Pete Rock is usually one of the first three names mentioned on any top five producers list. During that hallowed era known as the 90s, when classic albums came out every other week, Pete Rock provided a triumphant and raucously funky answer to his East Coast counterparts whose sound rarely strayed from project hallways and back alleys. Soul Brother Number One hit us up one Sunday afternoon to talk about working with artists as disparate as Kanye West and Oh No as well as upcoming projects with DJ Premier, Smif-n-Wessun, Camp Lo, Styles P, and maybe even Raekwon.
First thing’s first, what was this Pete Rock/DJ Premier album you tweeted about awhile ago?
PR: Oh yeah, we’re working on that right now.
You’re both producing?
PR: We’re doing an album together where he does one half and I do the other.
Who’s gonna rap on it?
PR: All kinda people. Like, underground MCs, whatever.
How much progress have you made so far?
PR: My side of the album is done. It’s just getting the rappers in. But me and him have to come together and be OK with the beats and then we’re good.
How did this idea come about?
PR: On tour. We were in Japan together and we did a Pete Rock vs. Premier show. It was supposed to be a tour. It started in Cali and it ended up in Japan. And we talked about it in Japan and I think it’s something we should do because it hasn’t been done. None of these artists or producers get together, in a sense, to do something incredible like that, so we want to be the first in hip-hop to do that.
Do you have a title yet?
PR: Nah. It’s just called Pete Rock vs. Premier. That’s the name of it.
Is there a secret to flipping a horn sample?
PR: Not really. It was just something I did. It wasn’t no science to it. I just did it. I didn’t say in my mind, ‘Oh, I’m gonna be the horn producer.’ No. I just did what sounded good and I did something people didn’t do enough or never did.
Melvin Bliss just passed away–
PR: Yeah, I know man. I was thinking about that for the past couple of days. I saw that Bernard Purdie played the drums and I bugged out and it still got me fucked up, even right now. Like, wow. All this time I knew about that record from Ultramagnetic [MCs] and it’s fuckin’ Bernard Purdie? Playing the drums? The shit just fucks me up. ‘Cause I got enough of Bernard Purdie albums from his jazz to his soul ones to the 60s to his 70s. I got it all and I didn’t realize that looking at other artists, that there’s infamous people behind the music but you don’t see it on the record credits. ‘Cause, the first time I ever seen that record was a 45. He never made an album, that was his single. That was his one single he made. He was just trying to figure out what he was going to do for a B-side record and actually the ["Synthetic] Substitution” record was bigger than the A-side. Yeah, that’s a great, interesting story.
Did you ever meet him?
PR: Nah, I wish I would’ve.
Why do you think “Synthetic Substitution” is such a classic break?
PR: Because the drums are incredible. It’s just a funky record. And the guy Herb Rooney who came up with the music is the one who should get all the credit musically. And of course Bernard Purdie, he stands on his own, he’s worked with everyone. But you would never think — because Melvin Bliss, he wasn’t that famous as an artist like a James Brown or an Isaac Hayes or anything like that, but he had a dope record. He’s like an unsung hero. He was great. He was a great singer, he had a great subject title, and came across with great music. If you think about it, it’s like, wow, this is the most infamous drum break in hip-hop. Just to believe Bernard Purdie is the one.
What’s the story behind the “Poker Face” remix that you did?
PR: Same one deal. We got a opportunity to do a remix and I jumped on the opp and did it.
Who presented you with the opportunity?
PR: Interscope Records. We ended up putting it out in Japan. It didn’t come out commercially out here in the States, but in Japan is a Pete Rock remix.
I think you did Black Eyed Peas in 2006 also. Do you like doing a pop track every once in awhile?
PR: Yeah, every once in awhile you gotta show people different talent. You can’t pigeonhole yourself just to one sound, you gotta show people you can do it all. will.i.am has always been a great friend of mine for years, so we did a song that never came out a couple years back, but I jumped at the opportunity to do this for iTunes. James Brown was on it, who’s my favorite musician of all time.
Sometimes when “T.R.O.Y.” comes on, I hear people say, ‘That’s the song from NBA Street.’ Does that bother you?
PR: Nah, not at all. Some kids that are young, they’re introduced to it through things like that. A lot of young kids say ‘Oh that’s the song on NBA Street blah blah blah.’ Because everyone plays NBA Street. At least all the young kids and even certain 20 year olds and 30 year olds play. It’s just a classic song no matter how it’s remembered. It’s already in the history books.
Do you feel like that’s the capstone of your career?
PR: One of ‘em.
What else would you put up there?
PR: Working with Public Enemy.
Has Puff ever acknowledged that you produced “Juicy?”
PR: [laughs] Don’t even ask me that. I don’t even want to get into that. It was just some of the things that come with the game if you’re not on top of your business and it is what it is. I’m not gonna speak bad on Puffy, I just gotta say that I didn’t receive the credit I was — it was an idea that I came up with. It’s all good. No big deal. It’s over with. That’s done and over with.
There’s an unconfirmed track list for Kanye’s album floating around online. Is your song called “Devil in a New Dress?”
PR: I don’t even know what beats are matched to what titles on his album. He picked beats from me and he really liked three out of like eight and I don’t know what is what.
What is ‘Ye trying to do? He has RZA and you and Premier and Q-Tip — is he trying to do early 90s boom bap?
PR: He could be. I mean, what does it tell you if he’s using cats like that. Everyone wants to really recapture that Ilmatic feel. The same producers were involved minus Large Professor. So he may be aiming for that whole 90s Tribe Called Quest, Nas, Pete Rock/CL Smooth — that type of thing.
How much of the album have you heard?
PR: Oh, I’ve heard it all. It’s dope too. Really dope.
What happened to your album with Smif-n-Wessun?
PR: It’s being mixed down right now.
When is that coming out?
PR: I have no idea but it should be September, October, somewhere around there, November release.
You have an unreleased project with Oh No. Will that ever come out?
PR: I don’t even know, but we have to talk about it and see. Roc C was up here, but I didn’t get to mess with him because I’ve been busy.
How did you connect with Oh No? That sounds like a strange collaboration.
PR: From taking frequent trips to California. J Rocc is my homie from Beat Junkies and that’s Madlib’s homie, so that’s how the connection came about. We didn’t seek and sort each other out, we just happened to bump into each other. And then we got to talking and I gave them a couple of beats and they gave me back an album. But some of the beats were used, so you know.
What’s 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s?
PR: That’s the new Camp Lo album.
You’re doing the whole thing?
How did that happen?
PR: One day I was in Manhattan and those guys were in the studio. I bumped into [Geechi] Suede and they were telling me they were in the studio upstairs in some facility. I went up there, I heard a beat they was rhyming on, I jumped on it with them, and that’s how that started.
As a fan, I feel like they haven’t topped Uptown Saturday Night. Do you feel like this will be the album to do it?
PR: I don’t know. All I know is I’m a fan as well and that’s why I’m doing it.
What else do you have coming up?
PR: Styles P and Raekwon.
Raekwon for his Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang project?
PR: Nah, this is something that I talked to him about me and him doing personally. So it’s gonna be a Raekwon solo joint. I’ve always wanted to do something like that.
How was reuniting with CL at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival?
PR: It was cool. It’s nothing but at thing, man. The fans want to see a show, so give ‘em a show.
Do you think that will turn into a new project?
PR: I can’t really answer that. That’s not really in talks or in the works, we’re just doing a couple shows here and there.
Who’s reached out to you recently?
PR: Joell Ortiz. We bumped heads in the studio and we talked sometimes on Twitter. His album, I think, is done already, so I think I missed the boat on that one, but maybe on the next one we’ll do something. Lots of people reached out to me but hasn’t did anything with me. Jay Electronica. Couple of other heads. I got a couple of those new young dudes. Like Mims, I think we’re gonna do something.
Do you feel like there’s a big difference between working with newer artists like Torae and Termanology and Mims versus the old established artists like Camp Lo and Smif-n-Wessun?
PR: Nah, because Torae, you’re mentioning him, he’s doing what we did. He’s perfect for a person like me and DJ Premier to work with. He’s perfect. And those other artists you mentioned, same thing. Mims, I think is probably the youngest, or maybe Term, but Term loves the real hip-hop and so does Mims.
But the work ethic, is it the same between the older cats and the younger cats?
PR: Nah, of course not. The work ethic is a little different from how we did it. A lot of stuff was done in person back in the day, but now you just got cats two tracking stuff. You send them a beat through the email and they send them back a song. It’s not like you get a vibe with the person in the studio and make a really great song, but you make satisfactory songs.
So you miss the personal process from back in the day?
PR: I thought it made the music better when you vibe with the person. ‘Cause you get a vibe on the person, what that person is, his movement, his walk, his talk — everything. you gotta incorporate all that.