Learning Center: Public Enemy Producer Hank Shocklee

Chris Fitzgerald
January 19, 2012
Students interact with Shocklee.
Photo by Kat Taub

"Eventually you're going to have to get out of your room" is the advice given by hip-hop icon Hank Shocklee, warning against the "bedroom musician" that works in a disconnect. In fact, community and collaboration found a common thread in his dialogue, as Shocklee generously shared his time for the December Learning Center forum. Organized and moderated by MP&E faculty member Prince Charles Alexander, the Skype interview kept returning to the concept of striking a vibration—in fellow artists, in your listeners, and in the world. As Shocklee put it, "Music is the most important vibration on the planet that we have to promote change, and it's not being used to promote change." He would know. His music changed the world. 

Producer of the group Public Enemy, Shocklee was instrumental in bringing the art of sampling to the forefront and of nurturing the hip-hop movement from its infancy. Public Enemy's albums It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Fear of a Black Planet consistently rank among the greatest albums of all time by Rolling Stone, Spin, and others. 

On the open use of unlicensed samples in early hip-hop albums, Shocklee says that "everyone kinda knew that there was something not correct about that." It was a movement, and the attitude and swagger was, "I'm gonna snatch your stuff and rock it, and how dare you come after me for it." With the backlash against sampling, and with changes in copyright laws, Shocklee says that sampling is now only for the elite. Jay-Z and Kanye West can sample whatever they want, because they can afford the licensing, but the new kid coming up is left out. A big proponent of technology, Shocklee loves that you can record a live jam, then bring it right back into your software to cut it up and scratch with it, in the spirit of older-generation hip-hop, essentially sampling yourself. 

"Lack of access. That's what hurts," Shocklee says of the importance of advancing the internet community. His own NYC-based company Shocklee Entertainment has a home at shocklee.com and hosts a series of multimedia projects that Shocklee calls the "future frequency." A place to talk about music and plug into a community, the site backs up his philosophy that to make music you have to tune into other frequencies. 

Watch video of the event at the Learning Center's site.