“Recognize a real don when you see one.” – BiggieSee Also:
These lyrics offer a perspective on my guest as I sit down with the legendary DJ/Producer/artist Pete Rock. Coming into the game as a young prodigy, endorsed by the likes of Marley Marl and Heavy D, Pete Rock has continued to remain persistent and relevant in making classic music. His smooth and soulful flavor has crafted numerous hits over the span of two decades while still influencing today’s most respected producers. With his new release "NY’s Finest" on the way in Feb. 2008, Pete and I sat down to discuss many topics such as the direction and content of the album, his views on the state of the game today, and his memories with legendary producer and friend J Dilla. Old heads know him; young heads get to know him. There are few people in the realm of Pete Rock who can claim the title “living legend”.
St. James: How you feeling?
Pete Rock: What’s going on bro? I’m chillin. How you?
SJ: I’m good, I’m good. Holding it down.
PR: I’m chilling. Just working hard. Doing the music and I just got the album finished. I’m working with a lot of people right now. So I’m just trying to get myself back on the radar and back in this music game.
SJ: Oh, we still know Pete Rock.
PR: Yeah I never left, I’ve just been laying low.
SJ: We know you can come out pretty much when you want to.
PR: No doubt, no doubt good look.
SJ: You are a legend in this game and really a pioneer on the production front (playing a major role fusing jazz elements into hip-hop). What has allowed you to sustain this long and still possess the passion that you have for the music?
PR: I think it is the passion. It’s the love of the music, loving to make beats. Loving to dig for records and finding something and putting the world on to it, that gives me a rush and it keeps me going.
SJ: Let’s go back to the golden age. Hip hop is burgeoning, a young Pete Rock is coming up and his older cousin Heavy D hits major. What goes through Pete Rocks’ mind and how did that translate into your success?
PR: Well, I think it comes from being family, spending a lot of time together. I spent a lot of time with Hev. Before he had a record deal you know we were tight. When that happened for him, we were all happy for him. We prayed on it that it would happen and it did. And everything else started to unfold. I wanted to get more into production because at the time I was just a DJ. I’ve been DJing since I was like 7. After that, I just stayed in the system and things started to unfold. It was Hev who brought me to Marley Marl. When I started DJing on the radio I was only 15 years old, it was Marley who gave me a shot and put me on the air. At the time he needed a DJ to fill in for this previous DJ he had who got into a car accident. So that kind of worked to my benefit, the spotlight was on me and I kind of made it happen for myself as far as DJing goes. As far as Hev introducing me to Marley, he just came up to him and let him know he had a little cousin that was dope. He stressed that.
SJ: You also pioneered the use of double copies of each record when everyone was only doing it every 3rd or 4th song. How does your love for music influence your production?
PR: As far as my production, my father actually taught me about music in the beginning as a kid. Then growing into it, learning about artists and people I liked like James Brown, Barry White, the list goes on there’s some many legends. James Brown really stood out in my mind like the #1 cat to me. At that time, I was really influenced by his music and I saw how hard he worked and stuff like that stuck with me. I’m a DJ first before production and a lot of cats don’t realize that being a DJ makes you a producer. Depending on how passionate you are with what you are doing. I was really passionate and very interested in knowing the background of the person doing the music. Like the stuff that was out in the 80s before my time, I was a really heavy follower of the Juice Crew, Whodini, LL Cool J, Salt and Pepa and Run DMC. With that, I wanted to know more about the music. When I used to go to studio sessions with Hev, I would just sit back and take it all in and learn. I’ve been at Marley Marl’s house, Harry Key’s house. A lot of important producers at that time. Teddy Riley was doing big things. I just took it all in and learned by watching. Show me something...if I could just see it being done, I could mimic it. I got a little help in the beginning. I was signed to a production company called Untouchables. Steady F was CEO. He put me and CL together and the rest was history. At that time, I was only doing production before we popped Pete Rock and CL Smooth. I started doing remixes and co-production on Heavy D’s first, second, third all the way up to his sixth or seventh album. I was only doing his for the first two albums and then I started to produce on my own after that. That’s how I got into production, watching everybody else who was doing it at the time.
SJ: Give a brief run down of some of your favorite records you produced for other artists for those who may not recognize the range and magnitude of your catalogue.
PR: I’ve worked with Nas, Run DMC, LL Cool J.
SJ: What songs though? Tell me a couple of songs..
PR: Oh, “The World is Yours”, “They Reminisce Over You”, “Rampage” with EPMD. Who else? Heavy D and the Boyz, like I said RUN DMC “Down With the King”. Das Efx I worked with, House of Pain “Jump Around”. Public Enemy “Shut’em Down”, the list goes on. Father MC, just everybody basically.
SJ: Yeah I just wanted to hear some of your favorites, like when you were making them you we’re like “this is it”.
PR: Yeah, I have a lot of favorites. I’ve done so much work it’s just hard to pick a favorite out of everything I’ve done in my life.
SJ: You’ve broken into the game on many fronts (DJing, producing, rapping). How important to your career has it been to be multitalented in the music game?
PR: It’s very important. You have to show versatility, and being able to do more than one thing. One thing is cool and you can do it to the best of your ability and be good at it. But if you do that AND then some, it’s just a plus for you. It helps you get a little further than most.
SJ: How has the disappearance of records and the Cirato, changed the DJ game??
PR: I’m cool with digital, I’m not mad at it. I’m just that classical old school dude who loves vinyl. I’ll always have vinyl and buy it regardless of what the times are. I have Cirato and work with it as well. It’s just times where I don’t carry crates to the airport I’ll bring my laptop. But nothing feels better than vinyl. Original vinyl. I started out as a DJ using original vinyl so as a kid playing 45s in the living room it just stuck with me.
SJ: As a pioneer in the game, where do you feel the direction of Hip-Hop is headed?
PR: I feel like it’s headed more commercial and pop. More silly with it. If you see the attitudes of certain rappers, they like to live above what Hip Hop really is. It’s not to down it or anything but you have to keep yourself grounded to what this music is. It’s important that we put back out there to the youth what kind of music or direction that the youth should be learning from. There are certain records that are clever. I like what Kanye does and even the production of Just Blaze and a couple of other cats that’s below the radar right now. I like what they do. But the game still needs balance. To me pop records are only important for pop artists. Not hip hop artists. It shows versatility that we can fuse pop and hip hop and mix it together. But me I’m hip hop. And keep pop music pop music. And R&B, R&B. R&B and hip hop sound good together, but it’s really changed. It’s not a lot of real singers out there. People that sound like the Luther Vandross or Teddy Pendergrass, just someone that was really influential. I feel like some of the singers don’t sing about anything and their voice octaves aren’t great.
SJ: Timbaland has kind of stepped out of the boundaries and started to work with different artists like Nelly Furtado.
PR: You know what I respect Timbaland. He never shied away from what he originally did. He came in the game doing R&B and hip hop and you know I really like his sound. It’s influential. You know if you look back in his career, look at how many producers copied his style. It’s the same with Pete Rock. It’s like that heavy influential sound that people love. To me he laid it down. Like that new song he has with Nelly? I like that song. *starts making the sound of the beat* I really like that. He holds his own.
SJ: Are there any plans for Pete Rock to step outside of the box in that manner?
PR: I probably would do something like that because I can do it. It depends on what types of relationships I have with people and who I meet. If I can make a relationship pop off then yeah I would do it.
SJ: Do you feel the lack of A&Ring on projects now is what is affecting the quality of the music being put out? (i.e. a well-rounded album vs. an album full of singles)
PR: I think that there are a lack of ears as far as the A&Rs are concerned. I think a lot of them don’t really have the ear for music. Not to be disrespectful but some of these cats are really young, and I don’t know if they were in this from birth. Some of the sound I hear out there is actually what other people think is hot and I think some of it is really good but a lot of it is really bad. No one has ever thought of hiring me as an A&R but I'll tell you this much, I have good ears and I can hear talent.
SJ: How do you feel about the whole Hip Hop vs. America feud?
PR: You know it’s politics. It’s sad to say but the music business is based on politics. So it is what it is. It’s part of the game now. I think it’s cool people get to voice their opinion on worldly issues. If you hear hip hop now there’s barely any of that in the music or lyrics. It’s just a lot of materialistic stuff and degrading women. It’s not really teaching the kids because you know, I’m a father. I’m concerned about that.
SJ: How do you feel about the blogs/myspace/youtube reporting that goes on in hip hop? Do you feel it offers a fair and informed judgment on the artists and culture?
PR: Really it all depends on how you use it. Myspace?? I try not to really comment on that because you hear a lot of different things about myspace and the whole thing is kind of...but you know what I like about youtube is that you can find the old performances. Really old performances. But as far as like putting people on front street all the time it’s negative. It’s really negative...to blast somebody on youtube or whatever, I think that sh*t is wack. That sh*t is wack. I don’t think that it was the base on why these things were started. And for the simple fact that you can find anything on there that you once remembered. Old commercials, performances, TV shows, I just think it was made for that purpose. If it was used for that purpose alone it would be cool but it’s always going to be something thrown in there to f*ck up the whole thing.
SJ: I know right, people want to spam you with all kinds of ish.
PR: Then you got these nutty people on myspace leaving sick messages and stuff. It’s just crazy. But other than that it’s a great communication tool if you use it right.
SJ: The business contains many evils…even the ability to bring a rift to the best of friends. What do you think it is about money, power, and fame that it can break such tight nit bonds??
PR: You know what it is? There are a lot of people out there DESPERATE, absolutely desperate and will do anything to be a superstar. Whether it’s snaking the next cat or selling your soul to the devil. People are doing this beyond desperation. And then some people are in the game for the right reasons and there are people who are in the game for all the wrong reasons who are making it what it is now. This is why I feel it’s harder in the business today than in the past. Nothing is easy but today it’s much harder and when you’re a triple threat in this game like if you produce, rap, and DJ that presents a problem for certain people that can’t take the next man doing something dope. They don’t look at it as someone contributing something dope to hip hop, they look at it as a threat. The only way they feel they can make the real money is to get the threat out of the way. Out of the way so they can make their mark and make their bullsh*t and wack corny a** records, you know what I’m saying? There is a lot of haters. You know what hurts is that you go to other places and people are united but in New York they are f*cking haters. That’s the part about New York I don’t understand especially a person who loves the game, loves what he does, who loves music. But just doesn’t love things that come with the game on the negative side. Now on the positive side, all I ever do is focus on the music and being involved with artists. Now a days I feel like I email more beats than getting with the artists and working out the song. People don’t put enough time into their music. Into their craft. They just feel like they have to get something out because they need money or for whatever reasons. The music suffers from this and I feel like my job is to help put the balance back in the game. I’m not here to save hip hop. I’m here to just put the balance back and add what’s missing.
SJ: Let's talk about the new album...
PR: Yeah the album is done. There are certain things...I’m a producer and I like to listen to things and what I’m getting out of certain songs. I do things like that. But the album is done and finished. It’s ready to go I’ve just been building up.
SJ: Are you producing most of the album? What is the direction?
PR: Yeah I did every song except for one. I had my man Green Lantern contribute. The direction is straight hip hop. It’s a little R&B. I got songs with Rell, I got a joint with Little Brother. I got a joint with Jim Jones. I got a joint with Redman. Chip-Fu from Fu Schnickens, Renee from Zhane we did a reggae song that’s dope. The direction is I’m doing reggae, R&B, and hip hop. Just giving people a little bit of everything. I didn’t really go pop on this album.
SJ: You’ve been working a lot with RZA and the Wu, has RZA’s new formula bled into your style?
PR: I have great relationships with the Wu Tang Clan. From Ghost to Rae all of them, they have a natural respect for me and vice versa. With that said, it was just like they were a match made in heaven. They walk right on the lines of the kind of hip hop that I feel should be heard. That’s the kind of beats I like to make. The dirty grimy. I can do the radio friendly records. I have a few of those, I produce for various people. But I just try to be versatile and I think I showed my a** a little bit on this album.
SJ: What’s in the producer’s survival pack in the studio (i.e. MP, SP1200)? I read you sample vinyl records?
PR: MP, SP, I still have lots of old beats on the SP. On this album I sat down and listened to a lot of the old beats and picked the ones I liked. As far as vinyl, I collect vinyl. I couldn’t tell you how many records I have. Maybe 80,000 or more.
SJ: As an established producer you had to start somewhere. What would you tell an up and coming producer who is trying to get beats heard?
PR: Basically spread yourself around. Go to these functions where you think important people may be. Do your music with passion regardless. You will get turned down and dissed. You’ll get dissed. But you have to take the bruises with the bumps and I did that three and a half years before I got on. People go through that but if you are passionate about your music and you keep making beats regardless of what people say or think it’ll happen. God will look out because he sees how hard you are working.
SJ: A lot of people compare the late J Dilla (R.I.P.) to you as an influence to his style as well as 9th Wonder. How do you feel about that assertion?
PR: Ah man. Dilla. That's my dude man. He was just the best person to know. Like, f*ck the beats. He was a good dude. But like the beats when we conversed he told me everything. Like “I was trying to be you. You were my favorite”. And his mother told me. When his mother told me, I really believed it then. You know moms isn’t going to lie. But he invited me to his home in Detroit and we chilled out and stayed at his house. Me and my little brother. He would let me stay in his basement and break out and not come back for hours. He would just have me in there like do what you want to do Pete. That was beautiful and it stuck with me and kept our relationship important. He was the Muhammad Ali on the beats. He was it. It’s sad that he’s gone because he was well needed. I just wish his physical was still here.
SJ: Kanye West even labeled himself “The new version of Pete Rock”, who else do you feel has that “magic” that Pete Rock has?
PR: I look at that and I take that as a compliment. I can’t take that no other way. I’m still here, I’m still alive, and I’m still making beats. He knows that and I think he’s just saying how much of an influence I was to him.
SJ: I agree. I mean like I’ve said before numerous times you are a pioneer in this.
PR: You know I get that a lot and I’m just really appreciative man. It makes me know that my work had meaning.
SJ: What do you hope to accomplish through your music?
PR: That’s a good question. I want to accomplish stability and balance. That’s my goals in the music business. To put that back in hip hop and keep it there. I can’t say what will happen because I don’t know what the future may hold.
SJ: Besides the album are there any other artists or projects that you currently have in the works??
PR: Yeah, I done work on Keyshia Cole’s new album “Just Like You”. I also just finished a song with Styles P for his new album with the LOX on it. Working with Jadakiss, LL Cool J again. Trying to make it happen. Just to let cats know also I’m putting this album out and never overlook me as a producer. I am probably the most important producer in the game today. And for these cats to overlook that, I can understand if you are young and don’t know me. That’s why I’m coming back out to re introduce who I am for these young cats. For these cats that’s already established. You know you need this real hip hop man. Come get it. Let your pride down. Let’s make this happen.
SJ: Funny, I remember Mecca and the Soul Brother and how I got my hands on that album. I was like 12 or 13 and they sent the publisher’s clearing house thing in my name. I signed up for an account like I was grown and sh*t and got the 13 free CDs and it was one of them.
PR: Thanks man, like a lot of people tell me about Mecca and the Soul Brother. A lot of NBA players, that album is like one of the dopest sh*ts they got in the changer. People are not really feeling today’s hip hop. Some people have their different taste in hip hop.
SJ: Everyone is talking about Pimp C and his tragic loss. Any thoughts?
PR: Yeah, it was really sad to hear that. I was really blown away by that. He just got out of jail. You know? It’s just like damn! You never know when your time is going to come. You got to live life to the fullest man. Big condolences go out to him and his family man. Big shouts to Bun B you know big respects. Hold ya head. He’s in a better place now.
SJ: Tell the people something they don’t know about Pete Rock.
PR: That I can cook. I like to be in the kitchen and cook. You know I don’t only cook beats, I cook real food too.
SJ: Who do you admire in the game right now?
PR: In the game right now? There’s a lot of people I admire. Kanye West, Common, Mos Def, Alicia Keys, Erykah Badu. The special people.
SJ: Anything else you want to tell the fans who read HHNLive.com?
PR: Get my new album when it drops! Hopefully no one will be disappointed. I think it’s a dope album and you can listen to it from A to Z without stopping.
MTS Centre, Winnipeg - May 26, 2008
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