An Interview With Pete Rock
Pete Rock needs no introduction. His new album NY's Finest drops on Tuesday. While it might not be a classic on the level of a Soul Survivors or Mecca & The Soul Brother, it's a strong record with occasionally great moments. But buyer beware: Jim Jones yells "floooosssssiiiin'" no less than four times.
Q: You’ve stated that your intent for NY’s Finest was to modernize your classic sound while attempting to retain that ‘grimy boom-bap” music that you helped pioneer. How did you go about achieving this? Was it a matter of you implementing a new philosophy, buying new equipment, a combination of the two?
A: I wanted to have different sounds and for that I used new and upgraded equipment. I work with all-new Akai’s and MPC’s and to get that I had to buy new equipment, new keyboards, new everything. It’s a lot of the old Pete in terms of the choice of records with soul jazz and even reggae samples. But I delved a lot further into those elements. I’m into classical music and classic rock and even soft rock. Hell, even obscure overseas bands that that people haven’t heard of in the states, but are funky as hell over there. Of course, the J.B.’s pioneered that Boom Bap and funk but there were other groups around the world. I listen to Mandrill, Fela Kuti, all the French groups like El Chico. People like that. Oh and I also listen to a lot of Brazilian music.
Q: How was the making of NY’s Finest, a different process in terms of picking guest rappers, as compared to say, Soul Survivors?
A: On those records I was signed to Loud, so I got to pick from Loud’s roster. And Loud had one of the hottest rap rosters in the late 90s. They had Wu, Mobb Deep, Pun, myself, the Cella Dwellas. They was a force to be reckoned with. Steve Rifkin had flipped the entire marketing of rap. He’d been a promotion guy and knew how to run a dope label. Then they went out of business. But I know that for the time they were in business, they certainly accumulated a lot of money for RCA.
This album was about people hearing about me making a record and seeking me out, and also me getting work with other artists that I wanted to work with. It was a feeling of mutual respect. A lot of guys wanted to work with me because of what I’ve done in the game. As for the others, I bumped into Chip Fu on 125th and
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A: I’d like to work with Kanye, Cassidy, TI, Ludacris, 50, Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo, really anyone in G-Unit. I’d like to work with Memphis Bleek. Lil Wayne. There’s so many new artists that I’d like to work with.
Q: Have you ever met Lil Wayne or spoken to him about it?
A: Nah, but I’d like to get at him see what kind of beats he’s into rhyming over. I’ve met Birdman and Juvenile and Mannie Fresh though in the past. They real cool dudes.
Q: You’ve been camped out at Nature Sounds for a minute now. With the record market in steep decline, do you see the possibility of bigger shares for the low overhead, deep fan base indie rap labels like Nature Sounds, Duck Down and to an extent, Koch?
A: Well, some people have the upper hand on the business end and some just don’t. To be successful, you’ve got take yourself to a level higher than the next. If you stay on that level, that’s where y’all be. If you think bigger, you’ll get bigger. Right now, with independent rap, we need to work harder and make opportunities and stretch opportunities.
A: It means more touring and less downloading. And overseeing Internet sales and working to improve them. Like Radiohead, what they did was brilliant. Not to mention, the song they sold to the new NBA Live is one of my favorite joints that they ever did.”
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A: I feel like there’s no way around illegal downloading. There’s so many people you can’t put a hold on it. But you can make sure you know how to use the Internet to sell your records. There’s just no way around people downloading but if you can turn that and use it as a tool instead of seeing it as a bad thing, which it is. Still, make it work for you, utilize it to tell the people how good it is and maybe they’ll want to buy it.”
Q: What did you think about the way Soulja Boy used the Internet and also, what did you think about what GZA had to say about him?
A: I understood where he was coming from. The kind of music we do is from the heart and soul and when we see an artist like Soulja Boy, and this is no disrespect to him, but it’s young hip-hop, it’s so effortless. It’s funny, they probably make those beats in a couple seconds and we put effort and hard work. Our blood, sweat and tears are in our songs. When you listen to the Wu, you get their life story and more. You can feel it. It’s real. It touches your heart.
So yeah, I feel where he’s coming from. We need people in power who know music and control music and what gets radio play. Right now, it’s out of control, whoever is in charge of what rap gets play has a lack of knowledge of the history of the music and what people need for comfort. Nothing’s been the same culturally since 9/11, not to mention that hip-hop has lost a lot of talented dudes. Pimp C, 2Pac, Biggie, Freaky Tah, Big L, Big Pun, Stack Bundles, Soulja Slim, and the rap world took heavy blows with each. With this album, my whole intent was to get people to remember good rap. It’s right here once again and I feel it’s important that I made NY’s Finest, to tell my city to keep their head up as hard as it is. The people of
Q: Does it ever feel to you that the state of hip-hop has been in a semi-state of arrested development since Pac and Biggie died?
A: When they died it was a shock and a huge blow. I was scared, shocked and wondering if this was what we were headed for. 2pac was a very passionate person about his life and his heritage. The same with Big. They were very talented and about to make history in the game. They were two strong forces and they were too strong for each other. I also forgot to mention, J Dilla. He’s one of the most important missing people in the rap game. His loss was tragic but we’re gonna’ keep his music alive.
A: I live in
Q: Do you two kick it a lot?
A: Definitely, he was such a big inspiration to me. I’ve got the utmost respect for that man. If it wasn’t for him having so many accidentally brilliant experiments in the lab, hip-hop would sound very different.
Q: What about Ghost? You guys worked together on Fishscale but nothing since.
A: I actually gave him six beats for Fishscale, but only three made the final album. It’s a matter of talking to his manager and seeing where he’s at.
Q: Obviously, your sound is as
A: I think it’s normal to have change in hip-hop and music in general. Its just seems that the Southerners found a niche in how to do it and found different points to get it heard. Guys like T.I., Outkast and Ludacris are some of the most talented rappers I’ve ever heard and I like The Cash Money Clique, even Master P. I’ve always liked Scarface and some of the talented West Coast guys too. Even though I was a NY rap dude to the death of me, I enjoyed everything. It’s really only the music on the radio that I don’t care for. The songs that don’t teach the kids nothing. That shit is effortless
Q: Like “Chicken Noodle Soup?”
A: Chicken Noodle Soup” is fun kindergarten rap. It’s for young kids and it’s simple so they can understand it and remember it quickly. It’s catchy. You can’t really label it hip-hop, it needs a different name. But this isn’t to say all radio rap is bad, the mix shifts play some good stuff. In NY, the DJ’s do an old school set from to one and at night Funkmaster Flex holds it down at 9.
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Q: So how do you stay current without giving in to the pressure to simplify your sound?
A: It’s just a matter of keeping yourself tuned in to what’s going on around you. Keeping you ears open. I’m always gonna have that Pete Rock sound but I’m always gonna’ update it. There’s not much you can change with music. Everything has been done already but you can mix it all up. You can mix hip-hop with pop, hip hop with rock and afro-pop and reggae.
Q: What direction do you see hip-hop, mainstream or otherwise, traveling in the next five to 10 years?
A: I’m hoping hip-hop will go back into the hands of the people who carved it for hte new generation. A lot of people from my era with the exception of Premier aren’t really making hip-hop beats, at least not the known ones. I’m just grateful and thankful to God for keeping me strong and keeping me interested in music and well aware of the music and what I have to do to be successful.
Q: What about your own future? Do you ever see yourself retiring?
Q: Do you ever talk to the Rza about that?
A: Definitely. We’ve spoken on it and we need to chop it up some more. I have a lot of respect for the way he’s built his name in that field. I’d love to do the score for a Quentin Tarantino film or a Ridley Scott film.
Q: What other stuff do you see yourself doing?
A: I’d like to be a top chef. I like cooking, I like baking shit. It’s similar to producing in a way. I actually watch a lot of food network. I like Barefoot Countessa, Rachel Ray and Emeril, and I like Paula, I pay attention.
Q: What about in music, are there are any goals left?