Tag Archives: Hank Shocklee

Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet

Public Enemy
Fear of a Black Planet
March 20, 1990
Def Jam RecordingsColumbia RecordsSME
070/100
Public_Enemy-Fear_Of_A_Black_Planet-Frontal
1. Contract on the World Love Jam // 2. Brothers Gonna Work It Out // 3. 911 Is a Joke // 4. Incident at 66.6 FM // 5. Welcome to the Terrordome // 6. Meet the G. That Killed Me // 7. Pollywanacraka // 8. Anti-Nigger Machine // 9. Burn Hollywood Burn (feat. Ice Cube & Big Daddy Kane) // 10. Power to the People // 11. Who Stole the Soul? // 12. Fear of a Black Planet // 13. Revolutionary Generation // 14. Can’t Do Nuttin’ for Ya Man // 15. Reggie Jax // 16. Leave This Off Your Fucking Charts // 17. B Side Wins Again // 18. War at 33⅓ // 19. Final Count of the Collision Between Us and the Damned // 20. Fight the Power

This record has shock tactics written all over it, well compared to Public Enemy’s previous album that is, not in the grander scheme of things. It’s not as though It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back shied away from potential controversy. It most certainly did not. But it didn’t have a song titled Burn Hollywood Burn on it either. Perhaps the absence of Rick Rubin allowed them to speak their minds in a less politically correct manner. After all, would it really be a good idea for a white guy to man the boards, recording a song called The Anti Nigger Machine, social commentary or not? It certainly was a bad idea for group member Professor Griff to make anti semitic remarks in a Washington Times interview not long before Fear of a Black Planet was to be created, publicity stunt or not. It is for this reason he was given the boot by Chuck D, albeit temporarily, and he didn’t participate in the recording either.

I don’t know why it is that Rubin left. He is jewish and Griff did say some vile shit about god’s chosen people, but like I said: that racist motherfucker was out. Maybe Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad figured that two albums into their career they had enough knowledge, experience and a sizeable enough fanbase of their own to get by without him. Fact is that Rubin did leave and the difference in sound quality is immediately noticeable. It’s not like the Bomb Squad fail to bring the noise, they certainly are competent producers. But the beats do sound somewhat less rich and polished than they did under Rubin. The difference isn’t huge or anything, but it is there.

Besides the sound being slightly less tight overall and the guys getting a little more caustic, possibly under the influence of their new friend Ice Cube who in 1990 was the agriest motherfucker on the planet, which is a story for another day, it is for the most part a continuation of the chosen direction for Chuck, Terminator X and Flav.
That “wall of noise” thing they had introduced the last time around had worked pretty well and Chuck D had always been as dope an MC as they come so why wouldn’t it be?

Fear of a Black Planet mostly concerns itself with institutional racism, which makes this album incredibly current since that discussion is very much a thing right now.
911 Is a Joke, mostly performed by Flavor Flav takes a dump on emergency help services for poorly responding to incidents in black majority neighbourhood areas.
Burn Hollywood Burn, which because of its line up is every old school head’s wet dream and rightfully so since it sounds terrific, is about negative portrayal of black people in tv. series and films. On the Incedent at 66.6FM the Beastie Boys get called out, possibly for being a white band stealing and polluting appropriating and gentrifying a traditionally black artform.
The title track goes against anti-interracial relationship bigotry, and there are many other critiques of other forms of percieved racism on here. You can agree or disagree with the points being made, but you can’t say these guys don’t make them with gusto, flair and engagement, plus it generally makes for sonically fairly enjoyable music.

All things considered Fear of a Black Planet is a good album that should satisfy fans of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Fact is that it’s not quite as good as that album is, which could be attributed to the loss of Rubin and perhaps Professor Griff depending whether he actually did anything musical in the group, but that’s not necessarily crippling the listening experience. After all lots of music is both not as good as that album and nevertheless still perfectly listenable.

Best tracks
911 Is a Joke
Burn Hollywood Burn
Fear of a Black Planet
Fight the Power

Recommendation
Pick this up.


Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

Public Enemy
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
June 28, 1988
Def Jam RecordingsColumbia RecordsSME
090/100
it-takes-a-nation-of-millions-to-hold-us-back-by-public-enemy
1. Countdown to Armageddon // 2. Bring the Noise // 3. Don’t Believe the Hype // 4. Cold Lampin’ With Flavor // 5. Terminator X to the Edge of Panic // 6. Mind Terrorist // 7. Louder Than a Bomb // 8. Caught, Can We Get a Witness // 9. Show ’em Whatcha Got // 10. She Watch Channel Zero?! // 11. Night of the Living Baseheads // 12. Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos // 13. Security of the First World // 14. Rebel With a Pause // 15. Prophets of Rage // 16. Party for Your Right to Fight

It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back was the album that broke rapper Chuck D, hypeman flava Flav and DJ Terminator X; collectively known as Public Enemy, to the masses and showed the world that there was a market for densely produced, vigourously performed rap songs about unapologetically Afrocentric subject matter and social commentary interchanged with swaggering party tracks. It outsold their more B-boy orented 1987 debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show and went gold within a week of release. Obviously they didn’t do all this alone. They were aided by the Bomb Squad, a production crew consisting of Hank Shocklee, his brother Keith, Eric “Vietnam” Sandler, G-Whiz and Chuck D himself. They developed a new hip-hop sound that was charactarised by the intrumental being packed to the gills with samples. It was later dubbed “the wall of noise”, analoguous to Phil Spector’s revolutionary “wall of sound” in the ’60s. The impressive thing is that that is hardly an overstatement. Compare how different for instance N.W.A sounded on N.W.A and the Posse and Straight Outta Compton. Then check out It Takes a Nation Of Millions to Hold Us Back, which came out a month before the latter and try to make the case that this album wasn’t a profound influence and that it didn’t pretty much reinvent rap music, changing it forever making it more musically complex and better in general.

You can’t because it did.

Overseeing this merry band of young, ambitious whippersnappers was super producer Rick Rubin who has a career trajectory that is pretty much unrivaled both in scope and in longevity. Dude produced everyone from Johnny Cash to Eminem, started working in 1982 and show no sign of slowing down today. It Takes a Million isn’t one of his lesser achievements.

Most good hip-hop combines music that sets a mood with a rapper with a unique mic presence and persona. It Takes a Million is no exception. Its storming beats are the perfect environment for Chuck D to land his equally intense vocals onto while Flava Flav rides shotgun. It Takes a Million is via the intro and a couple of skits framed as a live album which it most certainly is not. If however any hip-hop album is so energetic you can pretty much taste the music as it plays, as though it’s being constructed right in front of you, it is this one. The album kicks off with the pumping Bring the Noise and never loses stamina. The album never goes slower than midtempo and does even that only very rarely. The late ’80s were a simpler time for rap artists. “Slow jams for the ladies” were not yet necessary inclusions for Def Jam Records to consider a project for release, let alone weird EDM-rap mutations. In stead the listener is treated to a musical firestorm. You can disagree with these guys’ politics, but even then it would be incredibly difficult to deny the infectiousness of their music. Chuck D’s rhymes about his views on Nation of Islam and opression of blacks, among other subjects, are intense and authorative-sounding throughout.

It’s difficult to choose highlights from this album because it is an integral success and this is one of those albums which one should enjoy in its entirety. Still, personal favourites of yours truly are the rambunctious opener Bring the Noise, the teapot-whistle of Terminator X To the Edge later rebooted on Rebel Without a Pause, the fast-paced funk groove of Caught, Can We Get a Witness? The ’80s-rock tinged closer Party For Your Right to Fight is dope as hell, as are the ominous piano keys of Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos. Even the tracks that aren’t complete songs work: the sax-riff looping instrumental  Show ’em Whatcha Got and the also vocal-less drum break Security Of the First World are sound music making, the latter two later served as the basis for completely different songs by other artists: Rump Shaker by Wrecx-N-Effect and Justify My Love respectively, and many other songs via those tracks getting jacked.

If you haven’t yet heard It takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back I suggest you drop everything and find a way to listen to it ASAP, it’s that good.

Best tracks
Bring the Noise
Terminator X to the Edge of Panic
Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos
Rebel With a Pause
Party For Your Right to Fight

Recommendations
Buy this album.


GP Wu – Don’t Go Against the Grain

GP Wu
Don’t Go Against the Grain
January 21, 1997
MCA RecordsUMG
060/100
GP Wu - Grain Rar
1. Smoking // 2. 1st Thing First // 3. Two Gats Up // 4. Blow Up // 5. Party People // 6. If You Only Knew // 7. Hit Me With That Shit // 8. Hip Hop // 9. Chamber Danger // 10. Underground Emperor // 11. Life Bid // 12. Don’t Go Against the Grain // 13. Things Ain’t What They Used to Be // 14. Black on Black Crime

GP Wu are considered by most rap aficianados who’ve heard of them affiliates of the Wu-Tang Clan, but other than having members Pop the Brown Hornet and Down Low Recka namechecked by Wu ringleader RZA on the intro of classic song Clan in da Front alongside a myriad of other then-no-name people they never got much out of it. Especially in the way of musical collaborations with people who were actually in the Clan. The closest any one of the guys got before the release of Don’t Go Against the Grain was Rubbabandz his appearance on the RZA produced Young Godz off Shyheim’s sophomore album The Lost Generation.
Child rapper Shyheim is the artist the people in GP Wu are most associated with being that they provided the most guest verses on his first two albums. Shy and GP member Pop the Brown Hornet are both cousins of Clan member Ghostface Killah and possibly each other so that helps explain that connection. Oddly enough neither Shy nor Ghost show up on this album, nor could RZA be bothered to throw a leftover beat their way.
Perhaps MCA Records spent the entire budget for Don’t Go Against the Grain, which can’t have been that much, on securing the Bomb Squad’s Hank Shocklee as the album’s executive producer, even though his presence isn’t actually felt one way or another.
You could therefore if you were uninformed listen to this album thinking these guys are some sort store brand imitations of the Wu Tang Clan with no connection with the actual group whatsoever, which is serious problem for a group that actually has Wu in its name. Wu fans are known to pick up anything remotely Wu-attached but they usually will check for a good guest appearance on the back-cover before deciding to purchase or not.
Speaking of the now defunct demographic of record store customers: What’s up with that artwork? It looks like Don’t Go Against the Grain is a metal album or something… (It most certainly is not.)
That sort of mislabeling product on several levels can be potentially disastrous sales figures of your album, and perhaps it did contribute to this one flopping harder than it necessarily needed to. Although lack of any sort of hit single was also a most definitely a contributing factor.

The fact that the album went aluminum is unfortunate because while Pop the Brown Hornet, June Luva, Rubbabandz, Down Low Recka and producer RNS aren’t as virtuous as the actual Wu-Tang Clan they do adequately recreate their sound without going so over the top with it that they could be considered biters (No kung fu movie dialogue samples, no sped-up soul vocals and not too much in the way of five percenter islam-inspired lyrics). And their guest appearances on Shyheim’s albums must’ve gotten some folks to notice them.
It isn’t unthinkable that this could’ve gone gold with some assistance by Ghost, Shy, RZA or anyone else in the Clan or if they included a song produced by Puff Diddy and featuring Ma$e, and released it as a single with a video directed by Hype Williams shot on Times Square.

This album is consistently entertaining in a rather conventional 1997 New York hard core thug rap kind of way. None of the guys spit anything that hasn’t been heard better before or since, but they’re all competent rappers and because they all have distinct voices they’re all fairly easy to tell apart which helps the medicine go down.
The subject matter is all fairly standard. Substance abuse (Smoking), fire arms (Two Gats Up), hedonism and boasting of superior rap skills (Party People), the sexual prowess of GP with women who are already taken (If You Only Knew), the state of the genre (Hip Hop), the state of society (Things Ain’t The Same and Black on Black Crime) and nothing in particular (Hit Me With That Shit).
The same can be said of the productions courtesy of group member Down Low Recka and RNS. They tend to have a sese of urgency and dramatic minimalism not unlike RZA’s beats, but less spacy and less artisan. Blow Up and Hit Me With That Shit have a sort of jazzy feel because of its incorporation of minimal trumpet hits, Party People is suitably jiggy, Life Bid mixes cheesy ’80s rock synths with old school horror movie organs, Black on Black Crime features some mournful strings. The beats all perfectly nice when they’re on but appear to be satisfied with slipping from ones conscience when they’re done playing.

While there isn’t actually much to complain about here it makes sense that this album didn’t go gold, even if it easily could have with proper promotion and a better radio single. It might even have been for the better that this album was both the beginning and end of the Gladiator Posse discography. It’s not like they had that much content here, nor did they have that interesting a way of talking about their non-content. A sophomore release might’ve taken them beyond exhaustion of their subject matter, beats and rhymes. I’m not suggesting that I wish all of them should’ve stopped working after dropping this one, but perhaps their talents were better spent on the occasional guest verse here and there, especially Pop the Brown Hornet and his distinct-sounding voice.
Anyway Don’t Go Against the Grain is alright, but merely alright.

Best tracks
Smoking
Blow Up
Hit Me With That Shit
Life Bid
Party People
Black On Black Crime

Recommendations
If you are a fan of the Wu of olde and can find this for cheap in the used bin of your local record store (If there is still a thing such as a local record stores) you can pick this up. You’ll probably get a few good spins out of it.


Public Enemy – Yo! Bum Rush the Show

Public Enemy
Yo! Bum Rush the Show
April 1, 1987
Def Jam RecordingsColumbia RecordsSME
080/100
Public Enemy - Yo! Bum Rush the Show
1. You’re Gonna Get Yours // 2. Sophisticated Bitch // 3. Miuzi Weighs a Ton // 4. Time Bomb // 5. Too Much Posse // 6. Rightstarter // 7. Public Enemy No. 1 // 8. M.P.E. // 9. Yo! Bum Rush the Show // 10. Raise the Roof // 11. Megablast // 12. Terminator X Speaks With His Hands

While N.W.A was just starting take off in L.A. with their profane, violent lyrics about raising hell in Compton and South Central L.A. over Dre and Yella’s phoncky beats something else was brewing on the East-Coast of the USA.

Indeed Public Enemy largely bypassed the gangsta shit or rhyming about street life, selling drugs and fucking bitches, in stead they decided to rhyme about politics, the African-American community and the American media and all sorts of things much more serious and less hilariously graphic than their West-Coast contemporaries did, while their at-the-time Def Jam-assigned producer Rick Rubin, as well as PE’s own production team the Bomb Squad, couldn’t be bothered by Cali’s rather literal funk, and channels a somewhat more rock-tinged sound for Chuck D to rap over while Flava Flav props him up alongside him, eventually doing as much for “conscious hip-hop” as N.W.A did for gangsta rap.
For a group known as militant and political this debut sure is tame. It would seem that PE didn’t quite get political from the get-go since subject-wise they mostly tackle the same B-boy subjects that Run and Daryl were known for rapping about, nor did they set the world on fire with this album, since I cannot find an indication that Yo! Bum Rush the Show did platinum, or even gold numbers, or scored any big hits (back when record sales and radio were an actual indication of how many people actually were reached by a record).

As uncompromising as N.W.A was in their sound and lyrical content on Straight Outta Compton, they at the very least had prevalent sense of fun on some of the songs off their debut.  Songs like 8ball [Remix] or If It Ain’t Ruff may not have stood a ghost of a chance of getting played on the radio, but their sense of mischief and money maker-moving production paired with only made them extra suitable for fraternity parties.
Yo! Bum Rush the Show, because of being more acceptable to mom and dad’s ears and because of containing only one James Brown-sample, offers no such rebellious party function, which is probably why Yo! Bum Rush the Show didn’t go platinum on word of mouth, while Straight Outta Compton did.

Besides, few tracks go very far in expressing many of the profound but controversial beliefs PE is known for having (the dissing of gold digger-bitches on Sophisticated Bitch, the acquiring of a car on You’re Gonna Get Yours, the advise not to smoke crack on Megablast and the dismissal of sucker MCs on Public Enemy No. 1 are about the extent of the proceedings content-wise.)
The exception is Timebomb, which casually namedrops Kareem Abdul Jamar and adresses Apartheid and teen pregnancies among other similar subjects and Rightstarted (Message to a Black Man) which attempts to remind the black community of slavery and reasons about a link between high criminality rates among Afro-Americans and the white man holding the black man down. This is where the seeds of their 1988 breakthrough album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back were sown.

Subject matter-wise Yo! Bum Rush the Show is varied enough to be consistently entertaining, with lots of old school-minded bragging, boasting and critiquing, as well as hints of social consciousness.
Technique alone elevates PE over the likes of RUN-DMC or the Sugar Hill Gang, who mostly rapped about the exact same subject matter, but never elaborately broke down any of these subjects the way Chuck D does, both content-wise and flow wise.
The beats are pretty fresh too. You’re Gonna Get Yours, an ode to Chuck’s beloved automobile has the kind of instrumental that would be equally well suited to score an ’80s race movie, with it’s jingling guitar, it’s booming bass and the scratching being substituted by car noises.
Sophisticated Bitch pairs rock guitars with hip-hop beats and takes one back to a time before soul and R&B were the obvious source material for hip-hop producers to sample.
Timebomb is the funkiest thing on here, which helps Chuck’s message go down and helps make the tone of the song activist rather than preachy.
Public Enemy Number One is the kind of propelling, minimal instrumental that manages to be both old school and timeless at the same time and makes anyone who rhymes over it sound good. (Even P. Daddy, when he jacked the beat wholesale for his song of the same name on his 1999 album Forever. A collection of songs with beats you’ve heard before elsewhere, better.)

Yo! Bum Rush the Show is a prime example hip-hop’s late ’80s coming of age. Chuck D (along with the likes of Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, N.W.A, the D.O.C., Ice-T and Schooly D) was one of the first to realise the genre’s potential lyrical complexity, all while, at the very least on this album, maintaining the old school sounds and mentality of those who came before him (RUN-D.M.C., LL Cool J, Sugarhill Gang). As such this is one of those albums every hip-hop historian should own, and an overlooked one at that. But since besides revolutionary and influential this is entertaining as hell from a music standpoint as well, fans of other musical genres that aren’t necessarily into hip-hop, should take this for a spin too.
You’ll rarely find an MC more authoritative-sounding than Chuck D and you will definitely never find a hypeman more engaging than Flava Flav. And with the Bomb Squad banging the beats and the legendary rock-producer Rick Rubin lending them a hand and overseeing this album’s creation you know what’s up.

Best tracks
You’re Gonna Get Yours
Public Enemy No. 1
Time Bomb

Recommendations
Pick this one up.