Davy DMX, Heaving Hooks With Public Enemy

PUBLIC ENEMY’S RECENT PERFORmance at top-shelf jazz club Yoshi’s San Francisco speaks volumes about the state of soul music.
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PUBLIC ENEMY’S RECENT PERFORmance at top-shelf jazz club Yoshi’s San Francisco speaks volumes about the state of soul music. Once a scary street monster, hip-hop is now widely respected—especially in the case of Public Enemy, a band with live musicians. For nearly the past decade, bassist and musical director Brian Hardgroove led the band from the bottom with a jazz-rock feel. Guitarist Khari Wynn is now the M.D., and old P.E. friend Davy DMX is the new face on bass. DMX is a bona fi de hip-hop pioneer, and his feel is inherently tied to the genre he helped shape.

You’ve produced and performed on hits from Run-D.M.C. to Spoonie Gee. What track best represents the essence of your bass style?

My solo track “One for the Treble” is the best example. I came up playing in church. I like to run lines using lots of eighth- and 16th-notes; it’s kind of like what Rocco Prestia from Tower Of Power might sound like in a hip-hop context. My main influences are Marcus Miller’s groove, Stanley Clarke’s fingerstyle, and Larry Graham’s thumping thumb.

Did you have to adjust your style to play hip-hop originally, or to fit with Public Enemy now?

I may have to simplify and play less staccato at times, but it’s really all about feeling the groove, and I’ve been playing bass guitar grooves within the framework of hip-hop my whole career. The difference between what I was doing back in the early ’80s—compared to bands like the Sugarhill Gang—is that they were re-playing lines from songs like Chic’s “Good Times.” I always created my own bass lines. I’m still creating them. I just sent a few song demos to Chuck D. to consider for the new Public Enemy record. I’m not just playing bass in the live show—I’m a full contributing member of the group.

How did you initially learn the material?

I went back to the original studio recordings and figured out my own way of interpreting the bass parts. Many were obvious because there was a definite line from a sample of, say, a James Brown tune. If not, I’d put on my producer’s ear and find tones in the samples. The kick, the snare, the guitar snippet—everything produces a tone of some sort that you can home in on.

Did you ever go back and learn the source material in order to get a better understanding of the grooves in the samples?

No. An understanding of hip-hop is what’s truly required; that’s the source material a player needs to study. The James Brown grooves are apparent, but playing hip-hop bass requires even more discipline. You can’t go off and clash with the DJ—who I’m always listening to. The final requirement is a 5-string bass. I recently switched from a 4-string to a Jazz Bass 5 to usher in more depth to the Public Enemy sound, and it’s an incredible difference.


Jimmy Spicer, “The Bubble Bunch” [single , Mercury, 1982]; Davy DMX, Fresh [Tuff City, 1984]; Kurtis Blow, America [Mercury, 1985]; Run-D.M.C., Tougher Than Leather [Profile, 1988]


Basses Fender Jazz Bass, Fender Jazz Bass V

Rig Ampeg SVT-CL head, Ampeg SVT-810HP 8x10 cabinet

Strings D’Addario Chromes flatwounds


Thievery Corporation-Ashish Vyas-Past Present

“KEEPING THE HISTORY OF MUSIC alive is the most important aspect of playing,” says Ashish “Hash” Vyas. Like a lot of self-taught rock kids, he discovered blues and jazz by tracing the roots of Led Zeppelin. “I wanted to be Jimmy Page on bass,” he admits. As a teenager, Vyas was into the punk aesthetics of Sonic Youth and Nirvana. Serving as a DJ at San Diego State University opened his ears to everything. In 1995, he started the experimental outfit Gogogo Airheart. The band released five albums on Gold Standard Labs records, which was co-owned by Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez. Since 2004, Vyas has applied his deep and varied music appreciation to the world-oriented, DJ-driven livetronica outfit Thievery Corporation, and he works with several artists on the band’s ESL label