Hip hop legend and founder of the essential rap group "Public Enemy," Chuck D discussed issues of culture, politics, hip hop and youth in a country wrought with change and division during a lecture Thursday night.
His message, as poetically political as the music he is so famous for, sought to encourage youth to use technology and music in a way that could bring about social change.
As a line that stretched from the doors of the Great Hall to the elevators by the Multicultural Center streamed into rows of chairs before the lecture, you didn't have to listen hard to hear the impact the Chuck D and his music had on those in attendance.
Liberato Santos, a doctorate student in applied linguistics and technology, remembered listening to "Public Enemy" during the height of the MTV era as a teenager in Brazil.
"The videos were just so powerful," Santos said. "I don't know what to expect [here tonight]."
Santos described the impact of Chuck D and "Public Enemy" as "mindblowing," saying that his politically-charged lyrics had as much of an impact in the inner cities of Brazil as they did here in the United States.
Stepping out to a roaring applause, Chuck D opened by commenting on the closing of the Ringling Bros. Circus and the election of President Donald Trump.
"The circus just could not compete," Chuck D said.
But the laughter didn't stop there. Limiting himself to 10 curse words for the night, Chuck D used his lyrical and comedic chops to go after not only Trump, but also Vice President Mike Pence, climate change skeptics and even "flat earthers."
Yet, at the heart of his presentation, Chuck D examined not only the changing political atmosphere of the United States but also the change in hip hop and rap music.
“Can hip hop elevate and progress the new [generation] past 140 characters?" Chuck D asked. "Who controls the narrative of hip hop? What is hip hop?"
Chuck D spoke about the prevalence of hip hop in the United States and how African-American culture and its music are inseparable.
He also commented on the lack of female artists in the scene, at least here in the United States, and how countries like France and South Africa continued to push the art forward.
“If you detach hip hop from the contribution of culture, and especially black people in culture, you have a problem," he said.
Throughout the lecture, Chuck D encouraged listeners to see beyond the "purple haze" of media and politics and use youth as a tool to create social change. He spoke directly to musicians, urging them to branch out and embrace their talents and, at the same time, warning them about a future one can only describe as bleak.
"Arts [are] what's going to set you free from the gestapo that's on the horizon," he said. "Arts will have a message that will cut through as the law is clamping down. And expect this. Expect the new laws in the next 13 years to clamp down on artists. Artists will be arrested for their words once again."
Chuck D also warned of the culture of "anti-intellectualism" that he believes makes individuals complacent. He encouraged students to reexamine how they use technology and not to demote culture to some sort of product.
"Does the thing in your pocket become a toy or a tool?" he asked. "Can you navigate through the purple haze that is society today? Can you navigate through what's being tossed at you as a young head? Greed, negligence, narcissism, individualism."
Joe Swilley, junior in microbiology, said he found the presentation informative.
"There are some things that as a black American male that obviously I knew as he was discussing these topics," Swilley said. "But it was good that he went in detail with some of the topics regarding music and African-American history that need to be addressed."