Moving Culture Through the Power of Music

Brian Hardgroove, Public Enemy’s bassist and bandleader will present Chuck D with the Impact Music & Culture Award as part of The NAMM Show’s Hip-Hop@50 celebration. The award was conceived by Hardgroove to honor and recognize individuals who move culture through the power of music.

We recently caught up with Hardgroove to learn more. For over 25 years, Earthworks has been amplifying voices of impact.

Tell us more about the Impact Music & Culture Award and how you define moving culture?

Music that has the biggest impact on me usually have strong rhythmic impressions with deeper than average harmonic content. When that kind of music also contains messaging designed to raise the consciousness of the listener; that’s when I become a booster for that artist.

When musicians find themselves in the headlines for challenging the status quo, it’s often easy to sift out the attention seekers from those that are truly looking to encourage society to make positive changes.

Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Nina Simone, Woody Guthrie, all made us look at what we believe and WHY we believe it. Their work has moved culture. That is the essence of the Impact Music & Culture Award

After naming and giving the award its mission statement, it hit me that The Impact Music & Culture Award simply represented my raison d’être.  I chose music as a profession to utilize its power to move the dial so to speak.

What you’re explaining above goes beyond talent and legacy —you’re talking about impact that transcends time and generations. Like Fela said — music is the weapon. 

Fela Kuti challenged the government of Nigeria (and other continental governments) to free themselves and their people from decades-long economic oppression from outside interests. Fela understood (and used to great effect) what I call “mantra & intent”. The band would routinely lay down a groove for 6-8 minutes before any vocals began. The repetition of hypnotic groove combined with an important message (intent), made Fela’s music, and impact a once in a lifetime experience. Children respond to intent. It’s not a learned response. It’s instinctive. It’s the reason so much art has been tamped down and, in some cases, banned completely throughout the history of civilizations.

Got it. So of course, the first recipient had to be Chuck D. 

Under Chuck’s leadership, Public Enemy moved the dial. Through chart and concert success, Public Enemy has helped raised issues to the point of public discussion among politicians in America and beyond.

Public Enemy was touring Australia during the Christmas and New Year holiday immediately after Barack Obama’s first election victory. Chuck and I did an interview session with television, radio, and print outlets at a youth center in Melbourne. Chuck was asked about his thoughts on the election of the first black president of the United States. Chuck’s answer was well considered and thought provoking. I added to it by stating that Public Enemy had played a role in prepping the United States to vote for Barack Obama.

I went on to explain that Public Enemy’s messaging, though expressed from the perspective of young black men; the issues were those of the under-class of America and that the under-class is not exclusively black. Public Enemy’s records resonated with millions of young white Americans. This exposure to Chuck’s message helped make black men less fearful to a large number of white Americans that eventually voted for Obama. This point needed to be made. It was more appropriate for me to make it on Chuck’s behalf than him saying it.

And how did NAMM get involved? 

My public relations agent Caroline Galloway (M2M PR and Partnerships) suggested to NAMM that they connect with me. I immediately thought of Chuck and I discussing the first 50 years of Hip Hop as he saw it. The idea was enthusiastically received. Then Athan Billias, Lawrence Levine — both from The Midi Association — and I went about raising the funds to cover the expense of bringing Chuck to the show and provide a suitable honorarium. We raised money (under the banner of HIP HOP@50) from Roland, Shure, PioneerDJ, Analog Devices, BassBoss and The Midi Association.

Pete Johnston, the producer of TEC Experience, expressed a desire to honor Chuck with an award. However, none of the current TEC award categories would apply to Chuck’s accomplishments. I suggested that they give me time to create an award that would honor Chuck’s work as well as many historic artists that have preceded him. That’s when I created ‘The Impact Music & Culture Award’. NAMM loved the award name and its mission statement. Not a word of the title or mission statement was changed. I’m very proud of that.

You’ve also got a session called Chuck D on Hip Hop at 50. What’s that? 

Like any popular art form, Hip-Hop has its underappreciated innovators. I expressed to NAMM that in honoring the genre and culture, it must avoid the many pitfalls that await them if the historical representations are not accurate. I suggested hosting a conversation with Chuck called ‘Hip Hop Through The Lens Of A Legend’. This absolves NAMM of the content while simultaneously having one of the greatest and most respected names in the genre present during its 50-year celebration.

What a great idea. I can see that really evolving into a long-from series. You have anyone else lined up for the next Hip Hop@50 session? 

Darryl “DMC” McDaniels agreed to do the same conversation with me during NAMM, but his European travel plans made it too risky to schedule. Maybe we’ll do it shortly after he returns, many manufacturers have expressed an interest in making that happen.

And what about the MIDI@40 event? 

Lawrence, Athan and I got into a deep conversation after the TEC Awards at the June NAMM show. It was a conversation about how music can change people’s lives.  That led to discussions about how MIDI and HipHop were interconnected because so many iconic HipHop songs used iconic MIDI synths, sequencers and drum machines.

Finally, we realized that HipHop and MIDI shared one other important cultural function.  They make music more accessible.  HipHop makes music more accessible because you don’t necessarily need a formal musical training to rap, write lyrics or make beats.  MIDI has made music more accessible by allowing anyone with a cellphone, tablet, or inexpensive laptop to produce music and by lowering the cost of access to music production tools because they are all digital. That’s when we also realized that MIDI@40 and HipHop@50 were happening in the same year. so we decided to combine the two and tell the story of how they are intertwined. It is perfect timing for the 40th anniversary of MIDI because we have recently completed the biggest update in MIDI’s 40 years with the release of MIDI 2.0.

Love it! And next year? Any hints on the shortlist of who might get the Impact Music & Culture honors? 

Athan, Lawrence and I have begun discussing a very BIG concept for next year. Assuming you’ve seen a few good spy movies, you know how the next sentence ends. “If I tell you, I’ll have to……….!  🙂  But I promise to get you the scoop before anyone else!

Athan Billias

Athan has had long career in music from musician to sound designer to product planning on some of the most influential synthesizers of all time. He was the product planning manager for the Korg M1 and then worked for Yamaha helping design synths like the Motif series that has been used by artists like Stevie Wonder, Dr. Dre, and many more.  He is currently the President of the MIDI Association.

Brian Hardgroove

Hardgroove is a record producer, bassist, drummer and member (on hiatus) of the legendary hip-hop group Public Enemy.

Although he’s done productions that include the extraordinary talents of Chuck D (Public Enemy), Steven Tyler & Joe Perry (Aerosmith), Burning Spear, Marc Anthony, Supertramp and The Fine Arts Militia, his most cherished work is the production of two of China’s premier punk rock bands Demerit and Brain Failure.

In 2013 Hardgroove joined the faculty of Santa Fe University of Art & Design as Artist in Residence until shortly before the school began closing in 2017.

In 2009, Gov. Bill Richardson proclaimed May 11th as “Brian Hardgroove Day” in the state of New Mexico for Hardgroove’s commitment to the regional music scene and for using his position as a touring musician, radio personality, writer, performer, and producer to promote the state in interviews while touring the world with Public Enemy and Bootsy Collins. Santa Fe Mayor David Coss proclaimed June 7 as “Brian Hardgroove Day” in the city of Santa Fe as well.

Hardgroove is currently producing two separate album projects with Stewart Copeland (The Police) and Fred Schneider (The B-52’s) in addition to his role as multi-instrumentalist

in Ghost In The Hall (ft. DMC of RUN-DMC)