The 40 Biggest Hip-Hop Moments in Pop Culture History

7. Public Enemy's Professor Griff's Anti-Semitic Interview

Date: May 22, 1989

The Moment: After non-rapping Public Enemy member, "Minister of Information," and road manager Professor Griff supposedly made anti-Semitic remarks in a series of British interviews, David Mills at The Washington Times spoke to Griff for the paper. When asked about who controls the music industry, Griff explained that "Jews have a grip on America" and also that they were the cause of a "majority of wickedness that goes on across the globe." And then, on June 14, 1989, The Village Voice's RJ Smith picked up on the interview. Which is when it really hit the fan.

The Impact: It would be an incredible understatement to note here that this did not go over well. More accurate would be "one of the most massive shitstorms in rap, ever," which didn't have much to do with the fact that Def Jam founder Rick Rubin is Jewish (he was out of Def Jam by then), or the fact that Lyor Cohen, their manager, was Jewish and Israeli, which is to say nothing of their label publicist at the time, Bill Adler (yep: Jewish).

It was a few things: For one, Chuck D was calling up rap writers around the country—RJ Smith at the Voice, David Mills at The Washington Times, John Leland at Spin—and trying to threaten and bully them out of keeping up with the story. It didn't work. The story was too hot. Griff's comments were too blatant, unilateral, defined, and unapologetic to simply ignore.

For another, the Jewish Defense League had lined up a massive grassroots boycott of Public Enemy and started firing away (the play: listening to Public Enemy associated you with anti-Semitism). Really, the question of post-mortem on Griff's comments is what didn't happen: Public Enemy was declared broken up by their record company and by the JDL.

On June 19, 1989, Chuck D declared Griff still in Public Enemy, but not as Minister of Information. On June 21, 1989, during a press conference, Chuck D announced that he had fired Griff. Then Chuck D declared they were back together. Griff had been condemned, apologized for, defended, and kicked out of Public Enemy by Chuck D.

The Upshot: When later asked if he ever believed everything he said about Jews, Griff supposedly told former Def Jam vice president Bill Stephney: "No, that's just silly. I was just having a bad day. I was mad at the group." Griff apologized and made amends with the Jewish community he'd offended. Public Enemy continued to grow as an act in the pop culture and rap canons—hell, "Fight the Power" came out later that summer—but their reputation would never be the same initial one of an unimpeachably righteous rap act. The interview was one of the defining moments of David Mills's career, which included a stint writing for David Simon's Treme before he passed away in 2010.

Tags: public_enemy
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