Fueled by the dual flames of relentless pop culture and political news cycles, hip hop artist Chuck D churned out thousands of images in watercolors, colored pencils, and ink in 2020. Several of these sketches, which he says he did at “courtroom speed,” comprise Stewdio: The Naphic Grovel Artrilogy of Chuck D (June), the first release from the Enemy Books imprint he is curating at Akashic Books. “I was a furnace, burning hot,” he proclaims of his indefatigable determination to draw whatever his mind manifested for hours.
A set of graphic journals (or, in Chuck D’s parlance, naphic grovels), Stewdio is his account of life, mostly in the U.S., before the Covid-19 pandemic, during its onset, and in the early days of the Biden administration. “I’ve always been one to say something and put it out there,” he says. Pages depict grocery shoppers hoarding food; rising anti-Asian backlash amid growing conspiracy theories about Wuhan, China; and former president Donald Trump’s golfing excursions. Regardless of the trilogy’s activist undertones, Chuck D leaves its interpretation to the reader. “I don’t give a fuck what people get from it. They don’t have to get anything from it.”
As with his first art book, Livin’ Loud: Artitation, Chuck D illustrates Stewdio with neo-expressionist flair. “To me, expressionism rages against the machine that powers those styles that are always striving for perfection,” he says. The artist, most well-known as the frontman for Public Enemy, says, “This is just me. I’m doing this for myself.”
Creating work for the self, irrespective of what’s on the other end (fame, fortune, or more followers, though he doesn’t like to refer to his online fans as such), is a philosophy that Chuck D tries to pass down to younger generations of artists. “Know thyself and be who you are,” he says. “Your human mistake is your art.”
This is especially relevant, he adds, in a consumerism-driven society. “In America, we like to go to the buffet when we still have food in our mouths. Go up to the buffet, and we’re still chewing. Finish your food first.”
He encourages artists to focus and take their time with their pursuits. “Slow your roll, don’t go outside your lane. When you move out of your lane, that’s when you start messing up.”
His lane, however, is rapidly expanding. Chuck D’s forthcoming releases from Enemy Books include his next naphic grovel, Summer of Hamn (Oct.), which addresses gun violence in a society “gone hamn”; Rapilates, an exploration of rap music and Pilates written with his trainer, Katherine Castaneda-Lopez (2024); and When Gods Tour: The Sudden Odyssey Creation of Enemy Radio (2024).
Chuck D will be in conversation with New Yorker staff writer Kelefa Sanneh on Tuesday, May 23, 12:05–12:35 p.m.
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