The unusual degree Chuck D got before he became an icon
(Credit: Kim Metso)

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The unusual degree Chuck D got before he became an icon

Chuck D is a living legend and icon known for being part of the New York rap collective Public Enemy. Among other things, Public Enemy are most known for being one of the first crews to utilise hip-hop as a vehicle to address political issues. As a highly brazen and vocal artist, his revolutionary music and push for societal change left a permanent mark on hip-hop culture. He inspired those who came after him to challenge America’s status quo.

In 2022, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member chose to embark on a new journey. However, this go around, the rapper (real name Carlton Ridenhour) would use another skillset he possesses that few knew about; his ability to draw. On November 29th, 2022, Chuck D released his first fine art book, Livin’ Loud: ARTitation. All produced by Ridenhour, the portfolio featured an array of artworks that speak to the complex political issues addressed in his music.

Speaking with the online music publication Rock The Bells, the ‘Fight The Power’ rapper declared, “This is a great answer to the rest of my life. That’s the same way I started out.” Ridenhour possesses a Bachelors of Fine Art and a graphic design degree from Adelphi University. In fact, the musician used his graphic design degree when he was part of Public Enemy. Ridenhour was the mastermind behind the Public Enemy logo.

The New York native revealed that he’s always sketched things around him, but only within the last decade did he decide to embrace his artistic side again fully. In the interview, Ridenhour explained, “I didn’t fully get back into my art bag until maybe 2015. I wanted to develop myself as an artist. My thing is, I’m not a painter. I’m an illustrator, and I do illustrations. I wanted to train and work on my illustration speed, like courtroom illustrators. I call it courtroom speed. But once upon a time, you couldn’t take a camera in a courtroom. So the illustrator had to go in there, map out the figures, map out the courtroom and get across to the news station for airing. So technology has made that easier.”

Further delving into how creating art today is different to when he did it in the 1980s, Chuck insisted that “Social media has made it easier. The advantage of social media is that you can work quickly, and then you can upload. So the same impact that it made in music, has even made more of an impact when it comes down to the arts because art is visual and people operate on social media where sight is even more important than the sound.”

Beyond political sketches, Livin’ Loud includes over 250 illustrations, including drawings of James Brown, Woody Guthrie, Run-DMC, Ice Cube, Run The Jewels, and Beastie Boys, as well as figures from the worlds of baseball and basketball. Speaking on his abilities, Ridenhour proclaimed, “I’m pretty diverse. I don’t sell myself, and I’m a very private person, so I’m not going to be up there like, ‘OK. I got this food. Here’s a picture of it.’ I’m not on Instagram, and I’m not on Facebook. We come from a world of the last century where you had to do real things in real-time, for real people, face to face and eye to eye. You couldn’t get caught up in the screen, but everybody is on the screens today. This is one of the reasons why my art works is because people are fixated by what they see.” 

The rapper explained growing up, he was influenced by Jean-Michel Basquiat and other New York graffiti artists. In the video below, you can watch Chuck D speaking on how he is an artist before a rapper.