By New Times
By Derek Askey
By Mark Deming
By Serene Dominic
By Jason Keil
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Jeff Moses
By Serene Dominic
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 only 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 eloquence.
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, the 2 Live Crew, raps humorously about sex and little else. Griff rarely mentions sex in his songs; each is a miniature political manifesto. 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 here."
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 censorshit. 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 sad."
On the cover of Griff's album are printed these words: "Explicit language contained. Parental discretion advised." However, cuss words are used sparingly, and the sort of sex talk that landed the Crew in hot water is completely absent. Griff addresses matters of the intellect, not the genitals. If the album has a theme, it is contained in its title, Pawns in the Game. "Society plays out white supremacy," explains Professor Griff. "Like pool--the white ball knocking the colors in. The last one on the table is black [i.e., the eight ball]. In chess, the pawns leave the board first. People up front are used as pawns first--AIDS, crack, ice remove them. It's just like Hitler's plan, which was aimed at the darker skinned and the Jews. The Hitler mentality still exists in a lot of people."