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Trav's Favorite Producers, Part One: The Bomb Squad

by Travis on September 19, 2007

I’m back from lounging on the set of “Lifestyles Of The Rich and Famous” and partying it up like a rock star in the Vegas clubs, getting drunk off my new found fame….(it’s a joke, relax, I’m still the same dude eating frozen burritos because I’m too damn broke to afford anything else). Time for another little series. Next few posts will be highlighting some of MY personal favorite producers. No Primo stuff, its been done to death and I doubt I’d be able to come up with anything that the rest of you already didn’t know. I’ll try to stick to the unheralded producers, underrated, if you may. I have some eccentric tastes when it comes to hip hop production, which is probably why some of my classic albums tend to raise some eye brows when I mention them. I just want to shine some light on some of my overlooked fav’s…hope everyone enjoys.

The hip hop producer has made quiet a name for themselves over the past 15-20 years, from being a mere name on the liner notes, to quite often being bigger than the artist they are producing for. When I first started listening to hip-hop, I was all about learning the words that were being said. I still know all the words to “Raising Hell”, “Licensed To Ill”, and “Bigger & Deffer”, the music was there to just better clarify the words being said. In most cases it was a drum machine, preferably an 808, a funky drum break, and some kind of loop. It was pretty simple time for the hip hop producer, you didn’t have to do a whole lot. Then one album, one production team changed that forever. “It Takes A Nations Of Millions To Hold Us Back” dropped in 1988 and the world of production was forever changed and the hip hop nation could thank The Bomb Squad for this revolution in beat making. Yes, the art of hip hop production had already been starting to change, with the likes of Ced Gee, Paul C, and Marley Marl, but the Bomb Squad blew the hinges off the mutha fuckin’ door with the release of “It Takes A Nation…..”.

The original Bomb Squad consisted of Chuck D (credited as Carl Ryder often), Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee and Eric “Vietnam” Sadler. As early as 1975, Hank Shocklee and brother Keith Shocklee started a mobile DJ Crew named “Spectrum City” in Long Island, New York. As the decade came to a close, Chuck would join the crew. In 1982, Spectrum City was ruling the air waves of Adelphi University as the DJ crew for the University’s radio station, WBAU. It was here the early conception of both Public Enemy and The Bomb Squad came to being. Originally Hank Shocklee and Chuck were satisfied with being radio personalities. During those early days, they would record spots for the radio show. It was during these early times that they also met Eric “Vietnam” Sadler, who was a musician in his own right join the crew after being around for those early sessions.

In 1984, the crew would release their first 12 inch as Spectrum City, a track called “Lies” with a b-side being “Check Out The Radio”, which would become the more popular track on the single. The beat which consisted of a stripped down drum beat with an 808 was clearly influential in the progression in Run DMC, Beastie Boys, and Rick Rubin, all who were regular listeners of the radio show. It would be Rick Rubin who would be courting the group, who along with long time friend Flavor Flav and Norman Rogers aka Terminator X made another single at the end of 1984 that would set things in motion and also change the name of the group. “Public Enemy #1″ would be the signal to the rest of the world that a change was in the winds. According to the Brian Coleman’s book “Check The Technique”, Chuck himself put that track together on two tape decks and a Roland 8000. The tracks feature sample “Blow Your Head” by the JB’s, required a quick loop that required a “pause button” approach to hooking the track up.

After chasing the group for two years, Rick Rubin finally signed the group to Def Jam and the group quickly went to work on their debut album with Keith and Hank Shocklee, Sadler and Chuck D doing the production. They were not officially called “The Bomb Squad” yet, but the ground rules were already being laid down. The crew would drop “Yo! Bum Rush The Show” and although the album came out almost a year later than it was supposed to, thus not getting the credit as being as ground breaking as say “Paid In Full”, it was still creatively different than most things found at this time. The crew would quickly begin work on possibly the most important produced album of all times,”It takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back”, which contained mass chaos and true organized confusion as its basis for the music.

It was this very chaos that led the group to meshing together as a true team. It was also during this time that they started using the moniker of “The Bomb Squad”.

Yeah, except for Eric who was a musician, Eric was the only, he was a bass, sorry, guitar player. And he was the only one of us that had like a cultured musical trade. He didn’t read music or anything but he played it, you know? So he would kind of like frown upon some of the stuff that we were putting together like: ”I would put no music together that created dissident chords.“ And he would frown upon that because he would say: ”Hey, that bassline is not in key with the other guitar or the main loop or the main sample part that’s in there.“ And with me it’s not about lining everything up so that the keys matter. It’s about what kind of vibration that you want to achieve from it because there is a certain amount of tension that happens when something is slightly out of key because the ear and the body picks that up and you notice that something is not right with it. But at the same time it’s giving you a certain kind of energy, a certain kind of charge. Well, that’s what I want to get across. And keeping in mind, you know, because I’m big into frequencies and things of that nature.” — Hank Shocklee, Red Bull Music Academy

According to that same lecture he did at the Red Bull Music Academy, each member of The B
omb Squad had their specific function with in the team and it was truly a team concept. Eric Sadler was the musician. He would help the production in certain spots, pointing out a guitar lick that wasn’t in tune with the rest of the loop or changing a snare hit to match up right. Hank Shocklee was the “anti-musician”, going against traditional musical styles, “destroying” music in a sense. Hank would also say in interviews that in the art of record digging, that the team approach aided the art of finding samples as well, since “The Bomb Squad” production method was one that included layers upon layers of samples in some cases. It was these array of sounds that gave the music its chaotic texture.

When “It Takes A Nation….” was released, the world was turned on their ear and not just the hip hop world. The album was a big hit in the traditional college radio stations as well in an alternative sense of music. The whole production on the album was seen as “experimental”, things that had never been heard before. There are probably samples on that album that will never be identified. It was a beautiful hodge podge of sounds. Sampling laws would make this album very difficult to make in the present day enviroment

The year 1990 would be a big year for the crew. With the critical and somewhat commercial success that “It Takes A Nation….” had (pretty sure the album went platinum), The Bomb Squad was a hot commodity. Even on the R&B circuit, they would remixes for Jody Whatley, Bell Biv Devoe, Sinead O’Connor and even a remix of “Cold Hearted” for Paula Abdul. They would then go back in the lab and put together an arguably classic “Fear Of A Black Planet”, which pushed sampling laws even further. “Steppin’ To The AM” by Third Bass was a Bomb Squad banger as well. The west coast would soon jump on the nuts of the Bomb Squad as Ice Cube headed out to NY to have the crew produce his debut solo album, “Ammerikkka’s Most Wanted”. They adapted well to the west coast sound that would later influence other west coast “ryda’s” such as Sir Jinx and the Boogiemen (Bobcat, Rashad, and DJ Pooh).

Hank Shocklee would combine with long time Bomb Squad contributor, Bill Stehphany and create S.O.U.L records (Sound Of Urban Listeners) which would feature two Bomb Squad produced album in Young Black Teenagers self titled debut disk and one of MY personal all-time favorites, Son Of Bazerk’s “Bazerk, Bazerk, Bazerk”. The Bazerk album is probably on of the Bomb Squads greatest opus’ of crazy beats that are highly overlooked in the states, but SOB was revered in the international hip-hop community, headlining their own European tour. The group was highly original, using a James Brown type steez and consisting of four other memebers, Cassandra (aka MC Halfpint), Almighty Jahwell, Daddy Rawe, and Sandman, collectively dubbed No Self Control. He is a previous written post about my love of Son Of Bazerk:

We jump into part two of my own personal favorite albums today. The album we have today is quite possibly one of the most overlooked albums ever in my opinion. Son Of Bazerk was a “group” of sorts coming straight outta Strong Island, backed in it’s sonic soundscape by the almighty Bomb Squad. Bazerk was the lead MC, backed by No Self Control & The Band, which according to the inner liner notes, consisted of MC Halfpint, Almighty Jahwell, Daddy Rawe, and Sandman, all which pop up through all the album. As much as the group dynamic is strong and adds to the album, the main reason this album grabbed my attention was the crazy, crazy noise, provided by The Bomb Squad.

It was 1991, another number, another summer, and The Bomb Squad was THE Squad on the production tip. They made music out of noise and as much as PE’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions… was created out of chaos, Bazerk, Bazerk, Bazerk took that just a step further. Pure, unadultrated noise and it was beautiful. The Bomb Squad was known for it’s twisting of samples and making them almost unrecognizable, and this album was no different. Driving basslines dominate tracks, heavy scratching, driving synths and looped guitar riffs that help add to the absolute craziness of the album. It’s as if someone had a bucket full of musical concepts and threw it at a canvas and this is what came out of it. I love albums like this, and there is a reason The Bomb Squad is my second favorite, this album just adds to the legacy.

As far as the lyrics, SOB has enough style and vocal presence to not detract from the flurry of sounds coming at the listener. On some tracks such as What Could Be Better Bitch Bazerk actually is the main focus of the track, which doesn’t happen much on the album. On other tracks such as the single Change The Style, he even adds to the chaos on the track. His half shouted/half sang flow suites the tracks fine. With his crew splattered through out the album, it comes off as kind of a 60′s funk/soul album half the time. Sure, some concepts on the album fall short to keep it from being a bonafied classic, but the tracks that standout are more than enough to make up for any short commings.

I’m sure some people will think I’m crazy mentioning this in the greatness of so many classic albums, but this album got constant play from me for a year or two (at least until Masta Ace INC’s Slaughtahouse dropped in 93′) and the production makes it one of my top 10 favorite produced albums of all-time. Standout tracks: The Band Gets Swivey On The Wheels, Part One, Change The Style, One Time For The Rebal, What Could Be Better Bitch, Trapped Inside The Rage Of Jahwell, Are You With Me, J Dubs Theme (TIGHT FUCKING SONG)

Four and Half panties out of Five


By 1993, things started slowing down for the Bomb Squad. They were hired on to produce an album for Nike’s CEO’s son, Chilly Tee and even the Bomb Squad couldn’t save the disastrous results. Hank Shocklee would leave S.O.U.L. to start another company. They did a few tracks on Run DMC’s “comeback” LP, “Down With The Kings”. The crew would get together with Gary G-Wiz to produce PE’s “Muse Sick N Hour Mess Age” LP in 1994.

True MathematicsGreatest Hits (Champion Records, 1988)

Reportedly, this is a colaboration between Carl Ryder & Hank Shocklee on the music, and Eric Sadler on the vocals. Sounds kind of Bomb Squadish as well. It’s not as great as I would have hoped for, but its still kind of difficult to come across. I remember as a kid, I always read people thanking True Mathematics in their liner notes and I was on a mission to find out who and what “True Mathematics” was. I never did find a tape and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a CD for it anywhere either. Made an appearance on PE’s “Get The Fuck Outta Dodge” as well.

A1 For The Money
A2 K.A.O.S. (Greeks In Effect Part 2)
A3 After Dark
A4 For The Lover In You
A5 Get Funky Everybody
B1 I Don’t Love You Anymore
B2 Be My Girl
B3 Portrait Of A Rap Star
B4 Greeks In The House
B5 True Mathematics

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{ 1 comment }

Machiventa August 24, 2009 at 10:48 pm

Holy shit, Eric Sadler droppin by to drop knowledge? That's ill, thanks Eric. I always loved that True Mathematics album, everytime I play it it takes me back to one of my first jobs… played the tape constantly at that time. Nice post Trav!

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