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Rebirth of a Nation (2006)
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Posted by Robert
Rap News Network
6/1/2004 6:46:02 PM

Tags and topics realted to this article include Public Enemy.

When Public Enemy released It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back in 1988, it was as if the album had landed from another planet. Nothing sounded like it at the time. It Takes a Nation came frontloaded with sirens, squeals, and squawks that augmented the chaotic, collaged backing tracks over which P.E. frontman Chuck D laid his politically and poetically radical rhymes. He rapped about white supremacy, capitalism, the music industry, black nationalism, and – in the case of "Caught, Can I Get a Witness?" – digital sampling: "CAUGHT, NOW IN COURT ' CAUSE I STOLE A BEAT / THIS IS A SAMPLING SPORT / MAIL FROM THE COURTS AND JAIL / CLAIMS I STOLE THE BEATS THAT I RAIL ... I FOUND THIS MINERAL THAT I CALL A BEAT / I PAID ZERO."

In the mid- to late 1980s, hip-hop artists had a very small window of oppor-tunity to run wild with the newly emerging sampling technologies before the record labels and lawyers started paying attention. No one took advantage of these technologies more effectively than Public Enemy, who put hundreds of sampled aural fragments into It Takes a Nation and stirred them up to create a new, radical sound that changed the way we hear music. But by 1991, no one paid zero for the records they sampled without getting sued. They had to pay a lot. The following is a combination of two interviews conducted separately with Chuck D and Hank Shocklee.

Stay Free!: What are the origins of sampling in hip-hop?

Chuck D: Sampling basically comes from the fact that rap music is not music. It's rap over music. So vocals were used over records in the very beginning stages of hip-hop. In the late 1980s, rappers were recording over live bands who were basically emulating the sounds off of the records. Eventually, you had synthesizers and samplers, which would take sounds that would then get arranged or looped, so rappers can still do their thing over it. The arrangement of sounds taken from recordings came around 1984 to 1989.

Stay Free!: Those synthesizers and samplers were expensive back then, especially in 1984. How did hip-hop artists get them if they didn't have a lot of money?

Chuck D: Not only were they expensive, but they were limited in what they could do – they could only sample two seconds at a time. But people were able to get a hold of equipment by renting time out in studios.

Stay Free!: How did the Bomb Squad [Public Enemy's production team, led by Shocklee] use samplers and other recording technologies to put together the tracks on It Takes a Nation of Millions.

Hank Shocklee:The first thing we would do is the beat, the skeleton of the track. The beat would actually have bits and pieces of samples already in it, but it would only be rhythm sections. Chuck would start writing and trying different ideas to see what worked. Once he got an idea, we would look at it and see where the track was going. Then we would just start adding on whatever it needed, depending on the lyrics. I kind of architected the whole idea. The sound has a look to me, and Public Enemy was all about having a sound that had its own distinct vision. We didn't want to use anything we considered traditional R&B stuff – bass lines and melodies and chord structures and things of that nature.?

Stay Free!: How did you use samplers as instruments?

Chuck D: We thought sampling was just another way of arranging sounds. Just like a musician would take the sounds off of an instrument and arrange them their own particular way. So we thought we was quite crafty with it.

Shocklee: "Don't Believe the Hype," for example – that was basically played with the turntable and transformed and then sampled. Some of the manipulation we was doing was more on the turntable, live end of it.

Stay Free!: When you were sampling from ma

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