Dave Chappelle, ‘Americaz Nightmare’ (Originally Published October 2004)
Kanye: Only an idiot won’t change after they’ve learned something. I learned if you walk with a red light, you’ll get hit by a car. Are you gonna do it tomorrow?
M-1: Or you might be the dude that come out four in the morning, and look at the red light and be like, “Ain’t nobody coming down the street, I’m going today.”
Dave: The notion of two-dimensional people has been pushed to the degree. I can look inside of myself and see that that notion has a high possibility of being not just somewhat incorrect, but completely an impossibility. And if a person was consistent, they’d either be Jesus or evil incarnate. Nothing is that simple.
Common: What I wanna say, Dave, is—’cause y’all been on that point—that’s what I’ve been trying to enforce throughout my little growth as an artist, as a person. We humans. People come to me like, “Why the fuck you dressing like that? Why you rapping about love?” I’m a person, man. I hurt like the next person may hurt. I wanna live well like the next person. I look at big asses and I be wanting to touch it.
Dave: Oh my God. Common likes asses! [Laughs]
Common: But the point is that I’m human. I used to look at the gangstas and I wouldn’t listen to they albums because I’d be like, “That’s all I’m hearing from them.” But I really didn’t notice that some of they other songs would be saying other stuff. All I was getting from them was talking about how they was shooting niggas or how much money they had. And they albums had more stuff on it I didn’t really go look for, ’cause I didn’t know.
Dave: Do we believe in the ideals that we saying, or the fact? This narrow brush that a person is painting with, this onedimensional brush that this person is painting with, is almost dehumanizing. I deal with stereotype on my show. And that’s why I stereotype, because there’s layers of a person in the stereotype. Me just liking fried chicken is not the enemy— there’s a lot more to me. And for the record: I like fried chicken. I will never feel bad about it. It’s one of the best-tasting things. I don’t even think it’s a matter of debate. Does that make me less of a person? I’ll give you another example: Richard Pryor said that when he was living in Oakland, he used to snort cocaine at parties with Huey Newton. Does that make Huey Newton’s message any less valid? Martin Luther King used to have threesomes according to one FBI guy. Does that mean, because he cheated on his wife, that integration isn’t a good idea?
Kanye: See, God could send you a message in the form of a goat.
Dave: He could send you a message to talk in the form of two-ply.
Talib: Perfection is imperfect. That’s why no one wants to vote. That’s why no one believes in politics, because in order to be at the level where you can get a vote for President, you gotta be so safe and so whitewashed that you don’t stand for nothing. I would even argue that it’s good that King was doing his dirt, ’cause my experience in school is that Martin Luther King was kind of corny. It was all about Malcolm X. I went to an African Center school when I was young, and it was like, King? He’s cool, he’s for peace and everything. But Malcolm X was that real shit. And then you grow up and become a man, and you learn more about King as a person and you’re like, Oh, he was a human being! Oh, he liked pussy! Oh, sometimes he contradicted himself!
Common: An example of difference is somebody like Tupac, who was able to hit so many people, ’cause people could relate to him. His passion and the way he was coming at it… Like what Kwe was saying about Martin Luther King, where he might not have been able to relate to him originally because he didn’t see that side. Tupac gave that side, like, “Look, I’m a nigga straight up. I might kick the ‘Dear Mama’ song, ’cause I’m a human being, but I’m also feeling this anger too, because the system got me like this. And I also drink and do these things.” It’s certain people that the audience connects themselves with, and he was one of them.
Dave: Look at how times is changing. We mourn the loss of, violent murders of, two of the biggest rap stars that we’d ever seen. People adored them. And they were both gunned down within a year of each other—and in the most public of places. And if that shit had happened to Elvis or anything… that’s like watching the World Trade Center fall. It makes you feel unsafe. This nigga got killed on the strip in Vegas on fight night. He got killed right after the Soul Train Awards. Aren’t the police out there? Now, this has a tremendous psychological effect.
Now, fast-forward. The biggest rapper gets retired. Retired? How much money did he have? Did they rob him like Motown? Fuck no! The nigga’s working on buying a ball team. That’s a change. He’s rapped with dead prez. He’s said some of the most realistic shit I’ve ever heard, and some of the most revolutionary shit. I said it before in a magazine: I’ll listen to a Jay-Z record before I take a meeting with White corporate execs. Why? Because that attitude gets me amped. I go in the office: “Allow me to reintroduce myself!…” Because I’m sitting across the table from people that may—because of where I come from in society—perceive me as less. At the same time, all the other dudes at the table looking at me like, “If you came from where I came from, you might not be seated on that side. We might not have made this for you.” So who knows?! Shit is changing.
Listen man, I’ve never seen a cable show as hot as my show. I have developed 11 television series for network television, all of which failed with the biggest producers Hollywood had. They don’t understand these conventions of this medium that we call television. “All you do is travel around the country and tell people jokes.” Exactly. So they give me a show. It’s on cable, it’s on a network that doesn’t bring in big numbers and it has no crossover. But look what happened that last couple of years. So you can call it arrogant or whatever…
Kanye: You can’t call it arrogant. That’s something else. ’Cause if you state a fact, a fact about something that you worked so hard at…
Dave: Why can’t I say my show’s my favorite? Like I have to say it’s The Sopranos instead of saying I like the shit that I work on 20 hours a day. Nigga, I created my own favorite babies, too. I mean come on, man! I’m not objective about it. I’m not gonna pretend to be objective about this shit.
Kanye: If [The College Dropout] was my favorite album of all time, I would definitely say it. You don’t have to worry about that from me. That’s what I do. Are we supposed to be that unintelligent that we can’t state the facts at a risk of coming off arrogant?
Dave: In Hollywood they always talk about what the definition of cool is. To give it a real short definition, I say anybody that is courageous enough to authentically, in one respect or another, be themselves when that is not necessarily the normal modus operandi, that’s beyond cool. A person like this is magnetic. They’re never forgotten and they’ll be famous in whatever circle they are. “What is this Muhammad Ali? How dare this nigga raise his hand and say he’s the greatest?” Muhammad Ali would sit there, “I’m beating the shit outta these guys. I’m getting bored.” It’s early in his career. And when he stepped to the federal government, the thing that nobody ever talks about is that this was a 22-year-old dude. What were you like when you were 22? Imagine, the most powerful government in the world is leaning on you, a 22-year-old nigga. He took the weight. Gained the championship three times. The world will never forget him. He said he was the greatest first. And now everybody in America—Black and White—refers to him as the greatest. And at that point in his life, people hated him.
Kanye: My grandmother hated him. My grandfather loved him.
Dave: I read some shit where Jackie Robinson said about Ali [something to the effect of], “He’s an ingrate. After all this country’s done for him, he should go back and fight for this country in Vietnam.” And now I’m watching [Errol Morris’ Oscar-winning 2003 documentary] The Fog Of War, and the Secretary of Defense during Vietnam [Robert McNamara] saying, “Oh, that shit was a mistake. Portionality in war should be a guideline from now on. Because we lost 58,000 Americans for three and a half million Vietnamese.” What did we gain? What did they gain? It turns out that we were fighting for two completely different reasons and we didn’t even understand each other. So in essence, Muhammad Ali was absolutely right. A 22-year-old nigga from the heartland of America knew better than the Secretary of Defense. Secretary of Defense is 88, just said that publicly.
Maybe, just maybe, you should listen to your youth. If your youth says, “We don’t like it,” then just talk to them about it. Just try to understand it. Don’t hate them for it. Don’t think that you do it a better way. Just listen to them. You know why? Because you can’t fight changes. You can stop a rose from growing if you nip it in the bud, but you can’t stop the stream from flowing, and you cannot stop the flood. I’m out. Thanks everybody.