I had hoped my brush with fame would involve winning the lottery or meeting the president. But for a second there Chuck D made me Twitter-famous (which is to say, in the words of Saturday Night Live, not famous).
It all started when I reported that a weekend event in L.A., widely publicized as a free “Occupy Skid Row” concert organized by Public Enemy and frontman Chuck D, didn't have a permit.
Not only that, but …
… the lineup was dubious (Cypress Hill was on the bill but didn't show, for example), the connection to the Occupy movement was tenuous (Occupy L.A. was having a picnic elsewhere Sunday), and the corporate publicist for Public Enemy, who was apparently taking all media inquiries and actually intercepted my call to a co-organizer, basically lied when she said the event did have proper city approval.
The LAPD told us there was no permit for a concert and that the event could be shut down.
This made sense to us: Only the L.A. Bureau of Street Services had permitted the underlying event, a block party by the Los Angeles Community Action Network, by granting a street-closure permit. And while the publicist for PE claimed that the permit also covered a concert, it does not. The Bureau of Street Services couldn't even allow a concert if it wanted to.
When we told the publicist her answer didn't make sense, she replied with “:).” Really.
That's all fine and good. Corporate publicists are paid to spin. This one did a decent job. We did our thing in trying to get to the truth, too.
Interestingly, Chuck D had a day-long schedule of events, including appearances at the Grammy Museum downtown, at which he was promoting a book (not his own), titled Freedom Now: The Struggle For Housing Rights in the United States and Beyond.
The day of the event, Sunday, we did our duty and followed up to find out if the LAPD actually shut the thing down. No, they told us. The crowd was small. No problems. No arrests. That's what I reported in an addendum to the original story.
That seems to have set Chuck D and his fans off the most: I didn't praise his glorious ode to Skid Row and the masses that came to worship him.
He took to Twitter to dismiss my story (which was really a news preview), and a Twitter beef ensued.
Chuck D proceeded to call me out on Twitter for my “negative” and “corporate” coverage of the event. Some of his followers noted the contrast between my coverage and that of LA Weekly's reviewer, Rebecca Haithcoat, as well as that of Weekly contributor Ernest Hardy, who reviewed the show for the Los Angeles Times.
Some called me racist. Some said I got the facts wrong.
Journalist Luis Gomez collected D's own Tweets and used Storify to capture the situation here.
D tweeted to Gomez and I:
maybe I'm a fool for thinking your last names would indicate an understanding of the nature of this type of event?
Corporations have dominated the P.O.V of RAP away from Black people& its artists.The good words&deeds are obscured
where I'm from it's easy to recognize deceit in print.It has festered a downward spiral of self doubt from MYpeople
it was a day of complete positivity.People didn't leave I hosted the thing till the end.THAT is the story. Nothing tragic sorry 4U
absolutely a day of light in deplorable situation.. The avg LA person has rarely or never been in that region eh?
the hype of a rap festival to giveback some hope to invisible downtrodden situation in Downtown LA? it's terrible
Responding via Twitter, I had to point out a few things, in sometimes not-so-kind words.
First, as I tweeted to Mr. D early on, I had been a fan of Public Enemy since college. I had also written about hip-hop in a positive light since the early 1990s.
A March 1993 Philadelphia Inquirer story I wrote about a New York hip-hop symposium called “Reaching the Hip-Hop Generation” quotes D:
How could rap be used as a vehicle to send positive messages to inner-city kids?
But vociferous youngsters turned the equation around: Maybe adults should be listening to the messages — nay, warnings — that are going out through rap instead of trying to find ways to use the street sound to preach to kids …
” … What you're really looking at,' said Public Enemy's Chuck D … “is a cry for help.”
Second, I have written much about Skid Row, including this 2004 cover story.
Finally, and most importantly, my “Occupy Skid Row” piece wasn't about the overall goals of D's unpermitted concert, or about the struggles on Skid Row, or about the struggle for the voice of hip-hop, or about corporate control of the media.
It was a news story about how an event didn't have a permit, didn't appear to have the artists that his camp said it did, and didn't appear to have an affiliation with the Occupy movement. Negative? Maybe. But you'd have to go to Public Enemy's camp to ask why this was. As I tweeted to him early on, “Don't blame the messenger.”
Any reviews of the event were a different story: If it turned out to be a magical, wondrous party, then good for Chuck D. I have no issue with that and, in fact, in my ongoing coverage, I linked to our own review. (Does anyone find it ironic that D and his followers pointed to the reviews of two LA Weekly contributors to decry the “corporate” and “negative” coverage of … LA Weekly?).
But my story wasn't a music review. It wasn't about the music. It wasn't about the cause. It was about half-truths issued in the name of Skid Row, Occupy and hip-hop.
After Chuck D accused me of being a tool of corporate media, I had to point out that he had hired a lying corporate publicist and is, as far as we can tell, a member of the so-called 1 percent of American income-earners that are the ire of the Occupy nation.
He denied it. But when I tweeted “You're saying you make less than $380,000 a year? Really?” D had no response. (Later he said he wanted to communicate with me privately and try to work things out.)
Sorry to let the facts get in the way of a good beef.