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Carlton Ridenhour (Chuck D)

Carlton Ridenhour (Chuck D)

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Also Known As: Carlton Douglas Ridenhour Died:
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One of the most commanding voices in hip-hop, Chuck D was the frontman for the politically charged rap group Public Enemy, which drew acclaim and controversy in the late 1980s and early 1990s for their fiery social rhetoric on songs like "Don't Believe the Hype," "Fight the Power" and "By the Time I Get to Arizona." Chuck's stentorian voice brought force and conviction to the group's intense sonic palette and politically charged lyrics; with sidekick Flavor Flav providing offbeat, occasionally sardonic counterpoint, he helped to make Public Enemy not only one of the most successful hip-hop acts of the decade, but also spurred other acts to pursue more serious subjects in their music, including the Roots, Ice Cube, Queen Latifah and A Tribe Called Quest, as well as countless rock and alternative bands. Public Enemy's momentum ran out in the mid-1990s, but Chuck kept the group alive through a variety of small label releases, while cultivating a second career as an author, lecturer and media commentator. His best work with Public Enemy preserved his status as a pioneer in socially conscious popular music.Born Carlton Douglas Ridenhour in Roosevelt, Long Island, NY on Aug. 1, 1960, Chuck D was the son of...

One of the most commanding voices in hip-hop, Chuck D was the frontman for the politically charged rap group Public Enemy, which drew acclaim and controversy in the late 1980s and early 1990s for their fiery social rhetoric on songs like "Don't Believe the Hype," "Fight the Power" and "By the Time I Get to Arizona." Chuck's stentorian voice brought force and conviction to the group's intense sonic palette and politically charged lyrics; with sidekick Flavor Flav providing offbeat, occasionally sardonic counterpoint, he helped to make Public Enemy not only one of the most successful hip-hop acts of the decade, but also spurred other acts to pursue more serious subjects in their music, including the Roots, Ice Cube, Queen Latifah and A Tribe Called Quest, as well as countless rock and alternative bands. Public Enemy's momentum ran out in the mid-1990s, but Chuck kept the group alive through a variety of small label releases, while cultivating a second career as an author, lecturer and media commentator. His best work with Public Enemy preserved his status as a pioneer in socially conscious popular music.

Born Carlton Douglas Ridenhour in Roosevelt, Long Island, NY on Aug. 1, 1960, Chuck D was the son of Lorenzo Ridenhour, a furniture storeowner and political activist, and his wife, Judy. Young Carlton was an exceptional student at Roosevelt Junior-Senior High School, and received an architecture scholarship to study graphic design at Adelphi University. There, he met and befriended fellow students Bill Stephney and Hank Shocklee, who shared his love of music and politics and with whom he co-hosted a hip-hop show on the school's radio station, WBAU. Shocklee was also experimenting with his own hip-hop tracks, and enlisted Chuck to rap over a track called "Public Enemy No. 1," which caught the attention of Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin. Chuck was initially reluctant to accept Rubin's offer of a contract with Def Jam, but soon developed an idea for a socially conscious hip-hop collective that would comment on African-American issues through their songs. He soon recruited Shocklee, his brother Keith, and Eric "Vietnam" Sadler, who worked together as The Bomb Squad, to craft the group's dense signature sonic collage, while Stephney served in a variety of capacities, including producer and publicist. To the dismay of Def Jam, Chuck also brought college friend William Drayton, who rapped under the stage name of Flavor Flav, as the group's hype man and comic foil to Chuck's more serious style. With the addition of DJ Terminator X and Richard Griffin, who acted as both road manager and security-chief-cum-dance-team frontman Professor Griff, Public Enemy was born.

From the moment they released their debut album, 1987's Yo! Bum Rush the Show, Public Enemy became a lightning rod within the hip-hop community, drawing equal praise and condemnation for their highly politicized, sonically aggressive material. Initial dismissal by the mainstream media following a tour with labelmates the Beastie Boys and Run-D.M.C. in 1987 turned to praise with the release of their second album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988), which reached the Top 50 on the Billboard albums chart on the strength of such powerhouse tracks as "Don't Believe the Hype" and "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos." Chuck was hailed as a new and potent voice in hip-hop, but critics were also keen to pore over the group's lyrics, which appeared to contain racially charged, anti-Semitic and homophobic references, and their support of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

In 1990, the group released their most accomplished record, Fear of a Black Planet, which reached the Top 10 on the mainstream albums chart. Chuck's booming, authoritative vocals drove such classic tracks as "Welcome to the Terrordome" and "Fight the Power," which gained further exposure through its usage in Spike Lee's film "Do the Right Thing" (1989). But with the rise to fame also came increased media criticism, most notably over condemnation of American icons Elvis Presley and John Wayne on "Fight the Power" and lyrics referencing Jesus and "the chosen" on "Terrordome," which were construed as anti-Semitic statements. The group was further pilloried after Griff made comments in a interview which blamed Jews for the world's ills; Chuck found himself under fire from both the mainstream and hip-hop communities for firing Griff over the statements, then rehiring him, which caused Public Enemy to briefly disband. When the group reunited shortly thereafter, Griff was gone, but the stigma of his statements continued to hang over Public Enemy.

Public Enemy rebounded with Apocalypse '91 The Enemy Strikes Black (1991), which became their highest-charting album then to date by reaching No. 4 on the Billboard albums chart. It too was widely praised by critics, especially for the tracks "By the Time I Get to Arizona," which took on state governments that refused to observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and "Bring the Noise," a remake of an early track that saw the group attempt to connect with its growing white audience by recording with hardcore metal act Anthrax. A high-profile opening slot for U2 on their Zoo TV tour gave them their widest exposure to date, but the dates were marred by criticism over pandering to white audiences and Flav's repeated legal and substance troubles. By the following year, Public Enemy had lost much of its momentum. Terminator X left the group after a serious motorcycle accident, and their 1994 album Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age was savaged by critics. Sensing that Public Enemy had lost its relevancy, Chuck retired the group from touring and focused on his own efforts. His solo debut album, The Autobiography of Mistah Chuck (1996) , was released to modest acclaim, while a book of the same title was published the following year. Chuck also flirted briefly with acting, most notably in the widely condemned comedy "An Alan Smithee Film" (1997), but focused his efforts largely on music and socio-political commentary through a variety of mediums, most notably Rapstation.com, which offered television and radio programming by prominent hip-hop musicians, as well as free music file sharing, which became one of his primary causes in the years that followed.

In 1998, Chuck reconvened most of the original Public Enemy lineup to record the soundtrack for Spike Lee's feature "He Got Game." The album was widely regarded as a comeback for the group, but they soon ran afoul of their own label after Def Jam nixed Chuck's desire to release their music for free via Internet downloads. Public Enemy soon parted ways with Def Jam and released their seventh album There's a Poison Goin' On as MP3 files before the CD's physical release through the Atomic Pop label in 1999. Public Enemy continued to release new and live material over the next decade, largely to minor acclaim, while Chuck parlayed his status as a leading figure in hip-hop into secondary and tertiary careers as an essayist, radio host for Air America, and frequent commentator on music, civil rights and peer-to-peer file sharing. Artists ranging from Sonic Youth and Henry Rollins to John Mellencamp, Janet Jackson and Meat Loaf also frequently tapped him to lend his still-formidable vocals to a wide variety of songs.

By Paul Gaita

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CAST: (feature film)

4.
 Quilombo Country (2008)
6.
 Rock the Bells (2006)
7.
 Fuck (2005)
8.
9.
 Backstage (2000)
10.
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