As a member of Public Enemy, Chuck D has produced such landmark albums as Fear of a Black Planet and It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back . These days, though, the rap artist has turned his attention from making music to making it available on the Web. Chuck D’s wired activities include an online record label, SlamJamz; an Internet radio station, bringthenoise.com; and Rapstation.com, an MP3, streaming-video, and hip-hop news site. And he uses Macs to stay on top of it all.
Q: How did you get introduced to computers?
A: Computers have always been a major part of the recording process. Digital technology allows you to overstep the demonstration stage. Instead of making a demo for someone, you could make records. It was the beginning of looking at things on a digital tip. Our studios are all Power Macs.
Q: How did you get into using Macs?
A: Everything I learned about graphics I learned at Adelphi University in New York. I graduated in 1984. And everything I learned in college was obsolete by 1990. I had to relearn everything on the Mac, through Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. When the G3 came out, I jumped on it like a rabid dog. I want a DVD player, but I’d have to get a new laptop, and I don’t want to because the G3 is like a piece of my hip. Mainly I use it to create album covers for the artists I represent. I’m always traveling between my studios in Long Island [New York], Atlanta, and Anaheim Hills [California], so I can do everything on the plane. I’ve gotten fast. I can do covers – in the past it might have taken me three days. Now I’m down to 15 minutes. Macs are the clearest example of how to project music and art. Running [SlamJamz] off a laptop is a beautiful thing.
Q: What kind of software do you use now?
A: I use Photoshop [and] Illustrator 5.0. Photoshop 3.0, back when it was OK, I could see it getting better. Photoshop 6.0 might be better, but hey, I’ve got everything I need with 5.0.
Q: Tell me about SlamJamz.
A: I’m trying to make it what [the] Blue Note [label] was to jazz. I’m trying to make it the Blue Note of hip-hop. We don’t sign artists, we sign masters. We have 20 artists and 32 masters. We try to recognize the underacknowledged and the undiscovered. There’s some gems out there. You figure rap music isn’t as organized as it should be anyway, but that’s good for me because there might be someone in Ohio who’s as good as someone in New York. Rapstation.com also has 150 videos. We can play the videos no one else is playing.
Q: What are you trying to accomplish with Internet radio at bringthenoise.com?
A: We have ten shows. I do two radio shows, When the S * * * Hits the Fans and Beats, Rhymes and Life. The beauty of Internet radio is that we can do one hour of programming a day. We don’t need to program 24 hours. If the show starts at 9 p.m., and you’re on the road at 8:45, you don’t need to bust your ass to get home. You can listen to it whenever you want.
Q: The big challenge facing everyone is how to make the Internet pay. Have you learned anything about making money online?
A: It’s very important to realize you can’t be everything to everybody in the digital space. If you don’t recognize what we do and what we don’t do, we are never going to succeed. You have to look at the audience as being a potential partner. We don’t want people to come to the site and consume something. We’ve got to get them to come in and participate.
Q: So have you started making money yet?
A: Rapstation is moving into the realm of making profits throughout, mainly based on ad base. We have yet to get funding from anywhere. If we got $8 million, we could last five years and get into the black. At SlamJamz, if we can turn four or five of our masters around, into TV, advertising, video games, then I think we can be profitable.