By Joel Francis
The Daily Record
Onstage, Professor Griff, minister of information for the veteran rap group Public Enemy, rarely smiles. Griff rarely takes center stage, but sets the tone of the show by marshalling the S1Ws, Public Enemy’s uniformed faux-security force, through their militant dance steps.
Offstage, Griff may not be mistaken for Flavor Flav, the group’s much-lampooned comedic foil-turned-reality TV star, but he is far from the grim-faced drill sergeant he appears. In fact, right now he is laughing.
“At first, I was DJ Griff,” the founding member says through a chuckle. “I laugh because people don’t see me like that. Then it morphed into minister of information, because I was always studious. I took it upon myself to be an avid reader and study. That’s how I got the name Professor.”
Griff, nee Richard Griffin, describes the early days of Public Enemy and discusses his political views and philosophies in his new book, “Analytixz.”
“Readers already know the media’s version of who Griff is. This lets me tell aspects of my story without writing an autobiography,” Griff says. “The ugly truth and the controversies are there. I don’t like it, but I can’t write it with a pink cover and make everything cute.”
The lengthy first chapter covers the most controversial part of Griff’s career, when he was kicked out of Public Enemy for being quoted making anti-Semitic statements in the Washington Times.
“The first chapter was the most difficult,” Griff says. “It was the only time I had to stop tape, because it brought back a time I didn’t want to re-experience.”
Although that rough experience is the lynchpin of the book, another hardship brought the manuscript to fruition.
“’Analytixz’ came together in 90 days because I lost the other three books I was working on when my house burnt to the ground,” Griff says. “It comes from a place of hurt and pain, but I wanted to fulfill my promise to put out a book.”
Griff laughs again remembering how Run-DMC’s DJ Jam Master Jay and Def Jam label co-founder Rick Rubin’s original plan for Public Enemy.
“When Jam Master Jay saw (Public Enemy MC) Chuck (D) at Adelphi University, he and Rick Rubin wanted to sign him as Chuckie D,” Griff says through a snicker. “Chuck and I are still laughing about that one. Basically, Chuck brought Flav along, and everyone else came from me.”
“Everyone else” is the groundbreaking production unit known as the Bomb Squad and the group’s DJ, Terminator X.
“Members of the Bomb Squad had a group called Spectrum City, which included me,” Griff says. “We brought Chuck on board to be part of our mobile DJ unit.”
Public Enemy is nearing its 25th anniversary, but Griff, Chuck and company are still intent on bringing the noise. After leaving Def Jam, the band is financing their new album through SellABand. By purchasing $25 shares, fans can help the band reach its goal of $250,000 and get everything from a mention in the liner notes, to profit sharing and input on the final product.
“It’s interesting to see how things are unfolding,” Griff says. “People say, Public Enemy, you guys were popular, it should be no problem to raise that money, but they’re on the outside of it.”
While many rap acts from the ‘80s are dismissed as old school, Public Enemy has worked hard to stay at the vanguard. The band pioneered the digital distribution model with their album “There’s A Poison Goin’ On” 10 years ago, and introduced a play-listed based album on 2002’s “Revolverution.”
“Me and Chuck are 49,” Griff says of his bandmate, who was born on the same day in the same hospital. “It’s not over. We still have to put our period at the end of the sentence.”
What’s on Griff’s iPod?
“If I lent you my iPod for one day, you’d probably say ‘What the hell?’ The first thing you’d notice is I have a large music collection – easy listening, rock, soulful stuff. When it comes to my hip hop playlist, you’ll see Rage Against the Machine, the Roots, Immortal Technique, Wize Intelligent, Dead Prez, KRS-One – because I’m still learning from him – and the new Can-I-Bus. There’s no Nelly, no Snoop Dogg and nothing produced by Jermaine Dupri.
“The most surprising thing on my iPod is (long pause) Asher Roth, which is on there probably because me and my son share a computer. I play that song when people come in the car with me and they say, Griff, what do you know about a white Jewish boy? I listen to everything, man.”
Review: Public Enemy, Rage, the Roots and more at Rock the Bells (2007)