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date: 11 May 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Recordings by Public Enemy (PE) from the late 1980s and early 1990s have dominated academic writing on hip hop beat making. Scholarly attention has been drawn to their sample-filled sonic signature, created by the Bomb Squad production team, which was deemed to align with the group’s role as vanguards for the use of hip hop as a platform for social justice and black consciousness. When surveying the historical development of hip hop production practices, however, there is a paradoxical relationship in regard to how their work is positioned in the historiography of the genre. This chapter addresses the development of PE’s sound within the context of late 1980s hip hop, suggesting that PE’s sonic signature was an outlier rather than illustrative of the common practice of beat making. Drawing on new interviews with PE members and other key hip hop recordists of the era, an examination of the technology and process of the Bomb Squad, and musical analysis of two recordings—“Bring the Noise” and “Brothers Gonna Work It Out”—this chapter positions “organized noise” within the landscape of contemporaneous hip hop production styles and considers ways in which historical distance has compelled a reassessment of PE in academia.

Keywords: beat making, hip hop, production, technology, historiography, Public Enemy

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