You’ve been around for awhile but have never really dropped any J-Force project or received as much credit as you deserve for producing. Your new project, Cadillac Respect, showcases your talent as a producer. Did you feel it was finally time to be recognized?
Definitely. I’ve been making beats for a long time, since 1990. The SP-1200 was taught to me by Ski Beatz. He used to bring it around with him and back in the day, all my friends met him. He would stay at one friend’s house and then stay at mine. Everywhere he went he brought the SP and he raided everybody’s parents’ record collection. I watched him program it and work it. Since I was a drummer by nature, I felt I could definitely program some really hot samples and drums into the machine. So yeah, I’ve been doing it for a hot minute.
You remix a lot of classics on Cadillac Respect, and it’s rare that I enjoy remixes.
I call them “revisits.” A “remix” is technically readjusting treble and bass and EQs in that aspect. But we’ve been using the word “remix” on the DJ level a little loosely. To me a revisit, and there’s actually a definition on the inside of the album, a “revisit” is basically calling back a classic accapella, with no disrespect to the original composition, and bringing a new composition totally.
It’s wild. People say the first single I put out was “Bullseye.” I was recording out of Englewood, New Jersey with Ski Beatz and it was next to Dance Floor Distribution, it was a record distributor and there was a studio inside the record distributor spot and that’s where I originally met back up with Ski. I originally met Ski at WBLS, maybe the late ‘80s. My DJ used to be Kevvy Kev and he was on Saturday nights on WBLS and Pete Rock was on Friday. They did the “Marley Marl in Control” show.
So I met Ski in the lobby of WBLS and later on caught up with him at this spot in Jersey and that’s where I recorded a song called “Dippity,” that I’d just seen on YouTube recently. But the A-side wasn’t my mix. The b-side was “Dippity” and I sampled Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” which Tribe sampled at the same time. I took some really hot drums, I think Public Enemy used it on “Don’t Believe the Hype.” What else did I take? I took “Doo-daa dippity” from Black Sheep’s “The Choice is Yours.”
So that’s really the first single I ever really did. That came out, I believe in ’90 or ’92. I don’t have the record in front of me but that’s really the first record I ever really did. And then “Bullseye” came out in ’93. I failed to put the year on my singles for after “Bullseye” and “Runnin’ on E.” It was kind of open arms for New York underground radio. Stretch Armstrong played whatever I did. DJ Premier, whenever he did an all-star weekend, he played both my singles. I had a little sticker on both of my singles “Live and Direct from the House of Hits” because Marley mixed both of my singles. Those were the first three singles that I did, from ’93 to ’96 I put out my own stuff. “Pink Chicken” was the third single that I never came out with that’s on Cadillac Respect. But I never came out with the version that’s on Cadillac Respect. It’s actually a revisit as well. The original is on YouTube. I took Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do?’s” bassline with Harvey Mandel’s “Cristo Redentor.”
And that was the original mix and then I chopped up a Shirley Bassey loop and put some crazy drums on it and I did a revisit of my own track f¬or the Cadillac Respect project, because it is a revisit project, and keeping with the theme, I put one of mine on there. Basically if you’re a DJ and you appreciate mixology, you’re going to love the album and the way I seamed the interludes together. It’s for real hip-hop heads.
How do you know when you have a revisit right?
How I always make beats is usually to know the beat is hot, I’ll usually throw O.C.’s ‘Time’s Up” over it and I’ll test it with a hot accapella. You know when it’s right. If it complements the vocals and it doesn’t sound anything like the original, then I feel like you got it. If it’s not anything better or brings anything different to the original, I don’t think you really should touch it.
“Time’s Up” is a great standard.
The fact of the matter is “Time’s Up” is such a strong record that you have to come with a lot of heat to do that one over. As far as I’m concerned, it’s almost cheating because he sounds dope over almost anything. And if the revisit is not going to do what the original does, then I leave it alone. That’s why you didn’t see me come with this one here. But that song is a classic, period, the end. But it is tough. You know when the formula is right after you’ve been doing this for so many years and if you can come forth with something new and paint a new picture. And the revisit, I altered the lyrics too to do different things. I started off the Ghostface one with the hook and the “Oh my God” sample at the beginning of the Buckshot one. It’s a whole new formula and a new picture. That’s what I feel you have to do to really do a revisit correctly. It can’t be the same formula as the original recipe.
Are there other songs you look at as untouchable for a revisit?
I would say yes, absolutely, “The Symphony” being a good example. In fact, when I met up with Marley for one of the first times, I met him at a record store in Rockland County and we were both digging for records. I asked him why he picked that beat for “The Symphony 2.” You out of all people, take the Otis Redding again. I really wish the remix had a version from the original Otis Redding “Hard to Handle” sample. I actually said that to him and Marley appreciated the honesty and then we started to hang out and get tight after that.
It takes some balls to say that to Marley Marl the first time meeting him.
(laughs) Well, you know what? Honesty is the best policy to me and that’s all I am, nothing but blunt and up front. A lot of people might not like that and appreciate that. Either you want to sit around the roundtable and tell fairy tales or you want to just deal with the truth. The truth of the matter is “The Symphony 2” is nothing compared to “The Symphony.” But you’re talking to a guy where the beat is first to me. A lot of people get into the lyrics and what they’re saying. I don’t really care what they’re saying if the beat’s not hot. If the beat is hot then I want to hear what you’re saying. “The Symphony 2,” the beat was not hot to me and that’s the point. If Marley didn’t want to talk to me from there on out, that’s fine, but we all know that’s the truth. (laughs)
If fans tuned into Future Flavas, they’ll know you. What were those days like?
That was a platform for me to really flex and hone my production skills, you know, thought that show. I would rock the two SP 1200s with the mixer in between and then of course you got Pete Rock on the turntables. It was magical. Sunday nights, the show came on from 10-11 and it was the time when I was really blossoming as a beatsmith and I was fortunate to have Marley actually mix the singles that I put out with my own vocals. It was pretty cool.
Marley moved up to Chestnut Ridge, New York and I was upstate at the time and that’s how I really ran into him. He would ride around in a red Marc 7 around and he had “Marley” plates on it so it was kind of sticking out like a sore thumb. After awhile, I was invited to do the Future Flavas show with him and Pete Rock and after the show, that’s where I would record these artists that were guests. We would record them after over J-Force beats and I was in full rotation of most of the shows from ’99 to 2001. And I actually was with Marley when he changed from Hot 97 to Power 105. I was with that whole transfer. And then I kind of fell off. I didn’t really go to every show anymore and I would up actually leaving and then I popped up doing some beat stuff for documentaries and networks.
When everything was all good, what were some of your highlights?
Well, during the high points of the show, I would say it was around 2000, I was called by a music publishing company that Jay-Z’s protégé was feeling on one of the tracks that leaked out on my CD. That was Jaz-O. I went to Masters at Work to record this Jaz-O record that later became “King’s County.” To me, that’s where people would say, “We didn’t know you did that.” A lot of people didn’t know I did Future Flavas. I was just in the background with exclusives and SP beats. But the King’s County record was picked up by Fat Beats and I wasn’t credited on that. I lost a lot of stuff for awhile. That’s the nature of the beast. It’s the music industry. I’ve paid dues that I don’t even want to disclose in this conversation but you know some other stuff that I did, for sure, that I had to deal with.
I always felt that I gave you my pinky but I still had a whole hand to give and now, hopefully with the Cadillac Respect and the reception of websites, if people embrace it, I got a lot to give, man. I could be the guy that brings it back to the essence of New York City underground. I’m not really interested in crossing over. I’ve bought albums for the Premier cuts on the album, not the radio records. If I heard one track that was underground, I bought the whole album. I’m trying to be the album cut guy. Everyone is crossing over to some Golden Era-type stuff, and if it’s gonna stay where it’s at, I’ll be that street credible guy all day long. I’ll make those territory records all day long.
Do you think a lot of the younger artists rocking over ‘90s sounding beats is authentic appreciation or reaching for a gimmick?
It’s tricky because a lot of people think that I’m stuck in a time warp, but I feel like history will always repeat and if you look at the true “Golden Era” of hip-hop, I mean, I’ve been listening since Soulsonic Force records and Malcolm McLaren and Man Parrish and all those instrumental records that were from Britain that people were breakdancing too. If you think about it, I think the culmination of the Golden Era as a genre, it was definitely the ‘90s era and if I already existed in that era and that era is what we keep going back to, then why can’t that era exist again? We’ve been talking about it coming back for years. Is 2012 going to be the resurgence of that? Then let’s go. If not, then I’ll still be here and stuck in that time warp for when it does lift off again. I kind of look at myself as an untapped reservoir or music and an endless sea of music. I have DAT discs and old Adidas sneaker boxes full forever.
Are you going to release those?
I got at least a fifteen, twenty year run right now. If it was to resurge again, I’m right there.
What would it take for someone to get a J-Force beat?
Okay, great question. I’m really feeling Roc Marciano, hard. Marcberg, I’m a big U.N. fan. I’m into mic-ripping vocals and braggadocio. I’m into story-telling, of course, but I’m not into champagne-popping music. I stopped listening to mainstream radio from ’98, ’99. I don’t even know what Drake looks like, no disrespect. I’m really, like, so to the left of mainstream right now that I don’t even care to be mainstream. I think that’s a lot of girl scout hip-hop. Like, when people say, “Do you like the beat?” they mean, “Would you buy it?” and I wouldn’t buy a lot of it that’s out there. I don’t know who’s calling the shots as far as what becomes mainstream but I think hip-hop has gradually descended from 1997, 1998 to the present day.
I’ve done a slew of records with Killa Sha and Jojo Pellegrino and basically if you got gut-wrenching lyrics, I’m interested. Give me a shout. It won’t even be hard to get with a J-Force beat, but I will reserve the right to be selective.
I just want to keep my ear to the grindstone and I am less interested in the mainstream unless you’re a Christina Aguilera and you think you got some words for myself. I could see Mary J. Blige on some of my records. I always loved the meshing of R&B and I gotta give it to guys like Pete Rock and Kevvy Kev. They kind of started that back in the BLS era. They were putting Mary J. accapellas over rugged-ass beats. I love the singing over hard beats, but as far as the lyrics being Cristal-popping, eh, that’s more for the skinny jean era and the backpackers. That’s not my cup of tea at all. No disrespect. I mean, if that’s your thing, hey, I’m not hating on it. It’s not my thing.
You use the SP 1200 for your beats. What is it about that machine that brings music alive for you?
I really like the way it spits out drums. I like the way it swings without even using swing. I also like how what I put into it, it spits it out even hotter, like if I grab a snare from a random record, the way I sample the snare, the way I EQ the snare into the machine gets the machine to spit it out fuller and thicker than the original form. I would like to see the original SP 1200 with 20 second sample time. I wouldn’t even need the minute sample time. I also came up with ways to fit much more information into the machine. I get more than ten seconds worth out of it anyway, but I feel like less is more in every aspect. As far as production, it’s kind of tight. Let’s keep the emphasis on lyrics and keep the beat hard and basic. That’s really my formula. I don’t really deviate much.
Can you take us through the making of a J-Force beat?
You know, I used to start with the loop and then as soon as I chopped the loop or whatever sounds I want as the melody part, as soon as I get that part loaded, it’s very easy to add drums. Nowadays, I have tons of drum disks so all I really do is thumb through the vinyl on the Technics and sometimes I have a CD. I’ll load up a drum disk and just play a segment and actually place the needle over different parts and have the drums playing and then the loop second. It’s really either or. I do this on the spot. Also, I’ve been into comprising all the loops that I hear on a given day. I’ll just do burn CDs, I call them, where I’ll just have stuff that I like the way they sound and put them on the turntable and burn them to a disk. I’ll just collect stuff that I like the way it sounds and save it for a later date and I’ll just have tons of loops from the turntables and the way I would want them to sound as the end result.
To me, that’s also a part of producing music and changing the tune of the way a record was originally recorded. On the Technics 1200, the green is the way it was recorded. I don’t necessarily like the way tones of a note where in it’s original form. It may have wandered plus right, negative eight, plus two. I’ll save my burn CDs and use them for a rainy day when you got beat block and you can’t hear a beat. I’ll just pop one of those in because I got tons of those too. I’ll pop one of those in. I label it with a date and I wrap the CD in a piece of paper from wherever I got the loops from so everyone can get their sample credit if it ever came out and became something, so I’ll know where I got it.
I used to just fish through vinyl and I could still do that, but mainly I got burn CDs of stuff that I like and wonder why I never did nothing with that and then I’ll load up a drum disk and figure out what drums sound right with that. I’ll loop my burn and then I’ll just keep marinating on the drums, going through snares and maybe popping in a new disk. That’s my formula nowadays. It’s easier for me. I could also go to a studio session and make them up on the spot.
How I’ve actually been working with rappers at present is I would ask them two questions. Who are you feeling right now hard? The Doors, the Temptations, and then what kind of music is it? Is it ballads? I kind of pick the rappers’ heads and if it’s a melancholic feel, I know what loops to play them and if it’s something else, I’ll know what to play them. It saves time and I can make them a custom beat. Production is the graduation of DJing. If you can play something that a crowd feels then you can tailor something for an artist that they feel.
Are you at your best when you’re making something custom for an artist?
I definitely have the catalogue. Here’s the deal. I’ve been fortunate to play beats in sessions and you’ll want two of the three. I can’t even bombard these guys with seventeen or twenty beats. I can’t even hit them with beat CDs anymore. If I feel the rapper, it takes twenty minutes to say, “Hey, I think you need this. You’re gonna like this.” That’s usually exactly how it happens. It has become a lot easier. I also hone those kinds of skills at Future Flavas. You had to be able to play stuff for people and have them like it in ten minutes. That’s cool. Not everybody is going to love a J-Force beat and if they do, not everybody is for a J-Force beat. It can’t be a forced issue, in my opinion. It has to be right, but I’m willing to work with grassroots up to established artists. If you’re tight, you’re tight and we can rock
What was it like working with Jaz-O?
I was actually working for a music publishing company at the time, Reach Global. They actually started doing Chuck D and Flava Flav’s Public Enemy catalogue. Years ago, I used to fish on my computer for writers that weren’t signed to publishing deals, like writers on Eminem records. So one day I got a call from one of the writers I worked for and we ended up publishing “The Originators” record and that was Jaz-O and Jay-Z and Jaz-O jumped over one of my beats. They called me and said they had good news and bad news. They said how much it was paying upfront and how much on the backend. We all know we’re never going to see the backend. It was $1400 on the frontend and on the backend, which I never received, which is all right. I never received the credit, which is not all right.
Fat Beats came out with it. DJ Clark Kent had the A-side of the single. I don’t believe “King’s County” even made his Immobilarie album and I don’t know why. A lot of people ask me why and I have no idea. But the bad news is I had to show up at the studio session 24 hours after I got the call and it was no problem. Jaz-O was there and we had no idea what the hook was going to be. I believe he wrote his lyrics on the spot and I did all the little ear candy drops around his lyrics and he looked at me and asked what we were going to do for the hook. I said we could Run-DMC the hook and he could say something and I could cut something. I didn’t have my rare accapellas that I liked to cut, like my Mobb Deep and Raekwon records. I ran out and came back within an hour, still on the clock, and Jaz-O actually did compliment me on my studio etiquette and he couldn’t believe how we brought that record home in six hours. The engineer was a monster Japanese kid. It was really one of my favorite moments recording anything. That was around 2000, 2001 and a lot of people, I would tell them that I made that record and they would really jump back. No one really knew. I got so many more things like that. I’m basically an untapped resource to this day.
What was it like working with Killa Sha?
Killa Sha was my dog. I miss him so much. Rest in Peace. He did so much for my career and the documentary side of me. He actually brought me to Quincy Jones III and that took me to doing the Rock the Bells Wu-Tang movie and that got me a call from Bling, that went on the network and then off the network. VH1 pulled it. It was real cerebral and about the real blood diamonds. He started all of that. I did four records with Sha. I did “Black Dracula” and actually Marley got the credit for it. I had to correct one of the blogs that posted it. I did “Raging Bull.” That was actually blogged too. I have a song called “Analyze” that came out later and now I believe my man Phantom is working on a Killa Sha release and “Raging Bull” will come out on that.
I’m trying to collect some Sha lyrics for something new and I’m actually working on something with Killa Sha and Tame One. It was recorded posthumous and I got the accapella. I talked to Phantom about recording something new. It’s gonna be special. He’s my boy. We used to vibe out on the Future Flavas show and I really miss that guy. I was fortunate enough to get a couple in with him. Some stuff might still come out. We have to drop it later. That’s if this real stuff comes back. Hopefully there’s a resurgence and the younger crowd has to hopefully get turned onto it first. That’s why I came with Cadillac Respect, to hopefully educate the young ones.
Will we hear more from J-Force in the future?
100%. I’m tired of laying. I got a couple of other projects going on already. I got myself a Mac computer. I can record in my laboratory now, which used to just be a pre-production spot. But now with technology, I got the Mac and I record everything in Garage Band. All of the stuff on Cadillac Respect was Cubase and Pro Tools. I got another project that I’m loading into that and you should be hearing a lot more from J-Force in the years to come.
Will you always use the SP 1200?
100%. I’ll never stop using that. As a matter of fact, there was a show that I remember DJ Premier coming to and him telling Marley that the thing with me on the machine is that you could never tell what equipment I’ve used. I said to him, “Hey, Premier, it’s all in the hi-hat pattern. It’s all in the way that you sample your hi-hats and how you play your hi-hats.” He looked at me like, ‘Of course. That is the right answer.’ It’s all in the drum pattern and the rate you sample your drums, to me. Sometimes a snare that doesn’t have to be tuned down in the SP, a snare that in other words that’s sampled in real time and then played in real time on the SP is really clear and almost sounds digital on the SP even though the SP is a dirty, 12-bit machine. There’s a way to sample the drums onto the machine where they sound like Akai drums with a dirty loops. That comes with time and you have to know how to freak these machines into fooling the people. I may tell you that I hung up the SP and play you five beats that you could have sworn I made on an Akai. If I play them for you on a CD you’ll never be able to tell what machine I made them on. But I like the SP. It forces creativity. You only have ten seconds and you have to bring it home. It’s raw. That’s what hip-hop is about. It’s less. Less is more, definitely.
How’s your relationship with Marley Marl and Pete Rock today?
I haven’t seen those guys in awhile. I’m loving the Cocoa Brovaz and Pete Rock album. I’ve been a huge Pete Rock fan, of course. He’s been an influence and Marley’s been an influence. I haven’t seen Marley in awhile. I hope I see him real soon and hope he’ll stand behind the album. He had a lot to do with it. There’s a lot of treats from Future Flavas that were never available until now, including the “Self Conscious” revisit. I came up with the scratch hook. It’s an official Future Flavas record. I wanted it to feel like a Future Flavas radio show, hence the crowd and some of the sound effects. I did want it to sound like a radio show album and paying homage to the Future Flavas time because that is when I started coming up and honing the craft of beatmaking.
Those days were great. I hear Marley, through the grapevine, is trying to do a reunion show on the web. I don’t know if it’s going to be on the radio again. But I look back and I wouldn’t change a thing. It was so much fun going to the show. Sunday nights will never be the same again. I loved it. I have no regrets about that. I was just really humble. I was in the background and I wasn’t shout-out hungry and I wasn’t so much into the notoriety. I just loved watching people appreciate the stuff that I was putting forth. I didn’t have a need to really be upfront. It wasn’t like that for me. It was just about flexing the skills and quietly playing the background.
And I’m not totally happy with how I did it. I should have been more aggressive. I was in my 20s then and I was doing it for the love. There were a couple of times that I caught feelings, one being the Black Rob exclusive that Marley would rock at the beginning of a show for about a year or two straight. It was a Black Rob and J-Force exclusive and he actually shouted me out on it. That beat eventually became a beat for an AZ revisit. Anyway, Black Rob didn’t realize it. During the radio show, he was freestyling over an SP beat. He told Marley he would rock with us and he wanted something from them and that I should just play him the beat he rapped to and that was my beat. Then he looked at me like, ‘You made that beat?’ Then my feelings got involved and I didn’t really want to continue further. Rob wanted to know how to get in touch with me and I told him to get at me like he got at Marley and maybe I could have been on that album if I didn’t drop the ball. But no one really knew who J-Force was. I should have been more aggressive. There are regrets and maybe I should have shown a little more teeth. But I’m ready to do that now. I’m stronger, older, that much faster. Little things like that.
Who are your favorite artists to sample?
I don’t know if I should divulge that! (laughs) I like obscure, cruddy, 1960s rock records. I’m into rare soul from ’67 to ’72. I got a record at home by Manny Kellen. There’s just tons of stuff on that one record. Who else am I fishing for these days? I like R.B. Grieves, another pretty underground soul singer from back then. I got a ton of stuff that you’ve never heard of. There’s just stuff you never heard of. To me, I believe in not sampling the hits. Sampling stuff that fell by the wayside, that no one really took notice of, that’s the art of hip-hop. It’s not taking a Sister Sledge loop and adding drums to it. That’s not really what I do, anything when the loop is hot, the loop is hot and just throw some drums on it. The Ghostface record on Cadillac Respect is me looping The Escorts and I just added drums. Mainly that’s that.
Do you ever go back to older samples you’ve chopped and remaking the beats with your current mindstate?
Let me tell you what. I’m constantly known for sampling something on a Saturday morning and add the drums to it and the loop and shut the machine off without even saving the samples. That’s my new shit, and I’ll come back to it later that day or the next day. I’m really anal with what I save to discs nowadays. Not everything is floppy disk worthy. I’m really picky. It’s crazy. It’s a gift and a curse. But the formula just has to be so right. Timeless is what I shoot for. A lot of the stuff on Cadillac Respect, it’s from back then but it doesn’t get old.
And that’s what I try to bring forth in my brand of music. If it’s not classic material and it just sounds good for this season, then it’s not for me. It’s like how I come to the end result of my sound. “King’s County” doesn’t sound like it’s dated at all in my opinion. That could bang for ten, twenty years the way I sampled it. It’s a Glen Miller record and it was on the Hair Soundtrack. It’s so rare. I’ve never seen it at any expos. If you hear the original and “King’s County,” it will explain everything. I don’t even remember where I got those drums from but there’s a couple of producers who’ve used those drums. I left a couple of beat disks behind in my travels and I think people got a hold of them and I can tell those drums showed up on other records. I don’t remember where the drums on “King’s County” came from but the notes on “King’s County” that I chopped came from Glen Miller on the Hair Soundtrack. But I got a lot of rare records. That’s really all I deal with.
What’s next for you?
Ultimately I may do one more revisit project. I have these ideas of chop CDs whereas I would be sampling and chopping Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and Kiss. I’m a Kiss freak. And have it like Pink Floyd Meets Hip-Hop. I’m thinking of some concepts and some mash-up CDs along those lines. Other than that, if you hear track fifteen on Cadillac Respect, you’ll hear “Pink Chicken.” Those are my vocals. I rap too and if somebody steps to me with the right mathematics I would like to do an album with guests. I wouldn’t rap on every track but I would produce every track and do all the interludes. Hopefully that happens but if not, I’m fine in the background playing the beats.
Download Cadillac Respect here.