Public Enemy Fights the (MTV) Power

By | September 24, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Once again, Public Enemy is fighting the power. This time, the subject of the pioneering, politically-minded rap group’s ire is a little network called MTV.

The Chuck D-led hip-hop icons have had their latest rap, “Gotta Give the Peeps What They Need,” banned by the music channel because of a lyric deemed too political by the suits at MTV, the Los Angeles Times reports.

As is standard procedure with MTV, PE submitted the clip for review earlier this summer. However, the network’s standards division balked at airing the track-the first single off the recently released Revolverlution-because it contained the phrase “free Mumia.”

The reference was to Mumia Abu-Jamal, a convicted cop killer whose case has become a cause célèbre for many activist musicians, most notably Rage Against the Machine and the Beastie Boys.

“Free Mumia” is a rallying cry for supporters who think the Black Panther turned journalist was railroaded at trial and should be taken off death row and given a new hearing.

According to an MTV rep, network execs requested Public Enemy modify the lyric because the channel’s guidelines prevent overtly-political videos from going into rotation.

“We asked if they could take out the word ‘free,’ not the name mentioned,” an unidentified spokeswoman is quoted in the Times. “We felt it was a personal and political position on an individual, and we are an unbiased company. We asked them to resubmit the video without the word ‘free.'”

The MTV rep did admit, however, that the censoring of PE’s political speech may be a first for the Viacom-owned network.

In the past MTV has only rejected videos it thought violated the boob-tube’s decency standards regarding violence and nudity (and that’s saying a lot for the network behind endless spring-break coverage, Beavis and Butt-head and Jackass).

For its part, PE is saying don’t believe the hype, and the decision had more to do with the network’s preference for safe rap acts like Nelly and Khia.

“I’m pulling the race card here because MTV has admittedly reduced black faces to blackface,” Chuck D says in a long anti-MTV tirade on the group’s site,

“Really it ain’t about playing the Public Enemy video. So be it. I do art and songs to provoke and not be a joke.”

Although MTV airplay can make or break an album, the network’s censorship so far hasn’t stopped “Gotta Give the Peeps What They Need” from being a bona fide Top 10 hit on specialty radio and could actually spur sales of Revolverlution, which which talks about such timely topics as the turmoil in the Middle East and Bush’s presidency.

Meanwhile, Chuck D., Flavor Flav, Terminator X and Professor Griff will be soon bringing the noise to a venue near you. Public Enemy kicked off their latest tour Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

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