Carlton Douglas Ridenhour, better known as Chuck D., is an American icon, famous rapper, author and producer.
Yet, I have never heard of the fifty-four year old American man. This made me question how on earth he could be considered an icon, even an American one, because the stereotypical American contemporary ‘icons’, the likes of Beyoncé, Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith are world-renowned, and yet Chuck D. was just a name I had heard once or twice – I would not exactly recognise him when I walked down the street. I would have put this down to my own naivety of celebrities and icons that do not directly affect me, but when I asked around literally no one had heard of this man. My family, my flatmates, my friends and even a student that lives in America had not heard of him.
I found this quite odd. How could no one have heard of a supposed American ‘icon’ to such an extreme scale? I realise that most of the people I asked were British, but if I had asked them the same about the icons listed earlier, a high percentage would know who I was talking about.
Public Enemy’s ground-breaking body of work established Chuck D. as one of the most intelligent, articulate spokesmen for the black community.
Chuck D. is actually an incredibly smart and intellectual man which is especially shown through his declination of the offer of an architecture scholarship so that he could pursue his own dreams and study graphic design. This small sign shows that he, in fact, is quite unlike the stereotypical rappers of today that rap about girls and partying just so that they can live the very lifestyle they rap about. His main influence lies in the genre of hip-hop after his involvement with Public Enemy and he is apparently known for his ‘distinct’ rapping voice above anything else. However, upon listening to some of his music, I found nothing out of the ordinary, though again that could just be the fault of my personal opinion as I do not ordinarily listen to much rap music.
During the mid-1980’s he helped to create politically and socially conscious rap music, a great alternative to the modern day rapping concerning partying, drinking and taking drugs. His music had actual meaning and he used his position of power to help to influence American society in a positive manner, which is portrayed through his countless television interviews as the way he speaks just oozes passion on the subject.
As the founder of Public Enemy, Chuck D. is one of the most colossal figures in the history of hip-hop, not to mention its most respected intellectual. He redefined hip-hop as music with a message, and his strident radicalism ushered in an era when rap was closely scrutinized for its content; although rap's primary concerns have changed over the years, its status as America's most controversial art form has only gotten stronger since Public Enemy hit the scene.
As mentioned in the article above, Chuck D. is considered to have “redefined hip-hop as music with a message” which links to my earlier point on his attempts to use his position of power to influence society positively. His songs contain social and political messages that help create a politically and socially conscious society. He is not like the other rappers of today in that he wants that ‘rich’ and ‘famous’ lifestyle, he genuinely wanted, and still wants to, make a positive difference in American society which, I feel, is the best way to define someone that should be considered an American contemporary icon.
Chuck D.’s legacy is secure enough to keep him a respected voice on the American cultural landscape.