president of the popular "" website, said he expects more artists to take up the downloadable-music cause in Public Enemy's wake. That, he said, will raise the ire of traditional record companies, many of which worry that MP3 files -- which are easily copied -- encourage fans to distribute music over the Internet without compensating copyright holders.

"Chuck D is the first in a long line of artists you're going to see in this same dilemma … where there's a rift between what the record label wants to do and what the artist thinks seems best," Robertson said.

Since Public Enemy's split with Def Jam, other labels have approached the band, but the band has resisted. Anyone who wants to sign Public Enemy to a long-term deal is going to have to make a phenomenal offer, Chuck D said, including ceding to the band all rights to Internet distribution

"Physical pressings will be a second priority," he said.

Chuck D, meanwhile, plans to launch his own series of labels in January under the heading Slam Jamz -- the same name as the Columbia Records imprint he launched several years ago, which was later discontinued.

Slam Jamz will house four labels -- Slam Jamz, Damn Disks, Hitsburg Soul and Demo Lab -- that will distribute free, downloadable music through its website ( The first cut to be issued by the label group will be "Worldwide Lie" by Virus.kom, which Chuck D described as "electronica hip-hop." Hyenas in the Desert, a holdover from the original Slam Jamz, will also record for the group.

While others in the industry have expressed concern about losing money because of downloading, the Public Enemy leader said he's not worried by either MP3s or traditional bootlegging. He said the band can make up the difference through live shows and merchandise. He added that he envisions his band and others selling records by themselves, rather than through a label, for $4 or $5.

"[Regular] people are making livings on $30,000 a year," he said. "P.E. will find ways to make a living." 

1.15.99 12:00 pm pacific MP4 hits the music download scene 
(from c|net web site)
Web technology firm Global Music Outlet has launched its own music download format, and has signed on rapper Chuck D as the first to promote it. 

GMO's new MP4 format is the company's proposed formatting solution for the recording industry's ongoing battle against the MP3 compressed audio technology (MPEG 1, Audio Layer 3). 

MP4 is not to be confused with MPEG-4, a next-generation audio and video compression format that has been adopted by the International Standards Organization and endorsed by a number of computer hardware, peripheral, and consumer electronics manufacturers. MPEG-4 is an open standard for media delivery, while MP4 is GMO's proprietary technology. 

Many in the record industry, which is led by the Recording Industry Association of America, a powerful lobbying group, are fearful of the MP3 format because its popularity and ease of use has made possible the posting of any number of songs online without any return to the copyright holders. The RIAA last month launched the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), which aims to create a specification to ensure copyright protection that ostensibly could be embedded in any music-delivery technology. 

MP3 got a boost today, however, with the announcement that high-profile venture capital firm Sequoia is investing $11 million in music download, news, and community site, which many consider the hub for the thriving MP3 community. 

Alongside the unveiling of MP4, rap group Public Enemy has released its latest single, "Swindler's Lust," using the MP4 format. Public Enemy front-man Chuck D has been outspoken about the benefits of using the Web--instead of record stores--to distribute popular music. 

Last month, Public Enemy's record label, Polygram, threatened to sue Chuck D after he posted MP3 audio files of his group's unreleased album. The song is available on Public Enemy's Web site. 

MP3, which many consider a de facto standard given its widespread use, and now MP4 compete with secure download formats such as a2b, the product of AT&T Labs' music delivery technology arm a2b Music, and technology from Liquid Audio. GMO used encoding technologies licensed from AT&T Labs for copyright protection in its MP4 format. 

"With our MP4, we hope to bridge the widening gap between the needs of online music fans and the rights of the artists and record companies that produce the music," GMO chief executive Anthony Stonefield said in a statement. 

Despite the play on the MP3 name, MP4 technology is different. For one thing, MP4 is an executable file, meaning that an embedded audio player is launched when the MP4 file is opened. In contrast, MP3 files use software called WinAMP to play, and MP3 audio files can be combined with other MP3 files to create a customized play list. 

The fact that MP4 is intrinsically different from MP3 may be a turn-off to Web music enthusiasts, who prefer to use more open technology standards to create their own play lists, according to Forrester Research senior analyst Mark Hardie. 

"What GMO is creating is essentially a proprietary music package that you can't pick apart," said Hardie. "It's what the record industry would ideally like, but it goes against what consumers are preferring online." 

The recording industry and music technology companies have to face up to the fact of MP3's grassroots popularity, he added. 

"[MP3] has become popular because the sound quality is sufficient, but also because of the ability that the consumer has to combine music from various artists onto a play list. With WinAMP, you can literally identify the files on your desktop one after another," Hardie said. 

GMO plans to release a MP4 "rack" that can be used to download songs onto their hard drives. The songs, however, cannot be "burned" onto a CD, the company said.

1.14.99 10:00 a.m. est Public Enemy Leaves Def Jam, Will Distribute Next Album Online
(from MTV website)
It appears that the recent disputes between Public Enemy and its long-time label, Def Jam Records, were just hints of a larger disagreement brooding between the two -- as the rappers have now split from Def Jam, which had issued every PE album since its 1987 debut, "Yo! Bum Rush the Show." 

Public Enemy says it plans to offer up its next album via the Internet, much like it did with its "Bring the Noise 2000" remix album, and the rappers are currently looking to sign on with some digital distributors to help them handle the record, according to "Billboard."

The seminal rap group has been an early and open proponent of online distribution, and the first signs of trouble between PE and Def Jam came when the band was forced to remove "Bring the Noise 2000" from its website after pressure from Universal/Polygram, Def Jam's parent company (see "Public Enemy Remix Album Pulled From The Net").

Public Enemy responded to Universal's decision by posting a song on its official website (see "Public Enemy Lambasts Labels With 'Swindler's Lust'"), in which the band unleashed its rap vitriol on the music industry and its legal efforts to curb web distribution of new music.

The new "digital" album from Public Enemy is tentatively set for release in the spring.

1.14.99 PE Take the Noise
(from web site)
PUBLIC ENEMY have split with label Def Jam and intend to release their new album 'Bring The Noise 2000' exclusively via the internet, according to a report in US magazine Billboard yesterday, January 13.

This follows a clash between band and label in December last year when the band posted tracks from 'BTN 2000' on the site in MP3 format for free download. The band's record company's lawyers then forced them to take the tracks down.

Then, last week, PE posted an exclusive new track - 'Swindler's Lust' - on the site, again as a free download. The track is an attack on corporate culture, equating the position of black artists within the entertainment industry with slaves, a tirade against the history of exploitation of black music by record companies, leaving the producers to struggle in poverty while the companies reaped huge profits.

Chuck D's manager Walter Leaphart told Billboard that PE would be looking for a partner for their new deal but "...they won't be doing the classic indentured servitude kind of a deal."

Def Jam, the label formed by Russel Simmons and Rick Rubin in the 1980s to release records by artists such as The Beastie Boys,. Run DMC and LL Cool J, taking rap to a mass market for the first time, was one of the labels swallowed up by the merger that made Polygram the largest record group in the world. 

Chuck D's vision of the future, however, is of half a million independent labels all releasing music over the internet, cutting out the big labels, distributors and record-store chains.

Def Jam have confirmed that PE have left the label, though Def Jam head Lyor Cohen has said that it has nothing to do with "this compuer stuff".

US rap magazine The Vibe quotes him as saying: "We were negotiating their departure a long time before the MP3 incident."

1.14.99 Public Enemy puts new song straight to Web
(from Chicago Sun Times web site)
Hip-hop mainstay Public Enemy has fired the latest, loudest shot in a war that has the potential to change the way music is delivered to consumers.

The legendary rap group has made a copy of its latest song, ``Swindler's Lust,'' available for free to anyone who has a computer. The tune, an indictment of the recording industry, is encoded in the MP4 format, a computer compression scheme that enables Web surfers to store music on their hard drives and replay it with near-CD-quality sound.

Public Enemy, no longer under a recording contract since parting ways recently with hip-hop label Def Jam, is releasing the song online both as a protest and as an exploration.

The rappers were upset after four tracks from their unreleased remix disc, ``Bring the Noise 2000,'' were pulled off the group's Web site by Def Jam in December.

But Public Enemy's flirtation with MP4 also is an attempt to deal directly with fans.

``If there's an a, b, c way of getting records to the public, this will just be a d way,'' Public Enemy frontman Chuck D said. ``Maybe [potential users] can pay a yearly fee, then you can pull whatever records you want from a given artist, but at a much lower price.''

To call MP4 (or its predecessor MP3) controversial is an understatement. As it stands today, the format is essentially ungovernable. Anyone with the appropriate software can convert a song into MP3, then post it on the Internet.

``This is the dilemma,'' said Steven Marks, vice president of the Recording Industry of America. ``It's very difficult to develop a viable market for music when you have something like MP3. Why would anybody buy a record when they can get it for free?''

This reality led to the Secure Digital Music Initiative, formed in December. Spearheaded by the recording industry, the consortium is exploring ways to deliver music profitably via the Internet and in other computer formats.

``The Internet is a blessing in disguise,'' Chuck D said. ``With MP, there won't be such things as making a recording and then sitting on it while you deal with the record company red tape, legalities and radio station payola. The Internet breaks all of that.''

Bands trying to make a name for themselves or find a new toehold in the marketplace are using MP3 to get their music out there. This publicity-friendly aspect is one of the format's advantages.

But someone also can convert a CD by an established artist to MP3 and post it online. This, coupled with the format's burgeoning popularity, could mean millions lost by record companies and artists from illegal downloads.

Chuck D, however, feels that MP3, rather than taking money from artists, offers them an opportunity for greater freedom of expression.

``If they [record labels] could sell Brillo pads for $17.99 they would do that,'' the rapper said. ``But now, you'll see artists really become artists and release two, three records a year, like back in the day. Maybe [MP3] cuts into the domestic dollars, but it opens up the world.''

-Kevin M. Wiliams

1.13.99 11:00 a.m. est P.E. To Issue Next Set On Internet 
(from Billboard web site)
Walter Leaphart, manager of Chuck D., confirms reports that Public Enemy is planning to release its next album via the Internet, though it is undetermined what form of digital distribution the act will use. Leaphart says the act has split from the Def Jam label and will bow its album this spring with undetermined partners. "They won't be doing the classic indentured servitude kind of a deal," says Leaphart. 

The news comes as little surprise, as Chuck D has repeatedly reiterated his support of Web distribution. Last December, he posted the group's unreleased remix album, "Bring The Noise 2000," for free digital download on the act's Web site,; the set was removed shortly thereafter by edict of Def Jam and its then parent company, PolyGram. 

Chuck D commented on those events in "Swindler's Lust," a track posted last week on the group's site. The song, issued in the MP4 format, draws parallels between recording for a major label and slavery.

-- Doug Reece, L.A.

1.13.99 3:00 am pst PE Puts MP4 in the House
(from Wired web site)
In a tale of mistaken identities and strange bedfellows, legendary hip-hop group Public Enemy has teamed up with a small technology company to rewrite the rules for promoting, distributing, and pricing music over the Internet. 
When Global Music Outlet, or GMO, announces its next-generation music distribution format this week, it will give artists a way to embed copyright information in CD-quality files for easy distribution over the Net. 

Like MP3, the technology allows users to download small, executable files that contain music. In addition, players that reveal text, graphics, copyright information, and hyperlinks to the artist's site are included in the file. 

But, in a controversial move, GMO has trademarked the technology as "MP4," a name that has been used informally to describe MPEG-4, a separate, open-standard technology that is to be released for general licensing later this year by the International Standards Organization. 

GMO's MP4 format is not an effort to undermine the MPEG-4 open standard, the company said, but rather an attempt to rein in the unregulated, anarchic world of MP3 –- where piracy runs rampant and artists have little control over their work once it's released. 

It is also meant to appease the Recording Industry Association of America, which is creating its own secure music distribution technology called the Secure Digital Music Initiative. The RIAA has the support of heavy hitters AOL, AT&T, IBM, Lucent, Microsoft, Matsushita, RealNetworks, Sony, and Toshiba. 

"SDMI is really a coalition reaction to MP3, and we understand why they have formed it," said Anthony Stonefield, CEO of Global Music. "However, there is a trend in MP3 because people on the Internet want free music. We've attempted to create a midstep between these dynamics. I don't think it undermines anything they're trying to achieve.... It's a different fish." 

The MP4 format hit the Internet last week when Public Enemy posted a new song, "Swindlers Lust", to its Web site for free download. The song takes a stab at the music industry's exploitation of artists over the years. It starts with Chuck D rapping, "Vultures of culture, dollar a rhyme / But we barely get a dime," and goes on to say, "Rap and R&B paving the streets of Bel Air from the sales of singers no longer here / The bigger killer gets the bigger share." 

Public Enemy has been one of the most outspoken groups in the MP3 debate. The group forced its label's hand last month by putting an MP3 song on its site for free download. 

When PolyGram, Public Enemy's distributor, forced the group to remove the MP3 song from its site, Chuck D wrote a note condemning the label for its legal threats. 

In the wake of this battle, the new MP4 song and its vehicle were meant to send another message to the music industry about artists' rights to their work. 

"They designed [MP4] to be more artist-friendly. When you email a song, it still gives an instant link to their site and gives us more leverage in the world of e-commerce," said Walter Leaphart, Public Enemy's manager, speaking on a cell phone as he drove through Manhattan. "We ain't gonna give all the songs away, but Chuck D is challenging the notion of what constitutes an album ... and we may challenge the whole way the music industry defines an album. Now, people buy an album for US$16, $17, and not even half the songs are any good," Leaphart said. 

Hip-hop, an art form that evolved in the '70s in the clubs and street corners of the Bronx, has always been quick to give new technology a spin. Specialized DJ turntables and state-of-the-art digital sampling equipment are now used to create everything from R& B to electronica music. 

"I think [MP4 is] a great thing, an excellent promotional tool that lets people know what you're doing," said Gary G-Wiz, Public Enemy's webmaster and a music producer. "I don't know what the RIAA is trying to do. I understand that they have copyright issues, but I don't think the approach is to condemn it." 

Other companies have made efforts recently to create a viable online music distribution system, but none have been able to strike a balance between security and distribution. One major benefit to MP4 is that users don't need to download a separate player or other client software to play the MP4 files. 

All the music, copyright information, graphics, and player technology is wrapped into one file, which can easily be emailed or posted to a Web site. And if a user tries to unwrap the song from the file –- to play it in another format, for instance –- Stonefield said the contents will degrade to an undesirable level. 

Global Music developed the MP4 format by manipulating AT&T's encoder technology, which in its original form will be part of the MPEG-4 standard. The intellectual property for the MPEG-4 standard is owned by Sony, AT&T, Yamaha, and other electronics manufacturers –- a group that will license it out under the condition that developers build tools that are open and interoperate with each other. 

The name is bound to cause some confusion and force the ISO to come up with another name for MPEG-4. Eric Scheirer, editor of the MPEG-4 standard and a researcher at MIT's Media Lab, said Global Music's strategy may ultimately backfire. 

"I have no problem with the technology, and clearly it's a marketplace grab on the name MP4. It's really just a proprietary subset of MPEG-4, and it's misleading to call it MP4," he said. "It's just that it's not likely to be a direction that fosters goodwill towards them. There is a brand value associated with open standards." 

The distinction between an open-standards format like MPEG-4 and a proprietary format like MP4 is that any company can license the former to create new tools; with the latter, the licensing is up to the company that owns it. In addition, companies aren't allowed to make unilateral changes to an open standard when they build new products, so there is an expectation that all products will be interoperable. In reality, this isn't always the case, but when companies create an open-standards player, the consumer should expect it to work with other MPEG-4 products. 

Those subtleties and goodwill gestures are not part of the dog-eat-dog music industry, said Leaphart, who gave GMO credit for getting a trademark on the MP4 name. 

"It's almost like a sample situation.... Someone has it, but they're using it for their own purposes. Business ain't fair, man," he said as he pulled up to a New York City restaurant. "Valet parking, now that shit is a crime." 

1.?.99 Public Enemy Go To War with MP4
(from web site)
PUBLIC ENEMY's Chuck D has declared virtual war on the music industry in a new song posted on the group's website. 'Swindler's Lust' appears as an MP4 downloadable file at the band's site, The lyrics of the track's chorus are: 

"If you don't own the master, the master own you 
Who do you trust from swindler's lust? 
From the back of the bus neither one of us 
Controls the fate of our soul in swindler's lust" 

In the song Chuck compares the music industry to the slave trade and analyses the band's present disagreements with their label, Def Jam, as part of a plot to silence the group in order to keep their controversial views sidelined. At the end of the song Chuck makes a lengthy dedication: "This is for the blues people of the delta. This is for everybody in the '50s that didn't get their money - Little Richard getting' half of a penny, all the super soul singers of the '60s, all the bands of the '70s on the outside lookin' in, all the people that didn't make a dime off their session playin', an' even the rappers in the '80s and the '90s still tryin' to get paid for what they put in." 

MP4 is a variant of the MP3 digital format that has been increasingly forcing the US record business on to the back foot. The format allows anyone with Internet access to download and play back files posted on the web. Users can also make MP3 files of their own CDs, effectively facilitating the making of illegal copies of copyright material. These can then be posted on the web, allowing other people to make unlimited copies without paying for them. 

The Record Industry Association of America (RIAA), alongside record companies and other industry bodies, has long considered that the proliferation of copyright material appearing on the Net in the downloadable digital MP3 format constitutes a piracy problem, but in recent weeks has taken a more conciliatory stance. The RIAA briefly succeeded last year in obtaining an injunction preventing hardware company Diamond Multimedia from distributing their portable MP3 player, the Rio. After protracted legal wrangling the Rio eventually went on sale in December. 

Chuck D has argued on the PE site that MP3 will necessitate a rethinking of how to do business for artists and record companies alike. Rather than seeing the format as a boon to bootleggers, the rapper envisions a scenario where artists will be able to directly control the distribution of their music. In an editorial in his Terrordome column, Chuck speaks of a new era beginning where demo tapes will cease to exist as new artists reach an audience directly instead of trying to get signed by a record company. "Artists will have to really expand on their art," he argues. "Live appearances, full fan contact and sweat for the $3.00 - $5.00 that the fan will spend outta their hard-earned money. Now artists will have to work harder for people's time and money. If you take care of the music and the peeps, they will take care of you." 

Further, Chuck believes that "we will see artists sell 513 copies and treat it like an accomplishment instead of a failure. The day of the 753,842 selling disc might be rare also in 2003. I tell folks all the time, record companies sell records, artists have little to do with that process. Artists just make them and are selected to do so. If Mr. Sonybmgemiweuniversal could get $17.00 outta you for Brillo pads they'd sell them too." 

One British artist who has independently arrived at the same conclusions as Chuck is Les "Fruitbat" Carter, former member of indie rock band Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, who has found a method of making money from MP3. His new group, Abdoujaparov, have posted MP3 files of a new four-track EP on their website, and have asked people downloading them to send £3 sterling shareware fee. Carter is using the money sent in to press CDs of the EP, and is mailing finished copies to everyone who's sent in cash. 

"It's important to me to keep control," Carter told Music365. "This way I can make sure what people get is exactly what I want to give them. I'm in control of everything, from songwriting, production and artwork all the way down the line, so there's no dilution. Also, even though the sales are smaller, I get a much larger proportion of money from each one instead of it going into some corporation's coffers." 

"I've tried it the other way and I've always been disappointed," he concludes. "The Internet has given me the opportunity to do this directly - it's allowed me to put the punk ethic into practise in a way the punk rockers of the '70s could never have imagined."

1.11.99 4:00 p.m. est Public Enemy Lambasts Labels With "Swindler's Lust" 
(from MTV website)
Chuck D and Public Enemy are continuing their tirade against the music industry with a new song called "Swindler's Lust," which is currently posted on the band's official website. 

The song (a free download for pc users at, rails against the 'big six' record labels -- now the 'big five' following the sale of Polygram to Universal. Polygram (now Universal) had previously forced the band to remove MP3 files taken from a new megamix record (see "Public Enemy Remix Album Pulled From The Net"). 

Chuck D introduces "Swindler's Lust" with a note on the site that reads, in part: "A lotta folk been had by the execs and legal lust of the industry. So this is anti-corporatism, and watch the reaction to this lyrical swirl." 

"Gotta li'l rhyme but we barely get a dime," he raps in the song itself. "If you don't own da master then da master own you / Who you trust from Swindler's Lust." 

"Hand in my pocket / Rob me for my chocolate / Mo' dollars mo' cents for the big six." 

The song specifically accuses the labels of cheating black musicians out of royalties, session fees and a fair share of the pie from the fifties to the nineties. 

"This is the blues people in the delta / This is for everybody in their fifties who didn't get their money / Little Richard gettin half a penny / All da super soul singers of the sixties / All the bands of the seventies on the outside lookin in / All the people that didn't make a dime / Off their session playing / And even da rappers in 80s and 90s / Still tryin' to get paid / For what they put in." 

Universal says that it has no plans to stop PE from posting the song.

1.11.99 11:00 a.m. est P.E.'s Back With Scathing MP4 Track 
(from Billboard web site)
Public Enemy has unleashed a vitriolic attack on the music industry in the form of "Swindler's Lust," a new song available for free download on the hip-hop group's Web site. The track, one of the first to be encoded in MP4, the successor to the controversial digital delivery format MP3, responds to labels' attempts to control MP3 and, as Public Enemy leader Chuck D sees it, deny artists of profits that are rightfully theirs.

On the track, Chuck D likens artists' plights to that of slavery, tracing a path of the industry's financial exploitation of black musicians. Citing the blues players in the Delta, Little Richard, soul singers, session players, and rappers in the '80s and '90s "who are still trying to get paid," he sings in the chorus:

"If you don't own the master
The master owns you
Who you trust
From Swindler's Lust
From the back of the bus
Neither one of us
Control the fate of our soul
It's Swindler's Lust."

In a statement on the site, Chuck D comments on the music industry's Secure Digital Music Initiative, which aims to bring technology and consumer electronics companies together to develop a security standard for digital music delivery. "It's a last-ditch effort for the power players to keep control," the rapper writes. "Skeptics say that artists will be undercut. Wrong, what will happen is that there will be more artists in the marketplace ... It's back to Pre-K, big boys will have to learn how to share."

Undoubtedly, another impetus for "Swindler's Lust" was the decision of Public Enemy's label, Def Jam, and parent company, PolyGram (now Universal), to remove the band's unreleased remix album, "Bring The Noise 2000," from the group's site in early December. Four of the set's 27 songs were posted in MP3 in an act of defiance by P.E.; the tracks were taken off the site shortly after news broke of their availability.

1.8.99 Public Enemy Fight the Power Online
(from ChartAttack's Daily News Web site)
After the parent company of his record label ordered the removal of MP3 audio files on the Public Enemy official website, outspoken group leader Chuck D. has blasted back with a new scheme to screw the big guy. P.E. have added a new audio file to their site, which is encoded in the brand new MP4 format. (Technically, Chuck hasn't disobeyed the Universal Music Group, because they instructed him to remove the MP3 files, which he did.) To take the cake, the new song that fans can download for free is called "Swindler's Lust" (a play on Schindler's List) that attacks the greed and dishonesty of the corporate side of the music business. Chuck posted the following essay on the website the same day the new track appeared:

"The day of the demo as we know it is outta here! Now the possibility of 500,000 independent labels will make the majors revise their thinking. No longer will a home studio from Ohio waste time sending a neat package to LA or New York only to sit up in some incompetent A&R's office corner collecting dust. It's back to Pre-K, big boys will have to learn how to share. Skeptics ask me, "So, how do you make your money Chuck?" Well, artists will have to really expand on their art; live appearances, full fan contact and sweat for the $3.00 - $5.00 that the fan will spend outta their hard-earned money. Now artists will have to work harder for people's time and money."

Chuck's diatribe continues, saying "If you take care of the music and the peeps, they will take care of you. Lastly, we will see artists sell 513 copies and treat it like an accomplishment instead of a failure. We should count from one upwards, not gold/platinum (industry standards) downwards. The day of the 753,842-selling disc might be rare also in 2003. I tell folks all the time, record companies sell records, artists have little to do with that process. Artists just make them and are selected to do so. If Mr. Sonybmgemiweauniversal could get $17.00 outta you for Brillo pads they'd sell them too."

Of course, it's only a matter of time before Public Enemy are forced to remove the MP4 file or perhaps face the reality of being dropped if Universal decides they're more trouble than they're worth. Whatever the outcome, Chuck D. is proving that artists don't have to take any shit lying down from the industry. Even the mighty Beastie Boys have been told to take the MP3's off their website, despite the group's vocal support of the format early in 1998. More to come...

"Swindler's Lust" is Public Enemy's latest salvo against what they see as a greedy industry. 

1.8.99 4:58 pm est Public Enemy Blast Record Companies On Free Track
(from SonicNet web site)
"Swindler's Lust," available for download from PE's website, rails against "vultures of culture." 

Staff Writer Chris Nelson reports: 

Outspoken Public Enemy leader Chuck D, who recently likened record companies to "weasels," has blasted the industry again with a new song called "Swindler's Lust" that compares musicians to slaves. The spare hip-hop track was released Thursday as a downloadable file on PE's official website (

"If you don't own the master/ The master owns you," raps Chuck D on the cut's refrain. For years, the rapper has fought to win ownership of Public Enemy's master recordings from the band's record company, Def Jam. 

In December, Chuck D accused Def Jam's parent company, Universal Music Group, of forcing the band to remove five unreleased remixes that had been posted in the downloadable MP3 format on the website. In an editorial rant on the site, Chuck D said the record company decision makers were "weasels."

At the time, a Def Jam spokeswoman had no response to the charge. Representatives from Def Jam and Universal were unavailable for immediate comment Friday (Jan. 8). The song title is an obvious parodic reference to "Schindler's List," the book and Academy Award-winning film about the Holocaust.

The lyrics to "Swindler's Lust" continue in the hard-hitting tradition that established Public Enemy as a force in political hip-hop in the 1980s and early '90s with songs such as "Fight the Power" and "Shut 'Em Down" (RealAudio excerpt of live version).

Speaking in the apparent voice of a music executive, Chuck D raps, "F--- that 'Fight the Power' sh--/ Get that Chuck D nigga fixed/ And keep him up out of the mix."

He then responds, "Hell, tell him Chuck don't suck no d---/ Be an ass, and that ass gets kicked."

"Swindler's Lust" continues in that vain, making repeated references to "vultures of culture." Record labels receive "a dollar a rhyme, but we barely get a dime," Chuck D raps.

After the five MP3 files -- from an unreleased PE album called Bring the Noise 2000 -- were removed last month, Chuck D railed on the website, "The execs, lawyers and accountants who lately have made most of the money in the music biz, are now running scared from the technology that evens out the creative field and makes artists harder to pimp."

MP3 files allow music to be transferred rapidly over the Internet in near-CD-quality sound. The format has drawn opposition from within the music industry because it has no mechanism to prevent unauthorized copying. In the past month, MP3 tracks posted by punk-rappers the Beastie Boys and new-wave rocker Billy Idol have been removed from the Web, reportedly at the insistence of their record companies.

The new Public Enemy track is not actually posted in MP3 format. Listeners can download it in the form of a small program that, when opened, plays the track and displays cover art.

That art, which features an old black-and-white picture of apparently destitute African American musicians, underscores a theme in "Swindler's Lust" that the exploitation of musicians is not a new phenomenon. At the end of the three-minute, 40-second cut, Chuck D raps, "This is for the blues people in the Delta/ This is for everybody in the '50s that didn't get their money."

Chuck D already is anticipating a reaction to the track. In a message accompanying the song, he writes, "This is anti-corporatism, and watch the reaction to this lyrical swirl." 

1.8.99 Chuck's Post-Record Biz Future Vision
(from web site)
PUBLIC ENEMY have posted an exclusive brand new CD quality track on their official web site, called 'Swindler's Lust', it's a scathing attack on corporate money grubbers.

It's also one of the first tracks to be available in the new MP4 format.

This follows the band's parent label Universal forcing them to take MP 3 samples from forthcoming album 'Bring The Noise 2000' off of their site.

Chuck D has been one of the most visionary propagandists for the new format and Public Enemy the first band of major importance to really embrace the new technology.

Writing in the Terrordome section of the site, Chuck D posted what amounts to the first manifesto for internet music:

December 15th the (Recording Industry of America) RIAA were joined by Microsoft, Liquid Audio, AOL, Lucent and ATT to posse up a standard of web music availability against the mp3.

It's a last-ditch effort for the power players to keep control. Skeptics say that artists will be undercut.

Wrong, what will happen is that there will be more artists in the marketplace.

The day of the demo as we know it is outta here.

Now the possibility of 500,000 independent labels will make the majors revise their thinking. No longer will a home studio from Ohio waste time sending a neat package to LA or New York only to sit up in some incompetent A&R's office corner collecting dust.

It's back to Pre-K, big boys will have to learn how to share.

Skeptics ask me, "So, how do you make your money Chuck?"

Well, artists will have to really expand on their art; live appearances, full fan contact and sweat for the $3.00 - $5.00 that the fan will spend outta their hard-earned money.

Now artists will have to work harder for people's time and money. If you take care of the music and the peeps, they will take care of you. Lastly, we will see artists sell 513 copies and treat it like an accomplishment instead of a failure.

We should count from one upwards, not gold/platinum (industry standards) downwards. The day of the 753,842 selling disc might be rare also in 2003.

I tell folks all the time, record companies sell records, artists have little to do with that process. Artists just make them and are selected to do so. If Mr. Sonybmgemiweuniversal could get $17.00 outta you for Brillo pads they'd sell them too.

Public Enemy: Swindler's Lust on MP4... changing the way the biz gotta think...

1.8.99...Quote from Chuck D. on Bill Clinton impeachment
(from Nightline TV show)
CHUCK D: "What’s going on in the DC area, first of all, the American public is confused, they’re angry and number three, they’re sort of clueless. I think the American public is seeing that this is less of a democracy than they realized. In the ‘hood or the community where I come from it’s called player hating when somebody’s not given proper credit for the job that they do and criticized from the outside. It’s apparent it’s about the haves and have nots within the DC beltway politic who care less about the public opinion anyway. And the haves are not about to share the wealth of the nation with the have nots. And understand that America’s public philosophy is possibly changing. There’s a so-called surplus of money here in the United States the past two years and if the haves get their way of getting him out, then the stock market will drop and you’ll have chaos, havoc and disorder and the have nots will get all the problems first and don’t get the money in the end. And that’s player hate."

Back to Dean's Tribute to Public Enemy (Main)