Dave Chappelle, ‘Americaz Nightmare’ (Originally Published October 2004)

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What do you get when the funniest man on the planet, Dave Chapelle, sits down with five of his favorite MCs? A hilarious-but also thought-provoking conversation about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Moderated By: Dave Chapelle
Produced By: Vanessa Satten And Bonsu Thompson
Images By: Jonathan Mannion

Dave: The reason I gathered you guys in particular is because I feel like it’s an interesting time in the history of our culture. Jesus had a hit movie this year. A documentary just grossed $100 million. I just think, culturally, it’s a very dynamic time, and I’m honored to be sitting around with some of the most dynamic people in the arts. In the midst of this time here, you all have been known, for one reason or another, to do things unconventionally. So I wanna talk to you about your music, about why you do it that way. And just to let you know: I’m a fan of everybody, so I’m not intending to be objective. I’m just curious. I wanna know why you’re taking the road less traveled, and how it’s working out.

Talib: When hip-hop first became a real part of my life, speaking about what’s going on in the community, and speaking about what’s going on in the world in general, was something that you had to do. The people you found at the top of the game—whether it was Ice Cube or KRS-One or Rakim or Big Daddy Kane—there was always something spiritual and something social about what they was bringing to the table. It never sacrificed being dope or being fresh. So to me that was just a part of what being fresh was. That’s why I always tend to say now, the reason why you might fuck with artists like us is not necessarily because of what we’re bringing to the table consciously, but because we dope first. The music feels good and sounds good. There’s a lot of people who are saying a lot of positive things but it doesn’t always sound good. I think that in these times that, yeah, the documentary [Fahrenheit 9/11] was number one and
the Jesus movie [The Passion Of The Christ] was number one, but these are things that are extremely well done on an artistic side.

Dave: But you recognize that might not be the normal M.O., or the normal approach?

Common: It might not be normal, but if somebody don’t say something to change what’s going on right now, if Jesus don’t get up and dig the mic right now, it’s gonna be trouble. It’s gonna be hell to pay in a minute. There’s no other road to travel than what we’re doing. Normal is what? It’s how you make it. It’s how you see it.

Dave: So where do you guys feel yourself fitting into the larger American culture?

Kanye: Hip-hop will go through its phases. It’ll go through a Public Enemy phase and everybody will rap like that. And then Onyx come out and people wanna rap like that. So certain things were a trend and I feel like, especially with the success of my song “Jesus Walks,” it will be a trend for people who might not particularly believe in the whole Jesus movement, just ’cause they feel like that’s what’s hot to do in hip-hop. Me and Common talked about that. We don’t want people to bite, but then maybe it’s good to have a trend of positive music.

Talib: I think you made the song ’cause it was necessary for you to make it. In the song you say, “Here goes my single/radio needs this.” So you was already speaking truth to power and you made the song two years ago, like, “I’ma make this song and I gotta make it, ’cause this is what my soul is telling me. And if I make it, I want niggas to play it.” I think what dead prez does is necessary. I think that’s where I see my place in the culture, as doing what’s necessary. Putting it down not because it’s fly and not because it gets me paid, but like he said, you need to do it. Somebody needs to do it.

Common: My daughter was singing “Jesus Walks”—“God show me the way because the Devil’s trying to break me down.” And when she said that to me, I felt good. Like, this is what I want her to be singing. I want her to be singing something about God and feel good about it. And for us to be able to do that for the children and for our communities… I can speak for all of us—we all wanna bring our people together and bring a consciousness to music that is necessary. We got a platform. Why we gonna sit there and not say nothing? I started this rap shit with no money.

M-1: Even still, with money—when we get our money we all relate to it. How do we relate to the US culture? The same way I do. I’m a Black man living in Brooklyn. Now, it’s some White people in Missouri that can relate to the shit that I’m talking too, ’cause of money. But they end of the stick and my end of the stick is two different things. They seen our struggles for money and we see theirs—as that thing that comes on—Friends or whatever—on Saturday nights at 7:00 p.m. That’s why we relevant. That’s why we have to be able to say, I gotta show you who M-1 is. You gotta show me who Common Sense is, ’cause other than that, they will have to be forced to accept us as one icon. And more and more the icon don’t even express what we doing, really.

Kanye: To represent a voice that can’t be heard loud enough, that’s my point. There was fans out there and nobody was speaking for that person or representing them properly. It made those people look like they were super lame. I thought it was ill in Kill Bill Volume 2, when [David Carradine] was talking about how Superman’s idea of a regular person was a Clark Kent, a super nerd. That’s kind of like how they would make a person out to be in comparison to the rappers that was out. So if you come out and show flaws to fans that can relate to… I’m almost like the closest thing that you’re gonna get to that on MTV, because, like, MTV bleeped out, “The White man get paid off all that.” And you know that was a mistake on they part.

M-1: That’s a curse word. Don’t say that. That’s like saying “fuck,” “shit” and “ass.” [Laughs]

Kanye: [They] let us say a bunch of bullshit that’s downing Black people, but if you say something that might be true…

Talib: That ain’t even no bullshit.

Dave: Wait a minute, you mean that White people are getting paid off of hip-hop? [Laughs]

Talib: But I think it’s honesty—that’s an artist’s responsibility. It’s to relate to people. But you don’t relate to them by bringing them what you think they want. If you bring them what you think they want, or what they’re asking for, they gonna see through that and they gonna move on to the artist they think is talented.

Dave: Is it a fine line to walk between being honest and doing what you feel and eating?

M-1: You gotta be who you are. You can put on a character and that’s all good for entertainment. You just gotta really understand what you doing. That fine line is: don’t be nobody but you. Just be honest about who that is. But there’s always this shit in front of the camera.

Dave: There’s private life and public.

M-1: If you act like you gonna vote for George Bush in the public and vote for John Kerry… I don’t wanna vote for either one, but I’m just saying—if that’s who you are, then do it.

Common: It’s all up to the person. I can never hold anybody else responsible for that. I ain’t gonna get all into my personal if I’m voting or not, but I can say that I wanna make a difference in this country. We know ain’t nobody running for us, but we have seen a difference between someone where they got a little love for the oppressed—which is a Bill Clinton—compared to a Bush. But it still ain’t what exactly we need in that office. My homies at the crib trying to keep they job feel the difference.

Talib: Politics is a strange animal, because I think that in order for any change to happen it has to happen on every level. Politics is set up to look like—especially to the people in our position—that it doesn’t work and it’s not relevant. I can go ahead and say shit seemed better under Bill Clinton, but I could also remember what politics tried to do to remove Bill Clinton. And all that time and effort they spent on cum stains is what I saw on the television around Clinton’s presidency. The political climate felt better, but it was still the same power struggles.