Bring The Noise: How To Sound Like Public Enemy
Formed in 1985, Public Enemy would go on to become one of the most influential Hip-Hop groups of all time. We take a closer look at the makeup of their aggressive political style.
The legend began with Carlton “Chuck D” Ridenhour and William “Flavor Flav” Drayton, who met at Adelphi University in Long Island. Around the same time, a young Rick Rubin had just formed what would become the monolithic Def Jam Records during his time at NYU.
These two worlds would collide early on in their careers through mutual association with the WBAU radio station where Chuck was working. However, possibly the most pivotal moment in the development of Public Enemy was when they began working with the production team known as The Bomb Squad.
The Sound Of Public Enemy
This combination of creative forces produced the classic It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back in 1987, which is regarded as one of the most groundbreaking and definitive records of the time.
Using samples ranging from funk, soul, jazz, and even film sound effects, Hank Shocklee and The Bomb Squad created the perfect urban industrial symphony to enshroud the outrageous vocal content from Chuck and Flav.
The DDD-1 was one of Korg’s early sample-based drum machines that gave the user 2 seconds of sampling time to work with. This was just enough to allow Shocklee to customize the kick and snare samples.
It also features several primitive controls such as pitch, dynamics, decay, roll, and flam which may sound altogether limiting. However, this scarcity of precise controls became the catalyst for many artists who used the DDD-1, finding creativity in its simple design.
It might not have multiple outputs, but the Volca Sample 2nd Gen is a great modern equivalent to the DDD-1.
The SP-1200 and its predecessor, the SP-12 inspired generations of Hip-Hop and House musicians with an intuitive workflow and a gritty upfront sound. With 10 seconds of sampling time, Shocklee could do a lot more with his collage-like approach to Hip-Hop sampling.
The dirty 26.040 kHz, 12-bit sample quality of the SP-1200 proved to be the perfect texture that became synonymous with the hyped, crunchy production sound of The Bomb Squad.
With the right approach, you can produce a similar Lo-Fi sound with the Sonicware LIVEN Lofi-12. It has a 12-bit sampling mode and a wide range of effects to work with.
The S900 was AKAI’s first professional sample workstation, introduced back in 1986. At the time, it provided advanced sample-editing capabilities and each of the eight voices had its own individual output.
This immediately made it a sought-after music production tool, as you had a stereo pair of mix outs and 8 channels to run into the mixing desk. In addition, the S900 had a test tone that Shocklee sampled and layered with kicks and bass sounds.
The Elektron Digitakt is a modern sampler with a similar level of versatility, and it can also create kicks from raw sine waves in a similar fashion.
First introduced in 1984, the Ensoniq Mirage provided extensive sampling features that were only available in high-end tools like the Fairlight CMI. The Mirage was far more affordable, and its primitive 8-bit 32 kHz sampling engine was redeemed by the inclusion of an analogue filter.
Both the filter and VCA have 5-stage envelopes too, which makes the Mirage interesting for sound design. Although limited, Shocklee still found a way to use it on projects in tandem with the AKAI S900.
As an alternative, the TAL-Sampler is an old-school sampler plug-in that emulates both the filter and DAC modules of mid-1980s-era samplers.
The Roland CompuRythm drum machines offer limited programmability, zero voice-altering capabilities, and the CR-8000 has a single mono out. However, the sounds are great and there’s a certain punky sensibility about these drum boxes that musicians were drawn to.
Shocklee used the CR-8000 early on when the group was called Spectrum City. Although limited, they still managed to create some of the first demos that got them signed to Def Jam.
The TT-78 Beat Bot from Cyclone Analogic provides a similar vintage analogue drum machine sound to the CompuRythm series, and it has an impressive sequencer too.
Which of your favourite artists would you like us to feature in this series? Please let us know in the comments below!
More about Public Enemy:
- PE Official Page
- Hank Shocklee interview in Tape Op
- More sound-alikes
- Everything vintage
*Note: This article contains promotional links that help us fund our site. Don’t worry: the price for you always stays the same! If you buy something through these links, we will receive a small commission. Thank you for your support!
- E-mu SP1200: Oscidance
- AKAI S900 (1986): Amazona
- Ensoniq Mirage: Sphere Music
- Roland CR-8000: Oscidance
- tal_sampler_pluginboutique: Plugin Boutique
- pb: Plugin Boutique
Shocklee’s production techniques are even more mystifying today…”Who Stole the Soul” (from “Fear of a Black Planet”) is so out there and bonkers… just fantastic stuff.