“Elvis was a hero to most/But he never meant sh*t to me you see/Straight up racist that sucker was/Simple and plain.”
He wasn’t afraid to call out racism then, and he’s not going to back down now. Rock & Roll Hall of Famer and Hip-Hop Icon Chuck D returned to his alma mater, Adelphi University, to talk about racism along with politics, hip-hop
1) Treat school like a business
When a young Chuck D first went to Adelphi, it wasn’t like high school. He couldn’t believe that he no longer needed permission to leave the classroom during a lesson. Learning this eventually led Chuck to miss class to the point where he almost got kicked out. As many college-goers know, professors, unlike teachers, aren’t breathing down your neck to make sure you do your homework. The dean gave the MC a second chance, and he ran with it, treating school as a business. When he flipped that switch, he excelled and graduated in 1984 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design.
2) Find your tribe
On his next go-round of college, there was not only a difference in Chuck D’s work ethic but who he was able to connect to. At first, he didn’t feel like he could really relate to anyone. When he found people he vibed with, they all came together to build up WBAU 90.3, the school’s student-run radio station that ran from 1972 to 1995. The station was unique because it highlighted hip-hop and gave a voice to others like him. By coming together and finding a steady group of people on the same wavelength, the “Fight the Power” rapper was able to fuse his creativity with others, produce something meaningful and be a part of something bigger than himself. This is where he met his colorful future groupmate, Flavor Flav.
3) Appreciate your roots
Chuck’s parents, Judy and Lorenzo Ridenhour, grew up together in Harlem. They were a hardworking, independent couple who ventured to Flushing, Queens and then Long Island in 1969 during the white flight with their children. When they came to Roosevelt, there were people from all over the boroughs who migrated to Long Island. It created a competitive environment. But at the same time, there was solidarity. The competitiveness in Roosevelt combined with his parents’ work ethic and willingness to let him become whoever he wanted, contributed to who he is now. It’s why even now, he’s still the same conscious, resilient and humble person he was back in the day. He is happy that he’s able to come back to Long Island to that same household in Roosevelt where he was raised and give back to the community.
4) We can’t downplay thinkers or doers
Everyone has a role to play in making the world better. Some people are thinkers, and have intelligence or a scholarly background. Others are doers, who are active and go for what they want. Some people are both. Chuck D said we need it all to crush issues like racism. Intelligence should not be treated as nerdy or “acting white,” because if you’re going to tackle a threat as deep-seeded and powerful as racism, or any other issues, you need people who have the education or wit to figure it out. Doers may not be the smartest of the bunch, but thinking without action behind it leads nowhere. Doers, as implied, get sh*t done.
5) Expand your horizon
Racism clearly reared its ugly head during and after the 2016 election. It seems as though every other day, a hate-filled terrorist is shooting up a synagogue or church. One solution the Long Island MC suggested was to invest in a passport and talk to different people around the world. That face-to-face human interaction can really awaken the mind to what’s going on outside of one’s bubble. That could mean traveling from one Long Island town to the next or from one country to the other. He said it can even inform people on what’s going on inside their own bubble. Chuck urges us to look back at not just U.S. history, but world history, and identity the racist patterns within it, so we don’t keep making the same mistakes.
Chuck D went from humble beginnings in Queens and Long Island to one of the most influential rappers in history. Along the way, he picked up a lot of life lessons. He learned that treating school like a business can make you rethink how you approach it. He also learned that while in college, and even thereafter, it’s important to have a solid tribe.
You also can’t lose that human connection, and those connections need to be made with people from different walks of life whether they’re doers, thinkers or both. He is also an example of why one should always appreciate and give back to the place that helped shape them.
If everyone can take on these life lessons from the bold and unapologetically fearless Chuck D, we can really cause a “Revolverlution,” and change the way we think and act for the better.