Public Enemy's legacy in the rap game is larger than life, as their hits still show up everywhere from playlists to even Jeopardy! Their frontman, Chuck D, had a funny fan interaction as a result of this homage, but it's not the only way one of the greatest rappers of all time is engaging with his past material. Rolling Stone reports that Chuck D has sold all of Public Enemy's songwriting rights and half of their publishing rights to Reach Music, his longtime publisher.
If you're not familiar with property rights when it comes to music, don't fret. It seems complex, but what this means is that Reach Music will have the sole ownership (or copyright) to Chuck D's songwriting as part of the Public Enemy catalog. Any artist or entity looking to lawfully use Public Enemy songs (whether for samples, interpolations, or lyrical references) will have to get permission from Reach Music. As for the publishing rights, these refer to the responsibilities of distributing music (whether for commercial use or performances) and for paying royalties to songwriters and composers for the commercial use of their work. Chuck D is responsible, in this sense, for half of his catalog's distribution, with the other half (and all of the songwriting copyrights) falling within reach of his publisher. The 62-year-old rapper has previously spoken about his record label cheating him out of a million dollars, so there's a fair bit of context to this acquisition too.
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How much Chuck D was actually paid for the Public Enemy catalog is unknown, although the cultural and historical value of songs like "Fight The Power" and "Don't Believe The Hype" means that he probably got a big bag. It's estimated that the price tag falls in line with other huge pop music copyright acquisitions, as David Bowie, John Legend, Justin Timberlake, and other massive icons have sold their copyrighted works for millions and millions of dollars.
“[D]oing this deal was the right timing for a forward and logical evolution of our business together in an ever-changing industry," said the New York rapper about the deal. "Reach has always been ahead of the curve on establishing respect for the HipHop genre songwriting and publishing-wise, and they will continue taking care of my works.”
Chuck D and his fellow Public Enemy, producer Flavor Flav, were beefing just last year over their reunion tour, so it's not unreasonable to think that this could be controversial for the group. It's also part of a larger dispute over royalties between the two, which Flavor Flav sued Chuck D over in 2017 but later pardoned him for. Even with all the money flying around going who knows where, a huge industry and publishing sale like this is only reserved for the most timeless and important of catalogs, a qualification that Public Enemy should be proud of.
Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy performing in 2016 - Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images