Filed under: Features,G Rap Week,Interviews,Killa Queens,Not Your Average,Steady Bootleggin'
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
You might know the name but there’s a lot more to Dr. Butcher‘s story than I ever imagined when I first tracked him down for a talk. This first part focuses on his production and DJ work with Kool G Rap, Akinyele, MF Grimm and more.
Robbie: What was the difference between what you and DJ Polo did with G Rap?
Dr. Butcher: Polo was a few years older than me – probably a significant amount. When I was growing-up he was the neighborhood DJ – the known guy. He was never known as no superior DJ or anything like that, he was just a very ‘popular’ guy. When Marley Marl came about, he had approached me, telling me that he had a situation for a record deal. I mentioned G Rap to him – he was looking for a rapper – and at the same time Eric B. mentioned G Rap to him, so they got together and did ‘It’s A Demo’. There was another guy that G Rap wanted to be ‘Dr. Butcher’, but the guy had some issues and had to leave town or do something. Then he found out I could DJ so I just took the position. It was more of a studio thing. G would go record I would pretty much in go in and really do the scratches. Polo really wasn’t someone who was getting that technical with scratches and stuff, and that’s the kind that G wanted at the time. I would do a few shows, Polo would go on the road with him more-so. We would just put together show tapes where I would do scratching on the tapes, and they just kinda go out on the road with DAT tapes or things like that and just pretty much pretend to DJ. Just have things organized, he wasn’t wasn’t doing too many live scratches or anything.
He’d actually play a DAT of your scratching? [laughing]
Yeah, a lotta times. At the shows, if they had a portable DAT player they would go off the DAT player. He would do a little scratching over the top of stuff that I would do, but that was pretty much it. He wasn’t anyone who…he never pretended to be. On the Road To Riches album, I think Marley did most of the scratching on that album, then the second album I came in and did all the scratching ever since. I mean he’s not like somebody who walked around pretending to be this great DJ. It was more-so he had the connection and he hooked G Rap up with Marley and brought him to Cold Chillin’, and that’s how that whole situation went down.
He was more into party stuff as well. He did that record with Ron Jeremy later on.
Oh yeah! [laughs] I don’t know what’s going on with that stuff, he’s still trying to mess around with that stuff. I guess it’s a love for music, trying to stay involved…I don’t know.
Are you part of the X-Ecutioners as well?
I would say I was more-so a part of the X-Men. X-Ecutioners were pretty much Rob Swift, Roc Raider, Joe Sinista and [Total] Eclipse until Joe Sinista left the group. Because of the trademark of the name, when they got their deal with Sony/Loud they couldn’t use ‘The X-Men’ anymore, so they had to come up with a new name. They were doing stuff with Asphodel Records first, and I lended a little hand in that. Then Sean C. – who was also in X-Men – he was an A&R for Loud Records at the time, so when the situation presented itself…Rick Rubin was also in the mix, tryin’ to sign the group, but because Sean was working for Loud they felt comfortable going to Loud. Sean was gonna be in control of the situation so it would give us more freedom to do what we wanted to do. I more-or-less took a back seat as a producer with Sean C., just to help things so the DJ’s could focus more-so on their scratching and putting stuff together.
You’ve done a lotta beats over the years, from Akinyele to G Rap. One of my favorites was that Grimm record, ‘Emotions’/’Get Down’.
That’s funny, I just mentioned that in an interview! I was like that probably one of my favorite records. Working with Grimm – me and Grimm are like brothers – working with Grimm and B-1 was always fun. Grimm was so talented. To me, he’s definitely one of the most talented rappers out there. I think I had did that track, and he had never heard it, I had did the track really fast – like in 20 minutes. He called and was like, ‘Butcher, we’ve got studio time. Can you come to the studio?’ And I was like ‘Sure’, so he’s like, ‘Just bring some tracks’ and I had just finished the track, saved it to the disc and went to the studio and popped it in. When he heard it, he just came up with a chorus and they just did the song. I kinda like things like that, ‘cos it’s not practiced and it was just kinda like on the spot, so that song has a special vibe to me that you can’t always capture on records. A lotta times the rappers are sitting with the beats for months or weeks at a time, tryin’ to make everything perfect, and by the time they get to the studio the vibe of the song is kinda gone. It’s difficult to get if they wanna do their vocals over fifty times and tryin’ to make this perfect record. That was like a one-take thing. We just kinda went in and knocked it out in a couple of hours. I was like, ‘Yo, leave it. I like the way it sounds.’ Raw, grimy and just got that street feel. I just like that record for some reason.
‘Get Down’ was like a club song in the way he was talkin’ about partying, but the music was really street. I liked that different combination.
What’s funny with that, that came out on Stretch Armstrong‘s label and a DJ named Ekim was kinda A&R at the time. We wanted ‘Emotions’ and for some reason that ‘Get Down’ record was the hardest record for me and Grimm to ever do. I wasn’t crazy about the beat, he wasn’t crazy about the song. It was one of them things where everybody else wanted it and was kinda like forcin’ it, and we’re not used to working that way. Most of the time I could play Grimm anything, and he would just come to my house – ‘cos he’s in a wheelchair and his friends would bring him to my house, I live in the city – and he would just come and stay there for hours, and I would just go through tracks and he would have a song to anything I played. He felt it was like a competitive thing – the harder the track was, the more he wanted to beat the track. So he would always sit there tryin’ to come up with the best verses or choruses that he could, and we would just sit there and just work. So that song, for some reason, gave us a lot of troubles. ‘Emotions’ was so hard, they was tryin’ to get something slightly more radio-friendly. So that’s pretty much what that was, it was probably like the worst song in the stash, but everyone wanted to go with it so we just let it fly.
The 12” even had a remix with Fatman Scoop, trying to do a more uptempo version.
At the time, everybody was kinda caught-up in the Puffy and the Bad Boy syndrome. Everybody was using the old disco samples and things of that nature, tryin’ to get to the clubs. And you do the need the clubs, that’s a definite, so it was more of a thing where ‘OK, we gotta have something that can at least get in the clubs and compete with these guys’. But I’ve always been pretty much anti whatever the norm is that everybody’s doin’ at the moment, so I’m like ‘I’m not finding no disco records to sample!’, that’s not happening with me. And Grimm was pretty much the same way. I would always fight that. Even on 4,5,6 G Rap was like, ‘G, you just gotta get more commercial with the sound’ – only because he saw what was goin’ on and he believed that I was as talented as anybody out there – but I was like, ‘Yo, I can’t do it, man. It’s not for me, I’m not gonna force that’. It’s good for others, but I like that raw, underground stuff. It’s not gonna bring me as much money, but it doesn’t matter – I’m good. The money’s not a big thing to me. I like to preserve the art of hip-hop.
The remix you did for ‘It’s A Shame’ was about a million times better than the single version.
Don’t tell that producer that! [laughs] I liked the original one too. It was done at a certain period, and I think at that point G Rap was trying to…I know during the 4,5,6 album he had writers block. G Rap really couldn’t write songs, he was having a very difficult time coming-up with songs, because of what was going on with that whole ‘death threats’ stuff. He had a lot on his mind so it was really difficult to focus on songs, so a lot of the songs on that album were previously-written songs, with the exception of the song with Nas – ‘Fast Life’, the song with Grimm and them, I think ‘Money On My Brain’ he kinda wrote his rhyme in the studio. The other joint that T-Ray produced with him and Grimm and B-1, he already had that rhyme – he just couldn’t write anything else. I kinda suggested that he bring Grimm and B-1 up to do the song with them. G Rap didn’t have a hook or anything, and Grimm kinda came in and came-up with the hook for that song and ‘Money On My Brain’ on the spot. I think I did that track right there on the spot in about ten minutes. When Nas came up to do ‘Fast Life’ I guess Nas kinda sparked him a little bit and they was having fun recording that song, but other than that it was sorta difficult ‘cos there was so much nonsense going on.
So were you literally out in the woods?
You could say that. We were upstate New York, in Dorsville recording studios. It’s right in Woodstock. They have a studio that’s up in woods, up in the mountains and stuff, and then around the studio they have a bunch of houses, like two really nice log cabin houses. Then they have a bunch of bungalows like half a mile from the studio, so that the artists and band members can stay in these homes and stuff and work on music before they come to the studio and they don’t have to get hotels. We actually recorded some of the X-Ecutioners album up there also. After that, it became a pretty popular place. Once Nas came-up there, he liked the vibe so much – no one knows you’re there, so it’s good to focus – he came back and told The Trackmasters he wanted to record there, and The Trackmasters went up there and they fell in love with it. They was doin’ a ton of albums, they wouldn’t leave! They stayed up there. G Rap defiantely brought a lot of business there. We had also recorded in a studio in Winsin, Mass. It was like a farm, I think Rolling Stones used to do a lot of recording there. We spent some time there when we first started recording the album, then we went to Woodstock afterwards.
Did you work with G again after that?
Yeah, he brought me out to Arizona for the Roots of Evil album. After that album Rawkus signed him and I produced one cut on the Rawkus album. That was a whole political situation that kinda annoyed me because nobody was thinking about G Rap at the time, after all of that stuff was going on – living in Arizona – and he started working on an album with some cats in Arizona and he called me and he was like he liked this stuff he was doing but it just didn’t have feel. It was real commercial stuff, but it was cool. I slipped him some songs and that’s when he started writing to ‘Thug’s Love Story’ and ‘Foul Cats’ and all that other stuff. I rought CJ Morris up there with me and we just recorded his album, and pretty much A&R’d and recorded the album with him. We have such a good relationship that it’s easy to records, and he only felt comfortable with me out there. After the project was done, ‘Foul Cats’ got a little heat on the street and Rawkus wanted to sign him. They gave him a deal and stuff but then they wanted him to use all these big-name producers and so-forth. My take was, if you’re signing him based on stuff I did – not saying that he couldn’t use me, but they were just on some stuff. They tried to push me to the back. We would be in the studio working with him and stuff, and after a while I just kinda left that situation alone. Then one day he called me and was like, ‘Yeah I found a cassette with some tracks’ I had gave him and wasn’t sure it was mine. I ran in and recored one song, but at the time the budget was exhausted and I pretty much did the song for free, just as a favor to him. But it’s kinda disheartening, sittin’ there watching all these other cats coming in, doing stuff, and you got these corny A&R dudes – Jarrod and these dudes – sittin’ there, riding all of these other cats – Hi-Tek and them – I’m like ‘Yo man, you shoukd take of the guys that been with this dude from giddy-up! We knw what to make this guy sound like’. It was an annoying situation dealing with Rawkus.
Mike Heron told me they wanted to change him as soon as they signed him.
Yeah, they was tryin’ to do too much commercial records. That’s the problem with a lot of A&R’s. Instead of letting the artists be themselves and let the producers produce the artists. Especially in hip-hop – you have a lot of A&R’s that sit up in their office and wanna be producers as well as A&R’s, so they wanna sit around and tryin’ to figure out what kinda samples you doin’ and just kinda studying producers and thinking they’re know-it-all’s and stuff. I had to deal with that with Akinyele at Jive. The A&R was clearing samples for records I didn’t use samples in. Then he was clearing the wrong samples! We would have heated debates and arguments about what I used, and I wouldn’t tell him what I was using because he would go in his office, was tryin’ to collect records and stuff, so he was tryin’ to see what I was using so he could go and buy the samples and use ‘em himself.
Make his own beats?
Yeah! I’m like, ‘Why don’t you stick to bein’ an A&R and let me worry about the production!’ Akinyele would get into fights with him also. You’re dealing with that stuff all the time, and that’s just what happened with G. I mean I liked the way the Rawkus album was sounding but definitely they were tryin’ to force him…they sent him to work with The Neptunes – like around when they started getting’ hot, coming off the NORE song – G Rap said Pharrell and ‘em only played him one track. They made a track in the studio and he was like, ‘Yo Drew, it was garbage’. He told Pharrell over and over, ‘Yo son, this is not me’, and Pharrell was like, ‘Yo, I’m your number-one fan, you gotta trust me on this G, listen to this!’ It wasn’t a G Rap song, it was a Neptunes song. G was like, ‘Yo, dog..’ and he’s that type of dude, he’s not gonna lie. He’s the most blunt, up-front dude you could ever meet. He was like, ‘Yo, I’m not feelin’ it. I’m not writing to it, I’m not doin’ nothin’. You gotta show me something else’, and they wouldn’t play him another beat. He was like, ‘Yo, I’m outta here!’ He’d driven all the way to Virginia for that and then left. Maybe it would’ve worked, it could’ve been a big successful commercial record for him – maybe not. But he wasn’t willing to sacrifice who he was just to have some corny commercial record. That’s what you’re always up against when dealing with record companies.
What about the stuff you did for Akinyele that ended-up on his ‘Lost Tapes’ album?
I was recording Ak for three or four years. During ‘Put It In Your Mouth’, when he first started working on that album, he called me. I was working with Grimm and had just finished the 4,5,6 stuff. We were always close and stuff, so when I had moved to his neighborhood he came by and just started coming by more often and I would just give him more and more beats. He was just takin’ everything I was givin’ him and wanting to record it. I started goin’ to the studio with him and brought C4 in there, and he heard ‘Put It In Your Mouth’ and he then he recorded it. When the EP took off, we just stayed in the studio. You had Biggie and Wu-Tang, all these guys getting’ big and everybody had they main producer so he kinda started pin-pointing me as his main producer. So I was spending a lotta time putting his project together. The problem was AK wouldn’t stay on any label! He was jumping from label to label. He went from Loud to EMI to Jive…through-out that process, Ak may have been on four or five different labels. In the meantime, were we just recoding a tonne of songs. He probably had three or four albums worth of songs. When they finally released the Aktapuss album he still had two other albums sitting in the stash. That Jive situation didn’t work out, he left and then he just started putting albums on indy labels and stuff. Then the last one that came out was still a buncha DAT’s that I had in my possession with fifteen or sixteen songs that we hadn’t even released, so he put those out.
Me and Rob Swift started doing a lot of the production for Grimm, but labels wouldn’t sign Grimm. One reason they said was him being in a wheelchair was gonna be a problem, like they didn’t see him being able to get out and promote a record enough. If you look at it in hindsight, everybody that comes out has a story to tell about how they got shot and went to jail and those are the biggest selling artists. He was that way years ago, plus he was in a wheelchair, so how much money would they have made off him if somebody had been smart enough to give him a deal! Grimm always travelled with about ten or fifteen guys – and these are pretty big, intimidating guys – but the reason was because he was someone who was in the street and sometimes he needed guys to carry him. Every place you go to isn’t wheelchair accessible. Labels would get intimidated. I just know in my heart, had he been released I think Grimm would’ve been an extremely huge artists – as big as Biggie Smalls, Tupac, 50 Cent, Eminem, anybody out there – because lyrically he was dealing with everybody. It’s just the labvels were scarred to touch him at the time ‘cos they felt he was too street-oriented. You had Puffy and them running around in the shiny suits, so they wanted that type of stuff and he couldn’t do that. Grimm couldn’t dance, sitting in a wheelchair, so they didn’t think they would be able to market him to the mass public. So they wouldn’t give him a deal.
Are there any records that you’ve done that peoole might not know about?
I produced a record for Percee-P called ‘Clap Your Hands’ [released as “Don’t Cum Strapped’]. What happened was, DJ Ekim was also Percee’s DJ. When they were signed to Big Beat I would go into the studio with them. One day they wanted to record – that’s around the time when I first started doin’ tracks – and Ekim heard the track and he was like, ‘Yo, Percee wants the track’. I was like, ‘Fine’, I just gave him the disc and he went in the studio with Perc and they recorded it. Then later on Ekim wasn’t messing with Percee too much and next thing I know…someone had brought it to my attention, then when I saw Perc he was telling me, ‘Yeah, I was tryin’ to get in contact with you, let you know’. The only thing that bothered me was that when I saw it, someone else’s name was under the production credits. I was telling him, ‘Perc, I don’t mind you using the track, you know you my man, but you at least gotta show me the respect of putting my name on the credits!’ He said the guy who put the record out did that without his permission. He told the guy, ‘Yo, you’re gonna gave to change it, ‘cos this is my man and I know he’s gonna be upset, ‘cos you know we not paying him. We just using the track without his permission!’ It was never a big deal. A lotta people, when they found out I did it, were shocked. ‘I never knew you did that record for him!’
Next Up: Butcher on his high school days with LL Cool J, working with Large Professor and more.
Akinyele - ‘Enter’
MF Grimm - ‘Get Down’
Kool G Rap - ‘It’s A Shame’ [Butcher’s Mix]
Kool G Rap - ‘Foul Cats’
Percee-P - ‘Don’t Cum Strapped’
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