Keith Shocklee Discusses ‘It Takes A Nation Of Millions…’
Thursday June 24th 2010,
Filed under: In The Trenches,Interviews,Strong Island
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Some bonus material from my interview with Bomb Squad co-founder Keith Shocklee which covers their seminal work with Public Enemy:

Keith Shocklee: ‘We’d done records before, but we’d never been totally left alone to do an album. Hank and Chuck and my cousin Eric did like 98% of the ‘Yo! Bumrush The Show’ album – just the experience of trying to understand what it’s like to record in a studio. Everybody was new to doing an album in the studio. It’s easy to do a single, ‘cos you do your single and you out! Now you gotta go back in – the next record, and the next record…If you notice when we got to It Takes A Nation…, the sound was much bigger and much harder, and it wasn’t as thin as Yo! Bumrush The Show because we had an understanding of what it was like to do an album. The concept of albums – each song is different. You’re trying new things, they lettin’ us go. Russell is just like, ‘Yo, make your record. Go ahead!’ Even when we did the stuff with Vanguard Records – ‘Check Out The Radio’ and stuff like that – we went in there on our own but we had some guidance. Even though we were basically left on our own, but there were certain things that were takin’ over by the engineer, because he’s done records before.

So we were the new jacks in the recording studio. We’re learning what a two-inch machine is. We was learning that you have to calibrate the tape machines. Yo! Bumrush The Show album we understood certain things, but we were never was left alone to just, ‘Go ahead!’ It was all trial and error. We did ‘Megablast’ and ‘Timebomb’, then when we got to ‘Takes A Nation…’ – ‘OK, we know what to do now!’ If you notice, Takes A Nation… sounds a whole lot more confident because we knew what to do!

Everybody’s first album…if you go in there without a producer – like the records that are made today, it’s the producer that makes the album and, ‘You young ‘uns get on the track. I know what to do – just put your vocals on and I’ll fix the rest’. Back then, we was doin’ the beats, making the records, learning how to track, understanding what syncing was – with the tapes or the drum machines – or playing it live and keepin’ in time. But as we kept goin’ back in the studio, doin’ more and more and things, until we understood what it was about. Then it became second nature, and then it just came to the point where with Takes a Nation… it was like, ‘We’re gonna do the incredible that no one else is doin’!’ Inserts and interludes, and makin’ it hot like you at a concert! Showing people how big rap was growing, so that’s why we put the live concert on there, so people could really see that this is big everywhere. We selling-out the stadiums – because nobody think we can do stuff like that. Back then, when Flash and ’em were on the road, they had to go out with Rick James, ‘cos the R&B cats were only ones doin’ the stadiums. Now rap cats are doin’ the stuff!

Then the Fresh Fest tour came along with Whodini and they were showing it on TV, then we put it on records to even enforce it, just like, ‘Yo, these are big!’ We did it at the Brixton [Academy] – the whole show was recorded there – we just took the inserts. And nobody did inserts like that, to be a concert on there. To my knowledge, that album was the first one that did inserts from concert snippets. That set a lot of trends where people started doin’ inserts. Then after we did the Ice Cube album…that was ‘Hollywood’ inserts! We made little sub-movies inside of there! Then after that, everybody tried to do that.

We made an anti-drug record – ‘Night of the Living Baseheads’ – it was so hot that you couldn’t even understand it was an anti-drug record! That was a creative anti-drug record! The beat was banging, made you jump, made you think – but we was talkin’ about, ‘Look what y’all are doin’ to yourself’. One of the greatest things of the early stuff we was doin’, we took things that people didn’t understand and gave it a light to the point where it was just so street and angry. It was OK to be angry! Every time I hear either ‘Bring The Noise’ or ‘Welcome To The Terrordome’ and I be driving it just makes me wanna drive faster. I get that road rage! Nobody makes records like that anymore.

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12 Comments so far
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Word. These records changed my life.

Comment by keatso 06.24.10 @


lol @ The Brixton tho

Comment by Jeffluv 06.24.10 @

great interview! actually the only interview Ive ever read by dude..great work!

Comment by ABROCK 06.24.10 @

This is my weekend reading right here, thanks a lot Robbie :)

Comment by Jaz 06.24.10 @

“Every time I hear either ‘Bring The Noise’ or ‘Welcome To The Terrordome’ and I be driving it just makes me wanna drive faster.”

Say Word.
One of the greatest albums EVER. EVER!!!!!!!!!!
I know what I’m going to be listening to Today…..

Comment by BKThoroughbred 06.25.10 @

If you notice when we got to It Takes A Nation…, the sound was much bigger and much harder, and it wasn’t as thin as Yo! Bumrush The Show because we had an understanding of what it was like to do an album.

I desagree. I’ve always been impressed how Yo! sounded powerful. Rick Rubin did a great job on this album.

Comment by trickykid 06.25.10 @

The Bomb-Squad’s music was like a whole mixtape within each track. They could prolly have a contest for people to guess how many samples they used in certain songs. For as much sound as they had goin on, it all seemed to make sense. They were so far ahead of their time and that’s what happens when you’ve got mature hip-hop cats in the lab together…

Comment by Kid Captain Coolout 06.25.10 @

I think “It takes a Nation” might be the pinnacle of Hip Hop albums. Groundbreaking, important, tough as hell, smart, sonically superior, and all around dopeness.
I remember hearing “baseheads” on Red Alert and being like WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT? Not many albums changed the game and changed lives.
I also remember that plenty of hustlers on 42nd street were wearing those PUBLIC ENEMY wool hats at the height of the crack days in 88. IRONY.

Comment by keatso 06.25.10 @

“It Takes A Nation…” = my favorite album of all time.

I remember popping it in the cassette player of my 1981 Toyota Corolla, and I didn’t press eject for about a year (i.e. when “Fear Of A Black Planet Came Out”).

Comment by skinny 06.25.10 @

No production was as gritty and at the same time sonically clear. “Prophets of Rage” is a song that still makes me want to ‘run a power’ move on the establishment.

Comment by Dubz 06.26.10 @

night of the living baseheads was my favorite anti drug song; from the beat, lyrics, especially the video. If you’ve never seen it you should look it up, one of the funniest videos ever.
“Get beeper tie…”

Comment by Big Gist from brooklyn 06.29.10 @

Keith was on point about “Nation…” but Bum Rush The Show had MAD bangers on there: You’re Gonna Get Yours, PE #1, Timebomb, M.P.E., Too Much Posse and one of my all-time favorites, Miuzi Weighs a Ton, one of PE’s hardest joints to this day. The only thing missing: Rebel Without a Pause should have been on the album or re-released with it on there. Before I knew the title of the song, I bought the tape thinking “Terminator X Speaks With His Hands” was Rebel and was mad as hell when I got home. Anyway, “Nation…”: if it ain’t the best Hip-Hop album of all-time, it’s right there on its ass.

Comment by oskamadison 07.01.10 @

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