Filed under: Bomb Squad Stay Winning,In The Trenches,Interviews,Print Work,Steady Bootleggin',Video Clips
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Continuing my conversation with The Bomb Squad‘s Keith Shocklee, we discuss the early days of Public Enemy, park jams and some of their outside projects.
DJ Johnny Juice told me about how you guys made-up a bunch of group names and then filled the spots?
Keith Shocklee: What we was doing was a low-scale Motown for rap music. We just made demo tapes, but we had an outlet – our radio station. That kept everybody close together. Everybody had their own crews, sometimes we put certain people in the crews. We had the Classy Crew – these three girls from Hempstead – nice little hot girls. They rhymed, we took the ‘Hey Mickey’ beat and they did a crazy song to it. We used to put together our own little shows, man. Had like a little tour! Back at that time it was real easy – people had never seen stuff like that. We couldn’t get the big guys to come out to us all the time. We wanted the Treacherous Three – they won’t show, they were like ‘Long Island? Ehhh!’ We did a party and Spoonie G was ‘sposed to come through. We paid him half his money in advance – he ain’t never show! Everybody used to think Long Island was ‘Ehhh!’ until they come out here and find out there was a huge hip-hop community, because everybody from Long Island – they keep forgetting – they migrated from the city! My moms was the only one that lived out on Long Island, she had nine brothers and sisters, so we always had to go to Manhattan. That’s how we knew about Flash and Bambatta and all of them. It wasn’t because we heard about them, we had to hear from my cousins and ’em, then we had to go see them! Then we got to the point we just go and hang out at the spots. Chuck’s family’s from out there, Flav had some family out there. Most of the kids that lived out in Long Island had some relatives in Manhattan or The Bronx or Brooklyn. The real city cats, like the rappers, didn’t understand that. We were like a third-world [country] to them.
We was our street team. We just said ‘Yo man, we gotta go hang-up some flyers!’ It was illegal to hang-up flyers, cops used to watch us hang-up all the flyers and wait for us until they thought we was finished and make us go back and take ’em all down! [laughs] They used to bust our chops! We had a strategy for when we threw parties. It became an unwritten hip-hop rule – if you were a street promoter you always tried to throw a party on the 1st or the 15th. That was either pay week or people got their welfare checks. You gonna throw a party? Make sure the people have money! ‘Cos sometimes you throw a party in between, like at the end of the month when everybody’s money is spent-up, nobody will show!
Did you used to do the old ‘Ladies free before 11′ trick?
Yep, we used to do that. We always made the guy pay, ‘cos the one thing we knew was wherever the ladies are the guys will follow. It’s almost like ‘rent parties’ – ‘I gotta pay my rent – throw a party!’ Charge 50 cent. Charge a quarter for the drinks!
What kind of booze did you serve?
Whatever we had, we would serve! We had 40 Oz., Pink Champale. Champale was a malt liquor but it said ‘champale’ which was very close to ‘champagne’! That was our Crystal of the day. [laughs] It wasn’t as hard as a malt liquor, it was very smooth and sweet tasting. When we bought champagne, that meant somebody was goin’ overboard, but when you on the street you got a little Pink Champale. When they came out with the wine coolers, I don’t wanna be sitting on the corner drinking a 40 – I go get me a wine cooler so I can act like I’m a little sa-diddy.
When we came up in the 80’s, the only big ballers was the dealers. The only person that could come to the bar with all the super-fly clothes and buy out the bar was the drug dealers, and everybody wanted to do that. We liked the MPV’s and the SUV cars, we didn’t care about the Beemers and the Mercedes. Our hottest car was a Jetta! You had a hot Jetta with a name plate on the side? You was flossin’! The real super-gangster cats…everybody wanted the 98’s. And that’s how we came up with ’98 song. Me and Chuck was hangin’ out, Chuck wanted to do a song about cars. He said ‘Yo, what’s the hot car that everybody ride?’ I said ‘Chuck, you don’t know?! The 98’s, man! Everybody got the 98’s!’ It was either 98’s or Cadillacs. That’s when he did the ’98 Posse’, ‘cos everybody had the 98 around here.
The cover of that record was serious. You could see a few dudes pulling guns out or a little handle poking out.
Those guys on that cover was about it! We knew them – take a picture with ’em. They didn’t play. It was like ‘Hey, this is how we make a livin’!’ Some of them are dead, because of that living, on that cover! We got tired of all the city cats saying we was soft out here. ‘Those guys out on Long Island aren’t tough!’ It’s like ‘You haven’t went five blocks from where you live at!’ – until guys from the city started to hang out here. They was like ‘Hey, wait a minute. They real out here with it!’ We wasn’t trying to promote it, we was trying to show them that you can’t push us around! We needed to be so unified that cats in the city will understand we got our own world out here.
When did the popularity of PE start to grow?
Nobody understood what we was doing! We was talkin’ about some positive things, we was getting dissed a lot. Mr. Magic dissed us on the radio, talkin’ about ‘No more music by the suckers!’ That’s why we put that in the record. Chuck used to collect all kinds of things, he used to listen to stuff and just record. We was dissed by Howard Stern…
I didn’t realize that Howard Stern was around that far back.
Howard Stern is from Roosevelt. He’s from where we grew-up at. He’ll tell you that. Howard Stern grew-up there in the late 60s, early 70s, and at that time a lot of racial stuff was going on. Roosevelt used to be a mixed town but then most of the white people just left. He found out we was from Roosevelt, so he played our records one time when he had his AM station. Me and Chuck was listening to it, and he was like ‘Look at these guys talkin’ about they tough. I grew up in Roosevelt – Roosevelt’s not tough! Look at this bunch of pussies!’ He called us pussies, and then he broke the record on air! Howard Stern at that time was getting his weight up, he was becoming big. Those are the things that started to boost our popularity. They was talking about Public Enemy in the negative sense, but the problem is when you talk about something in the negative sense, more and more people want to hear about it!
You’re also being cast as the underdog.
Yes. It wasn’t like we had the publicity like Run-DMC had. ‘What are they talking about? Why are they talking about guns? They want to kill the white man!’ That’s not what we sayin’! [laughs] That started to fuel the curiosity of mainstream America. Then when people started to sit and listen they went ‘Hey, this group is talkin’ about some real stuff! They’re very conscious about what they’re sayin”. We wasn’t doin’ brag and boast records. We wasn’t talkin’ about the next rapper, which everybody else was doin’. We didn’t care about the next rapper! We never talked about another rapper on our records. Things that were going on in our area that we didn’t like – that’s what we spoke on, in a way that it was relayed to the streets in a manner that the streets knew what the hell we was talkin’ about. That’s when they began to have this fear…of a Black Planet!
What was the story with the Chilly-T project? The son of the Nike guy?
One thing about me, my brother and Chuck sometimes was that we would be ahead of the curve. Sometimes we’d be too far ahead of the curve…
The curve being white rap?
Yeah. You had the son of the hottest sneaker company on the planet at the time. They was dominating, and we did an album with the son of that. He was true to the game…
A lot of people would have assumed that you guys got a really nice check to work on that.
You know what? We sat and talked to Travis [Chilly-T] and he was really into rap. We did never do nothing for the check. We was ahead of the game. What I mean by that is, it’s no different than Brooke Hogan doin’ a record and having Pharrel and all them produce the joint. Or Paris Hilton doing a record! Now we’re taking the children of the celebrity stars, which at this time would be cool. Back then, it wasn’t cool. We was trying to stay away from anything that resembled Nike! Back then, people was so true to the game it was like ‘We ain’t tryin’ to hear this guy come to the table rhyming because he’s the son of the biggest sneaker company on the planet!’ It was about are you true to this game. MCA were trying to do a little thing with Nike, but we sat down with Travis – all Travis listened to, all Travis had was rhymes. That’s all he wanted to do, and we sat and listened and went ‘OK, let’s see if we can make this work’. We did a song on the album called ‘Just Do It’ – that was the only correlation to him being the son of Nike.
But could he actually flow?
His flow, for then, was pretty tight. We’d written songs for him, he wrote some of the stuff himself, but he can flow. He wasn’t a freestyler like Eminem, where Eminem could come off the top of his head a crush you, but he had a flow where he kept step and he kept a rhythm to what we was doin’, and that was all we was tryin’ to do with that. We never looked at it the way they look at it now. Back then, you couldn’t get over with a record because of who you was part of. But nowadays – that works! We was even ahead of the curve with the Young Black Teenagers! You put the Young Black Teenagers out today? It works! It just works.
I loved that True Mathematics ‘For The Money’.
True Mathematics had a strange voice, and we knew when certain things wouldn’t work for certain records. That’s why it sounded like he was rhymin’ through a telephone, ‘cos his regular voice wasn’t cuttin’ through the record.
What’s the real story on the first Slick Rick album?
Slick did some of his music, we did the other half – me, Eric and Hank. Juice did a couple of scratches, my man True Mathematics wrote ‘Let’s Get Crazy’. I think we wrote ‘Kitt With The Scoop’, ‘Teacher, Teacher’. Eric and my brother did ‘Teenage Love’. Rick did ‘Indian Girl’, ‘Children’s Story’…
All the songs with the ‘chit-chi-chit-chit’.
Yeah, he did that, because he’d have a whole album fulla that. The hi-hat shaker from the DMX. The same hi-hat that was in ‘The Show’! You know what? Jam-Master Jay did ‘Treat ‘Em Like A Prostitute’. One of the things with Slick Rick – I guess Rick and Russel wanted him goin’ in with a producer, and Jay and ’em didn’t want to go in with him because he was ‘Slick Rick’. [laughs] You know how Slick Rick can be! He was ‘that guy’. So my brother said ‘Ahhhh, we’ll go in and do it’. So it rocked like that. We didn’t even bill it as a ‘Bomb Squad’ production. Rick wanted certain things his way. Eric did most of the programming. Juice did a couple of scratches on it, stuff like that. He ain’t never sat down and wrote the track.
‘The B-Side Wins Again’ was a great record.
The premise of that record was about back when we used to do the mobile parties, it got to a point where there were so many young little mobile DJ’s that didn’t have a good sound system – their sound system was horrible – that was the essence we was trying to capture. Cats used to be in the park and they sound system used to sound just like that! You couldn’t hear, they playing they stuff and you couldn’t understand what they was sayin’, but it was just the raw energy that it had in the beginning that nobody knew. It was like “Yes, yes y’all-y’all-y’all!’ ‘One two-two-two!’ People had the super echo, the echo machine on everything that they said! But that whole concept was based on the old school sound system of your local DJ around the way, that only did this because everybody else was doin’ it, but they didn’t put no time into puttin’ they sound system together. They just figure: ‘Oh, I can DJ! Let me get some speakers, turntables, a mixer and a cheap-ass microphone, and I’m good! I’m just gonna play in the park!’ We went purposely for that sound. We was trying to capture the essence of a old school park jam, when somebody hear that they say ‘Yeah I remember I used to go to the park jams and some of the guys sound systems used to sound like that’. Ours never sounded like that. You could be eight blocks away and still feel the thump! I think I lived ten blocks from the park, but because the suburbs don’t have the big buildings – we just got trees – sound travels. You can hear a faint thump of the kick through the air in the summertime. You knew something was going on at the park, so you didn’t have to put out flyers!
What are you up to now?
Me and Kim Jackson got our company, Ground-Up Records, doin’ a lotta independent things. Me and my brother are going back to doing The Bomb Squad, and we’re doing the DJ set where it started at, because now within that it’s mostly in the Drum & Bass area. It’s calling us to do that right now. We’re gonna come at another angle, but keep it still street. There’s a lotta people in our side of the community that really don’t understand. They think it’s techno, but it’s not. It’s sped-up hip-hop break beats. I just think hip-hop needs to get into another zone right now, it’s stale.
Public Enemy – ‘Muizi Weighs A Ton’
Public Enemy – ‘Brother Gonna Work It Out’
Public Enemy – ‘The B-Side Wins Again’ (12″ Mix)
True Mathematics – ‘For The $’
Ice Cube – ‘AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted’
Chilly Tee – ‘Get Off Mine’ video:
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