Musician, Activist, and Author Chuck D Leads VersoFest 2024 at The Westport Library

Tue, Feb 6, 2024
Brendan Toller

Photo by Travis Shinn

Revolutionary, hip hop icon, social activist, author, film producer, and digital music pioneer. Few can hold these titles with the impact and influence that Chuck D has had on modern pop culture and philosophy.

The leader and co-founder of legendary group Public Enemy, and part of the supergroup Prophets of Rage, will discuss his life, work, and recent graphic novel STEWdio: The Naphic Grovel ARTrilogy of Chuck D on Wednesday, April 3, at 7 pm in the VersoFest 2024 Kickoff Conversation presented by Darcy Travlos.

Chuck D will be in conversation with Akashic Books publisher Johnny Temple, with media host, entrepreneur, and music executive June Archer introducing the guest of honor.

The event will be held in the Library's Trefz Forum. Tickets are $50 and available for purchase here.

VersoFest is The Westport Library's annual music and media festival and conference, spanning five days from April 3 through April 7. Converging local with global, VersoFest has presented concerts with The Smithereens and Sunflower Bean, as well as events with renowned producer Steve Lillywhite, Norton Records/Kicks Books/Kicksville Radio co-founder and original Cramps drummer Miriam Linna, Alice Cooper Group Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Dennis Dunaway, Psychedelic Furs frontman and painter Richard Butler, author and journalist Rachel Felder, and hip hop pioneer DJ Grand Wizzard Theodore. Initial VersoFest 2024 luminaries include Legendary David Bowie, T. Rex, and Thin Lizzy music producer Tony Visconti, and electric power pop rockers The Lemon Twigs, with a full VersoFest schedule to be released in coming weeks. All performances, panels, and workshops are free or at market rates with the generous support of donors, community partners, and Library programming funds.

"We are absolutely thrilled to have Chuck D of Public Enemy join us at The Westport Library," said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer. "His groundbreaking contributions to music and social activism have made a profound impact on our culture, and we can't wait for our community to engage with his incredible insights and talent."

Chuck D first rose to acclaim in the 1980s with a string of critically lauded and commercially successful albums that addressed weighty issues about race, rage, and inequality. Present day, The New York Times has named Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back to their list of the “25 Most Significant Albums of the Last Century,” and in 2005, The Library of Congress added Fear of a Black Planet to its National Recording Registry. 

In 2013, Public Enemy was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., began curating its archive, the group was asked to donate iconic items from its history. In 2020, Public Enemy received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the GRAMMYs. This year, “Fight The Power” was named #2 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2021 list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (which also included “Bring The Noise”).

"I wanted to curate, present, navigate, teach, and lead the hip hop art, making it something that people would revere," Chuck D told Kelefah Sanneh of The New Yorker in February 2023. "I was educated in the arts ever since I was a little kid. My mother started Roosevelt Community Theater in 1973 in Roosevelt (New York). I was under Frank Frazier's tutelage as an art teacher [in] 1972. I go to Adelphi University to become a commercial artist. But as what? I had no idea. Hip hop as an idea got me through college."

In June 2016, Chuck D debuted Prophets of Rage, a new “supergroup” with former Rage Against the Machine members Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk, plus Cypress Hill’s B-Real and DJ Lord of Public Enemy. He formed Enemy Radio in 2019, the DJ-MC sound system component of Public Enemy and toured throughout Europe with Wu-Tang and De La Soul.

Ever the media polymath, Chuck D is also a visual artist whose work has been shown in galleries nationwide, a best-selling author (including 2017’s 300-page This Day In Rap and Hip Hop History), a highly sought-after speaker on the college lecture circuit, a prominent member of music industry nonprofit organizations MusicCares and Rock The Vote, and a record label founder of SpitSlam.

Chuck D also has served as national spokesperson for Rock The Vote, the National Urban League, the National Alliance of African American Athletes, and Hip Hop Public Health. In 2018, he was named the chairman of the Celebrity Board for the Universal Hip Hop Museum in New York.

In February 2020, Chuck D turned his gaze once again to the page and filled three 5x8 journals with his written and drawn reflections of a world beginning to unravel. STEWdio: The Naphic Grovel ARTrilogy of Chuck D recreates the format of his original art, combining three full-color paperback bound books into a beautiful box set. The box set is the inaugural offering from Enemy Books, the new Akashic Books imprint curated by the artist and author himself.

As Akaschic Books characterizes the volume: "Spanning the onset of COVID-19 through the first year of the Joe 'Bye-Don' administration, Chuck D lends his powerful artistic voice to one of the most tumultuous periods in American history, and puts it in a capsule. Like the neo-expressionist graffiti art of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Chuck D’s energetic “Naphic Grovels” marry text with drawings, commenting on contemporary events with the same activist instinct that propelled Public Enemy’s 'music-with-a-message' reputation. His inventive, Amiri Baraka–esque language and accompanying art is also occasionally used as a tool for introspection, providing unparalleled insight into one of the most important cultural figures of our time."

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