NEW YORK -- Public Enemy's Chuck D and filmmaker Spike Lee were front and center at New York's opulent Essex House on Monday afternoon, waxing enthusiastic about the pair's collaboration on Lee's upcoming basketball film, "He Got Game," which features the first batch of new music from the original Public Enemy lineup in a decade.
Sitting at a table in front of a roomful of reporters, Lee and D -- a study in visual contrast, with Lee looking professorial in a jacket and glasses and Chuck D sporting a football jersey and baseball cap -- offered comments and fielded questions about the movie and the related and much-anticipated Public Enemy CD, both scheduled for release on April 28.
The disc -- a collection of 13 new songs titled He Got Game -- is the group's first studio album in four years and the first recording in 10 years to feature Public Enemy's original lineup: Chuck D, Flava Flav, DJ Terminator X and Professor Griff.
"We resurrected ourselves to do this project," P.E. frontman Chuck D said. "It was something that was important enough."
Also resurrected for the album is the band's original production team, the Bomb Squad -- Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee and Eric "Vietnam" Sadler. Newcomers to the Public Enemy album include guest raps by hip-hoppers KRS-One and Wu-Tang Clan's Masta Killa.
Many of the songs on Public Enemy's He Got Game use sports metaphors, in keeping with the film's themes: a high-school basketball star's struggle to make sense of his future -- a struggle that reflects larger issues of race, class and power.
"Chuck knows sports," Lee pointed out. "I knew he could use those expressions to comment both on the movie and the world today."
"You have to be able to extract and reflect the soul of the movie," said Chuck D, commenting on the challenge posed by the project. "All of these issues in 'He Got Game' are woven into the fabric of where [African-Americans] come from."
The film -- which stars Denzel Washington and Milla Jovovich -- is the second collaboration between Public Enemy and the noted film director Lee. In Lee's highly acclaimed 1989 film, "Do The Right Thing," racial tension between the film's characters was underscored by the powerful lyrics of Public Enemy's single "Fight the Power."
Chuck D acknowledged that inclusion in "Do the Right Thing" provided a huge boost for "Fight the Power." "But we didn't know Spike was going to put that song in the movie 80 times," Chuck D said, prompting laughter in the room.
For his part, Lee said that working with one musician to do a movie soundtrack lends his films a more cohesive quality. In his past films, Lee has used soundtracks contributed by The Artist Formerly Known As Prince for "Girl 6" and by Stevie Wonder for "Jungle Fever."
The outspoken film director also expressed criticism of the way that the relationship between movies and soundtracks has changed in the years since "Do the Right Thing." "Now movies have become an excuse to put out a soundtrack," Lee said, "when the scam is that bands are giving stuff [to the soundtrack] that was rejected from [the band's own] album."
And the climate for soundtracks has changed in another way, Chuck D said. "It's impossible to do a record like that again," he said, referring to the music for "Do the Right Thing." "It couldn't get past the legal team because of all the samples. We used like 400 samples in one song."
Nevertheless, the title track of He Got Game features a kind of "sample": a reworked version of '60s folk-rock outfit Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth," with rapping by Chuck D. To add to the signature opening guitar-lick from the original recording, Public Enemy recruited Stephen Stills -- the singer and writer of the 1967 countercultural hit -- to play guitars and sing vocals.
Rather than merely sampling the song, this approach "upgrades it," Chuck D said. "It brings it to a different society."
As for Public Enemy's future plans, Chuck D said that touring was a possibility, but that nothing was firm yet. "Everything is on hold right now," Chuck D said. "Right now we're just talking about this new movie and the soundtrack."