September 29, 2000

Chuck D. Praises Napster

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“I’m talking about the future of online music sharing, and your school is right smack dab in the middle of it.” Wearing a backwards baseball cap, a sweatshirt and cargo pants, Chuck D addressed a full Statler Auditorium last night and made his position clear from the start.

“Napster’s a great thing,” said the former rap star.

D openly criticized, made fun of and ultimately condemned the music business for what he sees as its greed and its unresponsiveness to new technology.

“The first thing they want to do is to attack some college kids … and not understand the technology,” D remarked. “The recording industry knows they can get kids to pour out that expendable income.”

“EMI thinks that people will download an EMI album for $17.99. They must be fucking crazy.”

“It’s over,” he said, referring to record companies’ dominance in distribution of music.

D is a former member of the rap group Public Enemy, which had a string of critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Public Enemy often addressed contentious issues in its lyrics, so D is no stranger to speaking out about controversial issues.

Since Public Enemy’s break-up in 1995, D has become known as a preeminent rap and hip hop historian, and he has lectured at close to 400 universities in the past ten years.

In attacking the recording industry, D detailed his vision of online music as eventually replacing the industry’s stronghold on music distribution.

“I got into the ‘net as a necessity. I wanted to help build a parallel industry,” he said.

“[Technology] has pretty much equipped … the start-up company to sell directly to the [consumer] without the power player,” he added.

In his ideal system for distributing music, “you could be a participant in the music business. There are a million artists and a million labels participating on the Internet.”

D detailed his conviction that digital technology gives anyone who wants to make a record the ability to create “not just a demo, but an actual record.”

All of this music should be accessible to the public, he added.

“Yes, it could be called parasitic, [but] don’t you think that’s what the train industry said about the airline industry?”

D summed up his attitude by saying, “when times change, we adapt.”

He denounced artists like Metallica and Dr. Dre for their condemnation of Napster, saying that these artists are already multi-millionaires and should be thankful for their strong fan base.

He put it this way: “It’s a quick way of buying everyone a drink without taking them to a bar.”

The lawyers of Dr. Dre and Metallica, however, sent a letter to Cornell and 19 other universities two weeks ago requesting they ban Napster access on their servers. Cornell decided not to restrict access, but several universities, including Penn State followed the request.

D challenges the lawyers by firmly believing that “downloadable distribution is the future.”

He believes so firmly in that future that he has a financial stake in it.

“Trying to stop file sharing is like trying to stop the rain; and they’re trying to stop it,” he concluded.

“They cannot stop it.”

Archived article by Maggie Frank