You were just recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Talk about what that experience was like.
Good. It's not just like we were honored for record of the year or album of the year. That stuff is just based on marketing by big record companies. This was something where they had to recognize us for the impact we've made musically all over the world. In our genre, if you say rap and hip-hop is part of rock 'n' roll, which it is, then you have to understand that we rank high in our genre. That's what this is about. I know a lot people who think of rock is different than rap. Rock 'n' roll comes out of the black creativity, which is the blues. So it doesn't matter whether someone is playing a washboard or a guitar or a turntable.
Any number of old school acts — including your Kings of the Mic tour mates — should probably be inducted. But what about the new crop of hip-hop stars. Who do you think will eventually be nominated?
There're a lot of individuals. We come out of the idiom of group art. Sure, you had super individuals like LL Cool J. He was the dude that could do it all. He was one of the exceptions to the rule. The rule was that hip-hop was a group form, just like you have rock bands where the guitarist, drummer, bassist and lead singer were all in sync. It's the same thing in hip-hop. You have someone on the microphone and the turntablist and someone adding dance or other forms of expression. The elements were all in motion like they are in a band. So whether it's Run DMC or Whodini or Treacherous 3, it all came out of a group aspect. Public Enemy came out of that. We've been on 88 tours in 26 years and this is the strongest knock your face off package we've ever been part of. There's no fat. It's lean. It's Ice Cube and LL Cool J, the best who's ever done it. You got Public Enemy and De La Soul. You got Z-Trip and it's taking no prisoners. It's smashing. You have to look at this like Anthrax, Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer. We were inspired by that [Big Four] tour too. We were able to do something with hip-hop gods and this is an extension of that point of view. I haven't been on a tour that has the ability to smack your face off as well as this one. Ever.
Are young people showing up?
Yes. Very few people are like LL Cool J where he can bring out a large contingent of women and also hit the crowd hard. Ice Cube and LL Cool J are a great combination. They're like Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and all we and De La Soul have to do is sit outside and hit the three-pointers.
Early on, Public Enemy developed its own distinctive sound. Looking back on it, what was the key?
We all grew up on '60s and '70s AM radio in New York. We have the best AM radio stations. We came from families that played music from our birth. Our parents were very much into music and we heard it out of the womb. Not just black music but all music. I was listening to Stevie Wonder and Motown and also the Rolling Stones and the Beatles and not just "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" but also "Shake Me, Wake Me" by the Four Tops all in the same motion. We were able to lend that contribution to making music. That's not even speaking on the aspect of what we felt politically and culturally and all these other things that gave us a quest for identity.
You had pretty strong political beliefs back then. Have they changed?
I don't consider myself an American citizen. I am an earth citizen. Music and culture unites human beings as one. It's the universal language. That brings us together. That's part of our blood. That brings us together. Governments like to split people up and categorize human beings. They like to keep people uninformed and then tell you you're all equal. I look down at the planet and I'm looking at something that has no borders except for natural borders. I dig that.
"Fight the Power" certainly benefited from being included in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. How did the timing work out so well?
It was a black renaissance of creativity. The accessibility to make the film and the accessibility to make the recording was all there at the right time. New York has always been a cultural hotbed. We were always able to be close to that and we came from a black point of view. Audibly from our end and visually from Spike's end. It was a great combination.
Did you ever try to talk Flavor Flav out of doing those reality shows?
He hasn't been on one in five years. No. I mean that's his personality. He's going to do what he does. He helps create reality in a way. When he first told me he was doing a reality show, he told me he was doing a black version of The Bachelor. I hate to see white football players get props and Flava not get props. I don't know. I don't watch TV or give a damn about reality shows.
You were one of the first artists to embrace the Internet. Do you feel vindicated now?
Yeah, because it happened out of necessity. Radio never supported us. When they talk about Jay-Z and Eminem, they had records that got played a million tomes more than any of our records. We never had Grammys or Top 10 records. We proved ourselves by hitting the road. The vindication in that came from the necessity of doing something where people would look us and say that we were about cutting out the middleman. When we left Def Jam and Universal Records in 1998, we built publicenemy.com, which happened to be one of the first artist websites. We learned that from the Beastie Boys who I think had the first artist website.
Do you ever see yourself retiring?
People don't retire from doing music. It's not like you're on the basketball team. You want to talk about the co-founders of rock 'n' roll. Little Richard and Chuck Berry are still doing music. Who retires from music? You're a journalist. You're not going to retire from writing about music if you love it.