Chuck D Discusses Reason Behind Narrating ‘Can You Dig It? A Hip Hop Origin Story'

Last month, Audible released the trailer to a new series narrated by Public Enemy lead Chuck D, “Can You Dig It? A Hip Hop Origin Story.” The spirited rapper speaks to Billboard about his reason for narrating the series and why this is the “story behind the story.”

As the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, many companies are trying to do their part to engage in the biggest music genre in the world. Audible has presented a series based on a killing that some say led to the birth of what we now know as hip-hop.

Cornell “Black Benjie” Benjamin, leader of the Ghetto Brothers gang, was beaten to death on Dec. 8. 1971 while trying to keep the peace between two groups. Due to that taking place, a ceasefire was instituted and instead of fighting, people started using artistry to bide the time. This allegedly set up the pieces for legends like Afrika Bambaataa and DJ Kool Herc to do what they’ve become known for.

Chuck D stated that while trying to figure out what projects he would be involved with for the 50th anniversary approaching, “Can You Dig It? A Hip Hop Origin Story fell on his lap and it drew his interest.

“When I started unpeeling it, I was like, “Wow, this is the story behind the story.” It was the germination of the seed, the beginnings of hip-hop. We always could talk loosely about “hip-hop started when the gangs stopped, then all of a sudden they used hip-hop.” But those are broad strokes and laced with mythology. This [series] got to the detail of what was what. You could almost smell the fresh paint of the Cross Bronx Expressway over the rubble.”

The explanation of how Black Benjie’s death spurred the movement that created what became hip-hop is extremely important. Chuck felt the need for people to know that was paramount to understanding what came to be.

“It’s important to put that stuff into some kind of paper. When you come into the written fact of the matter, you pay a true respect to those people that paid the price. This documentary highlights what they all tried to do afterwards — keep the peace. The fact that it comes before the Holy Trinity [of hip-hop] — Kool Herc, Bambaataa, [and] later on Grandmaster Flash — is a great story to tell.”

The first episode of the series, titled “The Bronx is Burning,” happens in the South Bronx. It goes into the story of two groups deciding to end the bad blood between them and use that energy toward being more peaceful.

The killing of a peacekeeper and member of the Ghetto Brothers, Cornell “Black Benjie” Benjamin, presented the spark to end the violence in the streets.

The five-part series premieres the day before the anniversary of the birth of hip-hop, Aug. 10, 2023.

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