Why you should care

Because sometimes 140 characters just isn’t enough.

Chuck D is doing damage control. “I never said I was cool with what Bill Cosby is being accused of,” he says in a “Can-you-believe-this-shit?” tone. “There’s no way you can defend that. No way.”

Chuck D is referring, of course, to the barrage of drug and rape allegations against Cosby, and to his own comments this month on Twitter, suggesting Cosby was a victim of character assassination. Among the series of tweets was this one:

Outrage ensued. Twitter users accused Chuck D of everything from making light of rape to taking up for the disgraced comedy icon. Outlets like the New York Daily News put Chuck on blast.

Fortunately, the celebrated emcee, now 55, is used to courting controversy. As a frontman for Public Enemy, Chuck led his crew to hip-hop royalty status, releasing a string of landmark Black nationalistic, game-changing albums. The most recent, Man Plans God Laughs, dropped on July 16. OZY caught up with Chuck D to hear his side of the story. An edited version of our conversation follows.

OZY: You recently got some heavy pushback from tweets you posted about the Bill Cosby rape allegations. A lot of people thought you were taking up for Cosby.

Chuck D: Right. And sometimes Twitter doesn’t give you the characters to make your point in context. So when it was misconstrued that Chuck D sided with Cosby and dissed Marvin Gaye, none of that was true. What I don’t like is the erasing of history. Bill Cosby did this all to himself. I would never justify his actions. But when we attempt to act like that person’s history never existed — or we say, “You that nigga too?” — it starts to be more about character assassination. In the Salem, Massachusetts, days, they would accuse people of being witches. So if you say, “I saw him make something disappear!” And they are like, “You did? That means you are a warlock too!” So how you going to make a point in 140 characters?

OZY: You made the point that people believed what they wanted to believe when it came to Cosby …

Chuck D: I think people just didn’t want know about the same Cosby that would hang out at the Playboy Mansion. We are talking about people who were 10 years old watching the Huxtables. I was 23, 24 years old when [The Cosby Show] first came on. I never watched The Cosby Show like that. I never watched it, period. So it wasn’t like I was rushing home like, “Oh, let me see what’s going on with Theo and Denise!”

The Bill Cosby I remember is the same Cosby who would fill in for Johnny Carson with a cigar in his mouth. The Cosby I remember is the one I saw pictures of at the Playboy Mansion with two bunnies in front of him, hanging with Hugh Hefner. So then decades later, we find out all this stuff about Cosby. Go figure, right? Don’t people know what was actually going on at those Hollywood parties?

OZY: So you never bought into the family image that Cosby presented?

Chuck D: I never knew the man personally, but I knew the scene he came from. And Cosby took it to a whole other level. What he did was some foul shit. If you got to give women drugs without them knowing it to get them fucked up or knocked out, that’s some sick, foul shit. But that has nothing to do with me saying you can’t erase Bill Cosby’s history. It’s there and we have to deal with it. Charlie Chaplin was accused of being a Nazi lover, but they didn’t try to remove his silent comedies from history. And no one is burning Woody Allen movies. That’s why I mentioned Marvin Gaye.

OZY: What was the harshest response you received following your tweets?

Chuck D: I had one sister who I have known a while basically telling me, “I can’t believe the shit you said about Marvin Gaye!” And I’m like: The point is they accused Marvin of dealing with an underage woman, abusing women, drug abuse … but we still love his work. We don’t associate that Marvin Gaye with the music we love. So she came at me without knowing the full story. I just told her: If I was somebody else, I would be demanding an apology from you [laughs]. I let it slide.

OZY: What’s the one thing you regret about this entire blowup?

Chuck D: I’m sorry that I dragged Marvin’s name into it.

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