Pete Rock Explains Uniting Hip Hop Generations On "80 Blocks From Tiffany's pt.II"
Exclusive: Pete Rock explains adapting his sound to fit CL Smooth, Mac Miller, Ab-Soul and Mack Wilds from "The Wire."
Few have matched Pete Rock’s influence and innovation in Hip Hop music. Featuring both older and younger artists on his new collaboration with Camp Lo, 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s pt.II, the legendary producer is one who has successfully been able to bring an updated sound to his newer releases and the artists to match.
Ab-Soul and Mac Miller are both guests on The Bronx native’s latest mixtape, and both are artists Rock believes can carry on the torch properly for others to follow.
“There’s still a whole audience that doesn’t know who I am,” Pete Rock said. “Working with guys like Mac Miller and Ab-Soul—who always knew who I was and I always wanted to work with—is a great combination. And it will make the young generation pay attention to not only who I am but who Camp Lo is as well.”
Recently speaking with HipHopDX, Pete Rock broke down how he has updated his sound. He is currently walking a thin line between introducing new fans to his music by giving his beats a newer vibe while also keeping that raw sound that longtime fans demand from him. According to Soul Brother #1, 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s pt.II is a true representation of aspects from the film. The director of the original documentary also paid his respects to Pete Rock as well.
“The director, when he heard about the idea that we were making music about it and the title of 80 Blocks, he loved it,” he said. “I told him I’m going to watch that movie and take some excerpts out of it because it’s part of our life, being that we’re from The Bronx and those gangs were in the same area that we came from.”
Rock also talks about a possible reunion album with longtime partner, CL Smooth and announces that he’s in the works on creating a new solo album of his own.
Pete Rock Talks “Re-Teaching” A Younger Audience
HipHopDX: What’s been up recently, even non-musically?
Pete Rock: Ah everything’s good, man…I’m hanging in there. I’m just excited about a lot of things I got on the table as far as music goes. I’m very excited.
DX: In the days leading up to 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s pt.II, you mentioned Mac Miller and Ab-Soul, two guys that are kind of younger…
Pete Rock: Who I’m a fan of by the way.
DX: Right. The song “Megan Good” has already came out with Mac Miller. Is this in any way a hand off to some of the younger cats you think are dope?
Pete Rock: Yep. It’s basically to kind of re-teach the younger generation who I am, if they don’t know me. There’s still a whole audience that doesn’t know who I am, and working with guys like Mac Miller and Ab-Soul, who always knew who I was and always wanted to work with me. We finally get our chance to do some work together, and I think it’s a great combination and it will make the young generation pay attention to not only who I am but who Camp Lo is as well.
DX: Sure, and specifically Mac Miller, who’s been known to appreciate specifically the Golden Age and artists like you and De La Soul. What does that mean to you that he’s into that and takes time out to inform himself?
Pete Rock: Ah man, it means a lot ‘cause right now it’s the younger generation, who’s running things. We were once young, and it was us that people had to pay attention to. It was us that was doing what we had to do. Now it’s them, so I think it’s a plus to work with the younger guys, and I’m just glad that I’m still able to do good music to even just enjoy this new ride that I’m on.
DX: How important is it to teach the younger kids doing Hip Hop these days the importance of paying respect to the ones who eventually laid the foundation for what they do?
Pete Rock: It just keeps the ground in Hip Hop to do things the proper way. It’s kind of, doing your homework on us, and it’s us doing our homework on you guys to figure out what you like. It’s a new day, and all I’m doing is using some of my updated beats and some of my old beats and updating them ‘cause I’m sitting on a mountain full of beats. I have years and years and years of music to put out there. It doesn’t stop for me. So I feel that it’s extremely important that we all kind of work together and unify in the Hip Hop world.
How Pete Rock Adapted His Sound For The Digital Age
DX: You mention updating the beats. It’s hard for veteran producers to shake the sound they became famous for and update it. I’ve definitely noticed with you that you do that. What do you listen for, and what do you go for in making a beat that maybe someone who doesn’t understand the Golden Age or whatever could vibe to?
Pete Rock: Um, basically how the kicks and the drums are being programmed…like the drum sounds that are being used. If you notice, you listen to the radio and everything sounds the same, even down to the drum sounds they use out there. Nothing sounds different from anything, so what I’m doing is mixing my kicks and snares that really don’t need to be updated, because not a lot of that is out there. It’s just what’s provided in the digital world and the equipment that’s available with the new MPC. No one changes up their sound ‘cause if one sound works, that’s the sound everyone is going to run with.
I feel like that’s being more of a follower than a leader. You have to lead by example, which means putting different types of sounds together. People want to hear beats when you’re recording in the studio, and people want to hear Hip Hop. You have all different kinds of audiences that enjoy different kinds of Hip Hop. You have Trap music, and you’ve got the strip club stuff—which is basically Trap music. And then you have your radio/R&B-ish type of records, but there’s an element of Hip Hop in it and then they’re calling straight R&B records Hip Hop. People who sing on those records, they’re calling the artists “Hip Hop,” and I’m like, “What happened to that person being an R&B singer? Where’s the Hip Hop in them?” Because when you listen to their album, you don’t hear any kind of Hip Hop in there sometimes.
DX: I’m not a producer or anything, but I can tell that different drum kits are being used and those same ones are being used a lot. How do you think the younger generation is carrying the producing torch?
Pete Rock: They listen to older stuff. I think they listen to say a Pete Rock, a Large Professor or Q-Tip. They have to study us in a way to understand how to do this. I think some of the younger producers do take on listening to the older guys—the ones that made a difference—and say, “You know what? We got to do it like this, but we’re going to do it our way.” Just as long as they keep that element of Hip Hop or some type of street vibe in their music, I don’t have a problem with it.
Pete Rock Attributes “80 Blocks” To A Random Meeting With Camp Lo
DX: Speaking on this new project, you’re working with Camp Lo. How did you guys all come together to do this one?
Pete Rock: I bumped into them one night leaving the studio, and we started having a discussion in the streets. They were in a session in another studio, so I ended up going up there and jumping on a song with them and Styles P. Then we sat down and talked about doing a project together, and the next thing we know, here we are.
DX: This trend of you working recently with ‘90s artists isn’t even that new. In 2011 you worked with another legendary duo out of New York when you dropped Monumental with Smif-N-Wessun. It’s dope that you still are interested in working with others that made it happen in the ‘90s…
Pete Rock: Yeah we’ve been friends with Smif-N-Wessun since the ‘90s anyways, and I love those guys so, shout out to them. We’ve been friends since ‘93. We’ve always wanted to work with each other, and we finally got our chance so...
DX: [Laughs] is that how it goes then? Just bump into Pete Rock after you’re already acquainted and go, “Hey, let’s do an album together.”
Pete Rock: [Laughs] I mean anyone that’s in the music game and they see me and they bump into me, they like, “Yo let’s do something.” I’m always with it, you know?
DX: This project is based off of the documentary 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s. When we met in Akron last year, I remember you telling me that anything coming from you will always be raw or funky. This I’m sure is at least going to be raw. Is that something you are going for on the second edition of the project?
Pete Rock: Well actually it’s a part of me. It’s nothing that I’m going for; it naturally comes out. It’s basically who we are as individuals in Hip Hop. We love the street vibe of Hip Hop music, and it’s something that I naturally do, so I think it just came out that way. Those guys are from The Bronx—you know like 167th & Webster Ave. And I’m from The Bronx too, but then moved to Mt. Vernon. So I’d say I’m from both places, but I was born in The Bronx and lived there until I was eight-years-old.
DX: What from the documentary made you want to name it this, or why did you want to go by that theme originally?
Pete Rock: It has a lot to do with it. We idolized Melle Mel, Kool Herc, and as kids we idolized everyone from The Bronx that had a hand in creating the culture of Hip Hop. So now that we’re grown men, we’re showing them how much it meant to us and how much they did for us in creating the culture. So we want to give that back, not only to them but all the fans of the ‘90s sound. It basically has a ‘90s feel, but some of the beats are updated. I did a couple of songs that’s updatable that people today would love, and I pulled in some guys I thought could help finish the job.
DX: The Bronx during the time that documentary came out was basically no man’s land…
Pete Rock: It’s a great documentary, when the director [Gary Weis] heard about the idea that we were making music about it and the title of 80 Blocks, he loved it. I told him I’m going to watch that movie and take some excerpts out of it, because it’s part of our life, being that we’re from The Bronx and those gangs were in the same area that we came from. We definitely kind of wanted to make this an audio movie.
DX: It’s almost like a soundtrack, I guess but way later.
Pete Rock: Yeah.
Pete Rock Shares Hopes To Record With CL Smooth Again
DX: When we did meet in Akron, I spoke with both you and CL Smooth. How have you been doing between the both of you? I have to ask the standard question as a fan and not even a journalist: Is there any chance of an album between you two anytime soon?
Pete Rock: I mean, I hope so. I can’t give you a definite on that, but we’re definitely performing. We’re doing shows, and we’re in contact with each other, so that’s a good sign in my eyes. And you know...hopefully, something will come out of it.
DX: And speaking of you two, last year marked the 20th anniversary for the release of Mecca And The Soul Brother. What are some of your best memories in making that album?
Pete Rock: Ah man, so many. Probably just having guys in the studio feeling good about our music. I remember Busta Rhymes and a couple other guys being there, listening to our music and what we were doing and being hella excited. So those were one of the fond memories, along with just me and CL working together like hand and hand. That was a great thing for Hip Hop at that time.
DX: You’ve been in Hip Hop for a very long time. Looking back to when you started, how have you changed both as a musician and as a person?
Pete Rock: It’s just growth, man. When you’re young, you do certain young things. But as you get older, you kind of shy away from those things and you’re grown into a full-grown man. I just kind of said, “Forget that,” and now we know what we have to do, and that’s just the bottom line. It’s bigger than us, and we always knew that. It’s not about us individually anymore. It’s about other people, the fans, all the people that supported us as Pete Rock and CL Smooth. We’re also doing a re-record of Mecca And The Soul Brother with a live band, so that’s going to be dope.
DX: What’s next for you coming up in the immediate future, Hip Hop or not?
Pete Rock: There’s a bunch of things. I’m doing my own album, the re-record of Mecca And The Soul Brother. I’ve got a couple of surprise projects I’m doing, and I don’t want to mention the artists until we’re actually doing it. I’m just working with a new artist called Mack Wilds, who is a young actor. If you’re familiar with “The Wire,” that came on HBO, he was an actor on there. But he can sing and rap, so I just finished two songs on his album for him yesterday. So I’m excited about that release ‘cause he shows me the ultimate respect, and he’s a young guy. So I’m excited to have collaborated with him.
DX: You mention working on your album, what are some details regarding that?
Pete Rock: Um, you just got to wait and see. I don’t want to call out any artists that might be on there until I actually solidify the deal and before I start running my mouth [laughs].
DX: There’s been a lot of change in Hip Hop in regards to sampling. To me, it’s shifted over to where the drums are more of the focus than the accompanying sample or even using drum samples. It’s more computerized, etc. How have you seen it changed as someone who has always been sample-heavy?
Pete Rock: People think it’s a pain in the ass, because they’ve got to pay for samples, and the only way you can be successful with sampling is if you pay people for sampling and music. So with the mixtape, we kind of thought of it in a deejay process with plain beats and music for a sample-heavy, free mixtape. Commercially, we didn’t want to put it out like that, because there was too many samples to deal with. Later, we’ll do a sample-free one too, but the raw sound of Hip Hop is basically made up of sampling. It’s about sampling, and that’s how Hip Hop started. We just basically want to give it back to the people for free, because they’re not getting it out there. So if they need to hear it, they can get it from us.
DX: A big aspect of that is the cost. Back in the day, so many albums went gold and platinum that we don’t really remember, so paying for samples by the labels wasn’t a big deal at all. Technology has also changed that. Do you think technology’s roll has played a really big part in that too?
Pete Rock: It changed with all this new equipment that came out. I guess everyone wants to try to do sample-free music, because they don’t have to pay and it’s more money in their pocket. That makes sense but, you know people just like the sound of raw Hip Hop with samples, like me. And there’s lots of other people just like me that’s out there, so you could just say we’re doing this for them.