By Chuck Strouse
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
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Griff: "It's one big mess. But we don't need to be fighting each other."
Then Griff brightened and said to Rogatinsky, "This is a rarity. I mean, you're actually opening up to
Apparently, at one point, the two realized that the trouble with life in America isn't so much the result of ethnic differences as it is the trickle-down of a corrupt system. As the conversation turned to American politics, Rogatinsky asked Griff why he hasn't addressed that subject through his music. Griff seemed a bit confused by the question. That is one of the most prominent subjects of his debut album. A surprised Rogatinsky had to admit that he hadn't yet listened to the whole record.
After being forced to leave Public Enemy, Professor Griff went on to record what some critics, including the highly regarded Dave Marsh, consider a masterful rap album, Pawns in the Game. Last year Griff recruited five solo rappers with "different styles, old and new, slow and fast." He dubbed them the Last Asiatic Disciples, and gave them stage names: Life, X, B-Wyze, Obie, and JXL. Though he lacked a recording contract, Griff began putting songs together at his Long Island studio, and in the fall, Griff signed a deal with Miami-based Skyywalker Records, now known as Luke Records, home of the notorious 2 Live Crew. Eighteen days later, Pawns in the Game was completed.
While it may be forever clouded by Griff's previous association with Public Enemy, the fact is Griff's album not only stands alone, but exposes Public Enemy's concurrent effort, Fear of a Black Planet, as a Pink-Floyd-meets-hip-hop jumble of nonsense. Where his former associates have lowered themselves to incorporating random sonic distractions, such as a seemingly interminable, self-referential montage of radio talk-show gibberish, Griff has crafted cutting songs that all but draw blood. If "Pass the Ammo" is a scathing and melodic statement about young people deprived of education because they're too poor to afford tutors or nice-neighborhood private schools, "Suzi Wants to Be a Rock Star" ups the ante on all of rap music. "Suzi," the LP's centerpiece, is not the the most compelling drug-related rap song ever put to wax - it's the single most evocative drug-related song in any genre. It's a rock song with rap verses, and it lights a dozen thematic fires under the raging drug-abuse inferno. America, sings Griff, is a drug-sucking whore; crack is the throbbing currency of destruction. And beyond the impassioned and painful truths exposed in "Suzi" is the sheer elegance of the song, its grand musical
On January 19 Skyywalker released a statement. "Since Griff will be doing interviews, videos, and a tour, we hope this shows how strongly we stand behind him as an artist. Any beliefs, political or religious, are solely those of Professor Griff and the Last Asiatic Disciples. We want it clearly understood that [they] are part of the Skyywalker family based on their potential as artists."
Griff says now that he had offers from other labels, but came to Miami and Luke Records because the move offered him the freedom of expression he wanted. It's not paradise, though. "I really, really disagree with a lot of [the label's] points," he says. "But they told me, `You do it as you see fit.'" Among the disagreements is the fact that Campbell's group, 2 Live Crew, sings humorously about sex and little else. Griff rarely mentions sex in his songs; each is a miniature political manifesto. (That should make for a startling contrast when the two groups begin a national tour together this week.)
There's also the matter of the Crew's banned album As Nasty as They Wanna Be. "My daughter [six-year-old Taqiyyah] asked me why she couldn't listen to it," Griff says. "So I had to explain it to her, that it's material made for adults. `Listen, you can't go from first grade straight to sixth grade.' That's the way I deal with it." In fact, raising the issue, Griff argues, can be beneficial if it leads to communication between parent and child. "It's better than if the kids learn it from movies or magazines or their peers."
If he switched positions with Luther Campbell and became president of the record label, Griff says he would sign the 2 Live Crew, "as artists. We don't dive into each other's personal beliefs. We could go on about that for days. In a capitalistic society, you have to survive. Luke offers the whole spectrum with the artists on his label. I think conflict is good, and I know that I wouldn't fit in at many labels the way I fit in
Despite his aversion to raunchy lyrics, Griff is vehemently opposed to artistic censorship. "I'm going on a college speaking tour," he says, "to talk about censor shit. When I give this talk, I'm going to point out the positive of rap as a communication vehicle to all ethnic groups. It's an international language, like a smile. You don't smile in Italian or Spanish or English. I'm going to explain their rights, that they have rights that they don't even know about. These parents who are trying to come down on this - well, if they don't know what little Johnny is listening to, that's really