Producer's Corner: DJ Muggs
It has taken the Los Angeles collective Cypress Hill five years to get their nod at the Vh1 Hip-Hop Honors. If you are on point with your Hip Hop 101 and albums including Black Sunday, Juxtapose and Soul Assassins Chapter 1, you should recognize the irony there.
DJ Muggs Rock infused, gritty production has been interpreted by the likes of Alchemist, requested by bands such as the Beastie Boys and U2 and has been used for movies including The Last Emperor and Training Day.
Muggs has stood the test of time; the industry hasnt been able to outwit him nor his brethren. For 20 years his forward thinking and ability to emulate the same formula effectively has equated to longevity. His self prescribed dosage of business acumen has undoubtedly helped too.
On the verge of releasing Pain Language with Planet Asia, Muggs spoke to HipHopDX's Producer's Corner. Critical of the funk-faking tattoos, cocked brims and "Pop rappers," Muggs says that it's nothing for Cypress Hill to make a million dollars a month touring, and why his dark, gritty gangster music is forever respected.
HipHopDX: You produced House of Pains "Jump Around;" what did that track do for your career?
DJ Muggs: That was one of the biggest records of its generation, and it did a lot of things for me and took me to a lot of places. It didnt do things like change my career or anything, but to have that record on your discography, it was a boost.
DX: From that, you went on and did some serious remixes during that time too for bands like U2, was this all off the strength of that track or had people been talking to you before then?
DJ Muggs: Everything came after the first Cypress [Hill] [self-titled] record really.
DX: Do you feel with Cypress Hills Rock-infused sound gets overlooked as a ground breaking Hip Hop sound and group?
DJ Muggs: Yes I think a lot of really good stuff gets overlooked and I dont know what it is, as people only focus on the moment and what is hot right now. I never got into the business to be hot for the minute or just have a couple of hot records. I am an original; I am in it for the long haul. Cypress Hill has been here 20 years, successful as ever right now. We might not be all over TV these days, but as far as our careers, as far as records sales and as far as the money we make, we are better than ever and do what we do.
DX: How do you balance the business versus the creativity?
DJ Muggs: I learned as there was a learning process as I was strictly creative and then I go so into my career where I knew if I really wanted to be successful I had to learn the business too. So I had sat in enough meetings with enough lawyers and had read enough contracts so that it was like on the job training for me. I just went along and paid attention and asked a lot of questions, read books and now I am on top of my game.
DX: Back then when you guys came onto the scene there was a lot of people getting jerked, was this what encouraged you to take care of your own stuff?
DJ Muggs: Well I was in a band before Cypress, and I learned from that and I watched enough and heard enough stories of bands losing everything from the '50s and '60s. It happened to a few of my friends too, and I refused to be a statistic. I just went out of my way to educate myself. At that time there was no Internet, there was no Making of the Band on MTV, it was a lot harder to get an education and understanding of how this business worked and the inner dealings of it.
DX: Touching on the internet, how has its importance over the last decade been for you?
DJ Muggs: You know at one point it just wasnt important to me at all, but I think it threw a wrench and it hampered a lot of things for a lot of people and it cut into a lot of peoples record sales; but now it is at the point where it is a positive tool and because I have put a lot of time and effort in to traveling the world and carrying that flag, building myself an international fan base where now I can touch them. I can go to my computer now and log in to SoulSessions.com and I get 10,000 kids coming through there every day and I can reach them. It is good for me as I dont need to go through a label or a distributor; I can go directly to my fans all around the world. I dont have to go through a middle-man or through magazines, my fans know what I am doing every day and they get my music like that. Using it is something positive and a tool and it will be a great thing for the whole movement.
DX: Soul Assassins albums were a great meeting point in Hip Hop, you have always shown diversity, do you think Hip-Hop will ever get to those sorts of projects again?
DJ Muggs: I come from a time, where I think if I was a kid growing up today I dont think I would be listening to Hip Hop, I would be listening to something else. When I came up it was something brand new and it was about being different. You couldnt look like nobody, sound like them or act like them. You had to be good. You were either good or wack and if you sucked you had to get the fuck off the stage. It was about being unique and different and I still believe that as a musician. I try to show kids, "Look you dont have to follow the Hip Hop formula to get on the radio." I have always had the N.W.A. mentality: "Fuck video, fuck radio, dont play my shit and still be successful." It is rebel music and I show kids how they can do things on their terms, paint your art the way you want to paint your art and still be successful, some years you might not sell millions, you might sell thousands and so you hit the road a little more that year. Some years I am in the studio, some I am on the road more. I just scored a movie Street Kings, so there is always something to do and it is not always the same thing.
DX: Do you think people expect everything on a silver platter now?
DJ Muggs: Yes and the labels too, everybody wants everything to be the same. Its all cookie cutter, it's Pop music. It is everything that rap despised at some point. You know it despised everything it has become; it is R&B now. It is watered down and everyone wears their hat on the side, everyone has the tattoo on the forearm, all the same shit.
DX: With your history in the game, do you just ignore this all going on around you and just keep doing you?
DJ Muggs: You have to man. Of course we can sit around and talk about it with your friends and have your frustrating moments, but dont hang on to that frustration man and let it tear me down. I just do what I have to do as I have a whole new vision. I have no problem.
DX: So what is your whole new vision?
DJ Muggs: It is all materializing as we speak. What we are doing now is introducing ourselves to a lot of the youth. You know there are a lot of 16 year-olds that might not know who we are which is understandable. So me doing [an album] with Planet Asia [click to view] and there are a lot more verses coming that will re-introduce me to the kids. It is still uncompromised, avant-guard, straight to the left, a la Salvador Dali type of art. I am very unorthodox and that is how we move. There is a whole world that loves us, that hates Pop music, its for those people. See I never liked Pop music; I liked Led Zeppelin, not Britney Spears so I am not going to make Britney Spears music. I have sat in the studio a few times and I havent been happy. I would start to think, "Who am I doing this for now?" When you start feeling like that, that you are a puppet, your real fans start to leave you alone and those Top 40 fans are only there for the moment, they are fly by night fans and all of a sudden, you are left with nothing.
DX: How did you avoid falling into that trap which some producers have done?
DJ Muggs: I would take six months off and go to Europe and deejay; fuck [making] records right now. Everything comes back around. My sound that was so cutting edge and so unique that it is about to be the brand new sound again because nobody does it.
DX: With filtered mics on tracks like "9 mm" you are still going to new places with your production, how would you describe the phase/style you are in now?
DJ Muggs: You know it is constantly experimenting but my sound is real dark. I am a fan of Led Zeppelin, I am a fan of Black Sabbath, I am a fan of Massive Attack, a fan of Tricky and there is just a dark sound that I enjoy making and it comes out naturally for me. It is grimy and it is gritty and you really feel it. That is what I do. Did I expect it to get on the radio? No. Did I think any of my tracks were going to become great hits? No. I thought that they were good records but when you look at what was on the radio at the time of "Jump Around," it wasnt that.
DX: There are quite a lot of people now who are infusing their music with Rock as if it has never been done before; as someone who successfully pioneered that fusion.
DJ Muggs: Right now I am in Vegas with Alchemist [click to read] and I was saying to him, "Al, do you understand, everyone is thinking they invented this rock shit and that it is something new?" I was a skater and that was our life. I grew up around black kids, white kids, Latino kids, kids that skated, gangsters on the beach and all this that it has become is the shit we have been doing for 20 years. I am looking back like it is right on time for us now. We fit right in; it is funny to me yeah. You know we would get a lot of slack for doing shows with Rock bands like Metallica and taking Rage Against the Machine on one of their first tours with us. I truly believe we are visionaries and that we are able to see ahead. Sometimes we might be a bit too ahead of the curve.
I have a difficult time dealing with A&Rs who have no vision and I dont think there are many music inspired people in the industry running it. I think there are a lot of people in it for the glitz and the glamor and who like music but there are no visionaries at the helm of the music business anymore, well very few. It is difficult to try and translate a vision to these people so I decided to go independent and go underground with my shit. That is where the Internet helps me as now I dont need Sony to get my music circulated to the world.
DX: Do you think getting music out there to fast prevents fans from becoming familiarized with artists and their music?
DJ Muggs: Well that is the other side. It becomes easily disposable and there is no value to it anymore. You would play a whole album for the whole summer or for a whole year. Now you listen to an album a couple of times and you are on to the next thing because it is so disposable. It is all a big part of the puzzle and Soul Assassins is a lifestyle; we have cartoons, there are graphic artists, photographers, producers, we are a well rounded crew and we sell our lifestyle to people. It is more of a brand at this point as we have an international clothing company. Cypress can still go on the road and make six million dollars in six months no problem.
DX: The Rolling Stones of Hip Hop...
DJ Muggs: Well we might not be the new boy band or pop phenomenon and we understand that we cant go back and be that and we dont want to, we just know who we are and what we have to do. We go to our shows and you have 40 year-old people and 13 year-old kids just like you would at a Stones concert. Its like people introduce their younger siblings explaining that they need to know about this and know about that. Then you get your supporters around the world and when you are feeding them you know they are going to turn up for the meal. We continue to do what we do and it all comes back around.
DX: Well it is like with the Hip Hop Honors, various people have commented that you guys should have been recognized before now, do you feel like that?
DJ Muggs: I thought we would have been recognized for a lot of things before now too you know but if you read your history, people have done a lot of incredible things but didnt get recognized for it until years and years after the event. It is just the way it is with us; we are blue collar and we are always going to be the underdog and even if we were to win the championship four years in a row, we are still going to be the underdog as it is in our cards. We understand that and we are cool with it. We just keep working hard.
DX: You were very present in the documentary Rhyme and Reason. What do you think seeing you, Dre and RZA in the labs did for young producers in the late nineties?
DJ Muggs: I hope it inspired them to want to do their own thing and want to bring creativity rather than trying to be like everyone else because all three of us, one thing we all have in common is our uniqueness in sound and refusing to sound like anyone else and always looking to find the next sound or the next new thing. If I had the money, I would wait six years [like Dr. Dre] to put a record out you know to work on it but we dont have the cash to be doing that.
DX: Do you believe Hip-Hop was more pure in the nineties when you look around you now?
DJ Muggs: I think it was brand new and it hadnt been exposed to the masses. I traveled the world and people didnt always know about it. Even when I moved to L.A. from New York City when I was 14, there was a lot that people werent aware of, but like I said earlier you can go on the Internet now and find out about anything you want to. Hip Hop took over the world from being a sub-culture in the corner.
DX: You have contributed to an endless list of soundtracks, how does that creative process differ for you?
DJ Muggs: I usually go in and watch the movie and see if they need anything that is inspired by the movie or inspired by a character or something inspired by a scene. You talk to the director and you talk to the music supervisor and they can clue you in and from there I go and make something for them.
DX: Do you have a preference over that or straight music production?
DJ Muggs: I cant say more or less as everything has its time and place. I like getting away from the studio and doing that and then from there I like to come back into the studio and make records as I get bored. Then I get bored and I head out on the road and if I am on the road too much I get sick of it. It is all part of the process.