Chuck D on Public Enemy’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction: 'It’s not ever really been about us'

No nation could ever hold Public Enemy back.

Proving its reign supreme, the rap legends will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Thursday, one of only four hip-hop acts ever to make the cut.

The award will be presented by Harry Belafonte at a ceremony in Los Angeles, and brings Public Enemy into an elite selection of artists (including The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys and Buddy Holly) who were inducted in their first year of eligibility.

Thus, it solidifies hip-hop’s imprint in music history.

It’s bigger than hip-hop

“It’s not ever really been about us, it’s about how we can actually forward the genre, so we take this very seriously,” Chuck D tells theGrio at a special event held by the Grammy Museum to commemorate the group’s honor. “I don’t think we’ve ever been popular. We’ve been kind of begrudgingly accepted. I tell people all the time, if we didn’t get a chance to get our passport in 1987 and leave this country, Public Enemy wouldn’t have lasted 26 years as a cultural group that set the stage. We come from Roosevelt, Long Island, that’s a lot of what this whole thing is about.”

In truth, Public Enemy strove to harvest the controversial. The group, which consists of Chuck, Flavor Flav, Terminator X, DJ Lord, and Professor Griff, was ill with a purpose, built on brutal honesty, anti-assimilation, and pro-black political crusades to decry public opinion.

When the government was silent, Public Enemy was blaring. When the public required sophistication, Public Enemy dictated in poetic verse. And when the youth sought novelty, Public Enemy was as fresh as graffiti on the side of their buildings.

“We represent a lot of things to a lot of people across the world, who are looking at these moments,” says Chuck. “The question is what do we do with these moments, and how does this better the environment that gave us a platform to be able to make changes in peoples’ lives with the gift of music?”

Gaining acceptance without the radio

Public Enemy first hit the mic with 1987’s Yo! Bum Rush The Show. Though they took awhile to gain widespread attention, they went on to release 14 albums, and were ranked 44th on Rolling Stone’s list of 100 greatest artists of all time.

Further attesting to their legacy, Public Enemy innovated the art of rap production. Through their producing team, The Bomb Squad, Public Enemy revolutionized sampling by expanding what was possible for scratch techniques.

Yet success always hinged on their ability to be heard.