If any square-heads out there who think that sampling isn’t an art are reading this, then you should get punched in the face by Pete Rock. Or, at least, get punched in the face by someone on Pete’s behalf — Pete never seemed like much of the violent type. Or, listen to Mecca & The Soul Brother, The Main Ingredient and Soul Survivor (I and II) — that’s a much less aggressive means of educating yourself on the talents of “Money Earnin’” Mt. Vernon’s finest.
I like to think that I know enough about hip hop, and have a good enough taste in hip hop production, to be able to talk at length about what goes into making a beat sound dope — listening to Pete Rock’s work reminds me of just how little I actually know. At the time of this 2004-ish interview with Wax Poetics, Pete said that he goes beat digging every other day, if not every day. [He also mentions getting jacked by Q-Tip and Puffy (who'd have thought?) for "Jazz (We've Got)" and "Juicy", respectively.] I can imagine Pete’s vinyl collection containing records so obscure that the original artists themselves probably forgot about their existence (which I’m sure would be awesome when it comes time to clear a sample).
Pete Rock’s ability to flawlessly blend and layer different sounds and samples together into a single beat has kept him relevant in hip hop for so many years — in fact, an ’08 release for NY’s Finest will mark 2 decades in the game for PR. Not only that, but it’s likely brought Pete Rock the respect and high praise of your favorite producer, whoever that may be. And if your favorite producer is Pete Rock, then you have good taste, and you should enjoy what awaits after the jump.
Contributions by ML’s usual suspects (myself, DJ01, podcast-extraordinaire Hangover Monkey and newest-member-of-the-family DSuper), as well as Marco Polo (who contributed to the DJ Premier and Hi-Tek Beat Drops) and Alchemist.
Yep, that Alchemist. Keep reading…
Alchemist, our introductory Beat Drop-post recipient, happened to come across our post about him and let us know it was appreciated (check the comments). We felt obliged to reach out to him, and he came through in the clutch — not only an incredible producer, but a stand-up dude as well. He’s got an album coming out later this year called Chemical Warfare. Check out the lead single, “Key To The City” featuring Prodigy and Nina Sky.
And, if you’re still sleeping on Marco Polo’s Port Authority, quite frankly, we don’t know what to do with you anymore. But you could make it up to us, and Marco, by also checking out his 2 contributions to the latest Boot Camp Clik album, Casualties Of War, in stores now.
Since the guest list is 6 deep this time around, and there happened to be a lot of overlapping with the picks, we’re going to do this one a little bit differently. I’m just going to list all of our picks, and insert everyone’s comments as appropriate. Enjoy…
From Mecca & The Soul Brother
DJo1: … and the best use of a jazz sample of all time goes to…
DSuper: This song is the epitome of reflection. “I reminisce so you never forget this, the days of way back, so many bear witness to get this” says it all. You could make a whole album based on the emotions this song invokes. The horns are instantly recognizable. This is Pete’s masterpiece, a certified classic. Maybe a top 5 beat of all time…
Alchemist: I used to love how the smooth intro beat would fade in and out with Pete practising his rhyme, mad people in the booth like a rhyme cipher. Then the beat would kick in like a runaway train (peep the subway horns on the chorus), a 360 degree switch! Sick. The filtered bassline = stoopid. Still to this day that beat makes me wanna drive through a wall. (Side note: I’ll never forget me and Evidence laughing at how The Source gave Pete “Rhyme of the Month” and Grand Puba wrote it.)
Buhizzle: After “T.R.O.Y.”, my favorite song on Mecca & The Soul Brother. This is the earliest song I can remember to sample actual vocals from an older record, and to have the artists (both Pete and C.L.) works around those vocals with vocals of their own (“… here’s what we gotta do…” “Straighten it out!”). I can’t state with certainty whether Pete was the first to do this, but it was definitely executed to perfection here.
Hangover Monkey: We need more tracks like this. This was made to be a crew cut. Loud for the chorus and minimal for the verse. I love the whole dancehall sample cut up over for the chorus.
From The Main Ingredient
Alchemist: After being flipped a million and one times by many, Pete finds yet a new way to hook up Bob James’ “Nautilus”, which is probably my favorite original record of all time. His classic formula of filtered bass, that crisp hi-hat, various James Brown grunts and horns echoing here and there — always perfect. Over the next years, he would leave that style alone and branch out into other creative formats like any master would do. This, to me, is one of the last of those.
Alchemist: Another dumb-out Pete beat. That’s my zone right there. Dark spooky shit. The stuttering roll in the drums… He always had a way of putting known drumbreaks to loops where they sound married, as if they came together originally, similar to a lot of old Tribe beats. What is that shit in there, a xylophone? Crazy.
Buhizzle: After “T.R.O.Y.” (of course), my favorite performance from C.L. (and the birthplace of the “like bringing a knife to a gunfight” line). I love the way Pete alters the beat when the hook comes in — leave it to him to make something that distorted and high-pitched sound beautiful. And, just in case there was any doubt that Pete can do nothing wrong, he throws in some ill scratching at the end.
From Soul Survivor
Marco Polo: I have those drums and they don’t sound like that! He made them much thicker. This is a perfect example of flipping an older concept and making it some hot, new shit. Also, one of the very few joints where Pete raps solo.
Marco Polo: What an unpredictable collabo, but fuckin’ dope. East meets West on some hotness. Beat is sick, hook is sick.
Marco Polo: Another collabo with Loose Ends, who kill the hook and overall vocals. Video was as chilled out as the song is. Love this song, Pete is always making classic soul/moody/vibed out beats. Probably the best at it.
Marco Polo: Wu-Tang/Mobb Deep/Pete Rock collabo??? Are you fuckin’ kidding me! Beat is sick. SP 1200 sound all over these drums. Makes me want to buy a SP right now!
Marco Polo: Had to leave one of of the best songs for last! The lead single and one of my favorite Pete Rock beats of all time. Kurupt, Deck and Pete all do it justice. Have to give the best verse to Deck though! The chop on this beat is bananas. Go find the 12″ right now!
… and the rest…
Buhizzle: A classic PR groove with some light keys sprinkled throughout, one of 2 killer beats (DSuper covers the other one below) by Pete on Doe Or Die. Not to play “fantasy A&R” here, but how dope would a full-length AZ album produced entirely be Pete Rock have sounded back in the mid/late ’90s? It certainly would’ve helped AZ get the recognition that his talent deserves.
DSuper: I was mesmerized by this track. The heavy bassline, the minimalist approach, and the vocal samples, Pete Rock could do no wrong at this point. And AZ brought his “A” game to the festivities. “Far from feeble, I’m leaving nostrils hard to breathe through, my cerebral’s on a more higher plane than the Hebrews, my mic devotion, brings out my deepest emotions, overdosing wanna be spokemen, sending them into convolutions, too hard to follow, you took a bite but couldn’t swallow, your mind boggles, cause I’m as deep as Donald Goines’ novel.”
DJ01: When I hear the drum pattern it’s as if something is coming through my V6′s and slapping me in the face every few seconds. Very subtle jingle bells in the back you gotta hear. [NOTE: Commenter Marshtini correctly pointed out that Lord Finesse, and not Pete Rock, produced this song. Our bad, y’all. Rest assured, DJ01 has been put on notice… notice of what exactly? Absolutely nothing.]
Buhizzle: Flood Watch posted a top-5 of Pete Rock’s best remixes a little bit ago that’s worth checking out. I can’t argue with their picks, but here’s a little something-something to add on. [Since Flood Watch doesn’t have mp3 links up on that post any more, here’s Pete’s remix of Public Enemy’s “Shut ‘Em Down” for good measure.]
DJ01: Listening to it, you’d think this was some happy song. Well, some people hearing it certainly were not anywhere near happy. Check the cutting of “BITCH!”
Hangover Monkey: You remember when Kanye used to say that “Takeover” was the hottest diss track ever? Wrong. This shit is crazy. With the Beastie Boys cuts, the crazy keyboard, the distant singing. Insane. It didn’t hurt that Common murdered this too.
DSuper: Ghost and Rae going back and forth over an old soul sample. What could be better? A departure from his signature sound but it shows he’s still working at his craft and hasn’t become complacent. Ill beat all around, very haunting, beautifully cinematic and he utilizes heavier drums kicks this go round than his fans are used to. You can close your eyes and zone out to this one… “Think broke my wrist, now I’m at the hospital pissed, fucked up my writing hand, that’s my check… Who!? He ain’t related to me!!!” Classic Rae and Ghost convo flow.
Hangover Monkey: I played this track for months on repeat after I heard this. This was honestly my favorite cut off of Fishscale. I still bump this shit. The wild strings, the cut up piano!!!! This was the hardest track released in 2006. Hands down. Rae and Ghost should seriously make an entire album with just Pete Rock… and maybe Doom too.
Buhizzle: If C.L. Smooth was like Pete Rock’s “Guru” (no Vishnu), then I.N.I. was like his “Group Home”. Neither Rob-O (who goes solo on this track) nor Grap Luva were anything special on the mic, and likely wouldn’t have done much without their affiliation to PR, but they were willing to (or just couldn’t help but) play the background to Pete’s production. If only Center Of Attention had actually dropped in 1995, when it was recorded, as opposed to 2003, following a then-permanent shelving.
DJ01: Something that I can describe best as being very funky with some futuristic psychedelic shit.
Alchemist: I remember when the Illmatic sampler cassette hosted by DJ S&S came out. I used to play that song over and over in my Walkman and write rhymes to it. No instrumental! I used to write over the vocal version, that’s how hypnotized I was by that goddamn piano. The scale of the piano riff was so simply strange. They were chords I’d never heard before, the way it would turn over before the 1 was unexplainable. Seamless. Not to mention Esco, who dressed it up with the perfect words.
DSuper: Nasty Nas at his finest. “I sip the Dom P watching Ghandi till I’m charged, writing in my book of rhymes all the words past the margin.” The piano loop, the off key singing, the “It’s yours” vocal sample. The break down, the chord changes. “Born alone, die alone, no crew to keep my crown of thorns.” “I need a new ni**a, for this dark cloud to follow, cause while it’s over me, it’s too dark to see tomorrow.” I actually feel like Pete Rock and Nas had the best chemistry together, even better than Biggie and Primo. Too bad petty beef limited this to a one-and-done collaboration.
DSuper: With Ra contributing lines like “Orchestrate a time and place you never been in, make you focus on the future after seeing the beginning”, you already know it was a hot joint. Pete once again stepped away from his classic sound to experiment. The result is a futuristic sound scape complete with a chopped piano sample and various buzzing sound effects. I think he was channeling his inner RZA/Premier on this one. This is a criminally underrated song, though. It immediately stood out once I heard the album.
Hangover Monkey: This track killed. The guitar on this is insane. The vocals in the background are sort of like dude flipped the background on “Mama Said Knock You Out”. I guess its appropriate, but don’t call it a comeback.
DJ01: Probably my favorite drums of any Pete Rock song, and Pete really warms up as his verse goes on then wraps up with dope cuts.
Hangover Monkey: Dilla actually helped on this track. I like the whole sound on this. It’s real ethereal. Dude is definitely playing a cora on the track. That is some shit you don’t here in many rap songs.
Buhizzle: Definitely some night music right here. Pete makes it sounds as if you can hear crickets in the background, although I wouldn’t put it past him to have actually worked the sound of real crickets into this beat.
Next time: Just Blaze. Ahem. **clears throat** Excuse me, what I meant to say was… JUST BLAZE!