Facebook R&B crooner Mario has been relatively quiet on the music front for…
- Posted on Aug 23rd 2007 5:00PM by Steve Baltin
One of the things about Rock the Bells is that it's very socially conscious. How much does it mean to you to be playing with like-minded artists?
It allows artists to understand they can keep their consistent path and still further their careers here in the United States, because I think a lot of artists, be it Nas, the Roots, Cypress Hill especially, have seen there's been all these areas that have been set up festival-wise for their careers. But seeing it happen in the United States takes a concentrated effort, and Rock the Bells is able to make it come to fruition. It's proven to be a traveling Woodstock of hip-hop.
One of the things about the festival is that it mixes the established names with more up-and-comers, like the Coup, Murs and the like.
I don't think the artists have been up-and-coming. I think the up-and-coming is the new audience that's coming to the festivals, and also what's up-and-coming is the understanding of these artists that have been around seven to ten years, like Sage Francis, Mr. Lif, Living Legends, Murs and people like that. They're not rookies. The new artists bring more visibility to the older artists, and the mainstream artists bring visibility to everybody. This is a beautiful thing.
The tour, with its mix of artists, is almost symbolic of where you guys are at, on the road with a new album during your 20th anniversary.
I don't think it's something we planned and set out to do. We didn't look as a benchmark for 20 years being something to celebrate and have an anniversary. We normally tour; this is our 59th tour that we're going to wrap up. And we've traveled 60 countries and we said, "We'll dedicate this year to anchoring in the United States more often than not and playing the big situations." The big situations happen to be television and also festivals at hand. So it boils down to the fact that what PE has been able to do with the band and also with its members is be able to tour a whole bunch of different references. This has been a saving grace.
Do you go back and listen to your old stuff much?
Not really, but it takes the listening to go back out and be able to perform some old stuff. So you kind of listen to it by default.
Are you surprised by how well your music has lasted?
Yes and no. Number one, it was created with a sense of maybe standing the test of time. A lot of the music we were making was not even meant to instantaneously hit you. There were some things that were meant to grab hold years down the line, or maybe not grab hold at all, just be there. I think the people that try and get involved with understanding what hip-hop music is about, they're gonna come across Public Enemy and have a chapter on our music to look into. And maybe a lot of people might be ready for it ten years later.
That's interesting, because you've always been known as such chroniclers of the times.
When you're making the music, you have to have a good sense of the past, the present and the future. And I think that goes into the detail on who makes the music and who has the words applied. It's about that presentation.
I guess as a writer I respond more to lyrics.
It's just art. Art is subjective. And one thing we can't lose sight of is that's what it is. That's the beauty of music; some people respond in different ways. I think at the end of the day, Public Enemy signifies that we're a unit and we try to go as best on all cylinders when we come together to go as forward as possible. I have a problem with some of the groups within rap music that went their separate ways because they thought as individuals they'd be better rather than hanging in there as a group.
But you've also done a lot over the years as individuals. Have those individual outlets allowed you to sustain as a group?
No question. Not only that, it's having those outlets and then also being able to travel around the world. The minute that Public Enemy got out passports to be able to leave the country, we was able to add 59 other countries to our belt, and still counting, so that has been a huge source of sustenance.
What was the first other country PE went to when you got your passports?
The U.K. And it was called the "PE Invasion." It was a flip side to the British Invasion of '64; we invaded the U.K. with hip-hop in '87.
Going into the new album, were there any sort of innovations that got you excited about recording?
I think the innovations that were in this album, like doing a cover of 'Eve of Destruction,' by Barry McGuire, from 1965, and seeing the lyrics actually reflect what is the same condition, is alarming. And also when I did 'Long and Whining Road' and I took it upon myself using a whole bunch of Bob Dylan song titles mixed with Public Enemy song titles to kind of tell a story, that was a good challenge in the writing. And 'Harder Than You Think' happened to be one of the quickest songs I ever wrote and recorded, and it worked well. Some songs seem to write themselves. And also 'Black Is Back' is a great record that signifies a homage to Run-DMC in a certain, weird type of way.
The cadence, the '70s-'80s rock approach, and the cadence of how Run and DMC would shout over records.
You mentioned 'Eve of Destruction' and Dylan. How important is it for artists to understand their musical heritage?
And also you have to know what your contemporaries are doing and pay attention to other genres, how other genres have existed and how they begat what you do in the first place. So it's not just looking at artists like Nas or Immortal Technique to get ideas from but also Barry McGuire [the singer of 'Eve of Destruction'].
What was the first record that made a big impact on you?
I grew up in a musical household, so 'I Want to Hold Your Hand,' by the Beatles, and then later on 'Reach Out, I'll Be There,' by the Four Tops, then the next year, 'Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud,' by James Brown; 'Respect,' Aretha Franklin; 'I Heard it Through the Grapevine,' Gladys Knight and the Pips; 'Proud Mary,' Ike and Tina Turner' but also 'Proud Mary,' by Creedence Clearwater. Seventies radio was oh, so important because diversity definitely came through AM radio Top 40 in the '70s: Steely Dan, Three Dog Night, 'Joy to the World,' that says it all, man. I think rock 'n' roll in the '70s, they paid homage to the fact we all got together, and black music demanded that we all get together. I think those things started to change in the middle of the '70s with just a lot of politics that left the poor people out. Come disco, a lot of people felt abandoned.
So, how do you sell soul to a soulless people?
The answer to 'How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul' is that you don't. You want to give it away and make people recognize their soul inside and outside. Then when people recognize their soul, they'll be able to support their soul any means where they feel fit.