Was Elvis Presley racist? Eugene Jarecki talks to Chuck D about his famous lyrics in ‘The King’ (Podcast)

Public Enemy’s Chuck D made Elvis Presley persona non grata for many hip-hop fans when he famously rapped in “Fight the Power”: “Elvis was a hero to most/But he never meant s— to me/Straight up racist that sucker was/Simple and plain.” (Flavor Flav finished off The King with the rhyme: “Motherf— him and John Wayne.”)

In the latest episode of “Shoot This Now,” filmmaker Eugene Jarecki explains how those lines made Chuck D the most crucial person he interviewed for his new film “The King.” You can listen on Apple or right here:

“The King” celebrates Elvis as a symbol of the American dream — but argues that America is in its Fat Elvis stage, the period of decline that Presley spent performing in Las Vegas and addicted to pills. Jarecki believes America can save itself, but only by confronting its economic inequality and racism.

When Chuck D agreed to an interview, Jarecki said, he had assumptions about what he might say, based on his lines in “Fight the Power.” But Chuck D surprised him.

“Chuck D’s role in the film is unimaginably profound for me. I would say it’s the most important interview in the film… for a lot of reasons,” Jarecki says on the podcast. “I suppose I thought I would get a deep answer. But I could never have imagined the depth of Chuck D’s thinking on this matter because I had never heard anyone think so deeply on this matter.”

Jarecki added: “The way he thinks about what racism in that lyric means is far from what a superficial glance at the song might lead one to believe. Chuck has developed a way of understanding his outrage, which is a continuing outrage that any of us should feel about the crimes committed against Black America, and yet at the same time there’s an incredible magnanimity he actually has for Elvis as an artist.”

“The King” includes interviews with many others, including David Simon, whose drama “The Wire” includes this quotable line: “You come at the king, you best not miss.”

In his line about Presley in 1989’s “Fight the Power,” and his interview with Jarecki nearly 30 years later, Chuck D shows that you can come at the King, score a hit, and still have the generosity to separate the artist from the racism that boosted his career.  But “The King” is only getting started.

Watch the film’s trailer — including Chuck D delivering his famous lines — right here:

30 PHOTOS
Elvis Presley through the years
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Elvis Presley through the years
Circa 1958, American singer and actor Elvis Presley (1935 - 1977) sits in a restaurant wearing his US Army uniform. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
ELVIS PRESLEY -- Pictured: Singer Elvis Presley during a performance (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
GERMANY - FEBRUARY 1959: Rock and roll singer Elvis Presley signals that everything is ok during his tour of duty in Germany in February of 1959. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
GERMANY - FEBRUARY 1959: Rock and roll singer Elvis Presley poses for a portrait during his tour of duty in Germany in February of 1959. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
GERMANY - 1959: Rock and roll singer Elvis Presley wearing his US Army uniform during his tour of duty in 1959 in Germany. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
1959: Rock and roll musician Elvis Presley gets his hair shorn off in preparation for his tour of duty in in the United States Army in 1959 in Germany. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
(GERMANY OUT) Presley, Elvis*08.01.1935-16.08.1977+Singer, actor, USA - Elvis visits rock 'n' roller Bill Haley (l) in his dressing room during his Germany tour in Frankfurt (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Elvis Presley runs a comb through his famous tresses at the Draftee Receiving Depot here on March 24th. The songster is scheduled for a trip to the G. I. barber on March 25th, where the key to his locks will probably be found.
JUNE 24: Rock and roll singer Elvis Presley poses for a portrait with teddy bears to publicize the release of his record 'Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear' on June 24, 1957. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
CIRCA 1957: Rock and roll singer Elvis Presley poses for a portrait in circa 1957. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JANUARY 6: Rock and roll musician Elvis Presley performs on stage on the Ed Sullivan Show on January 6, 1957 in New York City, NY.(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Singer Elvis Presley holding up actress Jennifer Holden, his co-star in the film 'Jailhouse Rock', as they spend time together in a swimming pool, circa 1957. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
American rock and roll singer and actor Elvis Presley (1935 - 1977) smiles as he stands with his hands in his pockets and a guitar around his shoulders during his second appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, New York, New York, October 28, 1956. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 1956: Photo of Elvis Presley during the filming of 'Love Me Tender' in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01: Portrait around 1966 of the American singer/actor Elvis PRESLEY. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01: A portrait around 1966 of Elvis PRESLEY, the famous American singer/actor. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Las Vegas, Nev..Entertainer, Elvis Presley sits cheek to cheek wit his bride, the former Priscilla Ann Beaulieu, following their wedding May 1, 1967.
(Original Caption) 5/1/1967-Las Vegas, NV: Elvis Presley gives his new bride, Priscilla Ann Beaulieu, a kiss following their wedding. The bride wears a large diamond on her finger.
ELVIS: '68 COMEBACK SPECIAL -- Pictured: (l-r) Susan Henning as Blonde Girl, Elvis Presley during his '68 Comeback Special on NBC -- (Photo by: Frank Carroll/Gary Null/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
ELVIS: '68 COMEBACK SPECIAL -- Pictured: Elvis Presley during his '68 Comeback Special on NBC -- (Photo by: Frank Carroll/Gary Null/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 1: Rock and roll musician Elvis Presley during a press conference after his first performance at the International Hotel in Las vegas, Nevada on August 1, 1969. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
380450 08: President Richard Nixon shakes hands with Elvis Presley December 21, 1970 at the White House. (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)
Promotional headshot of actor and musician Elvis Presley, as he appears in the documentary film 'Elvis; That's The Way It Is', 1970. (Photo by Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY - JUNE 9: Entertainer Elvis Presley gives a press conference for his three day concert at Madison Square Garden on June 9, 1972 at New York Hilton Hotel in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
(Original Caption) Elvis is Back. New York: Elvis Presley, 37, tells one of his rare news conferences in New York that his gyrating performances of 15 years ago, which shocked thousands of parents and got him censored below the waist on television, were 'tame compared to what they're doing now.' He said, 'All I did was jiggle.'
Elvis Presley (Photo by Tom Wargacki/WireImage)
(GERMANY OUT) Presley, Elvis *08.01.1935-16.08.1977+Saenger, Schauspieler, USA - Comeback-Konzert im International CenterHawaii 'That's the way it is' (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
circa 1975: American rock singer Elvis Presley (1935 - 1977), wearing a white rhinestone-studded suit and strapped guitar, singing into a microphone with his eyes closed. (Photo by Fotos International/Getty Images)
Elvis Presley (Photo by Tom Wargacki/WireImage)
Elvis Presley with girlfriend Linda Thompson (Photo by Tom Wargacki/WireImage)
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