Public Enemy leader Chuck D is showing no fear.
Even as musicians nervously await a massive record company merger that could put dozens of bands on the street, Chuck D took to the Internet on Wednesday to blast the corporations involved in the pending deal -- including the label to which his rap group is signed.
The rapper railed against the new Universal Music Group conglomerate on the official Public Enemy website (www.public-enemy.com). He likened the soon-to-be-paired PolyGram and Universal music companies to "weasels" for allegedly forcing Public Enemy to take MP3 digital sound files of five songs from the upcoming remix album, Bring The Noise 2000, off the group's webpage.
"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," he wrote.
That notice was just the latest salvo from Chuck D. In a posting last month, the 38-year-old rapper characterized Def Jam -- the PolyGram-owned company that releases Public Enemy recordings -- as "Def Scam." He went on to describe record companies in general as greedy to the detriment of artists, closing with the declaration, "It's the rebels [musicians] vs. the devils [labels]."
Def Jam spokeswoman Heidi Schuessler said Thursday (Dec. 3) that the label had no comment on either posting. PolyGram spokeswoman Dawn Bridges did not return calls for this story.
Chuck D's recent claims -- that the Universal Music Group merger would result in layoffs for 3,000 record-label employees, and that Def Jam heads Lyor Cohen ("Liar Conman") and Russell Simmons ("Hustler Scrimmons") hope to sell their remaining share of the label to Universal for $70 million -- were based on a Nov. 10 Los Angeles Times article on the merger, the rapper's manager, Walter Leaphart, said.
The manager added that Chuck D has made progress in extricating himself from his Def Jam contract. However, an actual separation is not yet complete, Leaphart noted.
Like The Artist Formerly Known As Prince -- who has battled Warner Bros. Records for his past work -- the Public Enemy rapper ultimately hopes to gain control of his master recordings, he said.
"You gotta say what you feel," Chuck D's longtime friend and fellow rapper Ice-T (born Tracy Marrow) said Thursday. The editorial stance taken by Chuck D "is a reaction to [Def Jam] stepping on him," he added. "You know, only a certain amount of people are going to say sh--. They're scared."
Since forming the groundbreaking, politically volatile Public Enemy in 1982, Chuck D (born Carlton Ridenhour) has developed a reputation as one of hip-hop's most respected and outspoken figures. Songs such as 1991's "Shut 'Em Down" (RealAudio excerpt of live version) have taken on corporate entities by name.
The $10.4 billion Universal Music Group merger is expected to be complete by mid-December. News reports and industry insiders have speculated that the reorganization of the companies will result in dozens of job losses and artists dropped from affected labels, which include such well-known companies as Def Jam, Geffen, Mercury and Interscope.
On Thursday, Leaphart, in discussing Chuck D's unhappiness with Public Enemy's Def Jam contract, claimed that Def Jam has held up the still-unreleased Bring The Noise 2000 since 1997, for various reasons that remain unclear to him. Leaphart declined to elaborate.
Posting songs from the album on the website was Chuck D's attempt to get the remixed Public Enemy classics to fans directly, Leaphart said. "When Chuck started checking out the Net, he said, 'This is a way I can do what I need to do to get my music out,' " the manager added.
The music industry as a whole is fearful of downloadable MP3 files, Chuck D wrote, because such files allow musicians to distribute music on their own in near CD-quality.
Though the Public Enemy songs can no longer be found on the legendary group's official website, the quick-copy-and-distribute nature of the Internet has given the sound files new life on other websites.
On Thursday afternoon, the MP3 files of the five songs -- "There Were More Hype Believers Than Ever In '97," "Welcome To The Terrordome," "Bring The Noise," "My 98 Oldsmobile" and "Whole Lotta Love Goin' On" -- were re-posted on the "communique" section of a Web zine called "Mind Rape."
Chuck D opposes the Universal Music Group merger because it will consolidate what are now six global record companies into five corporations, according to Leaphart. That means just a few people "at the top of these companies basically have the authority on what people hear and how they hear it," Leaphart said.
(Contributing Editor Teri vanHorn contributed to this report.)