Filed under: Interviews,Print Work,Steady Bootleggin',Tragedy Special
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Here’s my interview with Pete from Hip-Hop Connection magazine for anybody who may have missed it. Even though he proved to be one of my more challenging interview subjects, I think you’ll enjoy this a little more than the million other Q&A’s he did to promote the NY’s Finest album.
Robbie: You worked with Marley Marl all those years on the radio. What were some of your best experiences from those days?
Pete Rock: Just having the opportunity to play good records, and even some of the demo’s that I’d been working on and stuff. Flip a few of those in there. It was a good opportunity to play good music remixes, demos and actual songs.
How come you guys never made any songs together in the studio?
In the beginning stages with CL, I came with an idea and he basically brought it to life for me, and he did a joint for me and CL. It was something called ‘Lethal Weapon’ that never came out.
Did you used to work with any neighborhood guys before you met Corey?
I was working with some guys in my neighborhood, but when I met CL in high school I felt like he had a distinctive voice and he didn’t sound like anybody.
I liked that line in “Till I Retire”: ‘You made Pete Rock? Go make another one!’
[laughs] I kinda borrowed that line from Jay-Z. I thought that was clever when he said that.
Did you learn much from Marley in terms of production techniques?
No, not at all! No, no, no. I learned how to produce all on my own, man. Eddie F, who was the DJ for Heavy D, he used to show me how to set-up how to sample your sounds. He definitely showed me how to do that. Then everything came easy.
Was the 45 King a big influence on you?
He was definitely in my top five producers. Howie Tee and Marley Marl was my two main ones, but 45 King was definitely in there. I liked all his beats. As a matter of fact, I used to listen out for his beats a lot when I deejayed on the radio back in the day.
He was the first to really bring the horns out.
He used to do it in Queen Latifah stuff. He was one of the main ones, when I used to hear the horns and stuff, I was like ‘Well, OK, see – somebody is doin’ it’, but I wanted to do it in a stylish way. Not saying he didn’t do it in a stylish way – he definitely represented that a lot with Lakim Shabazz and all that stuff he was doin’. Even his own stuff, the beat albums he used to put together and stuff like that. The Marva Whitney sample, you know the James Brown [imitates ‘The 900 Number’ horns], that was something that blew my mind too when I heard that.
Obviously you’re spending a lot of time by yourself working on beats. Is that solitude something you enjoy, or is that one of the downsides?
Nah, it’s never a downside to that. When you by yourself you’re just doin’ whatever, whenever, without no one telling you what or how to do it. Just having fun.
So have you had situations where you’ve had to put a beat together in the studio when then artist’s there? Do you feed off their energy?
I don’t even recall never doin’ that like that. I think I made all my beats at home, and I would just play beats for cats. How I did it for artists was come with a cassette full of beats and play some beats. They would like what they hear – they would pick it! I never really made-up a beat right there in the studio. Maybe once or twice but I can’t remember, it was so long ago.
Songs like ‘For Pete’s Sake’ had so many different loops coming in, it was really ahead of it’s time in terms of how sophisticated it was.
Yeah, I love that song. Just that whole album, man. I listen back to it and I’m like ‘Wow, I was doing some shit back then!’ When I did Mecca and the Soul Brother I was very vibrant – my mind was keen and sharp with the way I wanted to lay it down, in a way where no one had ever done it before. I could tell because after that album I was getting so many phone calls from rap artists, from fans, from producers, from just people wanting to know me…it was just crazy. Everybody’s tryin’ to compete with me on the beat tip but I wasn’t really doing it to compete! I was just doing it ‘cos I love doing it! Loved the way that I perfected the sound that I have, and not sounding like someone else.
Do you have any friendly rivalries with other producers?
I probably like Premier as one of my friendly rivalries. But as far as competing against, in New York? That’s it! I don’t really compete like that. I guess if you call making beats and just being consistent is ‘competing’, then that’s what I’m doing. I’m competing with the old guys and the new guys, but there’s not many guys from my era producing right now. From the 90’s or whatever. There’s still people that can make beats – it’s just being consistent and puttin’ the music out, you know? Like me? I put out an album once every year-and-a-half, two years.
There was an interview that Kanye West did in Scratch magazine where he was talking about ‘I’ll sample drums off a Pete Rock instrumental if they’re open’. That was kinda funny to me.
I believe it! I hear my snares out there, and I’m like ‘Wow, that’s fuckin’ crazy, man!’ I feel like that’s lazy shit. You obviously don’t love it as much as I do, because for you to not go out there and find it on your own…you’ll find so much if you just take the time out to go dig, man. We do all the hard work so y’all can just snatch our records up and listen for open snares and kicks? That’s some wack shit. I respect cats that come with their own sound. Like Dilla was the master at that – having kicks and snares. I just recently learned that he always two-tracks his beats – he never gave-up any separate sounds, which is a great idea I think. He didn’t want to put his kicks and snares out there so people could steal ‘em.
You mentioned Dilla. His passing must have been….
So you knew him personally?
Yeah, man! I knew him for a good three or four years before I knew he was sick! I was blown back by that, man. I never knew he was sick – he always kinda hid it from me. His music will always be alive and well, and I will make sure to that. He was one of the greatest, man. He was the greatest to ever do it, for the new cats. And for his mother to tell me that I was his favorite producer – I was like ‘Wow, that’s dope, man’. He really took it there. He kinda broadened me and opened my eyes again, and got me standing up straight on my toes, ‘cos that dude was really serious with it.
The fact that he was still working on music in hospital…
Making beats in the hospital! Yeah, man. That’s beautiful.
I know how influential James Brown has been to you as well.
Oh, man! I was standing right next to his casket. I went to his funeral – just standing there, lookin’ at him for a good hour. It was crazy. He’s been an influence to everyone. He’s the reason for hip-hop music – period! That’s it! He was it! He created ‘Boom! Bap!’ He created that! He made that. I have the DVD where he breaks it down how he figured out how to make the drum beat! He figured it out. It’s ill, man. I love watching that DVD. It’s called Soul Survivor, and it’s about James Browns’ life.
I noticed on the new album you flipped a few well-known breaks and loops. Is that a deliberate thing to show-off your chopping skills? Like on ‘914’ with the ‘UFO’ and ‘Skull Snaps’?
Erick Sermon did a beat on Redman‘s album like that, and that was one of my favourite beats that he did on that album, and I just kinda re-did it. But he had ‘Atomic Dog’ in his and I didn’t really want to use that same sample.
That’s kinda been killed that sample. There must be certain record that you don’t want to touch anymore.
Not even that, it’s just that they’ll come for you. I’m always the person that likes to find break beats that no one has, and make beats with ‘em and put ‘em out there. That’s like a big high for me to go and dig for records all day – for hours – getting dirty and dusty and wearing mask and gloves, just to find these gems of music and make them into beats and put them back out. You can real sick from the bacteria around the records and stuff. The dust gets in your nose, your eyes…you’re fucked-up.
You’ve actually gotten sick from that?
I have before, but I’ve learned a valuable lesson to wear gloves and a mask.
Do they still have record conventions in New York?
You mean at the hotels? Yeah, it was beautiful. I used to go in there and rack up! Big time. I’d see other producers as I’m leaving and they’re like ‘Damn! I might as well turn back around and go home!’ [chuckles] I was walking out with huge amounts of records – huge amounts.
Did the dealers try to over-charge you once they knew who you were?
For certain guys it is [a problem]. Not for me though. I go in there and focus, knowing what I want, get it and leave! I don’t really like to be in a place like that with all kind of different other producers in there, doin’ the same thing I’m doin’. I like to be by myself in there, so I was only going to those conventions for a little while.
You don’t want anyone trying to bite what you’re buying.
Then you got ‘em lookin’ over your shoulder, seeing what you’re tryin’ to buy. ‘Get outta here!’
Didn’t Prince Be from PM Dawn try to reserve everything at those things? What’s up with that shit?
He used to do that a lot. I’m like ‘Dude, you’re not even a producer! I don’t see a track record of anything you produce, any beats that you’re makin’ for anybody. Why you in here, buying-up all the beats and records and shit? If you’re not doin’ nothing with it!’ What used to make me mad was that at a record convention, you see a record, and then the guy that’s selling the record tells you ‘I’m holding that for somebody’. You know? ‘I’m holding that for PM Dawn’. Like ‘Who the fuck is PM Dawn?! Yo, I’m Pete Rock, dog! Give me that fuckin’ record!’ I don’t care about no PM Dawn.
[laughing] The guy sampled Spandau Ballet!
I stopped going to them things. I just dig on my own right now. If I’m travelling to a town, like if I’m in LA or something I’ll call Madlib up and we’ll go dig. Some shit like that.
You were using a lot of Fender Rhodes around The Main Ingredient era. Do you still use any live instruments on top of stuff?
I like the bass guitar. I always was fuckin’ around with that when I can. But I make all my basslines up myself. Everything that you ever heard wasn’t a loop – that was me. I’m humming it in my head and then I just play it out.
Can we talk about INI a little?
INI was a group that just didn’t progress on Elektra records due to switching of presidents. Sylvia Rhome came and then all hell broke lose. She fired a lot of people and didn’t put my project out. They only released an INI single and bootlegged the album. That’s how it got bootlegged, then people got copies of the album and tried to put it out, but certain songs are false, and the way they did it the quality’s not there. There’s none of the interludes that I put with the album out there, they’ve only got the regular stuff – and they don’t even have the whole lot! Of all the bootlegs, that’s not the whole album at all, period.
So the BBE version wasn’t the real one either?
Nah, that was something that I gave them to try to make amends with the group, to try to get them some money. But it didn’t really work out that way, they did some shenanigans with me. I didn’t have proper management at the time, so I was kinda out there like that but I quickly got myself together and picked it up.
What went down with you and BBE?
They’re a bunch of bootleggers. They only do that for people in the States. They never worked with anyone from London, persay. They only did that to people like us, like Dilla, myself, Jazzy Jeff, whoever else did records for BBE. Myself and BBE didn’t have such a great relationship. I don’t know about everybody else, but me and BBE didn’t have a great relationship at all.
You must be one of the most bootlegged guys out. How have you dealt with that?
The bootleg guys don’t have nothing else to do but jerk-off all day. So they jerk-off and try to make money off of people. That’s all they’re about. It’s like a bug that just won’t go away.
Have you thought about putting out unreleased stuff from your vaults to beat the bootleggers?
Oh yeah. Actually, I’ve got stuff unreleased that I’m not putting out until the right time comes along. I’ve got a lotta stuff.
As a fan, what’s been the biggest thrill between working with Public Enemy, Run-DMC, KRS and Rakim?
The most intriguing was Run-DMC, ‘cos they were the biggest rap group – period. Somehow we got to work together, they requested to work with me and I was really blown back by that. We got something good out of it, ‘cos at the time their last album didn’t do so well, but ‘Down With The King’ did a lot for them so I was proud of that project. I got to work closely with Jam-Master Jay – actually him and me working together on the idea.
Have you turned down many people for remixes if you weren’t feeling their stuff?
There was things that I turned down, but basically everybody I worked with is everybody I’m feelin’! There are people I wanna work with, too. LL Cool J, Beanie Sigel, Big Daddy Kane…even KRS-One right now.
Because you’ve done a remix for KRS but not an original song.
A hot joint, like a real concentrated record, I would like to do with KRS-One.
‘Game of Death’ with Roc Marciano was a really different style of beat for you.
That was an old rock record that I had. I felt when I put the beat together, I kinda heard his voice on it. I like that song a lot. I was introduced to Roc Marcy through Busta Rhymes. He and Busta had been friends for years, so he introduced me to him and we kinda clicked. I put them [The UN] on my Petestrumentals album just to get them heard.
The whole landscapes changed, since major labels aren’t really calling the shots anymore. Independents almost have as good a shot getting the music out there now.
That’s the way to go, man! The majors really don’t know what they’re doing as far as how to market this type of music or how to market the artists. Hip-hop is black music, and not to say in a discriminative way, but it came from blacks – actually, it came from poverty-stricken communities that had nothin’ to do! And we just created something called hip-hop!
There’s a lot of young cats that’s working at these record labels that don’t really know the music.
A&R’s are too young to understand the music. They don’t really know their history in hip-hop and they’re working in these offices depicting and trying to tell people how to make their music, which I feel is a disgrace. You’re working in the world of hip-hop and don’t know nothing about it? Then you shouldn’t be working. Know your history! Know what you’re talking about. Use your ears. If you have a good ear for music – use it! Don’t just sign anyone. The way to go is to go independent, ‘cos you’re free as a bird to make your music the way that you wanna make it! The way that your soul is telling you to make it. That’s important, man. In the independent world, you can still get your music out there just as well as the majors, but the good thing about it? You see a lot more of your dollar! With a major, they recoup the money.
Those old deals just seemed so ridiculous…
They give you the money that they want you to make back for them. They give it to you, whether it’s a $500,000 studio budget – they give you that and they wanna make back double, triple that. If they give you that much money and you don’t bust a grape? Then they’re gonna drop you!
How was Dante Ross to work with in the Elektra days?
We was young cats, so we really didn’t know the business too well. We were kinda confided in those guys, so there wasn’t really no bickering. I guess towards the end of the deal, maybe a little bit. If I can recall, maybe we used to bicker a little bit but it wasn’t nothin’ major.
Do you feel like hip-hop’s become too smoothed-out?
Hip-hop has changed, and it’s changed into a way where it’s now about politics and money. People are in this to make a fast buck now. You can tell and you can hear it in the music – it doesn’t come out as good. People don’t put enough effort in their music and their songs. They just slap some shit together and try to get it done as fast as they can possibly make it happen. I believe in putting a little more effort into your music. That’s why the music is the way it is today, because there’s not enough effort. Not enough time spent on it. I don’t need anymore props. All I need is to make this music and give people hit records and give ‘em the type of beats that I think will help them win. My whole goal about this whole thing is just to make good hip-hop music again and good lyrics for the kids to listen to.
I heard you had a falling out with the YG’z and they chased you out of a party?
Chasing me doing what? Nobody was chasing me, shit. I had a fight with somebody back then, and I knocked the person out and ran! I wasn’t being chased. The cops were coming and I ran! Some jealous guy trying to test me and show me up in front of people, and I punched the guy right in his face. He fell to the ground and I just turned around and ran.
But was he part of the Young Gunz?
Nah, it was a good friend of mine, actually, that I grew up with. He’s passed away right now…I wanna actually actually say ‘Rest In Peace’ to him. That was just a small little neighborhood thing that happened, that type of thing is always going on. That comes with the territory of music, when you’re successful. You have certain things that you deal with, on a certain level. Jealousy and envy. You know the story.
What’s pissing you off right now?
Just the subject matter that cats talk about on their records. They don’t really talk about nothin’. Not that I say the records have to be preachy, but be clever with what you say! If you want to make fun little bubblegum rap music for the little young kids then that’s a certain kind of rap music, but if you callin’ that overall ‘real rap music’ then you’ve got your definition twisted! Just put the real elements of music in your songs.
What are you loving at the moment?
Just believing that the Giants are in the Superbowl, that puts a smile on my face, and just feeling like we’re getting’ ready to have a black president – that puts a big smile on my face.
Do you think white America’s ready for a Black president?
I think we’re ready for a Black president. I think we’re ready for a president that’s gonna give us change. Anyone besides Bush right now [chuckles]. The president we’ve got right now – we’ve gotta get rid of him. Get him out of office, ‘cos with him in office we got attacked. That kinda shook New Yorkers up.
Nobody really talked about that on records all that much.
Yeah but it’s kinda offensive to the families who lost people in that tragedy, so people don’t really touch on the subject. It was devastating to New Yorkers, it kinda blew us back. I’m not saying the have to talk about that, but there’s things goin’ on more important than the materialistic stuff that comes with this rap shit.
It seems like nobody’s really touching on any political things now.
It doesn’t even have to be anything political! You could talk about a little bit of political stuff, but what I’m saying is make clever records. Even if you have a dope story you want to tell, tell it in the right way. Tell it in a way that the audience would be interested, and do it in a clever way to a dope beat that people are gonna like.
Has having as family changed your outlook on music at all?
Just made me become more of a man. With a family you’ve got to be responsible to two young children – I have a daughter and a son that make me a proud dad. I’m lovin’ the fact that I have a family. The support feels good, I love it. It makes me more aware and more serious about life and trying to teach your young youth what life is all about. Things in it, people in it. Teaching them everything! From the birds and the bees to anger and happiness and jealousy.
I found the hardest thing was never getting to sleep in anymore.
Yeah, you don’t get that much sleep anymore, you get about four, five hours of sleep a night.
Did you ever have a shitty little sampler before you got the SP?
Pause button! Pause button was how it worked for me [chuckles]. Pause button action at my house – tape decks an turntables.
How would you like to be remembered?
Remember the music that touched your soul, and remember the record ‘Reminisce’, and how it made you feel when you first heard it. That’s how I want people to remember me.
Pete Rock & CL Smooth - ‘Lethal Weapon’
Pete Rock feat. Tragedy, Noreaga & Mekalicious - ‘Strange Fruit’ (original)
Pete Rock & CL Smooth - ‘Straighten It Out’ (Remix)
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