Yo! Bum Rush the Show—Public Enemy (1987)
“Before we released our first single ‘Public Enemy No. 1,’ [the hip-hop industry] was showcasing talent everywhere else in New York City. But in the early ‘80s, Long Island had artists that weren’t being signed by recording companies. So releasing a song like ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ from Yo! Bum Rush the Show was two fold. Back then, being from Long Island you had to prove yourself. As opposed to just taking it to the streets, I took our music above the streets and took it to local radio. At this time I was working at WBAU (the influential Long Island radio station located at Adelphi University). I played a part in uniting all the Long Island MC’s to step their game up to overtake New York. I was one of the cats that said, ‘To get respect you have to just be better.’
I met Eric Sadler, Hank and Keith Shocklee years before Yo! Bum Rush the Show. Eric was a musician that was part of another operation, and I hooked up with Hank and Keith, who is his brother, in 1979. They were [in a hip-hop crew] called Spectrum, which was like theAfrika Bambaataa-Zulu Nation of Long Island. I was under the tutelage of Hank for damn near seven or eight years. We finally moved our headquarters from Hank’s mom’s house to a building in Hempstead, Long Island.
We rented out the top of the building, but the person that was renting out the bottom was Eric Sadler. Eric had the rehearsal studio downstairs and we had the DJ studio upstairs. And that’s how we came together (Hank and Keith Shocklee, Sadler, Chuck D and at times Bill Stephney went on to form Public Enemy’s revolutionary production crew the Bomb Squad). Hank was a mastermind on leading the ship and he also threw a lot of the music theory out of the window. And Eric kept some musical theories. That’s what made the Bomb Squad’s sound what it would later become.
Before Yo! Bum Rush the Show, I met Flava Flav when he was coming up to the studio with Sons of Berserk. He was one of the guys who played keyboards for them. He came up to the Long Island studios and I was like, ‘Well, dude, you can’t smoke up here.’ I sent him back out to the street, but he hung around long enough that when we were doing our college radio show at WBAU, he started to get known more and more. From the beginning, Flav knew how to mimic a lot of characters around the way and add them to his own thing. He was always that energetic person. Flav just took on a life of his own.
Originally in the early ‘80s, the goal was to record singles, but we wanted to do radio because we knew we could do that forever. We covered so many rappers and we saw so many changes in hip-hop that we thought, ‘What’s the big deal with having a record out when we got two rooms full of records?’ That’s when Rick Rubin tried to get in touch with us and get us involved with the Def Jam thing. Rick was trying to sign me for a long time on the strength of ‘Public Enemy No. 1.’ Meanwhile, Andre Brown, who went on to become Dr. Dre from Yo! MTV Raps, was part of our scene in Long Island and he was our good brother.
Dre (who was a also member of the early Def Jam hip-hop act Original Concept) was heavily involved in the beginnings of Public Enemy. Dre was the leading guy at WBAU, which was an alternative outlet to get music out there. And Dre was also the leading figure after he replaced Bill Stephney, who was the program director at WBAU. Stephney went on to become underneath Russell [Simmons] and Rick as a President at Def Jam.
So with Dre and Bill already at the label, it became a memorandum in which Rick was like, ‘Sign Chuck.’ But my whole thing was I’m not going to go to Def Jam and do some Chucky D music. I had to bring the posse. So the theory behind Yo! Bum Rush the Show was that the whole team would come into play. You open up the door and we are all going to come in: myself; Hank as a producer; Harry Allen as a writer; Flava as a new undefined character; the S1Ws, Professor Griff and DJ Terminator X.
Being DJ’s helped us out a whole lot. When we came out with Yo! Bum Rush the Show our whole thought process was if we are going to do a record we have to come out with something that was totally different. We all grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, so we came with a more mature viewpoint [than other rappers]. Even in Public Enemy I tell people all the time that myself and Griff were born on the same day in 1960. But we are only somewhere fifth down the line in P.E. as far as our age goes. I turn 50 this year, so it’s not like we were the oldest cats in the operation. When it came to PE we straddled a couple of eras. Hank came up during the heyday of disco into the beginning of the break beats. As much credit as they give Kool Herc and Bam as far as having that vast record knowledge, you have to give it up to Hank Shocklee as well.
We were very happy with Yo! Bum Rush the Show. We didn’t give a damn what the critics said or what the world thought. We just wanted timing to be on our side. We made our record to be respected by our hip-hop peers. But you have to remember that Public Enemy was one of the first groups in a major label scene that came out without a proven record in the streets so the speak.
We knew that ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ was going to make some noise with that sound coming through from the JB’s ‘Blow Your Head.’ For about 10 years, I always loved that record when it came on, but there was no such thing as looping back then, so it would come on and go off. But that sound in the beginning would be the thing that would get people ready and revved up when they were rolling skating. People would get bucked wild. That was the theme behind ‘Public Enemy No. 1’…keeping that energetic feeling going. [Chuck makes the buzzing trademark sound of ‘Public Enemy No. 1’] I was living on a busy corner in Roosevelt, so I knew when we made ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ you would hear that loud buzz go by when cars were driving. It was loud enough to make you go, ‘Oh, that’s that shit [laughs]!’”
It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back—Public Enemy (1988)
"Yo! Bum Rush the Show was recorded for ’86 during a time when we were being influenced by great people like Schoolly D, Run-D.M.C. and Whodini. It came out in 1987, but with hip-hop still being a singles’ market, somebody could cut something in the studio and be in the streets two weeks later. We had difficulty with this because in 1986 Eric B & Rakim and Boogie Down Productions and KRS-One changed the game. They fucking changed the world, man. Hip-hop became much more aggressive and much more faster. And Public Enemy had to get with that, so myself and Hank had to develop something in 1988 that was a lot faster, funkier, and also saying something serious that the people could feel. This lead to It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.
‘Rebel Without a Pause’ was like hearing a loud, jarring siren…a call. It was one of those things where when we recorded it we knew it has to be perfect. Because we needed a single that could smack the streets. We had to come up with something that matched what was going on musically, but with our own identity. And ‘Rebel Without a Pause’ matched that intensity. I went into the studio to cut the vocals. I stayed in the crib for a whole two days because I was so mad, yet inspired by Eric B and Rakim’s ‘I Know You Got Soul.’ I had never heard a record that had smacked my face right off like, ‘What the fuck?!!!’ Cats were so good that they made you damn near quit [laughs]. So I stayed in the crib all day and wrote ‘Rebel Without A Pause’ with a combination of what Rakim and KRS were doing.
Hank has a whole other story on the production of ‘Rebel,’ which we had to make with even more feeling. I really dug into myself and came back next day and started fucking with [my pitch] and I came into the studio and nailed it. But I had to nail it because Public Enemy had to have a real street record. Even with all that noise happening on ‘Rebel,’ we could always trust Hank’s ears to put the music all in perspective. Any producer or engineer can make a song louder. But when it comes down to sonics, no one was better than Hank. So when Hank was making the mix I was like, ‘Yo, man, don’t touch that…’ I just thought this was already a perfect mix. I just hoped we didn’t fuck it up with mastering.
We then got the acetate disc of ‘Rebel’ and went by Kiss-FM (the iconic New York radio station). Hank was outside standing by the car because back then they would tow your shit in a minute. By the time we came back down from the second floor, Chuck Chillout was playing ‘Rebel Without a Pause’ like crazy on Kiss-FM! I have to salute Chuck Chillout, He’s my brother for life.
As far as the [Bomb Squad’s] production [on It Takes A Nation], if it wasn’t for Marley Marl doing MC Shan’s ‘The Bridge,’ I don’t think we could have pulled that noisy sound off. I like noisy shit, but you can’t just like it. You have to have the ability to be heard over it. So the fact that myself and Flava didn’t have ordinary voices and we were totally different in contrast, that allowed us to cut through the noise. A lot of other cats that tried to do that loud sound had problems doing it.
It was difficult putting all those record samples together, but it’s supposed to be hard. You had four people in the room beat digging, evaluating and seeing what sounds worked and didn’t work. But at the end of the day, the music had to make some kind of sense. Songs like ‘Bring The Noise,’ Don’t Believe The Hype,’ and ‘Nights of the Living Baseheads’ had turned all of these crazy noises into actual songs. We never thought about making hit records, but our aim was to make distinctive records. You can make something that everyone else does, but what good is that?
We also understood the history of black music. When it came to the 60’s and 70’s those black music artists were like aunts and uncles to us. Although I had yet to meet Isaac Hayes [when we sampled him for ‘Black Steel In The Hour of Chaos’], I felt like Isaac Hayes, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, and Aretha Franklin were family. They were getting played and cosigned by our people in your house. You couldn’t just play anything in the household like you can now. You had to have a respect for these records and for what they meant and where they came from. So we took that into consideration going into making those records.
When we finished It Takes A Nation, a lot of the political messages on the album went over the heads of most people at the label. Contrary to popular belief, nothing we did was contrived. We were old enough to remember the ‘60s and ‘70s. That time was a part of us: the Black Panthers, the Nation of Islam, Nationalism, Do For Self…all of this stuff was instilled in us. But a lot of people at the label were clueless about black folks and our history.
What Public Enemy damn near did was turn over the news station and put it inside hip-hop records. White folks were in their own world, and we were in ours. Our deal with Rick and Russell was, ‘We deliver the music and everybody just leave us the fuck alone.’ Bill Stephney should get more credit. He was an important figure during our 87-89 years. He kept a lot of shit at bay. There were things jumping off at the label, but we were not affected by a lot of those different things.
We set out to make the greatest rap album of all-time. We wanted to make a What’s Going On of hip-hop music. The thing that made that record so unprecedented is that we didn’t just want to deliver an album that was straightforward from cut to cut. We wanted to show something different. We introduced the live feel to record. We were influenced by Earth Wind & Fire when they did Gratitude live back in the day. We had just finished playing London, England.
I get asked the same dumb ass question: 20 years later, what do you think about hip-hop going international?’ And I tell them, ‘Well, if you open up It Takes A Nation… it tells you we were always international when we said live onstage, ‘Alright London!’ So our point was to say that hip-hop could be a live genre and it could be international. We were coming at you with a higher speed that was going neck and neck with anything that you call rock & roll. And we broke the album up with instrumentals, which was new. We wanted to put together a real album. It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back was the next design of the hip-hop album.”
“Fight The Power”—Public Enemy (Do the Right Thing movie soundtrack,1989)
“The point we were trying to make on ‘Fight The Power’ was that black folks were people, too. And that we should be considered as much as everybody else would be in this country and in the world. The title of the song was not the first time it was used. The title comes from the Isley Brothers’ ‘Fight The Power.’ What was happening 14 years earlier was the same bullshit that was going down then.
Shooting the video for ‘Fight The Power’ was not possible without Spike Lee. We made the record, but Spike at the same time said, ‘Look, I’m going to take what Hollywood is doing and place it in Brooklyn.’ So Spike brought a lot of different factions together. There was a lot of bullshit going on in New York City as far as racial relations and the way people was being treated. And Spike took it upon himself to make a difference. Spike brought all that shit together. All we had to do was fall in and do our thing. We had to just do us.”
Fear of a Black Planet—Public Enemy (1990)
“Not only was there pressure to make a follow-up to It Takes A Nation…,there was pressure on us especially after 1989 and the success of ‘Fight The Power.’ We were going through accusations of being Anti-Semitic (In 1989, when P.E. was asked their opinion on the Arab-Israeli conflict, Professor Griff suggested that ‘Jews are responsible for the majority of the wickedness of the world.’ Chuck D later apologized for his group member’s controversial statements and fired Griff, who over a year later was let back into P.E.)
It was crazy. A lot of factions were coming at us. We were intertwined with a lot of people who were Jewish. So you can’t make a political statement and everybody nod their heads because they feel good about it. The truth is going to fall on everybody. I think the choice of words [from Griff] were totally wrong and inaccurate. But the whole thing was we were talking about black folks too, but now we can’t talk about you?
It’s one of those things that got us into some other place. And it should have been handled better by myself earlier on in the game. There was no anti-religion or race when it came to Public Enemy, but we were going to tell you exactly how we felt and what was going down. And at that time, this was jarring coming from a whole bunch of black mouths that you think were only supposed to be talking about bitches, our dicks and all kinds of stupid shit like that. That was acceptable. Even if you fast forward right now, you see what’s acceptable. You see who are the lawyers and accountants raking in the money for this behavior that we co-sign.
We weren’t trying to waste any time. We had ‘Fight The Power,’ ‘there was ‘Welcome to the Terrordome,’ which had its own thing going on. And then you had Flava Flav coming through like a champ. He hit it right out of the park with ‘911 Is A Joke.’ Flav happened to be funny. But even being a character, he also happened to be saying something that was very political and in a video that backed that up. Chuck Stone shot the ‘911’ video and Hank designed it. It was the easiest video I have ever had to do. I never liked doing videos, but doing ‘911’ I showed up in the end and it was a piece of cake. That song and video really showed that P.E. was truly a team.
Fear Of A Black Planet was one of the first times that hip-hop was getting scrutinized word for word and line for line on a political level. Our job was to come up with something that people couldn’t find. We wanted to dazzle and amaze and deliver something totally different from It Takes A Nation… The biggest thing that Public Enemy proved in the ‘80s and early ‘90s that made us different from any other rap group was that once we found something that worked we were going to throw it away. We never repeated ourselves. That’s what the rock & rollers did. Rappers and other black music artists, because of the way we have been treated as a people in this Western world, we always get on our knees and look to be loved. We look for love in all the wrong places. But our attitude was, ‘Fuck pleasing!’ This is what it is and if you don’t like it then fuck you too.
We were all very strong in our beliefs. Our whole goal with Fear of a Black Planet was to make to Un-Nation record. If Nations of Millions…was our nationalistic record, then we said Fear of a Black Planet was going to be our world, international record where you have to be bigger than just being an American. It’s already a black planet; join your people around the planet and stop being so closed-minded. We new it would be a terrible mistake trying to make It Takes A Nation…again.”
“Bring the Noise”—Public Enemy feat. Anthrax (1991)
“The Anthrax collaboration was a record that was done based on Scotty [Ian], Charlie [Benante] and them saying they wanted to do a cover of one of our songs from It Takes A Nation…We said, ‘Wow, these two heavy metal guys from another genre are white and Jewish in some cases, and here they are doing a rap record called ‘Bring the Noise’ that shouted out Minister Farrakhan [laughs]. This was great for race relations without even thinking about it. It showed the respect that Anthrax had for rap music as rockers. They helped changed the world with that cover. It was the first time a rap record had been covered instead of the other way around. Run-D.M.C. covered Aerosmith’s ‘Walk This Way.’ But Anthrax turned it around and covered a rap record. We went a little further. We did the record with Anthrax, then we did the video and did a joint tour, which was an unbelievable statement.”
Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black—Public Enemy (1991)
“The Bomb Squad had its own time period. Hank and Keith started taking on more outside work and getting bigger jobs. And that was the goal…to bum rush the show until each one of the people that was in Public Enemy had some footing. The plan was for a two to four-year period. And then after that everything fragmented into different areas and everybody had their own level of commitments that they had to adhere to. My commitment after 1990 was with Public Enemy. I was just trying to build what we had in Long Island. Everybody else got popular as far as dealing with the music world. So on Apocalypse 91 [you didn’t hear the Bomb Squad].
Again, we don’t like repeating ourselves. Apocalypse 91 started out as a remix album. Then it became an EP and then finally an album. Fear of a Black Planet and Apocalypse 91 were as different as night and day. Apocalypse 91 was more stripped down; it was more lean. [Producer] G-Wiz brought a great, strong, lean feel to the table that was still arranged by Hank and myself. It was a great idea and a great project.
‘Shut ‘Em Down’ came out of a lot of the boycotts that were happening. I remember being in Queens and I was talking to this cat. And he was talking about how Red Alert was just killing cats. He was just smashing records on the radio. And he kept talking about Red in amazement. He kept saying over and over again, ‘Yo, Red Alert, man…that cat is shutting them down.’ And I was like, ‘I’m going to have a song title in a minute [laughs].’ Sure enough, that’s how the ‘Shut ‘Em Down’ title came about. Black people were always quick to say we were going to boycott something, but Public Enemy made the statement that you have to build and boost your own. Sometimes boycotts work and sometimes they don’t. But when you have your own that’s more powerful.”
“Rise ‘N’ Shine”—Kool Moe Dee feat. KRS-One and Chuck D
“It wasn’t just Kool Moe Dee, KRS-One and myself getting together. For the video we also had D.M.C., you had Ecstasy from Whodini. There were a lot of people that got together. And whenever masters like Kool Moe Dee and KRS call, I follow. You are talking about two of the great contributors in hip-hop. Kool Moe D had the most powerful verse on ‘Self Destruction.’ And KRS-One, he’s just the most feared, dominant rapper of all time.”
“New Agenda”—Janet Jackson feat. Chuck D (1993)
“I had become a mainstream, primetime MC by this time. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis had great respect for what we were doing in hip-hop. And Janet was part of that request as well. We made a good thing happen. I’m very proud of [‘New Agenda’]. I flew out to Minneapolis to record with Jimmy and Terry for my part. I had a great time out there. And Janet was very cool. We went out afterwards to have pancakes. But those wasn’t my hands on that Janetalbum cover [laughs].”
Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age—Public Enemy (1994)
“I wasn’t worried about [how gangsta rap was dominating]. I had just come back from Africa, which allowed me to make a bold statement of what I was with and what I wasn’t with. I didn’t wait for a corporation or a hip-hop East or West Coast constituency to OK my next move, which was Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age. I got that co-signature from going to Africa and having my level raised. I didn’t care about the criticisms from the Source, Rolling Stone orToure for that matter. I came back from Africa with a strong perspective and view of hip-hop whether people liked it or not. It fell in line with never repeating yourself.
We used a lot of organic sounds. In retrospect it was a strong record. But people have robotic tendencies especially at that time. Just because one style was in that doesn’t mean that Public Enemy had to follow the Pied Piper leading a bunch of children in the river. We were performing around the world. Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age was a strong international record. I still feel it to this day.”
Autobiography of Mistachuck—Chuck D (1996)
“I was basically just doing a solo project. The Autobiography of Mistachuck gave me a chance to do some records I wouldn’t normally do as Public Enemy. It was a great relationship also meeting up and working with Danny Goldberg who was the President of Mercury Records at the time. People that were working inside Mercury were wonderful. It was a great situation. It’s not about who I did the record deal with. It’s about the conversations that we had. People respected my point of view and I respected there’s.
When I was writing ‘No’ I was very much influenced by this song called ‘Broken Language’ by Smoothe Da Hustler. It allowed me to go into the studio with a different vocal and lyrical technique. I thought that I could put my own twist on it and say something that was prevalent. Making a song that says something and means something was no. 1 on my agenda. I actually met the maker of that track…a young brother by the name of Harrison. He gave me a demo of his tracks at the end of a symposium at Howard University. We listened to his demo driving up from D.C. Harrison delivered the track and we re-arranged it in some areas. I haven’t heard from him since, but I’ve tried to reach out to him. ‘No’ has become a favorite of mines. I enjoyed shooting the video and doing it live as well.”
He Got Game—Public Enemy (He Got Game Movie Soundtrack,1998)
“I was raised in the days of Isaac Hayes’ Shaft, Curtis Mayfield doing Superfly and other artists doing entire soundtracks for films. And Spike Lee approached us in that same way. Not only would he do the score for He Got Game, he was going to do another album for the soundtrack. And Spike felt Public Enemy should be the one act to do the soundtrack. Spike said it would be a project that was worthwhile for the Bomb Squad to all come back together and work as one. Hank Shocklee was at the helm; Spike was at the helm of the movie. And Spike gave me a postcard of 15 to 20 different subjects on it, which I turned it into lyrics.
He Got Game as an album is one of my best lyrical jobs. I was able to utilize my love of sports, particularly basketball. I have metaphors on that album that went past cats. I knew sports. I wanted to be a sportscaster. I liked rhyming and I liked the execution of the vocals and I put a lot of things on that album that could hit cats today. With ‘He Got Game’ the song, myself and Hank knocked it out vocally in Atlanta. And then Hank masterfully did a great job on it in New York getting Stephen Stills to actually play on the song. The collaboration was a work of genius. It was Spike’s idea to use Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth.’ But we had respect for records, so we felt, ‘Look, if we are going to go ahead and do this we have to take it to the next level.’ I didn’t want to desecrate the meaning of the record. We felt confident it would work. And it did.”
Don’t Rhyme For The Sake Of Riddlin’—Mistachuck (2010)
“We are in some different times. I don’t believe the album format is the format that actually rides with this time. I believe in making one song at a time. But I made a few songs over the course of the last 10 years that I compiled into an album called Don’t Rhyme For The Sake of Riddlin’. It contains some songs I did with the Fine Arts Militia. And I also took some songs I did with [our rock group project] Confrontation Camp.
Today people are used to having accessibility in their pockets. They can get the sights, the sounds, the texts…the full 360 degrees of artistry coming at them and from all different angles. So I’m a one-song-at-a-time kind of dude. If you ask me personally, deep down the album is not the format of the day. I believe that when you see something going on, if you could write about it, record it and release it on the Internet the next day that’s how records should be made today.
We will be making Public Enemy records for the next two or three years. Because we know there our constituency is accustomed to the album format. And we know we come from that understanding of that format. The Public Enemy album we are working on now is called Most of Our Heroes Don’t Appear On A Stamp. It’s a work in progress and slated for October 2012. But there’s a bunch of other things we have been doing. No. 1 we waved the flag and tooted the horn when it came to the power of the music on the Internet to set artists free.
We’ve been building portals and networks. We built hiphopgods.com, which plays classic rap. You have a lot of artists from the classic era still doing new recording and new videos, so not only do we promote their classic stuff, we promote their new music. It’s the same thing with women in hip-hop. We created shemovement.com, which showcases women of hip-hop everywhere. We wanted to build a destination that would showcase their artistry and craft across the world. Public Enemy is starting our 77th tour in July in Europe and in South America. When people call me a legend I tell them I’m just a regular cat just like you. All that legend shit don’t work. When you are being stopped my the cops they just say, ‘Let me see your license and registration [laughs].’”