Interview By Jerry L. Barrow
I had one regret as editor of Scratch magazine: not getting the man with the mag’s namesake his much deserved cover.
Thanks to politics and b.s. we were able to run a great interview by my homey, DJ Aqua Boogie. But that idea of DJ Scratch being flanked by Busta Rhymes and LL Cool J on some New York Shit never made it out of the brainstorming stages. Well, eff it. The man is still beating ya’ll in the head with the beats for LL (two of the best on Exit 13) Diamond D (“U Can’t Be Me”) and a heat rock for Busta Rhymes up-coming B.O.M.B. that will have you going through your whole DVD collection looking for a dope beat.
Unfortunately, that success comes with a price and Mr. Spivey has recently parted ways with EPMD after almost 20 years as their DJ and show stopper. It was my honor to get thisvery busy touring DJ & producer on the phone to chop it up about how he maintains through all the beats, grind and industry strife.
Nodfactor: You used to sneak and take the red rubber bands off of broccoli to use your brother’s belt drive turntables when he wasn’t home. How did you get started with production?
DJ Scratch: It was the same kind of story. You make something out of nothing. I didn’t have a drum machine, couldn’t afford that back then. So I’d make my beats by pause looping. You have a double cassette deck and the recording is blank, and the playing deck has whatever you’re trying to make a beat out of. So I’d take a loop of a James Brown record and record it to the blank deck over and over again. But you have to pause it on time. After about four minutes you listen to what you recorded on the blank cassette. And it’s a four-minute continuous loop, but it has to be on beat. “Funky Piano” was made pause looping. “Rampage” was made pause looping. It used to take hours to do because if you mess up one time, you gotta go back and pause it and be able to hit record for however long the loop is. But being a DJ made it a lot easier because of the timing. It might take one person two hours, it too me like an hour…
That’s still an hour though! We don’t know how good we got it with software.
DJ Scratch: Yeah, they don’t understand the struggle. Now you just take it and drag it, it chops up the beat by itself..
Evil Dee told me once that he likes to cut a beat up on a record first and that will dictate how he chops it. What’s your method for working with samples?
DJ Scratch: I do come up with ideas with records I’m cutting up on some break-beat shit. For example the “New York Shit” record was a break beat. I had two copies of it the same way you would have two copies of “Impeach the President” or “Big Beat” back in the day. That record, “Faded Lady,” wasn’t like the traditional break-beat. You wouldn’t hear like the Blacula soundtrack or certain records like that, and I had two copies, so I would just rub that shit. And once I got into making the beats with the pause looping, that was one of the joints I pause looped. Just straight raw loops.
I was listening to “Bully Foot” from the Liks and “Gimme Some More” and you have a distinct bass line sound to your tracks. When did you start incorporating that into your beats?
DJ Scratch: When I was able to start getting some actual producing equipment. [laughs.] After pause looping I got enough money to buy a mixer with the 4-second sampler, the Numark. I started making beats with that cuz now I gotta little sampler. Then I got a 4-track recorder. Once I stepped up to get an MPC-60 and a S900 sampler, and a midi keyboard, that’s when I started playing bass lines. The beats I was making always needed a bass line. I love Reggae music, the classic reggae. And the most distinctive sound was the bass line. It’s like the foundation of a beat to me. The drums are the foundation, but the bass line completes it. I got my MPC in like ’90. From that point I was able to add bass lines to my beats cuz I finally had the equipment to do it.
You battled for your early DJ equipment, how did you get the production equipment?
DJ Scratch: I’d get my little checks or my show money and party money. I was DJing and doing parties all around the country. When EPMD went on break from touring I would still be out touring. When I bought my MPC I did a beat for Das EFX. With that money I went and bought an MPC-60 and a S900.
You weren’t credited for some of your early beats. What are some of those sleeper beats?
DJ Scratch: “Rampage” for EPMD, the “I’m Mad” remix, back when people actually used to dance.
With the “Hot Music” sample?
DJ Scratch: Yeah, I actually got credit for that one. So basically I did the A and B side of that record because “I’m Mad” was the b-side of “Rampage.” I didn’t get credit for “Rampage” but I got credit for the remix. Jay Jerkin Niggas [laughs].
What have you learned from that experience? You recently parted ways with EPMD and blogged about it on your MySpace page. When an up-coming producer looks at someone of your stature and sees a group saying “we’re not gonna have Scratch in the group anymore,” What does that say about the state of the DJ?
DJ Scratch: It’s not that they don’t want a DJ no more. They need that DJ on stage but they havin’ money problems and I guess that 3rd of my pay is gonna put a small dent in the money problems they have. You really have to be broke to make a decision like that. Cuz this decision is gonna take effect on your legacy, it’s gonna effect everything. What I would tell kids is that this is business. Industry rule #4080. That’s basically it. I ain’t trying to bash dudes and all that but it is what it is. They were friends, I’m an implant from Brooklyn, they from Long Island, Jam Master Jay brought me in. We never hung out. At the end of the day we were never friends. Friends don’t stab friends in the back.
Part of the concern you expressed is they were saying you missed shows and as a touring DJ that’s not something you can have put out there, because that’s your bread and butter.
DJ Scratch: Exactly, that’s the only thing I was pissed off about. If they in money trouble, do your thing. They’ve done shows without me before. That was never an issue with me because I make more money on my own than with them. My 3rd with EMPD was less than what I make on my own. But when Erick Sermon was saying I was missing my flights that’s the shit that pissed me off. So I called him and of course he’s not gonna answer his phone so I called his right hand man and left a nasty message for homie. You getting your bread, don’t try to discredit me because you can’t tell the fans that Scratch is not here. Be a man about it. That’s what I said in my blog. Say yo, Scratch ain’t here cuz we can’t afford him right now. If they had approached me I’d have taken a short for them. We’ve rocked out for twenty years. I thought we were friends but clearly we’re not. It’s a lot of ego but we’re men.
I’ve been in this industry for 24 years and I’ve seen the hottest dudes come and go, over and over. The dude that was the Jay-Z of the 80s ain’t here no more. No disrespect to anybody. You’re not gonna be hot forever.
Based on his voice and energy, why haven’t you done more work with Redman?
DJ Scratch: Erick Sermon was in charge of that shit and I’m gonna keep that right there. I’ve given Redman beats and he’s an ill producer himself. I did two tracks for the new Red and Meth album though.
DJ Revolution has a song out right now called “Casualties of Tour.” Where are some of your favorite places to DJ?
DJ Scratch: I can’t really say a favorite because I get the same kind of love and response no matter where I go. But most important I get that response at home. [Some people] gotta go overseas to get those “oohs and ahs.” But I’ve been fortunate enough to get the same response at home.
How do you strike that balance where you can tour with P. Diddy and still come home and make this dirty street record for Busta Rhymes?
DJ Scratch. Just staying grounded. Just watching through all the years I’ve learned from other people’s mistakes. I still be in my hood where I grew up in Albany Projects. In the summer time I can go back to my old neighborhood and just chill. That keeps my edge when I make my music. If you’re flying on a private jet it’s easy for someone to lose their edge living that lifestyle. When that’s done I go back home. I still have the same friends. I’m in the same hood where I got the name DJ Scratch. That’s how I make that gutter shit when I get on those beats.
Let’s talk about those beats. Most recently you did two joints for LL on Exit 13. Talk to me about “Rocking With The G.O.A.T” and “Ring Tone Murder.”
DJ Scratch: The “Rocking With the GOAT” beat is one I had from ’98 or ’99 and I gave it to Memphis Bleek. I think it was for his third album. He recorded to it and everything but he didn’t put it on his album so I just stashed it away. I literally have thousands of beats so it’s hard to remember what I’ve made. I just kept that beat in the vault. The moment for that particular beat didn’t come til this year. And I missed that whole album. When he called me to record it he was all over the place. He actually recorded three albums to come up with this one album. He did a whole album with 50 Cent but he recorded another album with a bunch of European producers. He stepped back on that and said that’s not it either. Then he called me to do scratches for him and then asked me if I had any beats. He said I need another one of those “Ill Bomb” records and I always keep my music on me. I pulled up that beat and he jumped right on it. He leaked it and that was the only record like it on his whole album. He shot a little indie video for it and put it on Youtube on June 21st. He saw the response from the underground and was like “yo, I need another one.” I went back in the lab and made “Ring Tone Murder.” I made that one right then and there. I called up Grand Master Caz of the Cold Crush to do the hook and he came to the studio. There you go.
You’ve got a record with Busta Rhymes coming out called “I’mma Go Get Mine” that samples Mike Epps. Please talk about that one.
DJ Scratch: I was watching the movie All About The Benjamins, featuring Mike Epps and Ice Cube. The whole movie is about him winning a lottery ticket. There was a scene where he was giving the man his lotto #s and dancing and singing, “15, 30, 45, 47..” When I saw it in the movies I said “when that comes to DVD I’m gonna make a beat out of that.” So when it came out I chopped up the lotto #s and made a beat out of it. Kanye West wanted that beat for his second album. I actually gave the beat to him. Kanye was the first person to have it. When I first made the beat and I listened to it, everybody didn’t see that movie, so I had to make the hook more [understandable]. So I added my voice in between the numbers to create a sentence “I’mma go and get my 45 over on 47th, in 15 minutes or even 30, be back with 37 niggas with them 38s.” When I changed the chorus Kanye couldn’t use the beat cuz it was on some gun shit. That’s not the kind of music Kanye does. Anybody else who says violent acts loved it! The Game wanted it but he was in transition so he didn’t use it. Busta took it and while that’s not him either [the gun talk] he’s so creative that he came up with the idea of being in the club chillin and one dude gets his ass beat in the club and he says “I’mma go get my 45 over on 38th…” His creativity meshed with mine made an incredible record.
We had a little sample clearance issue with the beat, which I don’t understand because the movie stars a rap artist! So we called Mike Epps and he came in and did the shit himself with his voice. The way the record starts it begins with the scene in the store. He came in and did a whole new skit that leads into the record. He said the sentence and I chopped it. Then at the end of the record he plays the guy that gets beat up. Mike Epps is actually on the record now.
How often do you run into sample clearance issues?
DJ Scratch: Not that much. Only one time I had a sample denied, “Cha, Cha, Cha.” With the Barry White sample. The original version was more edgy and Barry White didn’t like people saying “bitch” or anything over his music. So Busta changed the vocal and he cleared it.
I had a similar conversation with Gamble & Huff earlier this year and they don’t like people cursing on their records either.
DJ Scratch: What it is is, they’re from the 70s and 60s where they lived through the struggle and they don’t want to hear bitch and hoe cuz of all the shit they’ve been through. One artist actually called me from the group High Gloss, he’s down with Gamble & Huff. I sampled him for an LL song, “You And Me” featuring Kelly Price. That was on the G.O.A.T. album. He said I was the first person to sample him. He was telling me the songs that they made at the time were from pain and struggle. They couldn’t go into a certain restaurant because they were black. They had to smile to keep from crying so they don’t want their shit desecrated. Which is totally understandable.
The irony is that a lot of hip-hop is made from a similar struggle.
DJ Scratch: Exactly, but it’s not the struggle they had. We’re the spoiled generation. We have it bad but it’s nothing compared to the two generations before us. We have the opportunity to make millions of dollars by just speaking our minds, which they didn’t have the right to do.
In Part two DJ Scratch talks about making Beanie Sigel’s “Purple Rain,” The Roots “Rock You” and the “New York Shit Remix” with M.O.P. and Nas.