Extra Thoughts UETAS-01: Public Enemy and “The Noise” (blog entry from 1997)

This is a bit scary. I have some CD-R’s of various files I saved over the years, primarily from the late 90’s up until 2001 or so. Random images, work files, and pages I wrote when I did the Unofficial Wu-Tang Clan Mailing List or the U-WU. It was a fan site on Prodigy, and while I did it for the respect of their music, I wanted to do more than post Wu-Tang Clan news items and also more than just hip-hop. Calling this section Extra Thoughts was calculated, as I wanted to not only share those “extra thoughts” that were “other than”, but I think I felt that I had to prove a point, even if I didn’t know what that point was.

In 1997, most web pages out there were personal but e-commerce was coming in strong at the same time. MP3’s were spoken of in hushed circles, but it would take 30 to 45 minutes to download one song. There were no blogs out there, although some of the personal websites out there were just that, web logs of random events in their lives. In time, the Extra Thoughts section would move from being music articles to personal journals. For me, I’m able to look back at what I was hoping to do, which was to continue establishing myself as a writer in the hopes of someone saying “this guy knows his shit.” What I do is cram in information like crazy, but I know that along the way, I wanted to do more, that “extra”.

From the archives, the first “blog” entry I ever did, circa 1997.

JOHN BOOK’S extra thoughts:

Public Enemy and “The Noise”

by John Book

NOTE: This is the beginning of my extra thoughts on hip hop, music, and life in general, found within the pages of the U-WU Web Site. These “thoughts”, merely my opinions as I feel them, will appear here exclusively in the U-WU Web Site.

The article I call Public Enemy and “The Noise” is #1 in my new U-WU Extra Thoughts Action Series (UETAS-01). Enjoy.

I was reading the new issue of RapPages today and there was an article done by The Roots’ ?Love. He spoke on what happened when he first heard Public Enemy’s “Rebel Without A Pause”, and how, in 1987, that song changed hip hop forever. He asked a number of other MC’s and DJ’s where they were when they heard “Rebel Without A Pause”, and much of it matched how I felt when I first heard it. So where was I when I first heard the song? First, my first experiences of P.E.

In 1986, everybody was knocked out by the beer-drinking pranksters known as the Beastie Boys. Licensed To Ill made it okay for white kids to listen to rap music, but first and foremost it exposed the same people to a form of music they might not have known about. Rap music was popular, but not as popular as it is now, not profitable as it is now, and not a “threat” as some may think it is. In 1986, you rarely heard a dirty word on a rap record unless it was really, really dirty. In 1986, “condom” was still a dirty word. But the Beastie Boys opened a lot of doors. It was okay for white kids to rock to Run-DMC, and some black kids might have been listening to Anthrax and the Cro-Mags and you didn’t even know it.

Way back in 1986, Licensed To Ill made a lot of money for Def Jam Records. A new group called Public Enemy also dropped an album on Def Jam called YO! Bum Rush The Show, but only the true heads heard about it back then. I had heard about it by reading a year-end issue of Rolling Stone (the review also covered an album by Original Concept called Straight From The Basement Of Kooley High) and I figured if it was on Def Jam, it must be good.

But the first time I really got into Public Enemy was by buying the soundtrack to Less Than Zero and hearing “Bring The Noise” for the first time. The sound was crazy, and chaotic, just what I liked. It was sounds on beats, beats within beats, this wasn’t just your simple Run-DMC set-up, this was some in-depth production with intense lyrics. I was heavy into my heavy metal and speed metal music back then, but for some reason I always kept an ear to hip hop. Always. “Bring The Noise” was literally a production no-no, with voices popping in and out and everything. It was great, and I remembered the lyrics as I did when I first heard “Rapper’s Delight”.

I wanted to be a major P.E. fan, and back then if you listened to rap music, you were down with everything Def Jam came out with. Even The Junkyard Boys. I found the single for “You’re Gonna Get Yours”, which is where I flipped to the B-side, a song called “Rebel Without A Pause”. My first thoughts were “okay, this must be a twist of the old James Dean movie”. I remember placing the needle on the record and immediately feeling numb. What in the hell was that “sound”? It was meditative, it was hypnotizing, and yeah it was annoying. Yet I wanted to and had to hear the song over and over. When Chuck D said “I caught ya pissing in your pants” I said to myself “whoa, somebody said piss on a record, and it wasn’t the Rolling Stones”. I loved the scratching from Terminator X, how he just mixed up the words “rock and roll” and ran it into the ground… literally. I let the record go and heard the instrumental over and over and over. Put on the headphones and wondered how in the world did they get that sound?

From that point on, rap music never sounded the same again. Everybody wanted to out smart everyone with a new beat, a new sample, trying to be more clever, more obscure. It worked, but the sounds created by The Bomb Squad production team (Bill Stephney, Hank Shocklee, Eric “Vietnam” Sadler, and Chuck D. under the name of “Carl Ryder”) were unique in itself. I remember seeing an interview the Bomb Squad did when they were producing an album by Son Of Bazerk. They had a loop of someone playing one key on a keyboard, and then a drum beat over that. It was a simple idea, but it was great, it was genius. I remember an interview with Bill Stephney, when he had the short lived S.O.U.L. record label, and he talked about how he came up with the “high pitched” siren in “Rebel Without A Pause”. His explanation was that he was making coffee one morning, was on the phone with someone, and the high pitched sound was the whistle the coffeepot was making. He immediately got a cassette player and recorded a few seconds of it. He brought it into the studio and just decided to loop a certain segment of it. I, along with a number of inspiring young producers probably thought “damn, how did he get that lucky”. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized Bill was lying big time, probably trying to protect himself from a lawsuit back in 1990. The “high pitched” sound was actually a saxophone, played by Robert McCullough, heard in the song “The Grunt” by The JB’s. A lot of other rappers would use part of the same song in their own music, most notably N.W.A’s “____ Tha Police”. The secret had been revealed.

By 1989, everyone was sampling like crazy, you couldn’t find a rap record without a complex sample here and there. It was taken to the ultimate with that wacky group known as the Beastie Boys, who released Paul’s Boutique after they jumped ship and moved to the West Coast. That album, to this day, is sampling heaven for me. But that album is another story. However, Bill Stephney was quick to say that while the album didn’t get respect back then on the street level, he was one producer who analyzed the album song for song, note for note, sample for sample because he knew it was funky.

Then we bounce back to 1988. Public Enemy released It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. I don’t have to explain what that album has done for rap music. It turned rap into an “art form” and there was no turning back. It’s one album that made me proud to be a part of hip hop, and one of the few rap albums that can easily bring a tear to my eye for its sheer intensity and attack of all senses. If Public Enemy contributed anything to hip hop, they helped make chaos a healthy thing to listen to.


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