Chuck D at the Record Store Day Press Conference at Amoeba Records. [Photo: Getty Images]
This Saturday April 19th marks the return of Record Store Day, the annual holiday that encourages music fans to get out and support their local independent music retailers and pick up some of the limited edition goodies specially released for the day. The first Record Store Day was in 2007 and starting in 2009 each year has had an “Ambassador” to help spread the word and talk about how record stores serve a vital function in any healthy music scene. This year’s ambassador is one hip hop’s living legends, Chuck D of revolutionary rap group Public Enemy. Considering cutting, scratching and looping vinyl records is an essential part of hip hop culture and Chuck is one of music’s most thoughtful minds you know he’s going to have some interesting things to say. We caught up with him during his appearance at famed-record emporium Amoeba Records and found out why he thinks Record Store Day is important and how a good record store has the same impact on a community as the legendary baseball stadiums of old.
VH1: What is the importance to you of Record Store Day and records in your life?
Chuck D: Well, coming from DJ culture, Record Store Day is essential for us because everything came out of the records. It’s more than being a fan. Growing up in the sixties, we had an understanding of records, from the 45 (7”single) to the 12,” as far as playing them, and in the ‘80s, when it came to the usage of them and the performance and the discovery of how to make records. Record Store Day is about the meaning of the store weathering the storm of accountants and lawyers having the final say so over the music, from a corporate conglomerate super standpoint. This is a balancing after all the smoke has cleared. Once again this is a revolutionary model. I was always encouraged by Eric Levin from Criminal Records, a fantastic revolutionary record store—to people like Kermit Henderson in Ohio and right here, the Amoeba. These are models where they actually say “It’s way beyond records.” This is something that’s actually a cultural gathering and understanding.
I liken independent record stores to the stadiums of baseball. For 60 years baseball had stadiums that were designed to the flow of the community and the town that they existed in. And then big business came along and said “Well, we can make these giant concrete epicenters that could fit 90,000 people and we can make more money and do it better and be bigger.” And so what became revolutionary all over again are places like Camden Yards in Baltimore that took its lead from Fenway Park and Rigley Field and said, “Okay, we’re going to be revolutionary in parks that actually have their own identity and characteristics.” Not to get long-winded about it and go off on a sports tangent, but these record stores are where we play and every particular record store has its own identity. This is where the musicians play and thrive. This is where the music lives. This is where the fans come to. The integration and the participation of it is important. The fan could become a musician in their own local scenario as well as the musician become a fan. It’s reciprocated. We use record stores as an extension of cultural gathering places, but there are also sonic libraries. You get more information at the record store than at the library. You go to the library and they don’t have a vast amount of recordings. They don’t have a vast amount of DVDs. They only have a vast amount of books on music. This is where you find it. So these are our ballparks.
What’s your favorite musical format?
I like them all. And I’m not offended when I see CD/LP/DL. People were actually afraid of MP3s and digital formats cannibalizing music. That’s the corporate viewpoint. You know, when the music is right and the artists are integrated into the community, nothing really cannibalizes anything. It’s all just looked upon as an addition. You look at EMI – when they built their new building, they chopped their vinyl pressing plants because they didn’t want anyone to have them because they were afraid somebody would actually cannibalize their new CD ventures. That’s stupid. That’s the mind and the attitude of a damn lawyer or accountant. And how stupid is that? So when MP3s came along people were like “Aw, man. Singles are taking over.” I said, “If you know the history of music, if you’re really a fan, you’ll know that this has happened before.” It’s no different than when people popped up with hundreds and thousands of companies selling 45s or when 12″ singles became popular.
Are you a big vinyl guy?
No, I like to make it and create it. I’m a big art guy. I don’t think that Record Store Day has to be vinyl day. The key to the beauty of these stores is that you can come here and be really satisfied with a lot of different aspects that are going on. I go to record stores, like Sal’s is up where I live, and I look for DVDs. I look at books. I get my books, I get my DVDs. I could also pick up, you know, something to drink there as well. The vinyl is in the store but it’s beyond that. Vinyl is a sonic poster. I’m into the art and the aesthetic of the art. As a matter of fact, I like the artistic aesthetic of jazz more than I like the music in many cases, same thing in some areas of folk music. I’m a big Elektra Records fan. I like the aesthetic about Elektra as opposed to all the sonics. There are some people who are going to pick up vinyl and records for different reasons. You know, there’s a difference between a turntable and a record player. And Crosley, which makes these record players now in abundance, a company that’s been around since the ‘30s, I think Powel Crosley was the guy that founded it. As a sports fan, I’d say, “Yeah, that’s Cincinnati Reds. They played at Crosley Field.” Powel Crosley was like the Henry Ford of electronics.
What do you think about the resurgence of vinyl? Why do you think younger music listeners are responding to it?
Sonic posters. I know that I’ve signed vinyl all over the earth. And when I’m signing it, it’s a sonic poster that you have the option to play if you choose to. And it gives you much more. It’s like, why do people collect comic books, paintings, and stamps? All you can do with a comic book, painting, or a stamp is look at it or read it and be like, “Oh, okay.”
What Record Store Day releases are you looking forward to?
Quite a few. But we have something. The Evil Empire Of Everything (Public Enemy’s 2012 album) is coming out in vinyl. So we’re going to release that with the calendar and that’s going to be in conference with everything else. And Universal is also reissuing It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back. I’m cool with them these days. I’m on my best behavior. Maybe. (laughter)