One of the founding members of Public Enemy speaks with HipHopGame about his work on American Gangster and much, much more. Don’t miss this.
I’m good. It’s a good day out.
You just produced source music for American Gangster. What exactly did you do?
I produced all the source music and a lot of the club scenes and some of the action scenes.
What was that like for you?
Well, it’s funny because scoring a movie is different from creating source music. The difference is really when you’re scoring a movie, you’re looking at the movie and you’re putting in musical cues based on the images. What I did is I created songs that you normally hear in movies. So instead of watching a scene and going to find songs from a catalog to put in the movie, I tried to be original and create period-sounding pieces so that we could have all the parts to be able to layer it in 5.1 sound. This way we can create seamless integrations between the original score music and the music that was created for the club and party scenes, so that the transition would be seamless. It just keeps the viewer a lot more focused into what’s going on.
What was the greatest challenge in doing this?
I think the only challenge in doing it is actually trying to authenticate the music from 1969-1973, which everybody assumes should be so easy, like you could just go in and find some funk records and do it. It’s not as easy as that. You have to recreate the recording process and find out what music was being played. You can’t put something that was made in 1975 in a piece that was supposed to be done in 1969 because the time pieces just don’t add up. You have to replicate the sound from that phase.
It’s like if you took a song from today and ten years from now, you had to recreate that song of today, you can’t use the equipment that will be out ten years from now. You have to go back and understand what the process of making records was in 2007. And you have to be accurate. You can’t be doing something that came out in 2002 and call it something that came out in 2007. You have to authenticate it down to that specific time. I think that was the hardest thing, understanding what was happening at that time.
Did you make everything from scratch?
Yeah. Everything was done from scratch. There was no sampling or any of that stuff. That, to me, was the coolest things about it. Coming from my hip-hop background, I sampled a lot of those records but I also knew how to record those records, so when I was sampling those records, I pretty much knew how to record those records, but it was more fun and it was better and faster to sample. But doing it this way, I had to take what I had learned from sampling those songs and basically record those songs. The recording process, for me, was in reverse. Normally I will take a sample and process the sample from the ‘70s or whatever. Now I have to go and create the song and create the sample, or the original piece, that sounded like that piece. So I had to pretty much record it in reverse. I thought that that was pretty cool.
Did the film inspire a certain kind of music from you?
Of course, because if you notice, the ‘60s and ‘70s soul is the father of hip-hop. It’s the same beats per minute that everyone uses, the same drum structure and the same bass and chorus structures. The hip-hop that I grew up on and made was predicated on those songs. Big Daddy Kane using “I’ll Take You There” or EPMD using a Bob Marley record, the hits from that time were pretty much inspired by those records. That’s why I thought it was such a fun and creative process.
Would you say American Gangster is this generation’s Scarface?
You know something? I think it’s more closer to Godfather than it would be closer to Scarface and the reason why I say that is because there were things that happened in the ‘70s in the black exploitation movies like Superfly and The Mack and those types of films. The things that were happening in those types of films and the things that I felt got underplayed or lost was the human aspect of it. These guys were cats off the street. They were out of the ghettoes and out of the ‘hoods. Not only did they have a life of crime, but the things that were inspiring was what they did with their money. They gave back to their community as well and it’s that aspect, to me, that got lost, especially in the black culture. I think we lost that aspect. I understand that your have to get your hustle on, but at the same time, what are you doing to make a difference and help your ‘hood or your community? And that’s the part that I took from the film that was most appealing to me.
Hip-hop has always had songs about money, but it seems like there has been an influx of money songs recently and less of a focus on helping the community. Why do you think that is?
I think that they feel that the only way for them to get money…You have to understand, the hip-hop today is only going to reflect what’s going on in our society. It’s only going to reflect what’s going on in society. And when I say what’s going on in society, let me verify that. It’s about what’s going on in radio. If you go back in the days when PE came out, PE made positive, inspiring records and PE got played. Once PE got played on the radio, then it sparked a chain of events with a lot of groups talking about positive events because the radio was playing it. People thought that was what radio wanted to hear, so they started giving it to them. Now radio is not playing that.
Kids are going to mimic what they’re hearing on the radio. That’s why the music is changing. Society hasn’t changed. My thing is that even though we understand that radio is not playing it, we still have to talk about those things in our interviews and in the press time that we get on television. We still have a duty to our community and to our struggle as people. We haven’t received the correct justice that we’re supposed to get.
If you look around, you see what’s happening with a lot of our sports stars such as Michael Vick. Look at all the different ills that are going on with cats. You can say, ‘Yo, man, we really haven’t changed. We really haven’t gone that far.’ We still have that struggle. Look at what’s happening with the Jena 6 situation. Look at what happened with the Duke lacrosse situation. The girl cried rape, she was sexually-assaulted and she got nothing for that. But if it is a black-on-black crime, like Anucha Browne Sanders and Isaiah Thomas, where it was a situation about what someone called her, they awarded her money. They didn’t award her money because they were concerned about the well-being of her. They awarded her money because she was going against a black man. There’s a double-standard here. Michael Vick killed some dogs. People are dying in the ‘hood every day. Are there any civil rights about stopping people killing in the ‘hood? This guy lost his NFL contract, his endorsements and now they’re trying to take away the money they gave him. Let’s go back to OJ. OJ got acquitted of crime. He got off on the crime. Now as far as I’m concerned, in the judiciary system, once you’ve been acquitted of a crime, you can’t be brought back on charges of a crime, right?
Right. Double jeopardy.
What did they do? They circumvented it by taking him to civil court. It was another way of subverting the system, so to speak. Once again, it happens in the black case, not with the whiteboys that get off. We’re looking to make money and make music and do all of these great and positive things, but we still can’t forget about the struggle that happens to each and every one of us. This film, to me, speaks on that. It speaks on that. It talks about issues of family. It deals with issues of unity. It deals with issues of what we consider to be order and respect. Those are the things that are slowly eroding from our society as black people.
Looking at the rising divorce rate and the amount of single mothers raising children, do you feel like the family structure in society is eroding?
Of course it is. Let’s look at it from another standpoint. Most men are not MIA in the community. Most fathers are not MIA in the black community. There are a lot that are, but not for the most part. But one of the major problems is that in order for the black man to make money, you have to stay out of the household a lot. That’s a form of providing for your family. When you look at that and add that to the fact that there are a lot of single parents raising kids and most of these kids are boys that are on the block, just chilling because there is no community center or activities for them to do after school. So what do they do? They get involved in slinging a little bit and what happens? They’re in jail. Look at the number of black men in jail.
It’s definitely disproportionate.
It’s ridiculously disproportionate. It’s ridiculously disproportionate. And these are issues that we are not even dealing with, yo! And what’s the new slavery system? Prison. Why? Because you work for free. Isn’t that slavery, making people work for free? It’s a big business right now and the thing that I don’t get is why are we falling into the trap? I could go on for days, son, but I don’t want to do that.
What’s the first step that can be taken to righting some of these wrongs?
It’s funny. I look at it this way, man. You just have to do your part. As long as you’re true to your existence and you’re trying to look out for the person next to you, then that’s your part. This is not the day when we go out there and march on Washington. That doesn’t work. It’s going to have to be a quiet revolution. I call it a REBELoution, not a revolution. That’s too slow. Each and every one of us has to do our part. We have to be true.
Look at this whole thing about snitching. The whole thing about snitching has just gotten twisted. People sit there and say that if somebody breaks into your house and I see them and report them, then I’m snitching. No, I’m not snitching. I’m reporting a crime. That’s not snitching. Snitching is when me and you are both doing dirt and then I tell the man that you’re doing dirt because you happen to be a little more successful at doing the dirt than I am. That’s snitching. Okay, let’s be very, very clear about that. If you come in the ‘hood and you violate the ‘hood, you have to pay a price. And we’ve gotten to the point where we’re scared to turn in these cowards that are running around and shooting innocent people. And we’re afraid to tell? Where the fuck are we going, B? You can’t even begin to deal with justice if you’re not just within yourself.
All I’m saying is that it’s a very simple process. You just have to do your part. You just have to make sure that whatever you have is the truth based on the information that you have. You have cats now that don’t even want to recognize that an artist is good at his craft because they have another artist. We never came up that way. If you had something hotter than mine, I would acknowledge it. But we don’t do that today. So we distort the truth. Once you start to distort the truth, you’re going down the lane of distorting reality. Once you distort reality, now anything goes and nothing stands for anything. That’s the problem.
How much of rap that you hear today is realistic?
I think every bit of it has some sense of reality in it. I just think that they’re exaggerating on certain points. There are a lot of rappers out there who are really, really great and there is greatness in places where people wouldn’t think there would be greatness. The problem is that we’re emphasizing the negative. People think 50 Cent’s lyrics are negative because he’s shooting and talking gangster stuff. Okay. But look at the positive things he does. He employs people from his ‘hood. He brought out artists like Mobb Deep who people weren’t really looking for. We don’t talk about that. We just talk about what he does that’s negative.
Look at Kanye, for example. He’s talking about positives and he’s doing positive and I get that. That’s cool. But you can’t look at Kanye and say that 50 is not as positive as Kanye. They’re both positive. See, sometimes you have to look a little deeper to find the positive. Everybody’s willing to see the positive on the surface, but not everybody is talking about the cats that are on the down-low that aren’t getting any name, but they’re out there holding it together, physically. How many cats do you know that are leaders and organizers of community activities to stop gang violence? How many sisters do you know that are out there mentoring other young sisters so they don’t get involved in teenage pregnancy? It’s happening, the only problem is that it’s not being illuminated.
And you’re in the most important position that we have in this community. You know why? Because you’re part of the press. You can create the angles. You can illuminate the darkness. You can put light on darkness. Right now everybody’s seeing darkness because that’s what people are illuminating. You’re going to get back what you illuminate. One thing about us as a people is that we have the ability to illuminate our own society. If we illuminate pain, fear and destruction, our reality is going to be pain, fear and destruction. That’s a law. But if we illuminate peace, love and respect, you know what happens. We create an environment where we have love, peace and respect. That’s a law. That’s scientific law. That’s beyond what I’m saying to you. I’m not saying anything that’s a miracle. I’m just showing you what’s law. Everybody understands that on the planet but us because we’re not taught to deal with metaphysical energy. We’re taught to only deal with the here and now. We shape what we bring about and see and hear now from our past. If we change the frequency of our present, it will change the frequency of our future.
Switching gears, what can you tell us about your Shocktronica project?
My Shocktronica project is an audio and visual project. It’s going to be a DVD of audio and visuals. It’s going to deal with the issues of light and dark energy and what that means in an entertaining kind of way. It’s nothing I’m going to beat you in the head with, but I’ve been studying the effects through my experiences with PE and all the other projects that I’ve worked with, I’ve learned a bunch of things and I’ve learned that there is music, and especially with the power of the visual, that can be used in a number of different ways. It can be used to uplift you. It can be used as a healer. It can be used to make you feel happy. It can be used to make you feel sad. It can invoke all these different types of emotions and I think the Shocktronica project is a move into entertainment that can create your mood and your vibration. That’s what Shocktronica is all about.
When are you planning to release Shocktronica?
I’m planning on dropping it next year and I’m still in the process of still doing the recording part of it. I’ll be finishing the recording part of it maybe by the end of the year and I’ll start the visuals of it in January and hopefully I’ll be done with it by the spring of next year.
What did you think of Pharoahe Monch’s cover of “Welcome to the Terrordome” on his album Desire?
I thought that was cool. I thought it was cool. I wish he would have reinterpreted the lyrics and added his element to it, but other than that, I thought it was cool.
If you could leave our readers with one message, what would it be?
I think the only thing I could say, and it’s funny…I was watching Evan Almighty. Morgan Freeman said one thing. He said, “One act of random kindness a day will change the planet.” And the only thing that I want to leave you with is that. Everybody, just do your part to do one kind thing for somebody else per day. This planet will move in a better position.