posted: 07-16-05
interview: durango jones
What hip hop artists inspired you to want to make beats and write rhymes?
I started off as a DJ. I heard Grandmixer D.St. on Herbie Hanckock's "Rockit" and that's what really got me hooked on doing this at all. At the start I would say Melle Mel was my favorite MC. I also liked Spyder D, Kurtis Blow and eventually Run DMC, Just Ice, Steady B, Lord Finesse, Lakim Shabazz, LL, Stetsasonic, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy… too many to name them all really.
For producers, I guess Kurtis Mantronik, 45 King and Marley Marl were probably the first producers where I started to check for records just based on their involvement. I loved all the Paul C records, Rick Rubin, LG, Ced Gee, King of Chill, all that 80's stuff. But the real inspirations on the production side - the ones that really made me want to do this for real were Prince Paul, Native Tongues and the Bomb Squad.
How did you and Pitch come together to form Raw Produce?
We met through Mike Ladd. I had been working on some stuff with another one of our mutual friends and Pitch and Mike were working together and they got asked to do a show at a house party and they needed a DJ, so Mike asked me. I met Pitch the day before the show when we rehearsed. After the show we all ended up combining and forming a group called the Coalition.
Who was the first artist that you produced for outside of your own material?
Depends on how you count it. Pitch and I made beat for the Coalition, but we didn't rhyme at all back then, so everything we did was for other artists in a way. The first record we ever dropped was a song called "Time Bomb" by a group called Subversive Element. But technically, that was a Coalition record. The first non-coalition related project was a remix of "Wide Open" by LeShaun for Tommy Boy in 1993. And my first solo production credit - without Pitch, was "You don't Know Me" by Quite Nyce and Breez Evahflowin' in 2003.
So let's get into your new release "State Lines", what made you want to do this?
The album is a producer album. I have 22 MCs on the record, all on beats I made. The idea was actually suggested to me by DJ Fisher, who runs Domination Recordings. But what I liked about the idea was that it would give me a chance to show the range of beats I can make. It really let me do some different styles, which was cool for me.
What track sticks out to you the most as your favourite track?
I don't know if I can pick a favourite. I was just humbled by all the people who were willing to get down on it. But probably the coolest part of the experience for me was getting to work with Mike G form the Jungle Brothers. The work those guys have done has been so inspirational to me over the years - they've dropped some of my favorite albums of all time. Getting to meet them and work with Mike G was a huge honour. So that track stands out to me. But really, what I like most about the album is that I really feel like everyone gave it their all. No phoned-in tracks on there, you know?
Would you ever consider doing another production album in the future?
Not anytime soon. It was a great experience. And I love collaborating with talented people, but it took a lot of work to coordinate everything. I probably spent more time networking and chasing people down than I did making music. I'm proud of the end result, but I could've made two solo albums in the time it took me to get this album done. I would never say never, but for now, I'm happy to work on other stuff for a little bit. But I hope that people will see the album as an example of the kinds of work I can do with other artists. I like producing for other people's projects and collaborating on songs. I hope more people will get at me about that kind of stuff.
What I like about "State Lines" is you worked with new upcoming artists as well as artists already well known in music. Was that the game plan for this or it was just how it came about?
It was definitely the game plan. I had no expectations that any of the 'bigger names' on the album would actually get down. I had no budget to work with and I didn't know how people would react to me hitting them up. I knew I wanted to help expose some of the talented MCs I knew. So that was in the mix from the beginning. And that would have been the whole picture of some of these other cats hadn't said yes to me. But it was cool to work with Mike G - like I said, or Yesh, or get back in the studio with Mike Ladd for the first time in eight years, or Esoteric for the first time in three or four years.
It was great to hear you rhyme on a few tracks too, kinda reminded me of Pete Rock or Dr. Dre's albums and not just a producer's beat CD with guest vocals. Did you want to even drop vocals for this or it just happen?
At the start I wasn't planning to rhyme on it at all. I figured people had plenty of chances to hear me rhyming on my solo album, or the Raw Produce album. But once I got going, two things happened: First I found that it was easier for some people to drop a verse, rather than write a whole song from scratch. So I started filling in the gaps with lyrics when I was needed. And then I couldn't pass up the chance to rhyme alongside some of the people that were willing to get down. If I had my way, I would have been on fewer tracks - or maybe none at all - but it was cool to collaborate with a bunch of MCs who I really respect. And beyond that, I'm producer, DJ and MC, so it makes sense hat the album shows a little bit of all of those things.
It was good to see you and Pitch to have a Raw Produce track on "State Lines", is this a preview of some new Raw Produce material in the future?
Really it just seemed like it would be a cool thing to do for the album. All of our previous work together has been co-produced by both of us. This was the first time it was only me on the beat - so that was something different for us. As for the future, we don't have anything planned for Raw Pro. It's not out of the question, but nothing is in the works.
Coming from the Boston hip hop scene, would you say you and your fellow artists are getting the respect as they should be or do you feel their is still more work to do?
I think in the late 90's early 00's Boston finally broke through on the indie landscape. When you mention the city now, most people can run off a good list of artists that came from the area. And artists form the Boston area can draw a good crowd wherever they go. But I still feel like there's room to grow. To me Ed O.G. - and Guru if you count him - are the only ones who have gotten REAL respect beyond the indie scene and I think we have enough talent in the scene to deserve more than that. But I'm proud of how far the scene has come and I'm glad to have played at least a small part in that.
I noticed that you played a pretty big role on the O.U.O album on the production side, how did that come about?
Dumi Right form O.U.O. was a member of Zimbabwe Legit, who were signed to Hollywood Basic back in the early 90's. So I knew his music from back then. It turns out Peter Agoston from Female Fun Music - who put out the Raw Pro album - has known Dumi for a long time, so when he mentioned that Dumi was looking for some beats and remixes I threw my name in the ring. It started out with me sending up a beat disc, and eventually remixing one O.U.O. track. But as Dumi and I talked more we found that we had a lot in common so it just kept building from there. Really he just kept hitting me back saying "I have one more favor to ask." Or "Alright, I need one more beat." And then we just started looking out for each other - trying to share resources on distribution, or record labels - strength in numbers I guess. In the end I had produced 6 or 7 tracks for the album and rhymed on another three. Now it's a family thing.
Speaking of production, is there some other projects out or coming out that we should look for you on?
I did four beats on Quite Nyce's album "Powermoves", which is out now. And I also dropped a verse on there on another song. I'm also featured on "Accurate Aim" on Shed Light's new album "Perseverance" - I made the beat and thyme on that one. I'm getting ready to drop a 12" from "State Lines" too. Also there's a Raw Produce remix 12" out now with beats by J Rawls, 7L, Omid and Jon Doe. I'll be on Eddie Meek's album and Shorty Raw's album whenever those drop. A few other stray things in the works too. Just trying to stay busy.
You have been in the music biz for ten years if not more. How would you say things have changed since the days when you guys were getting ready to come out?
When I first started doing this, major labels were the only game in town really. Majors still had a good number of dope artists on their rosters and MTV and BET were still playing a lot of the good shit. It wasn't all gravy, but back then the idea of making a major label record with an 'underground' vibe wasn't so hard to picture, so I was focused on that.
Since then, we've seen the rise and fall of 90's indie hip hop. For a while, it seemed like there was a lot of support for indie hip hop. There were plenty of distribution outlets, records were selling well, and things were good. Then we started seeing market over saturation and some of the majors came in and cherry picked a bunch of the good artists and labels. That combined with the general downturn in the economy and the support started drying up. Now it's hard to find someone to get behind your record. And even when you do, their first thought is to try to sell it in Japan or Europe because a lot of distributors have given up on the US market. It's not hopeless, but it's much harder than it used to be.
And some of the fan base even seems less dedicated. It seemed like the typical 'underground fan' ten years ago was proud to be down with the music-regardless of whether it was popular anywhere else. Now it seems like a lot of 'fans' are almost embarrassed to like music that doesn't go platinum. Even if they like the songs, they want to look like they picked a winner, so it's almost like they have an inferiority complex about indie hip hop. Sometimes I feel like the 'fans' hate the music more than people who don't listen at all. Not everyone, but that attitude seems far more pervasive than it used to.
Do you feel like you have made some of your best music or it has yet to come?
Man, I'm always trying to make progress, so I hope it's yet to come, but I'm proud of what I've contributed to hip hop. If I stopped today I could be satisfied with the legacy, but I still have more that I want to say and I still believe people haven't seen everything I have to offer.
Are there any new artists that have been catching your ear lately?
I've been watching a lot of people I know take some big steps lately, which has been cool. I'm watching Domination Recordings get off the ground. Seeing Quite Nyce get things rolling. Shed Light and all the Early Spotter Recordings artists are making some moves. That stuff is good to see. On "State Lines" I had people like CMNR form Word Association, or Lord Cyrus, or Shorty Raw. I want to see all those guys have success.
Who would you like to collaborate with for either your upcoming projects or just production work in general?
I want to do more collaboration in general. Some of the people that inspired me are still in the game, so I want to work with them if I can: De La, Large Pro, Kane, DITC, people like that. Beyond that, I want to work more. Be it producing, dropping a guest verse, remixing. I really want to work with anyone and everyone who's trying to make good creative hip hop. Especially people who want to say something in their lyrics.
How did the "Built For the 90's" mixtape come about?
Every once in a while - when I'm having trouble finding new music I like - I'll throw together a CD of some older tracks. I try to make it somewhat cohesive, like music from a certain year, or from a certain crew, or just stuff that I think has a similar vibe. Usually it's just something to tide me over 'til I find a new album I like. This started out as one of those. I was gonna throw a bunch of non-album tracks from the 90's on a CD - not even mixed. I started mixing a few of the tracks just for fun and kind of kept going, eventually deciding to focus it on rare, remixed and overlooked songs from the 90's. On some geek shit, I guess. I've never tried to sell a mixtape, but when it was done I liked it enough to pass it to a few friends and the response was pretty positive. Originally I thought I might use it as a giveaway disc with my next album but when DJ Fisher at Domination heard it, he wanted to put it out as part of his mixtape series. Response has been great so far.
Is their a difference between a producer and someone who makes beats?
Yes and no. I don't have a problem with someone taking 'production' credit if all they did was make the beat. But when I'm in the studio with someone I try to do more than that. I try to work with people to get the best vocal takes. Sometimes I work with MCs to get them to end on a different line, or switch the order of the verses in a way that will make the song sound better. And on the other side, I try to tailor the beat to the rhyme once it's laid down. But different MCs have different levels of tolerance for that stuff and some need more guidance than others. Also, nowadays it's much easier to collaborate with someone without ever getting into the same studio together at all, so you don't always get to work like that.
What role do you play out of the two?
Well I definitely make the beats. But to me, producing means looking at the overall song and trying to make sure that all of the musical elements are working together to make it as good as it can be. Maybe that's about influencing the MC to do things differently, or maybe it's about changing up what I'm doing behind the boards, or maybe a little of both.
So what's coming out next for you and when should we look out for it?
I'm working on bunch of stuff right now. I'm almost done recording my next solo album and I'm part way into a group project called Alternate Reality - which is me and Dumi Right form O.U.O./Zimbabwe Legit. No firm dates on those yet. I did another 90's mix which may or may not see light of day and I'm also doing a project with Hen Boogie; we have one song done for what might become a 12" or something. It's early in the game with that one.
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