Q: You’re fighting a good fight.
A: Like I said, we had a good blueprint in rock and roll. We’re the Rolling Stones of the rap game. I don’t know if Flav is Mick and I’m Keith or I’m Mick and Flav is Keith. I was five years old when they did “Satisfaction” and they didn’t make that song for me, but you know what? I grew up to that song and when I see the Rolling Stones in concert I want to see that song being played. I want to see “Brown Sugar.” I want to see “Start it Up.” You know? And we’re the same. We’re finding out in many countries around the world there’s a 13-year-old kid with a Public Enemy shirt. We started 12 years before he was born and they know the lyrics to the song and they relate. And they have access. That’s what’s different. They can check out every video on YouTube where 15 years ago a young Public Enemy fan would never see these videos unless it was on a DVD or videocassette sold to them, or MTV or BET had to play it. When Kanye West and Jay-Z does “Otis” people can go look at Otis Redding live on “American Bandstand.” The young today have tools to get into an artist from the past.
Q: That’s right. So even though the gatekeepers and the companies have little interest in them, there are in certain ways more opportunities now for older artists to be heard.
A: When you see a young person walk around with The Who on their shirt it’s not just an Old Navy thing. A lot of these kids are big fans. This person rolled up to me the other day, couldn’t have been older than 21, they were a total Roy Orbison fan. How do you explain it? Access to the visual-audio. Today we live in a visual-audio age, not an audio-visual age. When I was coming up and we first came out it was about the sound. The visual came afterwards, as a reminder. For the last 20 years it’s been about visual first and sonic second. Young people usually comment about what they’ve seen, not what they’ve heard.
Q: But isn’t that a disadvantage for older people? Don’t we by and large want to look at young, beautiful people?
A: I don’t know. That depends. Look at a guy like Rick Ross. Rick Ross looks like he’s 50 years old. It doesn’t matter. He’s exposed. When I was growing up there was a whole bunch. Ray Charles was 50-something years old. It didn’t matter.
Q: I feel like it’s different now, that the culture and the marketplace is skewing younger and younger.
A: That’s the laziness of companies thinking they can’t convince young people any other way.
Q: Right. They’re scared. And young and hot is a sure bet.
A: Of course. When a person goes to their Facebook page the number one star to them is themselves. So the music industry says we want to be a mirror, to have people reflect themselves, but “You’ve got to look this way,” “You’ve got to be this way,” that’s gonna hit a dead end, a wall, boom. It already is a dead end. Everything they do, it’s not profitable.
Q: Do you have a to-do list? Is there anything you’d like to accomplish that you haven’t yet done?
A: Yeah, I’d like to have rap music and hip-hop as strong as rock and roll.
Q: What do you mean by strong?
A: Its own infrastructure. Its own rules and standards. The ability to make the person checking it out say that’s the greatest show on earth. The ability to reflect and also make change. The ability to make people say, “I want to be a rap recording artist,” and have people stop looking at it as a quick hustle. Any time you look at anything as a quick hustle and a quick way to make a buck it’s sure to have a diminishing return. I want people to look at it as a long, elaborate career.