Chuck D (American, born 1960)

In 2010, when Arizona lawmakers passed S.B. 1070, granting law enforcement officials broad powers to stop and demand the papers of anyone suspected of being an undocumented resident, rapper Chuck D released a musical protest and a visual art piece in response to this legislation. As a member of the esteemed hip-hop group Public Enemy, Chuck D had released a protest song a generation earlier, 1991’s “By the Time I Get to Arizona,” in objection to the state’s noncompliance with honoring the federal Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative holiday. Chuck D’s 2010 follow up, “Tear Down That Wall,” sampled several historical sounds: his own “Arizona” track and President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 Brandenburg Gate speech. The remix included a rearrangement of President Reagan’s own words into a collaged sonic challenge of the law. As Chuck D drew from and scrambled the speech’s word-bank, President Reagan was remixed to declare: “But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of failure, unprecedented in all human history.”

Chuck D By the Time I Got to Arizona, 2011 SceneFour
Chuck D
By the Time I Got to Arizona, 2011

He paired this song with an artwork that he deemed a “visual mashup,” titled By The Time I Got to Arizona. Made in collaboration with L.A.-based SceneFour, Chuck D contends, “You have people who think they have the audacity to own the land, mountains, rivers and keep people out of the place that’s supposed to be the pillar of democracy. It’s just hypocritical to the highest degree. So we have to make art to make a statement.” Among the images in his digital collage, he includes a ruined segment of the Berlin Wall with revealed inner-support steel bars that stands next to a fence meant to symbolize the U.S.-Mexico border. The Berlin Wall serves as a litmus test for U.S. policy in an age of aggressive immigration reform.

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