You’ve likely scrunched up your face to one of MoSS’ beats at some point. His grungy, rasping backdrops have found their way into the hands of Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Joell Ortiz, and Sean Price; and as DJ Premier’s right hand, higher profile placements are in the cards. MoSS’ ear for the obscure and his heavy metal upbringing serve him well on his new album where he provides a uniquely discordant rock-inspired stage for an explosive Eternia.
In our interview, MoSS discusses his musical roots, the circumstances that kept him from getting credited for a placement on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II, and what it’s like being DJ Premier’s right hand man.
Eternia & MoSS – At Last is out now.
ML: What kind of music did you grow up on?
Moss: I don’t know how old you are, but I’m in my thirties, so I grew up probably in the early stages of hip-hop. It just so happened that my neighbor was Roxanne [Shanté]‘s cousin. So he kind of introduced me to hip-hop at the time. So he bought me Whodini’s Open Sesame album for my birthday. That was grade school days, I was dubbing stuff off the radio, and I remember that’s when Juice Crew was dropping and I think [MC] Shan was dropping and LL [Cool J] was gonna drop Radio a little after that. I grew up on that, but I was also a big rock guy. I played hockey living in Canada, so a lot of the guys I was playing hockey with, in the dressing room, we were listing to Iron Maiden, Metallica, ACDC. I’d make my own little tapes and I’d have Juice Crew, and then I’d have Metallica, and the next song after that would be a Whodini song, and then it would be Iron Maiden, and then it would be Newcleus “Jam On It.” “Jam On It” was one of my joints back in the day. I’d say, primarily that’s what I grew up on as a child. And now I’m just really open all fronts of music. I just really enjoy music.
ML: As a producer, what do you look for in an MC and specifically, what drew you to Eternia?
MoSS: Obviously, lyrics and content are important. But I think more so, I look at an MC like an instrument. For me, an MC could have the greatest lyrics and this and that, but if they don’t have a hand on the music, it’s not going to work. For someone to work with, I look for someone that’s going to sound right over my music and will be able to use their voice as an additional instrument to my music and keep the emotion that my music has. And in general, if I listen to anybody, even if I don’t work with them, that’s usually what I look for. When you listen to a song and it sounds like somebody remixed, it’s just not fitting. I like music with synergy. What drew me to Eternia was I saw her perform live. I was on tour with Masta Ace, eMC, Marco Polo and Torae and Mr. Attic. I was doing a beat show with Marco and she opened up for us in one of the cities and when I saw her perform, I saw her energy. Right away, I knew that if I did the right type of backdrop for her, that she would fit over my music. The best feedback I get is from MCs that go hard on songs or spit with a lot of emotion. I got a lot of credit for stuff I did with Ghost[face Killah] and stuff I did with Obie [Trice] and a lot of those guys are just spitting. I heard kind of a female version of that and that’s what attracted me to her.
ML: What do you think has been your biggest placement to date?
MoSS: Probably [Ghostface Killah's] “Kilo.” I think in general, journalists and DJs and everyone in the industry and fans in general — people respect Ghostface. I did “Have Mercy” on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… 2 but the problem with that was I gave that beat to Raekwon back when he was on Universal like five or six years ago. And so there was confusion leading up to the album and by the time they figured out I did the music and they contacted me to do the paperwork, the artwork had already been submitted and so my name didn’t get in the credits, but I got my money and I got my publishing and all that, but I guess that placement didn’t necessarily help me. I’d say “Kilo” and the stuff I did with Obie [Trice]. Even though I didn’t get placements through Shady Records, what that did was, it introduced me to my current manager, which in turn basically got me where I am today.
ML: What does a cosign from DJ Premier mean for a producer?
MoSS: It’s interesting because now whenever I’m in New York and I’m around Premier, automatically, people want to hear my music — where before I had to pull their arm. So I think that’s obviously when Premier approaches somebody and I ask them to listen to my music, they’ll do it just out of respect for Premier which is huge. I’ve been very lucky getting some of the placements I have and I know this is going to sound really cliche, but I really got into the music industry because I just liked making music and I enjoy it. I never actually had any aspirations to be some major label big pop producer. I never thought that would be feasible. I’ve been doing it for awhile, I’m a bit older. So sometimes you sit there and you think to yourself, ‘what I am I doing?’ It’s not like I was doubting myself, but now and again you just have to look in the mirror. And when Premier came along and said some of the things he said to me and took me under his wind and befriended me the way he did — just as someone who grew up listening to him and watching Premier take off himself — it was just surreal. I don’t know how else to put it. It was just kind of surreal. Now it’s Chris to me, it’s my boy, but it’s one of those things where at the time, it just blew my mind. This is gonna sound really corny, man, but in some ways I looked at it like when it’s all said and done, in the back of my mind, I know that I’ve achieved something. When I get credit from my peers and credit from A&Rs and journalists — and I’m not taking anything away from a fan or a music enthusiast — for one reason or another, it hits home a lot more because someone who’s competing with me is telling me that they appreciate what I’m doing, so that means a lot.
ML: Everyone likes to complain about New York hip-hop. When I think of East Coast hip-hop and the sample-based sound, a few of the producers that come to mind for me are you, you’re from Tornoto; Marco Polo from Toronto; and Statik Selektah, from Boston. These are three white guys who are not from New York. Why do you think that is?
MoSS: Interesting question. It’s hard for me to say for Boston. Just in Canada, we didn’t get BET til late. Stuff like BET and MTV, that was kind of suppressed from us for awhile because of television restrictions in Canada. Our radio had controlled — when I say controlled, I don’t say that disrespectfully — we had similar DJs for a long period of time and they were really really focused on New York hip-hop. So when Outkast and 2Pac and a lot of that stuff emerged, we just weren’t really exposed to it. We kind of grasped to that 90s sound and we still do. It’s one of those things where we just didn’t have everything else thrown in our faces. That might explain myself and Marco, but for Statik it doesn’t help you there. At least for me, I always perceived hip-hop to be something that was a movement, a form of expression. Back in the 80s and the early 90s, it was mostly independent. There were some majors, but it was really the voice of the artist being heard before the marketing came into it. For me, that’s what I wanted to do.
ML: What exactly is Works of Mart and what does it mean to be signed to it?
MoSS: I’ll explain how Premier explained to me. Obviously, he tours and travels a lot and he has his own imprint and he’s producing all his artists, but one of the things a lot of people don’t know is Premier does a lot of stuff for TV commercials. He might do stuff for Walmart or Nike. There was a Walmart commercial where Premier did it and Big Shug was the voiceover and he was like, ‘Back to school!’ and people don’t even realize that was Shug and Premier, because it doesn’t even sound like a typical Premier beat. I was dying when I heard that one. He does stuff like that and he gets offers to do albums and sometimes he just gets busy. So he approached me and literally his words to me were, ‘I’m feeling your music, I really like what you’re doing, I’ve got to know you, I can talk to you, you’re a good guy, I really think that you deserve more than what you’ve gotten so far.’ That’s what he said to me. So he was like, ‘I want to sign you to Works of Mart and what I can do is I can try to get you placements, I can use my name to help you get heard.’ For example, Nike had approached Premier one year and asked him to do some commercials. They asked him to do X amount of commercials he called me and he was like, ‘Get these commercials done and you’ll get this percentage of the money.’ I did them, he liked them, and that was that. For example, when Kanye came up for beats, he played Kanye my music. Now granted, Kanye didn’t take anything, but the fact is, I would never have any other way to approach Kanye. So it’s one of those things where I am getting opportunities. I almost got on a [Ludacris] album when Premier pushed my stuff to Luda. I’ve been very close a few times. It’s kind of frustrating, but he’s definitely looking out for me. But that’s what it means. When someone asks me if I’m ghost-producing, I’m like, ‘Holy crap.’ That would never happen. He’s trying to get me placements and they would go under his production company.
ML: With these placements, would it appear under your name or would it appear under Works of Mart?
MoSS: It would say “Produced by MoSS for Works of Mart.” I don’t want to say the name, but there’s an artist that just approached Premier and wants Premier to do the entire record, so he called me immediately and he’s like, ‘Get stuff ready.’ He’s always looking out for me. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if Jay-Z, Premier, or [manager] Dan Green is pushing my music. Sometimes it just comes down to luck, timing, the right beats for the right artist. At least now I’m getting the opportunity.
ML: The artist that came to Premier — it’s not Nas is it?
MoSS: Actually it’s not even a hip-hop artist. It’s an artist that a lot of people would be surprised about. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a well known artist who made a lot of big music, let’s say, before this decade.
ML: Is it Chaka Khan?
MoSS: [laughs] Uh, no comment. [Ed. note: Readers of our Plastic Lungies Tumblr already know it's Chaka.]
ML: I didn’t notice any soul samples on At Last. Maybe I just missed them, but what kind of samples were you using? What genre, if you don’t want to reveal specifically?
MoSS: I’ll sample anything from rock to soul to reggae to jazz, but I think what happens subconsciously is, because — I mean, I’m a big rock collector. Like I said, I grew up on that stuff. Even when I sample a soul record, I tend to sample the parts of the music that resemble rock patterns. There are soul samples on there, but it’s not like I’m taking the horn section or the section with the ‘ooh’s or the voices; I happen to be taking the part with the drum breakdown or a couple guitar riffs or something like that.
ML: What projects do you have lined up?
MoSS: I’m on the Joell Ortiz album. I’m on the AZ album. I’m pretty sure I’m on the Cormega album. I’ve got some other placements here or there, some of them I just haven’t done the paperwork yet. The one thing I’m focused on heavy now is my album. I’m doing a producer album. I’m going to do like twelve on there. I’ve got half the album recorded and the other half I’m doing all the beats and I’m going to try to get all the vocals knocked out in a short period. On that album, I’m going to have [Joe] Budden, M.O.P., Ortiz, AZ, ‘Mega, get Elzhi on there, Termanology, Slaine, I’m going to put a few Toronto guys on there, Eternia’s gonna get on there, Skyzoo, probably Smif-N-Wessun, I’ve got Red Cafe. The biggest problem for me so far has been that I really really really want to make it, for good reason, a MoSS record and every time I approach an artist to spit, they’re always looking for their kind of sound and I don’t want this to be, ‘Here’s a bunch of songs I did that sound like those artists.’ I want them to adapt to me and that’s been difficult, so that’s why it’s taking so long.