Outspoken Public Enemy leader Chuck D is demanding an apology from the
Anti-Defamation League, which last month accused the pioneering hip-hop group of
anti-Semitism in the song "Swindlers Lust" (RealAudio excerpt).
"I want an apology now," the 38-year-old rapper said Wednesday from Germany, where
he is promoting Public Enemy's latest album, There's a Poison Goin' On, which
contains the offending song.
"For me not to speak out on the one-sided persecution by the music industry, not to use
this platform ... that's bullsh--."
A spare song that was initially released on the Internet in January, "Swindlers Lust"
blasts unnamed music-industry executives for what Chuck D (born Carlton Ridenhour)
sees as 50 years of unfair compensation for black artists.
ADL national director Abraham Foxman criticized the group in a June 17 letter to Al
Teller, head of the Atomic Pop music label, which released the album. He said the song
whose title plays on that of the Academy Awardwinning Steven Spielberg movie
"Schindler's List," about the systematic annihilation of Jews during World War II
contains anti-Semitic overtones. Those overtones, Foxman added, take a backdoor
approach to blaming Jews for the plight of poor blacks.
Speaking from Jerusalem on Wednesday, Foxman said it was out of order for Public
Enemy to call for the leading Jewish advocacy group to atone.
"I don't think there's anything to apologize for," said Foxman, who was in Israel to meet
with leaders in the administration of newly elected prime minister Ehud Barak.
"Unfortunately [Chuck D] comes with some baggage. ... It's not that we come out of the
blue or that he is a total innocent in this area."
Foxman was referring to a 1989 incident in which peripheral Public Enemy member
Professor Griff (born Richard Griffin) told the Washington Times that he held Jews
responsible for the "majority of the wickedness that goes on across the globe."
Griff was dismissed from the politically charged group shortly after, but returned to the
fold with last year's He Got Game album. He appears briefly on There's a
Poison Goin' On.
"Swindlers Lust" contains lines such as "Mo dollars, mo cents for the Big Six/ Another
million led to bled claiming their innocence." Chuck D has said the "Big Six" refers to the
six major music corporations Sony, Time Warner, EMI, BMG, Universal and
PolyGram (now known as the Big Five after last year's merger of Universal and
PolyGram) and Atomic Pop Vice President Liz Morentin explained that the
"million" lyric was a nod to the Million Man March of 1995.
But Foxman alleged the proximity of the numbers "six" and "million" was a veiled
reference to the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, and added that lines such as
"Dem own the banks" referred to a conspiracy theory that Jewish people control the
financial industry. That the track appropriates the title of the celebrated Holocaust book
and film "Schindler's List" adds insult to injury, he said.
Chuck D countered that people comb through Public Enemy's confrontational lyrics
looking for insults.
"There's paranoia for me to speak out on anything," he said. "I think I was clever in
putting my words together. To blame me for that is bullsh--. I'm not responsible for sh--."
The Anti-Defamation League has no further action planned concerning the song.
Foxman said he never received a response from Teller, although Morentin did fax the
group a letter supporting artistic expression and containing the lyrics to "Swindlers Lust."
"If he didn't intend it to be anti-Semitic, fine," Foxman said. "I welcome that. But in light of
where he's coming from, or where he came from before, this is not a time that I should
apologize to him."