Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Hank Shocklee: Louder than a Bomb - interview by Jim Welte at mp3.com

Thought I'd reprint this - cos Shocklee is the man...
it's from mp3.com

He has a new website launching soon at www.shocklee.com/


With a book and a sci-fi audio-visual project on the way, the creator of the Public Enemy sound is putting in work.

From the moment he sat down with MP3.com for a chat, it was clear that Hank Shocklee was ready to bring the noise.

As cofounder of Public Enemy and creator of the Bomb Squad beats that propelled dozens of sonic bombs, from "Fight the Power" and "Bring the Noise" to "Welcome to the Terrordome," Shocklee invented the sound that defined an era and served as the backdrop for Spike Lee's seminal Do the Right Thing.

Shocklee has been away from the game for a while, having served stints as a soundtrack producer (Juice, He Got Game) and a record exec (Universal)..

But that doesn't mean the 40-year-old Shocklee has retired from the game. He's just on a different vibe right now.

As head of Shocklee Entertainment, he's writing a book on the making of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, PE's second album that almost started a revolution.

He's also working on an audiovisual sci-fi project called Shocktronica, listening to lots of drum and bass and, not surprisingly, eschewing much of today's mainstream hip-hop. He also hasn't yet heard the latest album from Chuck D and company.

Here's MP3.com's lengthy interview with Hank Shocklee.

MP3.com: So, let's start off with talking about what you're up to these days. It sounds like you have a number of things cooking, one of which is the book about the making of Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. The album that defined PE's sound.

Hank Shocklee: Yeah, that's going very well right now. It'll be out next year. I'm approaching the book from a different angle, looking at the whole philosophy and reason for making the band, what everyone's role was and how the whole thing came together. It was different from any musical group on the planet.

MP3: How so?

HS: With PE, we got together as a DJ group, and when we crossed over into doing records, we adopted a whole new philosophy. I wanted to do a personal experiment to see whether you can create something that inspires, teaches, and connects with people on a multi-dimensional level, not just with sight and sound but with also with also vibrations and feelings and emotions and things of that nature.

I think we succeeded, because even 20 years later, people come up to me to tell me that our music changed their lives in a deep way.

MP3: That's right, we're almost at the 20th anniversary of It Takes a Nation of Millions.

HS: Yeah, isn't that crazy? Time flies, man. And that means that the second generation of hip-hop will be celebrating its 20th soon. I'm not talking about the early years. Those guys were doing something that had never been done before. They were basically like, "We have no clue what the f*** we're doing, but this feels good and we should keep it going."

I'm talking about the second generation, like Run DMC, Rakim, Slick Rick,Salt-N-Pepa, Biz Markie, Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, and PE. That's when hip-hop found its voice and got its personality and started to reach that superstar level. That was like the Marvel Comics of hip-hop, where there were so many characters on the scene.

MP3: I'm curious if you think that a record like It Takes a Nation of Millions could get made today. From a sampling standpoint, a record like that with so many samples in it would cost a fortune today in licensing fees, and politically, major label artists these days seem less willing to take chances.

Bringin' the noise.

HS: Yeah, that second generation of hip-hop came before the sampling crackdown. The laws of sampling need to be brought in check and standardized, because it stems from a lack of understanding and it's leading to greed.

Sampling was so different back then. The sound of that time was a direct reflection of where you took your samples from. Marley Marl gets the almighty respect because he changed the game prior to that by sampling the kick and the snare [drum] from a record. That gave his sound a whole unique tone, because before then, everybody had pretty much the same sound. So then it was like, well if he took the kick and the snare, why can't I take the guitar riffs too?

At that point, I looked at the landscape and said, "Oh, I see where this is going. I have a s*** load of records." From then, I just wanted to take the sampling and OD [overdose] on it. You know, I wanted to use it so much that you didn't know what anything was and where things was coming from.

And there was this sonic resonance that I wanted to hear throughout the record, bringing in noise from everywhere. I felt like I had to make records that superseded everything on the marketplace at that moment. Otherwise nobody was going to even take any kind of notice.

MP3: Because you guys didn't already have an established fan base in one of the boroughs, say with KRS in the Bronx or BIG in Brooklyn?

HS: Yeah, that was the premise of our existence. We just had to break into the game.

MP3: What kind of music are you making these days? We don't see you out there in the mainstream.

HS: The thing is, what got me involved in hip-hop was its alternativeness. Hip-hop was the alternative music life back then. But now, hip-hop is the mainstream. So, now, it incorporates all the mainstream elements. It's more homogenous. There are more harmonies. There's singing. To me, there's nothing insightful about making a Christina Aguilera record or a Ja Rule record.

MP3: So you've stayed away from mainstream music because of how formulaic it is?

HS: Exactly. No matter how you do it, as long as you conform to the melody of the song, it's going to work. That's not what I'm looking for. I'm working on an electronic, sci-fi, audiovisual project right now.

MP3: Really? I'd read a quote from you a while back to the effect of, "I don't want to make music that you listen to. I want to make records that move you." Is that what we're talking about here?

HS: Yeah, definitely. I'm creating a record that you can watch--a record that you can put on that allows you to take the experience to another level. When you listen to a record, you've got to visualize what's going on. That's cool, you know, but I've always been a visual person. So, musically, I want to be able to show you images that give you that extra excitement.

And then there's the music. Since we can now all carry around 8,000 records with us, what's new? What's the next phase? What I'm developing is called Shocktronica. It's designed to make you think. It's designed to make you feel.

I'm dealing with frequencies that are rhythmic and will keep you in the groove but will also have the appeal of a soundtrack or a score.

I'm doing this thing called subsonic frequencies, which is all about fear, allowing you to feel the emotion that's involved in it.

For me, music is moving into another zone, which allows you to participate on a more intellectual and physiological and psychological level. I'm talking about psychedelic, '60s kind of operation but with a 2006-2007 kind of feel to it. It's called Subsonic Frequencies.

MP3: It'll be a DVD?

HS: Yeah, or an enhanced CD with visuals. And I would definitely want to get it out to the video iPods as well. It'll be out late this year.

MP3: You're an iPod guy?

HS: I tell you, the iPod has to be one of the most incredible inventions of the last 20 years. People don't even understand how revolutionary it is unless they actually were a DJ and tried to carry 300 records around on their back. We used to have to carry seven, eight crates to every gig.

Now you've got situations where you can carry 60-80 [GBs] of music, like 10,000-15,000 records. You could change records up every one minute and you could be doing the gig for 25 hours and never play the same record again twice. It is just so amazing right now.

MP3: What are you feeling out there these days? What are you listening to?

HS: I've been listening to a lot of drum and bass, even though all these "experts" are saying that drum and bass, jungle, two-step, that that music is over. Music comes in waves. It peeks its head up and then it sees what's happening out here and then it finds out, "OK, the people are not ready for it yet." Then it goes back underground and just starts brewing again. It doesn't disappear. It's going to come back up again. Hell, rap was supposed to have been dead in '87.

And I'm also into a lot of eclectic electronic music too. But there's so much music out right now from all over the world, from Brazil and Spain and Cuba, all over the place. I've heard stuff where Nigerian rhythms and juju music are put together with hip-hop.

And to me what's even hotter than anything is music with no genre. It's like, "Don't even f***ing tell me what this sh** is. Just let me put it on and let me vibe to it." I think that the day is gone where everybody is on one vibration.

I'll even put on some classical shit and be like, "I'm vibing to some Rachmaninoff right now. You know what I'm saying?" We're moving away from the style police where everybody's got to sit there and follow one mode. That's dead.

MP3: I'm curious where you think hip-hop will be in 10 to 15 years. Do you think that some of this creative kind of multigenre, you know, stuff that's coming from all over the place will bubble to the surface, or will this formulaic homogenization continue?

HS: No, we're heading in the direction of musical freedom, I believe that. Part of the reason is that the hip-hop generation is growing up, and it's feeling a lot of different kinds of music that might not be what's on the radio. Each artist is going to sell a lot less now, so those superstar ranks will diminish.

MP3: So that means more music will be popular among a critical mass of consumers?

HS: Exactly. There's going to be less for everybody but it's going to be better because now the cream is going to have to rise to the top in order for you to get to that level. And so when you do get to that level it's going to be because you truly earned it.

MP3: Before we let you go, what are your thoughts on the new PE record that was written and produced by Paris?

HS: You know something, it's funny. I've never even heard it.

MP3: Really?

HS: It's like everybody's keeping it from me for some reason. Nobody will give it to me.

MP3: Interesting. Well, a lot of people are saying that he lit a fire under them a little bit.

HS: It doesn't take a genius to do that, to be honest. It's because Chuck finally gave up the reins a bit. That was one of my biggest qualms with that situation. Chuck is a great guy. But from a musical standpoint, he's not like the greatest musical person. But he's been like controlling and doing all the records ever since Apocalypse. And I think ever since then he's been making records that have been substandard.

Chuck D and Hank Shocklee

But the bigger issue is that PE wasn't just a sound, it was also a philosophy and a mission. No disrespect to Paris or anybody who has written or who was on the record. I look out there on the streets, man, and I'm asking, "Is anybody even dealing with these issues?" I think that it's been reduced to the music just being music.

MP3: Are you guys still in touch, you and Chuck and Flav?

HS: I still see Chuck, and I still speak to Flav when I see him. Everybody's older now. I think that people are more interested right now in maintaining their "existence," as to trying to do something new or to change the climate. What I'm not seeing is anybody taking their power and using it for the betterment of changing the environment.

It's like we can all go out here and make millions of dollars but can we do anything of any substance? Can we change anybody's lives? Can we make this world a better place? And I know that sounds idealist, but we don't live in a vacuum. It doesn't matter how much money you've made.

MP3: So too many people are just looking to maintain their existence, like with Flav doing the reality show and all that stuff, but no one looking to "Fight the Power," so to speak?

Flavor Flav's reality show, Flavor of Love

HS: Yeah, but I'm not saying that you shouldn't [make your money]. But we're lucky enough to be able to make a living doing what we do, and we owe it to try and do something more than that. The voice of hip-hop used to have this tremendous strength of change and consciousness.

You know, Kanye is the only one that's saying anything of any relevance, and he speaks out of both sides of his mouth at the same time. I'm not downing this kid, all right? He's the one that's got the most amount of balls out of everybody that's out there. So I've got to give him the torch. But who's mentoring him?

Some of these cats, they're only commodity is that they're known and famous. That's not a commodity. What do you do?

If you're Puffy, what do you do? Don't tell me that you make clothes because you don't make the clothes--you license your name. And he learned that from Russell [Simmons], because that's all Russell's career was, licenses and name. That's why Russell has no real power.

Everybody is good in their own right, but it's those special people who can go above and beyond so that when you listen to their creativity, their creativity is backed by their word, which you know that their word means something because you'd know the things that they stand for.

I'm looking at this world now, and I'm saying, "OK, guys, you've made it now. How much more do you need to make it?"

Look at Mel Gibson. Whether you agree him or whatever, the cat is saying something with his art and his money.

MP3: It gets back to the fact that PE really stood for something that made people stop and think.

HS: Exactly. That's one of the reasons why I'm doing this book, because it's the philosophy that makes it important, not just the music. We're supposed to be living a righteous life, a positive life, and then all the art is going to amplify that.

MP3: Words to live by from Hank Shocklee. Thanks a lot for the time. It's been a pleasure.

HS: Thank you very much.

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