P.E, ICP, Me and the Agony and Ecstasy of Longterm Collaboration
A few days ago it came out that legendary Public Enemy hype man Flavor Flav was suing Public Enemy frontman Chuck D for unpaid royalties. Just about every element of the story is heartbreaking. According to Flav, among other complaints, he requested 75,000 dollars to contribute to Public Enemy’s new album, only to receive a tenth of that and despite having Executive Producer credit on the album, Flav says he never heard it before it was released and was surprised that his contributions made the album because he thought they were sub-par.
Needless to say, this does not make Public Enemy look good. At all. It’s one thing when Manny Fresh complains about missing royalties from his work on Cash Money Records. As its name indelibly conveys, Cash Money Records isn’t about anything other than making cash money off records.
But Public Enemy is different. Public Enemy is important. Public Enemy matters. Public Enemy is suppose to mean something, and it isn’t supposed to be greed and back-stabbing and cynical calculation. When I read about Flav’s lawsuit, I thought it sucked, just as I thought it sucked when longtime drummer Bun E. Carlos sued Cheap Trick and much of the roster of Insane Clown Posse’s Psychopathic Records left the label for Twitztid’s Magik Ninja Entertainment and announced they wouldn’t be playing the Gathering of the Juggalos or attending the Juggalo March on Washington.
I found it sad that all of these veteran performers, who’d been working together for ages, couldn’t put their differences aside for the sake of the fans, if not themselves. But my second response was that I understood. Oh sweet blessed Lord did I ever understand how people who’ve worked together for decades, and done great work together, and important work together, could find it prohibitively difficult, if not impossible, to continue to collaborate.
Shared histories can unite us. But they can also divide us. I can only imagine the kinds of resentments that must have built up among all of the artists that I’ve referenced here over the course of their decades of collaboration. An awful lot of bitterness and anger and resentment can build up over the course of decades of working together.
That’s one of the reasons one of my all-time favorite films about art, music, human psychology and communication is Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. The cult documentary provided a voyeuristic glimpse into the intense dysfunction of one particular group of insanely rich, egotistical rock stars but it doubled as an exploration of the complications and joys and agony and dark humor of trying to keep a band together when their monstrous rock star egos are violently colliding.
I know I spent nearly two decades as a staff writer in the upper echelons of pop culture media working closely alongside people I will probably never see or talk to again, let alone collaborate with in the future. There’s just too much miscommunication and non-communication and grievously held grudges and resentment for there to be any kind of path forward.
I pride myself on being flexible, but there are certain things I cannot, and will not get over. I suppose that’s true of many of the artists I’ve mentioned here. The egos are too huge and too brittle for musicians to be able to look past their differences and all of the damage that comes with time.
I suspect that’s one of the reasons I haven’t really tried to find a job since I was let go from my last position. I went from thinking I could never exist outside of an organization to thinking I could never again be part of an organization in a full time position ever again. I’m gun-shy about collaborating with new people because of the painful and traumatic experiences of the past.
Now I belong to an organization that consists exclusively of me, myself and, this is an exciting and unexpected addition: I. For eighteen years I derived a lot of my identity from being part of a team, and then I had to figure out who I was outside of those teams and those organizations. For a long time, firstname.lastname@example.org wasn't just my email address: it was my entire identity, but that feels like an eternity ago.
Being part of a team can be a glorious, life-affirming and career-making experience and it can be painful and sad and ultimately impossible. So when I read about situation like these, I try to keep that in mind. It’s a blessing and a curse, and I'm always saddened and never surprised when creative relationships go sour, particularly long-standing and intense relationships.
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