Keith Shocklee This Bomb Squad member has impacted hip-hop with his revolutionary production skills that fueled the success from everyone from Public Enemy, Bell Biv Devoe, Ice Cube, Xzibit, and many others. Now working on a barrage of new material with Wu-Tang Clan, Flavor Flav, and George Clinton, Keith is still “bringing the noise”! Check out this exclusive interview as Keith drops a few gems on us!
(photo by Craig Carpenter)
WHO?MAG: What the latest with Keith Shocklee? KEITH SHOCKLEE: I’ve been putting together a couple of tracks for the Public Enemy 20 year Anniversary Album. I’ve been doing that the last couple of months. I executive produced Xzhibit’s album. I’ve been building up a couple of independent groups. I got a couple of rock groups that I’m working with. I moved into this new facility in Manhattan back in November. I’ve just basically been doing that.
WHO?MAG: How did you get involved with Xzhibit? KEITH SHOCKLEE: I was at the Urban Network and [Ice] Cube was promoting his album. Xzhibit always hangs out with Cube when he does certain things. When I ran into him, I introduced myself and he lost his mind. We had spoken one time over the phone and we never met face to face until I was at Urban Network. He had just signed his deal and his situation at Koch to do his record under his own label. He brought me in and asked me if I wanted to executive produce it. We had a meeting at the pool during urban impact and we made the deal there. From there it was all up hill.
WHO?MAG: Are you involved with your brother Hank’s company Shocklee Ent? KEITH SHOCKLEE: No. As the years went on, everybody started to do their own thing. Hank branched off and started doing his thing. Chuck [D] started doing Slam Jamz. I started with Kim Jackson’s Ground Up Records. We started building from there. We’re older now and got crazy responsibilities. (laughs) We keep that respect level to everybody’s business.
WHO?MAG: How is your production process when you go into the studio? KEITH SHOCKLEE: It’s whatever. I’m more into the drum area. I start building from the drum tracks. I’m not the type of guy that sits down and builds track after track after track. I like to do a track per situation. If I’m working with an artist, I like to figure out what the vibe is and what the artist is looking for. I like to build around that. Sometimes I might take a loop from a record and then bring in musicians to play the loop again so I have more freedom to manipulate the loop.
WHO?MAG: What equipment do you use right now? KEITH SHOCKLEE: I’m straight digital. The sequencer I use is Logic audio to do a lot of the production. All the keyboards I went to soft sense. I got some classic stuff. I got the old school M1 in the soft sense which we call a plug-in inside Logic. I got the Wave stations; the whole Native Instruments collection. I got the Stylus, which a lot of cool remixes use. I’m straight digital. It’s better I don’t have to worry about all these floppy discs and all the discs the MPC needs to store them. I can store it all in the hard drive.
WHO?MAG: Which is your favorite of the PE albums? KEITH SHOCKLEE: I love “Fear of a Black Planet” because I did most of the stuff on “Fear of a Black Planet” with Eric “Vietnam” Sadler. It was a record most of the critics loved it. As far as our best one, I would say “It takes a Nation of Millions”. The reason why is because it was more street oriented. That set the precedent of how rap albums needed to be; with the interludes. That whole album was a great concept album from the opening intro of the song. We took the voice of Professor Griff’s off the show they did in London. That showed at the time ’89 or ’90. How rap music had exploded is so crazy. We recorded a show and included parts of the show into the record. That nobody had done before. That was pretty unique. Ice Cube’s album was another unique album, but as far as Public Enemy’s “It Takes a Nation”, that is really ground breaking.
WHO?MAG: How was the production process on Fear of a Black Planet? KEITH SHOCKLEE: It was a bit crazy because at the time we were having internal turmoil because you got to understand we had the Griff incident going on. I’m going to be straight, that was the vibe in the whole camp for a minute. Me, Eric, my brother, and Chuck we really dug down and got into making this album so solid, Chuck as far as lyrical content and a lot of the interludes that we put in. It was the critics attacking Public Enemy. Chuck wrote to answer their attacks of Public Enemy. It was a bigger concept for an album as far as what was going on with PE as opposed to “It takes a Nation” which was this is what’s popping in the streets. They were attacking us as seen in the interlude on Fear called “Incident at Radio 66.6” based on radio stations coming down on Chuck. By the time “It takes a Nation” had swept the planet, people were calling PE a racist group. The critics were saying that we were anti-Semitic. That was the album that “Welcome to the Terrordome” was on. Chuck was telling critics “Get off my d-ck! This is what we’re about. Leave me the hell alone. This is our view point.” That album pushed PE to the edge of madness. (laughs). Production-wise, it wasn’t really different from “It takes a Nation”, we just went a little bit deeper because the technology of the equipment got better.
WHO?MAG: How about with Apocalypse 91? KEITH SHOCKLEE: It was more or less the same except the view point of PE was going through change because you had new producers coming to the table like Gary “G-wiz” because me and Eric were always in the beginning of the first part. The beats were semi-fast. In a lot of songs, we had a lot of uptempos and groove oriented. The production style stayed the same: aggressive, sample-driven, and hard sounding sounds. We never changed that much because the formula always worked. Other producers started to come to the table. We were branching out and doing other things. We were doing more of other people’s records as opposed to staying focused on PE. The Bell Biv Devoe project had just came through. It was a couple of more cats we had to start employing to come to the table and finish a lot of stuff.
WHO?MAG: How was it working with Bell Biv Devoe since it was different than PE? KEITH SHOCKLEE: It was a project in itself. It was funny Mike Bivens tracked down Chuck. That’s how that went down and it went down to the point where they were moving away from New Edition. Everybody was reaching for their new solo thing. Johnny Gill was doing his solo. Ralph Tresvant was doing his solo. It was kind of crazy because Ricky, Ronnie, and Mike, they weren’t the lead vocals in the group. Out of the three of them Ricky had a good voice, but he wasn’t the lead vocal as opposed to Ralph and Johnny. By this time, Bobby had broke off and left them. I think Babyface and LA Reid were dealing with Bobby, Johnny, and Ralph. Ronnie, Ricky, and Mike were sort of left to the back. They decided to form this group and they got with Harold Hicks. Mike and Ronnie were always background singers, but Mike wanted to be something a little more radical with BBD. They tracked down Chuck and they wanted some of the Bomb Squad because they were loving the stuff that we did with Ice Cube. They had recorded a lot of their songs, but they were looking for some new songs w hen they came to us. We came up with 2 songs for them and what we did was mix the whole album. When they got to us, their concept started to take another stage. They had the street clothes and the whole hip hop with an R&B appeal when I met them. Now I’m in the studio and the funny thing is they come dressed almost like they’re in New Edition with the cardigan sweaters. They had no street appeal to them. I was thinking ya’ll want to rap looking like this? Rappers don’t look like that! They had Jehri curls. It was crazy! By hanging out with us, they started having some street edge. I used to make a lot of jokes about their whole situation. I don’t know if ya’ll can rap. You guys are singers. We broke the ice and started working on a couple of songs. I brought in a couple of cats that could write them some good raps. That’s when I brought in Busta Rhymes and Leaders of the new School. I brought a whole lot of crews around them. One thing about those guys, they caught on real quick once they started to see who I was bringing around and how me and Eric put things together in the studio. They took that and ran with it. They just asked us “why don’t you just mix our whole album?” They gave us the song “Poison”. It didn’t sound right. It wasn’t mixed right so we mixed it over. They put “Poison” out as their first song. One of the reasons why it took off was the mix it had on it and it just propelled them. Same with the Ice Cube situation. I know Puff used to proclaim he did the $20,000 remix. We were getting that on the remixes in the early 90’s and we were the first crew to get points off of remixes. Nobody was doing that because we were sending remixes to # 1 like we did for Vanessa Williams. We did that for Paula Abdul. We did a few remixes for Ziggy Marley and them.
WHO?MAG: How did you guys end up working with Ice Cube? KEITH SHOCKLEE: After he left NWA, the only people he knew that could make music the way it could be done was us. When an artist has that set in their mind it was almost like doing another PE album. He had his formula on how he wanted to do his record and the concept. We just came in and enhanced it. Another thing we did was make it seem like we did the record in the west coast. That was crazy unheard of. That was the beginning of crazy interludes. When we did that, everybody ran that to the next level or I should say ran it into the ground. We hung for a while. It wasn’t like come the studio here’s a track. Nah man, we sat and built. We worked out. Now a days nobody has time to do that anymore. During his record, he had a lot of songs he wanted to do. We made sure when we did something, it sounded like we did it in the west coast. Me and Sir Jinx, we got together and did some of the interludes. When we did the interludes, I made sure I was using the lingo they used in the west coast. Then he brought Da Lench Mob in and had them do their stuff. That’s research. Chuck made sure that’s the way it went down. It was crazy fun recording that record. You got to remember Ice Cube recorded that while he was in New York. We had all the sound effects and the gun shots. Everybody thought we recorded a real drive by.