I just loved the production [on Fear] -- Hank Shocklee, in particular -- because it’s very midrange. It’s very guitary, but not in the way the Beastie Boys were doing it. It was more … it could be seen as pastiche-y. What Public Enemy were doing was brand new. I hadn’t heard that stuff before. People forget, but that wasn’t around before, that kind of attitude. From a guitar-world perspective, most of the stuff at that time, what was going on was pretty traditional in its approach -- stereo mixing, chorus, guitars, big snare drums. That hadn’t changed; we were part of that change, but that was the Public Enemy sound.
To me, it’s a bit like Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s. A lot of people go, “Revolver’s the best one,” but in a way, like Fear of a Black Planet, the tempos are more intense on Sgt. Pepper’s, it feels like now. Fear of a Black Planet actually suits the mood we’re in now -- the tension dial’s been turned up three notches higher. It’s all continuous -- it’s a continuous record -- and I think as a production, it was a statement -- a kind of an attitude statement. I think with Fear, they did actually manage to surpass what they did before, even though it was the record before that turned everyone on to them.
What seems really radical to me was the dryness and the upfrontness and the fact that it sounded like it could be on the street -- it could be anywhere. We were in the era of stadium rock production, and everything was all about sounding like it was in a club, but it could’ve been at a street party -- it was all dry and close with no particular reference to anything. That really affected me -- that attitude -- because even though we have a reputation for all that stuff, there is no reverb on our records to make things sound nicer.
Hank Shocklee was definitely the Brian Wilson of hip-hop. He’d stay at home and make the records while the other guys were on tour, and it was really f--king influential. And it didn’t get old. That record doesn’t sound old at all. It’s timeless.
Ed Robertson, Barenaked Ladies
Absolute seminal hip-hop band. Like, the golden age of hip-hop, for me, begins with It Takes a Nation of Millions. And Fear of a Black Planet was like the “Holy f--k!” follow-up. It was The Bomb Squad going, “Actually, we can do this,” and it just made hip-hop so much more musical. It took it from, like, one sample and a drum machine and a guy rapping over it to this sonic collage that was confusing and exciting and kind of deranging, in a way. I had never heard anything like it.
The record hit me in so many ways: It hit me politically, educationally, but it also hit me sonically. It’s just so f--king exciting, and it has this cacophony -- it’s the only way I can describe it -- these layers and layers of samples going on and it just produces this tapestry of noise that is just … there had never been anything like it. They completely changed the game.
The first time I realized there was a disparity in emergency services was “911 Is a Joke.” I hadn’t heard that on the news. I hadn’t read an article about that. When I first heard “911 Is a Joke,” I went, “What? What do you mean? You call 911 and emergency services comes.” And I was like, “Wait a minute -- that doesn’t happen in some communities? What the f--k?” So, like, that record is where I learned that s--t. In my privileged existence growing up in suburban Canada, I learned from Public Enemy that there is this massive injustice gap, and it was f--king eye-opening and confounding. The message wasn’t for me, but it taught me so much.