Details of Public Enemy’s Chuck D Forge New Album Legacy


Public Enemy, one of the most influential hip-hop groups in the world, and co-founder Chuck D have teamed up with Z2 Comics for the original graphic novel Revelation 91: The Revolution Never Sleeps. Commemorating the 30th anniversary of Public Enemy’s landmark album Revelation 91: The Enemy Strikes Black, the comic is designed by a multitude of comic creators to adapt the album to this new format. The comic contains stories that begin in 1991 before soaring into the realm of distant science fiction as space and time revolutionaries rise up to inspire the masses to push back against authoritarian control.

In an exclusive interview with CBR, Chuck D explained the reinvention process Revelation 91 for comic book support up to Z2. He also reflected on the resonance and lasting legacy of Public Enemy and shared his own love of visual arts and comics.

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CBR: Chuck, Public Enemy has always had a cinematic sensibility with their lyrics and videos. What made you want to bring those sensibilities into comics?

Chuck D: It was a long time coming. I trained as an illustrator, with a university degree. I am more of an illustrator than a painter. I formed PE from these sensitivities. Over the years, until 2016 when my father died and [I] regained dedication to my artistic side, I worked, trained and directed artists, illustrators and designers with my eye. I have rarely brought out my skills except [for] free sketch drawings i made and wanted them to finish. I had the skills to bring the designs to about 60% and say that’s what I wanted them to do. It was in 2016, with the death of my father and a few ayahuasca visits… It was only two and I will only do two. I was curious to know where the soul is, so my artistic side resurfaced.

Up until that time, there had been contributors to the Public Enemy comics, which was Adam Wallenta. He’d done four Public Enemy comics, and he’d done it early in the last decade. He would just show stuff and ideas. He’s also a rapper. He re-engaged me in the world of comics. Fast forward to where we are now with the introduction of my direction with what Z2 was doing. It turned out to be a collaborative effort with Anthrax. It was a perfect combination, also with Jeremy Atkins, Z2’s agent. It was obvious.

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With this graphic novel celebrating the anniversary of Revelation 91was there a specific song on the record that you really wanted to see reimagined in the comic book medium with this sci-fi story?

No. I did the whole album, I was there. [laughs] I never looked Revelation 91 funny when I did. Of course, you imagine it and my job was to put it in song to interpret it. Other than the initial imagery about it, which wasn’t much, it was in the PE vein. When they wanted to imagine it in scenarios that would flow from the original title and theme, I was like, “Yeah, go! If that’s how you feel, go!”

Returning to the medium of comics, what attracted you to comics growing up in New York in the 70s?

When I was growing up in the 60s, it was centered around New York. Spider-Man had stories that I thought I could relate to, although it all took a bit of space in the ’70s. I didn’t know what drugs they were on. [laughs] I liked the illustrations and when the plots weren’t too spatial for me. That said, in the mid 70’s I put all my focus on sports and left the comic book world behind because in the 60’s I thought my imagination matched [comics]. Then again, back in the ’60s, I was a single-digit kid getting into double-digits, so I had a wild imagination. That’s what you had as a reader. My imagination started going beyond what I saw in comics, especially in the 80s and 90s. It was almost like watching TV. I felt my imagination was better than what I was looking at.

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Songs like “Shut ‘Em Down” and “When I Get to Arizona” resonate just as much today as when the record came out 30 years ago. How do you think these songs are about now as opposed to when the record was first released?

I think Public Enemy always had that Spider Man type of resonance. You can take black literature and magazines… We’ve always been pro-black but we’ve never been black cultural heroes because it always felt like we had bad guy music and we were like [antiheroes]. [laughs] I always felt that although we fought for certain things, we were also considered outlaws. At the time, I think the things we were fighting against, in a lot of situations, were considered too incendiary or risky, shaking the tree a little too much and going against the grain. It was almost like we were black punks. We weren’t heroes, but we only talked about our heroes. We never claimed to be heroes and that’s where I like to keep it.

I don’t want to inject myself too much into this, but when we were walking the streets of DC two years ago, we were blasting “Fight the Power” from our boomboxes. You are certainly heroes to us.

I always thought I was more “Welcome to the Terrordome” and “Bring tha Noise” than I was “Fight the Power”. “Fight the Power” was something we all shared with Spike Lee. It was truly a meeting of the minds. On the contrary, “Fight the Power” was one of our most passive records. [laughs]

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While you saw pages of this graphic novel coming from comic book creators like Regine Sawyer and Che Grayson, how much did you oversee that, or did you really let them do their own thing?

I was like, “Do your own thing,” because I was trained to at least understand the efforts of what people are doing. You have to let them do their thing. I have already written Revelation 91 and had the theme so I have to go with their interpretation. I don’t even want to add ideas. I’m an artist myself and I love my own art, that’s why I do it for me. If someone comes up with an idea, I wouldn’t want to interfere with the interpretation at all.

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You mentioned Anthrax and, with Revelation 91, you have to team up with them for “Bring tha Noise”. What made Public Enemy and Anthrax such a good match?

It wasn’t supposed to happen. You are supposed to take the impossible and make it possible by taking those risks. It wasn’t obvious when we got together and Scott Ian and Charlie Benante decided to do “Bring tha Noise”. It wasn’t automatic. In fact, we were lucky to lose our two audiences, not that we gave a damn. You just have to do what you have to do. You’re not really doing it to keep an audience, you’re just doing what you have to, whatever. You tell your audience, “That’s what we’re doing now, ride with us.” If they decide not to ride with you, move on to someone else.

It was a risk but we have to do what we have to do anyway for the art. Now, if you do what you have to do for the business and commercial aspect, that’s your own prerogative, but we don’t interfere in that. When you make records with a record label, you have to compromise to get deals done and do a bunch of stuff that you probably wouldn’t have thought about because you’re working with people. It’s the same with comics. You work with people and it’s a collaborative effort. People come up with the plots and you read them hoping they can make them work.

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Was that what surprised you when the comic was completed?

No, you just want the mechanics of the business to run smoothly. It’s post-pandemic and there’s a lot of impatience among people about their delivery dates. That’s what you want to be fluid because there are new processes of how things get to people instead of going to a store and picking them up with their hands. We’ve entered a realm of e-commerce, delivery, and creativity with timelines that you just hope will go as smoothly as possible.

Now that the book is complete and available for purchase, what are you most excited about picking up? Revelation 91 in the middle of the comic?

I’m glad Z2 took a chance, thinking it was viable. That’s probably what I thought was the most amazing thing. They made something out of nothing. It has to come from them first, saying “We think this might work!” It’s important because they’re in the business of making comics, so they really know what they can mess with. [I’m] glad they thought it was interesting enough to infiltrate the market [and] to be something that people thought was new and different.

Apocalypse 91: Revolution Never Sleeps is on sale now from Z2 Comics and may be ordered here.

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