Public Enemy is widely considered one of the most overtly political hip-hop groups ever. The collective was the precursor to political commentators such as 2Pac and the New York group mobilised African-Americans across the US with their conscious lyrics. Aside from N.W.A. on the West Coast, Public Enemy was one of the only hip-hop acts using their music as a vehicle for social commentary in the 1980s and changed their music is still relevant to this day.
Comprised of Chuck D, Flava Flav, and Terminator X, the collective was lethal, and their discography is rich and vast. However, one of their singles is particularly interesting and has a compelling message.
Released in 2007, ‘Long and Whining Road’ was an exclusive track that appeared on How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul? The ensemble’s 20th-anniversary project. The song’s title references a long road of American counterculture music that existed before the creation of hip-hop.
Primarily written by Chuck D, the song pays homage to many artists who have challenged America’s status quo with their music, notably Bob Dylan. ‘Long Whining Road’ is built upon several Bob Dylan quotes and themes the singer has previously explored. In an interview with Westword magazine, when asked about the track, the collective’s frontman Chuck D (real name Carl Ridenhour) explained how he wanted to use a different and more exciting method of lyrical delivery by rapping through another figure.
Explaining his intent, Ridenhour elaborated, “You can use the vocabulary and the words to be creative. So I just wanted to tell the story of Public Enemy referencing Dylan titles, almost like an Easter egg discovery type of thing.” He continued, “And also, you know, Dylan was a spokesperson of a generation, as I guess people have said I was, and I thought it would be interesting.”
In previous interviews, such as a 2001 interview with Edna Gunderson of USA Today, Ridenhour has expressed his love for Bob Dylan, declaring, “He is stencilled on a lot of aspects of my career. His ability to paint pictures with words and his concerns for society. He taught me to go against the grain.”
The emcee has opened up about more than just Dylan and has admitted that he sees himself and Public Enemy as just a link in a long chain of culturally impactful artists longer than hip-hop. From Paul Robeson to Belafonte, Marvin Gaye, and others, Chuck D has always seen himself as just another piece of the puzzle.
You can hear the Bob Dylan-oriented track ‘Long and Whining Road’ in the video below.