Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Chuck D on Elvis Presley’s ‘Racist’ Legacy in New Doc ‘The King’

Rappers Flavor Flav (L) and Chuck D of Public Enemy perform onstage at the 2009 VH1 Hip Hop Honors at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on September 23, 2009 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Rappers Flavor Flav (L) and Chuck D of Public Enemy perform onstage at the 2009 VH1 Hip Hop Honors at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on September 23, 2009, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

*Public Enemy fans know exactly how Chuck D feels about Elvis Presley, as he famously rapped in “Fight the Power”: “Elvis was a hero to most/But he never meant s— to me/Straight up racist that sucker was/Simple and plain.” (Flavor Flav finished with the rhyme: “Motherf— him and John Wayne.”)

But in case you’re new to this, in the latest episode of “Shoot This Now,” filmmaker Eugene Jarecki explains how those lyrics made Chuck D the most vital person he interviewed with for his new film “The King.”

You can listen on Apple or via the player below.

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“The King” finds Jarecki on a musical road trip across the U.S. in Elvis Presley’s 1963 Rolls Royce during the 2016 presidential election, comparing Elvis’s transition from country boy to “The King” to America’s transformation into an empire.

When Chuck D agreed to an interview, Jarecki said, he had assumptions about what he might say, based on his lines in “Fight the Power.” But the rapper surprised him.

“Chuck D’s role in the film is unimaginably profound for me. I would say it’s the most important interview in the film… for a lot of reasons,” Jarecki says on the podcast. “I suppose I thought I would get a deep answer. But I could never have imagined the depth of Chuck D’s thinking on this matter because I had never heard anyone think so deeply on this matter.”

Jarecki added: “The way he thinks about what racism in that lyric means is far from what a superficial glance at the song might lead one to believe. Chuck has developed a way of understanding his outrage, which is a continuing outrage that any of us should feel about the crimes committed against Black America, and yet at the same time there’s an incredible magnanimity he actually has for Elvis as an artist.”

The creators behind the Elvis documentary toured the U.S. in search of Presley’s landmarks—in cities like Nashville, Memphis, New York, L.A., Las Vegas and his native Tupelo, Miss. Along the way, they welcomed insight from musicians and celebrity guests, including Alec Baldwin, Ethan Hawke and Emmylou Harris.

Watch the film’s trailer– including Chuck D delivering his famous lines–below.

Ny MaGee
Ny MaGee is a screenwriter and freelance reporter from Chicago -- currently living in Los Angeles and covering A-list entertainment for various outlets, including Emmys.com. She has worked for: Miramax, MTV & VH1, The Jim Henson Company, Hallmark Channel, Paramount Pictures, and for iconic indie film producer Roger Corman.

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