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Public Enemy Lyrics Rekindle Controversy

The acclaimed but controversial New York rap group Public Enemy is again drawing accusations of anti-Semitism with its new single, “Welcome to the Terrordome.”

The song, released this week by Def Jam Records under a distribution agreement with Columbia Records, addresses the controversy that swirled around alleged anti-Jewish statements made in interviews last spring by the group’s “minister of information” Professor Griff (real name: Richard Griffin). Public Enemy’s records had earlier expressed support for Louis Farrakhan, the controversial Nation of Islam minister who has called Judaism a “gutter religion.”

Griff was fired by Public Enemy, but then rehired in the role of community liaison and forbidden to give interviews. But group leader Chuck D (Carlton Ridenhour) continued to be criticized by many in the Jewish community, particularly Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of Los Angeles’ Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies.

Among the lines in the new song: “Told the rab, get off the rag,” “So-called chosen, frozen” and “Apology made to whoever pleases / Still they got me like Jesus.”

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Cooper said this week that he believes the rab reference is to him--a development which he finds particularly disturbing in the wake of a visit which he says Chuck D paid to the center’s Holocaust museum two weeks ago.

“Chuck spent an hour (at the museum) with me and a survivor of the Holocaust,” Cooper said. “He went out of his way to say (then and in earlier conversations) he was not anti-Semitic, but this song crosses the line. So my message to him is, ‘Will the real Chuck D please stand forward?’ ”

Chuck D could not be reached for comment Friday, but was quoted in the New York Daily News as insisting that “Terrordome” is not anti-Semitic--that the lines are about the media “crucifying” him. By the “chosen” he said that he meant Jews and Muslims.

Cooper is not appeased. “The song is definitely anti-Semitic,” he said. “The people who wrote it, who produced it and the record company that released it know it. We had the problem with Griff before. Now they’ve institutionalized it.”

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Along with Cooper, the Anti-Defamation League is also holding the record company accountable and has sent a written protest to CBS Records president Tommy Mottola. In the letter, Jeffrey Sinesky, ADL Civil Rights Division director, said the lyrics revived the “repulsive and historically discredited charge” that the Jews killed Christ. Mottola was said to be on vacation and unavailable for response.

Public Enemy’s last album, “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,” sold more than 500,000 copies and was named best album of 1988 in a Village Voice poll of more than 200 U.S. pop critics.

Los Angeles rap radio station KDAY-AM began playing “Terrordome” even before it was released this week and the station’s Michael Palmer, who often fields calls from people requesting various songs, suggests that most KDAY listeners respond to the beat rather than to the lyrics.

But Cooper believes the lyrics cannot be ignored.

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“It’s a tip-off that the impact of Farrakhan with this group and with young blacks in general is more profound than we want to recognize,” he said.

Chuck D, however, says the lyrics are being over-interpreted. “I’m not saying the Jews killed Christ,” he said in New York. “I’m commenting on the way the media came after me at the time. I’m telling the story from my perspective; my message is that we have to look after ourselves.”


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