Hank Shocklee: ‘We Had Something to Prove’
The Public Enemy producer tells us how hip-hop revolutionized recording technology.
People often refer to the multi-layered, cacophonous style of Public Enemy’s production team the Bomb Squad as a “wall of noise” — similar to Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” — but to let Squad member Hank Shocklee tell it, their sample-heavy approach was less like Spector’s and more akin to a particular collage-based visual artist’s:
“I had a ridiculous record collection. And I wanted to prove that it was the records that inspired me. Because … I understand scales and musical arrangements and that stuff but I didn’t have — I was not a player. I’m not going to pick up a bass or a guitar or keys and I’m going to, you know, put some virtuoso stuff down. That’s not going to happen. But what I do have is a turntable and records. And so I just want to create this collage, almost like a Romare Bearden kind of a painting.”
Shocklee — alongside his brother, Keith, P.E. front man Chuck D and Eric “Vietnam” Sadler — was an architect of Public Enemy’s distinct, attention-grabbing sound, and helped sampling evolve into an art form unto itself. Racking up production credits for a diverse list of collaborators that ranged from Ice Cube to Bell Biv Devoe, the Bomb Squad was an inspiration to a generation of influential musicians like Microphone Check‘s own Ali Shaheed Muhammad. At SXSW 2015 in Austin, Texas, Microphone Check spoke with Hank Shocklee about hip-hop’s underappreciated technical ingenuity and why pop music doesn’t appeal to him.