Chuck D is the frontman for rap group Public Enemy, and an outspoken supporter of Napster.
Tell me why you support Napster.
Napster’s the new radio — radio of the 21st Century. I just think it develops a whole new paradigm, and there’s no legitimate proof it cuts into the traditional market for music.
I have the belief that 95 percent of music is free for fans now anyway. Only five percent of music is bought, and that five percent drives the music business. Right now, the industry has always prided itself on driving on the enthusiasm of the audience. Now they’re having to fight against the enthusiasm of the audience. Now, for the first time, the fans have gotten the technology before the industry.
What do you think of Metallica and other big acts who have filed suit against Napster?
I think too much of the music industry is for the lawyer and accountant mentality. Metallica, they shouldn’t be getting into that lawyer or accountant mentality. I think most of the people who download Metallica music online are fans who are also buying their music in the stores.
How is free music on the Web going to change the music business?
You’re going to see the global distribution of music, which is something the music industry promised but never could deliver. I think you’re going to see people selling music for a lot cheaper — it’s not going to be a certain set price for music. Downloadable music is the biggest musical phenomenon since the Beatles, and the music industry is slow to come to grips with that.
I think the format of 12 songs on an album will go away. Who says an album has to be 12 songs, anyway? I think if you have four songs, that should be an album.
You have more music on the outside of the industry than on the inside, so fans will find a lot more music. There will be more money in the pot than ever before and there will be millions of hands in it. [Artists] are going to have to work a lot harder and not expect things to fall in their laps. Fat and happy rock n’ rollers are only a select few who are supported by the four major labels. The power of those four hands will be diluted by the power of a lot more hands.
Do you have any problem with a company like Napster making money off your music and not giving you a cut?
I don’t have any problem. I’ve signed with major labels and I haven’t had any control over the money. At least this way, I know I can take advantage of the exposure.
If everyone’s giving your music away, how are you going to survive as an artist?
We microfocus on a niche. There’s a multibillion-dollar market for rap around the planet. We take a niche that is underserved because TV and radio, they only take five percent of the market and bring it to the general audience. It isn’t what we choose to do — it’s what we choose not to do. We’re very focused.
I set up five major concert tours on the Web in the last two years. The day of the lazy artist is over, and I know how to make out. I have five studios. I have interests so this all works out for me.
The Internet music world gives a listener many more choices than the Wherehouse does. Do you think people have the chutzpah to make their own choices in this confusing Internet world?
I absolutely do believe they do. And that’s because music is not food, shelter or clothing. People aren’t going to spend $17 for a CD when they can get exactly the songs they want for $5, or for free. Now the people have got the technology first, and the industry is screaming foul.