Hank Shocklee Reveals Don’t Believe The Hype Wouldn’t Have Been Released Without D.M.C.
Producer Hank Shocklee is attached to some of Hip-Hop (and R&B’s) biggest records. As a founding member of The Bomb Squad, the Long Island, New Yorker made history with Public Enemy, as well as produced hits for 3rd Bass, Eric B. & Rakim, and Ice Cube, among many others.
In a new interview with 247HH, the trailblazing sampler was asked to highlight some of his own greatest records. After acknowledging “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos” as his absolute favorite, Hank discusses his studio atmosphere. The producer forbid guests in the Greene Street Studios where P.E. made much of 1988’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. Even group member Flavor Flav was reportedly turned away from the studio unless he was scheduled to record vocals on that particular day. Shocklee (who worked closely with brother Keith) does recall inviting Lenny Kravitz and a pregnant Lisa Bonet to hear some of the album, early. He says their reaction to “Black Steel…” encouraged him to recognize it for what it was. That song became the classic (and platinum) LP’s fifth single.
“I never use my own judgement and say, ‘Okay, this record is going to be the shit,’ ’cause you never know,” reflects Hank thinking about that experience. He shares another, while citing his second favorite production: “‘Don’t Believe The Hype,’ for example, that was a throwaway record. I’ve never thought that that record would be anything. And matter of fact, it was put on the shelf. What brought it off the shelf was D.M.C.” One third of Run-D.M.C. shared management with Public Enemy, and The Bomb Squad would later work on Down With The King. “[He] used to have this [Ford] Bronco, and he had a ridiculous sound system in the Bronco. So what he did was, he was out on 125th Street. I think there was a concert in the Apollo Theater. Right when everybody was coming out, D.M.C. was playing the demo of ‘Don’t Believe The Hype.’ Everybody was going crazy on 125th Street hearing this record. D came back [and] was calling us [and Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin at Def Jam] and said, ‘Yo, this record is blazin’!’ He was having heads call too, while [he was playing it in Harlem].”
For Hank Shocklee, who began as a DJ with Spectrum City, this kind of testing was critical. “Now you have to understand something: back then, that was an anomaly to have a sound-system in a car that’s boomin’ like that, where cats can be on the streets and hear a record like that.” Hank estimates that thousands heard P.E.’s demo that night as they left the historic Harlem venue. “So when he came back with that [story], that’s when we knew that we had to release that record. That’s why we released the record. That’s [also] why I don’t use my own particular head when releasing records, I listen to you guys; I listen to the streets.”
The third track Hank Shocklee cites is actually a tie of sorts. He begins discussing Bell Biv DeVoe’s 1990 MCA Records #4 hit, “Poison.” “That record was the start of what I consider to be the merging of Rap and R&B, together. Ricky [Bell], Ronnie [DeVoe], and Michael [Bivins] were background singers [at the time]; they had no leading role in New Edition, at all. They were kinda like the misfits, the throwaways: ‘We’ll throw ’em over here; we’ll see if they come up with something.’ By me working with me, I gave them a record called [‘B.B.D. (I Thought It Was Me).’” The Bomb Squad’s Hank, Keith, and Eric “Vietnam” Sadler produced three of the 10 tracks to the quadruple platinum debut LP from the New Edition offshoot. “I gave them the blueprint for the style in which they needed to come away with.” He recalls “Poison” beginning as a Dr. Freeze-helmed demo. “It was very, very laid back. And so I said I’ll go in there and remix this thing up and give it some umph. That [resulting] record jettisoned their entire career.”
In describing helping artists organize ideas and blaze new pathways, Hank discusses Slick Rick, who he worked closely with in 1988, producing half of The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick, which was a Top 40 debut. “Slick Rick was sitting on the shelf at Def Jam after he had did the record ‘The Ruler’s Back.’ That record got a lil’ buzz on the radio station that was there, KISS FM, at the time and [DJ] Red Alert’s show.” The Jam Master Jay-produced track’s response apparently did not excite the Def Jam brass at the time. “It was in the state of ‘We don’t know what to do with this guy.’ So I went and said, ‘Well, let me go and sit down with him and see what we can come up with.’ ‘Hank, if you can do that, that would be great.’ So sitting down with Rick, figuring out his ideas, because Rick had an enormous amount of crazy ideas, and I wanted to merge them and produce that project so that it becomes cohesive. That’s why it’s a two-part project, Bell Biv DeVoe and The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick.”