Through a collaboration of Augsburg University, the college’s Save the Kids Chapter and Pan-Afrikan Student Services, Chuck D, MC of legendary hip-hop group Public Enemy, gave a keynote speech on Monday.
The speech was arranged to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the campus. Chuck D was proceeded by original spoken word pieces by Madiba and Malick Ceesay, as well as current American Idol contestant and musician Dhali Jones — Jones performing an acoustic cover of “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye. Activism, community versus industry, supporting the arts; these are a handful of the guiding principles of which the program was based. To say the day was exclusive to the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. would be somewhat misguided; to say it is within his spirit is entirely accurate.
“What does the rest of the world mean to you, Minnesota?” said Chuck D; speaking in the same tones that gave him such a ceremonious reputation, he captured the seriousness of the subjects while keeping the levity needed to speak for multiple generations and genres. He is the perfect emcee to talk upon issues of equity Dr. King so firmly established.
It makes sense to host a hip-hop culture MLK day in the Twin Cities: the cities are a haven for underground music, it has one of the most coveted hip-hop labels in the country, and it serves as a paradox for racial inequity with one of the largest financial inequity gaps by ethnicity. Since its inception, hip-hop has served as a cornerstone for grassroot movement. It with such inequality in which such a hip-hop community can flourish; the natural unrest of those who are given nothing shall always overcome the institutions for which stands in their path.
“In my community,” said Chuck D, “even at this point in time, in this very room I cannot be the most important… do not clap for me; for this day is for Dr. King.” He had an air of graciousness to his hosts, but not without a cause. Confidence was not intertwined with smugness, as he recognized throughout the night the Twin Cities’ long-standing struggle of often unspoken of inequality. It was with an air of insight when he breathed, to calmly say “If the community doesn’t support the artist, the artist cannot support the community… the artist may write the songs, but the government writes the rules. That’s why I stand up for the artist.”
Even after the keynote speech, when the chairs towards the middle of the hall began to get stack up and the Battle Cats came out to give a reliably excellent performance with Public Enemy tracks spun by DJ Francisco in the background, an air of familiarity began to emanate. Their was a comfort in the room despite the fact that hip-hop’s original preacher, humble despite acclaim, adorned only by his beliefs and hopes that true good will come through social change, was in the presence of a hip-hop community that he is undeniable partially responsible for creating. Almost like a dear relative visiting home, with a lens shared with the family, but with an eye on the big picture only he can see.