Filed under: Features,Interviews,Non-Rapper Dudes,Not Your Average,Video Clips
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
The second half of my conversation with Mario, who speaks on some of the more technical aspects of engineering and mixing, as well as working on Ready To Die and winning a Latin Grammy.
Robbie: How many songs that were left off Hell On Earth?
Mario Rodriguez: There were a lot of song that weren’t used n the album that we did. We worked on that album for a long time – we must have taken eight months to a year, and it wasn’t like, ‘Let’s lock ourselves up in a room and work on it non-stop’. There was 22, maybe 23 songs that were recorded, and not all of them made it to the album, but a lot of that stuff they released on mixtapes. I think most of it, if not all of it, made it to the streets somehow.
Were you hanging out with the crew outside of the studio?
No. Never. My nature as a human being is not one of being somebody that likes to hang-out a lot. However, when you’re in the studio the process of being in the studio is hanging out. When your doing a session you’re basically getting together with a bunch of guys and exchanging ideas. During some sessions it’s a party, during some sessions it’s serious business. People that are not in the industry go to clubs to hang out and be surrounded by music – I didn’t have to go to the clubs
because my business was being in the place where club music is created. But in order to work with an artist I never felt the need to socialize and do anything outside of the studio. The music does the talking when it comes to that.
You were also involved with Biggie Smalls first album?
Notorious B.I.G. – I was involved with that album for about two years. There were a lot of engineers involved, a lot of producers involved. I was lucky enough to be one of them and have some of the mixes that I did make it to the album. That was one of those things were so much was done and so much was tossed that it was a crap shoot whether you were gonna be in the final product or not. I have three songs on that record that I mixed, and was involved in some of the recoding of those songs and some of the others. I have ‘Juicy’, I have ‘Respect’ and I have ‘Ready To Die’.
Did the direction of that project change a lot over time?
The album was done and redone a few times actually. So whatever they started with I don’t think had anything to do with what they ended with. For example, I think ‘Me & My Bitch’ actually went through three generations and they’re radically different, one from the other. I think the last version of that song made it to the record – I didn’t mix it, but I did a mix of that record – so you have an idea of the complexity of how many people were involved and how many mixes they did of each song. Until the album was out in the marketplace, I had no idea what I had on the record. I looked at the linear notes and then I listened to the records to make sure they were indeed mine. I must have mixed fifteen songs for that album, but only three of my mixes made it to the album. There were probably between eleven and fifteen engineers involved. That was a marked contrast to the way Mobb Deep was done.
What was the story behind your Latin Grammy?
Orishas is the group I got a Latin Grammy for. I didn’t even know we were nominated! My brother called me from Columbia and he says, ‘Congratulations!’ I say, ‘Thank-you. For what?’ He says, ‘For the Grammy!’ And I’m like, ‘Fuck you! What are you talking about? Do you wanna sell me the Brooklyn Bridge?’ I had no clue! Then he says, ‘I’m serious!’ From the tone of his voice I could tell he was being serious. ‘Orishas won a Grammy. It was best album. It’s your Grammy too!’ I hung-up on him and I called the guys from Orishas. I’m like, ‘Wait, what is this? We won a Grammy?’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah. You didn’t know?’ And I’m like, ‘Did you call me to tell me?’ There was a bunch of political stuff happening, because they were Cuban nationals there was this whole thing where they couldn’t let them into the country. I think the Academy didn’t inform them until it was too late for them to make arrangements for them to come in, and allegedly that’s the reason why they didn’t let me know. I was like, ‘I would’ve gone over there for you! I would have paid for my own ticket and rented a tux!’ The two records that I did with them were trend-setting in the Spanish speaking rap medium. They started a whole movement that at the time didn’t exist. There was nothing remotely like that in music at the time – it’s Spanish rap set to Salsa beats.
How do you view the evolution of technology in the recording process?
I’m not going to take the credit for creating all this great stuff, but we were pretty much pioneers in the forward-thinking of the audio world, because we were creating things that just did not exist at all. While now, Joe Schmo down the street can buy himself a little Pro Tools set-up and he has all these things at the touch of a button, without having to think about how to create them or think about how to do ‘em – they’re already done. You actually had to think about how to create a sound. Now you can just use a plug-in or whatever it us, and it’s ready done. Flanging was actually created in a Beatles session by mistake. It actually was an error that the Tape Op made. He leaned back and leaned on the flange of the tape as it was turning – this made the tape slow down and speed-up again, and lose sync and then sync back up again. The tape that he leaned against was what they used for the slab effect on John Lennon‘s vocal, and it created this flange thing and John went nuts. He was like, ‘What’s that? I love it!’ Arguably one of the most used effects to this day. And it was done mechanically back then – now days it’s made completely electronically.
That was the same as creating drum reverbs originally, right? It was done with those huge plates.
The EMT 140 plate was of such size that it would take up a quarter of my living room. The moment that you moved them you had to retune them. It was way more complicated, but way more organic.
Did you used to listen to mixes in your car as a litmus test for the right mix?
The car was always a really good test. The problem was if you changed cars on a fairly frequent basis then the cars were always gonna sound a little but different and it was hard really to have something set. I carry a set of speakers with me everywhere that I know very well and I trust tremendously, and I used to – but it got destroyed – I used to have a set of car speakers that I put in a cardboard box, filled it with sawdust and a little cork. i would put that in the middle of the console, and go to that when I was checking the mixes. It was great. It was actually a pair of Pioneer speakers that I had in my old Volkswagon
Shirako Scirocco. I really liked the way those speakers would sound, and I would even go as far as actually laying the box down in front of the control room window so that it would have the same bounce off the angled glass that it would have in the back of the car. I was recreating the car sound without having to go to a car. It worked well. It took me over ten years to decide on the speakers that I want to have with me all the time, and now I won’t go anywhere without them.
There must only be a handful of big studios still in business now since you can now record everything on a laptop, right?
It’s very sad to me because that’s another reason music’s becoming so sterile and homogenised because the sounds are not coming from the box and the acoustics are being taken away from the equation. It’s a shame, because there are things that could be done that were absolutely unique to a studio, because of the actual acoustics of the room. Maybe for musicians it’s a good thing because they can deal with the music more directly without having to deal with the acoustics, but the creation of the sound the old-fashioned way was a very big part of the excitement of the music of all. Whenever I’m working on a mix these days, if I happen to work in a space that has some acoustical interest I will always find an instrument that I can feed through a speaker and mic to get a unique sound that’s never gonna be recreated anyplace else. Somebody’s bathroom for example.
What are some fundamental rules that people making music need to follow?
That’s a difficult question. When I grew-up in the music industry when everybody was experimenting, there was always the guy who said, ‘You can’t let the let the meters go into the red’. I just saw an interview with Bruce Swedien, who recorded most of Michael Jackson‘s career’s material – he used to work at a major studio in California and he had the bright idea of having one of the players, who was a jazz session [musician], play in the back of the room away from the microphone, and the studio owner almost kicked him out! He said, ‘You just don’t do that! It’s technically wrong’. You want to know the rules, but you also want to cross the line, and you want to be a pioneer. You always want to create something new, and in order to do that you have to cross the line and you have to break the rules. Before when we were recording, the only delivery medium that existed was a vinyl record. With vinyl you had a lot of issues with phase that don’t exist with digital, so in those days you had to follow a lot of guidelines that were very strict, because if you didn’t the record would just not even cut right. If your bottom end phase was askew, you would end-u having the needle jump out of the record – literally. It was a mechanical medium and it needed to be within those parameters to work. We don’t have those limitations anymore. The technology has advanced to the point where it’s crossed the line itself.
Re-Up: Mobb Deep - ‘Tha World’ [unreleased]
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