Hip-hop is built on moments. Some of them by accident, some of them planned, others are a mix of both. “Pete Rock is coming here?” Green Lantern said when told the Chocolate Boy Wonder was running late to his studio. While promoting Grand Theft Auto 4 with GL The Urban Daily (my day job) asked Pete Rock to meet us at Green Lantern’s midtown studio, but neglected to tell the Evil Genius. Oops. Our Bad. Mt. Vernon’s finest was stuck in traffic but GL shrugged it off. “Come on, it’s Pete Rock! How I’m not gonna wait for Pete Rock?”
Green Lantern is easily one of the most in-demand DJs and producers in the game, but he grew up listening and idolizing Pete Rock, the man behind classics like “T.R.O.Y” and Public Enemy’s “Shut Em Down” remix. The two worked together for the first time on “Don’t Be Mad” from Pete Rock’s new CD New York’s Finest. So in celebration of Black Music Month we were able to eavesdrop on a one-of-a-kind meeting between two of hip-hop’s best producers, bar none.
Nodfactor: Is the song “Don’t Be Mad” the beginning for you two? What’s your history together?
Green Lantern: I used to listen to his stuff when I was trying to make something. It was years ago. I dunno when it was but I know that I’m the only outside producer on Pete Rock’s new album…
Pete Rock: You made a beat that I like, that’s a given. When I make beats it’s to touch the inner soul so when I heard that beat it just did something, made me feel like rhyming. So when I felt like that I said I gotta get that.
Were you actively looking for other beats?
PR: Nah, just came across it. He sent me a couple through email and out of the couple that one stood out the most.
How did you record it?
PR: I did it at home. I got ProTools at home. I wrote it and I wanted him to hear it. I think I sent it to you…
GL: Yeah, I started playing the rough version on the radio [laughs] So I was like ‘this has definitely gotta go on the album now, I’m playing it on the radio.’
PR: It came out to be a real nice mix. He didn’t find the real beat so I had to two-track it.
GL:I never tracked the beat. When you make a beat you have to track out all the different sounds and sometimes I just don’t do that. Partly that comes from not willing to have someone mess with the mix. To have somebody have that kick and that snare—That wasn’t the case here, we trade sounds all the time—I happened to not track this one and he was like ‘let me get the ProTools to this joint so I can do the mix’ and I was like ‘I ain’t got it but I know you can do wonders with that two-track.’ YOU can do it.
PR: And I could tell that he did it in a mode too, cuz when I mixed it it was too perfect.
GL: That was just a classic chop of that sample…
Sampling is getting expensive but is it better sometimes to take the raw original rather than replaying?
PR: It’s always good to do it raw but in the game we in today we gotta play stuff over. If you have a sample that’s dope and the artist likes it… but if we can’t clear the sample you gotta re-do it.
GL: With the technology and replay guys, I got three or four replay guys that are just amazing. With plug-ins and all that it can sound better than the original.
When do you decide that this sample sounds too good and I’m putting it out anyway?
PR: That’s the greatness of being independent. There are some songs you can’t clear and you make a decision, screw that. This is a dope song. And when the audience reacts to the beat you say screw that and give it to the people.
How much do you have to clear classic breaks? For example 914 uses the Skull Snaps drums , but everybody and their mother has used it.
PR: Well with sample clearance you do have to clear that stuff cuz its noticeable drums. IT’s one of those drums people always be using. The kick, the snare, the hi-hat. If you’re an anal producer like me each snare sounds different. Each hi-hat and kick sounds different..
GL: Those are the people record companies hire to be musicologists to say “I know that snare, that snare is….”
That’s the Meter’s snare…
PR: Right. I’m glad you used Skull Snaps as [an example] because that’s just one of PLENTY.
GL. As much as Impeach The President has been used and chopped up and redone, in the early days when it was just SP-1200 it had a certain EQ to it. “Top Billin” sounds way different than if you were to sample it right now directly.
PR: The original don’t sound nothing like it…
GL But if you know those sounds you’re gonna be able to hear it whether its filtered, chopped up or EQ’d You gotta be on top of your game, or else you gonna be in court.
How much digging do you still do in record stores and how much do you get off the ‘net?
PR: I try to dig like every other day. Everyday is impossible if you have a schedule to abide by. If you’re traveling and out of town in places like Chicago or D.C. they got record stores that are dope. You take an hour or two and end up spending five or six.
Do you find it helpful when you have the compilations like “Dusty Fingers” or does it make it too easy?
PR: It’s for the lazy producers that just wanna snatch something but sometimes I’ll snatch something off them things. But I like finding the originals. I feel like I have something more valuable. They’re not putting the originals back out there.
GL: Sometimes the digging has moved online a little bit. There are blogs out there that post these rare records that you’ll probably never find in your digging hunts. But somebody has digitized it with the album cover…this is not for sampling, it’s for audiophiles that just appreciate the music. That’s a whole other form of digging now. It still comes down to how you use it anyway.
Of course. But a copy of “Smiling Billy” was going for a ridiculous amount of money at one point but every body has the file now.
GL: If record collecting means something to you then it will [matter]. I have a copy of Bob James’ Two with the titles blacked out from back when you used to cut up Mardis Gras and didn’t’ want anyone to know what you were cutting up
PR: I gotta copy of Bob James’ Two made in Jamaica. That bugged me out.
I don’t want to call out the sample police but you did something really great to a classic on “We Roll.” How the heck did you chop that?
PR: After all these years it’s like I just made the beat. I didn’t do nothing. But other people take its like “wow.” I just added an 808, put a bass line way underneath so its really low, but it brings the original bass line out a little bit on the record. I did that, put an 808 in there and …
GL: You did the damn thing!!
Ya’ll make it look easy but we listen to that song and…especially when it’s a chop.
PR: It’s really about your truncation too to make a beat flow really good. When you chop up the sample and fit it to your comfort. Making sure each piece of the sample that connects that there’s no air pockets.
GL: In like “one shot” mode you gotta assign your outs of whatever pad it is…say you have a kick and a snare, you can’t just cut the kick off. You have to have the air after the kick that leads into the snare or else you’ll have blip, blip, blip… That’s what used to annoy me about mid to late 80s production. Three Times Dope to me was dope, but when you’d hear them kicks and snares it would annoy me cuz it was chopped too quick. It was a learning stage back then. Then it started getting cleaner and cleaner and by 90, 91, 92 you had Pete Rock and Lord Finesse chopping drums then we came in and fucked it all up.
Pete, how do you think your style has changed from “T.R.OY.” to “Til I Retire”?
I just listen to whats going on around me and the hand claps, cowbells. They’re bringing back a lot of those old drums sounds. Now they bringing back all the classic drum machine sounds. I think that’s the dopest idea. We still got old drum machines that’s all broken up and twisted that we gotta keep bringing to the shop. Fuck it, just give us the sounds again..
I saw your old SP-12 in the crib..
PR:I got like four or five of them joints, I got three or four MPs. I love equipment. I love records, DJing.
Have you checked out the MPC-5000 yet?
PR:Naw, I emailed Roger Linn and he told me about the stuff he put in there.
It you really have to understand the manual from A to Z, and keeping reading it. That’s the only way to understand a brand new drum machine. That’s how it worked with the SP.
What are some of your favorites on the new album?
“Don’t Be Mad” the Jim Jones track, the Little Brother, the Royal Flush, the Redman joint…those were some of my favorites.
I saw you had DMC at the video shoot for “Til I Retire.” How was that reunion?
PR:It was like rekindling old shit up. We had dumb fun on the “Down With The King” video set, we toured with them. I used to run around the street buying their records with no money.
Green, what was the first Pete Rock beat you heard?
GL: The “Slow Down” remix and the “Rampage” remix for EPMD. Then “Mecca And The Soul Brother.” The song “Creator” was cool to me but what had me going was the jazz stuff and floating horns, and the bass line.
How do you know when to use a classic break or program the drums yourself?
GL: Sometimes if I’m making something or playing something and want to fill it out I won’t program the drums, I’ll go get a break and chop it because of the fullness of the break, because of the air between the kicks and the snair. It might make some choppy simple thing come to life because its real drums behind it.
PR: You want your drums to sound together, not a loop.
You’re both known for your remixes. What makes a really good remix?
GL: Excitement. If you can make people go “oh shit.” I judge every remix that I ever do off of the “Shut Em Down” remix. The feeling that you get when you heard the original then that came on…that’s it. If it don’t feel anywhere close to that I’m moving on.
I just put a twist on it. This interviewer told me that I was the King of Continuity. When you take three different things that mean the same thing and put them together. If I’m doing something about money, I’ll take the beat from 50 Cent “I Get Money” with Junior Mafia’s “Get Money” that’s a real simple example. Then I’d go and get adlibs from different people talking about money and make it something you want to play 100 times over.
PR: Also listening to the original mix and saying, I’m gonna kill this remix. I’m gonna do something to make their head turn. You always want to top something somebody else did. Not in a disrespectful way,…that’s simple but watch THIS. The Bomb Squad loved me for that, and I love Hank Schocklee…
GL:Yeah, and that was at the tail-end of the Bob Squad era. That was after “Night of the Living Baseheads” and the million samples in a record. “Shut Em Down” original was pretty bare and then here he comes…
PR: With the orchestrated horns, bassline…orchestrated everything…
GL: But it had a Bomb Squad feeling with the floating horns, the sax…
PR: They were a big inspiration to me, Hank and Keith. They just scored American Gangster.
Any film scoring in the future for you two?
Yes, but nothing I can speak on. Marvel is putting out a comic book, sketching me up as a character. I don’t want to say the name yet. Don’t want nobody rushing me for that. I’m excited about that.
Pete, are you still doing the Tango and Cash album with Doo-Wop?
GL: Doo-Wop is super underrated as a rapper. He raps better than rappers that do it professionally.
PR: The stuff we’re doing is the first thing with him doing a lot of rapping.
GL: I’m gonna have a beat on there, they don’t know it yet.
PR: You know you down!
And what about you Green, what’s the next phase of the invasion?
GL: I started a group with an artist named Johnny Polygon. Our group is called The Cleaners, based on the characters in Pulp Fiction and Point of No Return type movies that come in with acid and kills everything. It’s real dark and moody soundtrack music. We’re gonna be doing live shows with a percussion cage on stage with cymbals, an MPC and turntables. It’s just music expanding.