Full Clip: Chuck D Breaks Down His Entire Catalogue Ft. Public Enemy, Spike Lee, Janet, Kool Moe Dee & More
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]!’”