Every year, the Woody Guthrie Center honors one artist who has used their musical career as a vehicle to advocate for social change. For his decades of work championing underserved communities, Chuck D has been selected as the 2019 recipient of the Woody Guthrie Prize.
Born Carlton Douglas Ridenhour, the Public Enemy frontman began his activism in the ’80s, using his music to highlight issues facing the African American community. 1988’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is considered a landmark in politically conscious hip-hop, with tracks like “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “Rebel Without a Pause” remaining enduring classics to this day.
Ridenhour has continued that advocacy throughout the years, both through his solo work and his highly politically active supergroup Prophets of Rage. Featuring musicians from Rage Against the Machine (Tim Commerford, Tom Morello, and Brad Wilk) and fellow MC B-Real of Cypress Hill, the group has released tracks like “Unfuck the World”, “Living on the 110”, and “Made with Hate”, all addressing various social and political issues facing the world at large.
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His work has extended beyond his music, as well. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has at various times worked as a spokesperson for organizations like Rock the Vote, the National Urban League, Americans for the Arts Council and the National Alliance for African-American Athletes. His 1997 book of essays, Fight the Power: Rap, Race and Reality, co-written by Yusuf Jah, dismantled some of the negative stereotypes often surrounding rap.
The Woody Guthrie Center was founded in 2013, and has since awarded other artists such as John Mellencamp, Norman Lear, Kris Kristofferson, Mavis Staples and Pete Seeger. In a press release, the Center’s director Deana McCloud shared her enthusiasm for honoring the prolific rapper:
“Woody was a fighter for the people, and Chuck D’s message has consistently aligned with Woody’s: choose a side, fight the power and work for a better world. We are honored to recognize Chuck’s work as he shines a light on social and cultural issues through his words and encourages us all to take action for equality and justice. We know that Woody would be rapping right alongside him as he speaks truth to power.”
Chuck D will receive the Woody Guthrie Prize on November 16th at Cain’s Ballroom in the center’s home base of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Ticket details to come.
In the meantime, revisit Prophets of Rage’s recent single “Made with Hate”: