For nearly four decades, rapper, social activist, multimedia producer, and visual artist Chuck D and his group Public Enemy have been an Afrocentric and revolutionary voice in hip-hop. From “Welcome to the Terrordome” to “Fight the Power,” Chuck D (born Carlton Douglas Ridenour), along with hype man Flava Flav and DJ Terminator X, launched a rap-powered sonic assault on the ills of society, from racism and police brutality to corruption and economic disparity.

Chuck D plans to continue his activist mission with the launch of Enemy Books, a new imprint produced and distributed by Brooklyn-based independent publisher Akashic Books. The new imprint will launch with the publication of Stewdio: The Naphic Grovel Artrilogy of Chuck D, a three-volume box set of illustrated journals, or graphic novels that he calls “naphic grovels,” graphic works that capture his life as well as events in the country from 2020 to 2022.

Included in the set are There’s a Poison GoinOn, which chronicles the beginnings of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020; 45 Daze of REaD OctoBot, which follows the surreal days before and after of the historic 2020 US election; and Datamber Mindpaper, which looks at the United States a year after the election has passed, the early days of the Biden administration, and the one-year anniversary of the January 6 insurrection. A separate publication, Summer of Hamn, a blistering critique of America’s gun violence, will be published in October.

Chuck D, who was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2013 and is a recipient of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, will also deliver a keynote address at the U.S. Book Show, appearing in conversation with New Yorker staff writer Kelefa Sanneh on Tuesday, May 23. His visual works will no doubt be a major topic of discussion as the acclaimed rapper continues his mission—to quote from one of Public Enemy’s hits—as a “Rebel Without a Pause.”

Chuck D is an illustrator—he designed the Public Enemy logo—as well as a rapper, and studied graphic arts at Adelphi University. He reached out to Akashic Books publisher Johnny Temple about publishing the books. “Chuck basically approached me saying that he has a bunch of book ideas, and was interested in starting his own book imprint, not only for his own books, but books by other people as well,” Temple told PW. “He was more interested in making art, and didn't want to have to slow himself down with the business side of publishing, so he proposed that Akashic would host Enemy Books.”

“We had a great phone call,” Templed added. "And then he wanted to check out our operation office in Brooklyn. We sat down, and we had a really fantastic conversation. I think when he left the office, it was clear that we wanted to do business together. I was really impressed [because he] really understood what Akashic Books is about and how we operate: We’re the host of the imprint,” Temple said.

“He finds the books, and then we make the books. We help to design them, package them, print them up, promote them and distribute them ourselves. I'm a huge fan of Chuck's work. I've been a huge fan of Public Enemy from their very first record, and it was an honor to be able to even discuss this with Chuck,” Temple explained.

What made the connection between Temple and Chuck D possible was Akashic’s track record of publishing diverse subjects (the house mission is the “Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World”), and Temple’s shared connection with him through music. Temple is the bass player for the post-hardcore band Girls Against Boys.

“I'm a bass player. I've been a professional musician myself since the late 1980s,” Temple said. “And I've even shared a stage with Chuck: we performed on the same stage together for a benefit concert, featuring Rage Against the Machine for Mumbai Abu Jamal in 1995. We’ve published a pretty eclectic [range of subjects], and we have a strong focus on Black writers. And we've actually published a couple of essays of Chuck’s back in the early 2000s, in a book called Rhythm and Business: The Political Economy of Black Music.

He added: “I think we're a good fit, because I certainly know how to talk to musicians, there was a strong vibe, and I was able to understand what he wanted out of this partnership. And so I would say that we jumped into this with a strong sense of mutual trust.”

For Chuck D, who famously stated that rap is “Black America’s CNN,” the mood of the graphic journals are dystopian, filled with foreboding, dark images that exhibit the influence of the expressionism of artists Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. As he told DW McKinney in a separate PW interview, his work “rages against the machine that powers those styles that are always striving for perfection.” The dialog in these works is somber, prophetic and deeply unsentimental, much in the way his music is.

“Music is a vibration of what I see,” Chuck D told PW, noting that he is influenced by “the study of artists across time who froze their real-time moments” into works of art. “I consider myself an illustrator and my style is speedy and organic.”

“They’re basically Chuck's visual journals, through the pandemic, the Trump era and the January 6 insurrection,” Temple said. “A lot of people keep journals. But what's one thing that people don't realize about Chuck D is that he was an artist before he was a rapper. So when he journals, it's not mostly words, it's mostly images. And when he journals, it’s not about his personal internal life.”

Templed added that “it’s about what he is seeing in the world around him, whether it's his interactions with other rappers, musicians, or just looking at the effect of the pandemic on the world around him. And this is something that Chuck was doing regardless of whether or not they were going to be published. He carries a journal with him, and he's always drawing.”