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Written by: Robbie Ettelson
The Live Guy With Glasses is one of hip-hop’s top shelf legends, and having worked on some of rap’s greatest ever albums – in addition to his own stand-out work as the front man for Main Source and as a soloist – he refuses to kick back and relax, continuing to bang out beats and rhymes like only he can. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation from late last year. And yes, I know I forgot to ask him about Vagina Diner…
Robbie: Were you rhyming first or making beats?
Large Pro: It was all kinda simultaneous, but the first time I went in the studio was to rhyme. It was three dudes – it was my dude Tony Rome, it was me – I think I was called K.G. back then – and it was my dude J-Wrath…he was JY, and we would go in the studio and just rhyme and shit. As a matter of fact, Wrath is the manager for Lost Boys now, Cheeks and ‘em. I guess everybody kinda stuck with it, they just went down their own little paths and shit.
So you were just making demos back then?
Yeah, demos. Tony Arfi from Power Play took an interest in us and he decided to invest some studio time in us. We were just puttin’ some demos together, and Karmel was our DJ. He was real nice and just getting’ busy.
So what happened between then and meeting the McKenzie brothers?
After a while I started getting in trouble for writing on walls, writing on trains and everything. They had put me in a group home and everything, and then when I came back out got really serious about tryin’ to do my tapes and do my demos, ‘cos in the group home dudes would be rhyming, bangin’ on the damn dressers and allathat. So I got outta there, came back and I had a little Division for Youth job, a little summer youth job and shit, and I’d blow my whole check goin’ in the studio and shit, tryin’ to make a demo. Then after a while I met the McKenzie brothers, and their moms started investing in us and we took it from there.
So you were pretty serious on the bombing tip?
Yeah, I was tryin’ to come up. My household was the typical, little hip-hop kids household. Goin’ out here you tryin’ to make noise and let people know who you are. So I’m out there tryin’ to write on trains and do all types of dumb shit. Robbin’ people, fuckin’ snuffin’ niggas and all that dumb shit. But I’m glad they caught me early, but that’s what I was into to. But after a while I just was chillin’ and started getting’ into my music and shit.
Fatal was telling me there was another version of ‘Live At The BBQ’ with totally different rhymes. Is that accurate?
Nah, I think it mighta been a whole different songs, man. I don’t think it’s like with the same beat or anything like that. When we were doing the Main Source album, there were a lotta things we were tryin’ to experiment in doin’. What Fatal might be talkin’ ‘bout is like a whole different song that we was tryin’ to put together, but it’s not a ‘Live At The BBQ’ kinda thing. It’s probably a different beat or something. To my knowledge, that was the only one that I let him rhyme on though.
And wasn’t MF Grimm – who was Build And Destroy back then – meant to be on the album?
Definitely, man. I was always tellin’ that dude, like, ‘Yo, just come through and I got you’. I don’t know what happened – where he didn’t make it through or whatever – but I had that slot for him. Like, ‘Yo man, just come through and you good’. But he didn’t make it through, so we just had to do it with the dues that was there.
It was a nice touch to have a track with Mikey D on the new record. So there were no hard feelings I assume?
Nah, never that, man, ‘cos Mike is one of my mentors. He’s the dude that kinda put me on, so I was able to return the favor a little bit. Mike ain’t really tryin’ to go too hard with anything, but once I played him the track, he’s like, ‘Yo! I wanna get on that!’ Let people know he’s still got it.
Is it true that you always try to keep everything simple and stripped back as far as your set-up?
That’s how I always try to keep it, man. Where it’s just basically just the records, a little couple of turntables, drum machine, mic kinda thing. Not really too many new gadgets and allathat. Even though I check for them moreso now than I did before, but I just try to break it down to like, ‘Yo, I like the MPC-1000’. So I’m not gonna have a whole bunch of different drum machines and everything around if that’s what I rock with.
When you did the 1st Class album you had gotten the ASR and was testing that out a bit. Was that why you had more of a stripped-down sound?
With the 1st Class joint I had got up on the ASR-X Pro, and I started making some beats on that. It was still my style, but I had these different sounds that I was enabling, and it was like I was taking a break from searching for records. And then at that time too, the record company was all sample conscious, like, ‘Oh, don’t use this sample! And if you use a sample…’ and all of this sample shit. So it was like, ‘Yo, aiight, cool. If I just rock offa this I don’t have to worry about that. When I get on the mic, people’ll know that’s it’s me – but it’s a different sound’. But it was a little too out there for some people, man. Some people don’t want to travel with you on your road when you tryin’ to broaden your horizon as an artist and shit. A lotta people gave me a lot of slack for that, man. It was like, ‘Yo, yo, yo – the samples!’ And this and that. But I always felt like once they heard me on the mic, that that would pain the perfect picture – it would be like, ‘Yo, he took this shit and turned it into his shit’. That’s all it is, man. I just bought it back for a second – just hooked-up my samples. This time around the record company wasn’t going crazy about samples and allathat, man, so I just went back in doin’ it how I usually do it.
Is ‘Queens Lounge’ from The LP ever going to see a proper release?
I’ll go back through the archives and try to dig that up and dust that off and get it right, man. I wanna finally put that stuff out there the right way – how it was supposed to originally be put out there. I might have to dust some of them tracks off, man, and get ‘em right. That was part of my whole reason with 1st Class – trying somethin’ new – because that album, The LP, was so muddy and dirty. The people [Geffen] they wanted to pull outta the deal and everything, it was like, ‘Yo, I gotta go back to the drawing board and get something fresh and new to work with, so I’m not just sittin’ here with the 12-bit sampler – about to go to the grave with a SP-1200 and some floppy discs!’ So I really tried to step it up and not be stagnated by one particular sound. Try to keep it moving a little bit.
In between projects you’ve said that you take ‘A vacation out in the ghetto’. Do you have periods where you try to stay away from the industry and live a normal life?
Definitely, man. I always try to just get back to real life, man. I don’t really let the clubs and the stages and allathat really affect me. I like to ride my bike around, go to different parts of Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, the city and allathat. Walk around, take the train – things like that – so I ain’t never too good to just be a normal person. That’s what got me there – being on the train got me there! The train is…that’s the whole rhythm of it. You listen to ‘Looking At The Front Door’ – that’s the train right there! So I always try to stick to that, regardless of what’s going on in the industry. Musically I just try to stick to the roots of what it is.
That’s why a lotta dudes don’t sound the same as they did on their first album, ‘cos they’re spending all their time doing photo shoots and it’s hard to have that same hunger back when you were sitting on the bench, writing.
Exactly. You doing tours and not really around the way no more, dudes could get shit mixed up and shit starts being a little diluted, man. It be so potent in the beginning, man, and then shit just start becoming more and more diluted, man. I just wanna go the other way and just get iller and iller.
You’ve had a few songs talkin’ about how watching TV is a waste of time. What made you so anti-television?
I don’t really be on that television shit, man, like just sitting there watching a whole bunch of TV and shit. I rather listen to records, process them in the drum machine. I like bein’ on the internet and shit, lookin’ at different things on the internet and shit. But just sittin’ there on some TV shit? Like I don’t really fuck around. But them songs, man? That’s like them early days, man. Dudes is just crazy, man. Like anything and everything…that was my little point of view, like how I was on it right then and there – that shit didn’t come out for a reason! Motherfuckers are just on some real ‘scrap happy’ shit right now. Yo man, you gotta let some of that just shit live, man. Dudes always ask, ‘Yo, you go in the archives, man…’ Some of that shit is not ‘sposed to come out – that’s why it didn’t come out. But that’s what it is, man. It is something that I made, but I’m not as hell-bent and as strong on it how I was. Before, I was really a younger dude that was all about goin’ out in the streets and all of that shit. I’d come in the rest, my pops be sitting there all day watching TV – that shit used to just make me mad. I’d be out bullshittin’ in the streets…when I shoulda been in there, watching TV with him! [chuckles] Word up!
Staying outta trouble!
Exactly! Staying outta trouble, watching some TV and shit!
Do you consider yourself a deep thinker?
A deep thinker and a song writer. I’m not the most ‘rappiest’ MC – a lot of my shit be songs and it be concepts and things like thtra. I’m a hip-hop song writer. I wouldn’t consider myself the most rapper MC typa dude – I got rhymes that I could just say and shit where you just tear niggas up – but I prefer to write songs where somebody could come away with something at the end of it, where it’s like, ‘Yo, that shit is kinda tough right there’ Instead of some old ‘rap, rap, rap’ MC shit.
So you get a bit irritated when your old demo tapes get put out on wax?
That’s kinda weak to me, man. Especially if it’s somebody who call theyself ‘In the game’. What the fuck is that shit about, man? Finding demos? But I guess, some people, that’s they niche, man. They go lookin’ for demos and they put that shit out. I don’t have no problem with it, but some of that shit didn’t come out for a reason, though! [laughs] That’s my whole shit. How I am with it, if something didn’t come out – just let that shit rest, keep that shit within the circle. Dude’s be on some scavenger shit! Any fuckin’ clip…anything! That shit could be some little, small-ass roach clip – niggas tryin’ to smoke that shit! It’s nasty, man! Put that shit down, man! That’s too little, man!
[laughing] Put that shit back in the ashtray!
Put that shit back in the ashtray, man! That’s nasty, man! Don’t do that shit, man! So that’s how I feel about that demo shit, man. But it’s all good, man. I don’t have no regrets, man.
You want to have quality control.
Exactly. If an idea didn’t come to it’s full fruition right then and there, I’ll marinate on it, and then like a year or two later I’ll go back to that shit and say, ‘Alright, boom! I’ll hook this shit up’. But they put the fuckin’ demo out! So now it’s like, yo, if I try to hit on that shit now, it’s like, ‘Yo, we heard the demo already!’ Like damn, I might’ve wanted to speak on that, and take what I had in that demo and build on that.
A lot of the mystery behind records has been lost. Before magazines it was all about who got shouted out on the back of an album.
A lot of the true essence, a lotta the b-boy has been industrialized. The hustlers came in – which is cool, ‘cos they picked up the pace, they gettin’ they money and everything – but the b-boy part of it was the ill part, man. That was the non-descript part, where you couldn’t even describe it. The b-boy shit was kinda sort like some outlaw shit, but it had style and everything like that. The b-boy shit has been tampered with in hip-hop nowadays. With this new project, I wanted to put that back in there.
Does your ear change? Can you find bits in records that you wouldn’t have used ten years ago?
Yeah. That’s why the most important thing, when you’re a sample-based producer that goes out and digs for beats, the most important thing is storage. How to store your joints, man. A lotta dudes, they can’t manage they record collection. That was one thing that my father taught me early. He was like, ‘Yo, you’re getting’ a lotta records, man. You gotta know how to store them and make them easy to manage around.’ I started with off with my joints alphabetized. That’s how Paul C. had his records – alphabetized with the Levo sleeves and the plastic. Paul’s shit was in pristine condition. He taught me that with the records, and my joints are in the same condition. Those are the tools, man, so I treat ‘em right. Keep that dust down and shit. Paul C used to have the Levo sleeves – that’s the paper and the plastic joints – Paul used to have the solution and shit, like Paul was real ill with it. I can’t front, I kinda fell-off on the care of my records and shit, but Paul – even before he would sample the shit, he used to pull it out, throw it on the platter…clean it all, sit there and carefully drop the needle on it and all that shit! That shit would come out sounding fresh, like boom!
How did you start hanging out with Paul? Through Power Play?
Nah, it was through working with Main Source. Paul, he kinda saw, like, ‘Yo, man, dude is really tryin’ to do this for real, man’. He reached out to me after one of the sessions like, ‘Yo, you gonna be around? I’mma call you and let you know when there’s a record convention or whatever’. All them record conventions and all that? Paul was takin’ me to them shits early, when nobody was goin’ to them shits! We was goin’ to joints out here in Hempstead and all of that shit, when it was still chock-full. It was crazy! Then early nineties I started seeing dudes coming through. After a while, he just kinda took me under his wing, like, ‘Yo, come through to the rest’ and allathat, man. I came through, I saw how his shit was set up and everything. He’s like, ‘Yo, press this button and press this button! I’ll see you in a minute’, then he’d go to sleep and shit! And I’d be sittin’ there, pressing the buttons! That’s how I was taught and shit. Word up!
He was doing the craziest shit with the most primitive equipment back in the 1212 Studios days.
He was in high demand, so Paul would come in the studio, eyes half closed, hair all ruffled up and everything, cup of coffee in his hands, and he’d get the shit done, man. Easily. He’d touch your joint up real nice, man.
So what’s next?
I’m gonna pick up the pace a little bit, throw some more projects out there, man. A little less time in between ‘em and just keep crankin’ ‘em out, man. I did a lotta work over these years and I got a lotta joints stored-up, so now I’m kinda ahead of the game again and shit. When I was puffin’ that weed, man, that shit just had me in the zone and I would zone out on the beat for a fuckin’ month and shit. Sittin’ there, stuck on a beat like, ‘Oh, shit!’ [During the making of The LP] ‘Cos that’s when I was puffin’ that crazy skunk and allathat shit. I’d just be sitting there looking at the SP-1200, just sitting there staring at that shit, ‘Oh shit! That shit sound ill!’ So now I just keep it neutral right now, so now I just came up crazy and made mad beats. I made fuckin’ 200 beats in the year 2007 alone, so now I’m up and at ‘em. Just gonna keep it focused and mass-produce on ‘em like I was always supposed to.
Main Source – ‘Atom’
Main Source – ‘Snake Eyes’
Large Professor – ‘For My People’
Large Pro & J-Love – ‘Cool’
Large Pro – ‘Live Guy Saga’
Large Pro – ‘Tony Touch Freestyle’
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