By Jerry L. Barrow
Photos by J. Shotti
If you think he sounds like a terrorist, you’re right. When Hasan Insane gets on an MPC he will hold your ears hostage. You may not know his name or his face but if you consider yourself a hip-hop fan you should know Hasan Insane’s work. His remix CDs, The Pink Album and Perfect Strangers are must haves for any Nas and Jay-Z fan frustrated with their sometimes suspect beat selection. Now the 25 year old New Yorker has released another inspired CD, Black Caesar, using vocals from Jay-Z’s American Gangster. Joking that he makes “only one beat per month” this perfectionist took a few minutes to talk to Nodfactor about how he still remains one of the best kept secrets in the production game.
NF:So how did you get your start as a producer?
Hasan Insane: I started out with music in 4th grade. I joined the school choir to get out of class and I liked it. I kept with it til high school when I figured out that I couldn’t sing or rap so the only other route was making beats. So I started inquiring. MY breakthrough was when I went to college at 5 Towns college in 2000. I bought my MPC in my freshman year and then I was in grind mode. Metaphysics and from the Beat Bandits went to school with me. He taught me about drums and how to do things on the MPC. They did the “Hell Yeah” beat for dead prez. After that it was just a learning process. I learned from everyone around me. In 2004 I released the Pink album with my partner DJ Millz and it did pretty good. It was a little late but people liked it. At that point DJ Absolut played two joints from it on Hot 97. The first one was “PSA” and a couple other joints. Ever since then I dropped Perfect Strangers, with Jay-Z and NAs together on a mixtape. This was when they were still beefing so I thought it would never happen. Right when I was finishing up they come out in concert like ‘hey we’re friends now’ and I’m three tracks away from being done. I work kind of slow because I’m picky with my samples and stuff. I’m a perfectionist.
How much time do you spend listening to music before you even make a beat?
A couple hours, two or three. I just go through records or MP3s until I find something. It has to be something that really grabs me to start right then.
Do you take pieces of sounds from different records or do you use the different parts of one sample?
I was never really one for the Hank Shocklee method. I respect it like crazy, but the time it takes to do that and keep everything in tune is really tedious. [So] I stick with using everything from the same sample and maybe adding some keyboard sounds.
So the sax and everything in your “Allure” remix was from one record?
All from one record. I added some keys on it and a bassline to fill it up. That’s one of my favorite remixes. I heard the sample and said “oh my God, what is this.”
Where’s the craziest place you’ve found a sample? On “Foreign Exchange” sampled some wild stuff.
Oh yeah, that was kind of crazy. My Godfather is Cuban and he was telling me about this artist and I found some of their material. That probably was the craziest sample. That took me a couple of hours to make. In order to bring it into time the chops had to be ridiculous.
Speaking of timing, your remixes are impeccable. Do you find your own tempo or use the BPM of the original as a starting point?
It depends. After the Pink Album I started mixing acapellas together to make people want to listen. So I had to learn to slow acapellas down and adjust the pitch. On American Gangster I changed a lot of the tempos. “Falling” was originally 95 bpms and I made it 89 because I didn’t want to speed the sample up anymore and make it sound Heatmakerz –ish. It was already high so I said let me bring it down some. Everbody’s acapella has to be the same speed so it’s a balance you gotta keep.
Do you DJ at all because your mixing ear is pretty damn good.
No, but I want to. I’m gonna start DJing before the end of the year. The ear is half the battle. In hip-hop the DJ is the center of the music.
So the MPC 2000XL is your weapon of choice, what else do you have in your set-up?
A Motif rack and Pro Tools. I’m trying to expand. A lot of people are getting into the Soft synths so I want to see how they sound. All the new software and sounds have upped the game, like Native Instruments, they sound really good. I encourage people to look into that. It’s 2008. The MPC sound is great but it’s not like people can tell anyway.
People think Fruity Loops can only make certain kinds of beats but it’s not true.
People get lazy and just use the drums that are there. But its all a matter of who you started under and how you learned.
Is there a difference between using a classic break and programming the drums? I saw that you used the Stanley Turrentine drums on “1995.”
If I come across a break that’s that raw I’ll use it but most of the time I do it myself. If I come across a raw break it has its own vibe. I try not to use stuff people will recognize like Impeach the President. I’ll do those patterns but with different drums.
What do you think makes Jay-Z so good for remixing?
For me, he’s one of my favorite artists. He has an underground edge with mainstream/commercial [exposure] and he had the most acapellas out there. Most producers get on with an artist but I never wanted to wait for anybody to do something. There all “hey, we’re about to do the album, yeah…” and I ask “Where’s my credit?” and they go “oh, nah, what happened was…” Come on man, I’m not McBeats fast food. The “You Don’t Know” Acapella is not gonna tell me it wants the beat like this or that. I’m gonna make it sound how I want. And Jay-Z is just easy to blend, his flow is not complicated.
I agree and I feel the same way about Nas.
Oh please, please, they are the easiest to remix. They just have these flows that snap to drums so easy.
Any A&Rs hollerin at you yet? You need to be on The Blueprint 3.
Naw, nothing crazy. I’ve gotta couple people but I guess it’s not time yet. I saw Jay-Z at Lotus Tuesday and I had CDs in my hand, he was twenty feet away in V.I.P. I thought of tossing a CD at him but I didn’t think that would get my point across. If he hasn’t heard about me by now I must be doing something wrong. After I put out Perfect Strangers I kind of disowned Jay-Z and Nas because I felt they put out albums that could’ve used my tracks. I’d have done it for free, but they weren’t trying to see me on that.
The new thing seems to be getting Pro Tools files of old RnB that has been digitally re- mastered. All of the instruments are tracked out for the taking.
I’d disappear for a month or so. I’ve been hearing about that for a while. Marvin Gaye is one of my favorites. I just dug up Leon Ware who produced for Marvin and his album sounds like like Marvin’s.
So what was your biggest obstacle in making beats?
That’s a good question. Probably my drums. People always complained about my drums, that they didn’t hit hard, so it took me a while to get it. When I started I didn’t know about people who sell drum kits and whatever. I know the MPC is empty when you buy it and I’d just sample drums off of the strictly breaks records. That’s what I thought I was a about. I didn’t know about layering drums, etc. So I guess that would be it.
How do you know that outside vocals will go with a song, like when you put Nas’ “Second Childhood” verse going with Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint.”?
I’m heavy into Jay and Nas acapellas so after a while I had an idea what was what. I knew the tempo of the blueprint and looked for another acapella within that tempo, ten up or ten down. Then I’d find somebody with the same subject matter. It wasn’t easy but you always end up with something.