I think Hank Shocklee’s contribution to Public Enemy, as a producer and co-founder, had a deep influence on the approach to sampled sound and digital sound ever since. In Brisbane, Australia in December, I got to sit in a room full of students at the Art of Record Production conference and listen to Shocklee walk through the album "Fear of a Black Planet." I realized it was a bit like needle-dropping Sgt. Pepper with George Martin.

Shocklee describes his role with Public Enemy as a kind of teacher, helping Chuck D, poet, meet digital production technology. In the years since, he’s expanded that teaching role to include young people around the world, and he’s got some strong opinions about the importance of learning the craft of recording and music in general.

Fittingly, we sat down for a few moments in a classroom.

Interview: Hank Shocklee, Pt. I – On music making from cdm tv on Vimeo.

What a lot of people may not know about Hank Shocklee is that beyond being a Public Enemy veteran, he’s also been deeply involved in the music industry. Unlike so many armchair industry quarterbacks, Shocklee has worked with the major artists (from Madonna to Peter Gabriel) and had a significant stint as Senior Vice President for Universal MCA Records. That means when Shocklee criticizes the industry as musically illiterate, he speaks from the perspective of someone who’s been on both the inside and outside of the majors. (He’s now producing and scoring music independently, and drove his entrepreneurial spirit into his own Shocklee Entertainment.)

Criticizing is one thing — but Shocklee had advice for how artists can guide the direction of their own career. He talks about the limitations of the industry, how the music community can grow beyond it, and how visual media could finally become a serious domain for musicians. (We agree with that.)

Interview: Hank Shocklee, Pt. II – On music business from cdm tv on Vimeo.

  • i had the great pleasure of seeing him speak last year at the future of music panel at tekserve. he's an amazing speaker, hugely insightful, his website is also a great resource for all kinds of info, especially the forum: Shocklee Network


  • Theres a great interview with him in Tape OP, describing how he, Chuck D and Flavor Flav dropped in samples and beats BY HAND on the earlier stuff 'cause they hadn't a proper sequencer.

  • Much respect … great, thought provoking talks … yet I cannot resist a bit of snark:

    "there are only 8 notes".

    that'd be 12, I believe. But if the dude was giving a class, I'd pay tuition! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Charles

    This is a stellar interview. Even though I am interested in music, I'm primarily a visual artist. His ideas apply across the spectrum of art. Cheers for such a great interview, one that really matters.

  • chris

    Amazing stuff. Such an even-handed look at music in the digital age.

  • thanks for such a great interview! Shocklee and the Bombsquad have had such a huge and lasting influence on me since i was a kid listening to PE. and he keeps on. his newer stuff is worth checking out. really good stuff and breaking boundries as ever.

  • Excellent and very insightfull interview with a true master of his craft. More interviews of this level would be awesome ๐Ÿ™‚


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  • el paolo

    Definitely more substantive than I would've expected, and his points about emotion in music were relevant, especially in how "humanizing" features are not that human at all. Perhaps they need a new name more specific to what they actually do…"velocity randomizer," for example?

    It's channeling emotion into a digital space (a track) that, at least in my own mind, makes expressive interfaces, virtual and hardware, all the more important. For example, hyper-sampled drums and velocity-sensitive drum pads may seem over-the-top for some building home studios, but actually playing them instead of more rigid drum machines can be a night and day experience (all depending on the type of music you're making, of course).

    So I dunno, Hank kinda inspired me.

    Thanks for sharing this, Sir Peter of Kirn.

  • Mr. Tunes

    great set of videos here. i will say though there is a bit of a conundrum with music becoming just a part of the visual world(if i understand him correctly)…

    on one hand i agree with him but i think musicians have to fight hard to maintain the music-only business – because, seeing first hand there is a tendency in the multimedia business to undervalue music-for-picture licenses – why? cause their thinking is that by featuring the song in their ad or video game they are promoting the artist's album which will now sell high volumes. but it isn't always the case.

    except for touring which can benefit highly. nothing seems to replace touring right now. it seems to me like all roads lead to live performance. which comes back to visuals – a great way to distinguish yourself from all the other acts out there.

  • Downpressor

    Hank Shocklee has been a production hero of mine since I first heard It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (far superior to Fear Of A Black Planet IMHO). It was about the same time as I found Adrian Sherwood through Tackhead Tape Time. Thanks very much for posting these two videos.

  • plurgid: Apparently Hank Shocklee went straight to the source for that info… see, an "E flat" is actually a "flattened E", so it's the same note, just flattened. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • mex

    [my comments after video one] so what if we don't follow a pattern or listen to other people's music… its called originality – even if you think its just coming from the sky. And you don't have to learn how to play analog instruments first before you go digital to make good music – screw anyone who thinks there is the right or wrong way of going about something, make your own style and your own way even if your the only one that likes it or enjoys it. what a idiot!!! total idiot!

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  • This is a very insightful document. Fascinating as his work has always been .

    Get more of stuff like this on here at CDM!



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  • drk

    thanks for sharing these videos – very insightful indeed!