Big Hutch: Hustler's Poem
Above The Law's pioneering producer and frontman talks new album, bringing 'Pac to L.A., and Crooked I's development.
Dividing his credits as both Big Hutch and Cold187um, Gregory Hutchinson, Jr. knows music. He was the son of a Motown songwriter and nephew to Willie Hutch, who penned the UGK-reconsidered "I Choose You." Since 1990, when Hutch, the producer and frontman for Above The Law learned the boards beside Dr. Dre, he would go on to help pioneer G-Funk, and uphold Ruthless Records for the early and mid '90s, before helming Death Row after Daz Dillinger left the label in 1999.
Just as Hip Hop has always been more than kicks and snares to Hutch, his words, whether sociopolitical or hustler's anthems were dripping in non-fiction. This poet tells it as only he knows it. After returning from a felony drug trafficking conviction, Hutch, in his upper-thirties, admits that he's still evolving as a musician as well as a man. And in a rap culture obsessed with street credibility and testifying on records, Cold187um says that his rap sheet garners attention for his raps.
Fans can get the wisdom of a rapper returning from prison, as so many in today's headlines seem to either be going, or avoiding it at last minute. Big Hutch's Fresh Out The Pen isn't a gangsta pounding himself on the chest, but a direct-speaking man who admits he loves making music today just as much as he did when the records were going gold. This living, working, and jewel-dropping icon offers speaks about Above The Law's place in the game, being the first to bring Tupac Shakur to Los Angeles, and how he feels about Crooked I's development to the mainstream.
Royal Crown, Hazmatic.
HipHopDX: Fresh Out is more musical than many people are used to in 2008 Hip Hop songs. First off, for you as a musician, tell me about the kind of experimentation that a track like that allows you
Big Hutch: Its influenced by Blues. Me being a producer and an artist at the same time, as well as coming up in the Hip Hop era and being a musician, Im influenced by more than just a boom, a bap and a rap. I think the drums apply in Hip Hop; I think you do need those elements in there, but I dont think you have to limit yourself. Its all music at the end of the day. A lot of the Hip Hop Im influenced by is early, mid and late 80s cause I started making records in 90, so for me, Im influenced by that diversity in Hip Hop. Music now in Hip Hop is very formulated, almost like Pop music. When I was coming up, you had cats rappin to Jazz, to Funk, to Rock & Roll, and cats rappin to straight foot-snares and hi-hats. Thats why I tend to think outside of the box, because of the era I came up in.
DX: 2Pac came out of jail and recorded All Eyez On Me in two weeks. Given your own circumstances with incarceration, the lyrics and delivery on this song doesnt sound angry, but it does sound pent up. So much to say, and just three minutes to say it
Big Hutch: Exactly. That song is not written; thats just me off the dome.
Big Hutch: Really. Yeah. When I cut the beat to Fresh Out, I actually did the lyrics. A lot of it is me on the spot, just bustin whats in my heart. I didnt write anything down. Theres no hook, its just rhymes. It took three minutes just to say where I came from, where Im at, and where Im trying to go. [Laughs] Sometimes youll have cats who are incarcerated, theyll get out, and theres a lot of [songs] that are premeditated. If you listen to Fresh Out, its me, just raw in the studio, just flowin. I dont write a lot. Its written in my head, ya dig? Im from the era where you write records. I studied under Dr. Dre and N.W.A., accustomed to writing records, but I dont typically write anything; its all off of memory.
DX: As somebody making music for 18 years, when you went in, was it wild for you to connect with Above The Law fans that were still on that music from the early 90s, babies who went in and grew up behind bars
Big Hutch: When all you have is get up, get counted, go eat, go sit down, thats kinda the life you start living. Other than that, youre accustomed to the life you were livin the day you went into the penitentiary. How you look at life 15 years ago is primarily how you look at life when you come. I wouldnt say theyre stuck, cause theres a lot of brilliant guys in there, but in it, their ways are still how it used to be. To me, their mindset was still on keeping it real, cause if you look back 15 years ago, there was a lot of real shit going on. [Laughs]
DX: You are a pioneer of G-Funk. Even flowing into the Blues-inspiration you mentioned, do you think that G-Funk is relevant in Hip Hop in 2008?
Big Hutch. I think it is because Hip Hop has to have more diversity. For instance, a lot of stuff is 808-based and kicks, snares and hi-hats now. It aint music no more. Yeah, I think its relevant because I think its something that broadened Hip Hop. A lot of those basic synth lines you hear today are G-Funk instruments basically. [Hums Ushers Yeah] That synth that Lil Jon used is kinda like G-Funk, its just not a G-Funk melody. Its not like [Hums Eazy-Es Real Muthaphuckkin Gs]. Its not a sweeping keyboard line, its more like breaks and hits. When you look at sonically, yeah! I got a record Preach, its a real funky record, its that authentic, funky, livey, real melodic, goonie-sounding, roots, G'ish, funkyI trip off of it because people tell me its whats missing in the game. They dont say, Aw, thats that old shit! Nah, its like a breath of fresh air.
DX: My favorite record in your whole catalog is Black Superman [click to read]. I adore that record. Years later, 15 of them, do you believe that Barack Obama has the potential to be a Black Superman?
Big Hutch: Oh yes! You know what my fear in that is? People get against me in this, but my fear is us supporting what he has to do when he becomes that. Its time for a spirit like him to be in power. I just hope we can support the bullshit that he has to fix, cause its not gonna be an overnight thing. I just hope we have enough patience. I think he can do it.
DX: When you wrote that record, the message is multi-faceted. On one hand, the guy is curb serving and the king, the superman of his neighborhood. On another, hes a block baby, and theres so much more. What was the message you were trying to convey not only to folks in the hood, but white kids like me watching it on MTV back then?
Big Hutch: I think what people got from Black Superman is sometimes youve got to do what youve got to do. Sometimes its not all about the shine. KMGs verse is, hes a madman who really doesnt give a shit, but hes pushed to that point to where hes got to do what hes got to do. My verse is more like, Im pushed into a situation to where its so hard for me my moms is hurtin, Im hurtin, so Im just gonna push it like this, but Im trying to save who I can save in my world. I think what it bred through it was sometimes youve got to go through the darkness in order to shine, just to have a little bit. Youve got to do wrong to have right.
In the times we was livin in when we wrote Uncle Sams Curse, that was the whole premise of that album. As young, black teenagers and early twenty-somethings, the way we was lookin at the game was, Hey, its rough out here, man. It aint no joke. So we decided to make a record that was gangsta and politics. We were understanding to where a lot of peoples mindset was in this country at that time. Thats why that worked for us. We were so on top of everything that was going on in the country. Back then, either the groups were gangsta-gangstad out or they were political; there was nobody who bridged the gap. When we did Uncle Sams Curse, we bridged the gap with that. It allowed people to listen to some gangsta shit, but have some thought to it.
DX: Were you embraced by that conscious, political community that championed Public Enemy, X-Clan and Poor Righteous Teachers?
Big Hutch: Oh yeah! For sho. We had did a record about us hustling on the streets, which was Livin' Like Hustlers; Black Mafia Life was our family record. Weve done all those records that said we were tough, grindin it out, hustled, pushed packs up to weight and up to drinkin nice liquor, havin nice cars and being around women and still bein grimy, we had done that, so we wanted to bridge every step that wed taken in our careers, and put a record out to the marketplace that brought both of those worlds together. We are big N.W.A. fans and we are big Public Enemy fans, and wed never seen it done.
DX: You mentioned Black Mafia Life. So many people ask you about Eazy. My question to you is about Tupac. At that time, Tupac was entrenched in Northern California. Above The Law chose him as a guest on that album, ushering him into Los Angeles. Go back with me and tell me why that went down
Big Hutch: Yeah! The first record he cut outside of Digital Underground was Call It What U Want [click to read] One thing about it was Pac was always around us, even when he was comin up. We had the road manager at the time. We used to always have ciphers. Dude was just so off the hook, and we were like, Man, we gotta get him on this record. It wasnt no doubt. [Digital Underground] did Same Song [click to read], and we [knew it]. He did Trapped [click to read] and all that shit too. He was just so vicious.
Its funny, at the time, like you said, nobody was checkin for Pac in L.A. like that, not for real, for real. We put him on Call It What U Want just based on his skills. We always hung out and did shit together too. Pac was our partner, he was in with us like that. As we were comin up, he was just around us like he was around Digital.
DX: As a producer, you brought a true talent into the game in Kokane. As a producer, did it or does it frustrate you to see him go find successes with Dr. Dre, with Snoop, with G-Unit and you not really get the credit as somebody who helped polish that diamond?
Big Hutch: Yeah. Its like this: one thing youre gonna learn about me is, Ima be real with you. I tell the truth, man, and hopefully itll set you free. My point is this: when people take something that I brought to the game and I brought the Kokane theory to the game, he delivered it as the artist but it gets kinda disturbing to me in the fact that no one pays homage to me. He do a record with Snoop. The fact is, that sounds been here [when its considered groundbreaking]. Give me my props. Thats the only thing I have a problem with. Everybody likes to look like theyre the king of the hill, but dont nobody want to say who helped them get to the top of the hill. Theres a lot of people in Hip Hop who dont know the question you just asked me they dont know where the hell Kokane came from. Because guess what? Aint nobody ever said it. Thats whats bad. I aint got no problems with anybody using him, this or that, but when you start addressing those kind of questions, just dont act like youve all of a sudden got it at the truck stop on the bathroom wall.
DX: You produced tracks for Kam, Mac Mall, posthumous 2Pac production. Do you want to be the type of producer that does joints for upcoming or established acts?
Big Hutch: Right now, Im working a lot of independent stuff right now, cause thats the climate. Other camps, to me, do what they do. They dont look to broaden their horizons. My focus is my label, my group West World and Above The Law. Thats my priorities. Id love to work with a Mary J Blige. I make music thats a little bit broader than Hip Hop at times. Id like to do what Timbaland does.
DX: From the west, its only Above The Law and Boo-Ya T.R.I.B.E. thats still together from the 80s throughout. You mentioned messages. Whats the message now, as OGs?
Big Hutch: Fresh Out The Pen is me. Just me. Its where I see life, where Im tryin to get to, and what type of man Id like to evolve to continue to be versus what I was. With the new Above The Law record, which is gonna be raw, cutthroat, global-musically-influenced, were gonna try to do things on a wider span of music. Lyrically, from a Gs perspective is you have to talk as a person whos been through something thats continuing to be a part of the struggle. Our group is Hip Hop, about fightin the man, comin up, stayin up. Its about, if you win, celebrate, but not everydays a celebration.
With me being incarcerated, K-Os being incarcerated, weve got a lot to tell people. You want to stay family, stay faith, stay focused, you want to be a stand-up guy at the end, or in the midst of it all. For us, we want to continue to do it. We dont believe in retirement, we dont believe in none of that. This is a business for us. We got a whole lot to say. To me, theres no balance in the game. People say, Oh, what are dudes gonna say when theyre this old? We are the people you need to be listening to, cause Hip Hop needs guidance! When I was 19 years old, I didnt have other rappers to listen to, cause guess what? They was all my age. You should feel fortunate. One thing I can tell you, which every other rapper cant the rapper sitting up there talkin bout how much weight he pushed, he did this, he did that, nine times out of 10, he dont have a federal number on his back, he aint on parole I am.
When I talk about being a street hustler, I really was a street hustler. I aint lookin at Bobo down the street and lyin about his life through me. [Laughs] Thats too much like CB4 to me, no disrespect to anybody who does it. My whole thing is if you gonna listen to them jibber jabber, you might as well listen to the Gs tell you how to get somewhere. This as we go along shit, you can only go with them so long. You should buy veteran rap music, so you can see where to get to. Theres no guide, no map.
DX: To be real, these days a lot of rappers are going into the penitentiary, but not many are coming out.
Big Hutch: Exactly. Mmm hmm.
DX: As a nephew of Willie Hutch, through DJ Paul and Juicy J (Stay Fly/ International Players Anthem and 9th Wonder (Dreamchasers), hes become one of the most sampled artists in Hip Hop as of late. Hows that with you?
Big Hutch: Its a beautiful thing. My dad, he was a writer, and he co-wrote a lot of the stuff, and wrote at Motown as well. For me, its an honor. Thank you. Im glad that people realize that he was great, and he had a lot of stuff that was real. For a period of time, my uncle was really reigning in the 70s, a real player, its just that people dont know it cause people dont know about the times of music. Ive noticed that a lot of people who do records now look over a lot of heavy cats from that era. And hes one of the hitters.
DX: Its a shame that hes no longer here. What was his reaction to you upholding the family business?
Big Hutch: He loved it. It was great. My uncle and my father always taught me to express myself how I express myself not to worry about what people were doing around me. They liked the fact that I was different, that I was integrating music and melody into what I was doing.
DX: As a mentor for Crooked I, youve had time away from each other, but what do you think of this student of your school and how hes gone on to underground stardom?
Big Hutch: Man! I really hope that he makes a record, man. Im tired of seeing the mixtapes; Im tired of hearing about it, I need to see this dude really, really get out there and let em know he is the truth, ya dig? Thats what Im bangin for. If there was one young guy thats deserving of it, itd be him. When I worked with him at Death Row, his work ethic is vicious. His focus is real for-real. Thats the only thing I wish. When cats do mixtapes, its great for advertisement, but it doesnt do nothing for a real career. He deserves the shot. I dont cosign for nobody, but that was one of my franchise players.