[republish of my Tanya Morgan interview from last August. Go cop that Brooklynati!]
Cincinnati and Brooklyn make great hip-hop together, just ask Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek. In 2003 MCs Donwill, Illyas and MC/Producer Von Pea added on to that legacy by forming the group Tanya Morgan.
An online mixtape called Sunlighting lead to their debut CD, Moonlighting in 2006. While they are working on their next full-length follow-up, they’ve released The Bridge EP to keep their fans happy. Nodfactor took a moment to speak with Von Pea and Donwill about that Brooklyn/Nati connection and making beats on a budget.
NODFACTOR: Kanye West is doing ads for Absolut Vodka. If Tanya Morgan could get paid to endorse any product, what would it be?
VON Pea: [laughs] For me, if we got paid to endorse anything, it would have to be Nikes. I would just want my own shoe, I think that would be dope.
DONWILL: I would agree with that. Either that or studio equipment.
NODFACTOR: Dr. Dre is coming out with some headphones, what kind of equipment would you guys endorse?
VON Pea: Since we do the home studio thing, I guess it would be some fancy box that would make any microphone sound like a $1000 microphone. Like an expensive studio microphone. So you can take your computer and make it sound like a state of the art studio with the M box.
DONWILL: That’s hot. I would say for me, I’m always on my phone, so it would be some type of telecommunications device. [laughs]
NODFACTOR: Trivia question: who is the woman on the cover of the Moonlighting CD ?
VON Pea: Her name is Andrea Bryna. She used to be a model. I think she just stopped modeling. She doesn’t do modeling, things like that anymore. This is before the album came out, but we had her permission to use it. But I don’t think she’s ever seen it or heard it.
NODFACTOR: So in your video for “We Be” you spoofed the internet to a large degree. What do you think is the gift and curse of meeting on Okayplayer?
DONWILL: I would say that definitely that ultimate gift and curse is that instant gratification. You can see in real time. Public opinion used to be private – in the sense where it was word of mouth, it wasn’t necessarily broadcast online for everybody. And everyone with a public opinion can make their opinion be known. You can get the love and the hate all at once. And depending on how you look at it, that could be either the gift or the curse.
VON Pea: Yeah, I’m going to have to agree with that. When everybody’s opinion is given so much more value, I think it could be good or it could also be dangerous. And a lot of times it comes across as dangerous. There could be two people that diss, like, the worst rapper in the world. But it’ll get blown out of proportion and Okayplayer will hate on me. And only three people in the whole Okayplayer.com network will know you because of two or three people. So it can be dangerous or it can be helpful.
NODFACTOR: So right now, Rick Ross is catching hell for allegedly being a corrections officer. What were your day jobs before 2003?
VON Pea: I worked at Radioshack for like 3 weeks but it was in East New York so people kept trying to rob it all the time, so I was like, “I can’t work here.” And before that, I was working at Pathmark, I had to work at Pathmark a long time. And I was a camp counselor too, a summer camp counselor. I would alternate between camp counselor and working at Pathmark for years. And then I had just quit and decided to pursue music.
DONWILL: When I went to school for graphic design, getting a job in graphic design is harder than getting a record deal, actually. So I get a lot of work in the administrator field. Like I was the administrator with Fifth and Extraordinaire. I administrated for so many different types of companies. My last job was event planning… But after that, it was kinda like I abandoned it. I said I was just going to go full steam. You kinda gotta make that choice at some point.
NODFACTOR: So why has it gotten so bad that people gotta lie about going to jail, like Akon?
DONWILL: [laughs] I think it’s gotten so bad because public perception and your backstory fills your album more so than your actual album does. It’s crazy but unless you get reported on or unless you have a sorta larger than life perception about you, people don’t really care about your music. And even when you do have that perception, they care more about the perception than the music. I mean, I do believe there are still some fans out there, some reporters out there, that look beyond that and just want to hear a dope album.But the public at large, man; they saw reality TV and hyperbole, all they want to do is buy into the hype, buy into the story, you know?
VON Pea: I agree with what he said. [laughs] It seems like it started. Because remember a few years ago, everyone would put a DVD with their CD. And the DVD always came across as kinda like a press kit for the people, press kit for the fans. Where if you rapped about being a thug, then the DVD that came with the CD was you being a thug on it. If you were a quote-un-quote “conscious rapper,” then the DVD would show you, I dunno, reading to kids or some shit. [laughs]
I think when that came along, people started buying into it even more. And now, that’s really what it’s about. Like ‘I did this, I did that. And now I’m here singing or rapping about it.’ That shouldn’t even matter but it does. To some people.
NODFACTOR: Von, I know you do a lot of production for the group so I wanted to get some production tips making beats. Especially since you do the home studio thing.
VON Pea: I’m a sampling producer so I would say, listen to the whole record. That’s probably #1. Listen to the whole record, don’t just use the first 10 seconds. Unless you really just liked the first 10 seconds. Then that’s what you want to do.
Further more, if you’re one of the people who just want to do it, I guess the way Dilla on Donuts did it, where it’s just a chop of the sample. I would say don’t rule out still adding additional stuff. Like what you add to a sample doesn’t have to be just drums. You can add a piano to it, some keys to the sample. Or you can just beef up what’s already there without taking it over the top. I think also less is more. I lot of people think they’re doper if they have more going on in their beats.
So I would say less can definitely be more, you don’t have to go over the top. [You don’t have to] have people singing at the end of the song and clapping. [laughs] You don’t have to take it to church at the end of your song. Like a lot of people think if you’re taking it to church, you’re killing it.
I would say for the people who sit around and try to mix their stuff on their own, you got to listen to it through a lot of different types of speakers. If you make it on your computer, through computer speakers, through headphones, through little cheap speakers. If you know someone with a car, burn it to CD. Listen to it through a CD in the car, don’t listen to it through your mp3 player. Because those have EQ maximizers and things, it’s not playing the raw track. If you get a CD, play it back on that CD, listen to how it sounds in the car, and on different systems.
I guess anything else is whatever person comes up with on their own, as far as how they like to do their own thing. The thing I like to do…
Some people like to sample drums every time they make a track. Like we have 88-Keys, we would just sit around and watch him make beats. A lot of times, he would just sample the drums. He would make a track, just sample some new ones. A lot of other people like to just sit back one day and just sample a whole bunch of drums and chop ‘em all up. And just have them sitting there waiting.
My advice to anybody just starting out, when it comes to your drums and everything, I would say you should just sample ‘em all at one time. Just go through all your records where you’re getting ‘em from and build your library of drums up.
And don’t EQ ‘em too much, just leave ‘em raw. A lot of these producers when they start out, when they’re going through records and finding samples, like drum samples, they’re like, ‘Ah man. I’m going to take this and I’ma beef it up. And I’m going to have it smacking like A Tribe Called Quest’s snares back in the day. Or I’m going to have it hitting so hard but they make that mistake of EQing everything without having a beat that goes with it first. And now you want to use it, and it’ll sound great and loud on this beat, but you want to use those same drums on another beat. And it’s not fit for those loud drums that the other one was fit for. So I would say, take all your drums, and leave them however you get ‘em at first. However you sample them at first, leave it like that and EQ ‘em later.
Unless you’re like…What I was saying about 88 [-Keys] , he’s on the EP. When he was making beats for us, he would just always sample his drums right there on the spot. But some people just like to build up their library first. However you like to do it, just do it that way. But if you like to build up the library, don’t EQ ‘em all up at once. Save the EQing for when you’re making a beat.
NODFACTOR: That makes sense. So what do you guys have in the studio now that you use to record?
VON Pea: If you came to my home studio, it don’t look like a studio at all, actually. You just see a computer, because I don’t have a bunch of equipment or anything. A microphone which I’m about to upgrade. I have an SM58 mike, which I have to update because you’re not even really supposed to record with that kind of mike. I have that running into a mixer.
NODFACTOR: Which mixer?
VON Pea: I don’t even remember what kind of mixer I have. I think it’s a Gemini mixer. It all just runs into Adobe Audition. And I have an M-Audio controller, Axiom controller. I use that for production sometimes. And actually I’m about to upgrade everything right now. As we move forward, I wanna just, be more with the times, and with my fellow producers and some of the equipment they use.
NODFACTOR: What do you like about Audition? I use it to break up my samples before I put them into FruityLoops and sometimes I’ll filter them.
VON Pea: That’s exactly what I’ll do too. I’ll sample into it and just cut, chop, everything up. And just put it into the FL Studio. And what I like about is that honestly, it’s just the first thing I learned to use. A producer from Belgium, actually started out with Eccentric and 9th Wonder from the Justus League. And we would all be on each others’ learning curve. A producer named Fushu, out of Belgium, just a dude off the internet, he was like, ‘You should try to use CoolEdit, ‘cause CoolEdit is good for just recording everything. And I just got on that. I’ve just been using that. And also that’s what 9th and ‘em were using. And I think he just recently stopped using that and moved on to ProTools. But that’s honestly just the first thing I learned to use and I just stuck with it.
NODFACTOR: That’s what a lot of people are starting with. But your stuff sounds so different. Between you, 9th and Khrysis, you use the same software but you manage to make it sound completely different from each other. Like 9th has his style, Khrysis has his style, you have your style.
VON Pea: First of all, before I even get into that, I just want to say, in my opinion, Khrysis is the best with it. Because I think he’s the illest with it.The same way how everyone uses the MPC different, I think it’s just a matter of the way you learn to use it. And what you do with the EQs before you sample the stuff in.
Honestly, I don’t really know how they all do it. I think we all do it the same exact way as far as sampling stuff in. But it’s what you do with the EQs once you got it in there. And me, I don’t even have any special techniques but for a long time, I wasn’t even using the EQs and all that stuff that comes in it, I would just, you know…I guess I was being manual about it, I would move stuff over manually, as far as like drums, and stuff.
And my boy Aeon, another producer I work with , he’s like, ‘Man, you don’t even use the EQs and all the plugins and blahzay blah.’ ‘Cause I guess I was being lazy. So I just started using all this stuff and with that, and I got a little better. Things got a little easier.
NODFACTOR: There’s a lot of things in FL that people don’t even know about. Like I just stumbled upon the FPC, I thought it was just a wack imitation MPC but it has a lot of nice drum patterns that you can replace with your own sound. I was like, ‘Oh, this is kinda hot.’ ‘Cause I can’t program. Like I had the old MPD-16, but hooking it up was making my computer freeze up.
VON Pea: I don’t know how people front on it because there’s so much shit in there. And if it’s not in there, there’s a plug-in you can get. You can do whatever the hell you want to do. That shit is crazy, man. I’ve been using it for a long time and they keep updating it, it keeps getting better and better.
NODFACTOR: Do you program with a MIDI controller or you do just go straight into the program?
VON Pea: I use a Step Sequencer a lot. Sometimes I’ll just tap it in with a controller. A lot of people like to tap it in. I still like to use the Step Sequencer, because, again, it’s just what I learned to use with. That’s what I’m most comfortable with. I can do it the tap-in way, I’m just most comfortable with the Step Sequencer.
NODFACTOR: So in 2008, what does Von see?
VON Pea: I see the music that’s falling apart but I see the artists doing it for the right reasons now. So that’s a good thing. That’s what I see in 2008. It’s less people doing it just to get the money. For the right things.
NODFACTOR: One of my boys is from Ohio and he wants to know why artists from Ohio come to Brooklyn and then don’t go back to Ohio.
Donwill: [laughs] My migration from Ohio has nothing really to do with the music. It has something to do with personal taste. I just needed something a little more fast-paced, a little more electric. Like Ohio has a really relaxed energy, and you have to be a certain type of person to feed off that energy. Whereas me, New York just gives me something. It feeds me.
Honestly man, I don’t really know. I know Ohio has a really rich musical legacy – you can look at Zapp, Babyface… You can look at the fact that James Brown used to record at King Studios up there. Even the Hi-Tek, you know.
I would say hip-hop wise, it’s kinda hit a stumbling block. But it’s a lot of indie rock bands like Modest Mouse that come from Ohio. Ohio has a really rich musical scene.
NODFACTOR: Going back to the Bridge theme, what is your fondest memory under the Brooklyn Bridge?
VON Pea: Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, actually. It’s probably closer to the Manhattan Bridge but yeah, my fondest memories have been going to the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. I know that’s a current thing, and it doesn’t go back to back-in-the-day or nothing, but that’s my fondest memories of the Brooklyn Bridge.
When I think about that bridge and good things that happen by it, I think about that. Because it was a honor to be performing there, being from Brooklyn.