RS: A lot of [rock fans] would view hip-hop and rap as “the enemy,” that it’s what’s keeping rock off the airwaves. What is your reaction to that kind of viewpoint?
WC: Rap is a form of rock. Like it or not. Like it or not. It’s… you can’t leave out the politics of music. Hendrix happened out of certain types of experiences in America. You know, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, happened out of a certain experience in America. It’s art and it’s genius put into this very interesting situation. So rap happened politically, academically around the 80s, when this country was being run by Ronald Reagan and in our communities all the music and art programs were being taken out. He was closing that stuff off. My generation, when I grew up, I could play in church, I could play at the local pub, I could play in my friend’s garage, I could play in small little venues in my community, before I ventured into Manhattan and played at a bigger venue. I could pick an instrument at school… all these things were available to me. Two generations after me, it was gone. By the time I got into high school, the programs were shut down.
So you had many brilliant minds… middle class, low income neighborhoods with no way to express themselves. For guys who didn’t play basketball or also liked to play guitar, bass, and sing. Rap was just music. Number one, it didn’t exclude anyone. Number two, they had to put the energy out. So in a sense, it was almost an inner-city form of punk. Because initially it talked about political things. It wasn’t b—hes and hos and yo motherf—er. That wasn’t how rap started out. Or who’s better than you. It was talking about politics, this is happening, or have a little bit of fun, or hanging out. Or being the best rapper in the neighborhood… but that came out of an experience.
So it’s not rock or anything but had there been more options, I think, in America, especially in the inner cities in America, Chcago, New York, Detroit and so on, L.A., I think if those institutions would have existed, rock would have grown even wider than it already was with some of those young musicians, because when I started to tour, I met Run DMC, Public Enemy, Rakim… all of those guys were into rock and roll. If you go to their house they all had Led Zeppelin records, they had Emerson Lake and Palmer records, they all had Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Kansas, believe it or not, they owned all of those same records. So the idiom would have grown larger had they had the opportunity to. But politically a lot of these got shut down. So, yes, they owned the turntable and they owned the microphone. And they made that their new guitar and their new bass and their new drum set and their new trombone and their new saxophone. And the irony of it is, it became exponentially, insanely popular. And no one included that into the mix. Everybody thought it was going to be local neighborhood music, but it changed the world. And I’m proud that it’s from my neighborhood.