You’ve said in the past that you feel the link between the MC and DJ has been cut. What made you say that?
It’s hard for me to pinpoint it but it’s been happening for a long, long time. I would say probably around…I really started seeing it cracking and breaking apart around 2001 and 2002. The thing is you started getting your producers becoming superstars like your Pharrell’s and your Timbaland’s and Kanye came up after that and the MCs started doing things completely not involving the DJs in anything they’re doing expect as a token tour fixture.
Time to go on the road? Hire some DJ with a little name. They were never really involved in general. I can’t say everyone but I can say in general. The people who get their records played on MTV and BET and they’re all over the internet and they’re making big budget videos, they don’t have any DJs in there unless it’s a token. The DJ used to be a fixture. The DJ used to be at the forefront. The most successful groups in history have all had a DJ be a part of that process. Even people that didn’t have a DJ as a part of the group, like Nas, it took DJ Premier and DJ Pete Rock to make Nas what he is. It took Jazzy Jeff to make the Fresh Prince. DJ Scratch became an integral part of EPMD after they took off. Look at A Tribe Called Quest. There are so many more that have DJs as the foundation for their success. When that stopped, I can’t really pinpoint it, but I would say it’s around six or seven years ago.
Does having different producers on an album instead of one producer’s consistent sound also hurt the presence of the DJ?
No because it’s good to have a different sound on every track. Unless you get a producer who’s able to change things up a little bit and make things not sound the same, then it’s good to have different producers involved as long as you can make a cohesive sound for the album. The problem now is that you have all these producers getting on board and everything sounds different and people can’t make sense of it.
I think it’s good to have variety but the best producers have always been DJs or they learned from DJing. Now everything is so readily accessible, technology-wise, that anyone can be a producer. Go buy some equipment and bam, you’re a rap producer. The variety is good but the foundation has to be there.
How much does a song lose when it’s put together via email and phone calls?
That has something to do with it but you’re dealing with different aspects of talent here. How talented is your producer? Can he take an .aiff file and slam it into a session and make a great record? That really depends on the beats, the MC and the producer. There has to be at least some connection between that to make it happen. Pro Tools is exactly what it says it is – it’s for pros. It’s really easy to use but the people who get the maximum benefit from it are professionals who know how to manipulate it and how to make that sound better in Pro Tools.
I recorded some songs for my record doing the back and forth thing but I was on the phone with these guys telling them maybe they should do this different or maybe they should change this line or if their vocals were distorting. There was always something there so I could get the record that I wanted. There are a lot of beatmakers around. The term “producer” gets thrown around loosely because a lot of these guys are just beatmakers. They’re beat-making factories. They’ll sit around making 10 beats a day and they’ll get sent out and they have no connection with making the record. It’s the same thing with the DJ. The producer is just as important as the DJ. They have to be involved with the artist to make an important record.
How important was it to you to produce, arrange and be completely hands-on with your album?
That was all-important. If I had it any other way it would defeat the purpose of making the record. Then I would just be a DJ Khaled. I would just be a glorified A&R, a guy that had a little bit of money to throw around and pay these artists and I just nod my head and say “that’s pretty hot right there.” These cats don’t produce and they don’t really get involved and then they make pop records and they sell because they’re paying people to do that. I can’t stand on the foundation that I am a producer and I am a DJ and then not do either one on my record. I oversaw every single aspect of this record from its inception to the artwork to recording. I wanted to make a milestone album and this album should be a benchmark for not only DJ culture but for what an album sounds like when you do have a DJ supervising and producing a record from start to finish. It makes a big difference and I think people would be shocked when they find out they’ve forgotten what that sounds like.
What was the biggest challenge you had recording your album King of the Decks?
The biggest challenge in the actual making of the record was just coordinating the sheer amount of artists and talent that I had involved in it. I have people from New York, Detroit, Boston and from out here. I got somebody on there from Switzerland. I have quite an array of artists on there and it’s really tough to make sure that everyone turns in their stuff to my satisfaction. Then I have to throw it in there and mix it and make it happen. Just overseeing the production elements of this record was the toughest part. Not really dealing with the artists on a personal level but dealing with the making of the music on an administrative level was tough, like setting up sessions and having them send me backs the sessions and having them be right.
Did you get everything you wanted for King of the Decks?
I did except there’s one track with Redman and it’s actually done and it’s just bad business that prevented that from happening on many different levels. It’s nobody’s fault. Things just got swept up in the business of it all and Def Jam never cleared Redman to appear and things kind of fell off to the side a little bit. The record that I wanted to put him on got made anyway. I just made it without him. I really would have loved to have Redman on there because Red is definitely one of my top 6 or 7 artists of all time. That’s why I really wanted to make this happen. And what he did for the record sounds incredible. Hopefully one day it will see the light of day. I wanted a Little Brother record and I got a record with Big Pooh and some of the guys who are really coming up beneath him like Chaundon and Jozeemo. But I wanted a Little Brother record and I didn’t get that so I didn’t put that record on there. Kweli was actually ready to go in the studio and I kind of stopped it because by the time we got around to working the logistics out and when he got off the road, I had 30 songs recorded and I didn’t really think what he would add would add that much more. The record was almost completed. But these are all artists I would work with again in the future because I’m huge fans of them.
How did your involvement in The Wake Up Show help you get what you wanted from artists?
It helped in a lot of ways but a lot of people and a lot of these artists, to be real with you, don’t even know the show is still on the air anymore. We’ve been bouncing around for a long time and we’re still here. Anybody who knows my history, I’ve met them at one time and they know who I am. I’ve done a lot of other things outside of The Wake Up Show. I’ve been in and out overseas and in clubs. It all stems from me getting into the business through The Wake Up Show and there’s no doubt about that. The Wake Up Show was like a college for me and I was able to parlay that into albums before this one and mixtapes and all of that. People know me thought The Wake Up Show. A lot of artists know me through the show. I made a lot of connections through the show.
Obviously the show was an integral part to me putting this album together but I’ve done three or four albums before this. I’ve done beats and scratches for artists before on here and been on the road with them and so on and so forth. Being on the radio and being a part of The Wake Up Show was instrumental for me being able to get with these artists. I’ve been in the business for so much longer doing other things that it’s definitely a huge part of the puzzle but it’s not the ultimate.
How much work goes into The Wake Up Show today?
The way it is now is kind of crazy. The greatest part about it really was that there was no planning. We just all showed up and the three of us had a great chemistry together. We all loved what we did and we were all masters at it by the time we came together. We just happened to be in the right place at the right time. We represented the culture properly so everyone gravitated towards us. We made a lot of connections and we changed the show up and we changed the production formula. Working with them and why it’s so easy is because we all love it so much and it makes it that much easier. When you’re really on the same page with everybody in that sense, everything else falls together. I’ve worked with them planning concerts and tours and planning albums and mixtapes and all kinds of stuff.
Really it’s been a great business experience as well as close friendships because we all love this so much. As for the way it is now it’s kind of crazy because Sway is in new York and to be honest with you he doesn’t really come around much anymore. It’s really like me and Tech trying to find new ways to push the envelope because it was a three-piece puzzle and without one piece being there we had to kind of make up for it. That was a challenge initially and while I would say he’s still a part of the show and he always will be, really it’s on us to keep this torch lit and with the way that commercial radio is right now, it’s kind of a struggle and a fight to do what we want to do every single week because we don’t play what everyone else plays. We don’t follow a playlist and we do what we want. They don’t like that. We’ve always been a thorn in everyone’s side and we have been like that for the last six or seven years. Working with them, I would say if it was two or three other people in the world, it would have fallen apart a long time ago.
It’s hard to make a lot of money doing radio. How important is it to have passion for what you’re doing?
That’s what it’s all about. There’s no money in radio unless you’re Steve Harvey or one of these morning show hosts that gets syndicated nationally. That’s why we all have other hustles. We do this because we love it. We love to play good hip-hop music and push the envelope and represent hip-ho0p when no one else is. We need that and we thrive off of that and a lot of DJs hate us for that because they feel like they can’t but we made a choice. I easily feel like I could have been one of the DJs not doing this for the love and just trying to cash out. That would be easy for me because I’m better than 90% of the people on the air anyway. That’s an easy route for me. I choose to do this because I love what I do. The music that I make is great. I love it. The people that I hang around with are great. I got great relationships and I don’t ever have to worry about someone doing me wrong or getting caught up in this business because I know who’s surrounding me and that comes from doing what you love and surrounding yourself with people who are doing what they love.
What’s your best memory from The Wake Up Show so far?
There’s so many because I’ve been a part of the show for 10 years. That’s two whole radio careers. The average career in radio is five or six years. There are so many different moments. The first time I ever went up to the show is an incredible moment in so many different ways. But I had an opportunity to be one of the first people to really witness the skills of Eminem before he was anybody and before anybody knew who he was. We saw that with a lot of different artists. The list is so long and it’s still happening today. We see so many of these artists who are ridiculously talented before they blow and before they get their deals. It’s great to be a part of that and every week is a great week for me because I’m playing records that no one else is playing and that no one else is hearing. You can’t hear it nowhere else except the grimmest internet radio station or the super-grimy college radio station. So that’s a great moment for me. We had Biggie on the show. ‘Pac was on the show. Jay and Nas have been on the show. Anybody who is anybody has been on the show. Those are all incredible moments that I’ve had in my career on The Wake Up Show.
The Wake Up Show is known for exposing new artists. What do you look for when you hear a new artist for the first time?
It’s kind of hard to describe and to pinpoint it. It takes a good ear. It takes a DJ ear. If you’re not a DJ and you’re just a guy who calls yourself a DJ, then you’re not going to understand what I’m talking about. You know there's just something about it from the way the beat and the lyrics flow together or it’s just the lyrics or it’s just the beat. There’s something about it that makes you think it’s the shit and that it’s a great record. You know where it will work. You get that mind working and something sparks in your brain when you hear it and 99% of the stuff that’s coming out now is mindless. It doesn’t give me any feeling at all, even in the club when I feel it. It doesn’t give anyone the feeling. They have to be drunk on the dance floor to feel the songs.
I want to play something that’s going to spark somebody’s brain cells when they’re driving down the street or walking or when they’re checking for something. Those are the artists that I look for – somebody that’s saying something. I don’t care what you’re saying but you gotta be saying something and you gotta be saying it well. It’s 2008 and I’m not going for any of that ABC rap. I have very high standards and now if you have high standards, there’s a term for that – it’s called “hater.” If you have standards and play music that’s better than most then you’re called a hater. I’ll be glad to be called a hater because I love what I do and I’m happy to play all of the records that I play.
How did you go about remaking the classic King Tee song “Played Like A Piano”?
When I got the opportunity to make the record with the artists I did, I think that was a beautiful thing because each artist played their part. Bishop played King Tee’s part and I told Crooked I to do the Ice Cube thing. I told him to use elements from his verse. I told Styliztic Jonez to just murder it. I replayed all of the instruments from that original sample. Everything that’s on there is replayed live. I just had a great time making that record and I was honored to have it come out so well.
Did you fee any pressure when remaking the song?
Hell yeah! Hell yeah! I wanted King Tee to hear it and say that it was tight and he did. He told me he needed to get a copy of that and what’s up with a remix. The response from that record has been great. Some people who make classic records over again don’t do it justice and I really hate that so of course there’s major pressure, especially because it’s a West Coast classic and if I did that wrong I wouldn’t be able to hold my head up in these streets.
What makes for a good hip-hop cover song in 2008?
The person who hears it for the first time and doesn’t know that it’s a remake of a record and it’s also a record where the diehard fan of the original can hear the record and love it for different reasons. People might not know about “Funky Piano” because the original was called “Played Like a Piano.” When the artist hears the beat that’s bumping and that it’s all quality, they might not know that it’s a remake. That’s a good version. It gives you something different. It’s not a straight cover of it. Do it justice. Give it that 2008 twist. Give it that little something that’s going to make it your own remake of it. I went off at the end and played the keys and scratched the exact notation that the piano keys were playing in. That’s something that didn’t appear in the original version and everything in the original version was sampled. And I got 2008 artists on it and did it in the same format. You have to give the people something new when you go and remake something old. You can’t just do the same thing. It doesn’t sound right.
What track on King of the Decks are you most proud of?
I think honestly the finest song on that album is the song with KRS (“The DJ”). That’s the only song on the album that I told myself if I couldn’t make the song with KRS I wasn’t going to make it at all, period. I hadn’t even finished the beat before I called KRS. I called him and asked him if he was down to do this and when he said yes, I said all right, now I’m going to finish the beat. That was “The DJ” and that was the record for my album. That was going to define it. I heard the beat and the sample and knew that was the joint. I called him up and set it up, finished the beat and that’s a career highlight. I’ve seen so many things and been so many different places but that is definitely one of the top 3 moments in my career of all-time.
And I saw his work ethic and how he works in the studio. The dude is a master. He is unbelievable. People say Jay-Z in the studio is crazy and he doesn’t write it and it’s all one take and all of that. It’s all on that level for me working with this guy. I don’t know what other people’s experiences have been but I was demanding of him. I called him to get a song and do my record for my album, not to get a quick 16. He knew that and he appreciated the direction that I gave him and I appreciate what he did for me. It was a brilliant experience in the studio.
How critical can you be with MCs you’re working with?
That just comes from your people skills, really, and it also has to do with the respect that an artist might have for you. If you’re a nobody straight off the block and you’re paying a legend to come and spit it out, he’s not going to listen to you. You have to know what you’re talking about. I was demanding and you can ask any artist on the album, I was demanding of them. I chased them down for all of the paperwork and all the photo images that I needed to use. I was very demanding and every artist will vouch for that. I made these cats work in the booth and the difference between being a beatmaker and a producer is that – a beatmaker is not going to be able to finesse a great performance out of a legend. You have to have reasons why you want them to redo that line. You have to convince them or the artist just has to have the utmost respect for you. There’s a mutual respect between the MC and the DJ.
If you’re just some chump off the street, there’s no connection. You have to already have that built up before you go to the studio. And you can’t be an asshole about it. It was nerve-racking for me to tell KRS to do it over again or maybe we should do it this way but you have to do it and you have to overcome your anxiety about that because this is your one shot. You get that one shot and you’re making that record, you better do it right or you’re fucking up. You’re failing yourself and you’re failing the MC that you’re working with because the two of you can make a classic record and your ass is on the line if you don’t hold your ground. You have to say, “I want you, KRS-One, to make my record” and they’ll be on board with you. They want that shit to come out hot. I had a session with an artist today and he told me he appreciated my feedback when I didn’t like what he did. He said most of the time people tell him it’s hot and then he gets home and hates it and hates the people for telling him it was hot and then the artist is chasing the producer because he’s not keeping it real with him. There’s a fine line between keeping it real and keeping it wrong.
What was it like working with DJ Q-Bert on “Invaders from the Planet Sqratch”?
That was awesome. That’s one of those career highlights for me. The dude is a genius. I don’t even know if there’s a term to describe what he is. I truly think that dude is an alien. He has some kind of alien blood in him that enables him to do what he does. I mean, I’m pretty damn good at what I do and he’ll tell you I am too. He’s humble and cool and he just loves what he does and he’s a hip-hop head and he’s happy to be a part of it. I went to his house and I hadn’t talked to him in a year…I tried to connect with him for my last album and I couldn’t connect with him. It didn’t go down. I told him I needed him on my album and he said he was on it. I got to his crib.
He started warming up and I told him what I wanted to do and after that we went and ate some sushi because the dude is a major sushi fanatic. We started ordering stuff that wasn’t on the menu. He started talking to the sushi chef like he knew what was up and I had no clue. He’s a mad sushi fanatic. So we went back and he was trying to get in the groove and he had to warm up. He wanted an hour and he said he would be able to do anything that I needed. So I went and played pool in the crib with his homie and I listened to him warm up and he literally took and hour and he was ready and the madness continued from right there. He started putting it down and I was like the director.
At this point it was just a skeleton track. None of the sound effects that are on there were on that. The drums were totally different. What I took to him is nothing like the final product. He’ll tell you. I took the raw material back to the studio and edited it all up and just sounds incredible. When I walked in the door I heard those magic words – “Yo, I’ve been working on this new scratch that I just invented.” Yo, that’s exactly what I want to hear come out of Q-Bert’s mouth when I come up to his crib. He laid it down and I don’t even know what he calls it. I think it’s the “Reverse Laser Scratch.” He told me he hasn’t done that scratch since he saw me. He made it up that night for me, laid it down and never really did it again. I’m telling you, I’m getting A-game performances from everybody on this record. I didn’t just have Q-Bert scratch on my record for 10 minutes. I’m in the trenches telling these people what I want and the creative process is really strong with me. That was something that was an incredible experience.
And the crazy shit is that I stayed in his crib and he had people working on his crib the next morning. I woke up the next morning to motherfuckers installing a bathtub in the room that I was staying in. They were hacking and smashing and breaking all kinds of dry wall. They apologized but it was a crazy thing but the outcome was incredible. There are two legendary DJs connecting on this track and that had to happen for sure.
Can you take us through the making of a DJ Revolution beat?
Basically I gotta get inspired. If I’m not inspired by something I can’t do it. I get inspired by all kinds of stuff. I might get inspired by something that I hear on TV in the background or a record I’m flipping through or something on the radio or an old mixtape or something like that. But if I’m sampling, I just dig through until I hear a loop or I chop something up or replay it. And I usually get the music done before I do any of the drums. They usually get programmed later and they definitely get finalized later because they’re the most important thing for me in the track. The drums have to be cracking! They’re the glue that holds everything together so I make sure that they get worked on a lot. So I chop up the sample and get a basic beat pattern going and then fill in the drums and then I do a lot of post production. That’s what gives me my edge because I know my way around all of my software and I know how to make my shit sounds really, really big. That’s my edge as far as sampling goes.
When I’m replaying something live or from scratch, that’s a totally different story. I can do something different with the drums. There’s not really a set formula that I have for making a beat. I might get inspired by making a drum loop but nine times out of 10 I would say I got the music done first and then do the drums and then polish everything up but I always make sure that the drums are beating.
What equipment do you use?
I do everything inside of Logic Pro on a Mac. I don’t use any outboard samplers or any outboard keyboards. It’s all locked in inside of Logic. I use Reason only to trigger the sounds out of Reason but I run my drums through Logic. I don’t use the Reason sequencer or any of their instruments. I just use their sound library. They have some pretty good sounds in their and I use them as adjectives for what I already have in Logic. I work so quickly in it and I make my sound so big that there’s nothing that I can’t do in Logic. I can find a way to make anything happen in Logic. I use Logic to make all my beats and I use a Mackey analog board to run all my turntables and stuff like that into. I have two Technic 1200’s and a Rain 56 mixer.
You’ve put out some classic old school mixtapes. Are you planning on releasing any new ones?
I have Class of ’87 coming out. I’m doing that all the way up to 2005. And after that there’s no point because it all just went downhill. I got that and I’m doing more production.
Have you ever gotten any negative feedback from the pioneers for the mixtapes?
No because I really, really do those thoroughly. I went to a convention after I first did Class of ’85. I was actually able to put this into Grandwizard Theodore’s hands and Melle Mel’s hands. They said I really did this right and that I didn’t make a stupid little old school mixtape. What I did is a monumental tribute. It’s the music of that year and I did ’85, ’86 and ’87. Class of ’87 is 80 minutes long and there are 50 tracks on it. If I missed something then it must have been obscure because it really is the biggest hits and some of the most slept on records from those years and I mix them in with commercials from those years or sound bytes from big political things that happened that year or movie clips that I use from that year. So it’s really a tribute to that year and hip-hop and what people were doing in hip-hop in that year.
What’s the next move for DJ Revolution?
I’m going to hit the road. I’m going to grab a couple of artists and go on the road and let everyone know what it is when I go and rock a show. This will be the first time that I ever take another artist on the road. I got another mixtape dropping at the top of the year. It’s the next installment in my “Class Of” series. I do music for movies and TV as well. I’m going to keep that rolling. I’m just keeping myself busy and doing what I love and not burning myself out on the club circuit playing the same crap from everybody every week.