Anthrax and Chuck D: Noise From The Black Stuff

Five years after Run DMC’s groundbreaking rap reworking of Aerosmith’s ‘Walk This Way’, rock is finally repaying the compliment with ANTHRAX’S astonishing take on Public Enemy’s ‘Bring The Noise’ – aided by PE mainman CHUCK D. STEVEN WELLS flies to Salt Lake City to witness the most marginalised genres in pop collide…

“RAWNESS!” IS what, says Chuck D, he’s got in common with Anthrax.

What do you get if you cross the lithesome Tyrannosaurus Rex of Thrash Metal with the snarling Rottweiler of Rap?

You get a 40-foot tall lizard that tries to shag your leg. There are those who like their rock music delivered by fine-boned young poets, sophisticated and witty lyrical pearls of beauty dripping from their thin, honeyed lips to swim free amongst a golden cascade of gossamer minor chords.

And then there are those who like music that kills.

“‘Bring The Noise’,” says Anthrax main-man Scott ‘Not’ Ian, “is a RAW record!” He means the new, HEAVY METAL version. “We both make RAW music…”

“And we both know when to say F*** it!” claims Chuck.

“F*** it!” says Scott.

” F*** it!” says Chuck D, with impeccable timing.

This is not a Morrissey interview.

A FAT Nazi scumbag tosses and turns under his confederate flag duvet. He’s sweating like a pig with anthrax*. He’s having a nightmare in which his lovely blonde daughter is rutting with a…a…HUGE n…ni…n…

Oh No! Pictures of negroes up on her pink bedroom wallpaper next to the posters of James Dean and the cute ponies! Oh dear! Before you know it she’ll be injecting heroin into baby blue eyeballs, urinating in public and aborting little brown babies!

This is a bit weird. I’ve just been flown all the way to Salt Lake City – home of The Osmonds – COINCIDENCE? New Kids On The Block were in First Class – COINCIDENCE? The plane, for some strange reason, reeked of shit – COINCIDENCE?

I’m about to interview metaltrashers Anthrax and Public Enemy’s Chuck D about their collaboration on the single ‘Bring The Noise’. It’s an epic sound – the whining and chugging of Anthrax guitars giving a new brutality and urgency to the brilliant PE poetry – but more than that, it’s an important record.

Like white hardcore band Murphy’s Law touring with Public Enemy back in ’86 was important. Like The Beastie Boys were important. Like Rick Rubin’s constant cross-fertilisation of metal and rap on Def Jam was important. Like Aerosmith and Run DMC’s ‘Walk This Way’ was important – that video, rockers and rappers kicking down the walls of apartheid, corny as cheesewhip but signifying something real. Like Yo! MTV Raps was important – MTV knocking back accusations of racism by taking the thump and squeal of angry, young urban blacks straight into the living rooms of TV-lunch munching white suburban America.

If these things weren’t important then the racists and the smothermummies wouldn’t be getting so freaked out.

Alarm bells are ringing in their heads – OUR WHITE CHILDREN ARE LISTENING TO BLACK MUSIC!! If it isn’t so important then why are NWA and 2 Live Crew receiving death threats and writs through the mail? And why are Public Enemy under FBI surveillance? Because – as the 1954 poster of the White Alabama Citizens Council put it – “Rock and roll music will drag our children down to the level of the negro”.

And it’s important because when two screaming extremes like metal and rap are rammed together you get some blistering rock’n’roll…

SO WE’RE in the hotel courtesy bus being driven for a slap-up sushi supper by a driver dressed in B’wana style colonial jungle gear complete with solar toupee. COINCIDENCE?

Scott ‘Not’ Ian, Anthrax guitarist and lyricist – and spokesman for a colourblind generation – and Chuck D – a black pop star whom some would claim is more influential than either Jesse Jackson or the Rev Al Sharpton – are having a serious conversation at the back of the bus, the place where, pre civil-rights, blacks were forced to sit – COINCIDENCE? Two great minds meet, two great pop poets joining hands from across the alleged racial divide of American music.

And they’re discussing…antifascist solidarity? No. The arms race? Um, no. The lack of an unbroken social-democratic tradition in American politics and the subsequent fragmentation of the American proletariat? Not exactly. They’re discussing, erm, merchandising, like is $20 too much to ask for a T-shirt and which retailers will give you the best deal on logoed baseball caps?

Still, I think to myself, this is an historic moment. Black and white coming together as one! Martin Luther King! Abraham Lincoln! JFK! Grunwick! The Anti-Nazi League! Star Trek/Sidney Poitier! Diffrent StrokesThe Waltons! Wonderful, wonderful multi-racialism a-go-go!

Suddenly, sat up the front, Anthrax guitarist Dan Spitz turns to me, his nose wrinkled with disgust.

“Ugh!” he says, “this bus smells of f***ing shit!”

“Um, I think it might be, um, my, um, feet…” says the NME photographer.

It’s a good thing that Chuck’s not into stereotyping. If he thought that all white people’s feet smelt this bad he’d never work with a white band ever again…

(That night I watch a video on the hotel TV. Richard Pryor onstage talking about his trip to Africa. He’d stopped to pick up a hitch-hiking tribesman complete with shield and spear. Dude gets in the back and he F***ING STINKS! I mean, says Pryor, this guy SMELLS. The audience, white, black, overwhelmingly liberal, start to laugh nervously. Isn’t this all just a little bit, um, racist?

And then, says Pryor, I glanced up at the rear-view mirror and caught a glimpse of the African guy. He’s holding his nose and wafting his hand in front of him and thinking – jeez, this foreigner STINKS! Audience collapses with relieved laughter.)

“I don’t listen to House,” says Chuck D. “I hate House. Yeah, I was pretty happy when those English groups made House better, more acceptable. The shit they had over here was bullshit, straight up, it was disco! English groups have always made House better…”

Oooooh! I say, a big cheesy grin lighting up my face – that’s going to piss off so many people! Have you ever been to a rave?

“Wait a minute…”

Have you ever taken any E?

“Uh, I ain’t taken no E…”

“I was gonna ask,” says Scott ‘Not’ Ian, “bands like The Happy Mondays, what’s the deal with guys who don’t really do nothing?”

Well, I says, scratching me head – Bez is sort of like a mate of the band, and, erm, I don’t want to make any comparisons to anybody in Public Enemy here…

“HEH! HEH! HEH!” guffaws Chuck, rocking back on his chair, “HEH! HEH! HEH! Snicker! Ahuirumph!”

“Hey!” says Scott indignantly, “Flavor is a big part of Public Enemy!”

“And Bez is a big part of the Mondays!” shouts the basin-cutted photographer from the far end of the table.

“There isn’t a single record worth owning made by a white person” – Robert Elms, sTyLe journalist 8/6/91

SCOTT: “THE kids are flipping out over this single…”

Chuck: “Headbangers and Yo! MTV Rapheads together – I think this’ll bug people out even more than ‘Walk This Way’. It’s flipping me out! When they suggested it, it bugged me out! It was boggling my mind! I was saying – c’mon, you guys! You could handle all the vocals on your own!”

Charlie Benante (Anthrax drummer): “And I’m on the line going – No! No!”

Chuck: “I think it’s exciting. I mean first off I’m going AAAAAAAH! and then, as we go on, I’m going – Shit! Shit! I mean this is some shit!

Is it true that Anthrax are trying to recruit you as a singer?

Chuck: “Heh! Heh! Heh! No, ah… I come off the bench in spurts but I don’t know how to blow. I gotta learn how to scream.”

Never fancied yourself up onstage, straddling a huge phallus of a guitar, your hair down to your knees?

Chuck: “Yeah! I kinda wish I’d learnt to play guitar and scream like a motherf***er! Heh! Heh! Heh!”

Scott: “This is as heavy as anything we’ve ever done – I think this is going to blow people’s minds.”

Scott wore a Public Enemy T-shirt onstage every night for four tours back in the mid-’80s and namechecked the New York rappers every chance he got. This did not go unnoticed. Chuck went to check out these white metal/punk muthaf***as.

“I just thought – Yo! F*** it! If they’re going to keep this shit up for two hours, I’m not going to admit to being tired, f*** it! A lot of people were asking me at this time – ‘Do you cats really like this Anthrax?’ And I’m going, ‘Yeeeeeeah! They’re cool’!'”

And when PE namechecked Anthrax on It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back Scott nearly creamed his jeans. We are not just talking mutual respect here. For Scott, at least, this single marks an all-time career high.

“I’m tripping on the whole thing. This doesn’t feel… real! If you’d’ve said to me two years ago you’re going to be sitting in Salt Lake City with Chuck talking about a record that you’ve done together, I’d’ve gone – what?” “We’re rap fans in this band,” says Charlie, “you certainly ain’t gonna find a band like Megadeth doing something like this because they hate rap music. Back in ’84-’85 we were on tour with these bands and all the time they were going, ‘how can you listen to that shit?’ We were ridiculed! And three years later we’re driving around with them and they’re going – ‘You heard the new NWA album yet? Y’heard the new Ice T?'”

But have your fans caught up with you yet? Living Colour told me about that front cover you did with them, how Rip magazine received a copy back with all the black faces burnt out.

“Yeah, but you know what?” asks Scott, his face taut with anger. “They can go f*** themselves. I was up in the office with the editor and he pulled out an envelope of hate mail that the office got. They had white kids writing in saying Rip magazine faked the photos, there’s no way Anthrax would stand next to – and I’m using the exact words now – ‘a bunch of niggers’ – I couldn’t believe it.”

ANTHRAX ARE not jumping on anybody’s train. In 1987 they recorded a rap track, ‘I’m The Man’, which contained the epic lines: “They say that rap and rock can never mix/but all of them can suck my…” Genital organ located in the lower abdominal region? No, man, the word is “DICK!”

And Scott, when asked in an interview if he had any ambitions of reaching a black audience, gushed: “We’d love something like that to happen. We’d open up a whole new black audience. That’d be great, getting black American teenagers into HM – oh God!”

In a way it’s obvious why it should be that rap and metal have proved the most fruitful ground for cross-fertilisation in America. Both are mistrusted or despised by straight America. Both are stigmatised as ‘outsiders’ music: metal strongest amongst working class and lower middle class white males pissed off at deadend parents and society in general, rap the music of young blacks, much of it articulating frustration and anger at “427 years of f*** you!”, an area where they set the rules, where they decide the agenda.

But why hasn’t House provided the bridge, the way it has done so spectacularly in Britain?

“‘Cos the beats don’t line up,” says Chuck. “I can rap on a metal track and they can play on and add to a rap track. But with a House beat you’d be like, ‘what the f*** is this,’ y’know? We got the same backbeat, you can speed it up or slow it down ‘cos you know you can kick attitude on it.”

And it’s no coincidence that it’s now rap and metal that bear the brunt of the attack from the censors. Charlie D thinks he know the reason why.

“I think that within the white family structure there’s a communication gap growing up. There’s been one in the black family for years. The parents don’t know what’s going on with their kids. Well, you say ‘F*** it! I’m making my own rules because I’m not getting enough love, care and concern’.

“I’m an exception to that rule, I’m playing rap and my mother is playing her Anita Baker, we talked about that stuff, but in a lot of families the kid’s gonna be playing, y’know, Uzi Rapper Polo. That’s a big f*** gap! And it’s the same in white households.”

Throughout his speech Chuck has a coffee cup in each hand. The one with the cream and two sugars is Anita Baker and the one with just a dash of half’n’half is this Uzi Rapper Polo person. He thumps Anita Baker on the table – CRASH! Then he thumps Mr Polo on the table – SMASH! This is dead symbolic, except, of course, that Anita should be a bone china tea cup and Uzi Rapper a Soldier Of Fortune lager stein. There’s a whole world more difference between Anita and an Uzi, a whole lot more difference than there is between Public Enemy and Anthrax.

Anthrax tear into the PMRC and their censorious religious friends on the track on the new album Attack Of The Killer B’s which, next to the single, kicks the hardest ass. It’s a pleasant C&W number entitled ‘Startin’ Up A Posse’ and it goes something like this:

“Now you might take offence/To a word like ‘f***’ or ‘shit’ (Dick!)/But you f***in’ don’t have the right (C***!)/To discriminate me for saying it!/ You f***in’ whores/That’s all you are/You f***in’ whores… /Shit, f***, Satan, death, sex, drugs, rape/These seven words you’re trying to take…” and we’ve got several ‘motherf***ers’, ‘douchebags’ and ‘suck my dicks’ and a whole lot more ‘f***ing whores’ to go yet. The song ends with a cautious Scott shouting: “And this ain’t sexist either!”

Heavens to Betsy! Sexist! “F*** in’ whore!” Why would anyone think that, Scott (“C***!”)?

“No, it ain’t about f***ing Tipper Gore, it could be anyone, male or female. That’s why I put that line in because people like you would say it’s degrading to women. A whore don’t necessarily mean a woman. A whore is anyone who does anything for money.”

Well it does just happen to be true that all the highest profile pro-censorship lobbyists are women. You know that and your audience knows it too and that does give a certain frissonto a line like “suck my dick”.

“Hey man, a lot of guys do that too, huh?”

Chuck, you’re not going to let them get away with this, are you?

Oh yes he is.

“When we did ‘Sophisticated Bitch’ people called us misogynistic and sexist. Then people was looking at the title without reading the f***ing song – it was about this sister who supported her drug habit by stealing from the brothers, she was f***ed up. “Still to this day people wonder why/He beat the bitch down ’til she nearly die…”. It’s the inside scoop, she ran into a guy who wasn’t going for it. It was a story…”

Oh crikey. Look, there are certain words associated with the oppression of women, words like ‘bitch’ and ‘c***’ and ‘whore’. If a white band did a nasty song about an individual black man – no matter how ‘justified’ and called him a ‘nigger’ then everyone would come down on them like a ton of bricks and rightly so. You’re just giving me the old Axl Rose argument.

“I mean,” says Scott, “you bring up Tipper Gore, if anything it’s aimed at her husband (Senator Albert Gore of Tennessee, former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination). He’s the one using censorship to further his f***ing career, he’s the f***ing whore. Male or female, if whore is generally used about women then that’s not my fault. I know where I’m coming from…”

“In the black situation,” says Chuck, “you’ve got people who are, um, you got ho’s! Until you stop getting drug dealers and motherf***ers, that’s when the name-calling stops. But you get motherf***ing bitches – the story’s got to be told to stop people wearing that as a badge. I mean, if you a ho, you a ho! you a f***ed up whore!”

So, Chuck, if you had a mate who slept around a lot, would you call him a whore?

Yeeeeeeeah…Y’a whore, motherf***er! You’re chasing y’dick!… and then he’d probably say you’re goddamn right!”

Hmmm. I’m not impressed by the logic of either of our two superstars here. But later, when Chuck launches into a brilliant defence of Public Enemy’s espousal of separate development – even though I fundamentally disagree with him – his arguments are sharpened to a razor edge.

He leans back, grinning.

“I’m getting pretty good at that, huh?”

For passion you only have to turn to Italian New Yorker Charlie Benante explaining the frustration that went into the writing of ‘Keep It In The Family’, a song which followed the murder of black man Yussuf Hawkins by a white gang in the Italian New York neighbourhood of Bensonhurst.

“They had this peace march in Bensonhurst. The thing that totally sickened me was the people on the side of the street holding up watermelons and screaming ‘Get the f*** out of here!’ It really, really pissed me off to the point… it’s like one of those deals where you could kick your TV in.”

THE METAL/rap crossover, audible in the work of more and more bands, is significant because this is probably the first time since the ’50s that large numbers of white American kids have taken to listening to black American artists without the intervention of British bands or of watered down white substitutes (Mr Ice and The Kids not withstanding).

Maybe it would have happened without Rick Rubin, The Beastie Boys, ‘Walk This Way’, Public Enemy and Anthrax. This version of ‘Bring The Noise’ is significant because it’s A) a brilliant record and B) ‘Walk This Way’ in reverse – a white band actually covering a rap track. There has only ever been one other rap cover version to date – according to Chuck D – Run DMC’s version of ‘Hard Times’. But how much of an actual crossover is taking place?

“I never understood something,” says Scott, “Why aren’t more black teenagers into Heavy Metal music. It’s weird, it’s like the smallest minority of kids we get at any concert is black kids, you’ll see one black guy…”

It takes a nation of DJs, censors, moral guardians and guilty/liberal snob music hacks to keep us apart.

© Steven WellsNew Musical Express, 22 June 1991

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