A staple of Hip Hop productions since the 1990s, the Dusty Fingers series is a compilation of obscure break-beats and rare records that are the gems of a collection that DJ Danny Dann The Beat Man—Mr. Dusty Fingers himself—estimates spending over one million dollars to put together. Dr. Dre, Eminem, 50 Cent, Nas and countless others have seemingly relied on his catalog.
Unfortunately for Dusty, there’s no way he can collect royalties from his compilations. Because he has no right to the songs he uses, he’s nothing more—on paper—than the middle-man connecting the sampled artist to the rapper. And making things worse—ironically—is the proliferation of online piracy. The Serato, a digital milkcrate of thousands upon thousands of songs, now allows the rapid conversion of vinyl to MP3: The bootlegged 16-volume Dusty Fingers catalogue is readily available online.
But the changing landscape of the music industry hasn’t discouraged Dusty. In fact, he’s changed his priorties and is using this interview to send a message out to Dr. Dre. Dre, if you’re reading this, please know that Dusty wants to hook you up with some bangers to sample from. If you liked what he did with Eminem and Dr. Dre's "Guilty Conscience," you will be blown away to hear others places his influence have found Rap hits. The man also called "Dusty" has literally shelved hundreds of thousands of rare grooves at his disposal and is eager to share the cream of the crop exclusively with you. In this rare interview, HipHopDX gets our fingers dusty as we touch the shelves of a Rap producer's silent partner.
HipHopDX: What made you put these compilations out in the first place?
Dusty Fingers: My initial decision was to put out records that were different from Ultimate Breaks and Beats. There was a whole genre of records that I was finding from all over the world, so I wanted to put out something of that caliber, make it top-quality and just hit people in the head with different stuff ‘cause Hip Hop was going in another direction—kinda on the '80s tip—and I was like, there’s mad records from the ‘70s that people haven’t touched yet. And I’m sitting on ‘em. So, I met up with my partner [and put out Dusty Fingers Volume 1]. A lof of people just started buying ‘em. So I said, “Okay, we gotta do another volume.” And we kept doing ‘em. And that was it. It just took off.
DX: At your peak, how many units were you selling?
Dusty Fingers: Back in the ‘90s, before that 9/11 thing, [we] were selling thousands. Two thousand would go out the box. Then I’ll sell another thousand. We averaged about 3,000-5,000 on every one I dropped. I wanted to put them out three times a year but my boy was like, "Chill. Let one ride out as much as it can [before] we work on a new one." Cool. I would just do maybe two a year, then they would go, like, one a year. Sales would get slower and slower—not because the record was wack—but because people were buying it and putting it online. The Internet fucked up everything. I can’t sit around 2,500 records waiting two years to get paid. It’s ridiculous, you know what I mean? I was sitting on thousands of records at one time. I was scared. How am I gonna sell all this shit? People really wanted them, so they were buying them. And they want ‘em now, again. But I’m not printing them up no more. That’s the end of that. If they want that shit, they better go get it used from somebody, you know? [Laughs].
DX: Now you said something real interesting there. You said that the Internet fucked shit up, right?
Dusty Fingers: Yeah, it fucked it up.
DX: But, you know what I’m saying…like, do you know where I’m going with this?
Dusty Fingers: Go ahead. Say it straight up!
DX: Straight up, you just took people’s records…and then you put ‘em on a record of your own…and now you’re saying that vultures did it to you [on the Internet].
Dusty Fingers: Yeah but [the Internet] is a free thing. It’s like…they’re not getting anything out of it. They’re not getting paid. It costs money to make these things. Really, I’m not worried about profit. I was worried more about putting out good music. If the record would sell a lot of copies, I would still be in business. But I’m putting it out there just for the people. I could have been a motherfucker and just held on to all this shit and nobody would know nothing, like the way I was in the '70s. You couldn’t talk to me about records. I’d be like, "Fuck you. Go get your own shit." My attitude changed. I got so much shit—I gotta share it with people. It was the only way I could do it. So, I put these out. A lot of other people made records off of them, which was cool. They made a lot of dope shit. And I was happy about that because at least someone liked my stuff enough [to sample it]. So I don’t know what to tell you guys. You guys are putting my shit up for free. I can’t afford to put it out no more.
DX: Why can’t you afford to put ‘em out no more?
Dusty Fingers: It makes no sense for me to wait a year to get paid just to sell almost a thousand copies. Not even. I might sell 800, and then the other 200 two, three months later? Six months later? A lot of record stores went out of business, so who am I gonna sell to? There were mom-and-pop stores all over the place; little semi-chain stores like Music Factory. They’re all gone. They used to be my best customers. My pressing plant went out of business too. That’s another problem. I lost a lot of money on that.
DX: I want to play a song that was lifted off of Dusty Fingers Volume 5. It’s a Nas song called "Find Ya Wealth." I want to see what you think of it.
Dusty Fingers: This shit is dope. It’s dope because ["Solstice" by Brian Bennett is] a hard to get record. Even though I put it out, I’m pretty sure the producer [L.E.S.] had the original record. And if he didn’t—and he sampled it from my record—I don’t really care. A lot of people have a lot of the same records. They weren’t secret. You go to a record store like [New York's] A-1 or The Sound Library, the shit’s on the wall. They’re expensive records. It’s all an investment for me because I love the music.
DX: How much did that record cost you?
Dusty Fingers: I think a dollar. [Laughs] I went to a junk shop and the shit was just in a crate of records.
DX: All things considered, what was your process in making each compilation?
Dusty Fingers: I never dig for records with a [portable] turntable. I always looked at a cover and just took it home. I just picked them up at random; sometimes I would read the back of the cover and see who the artist was or if I recognized the production; if I did, I would buy it. If I didn’t, sometimes I took a chance—and for a dollar, I didn’t give a fuck. I was buying records like that like crazy. I would come home lucky—maybe four records out of 30 would be wack. I would put a dot onto the record with a little magic marker [to] indicate that cut on that record is dope and file it. Whatever was an import record would go this crate…. Anything with drums would go in that crate…[I did it] so I could remember.
I would get a bunch of new records or go through my crates and put aside a bunch of dusty popsicles. So if I was in a certain mood with what I liked to listen to—frequently, I would just listen to five or six albums over and over again—and I just kept feeling it and feeling it until I came up with all these [Dusty Fingers] albums. It wasn’t like I just threw shit together.
DX: Now say I’m a new producer and I go to The Sound Library to dig in the crates. Is it still possible for me to get my fingers dirty and get something good for cheap, or are those days gone?
Dusty Fingers: It depends. You don’t go to a store like Sound Library to dig. You just go there to get a piece that you know is gonna be dope. The stuff that’s on the wall is gonna be expensive. But for cheap stuff, you could dig down underneath and if you know about something that’s there and you buy it, you lucked out. It’s a good time for digging now because of The Serato—another thing that fucked up the game.
[Serato is the] digital turntable. You could dump a bunch of songs in your laptop. [For] a deejay, it’s very convenient because you don’t gotta drag your records around. The thing is you gotta record each record into your shit, but a lot of people don’t do that. Again—the Internet: They go and they download. They download a bunch of shit that sounds like shit, and they’re playing MP3’s that suck.
DX: What are library records and how did you find them?
Dusty Fingers: I first found them in the early '80s. I used to deliver shit to radio stations and TV stations and they would have records there. I’m like, "What are these records?" They were like "These are for jingles and shit like that." [I go] "If you’re ever getting rid of them, let me know. I’ll take them off your hands." At that time, CDs were coming out and they were doing so. They would give me a few of them and some of the music was corny but some of them had joints on ‘em.
DX: At one point, you kept your collection in an apartment. If you could estimate it, how much did it weigh?
Dusty Fingers: Oh, man. I can’t even imagine how much that shit weighed. It must have been a quarter of a ton. Bro, the main beams that were running across [the floor below] were bending. I had it distributed across the walls but the stress of the shit made it bend. It was a hundred year old building, what do you expect? When I used to play my equipment, the plaster ceiling used to come down from the other guy’s bedroom underneath me. I was playing that record "U.F.O." [by E.S.G.] with all that bass. Pumping it. Big chunks of plaster just started coming down. There was a young kid—he almost got killed. That shit fell and he was sitting like five feet away from it. I was like, “Man if you woulda been by your window, you woulda been fucked up." His mom came upstairs, crying "You’ve gotta lower that music. Please. You’re fucking my house up." I’m like, "You’re kidding me." She goes ‘You can see my apartment from your apartment!’ [Laughs]
DX: I’m actually gonna play you something that DJ Premier did. It’s from Volume 3’s Rise From Ashes. It’s a record he did with Cee-Lo called "Evening News."
Dusty Fingers: See, the thing about these records is that they didn’t come out before the Dusty Fingers came out—
They all came out after. They probably did tap my records. I’m not gonna lie, I know people who are big into their records, and they still sample from my shit. There’s a simple reason for that. Their copy was fucked up and they bought it for 10 bucks instead of spending one 150 bucks on the same record. They grabbed it from my record and there’s no shame in that. But they do have the original record as well.
As far as a lot of cats, if I know don’t have a record collection—I know they sampled it from mine, bottom line. They don’t have a caliber of records that I have and they get them from me. There ain’t no shame in that, bro. If you hear something and you could make something dope and make money, go ahead and do it. I ain’t mad at you. I don’t care. My purpose was just to get this [music] out to get people to hear there’s other shit besides '80s crap. Hip Hop wasn’t that. It was always about records. It was always about two copies of the same record and you cut it up and let the rapper do his thing. If you sample it and you flip it, it’s still the same shit that we used to do back then.
But this new shit? Forget it. I wanna kill myself right now. The shit is wack. People like it. My kids like it. I’m like "What the fuck ya’ll listening to? This is the real shit." They tell me the opposite. "Your shit is boom-boom-bap." But that’s real music. It’s done by professional musicians who tuned instruments for hours and recorded it, and then here’s a clown with Fruity Loops making a fuckin' stupid beat with keyboards that a retard could do. It’s night and day.
DX: Did you ever think of reaching out to a Kanye West or a DJ Premier to collaborate with? You’ve got the records to do it.
Dusty Fingers: The only one I want to reach out to, who is one of my favorite producers of all time is Dr. Dre.
DX: So when you first heard "Guilty Conscience," which was lifted off of Volume 3, how did you feel?
Dusty Fingers: I loved it. It was a perfect marriage—the sounds that he used with the records that I put out. It was dope. I can’t say no more. It was crazy.
He kinda reached out to me [in a photo shoot of his studio in the now-defunct Scratch Magazine] when he had one of my Dusty Fingers in the background. I thought that was cool of him to do that because he ain’t have to do that. I want to thank him for that because that was bigging my shit up. Even though it has a west coast feel, he’s always been authentic to his genre. When he replays all his stuff, it’s just a beautiful composition of what he really wants done. And all his shit is dope. He’s the only guy who does get my respect that plays keyboards because he’s going after that certain sound of what he really was intending: that Funk sound, that eerie sound and it complements the sample. And then when he plays the sample over, it sounds so much like the original record. It’s dope.
I just hope to hear more stuff from him in the future. If I could link up with him it would be nice. I got shit for days that I could give him ideas with. I could really work as a team with him. We could make a lot of dope records.
Writer's Note: Inquiries were made to each of the artists mentioned in this piece to refute the claim of sampling straight off a Dusty Fingers comp. There were no responses as of this writing. Every Dusty Fingers Volume mentioned herein was released before the actual artists’ sampling from them.