posted: 09-22-04
interview : brolin winning
You and Keith have worked together a lot over the years, and made some seriously classic records together. When and how did you guys first hook up?
I'd met him a few times but the first time we really linked up was in '92 with Ultra doing some shows. We hung out and just kind of kept in touch. He gave me his phone number and his address. I used to call him and he'd never be home, so I used to write him letters. The first time we actually worked together wasn't until Winter '93: he came to San Francisco again in '93 when "The Four Horsemen" was out.
He came in '92 when "Papa Large" and "Funk Your Head Up" was out and then I was in New York working with a group which had a demo deal with Loud Records that I was producing, called Zero Tolerance. Then I hooked up with Keith and we did one song, then I went back to California and I sent it to him and he was like "yeah I wanna put that on my album." He was starting to work on a solo album for Wild Pitch when everything kind of went bad. This is now the beginning of '94, so I told him "hey come out to California, we can do some more shit."
So he came out for the Gavin seminar in '94 and stayed with me and we recorded a demo at the Automator's studio. Couple months later I took it to LA, shopped it, and we got a deal through Capitol. Then Keith moved from the Bronx and I moved down from Santa Cruz to LA. We had an apartment for a while. And then the thing at Capitol didn't ever really pan out, they wound up dropping their Black Music department and cleaning out everybody. So, we got the master rights back to what became the "Sex Style" album. And during that time when things were kinda up in the air with Capitol, we had put out a couple songs, just released em to people, 'Dr. Octagon' stuff.
Then one of the people who got a copy of that was the Automator. He was a friend of mine at the time. He's not a friend of mine anymore, but at that time he was a friend of mine and he was one of the few people who got a tape of it. And, through me, he got Keith to actually go ahead and do a whole Dr. Octagon project. Me and Keith originally started it, he just kind of came and took over and made it his own thing. So from the necessity of needing to put out independent records, that's kinda how that stuff like "Sex Style" and "Dr. Dooom" came about.
What was the recording process like for this Diesel Truckers album? Did you guys sit down and work out all the songs together, or did you send beats out and have Keith get all the rhymes written and then knock em out in the studio?
He came When this project came about he came out for a couple weeks from New York. I had most of the tracks already made, he had a couple of ideas which he wanted, and we made a couple tracks on the spot. He wrote most of the rhymes while he was here, he had a couple rhymes already written, and we recorded it all and then I spent a couple of months mixing it. I added a couple rappers to songs and finished up the project. He had the easy part.
You both seem to have an affinity for concept albums, whether it's "Sex Style", "Dr Dooom", "Masters Of Illusion", and now this. How did the whole Diesel Truckers idea first come up?
Well, we had a meeting at Red Lobster last December. And by the way, Keith feels that Red Lobster is an elegant restaurant. There's probably a lot of people who feel that way, but, I don't. (laughs)
But anyway, we had been tossing around the idea of working on an album together for a while, so we were sitting down and he says "Kurt, what kind of record do you wanna do?" And I said "Well, I wanna do something kind of conceptual you know, like the other projects we did." And he said "conceptual, what?!" And he went off on this hour and a half rampage, wouldn't let anyone say anything, talking this, talking that. Finally after he finished, he came all the way back around and said "alright, this is gonna be my last conceptual album". I'm like, "I didn't say I wanna do a full conceptual album, I just want something with some type of concept in it." So I said let's just pick up where we left off with the Diesel Truckers, that was something we already had out there.
It's been a few years since the world heard you two together on a record. Did you guys take a break because of any drama or were you both just working on other projects?
I hadn't worked with Keith really for four years. I personally was not really feeling Keith's direction, like the "Matthew" record. It was a pretty good record, but I was going somewhere else with it. So, after the "Matthew" record, a few months later he was calling me like "yo, so what's next, do you wanna do another album?" And I was like, "no, not really." And I think he got kind of upset by that. I mean I didn't ever have a problem with him. I didn't appreciate him trying to talk shit on his album liner notes, but that's Keith. He was probably born to talk shit. I mean you can't really take anything he says too seriously.
So much is said about Keith being crazy or a weirdo or whatever: do you think the media just hypes up that angle or is there truth to all that stuff?
No, he is a lunatic really. He's a total lunatic, but he doesn't want people to know it. It comes out through his music. His albums are like his therapy
Will you guys be doing a tour once the album comes out?
Maybe, we'll see. There's nothing planned yet but there's a couple possibilities. Ideally we should.
You're also known for releasing some pretty bugged out videos, will you be doing any for this album?
Keith wants to do a video with girls shaking their asses. It's kind of played out, but, you know, that's what he likes. I mean maybe we could put fake beards on the girls or something. But doing a video really depends on how the record is received.
Threshold Records has a lot of stuff popping off right now. Between this album, Dopestyle 1231, the Substance Abuse single, etc. Do you plan on staying independent for good or would you step to a major label if the terms were straight?
I mean, Threshold is basically an avenue for me to put out records that I wanna put out. In 2003 I didn't really put out that much. I put out a few singles. And this year I'm putting out probably three albums. But it's hard to commit to a major label type of situation because I'm an artist and a producer. I have my own career. So unless I found a business partner who had a similar taste in style as far as what they liked in music, I think it'd be pretty hard for me to take something on like that.
But I mean, if the opportunity presented itself, maybe I'd be able to find somebody. But it's really hard. It's like a marriage or something to have partnerships. Things can turn ugly quick. I've had people work for me, just independently or interns, do all kinds of things, and half the time you're trying to show somebody how to do something. You can never really depend on a lot of people. Other times, people are just trying to get a check and not do any work. I've had countless situations where I paid someone to work and they never did anything. So, it's just one of those things where, for right now, I'm just doing what I'm doing. I don't have a goal of being picked up by any major. We'll see what happens.
You've been DJing and making beats for a long time now, do you feel like you get the recognition or props you deserve? Or do you think cats are still sleeping on you?
Well, I think that I have not really put myself out there as much as I probably could have. I'm more somebody who doesn't mind playing the background. So if I don't get the respect I deserve, part of that is me to blame. The people who know, know, but that's not necessarily very many people. People like you, writers or something like that.
But I mean yeah, I think this year may change that a little bit. I also have another album coming out called the "Redneck Olympics". It's a compilation of previous works, kind of tying a bunch of stuff in together, putting it all in a package so people can maybe get a clearer picture of who I am and what I do. That should be following up the Diesel Truckers album.
What's your take on the current state of hip-hop, and more specifically the production? Like it seems as though there's two schools of thought right now: either the whole Lil Jon, crunked out keyboard beats or the sort of throwback-style Kanye or 9th Wonder type.
Well, I mean, hip-hop is pop music now. It's been that way for a long time. But you know, things change, things come and go. I don't mind Crunk music, I think it serves its purpose. We have a song like that on the album. It's more of a joke to us, where these guys seem pretty serious about what they're doing.
There just needs to be more of an even playing field. But things will change. It's kind of funny to me though: I notice certain styles becoming cool and then everybody starts to do it. I mean, to me Jay-Z is dope. I don't necessarily like everything that he does but he's talented. And I think MF Doom is dope too. Now, does MF Doom sell as much as he should? No. Does Jay-Z sell too much? I don't know if I can judge that. Really at the end of the day, it's who has the most money behind them. That's really what sells, what gets promoted.
What about the whole remix frenzy, all these kids just getting software and putting out remix CDs and whatnot. Or "The Grey Album" blowing up?
I mean, it's a good publicity stunt. For Danger Mouse, a guy who no one's really known about until now. I'm not gonna disrespect the guy but what's its lasting power, you know? I thought it was a cool record, I have the record. But yeah I think maybe now that's what the industry has come to. You have to pull a publicity stunt to really get known. Everything is so cluttered and so flooded, and really mediocre. How are you gonna make yourself stand out from the crowd?
In terms of new music, what are you listening to right now?
Ummm, good question. I don't really honestly listen to a lot of new music. Like, I listen to KXLU, Mike Nardone's radio show, and there's maybe one or two records they play a week that I'm really interested in, if that. I don't see a lot of stuff coming out that makes me wanna go buy it. There's some stuff where I go "oh that's pretty cool," but even if I bought the record, would I listen to it? Would I play it out, would I DJ it out? Am I gonna pull it out from my crate ten years from now? Probably not. A few things, probably one or two. I listen to "Friday Night Flavors", the commercial station, and it's probably just about the same.
There's a few stand out people. I'm not saying the industry is totally wack, but generally, it's hard for me to say that I'm feeling anybody in particular. I like the Madvillain record. I guess nothing else is really coming to mind at this second, but there's some good shit out there.
Nowadays with the industry the way it is, it seems like a lot of artists are doing more commercial work, like Blackalicious has a Coke ad I think, Mystic is on a Budweiser commercial, RJD2 did a Saturn car joint, stuff like that. I know you've done some tunes for video games. Are you interested in expanding your beats into more forums like that?
If they were interested in me, why not? I don't think that's selling out. I mean I don't know if I'd wanna advertise Kentucky Fried Chicken, especially if I had to wear parachute pants and dance around, like some other people did. But I mean if you did something in your own way and it's cool, why not? I think Peanut Butter Wolf and Biz Markie were in that Sprite commercial, it was mostly Biz but they showed Peanut Butter Wolf for like a second.
But yeah, I mean hip-hop is pop culture now, so, obviously, McDonalds and everybody else uses it. I mean even for the last fifteen years McDonalds has had rap in their commercials. Keith did all those Sprite commercials, he had seven or eight commercials.
You gave Dilated Peoples their first hit, which to a lot of heads is still their signature - and arguably their best - song. Are you still down with those guys and would you work with them again?
I mean, I probably would work with them again, but I think it's just a matter of egos and stuff. People quickly catch arrogance and forget how they got to where they are. So it's like: I don't think I'm any more arrogant than the next guy. I'm confident in what I do, but at the end of the day I know that I'm just a person.
Those guys, well I won't even say those guys as much as Evidence, he's just very arrogant. And they've done some bad business. If they wanna come with some good business then yeah I'd probably work with them, if they were professional. But I think that's probably what's standing in the way.
What's up with the Clayborne Family album?
It's an album that was actually done a while ago, its kind of a follow-up to the KHM project, they just went on to a new thing. It's Keith, Mark and H again, or Jacky Jasper as H is also known. It's just an album that was kind of floating out there on the internet, it's very limited, in Paris only. And I just asked those guys "hey you know I'd like to put out the wax, I like the record." So we just worked out a deal where I'm gonna put out the wax. It's probably not gonna be a fully promoted album. It's just gonna be like a collectors item.
I believe that if you keep doing what you do, and you do it well, you will eventually attain success. Someone like MF Doom is a perfect example of that. He might not be the biggest guy, he might not be on MTV but I'm sure he's making a decent living to where he doesn't have to work a day job or whatever.
If you could collaborate with any artist - regardless of genre or time period, who would it be and why?
Well I already did that: with Keith. I don't really have any other aspirations, I've already attained that. (laughs) Everything else is just icing on the cake.
Would I work with KRS? Sure. Would I work with Chuck D? Yeah. I wanna work with people who wanna work with me.
As far as the whole fantasy thing, like, hmmm, I wanna work with Michael Jackson, and….. Too Short. I don't really sit around and fantasize about that. All I really want is my million-selling secret fans to come out of the woodwork and ask me to work with them. Cause there's big groups who are fans of me, and there's only a few that have actually taken that step. Like Linkin Park, the Beastie Boys, I respect them because they're fans of it and they acknowledged it. Or like, Red Hot Chili Peppers, they took us on tour. Redman's a big fan of me and Keith, but he doesn't wanna work with us. I would just like the secret fans to come out and kind of acknowledge their secret.
Would you ever do another project with Linkin Park?
I recorded something new with them and Motion. Actually I wouldn't say Linkin Park, just Mike Shinoda. We did a song, but I don't know if its gonna come out. We'll see. I think Mike's a really cool guy. It's interesting, cause it's like back to what I was saying about egos. This guy's sold a bazillion records, and of course he has a bit of an ego, but nothing compared to guys who've only sold a couple hundred thousand records. It's really funny to see that contrast. It's like in hip-hop, guys are just like, selling twenty, fifty, whatever thousand records [thinking they're superstars], and then you've got guys like Flea, who's like a rock legend, coming up to me and Keith like "yo thank you for coming on tour, I can't believe you guys are here, you guys just made this tour for us." And it's like ok, these are the kind of people I wanna work with. It's not necessarily the music style that I'm most familiar with, but just the type of people man. The people in hip-hop are just sooooo small minded and full of themselves. It turns me off a lot to the whole scene.
What's next on the agenda for KutMasta Kurt? Projects you got in the works, etc.
Diesel Truckers, then the "Redneck Olympic"s, then hopefully Motion's album. My goal is to have a Motion Man single out before year's end at least. I'm also looking to find a new artist, someone else who I can really mold, but yet has their own thing too, which is hard. I've been getting a lot of [demo] CDs, but nothing really impressive. I think after you do one, then you have to move on to another. Like, Dr. Dre did Snoop and then he went on to the next guy, then he did Xzibit. I'm definitely not of that same caliber, in terms of sales, but I think every producer kind of goes through that same process.
I like Fat Hed. I could see doing an album with him possibly. But I have to see how his album is received, what it does. I'd consider doing something maybe with him, or if something else comes up. I'm not really aggressive about it, but I would like to, at this point I'm definitely interested in developing somebody new.
It seems like today producers are getting more props than ever before, as somebody whose been making beats for a long time now - what advice would you give to all the younger cats just starting out, getting their first Pro Tools or MPC or whatever?
Well, the first thing I would say is be prepared to be persistent, because it's probably pretty easy to be discouraged. It's also probably pretty easy to think you know what you're doing. Just because you have a computer or a keyboard or whatever, doesn't qualify you as a producer. You need to learn about the history of the music, and learn about how to work with people. You need to understand what producing is. Producing is not just making beats, but that's what it's become.
Producing is actually creating a sound and directing the artist, making a finished project and putting it all together. Just because you make beats doesn't make you a producer. I think like, for instance, on Eminem's records, he gets the production credit, but then it's like; beat programming by….. keyboards by…. guitar by….. And then it's like "wait he's not really a producer." But no, he probably is because he knows what he wants, and he's putting it all together.
So, a lot of people try to diss Dre, like "oh he's got all these ghost producers working for him." But I'm sure that he's pulling something out of them that they wouldn't have without him. He really is a producer, because he doesn't have to actually sit there and do the programming; that's not necessarily what a producer is. Just look at what he's done over his career you know? So, that's another aspect for those guys who are just getting an MPC or whatever for the first time. Having a vision and putting it together. How to get the best performance out of an emcee, or a singer, or a DJ. Whoever you're working with in the studio, how to get their best performance.
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