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Interview: Public Enemy vs. Fucked Up

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INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: Damian, where did you first hear Public Enemy?

DAMIAN "PINK EYES" ABRAHAM OF FUCKED UP: We're lucky in Canada. There was a music video station here called MuchMusic, and when it first started, it played a lot of different stuff. There was a show called Rap City, not to be confused with the BET Rap City. They'd play a bunch of different Public Enemy videos. I got a bunch of gift certificates when I was 10 to go to the big, mega, super record stores. I went down there, and I bought Guns N' Roses' Use Your Illusion I and II. I tried to buy Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. They wouldn't let me buy it because it had a parental advisory, although the Guns N' Roses also had the parental advisory. I was allowed to buy that. I had to wait until my mom, who was a flight attendant, came home from work so I could buy it.

CHUCK D OF PUBLIC ENEMY: Your mom worked for Air Canada? Did you ever think the Canadian dollar would pass the U.S. dollar?

DA: No. When they first brought the Canadian dollar in, it was worth more than the American dollar. But I had a serious eBay addiction a couple years ago, and I can remember buying things for 50 percent more than I would if I was an American. And now here we are. [Laughs] All you need is two unwinnable wars, and then the Canadian dollar is worth more.

CD: That's the fallacy of the U.S. dollar. We've finally run out of tricks to make it worth more.

DA: Exactly. You've been all over the world, so you know what it's like, but it feels like we're about to exit the stage of North American world domination. If you go to China, you kind of feel like things are just revving up.

CD: I don't think that holds true for Canada because I think there's an unbelievable plethora of water and the oil of the future. It's a large terrain with a low population that's not trying to let more people in. That's the new war technique—immigration control.

DA: Absolutely, but with us, I think we are still subject to American policy. The only reason marijuana is still illegal in Canada is because of the war on drugs in the United States. It's effectively been decriminalized in Canada, and I'm sure it would be legal if there weren't a lot of pressure from the United States to keep it illegal. We entered into the free trade agreement with the United States. We are definitely America Jr., when it comes to policy.

CD: Yeah, but you were more America Jr., before. But now it's like little brother is suddenly looking down like, "How much shit am I going to take before I whup your ass?" It's got to hit a wall. But what made you come up with the name Fucked Up?

DA: Believe me, in my wildest fantasies, I never thought there'd be a point where I'd be talking to Chuck D on the phone, not to make you feel weird or anything. We only picked the name because we thought we'd be playing basements in Toronto for the rest of our lives. We thought, "The name is going to be inconsequential. We're going to be a band no one cares about forever, so why not pick the name that reflects that?"

As the name has gone on, it's this weird confluence of events where we just kept going from weird thing I never thought possible to weird thing I never thought possible. It's a testament to how far things have come. I remember a time when I couldn't buy your record without my parent's permission. Now I play in a band that has a swear word for a name, and I'm on MTV and the radio. What was it like when you went on that first tour with The Beastie Boys? Was it a bizarre audience to be playing to? I kind of imagine The Beastie Boys at that time would have had a fairly frat-boy, good-time, party audience.

CD: Yeah, but we've always been able to transcend the edge of audience. Some were totally shocked, like, "What the hell is going on?" But those that were hip-hop aficionados at the time were up on every little release. We came out in February, and to a lot of people that came out for The Beastie Boys, there was that lineage from Run-D.M.C. to The Beastie Boys to us. That was understood.

DA: It seems like now people have become more focused on genres. It seems like now everything is a little more apolitical but a little more genre-fied. The idea of a tour like that would be mind-blowing.

CD: The advantage of today was, back then, you toured a place like Scranton, and that night of the tour began and ended there. Anything that happened there was the folklore of Scranton. But now, the next day, it goes up on YouTube, and people watch it in St. Petersburg, Russia or Ghana, and you've played in Scranton. The thing that has been the saving grace of Public Enemy in our genre—although our genre has atrophied in many ways, because it's top-heavy—has been our constant travels around the world where artists are reluctant to do so. All the places around the Earth and all the continents we've played, we planted seeds a long time ago. Now there are artists from each of those 69 or 70 countries we've played, and now the technology aspect ties that all together. We feel like we'll never kowtow to demands of what we need to do to get played on radio.

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