I’m good. I feel great. Today’s one of those email and conference call days. I haven’t gotten to the part of my job that I like yet, but it’s all good.
You just released The Beat Tape Volume 1. How do you feel about the way it came out?
It’s what the title is. I wanted to give this out to the MCs I wanted to work with and my fans so they could see what I’ve been working on. The last five years, it’s been a real priority for me to really get on these beats. It’s something that I’m really passionate about. Most people know me for my DJing background, which I'm very proud of, but it’s a double-edged sword. They think I can only cut. I juggle beats on those turntables, but I can do it in the studio too. The energy I used to put into battling Roc Raida and Q-Bert, I’m taking that energy and putting it into sampling and making beats. It’s a highly competitive field, but I’m trying to do it uncut, how I want to do it. Sometimes trying to play the game at a major label level is very creatively stifling, so I’m trying to do it how I want to do it and put out the music the way I want to. I’m trying to wrap people’s heads around the fact that I do more than cut it up.
Did you make these beats specifically for the project?
A lot of them were just beats that I had. Some were newer and some were older. There might be something as old as two or three years on there that was just collecting dust. I picked the beats more on the tip of trying to show my whole range and sound. I wanted it to be something that people could pop into their car and listen to. I want DJs to listen to it and use it as instrumentals when MCs are rocking beats. I tried to approach it from a DJ perspective with the listeners in mind. When I first sat down with Nature Sounds to do an instrumental project, I was going to give them 10 instrumentals that were 3 minutes long. When I make a beat tape, I’m not trying to bore people to death. I don’t put beats on there longer than 1:40 at the most. After 32 bars, you get the picture. I wanted to give that experience to the listener too. I got 32 beats on here that are kind of like teasers. I listen to instrumental albums like regular albums and sometimes they can get boring. I wanted to keep this spontaneous and keep it moving while hitting all those angles we talked about.
Were you able to show other sides of Babu that you couldn’t on Dilated albums or your Duck Season compilations?
Yeah. I’m a beat student. For me, really approaching the production and beat-making world, it was like starting over for me. I got to the top level at the DJing level. That just became a normal feeling for me, being on a world-class level. Beat-making, I was starting at square one. I definitely want people to realize the range that I have. I have beats that could be more R&B with a vocalist and then I can make some grimy drums for MOP. I’m just into making records from records and keeping that whole style of production alive. I would love for fans to recognize my range, but like you said, my previous outings with Dilated and Duck Season is my bread and butter. But I would love to see my beats reach other places. I would love to work with a vocalist and see where I could take my sound. I still love making beats at my crib late at night, with my headphones on like I’m back in my mom’s house.
Were beats like “Two In The Damn” more experimental for you?
Definitely. With Dilated, Ev and Rak definitely get first dibbs on anything I make. I run it by them if I think they’ll like it. I feel like depending on the mood I’m in that day, I might make some real gangster-ass sounds one day and then the next day a beat that sounds like it needs a female singer on it. I wouldn’t say it’s easier, but I would say it’s more natural for me to make a beat for Dilated. When I’m making beats, I’m thinking in terms of MCs and leaving space for the vocals and really building ideas off the beats.
I would say “Two In The Damn” was more of my experimental side. There’s a lot of double-time hi-hats and more energy than the usual beats. I just do it like I feel. I don’t just jack records. I try to put a little bit of everything into my sound.
Was “Dee On” a tribute to J.Dilla?
I wouldn’t say it was a tribute. It was one of those occasions where we had the same sample. I had been sitting on that beat for three or four years. Just Blaze made a beat with that for Usher too. I know a lot of people probably jumped on that one. I’m heavily influenced by Dilla and similar minds think alike. I remember even Khrysis played me a beat that he used with that same sample. I love hearing how fools hear samples and reinterpret them.
If The Beat Tape Volume 1 was the soundtrack to a movie, how would the movie go?
I guess the movie would be a drama, man. It would be a drama with a love story in it, interwoven somehow. And there would be a little bit of gangsterism going on in the movie too. I see a lot of nighttime and a lot of cityscape. I don’t know what the movie’s about, but it’s most likely a crime-drama with some bitch involved and there’s some action and suspense with a little twist at the end.
When you’re making beats, do you know how you want the finished version to sound?
For any production, at least before I try to present it to somebody, I try to have a structure laid out, like where the bridge and chorus is along with the intro. I might have scratching on it. And then as far as the ideas, I write song titles in my 2way and scratch ideas. I might throw something out and give the MC the idea I had for it. I think that’s the part of production that I’ve been really trying to focus on. I’ve been trying to get technically nicer and sonically better. That’s a big part of it, being able to get with another MC and create an awesome vibe to where the artist feels inspired to spit on the track. It’s about making beats and throwing them up against the wall.
I had a beat for Ev on his The Weatherman LP called “The Things You Do” and the sample is saying, “Don’t you change the things you do.” I said to Ev, “Yo, you have fans hollering at you on the internet and at the shows telling you what to do. Make a song about their advice, good and bad and then tell how you’re going to let it go in one ear and right out the other and do what’s in your heart.” I had the idea and he filled in the lyrics. But every song is not a story. Every song is in a different universe and sometimes artists already have lyrics ready. Sometimes I already have the scratches ready. There’s no right or wrong way to approach it. It’s about what comes out in the end.
How much attention did you pay to the sequencing of The Beat Tape Volume 1?
I went through my files and just picked beats that I felt would be good on the CD in general. I thought they had a place. I would put 40 beats up in a Pro Tools session and I arranged it from there. I focused on the energy and bringing it up and down and back up. I thought about styles and techniques. I didn’t want too many songs in a row with similar drums or all soul vibes in a row. I also wanted to keep the emotional level up too for the people who aren’t about the technical side of things. I wanted to make it something you could pop in for a long drive and just zone out. I was constantly changing the order. I would ride with it for a couple days, then take something off and add something. I spent the good portion of two weeks just listening to it and making sure it was right. I didn’t want to make it too long or too short. I wanted to make it just right.
How would you feel if artists rhymed over these beats for their mixtapes or demo?
I would love it. I’m all for it by all means. As a DJ, I do that all the time. I get the hot instrumentals and have fools spit. That’s one of the underlying reasons for The Beat Tape. It’s a competitive market. Not everyone’s Scott Storch or the Alchemist. I’m sitting on all these beats and I want to put them out. I’m going to make my own lane. I’m not just going to give out beat-CDs and cross my fingers. I’m over it. I’m not going to play that game. I’m just going to play my own game with this. If people want to work, that’s cool. If not, I have my own camp. I’m blessed to have Defari, Ev and Rak, Strong Arm Steady and Planet Asia. I’m blessed. I want people to hear these beats and have them create a buzz and have people become more interested in my work.
Are the beats on The Beat Tape a preview of how the new Dilated Peoples album will sound?
I think this is kind of a preview as to what I’m on, personally, as a producer. It’s probably more of a prelude to what’s in store for the next Duck Season and what’s in store for my production sound. A lot of people are already picking beats off there and they’re turning into songs. AG made a song out of one of the songs for Duck Season. Verbal Threat took a song off for their album. A beat’s a beat. It’s not really a song until you put vocals on it and try to build a complete piece.
How’s the new Dilated album coming?
To be honest with you, right now, we’ve all just finished our agreement with Capitol, so we’re off the label happily. Evidence just dropped his album and Rakaa is getting his tracks together. We have a Dilated DVD coming out called The Release Party. It’s been 10 years in the making with our own personal video footage along with some professional video work. It’s about our years on Capitol all the way up to our last album 20/20. We have some unreleased jams that were never released. We’re going to be putting that out to keep our name alive. In the meantime you’re going to see the Duck Season LP and Evidence will be on tour. We hope to return to the lab sometime in the next few months and come out in 2008.
Capitol restrained us because they always had first dibbs on everything we did and I don’t think Evidence or Rakaa wanted to sign for another six years to Capitol. That’s why we called the DVD “The Release Party.” We don’t have the pressure of having hundreds of thousands of dollars riding on this project. We’ve always had an independent mind and we were always doing things our way. Now we’re going to see more cheese off our sales and show tickets versus when we had all those hands in the pot. There was a lot of good and bad. Now we’re free and we’re out and about doing our thing. I don’t know how our next album is coming out. We could end up on ABB, which is our longtime home anyway. Regardless of what happens next, we’re working and we’re not broken up. A lot of people thought we broke up, but I’ll be on tour with them all summer. Dilated is not broken up. We’re just at the point in our careers where we can show that there are three different individuals in the group. We’ve taken this time to build up our individual identities and I think it makes the team even stronger.
A lot of great producers have said that you need to be a DJ before you start producing. How does being a DJ help you produce?
That used to be important. When I think about classic production, I’m thinking of Marley Marl, the 45 King, DJ Premier and the early Dr. Dre, which was a very DJ-influenced sound. It was about taking records and flipping them. DJing is the backbone of my production. It’s what I do. Even if I make a track that’s more live and not sampled, I always keep it with some kind of DJ element that I consciously bleed in there. I don’t think you have to be a DJ to be a successful producer nowadays. The sound is changing. Scott Storch and Pharrell aren’t in direct lineage to the 45 King, Marley Marl and Diamond D. Pharrell is more like a Teddy Riley to me and Scott Storch is more of an all-around musician. The umbrella that covers hip-hop beats is very broad now. It can be just a finger-snap. It all depends on where you stand, but I think you understand what I’m talking about when I talk about classic hip-hop production. It’s still rooted in samples. You also can’t just be looping up shit and putting it out anymore. It’s a funny thing. I like all the sounds and I don’t want to sound like an old dinosaur, but there’s nothing like dusty vinyl and taking a sample and making it into something.
Has the way you make beats changed over the years?
Definitely. To be honest with you, I’m still on the ASR-10 with my Zip drive. The last five years, I’ve been on the road so much and I’ve had to switch gears and learn how to work on the road. The biggest change is going to my laptop and being able to work on the midi control though my Mbox. I learned how to set up shop anywhere, from the airplane to the hotel to backstage. It’s incredible. There’s never a dull moment for me on the road now. Downtime is work time for me now. It’s incredible for me. You used to have to carry a 70-pound keyboard around with you. The ASR-10 is like a ’67 Caddy. It’s nice and you like to drive it, but my laptop and Reason is like the 2007 Ferrari. It’s so advanced from everything to saving a beat to the power I have…There’s no limitation on sample time. Chopping and cutting has never been easier.
I can’t front, it stills feels good to be on the ASR-10. It’s my bread and butter. I close my eyes and it’s an extension of my fingers. I like to stay up with what’s coming out but I always want to make shit that will impress my forefathers. I hope that when a Preem or Marley Marl hears my shit, they can relate to it and they say that I am carrying the torch. I try to keep it classic but at the same time I want to compete. I’m still a student at this. I’m still learning and I’m still building my talents up.
What equipment do you use today?
Today I have this Korg 49 controller. I have that hooked up to Reason and I use that. I endorse Propellerhead and I do conferences on that. That goes everywhere with me. I throw that in my backpack and go. I have the ASR-10 and a Korg Triton. I have a MicroKorg keyboard and a Roland Phantom. I have Pro Tools on my desktop and Pro Tools on my laptop. I make the beats on my ASR-10 or Reason and then I do the tracking and mixing in Pro Tools. And the records are the essence of it all. Even if it’s one lick or one kick off a record, it all starts there.
How’s the new Defari album coming?
He’s really prolific. He’s working on his solo album now and I have a couple of joints on there. Me and him are also working on our next Likwit Junkies album. We’ve already knocked out 14 or 15 joints for that. We get up every Monday and Thursday from 10am – 3pm. We’re trying to make like 30 joints and use the best ones. That’ll come out in 2008 on ABB. That’s coming out good. There’s nothing like working with Ev and Rak, but when you work with a group for so long, it’s nice to work with other people. Me and Defari have great chemistry. It’s real spontaneous and we’re real on top of detail at the same time. We try to make real contemporary music and have a real flare to it with a real classic sound. We laid our foundation on our first LP, The LJ’s and we’re trying to follow that one up with the new one, Blood, Sweat, Tears. That’s coming out in early 2008, definitely.
How’s your compilation Duck Season Volume 3 coming?
That’s the main thing on my plate right now. I’m excited. I have a lot of tracks I’m working on that I have to mix. I have MF Doom, the Beatnuts, Sean Price, Little Brother, Dilated Peoples, a new Likwit Junkies, Percee P, Wildchild, Medaphoar, a Felt song, which is Murs and Slug together and I’m waiting to hear back from R.A. the Rugged Man on a track. Making a compilation is hard because you’re not working with just one entity. You’re working with a whole lot so you have a lot of half-songs done. I’m shooting to have that out by late September if I’m lucky. It’s coming out this year, for sure. It’s been a long time since the last Duck Season. The lead single is out already, “Fan Mail” with Little Brother, Joe Scudda and Darien Brockington. The other side is “Truth Be Told” featuring the Likwit Junkies. That’s been out and we’re starting the buzz slowly. I’m going to release another 12” and then the album will come out in September and we’ll see what happens.
Are you still working with the Beat Junkies today?
We’re going to have our album coming out next year. We came out around the same time as the X-ecutioners and the Skrtch Piklz and we never managed to get ourselves together to make our own LP. We’re going to do that. The LP is still untitled but you’re going to see a Beat Junkies LP. It’s not just us scratching and it’s not a mixtape. Me and my dawgs are alive and well. It’s just that everyone has their hands in different things. Right now, J-Rocc is out DJing with Guilty Simpson and Percee P. Melo-D has his weekly gig at the Hard Rock in Vegas every Saturday night. Chalk is around and Shortkut is probably out in Thailand. We’re just trying to get some time as soon as this deal is straight to do the album. We still DJ the LA night scene on some classic hip-hip shit. The Beat Junkies are still here.
As far as putting out music, you’ve been real quiet recently. How hard is it to always have something new coming out and keeping your name out there?
I think for me, it’s something that I’ve always had in the back of my head. I’ve always been very conscious of my exposure. I’ve been lucky to have always had Dilated Peoples on my plate. I did the LJ’s album and then we did the Dilated album 20/20. Whenever I do Dilated, I pretty much put everything else on hold. With our campaign running, I’m not even home. I’m out for four months. That goes along with how much I can get myself out there. I also have to be aware of how much I put myself out there. I’m working on some reissues as well. I have a long running of scratch records and I have some things going on with Nature Sounds. It’s kind of trying when I’m trying to be in two places at once.
I’m blessed to have all these different things I associate myself with and all these different lanes. When I rep for the Beat Junkies, I still rep for Dilated. They all work with each other in this cool cross-marketing sort of way. I think with my solo thing, it’s really important for me to wake people up with The Beat Tape. A lot of people love me just for the DJing or just because of Dilated. Now I have to bring them all together and let them know where my head has been at and where I am as a solo artist. I didn’t just want to throw Duck Season out. The last one came out in 2004 and my plan now is to start with The Beat Tape and getting back into everyone’s consciousness. I have the Dilated DVD coming too and I’m blessed for that. All these little things all help and work together for me. My only problem is sometimes I wish there were two me’s or eight days in a week.
I think playing below the radar is a big factor in my exposure. I still feel like in this industry, I’m still on the underdog side of things. I think that’s why people gravitate towards me. We’ve never been like the Black Eyed Peas or had any gigantic success like that. I’m comfortable playing at the major label level. I’m comfortable doing it independently too, below the radar and not having to clear samples and not having to worry about the plaques on the wall. All you have to worry about is the quality of music and that’s what I want to do. Everything’s relative. As long as I can stay in tune with what’s going on, I’m more than happy and that’s what keeps me inspired and keeps me going.
What advice would you offer to up-and-coming DJs and producers?
By nature, the DJs are the students and historians of this culture. Study who your idols looked up to. Study your idol’s idols and know your history and know your past. Know how you got there. Keeping it real and all that shit is all out the window, as weird as it is. I come from an era where biting was not cool. You couldn’t just take a person’s rap and change a couple words and have it be cool. I come from the era where if your name even sounded like someone else, you were out. If your beats sounded like someone else, you got excommunicated. It’s like Bizarro World now. I’m not complaining. I’m blessed to be making music for who I’m relative too.
Have you ever thought about leaving the game?
Yeah, definitely, man. Especially when we were on our grind at Capitol. It was probably a low point in my career. I can’t say enough about how being on a major label sucks the love out of what you do. We got out just before all the love was gone. I say this all the time, but as soon as I’m not happy with what I’m doing, I’ll quit and use it as a hobby and go find a job. You’re always going to run into contradictions when you mix art and commerce. I’m literally torn as an artist at times. I remember being between Neighborhood Watch and 20/20 and how much pressure the label was putting on us to do a song and dance. Whatever would make it easier for them to sell a record, that’s what they cared about. They didn’t care about our history or why they signed us. That was all out the window. I’m back to loving it and I can’t express how exciting it is that we can all get back, as a group, to what we love and do what we want to without the pressure or restraints from A&Rs and other people telling us how to make an album. I try to take it back to when I was making mixtapes in my mom’s room. I loved it the most then. I want my new music to reflect that love. My love for this is so strong and that’s the main reason why I still do it. What I love is what takes care of my family and what will put my kids through school. But anytime there’s art and commerce mixed together, there’s going to be conflicts. I’m all good with it. I’m in the business of selling music, but I’m still doing what I love to do. As long as I have my lane, I’m happy with what I’m doing. I’m not trying to produce every motherfucker and be on the cover of every magazine. I really do this because I don’t like to listen to the radio and I need something to listen to in the car. This is what’s important to me after taking care of my seeds.
What do you want to say to everybody?
To anybody that’s supported me or my crews in any sort of way, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate any of the support that we have gotten over the years. And to the fans, I’ve been notorious for not answering emails and not being involved in the Dilated site. With the advent of MySpace, I stay in touch with everybody and I answer every email. The support of the people means the world to me. Look out for the Dilated music. We’re going to continue to bring the real shit.