DJ Babu, one third of Dilated Peoples and battle-tested Beat Junkie, released his Beat Tape Vol 2 and it’s easily one of the best instrumental albums to come out in a long time. If you haven’t already, check out his Youtube channel and watch some of his great stop-motion vids he made to promote it. (I’ve posted a few of them here as well.)In part one of our interview he spoke with Nodfactor.com about making the new project, breaking some of his old rules and the relevance of beat tapes in 2010.
Interview by Jerry L. Barrow
NODFACTOR: What’s the difference between this mixtape and the last one?
DJ Babu: I think…I don’t think the premise was different. My whole goal was to put out a large number of beats, keeping it under two minutes.
Really, the first one was out of frustration of sitting on so many beats. I’ve got my own outlets but I can’t force a motherfucker to take a beat and Jay-Z isn’t exactly knocking down my door so I figured I’d put them out. My whole thing was to get some beats out, let em be on mixtapes, etc. I had a lot of cool success with it. But I think I was holding back a little bit on the first one. I was still holding on to a few I thought were special. But for this new one I was over it. I put out the best ones in whatever order and let go a little bit. I wasn’t scared to unleash a beat. I threw that out the window.
My previous one I put some out and it’d become a licensed tune for a Grey Goose commercial. Some great things happened last time. My man Rik Cordero was doing a Blue Magic trailer and he played one of my tracks and it got me a little buzz because the beat was on the trailer. Jay-Z didn’t even rap on it.
There are 39 Beats on this CD. This spans what time frame?
The majority are from ’08 or ’09. Some may be as old as ’04. I just have this huge library of beats that I try to keep track of myself. It’s pretty hard to tell. I try to get everything to sound like it was made in the same place with the same engineer.
How relevant are beat tapes now? Is it just something you do for yourself?
It’s always something I do to feel normal and have fun but over the years my passion is what I used to support my family. I’ve invested in doing things a certain way over the years and being happy. I’m just putting this out and hoping for the best. It’s a super beneficial thing for me to do. I want people to take these beats and make songs and put them on mixtapes. I’m on a free music mission. A lot of times I lean on the sure shot things like going out as Babu the DJ but I’ve been working towards leaning on my production more. I’d love to even that out a bit more.
For producers all around that’s a burning question. Unless you’re part of a group or have a smash rapper it’s hard to get out. Bless things like iStandard, Beat Society and Red bull Big Tune, but you’ve got a billion kids putting stuff up on MySpace and Sound Click trying to get heard. Everyone can make hot beats but you’ve got to create a brand for yourself now.
Are you still producing with the same tools?
Early on I’ve always been an Ensoniq and graduated to an EPS-16 and for most of my career Iv’e been on an ASR-10. That was up until the Neighborhood Watch album with Dilated. From about ’04 to ’06 I was trying to learn Reason and I finally got to a point where I figured it out and I’ve never looked back. MY ASR collects mad dust. Half of my studio collects dust now because I do everything on my laptop. I have all these keyboards and drum machines that used to be essential to what I do, that shit hasn’t been turned on in years now. You gotta stay up on technology. Whatever new things are out there.
At the same time it feels like yesterday there wasn’t anything on the market for what we do. Like a DJ mixer with a smooth fader. I remember spending years spraying WD-40 onto a fader to make it slick. I don’t know how many years these shitty things like ADATS, you spent thousands of dollars to be in a big studio and now the laptop and you have 24 –Bit digital power in your house. Anything that lets me touch sound I’m gonna fucking find out about it and see if it makes what I do better or easier.
I imagine your record collection must be sick. Have you converted your collection to digital yet?
It’s a constant work in process. If I prepare for a gig I’ll go through my record collection that’s analog and put it into the Matrix. It keeps me in touch with my record collection, but once they’re digitized it’s easy to store them away and never look a them again because you don’t want anything to happen to it. But for production I’m constantly buying and recording records, chopping and sorting. But it’s different for my DJing.
Let’s talk a little bit about these beats. “Forever” sounds like something Talib or Mos Def would kill..
I grew up on loving [redacted] That was a song I loved [redacted] Growing up I loved rock and pop. Anything from Prince and Michael Jackson to The Police. I used to be ashamed to be a fan of this group as a kid but now I’m proud. I was driving around with my man Drew listening to old shit and this jam came on and then this nasty breakdown came in that I’ve heard a million times but now that I’m older my ears hear it differently. I stopped the car on the freeway and was like “oh my God!” 30 minutes later I was at the studio and chopped it. Some of the rules I grew up on I’ve loosened up a bit. Ten years ago I’d have never sampled a song that was in the Top 40 of any pop chart. But that’s a perfect example of taking something completely out of context and giving it a whole new twist and vibe. It is one of my more contemporary sounding beats.
That Bass line on “Geeyah” feels live.
That beat besides the kick, nares and hats is all live. That was a beat I made when I was transitioning from my ASR-10 to Reason, what I use now. I always meant to give it to MC Eiht. That’s why I named it that. It showed the broadness of what I could do. 90% of the time I find a sample and lean on it but on this one I lead with the bass line. I’m a rudimentary musician. If I find something I can figure it out. I was stabbing around hitting he chords and seeing which keys fit.. I wanted to blur the line between what is sampled and what is played and what is “hip-hop” still. I wanted to show people that I’m not limited to obvious samples.
“Take Over” has this real Reggae feel to it.
When it comes to digging I go through phases. Some months I’m all in the rock section, or the soul section and reggae is one of the sections I go back to.I really love messing with Reggae grooves. I think there are so many parallels between dancehall and hip-hop and how the bass drives the whole tracks. The percussion, the low end sounds, muffling and filtering. Watching movies like Rockers where they bury reels in the ground is more hip-hop than anything. And I have a lot of guys in the crew who are into Dancehall and Reggae.
“Little Juanito” sounds familiar but I can’t say why.
Straight up, those are my favorite fuckin’ drums [redacted] It’s one of the mainstays of my collection. I try not to use them over and over. But sometimes the DJ in me starts with the loop of the sample first. I’ll just chop it to a click and make sequences with my musical loop. On this particular time I heard the loop and said I’m using these fuckin’ drums. It’s like going back to a certain drummer with a drum kit and I’m going to apply it again. It’s a taste thing. When you’re talking sounds and breaks the movements change. I was just going for my bread and butter boom bap.
Your drums still smack like they’re in a drum machine, but you’re using Reason. What tips can you provide to get that sound right?
I think it’s a matter of developing your own ear. I think the tools are a variable. If you want to make a smacking beat on Fruity Loops, you can do that. The software isn’t going to set the levels for you. It’s part of your sound. I’m not doing anything anyone hasn’t been doing. My ear scrutinizes a lot more than it did 10 years ago. I think the most basic thing is if you have a reliable LED meter in your signal path get that shit smacking as close to the red as possible as long as it’s not distorting. Keep that noise floor down and just slam everything hot and over the top. A lot of people say don’t’ do that in digital because digital glitches but I’ve found over the years I’ve found that driving thigns to the edge of distortion is part of my sound. Even if it’s one element, that one thump, that one element under the bass line. It glues everything together.
Part of your marketing for this album has been these great stop-motion movies. How did u get into that?
I stumbled upon making them while I was in New Zealand with Evidence and Rakaa. I was messing with my iPhone and started making 100s of photos. I uploaded them to iMovie, set them to music and the response I got was enormous. I started the Youtube channel off the strength of the excitement from them. I got inspired and started going in. It’s painstaking labor but the way they come out is a real organic vibe, slice of life POV.
As I make more movies I’m learning more about iMovie. I’m a man possessed with them. I don’t rap so for me to do an instore is an awkward thing. I’m not the kind of DJ to get on the mic and start yelling so I had to be creative in a weird ways. I want to do screenings of all these movies when it’s all said and done.
So what’s next after the Beat Tape?
Beyond that we’re doing a limited edition Duck Season 3 which will include 3.5 I had a snag with Duck Season 3 because I made it hard for DJs to play it. I wanted to stay true to the format and present it as a mixtape, with the songs blended together. But on a practicality level not too many DJs are going to go in and sever and make it playable for their radio shows. Now they’ll have the control and freedom. 3.5 will have the songs as separate mixes, instrumental versions and a gang of new shit that didn’t make Duck Season 3.
Evidence has a new LP, Cats & Dogs that I did a gang of production for and Rakaa has a new album coming out, his debut solo album. I’m allover that one. And look out for the Beat Junkies. We’re taking our live mixtape tour on the road this summer.