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.
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.)