I’m good. I’m good. I’m just packing. I’m leaving out of the country tomorrow. I’m just trying to get my stuff together.
The Return of the Magnificent has been out for a couple of weeks. Are you happy with how it’s been doing?
Oh, yeah. Definitely. The response is definitely crazy. I think whenever I put out a record, I almost expect nobody to say anything. When people kind of show love or just have any kind of admiration for what you did, you’re definitely happy.
In the liner notes, you wrote about reaching out to everyone you ever wanted to work with. Were you able to get everyone you wanted?
Not really. The first person I reached out to was KRS-One and we couldn’t make that happen due to scheduling conflicts. When he was on the road, I was home and when I was on the road, he was home. It just didn’t happen. Hopefully we’ll make that happen one day.
The worst thing anybody could tell me when I called them up and said I wanted to work with you was “no.”
What did it mean to you to have Big Daddy Kane and Method Man work with you on The Return of the Magnificent?
I’ve known Meth and Kane for awhile. It was definitely cool. These are guys that I wanted to work with and we’ve been cool for a long time. It was great.
If you had asked Will Smith for a song, would he have done it?
Yeah. You know what it is? It’s timing. Me and Will have been talking about doing some stuff, but it’s really hard to get him to do it when he’s doing a movie because he gets so into the movie. The way that he is, he’s not going to do it if he can’t focus the way that he wants to focus.
In the liner notes, you also wrote about how you’re sensitive when it comes to playing beats for MCs. How did that come about?
I look back to when we first started out. I don’t think I was ever cocky, but I think I was at the point where I felt like I could make people like anything I did. As you get older, and I think this is with anybody, your brain comes into play and you start to second-guess everything. Sometimes you don’t like to play beats for people and you hope that people like them. People don’t understand that putting a record together is you putting pieces of yourself on display. You put yourself out there for people to say “I hate that shit” or “I love that shit.” There’s no guarantee to what people are going to say when you put your music out there. You can become very sensitive to that.
It’s funny, because I equate it to 15 or 20 years ago. Back then, I would have jumped from the top step of my mother’s house to the pavement. Today, being in better physical condition than I’ve ever been in my life, I couldn’t do that. My brain won’t let me. I’m thinking, ‘What if I break my ankle? I won’t be able to work.’ What you realize is that the older you get, the more your brain takes control over a lot of stuff. I think that’s what happens when you do these projects.
You and CL Smooth both come from working with legendary groups. What was it like working with him on “All I Know”?
I’ve always been a fan of Pete Rock and CL Smooth. A friend of mine kind of made the suggestion when he asked me if I’d be interested in doing something with CL. It was great because I think that was the one beat that I made specifically for CL. And I actually played him two beats before that and then played that one. I was just really, really happy that he stuck his thumb up in the air like ‘that’s the one.’ He pulled out his pen and started writing.
A lot of the project was cool in just seeing the differences with how people work. Some people are more methodical with the way they approach a record and some people are more spontaneous. Some people just want to sit in the room with the beat for an hour. Just looking at the differences with how people worked was really cool.
Do you feel like you’re still learning new stuff working with artists?
Absolutely! Absolutely. I think that was one of the things that’s kept me going – that I always keep my mind open to new stuff. This is one of those games where no one knows everything. This is a game of longevity and you have to keep your brain and your head open to accept whatever’s new. The whole process to making this album has taught me different approaches and how to deal with different people. That’s a challenge in itself.
What does “Brand New Funk 2K7,” a remake of “Brand New Funk,” with Peedi Crakk mean to you?
That’s like my child. I wanted to do it but I just needed to make sure that it was going to be done right. I wanted to make sure, first and foremost, that it was done by someone from Philadelphia. To me, Peedi was the perfect person. He did it perfectly. He had the perfect mixture of taking the original flow of the record and mixing it with what he does.
Was Peedi aware of everything you’ve done in hip-hop?
He definitely was. Before this song, we had never officially met. That was cool. We had our first face-to-face meeting and we sat down and we talked. That song was done in about three to four sessions. Each session, you kind of get a little bit closer and understand a little bit more. That was really cool, just to get to know where this guy’s head is at. He’s really cool. He has a really deep head on his shoulders and he knows what he wants to do. That, to me, was really cool, just to establish that relationship.
You worked with J-Live again on “Practice.” How is your relationship with him growing?
Working with him is crazy. I wanted him on my record, but when J first came down, he wanted me to do something on his record. Whenever we get together, I play him a bunch of stuff and he ends up picking a bunch of beats and cutting some stuff. We have a really good working relationship. We’re talking about doing an EP or an album together because we’ve done so many songs already. We just need to put something together, go on the road and see what happens.
What are your plans for Twone Gabz?
I go away this week and I come home next week. I’m pretty much home for a minute. We’re planning to just knock his album out. I have about four songs that I cut with him that I didn’t use for the record. Twone is ridiculous. He’s really, really good. We’re just going to sit in the studio for two weeks and in two, two and a half weeks, his record will be done.
How do you work with artists in the studio?
I always give them their space. I’m somebody who’s really big on creative freedom, as long as they don’t go outside the circle. I may draw a big circle of what I want and as long as they don’t go outside of the circle, I’m cool. Part of the reason why I wanted these guys was because I respected their creative control. You want to bring them in and let them be free. To me, that’s what a marriage is about. That’s how I look at every song that you do a collaboration with somebody. It’s like a marriage. I don’t want to come in and tell you how to do your part. You bring your part to the table and I’ll bring mine and we have to fix it so it works together.
Were you in the studio with all the artists for The Return of the Magnificent?
Yes. The only session that wasn’t a face-to-face session was the song with Pos from De La Soul. That was because he was on the road and I was on the road and we needed to get that done. Aside from that, everyone else was in the studio.
How important is it to work directly with the artist today instead of sending files back and forth on the internet?
I love technology and I love the fact that technology gives you the ability where if you need something done from someone in Cali and there are budget and time restrictions, you can do that. I love that. I just don’t think that needs to take the place of the actual recording process of two people vibing together in a room. Unfortunately, I think that’s what happens today. I think all technology that’s used to help something is abused. When we used to record on 24-track tapes, we cared about our tracks. We cared about what was on our tracks. We cared about making sure that we had a really, really good vocal tape so that we could go to the mix. And now, we live in a day with Pro Tools where the concept of everybody is “we’ll fix it later.” Wow. I didn’t look at it to be the quick fix. Not everybody can do bad vocal takes and we’ll just piece them together in the mix. It goes along with people just sending vocal tracks. You have a lot of people who just tell you to send them the beat and they’ll cut the vocal tracks. I didn’t grow up like that. I grew up where we had sessions in the studio and we sat and tried to work it out.
How important is it to have live scratching on your songs?
Just because that’s all a part of me, that was really important for my record. Some records you don’t do it on. On my record, because that’s a really big part of me, I could not not have that. That’s a part of the real essence of hip-hop to me and I try to embody that as much as I can on the tracks.
A lot of producers can’t scratch and in place of scratching hooks, vocal samples are dropped in as hooks via Pro Tools. Is that evolution or a problem?
I don’t look at it as a problem, but I don’t necessarily look at it as evolution I think different people have different methods. I don’t fault anybody for their methods. I just know that that’s not how I do it. And you know what’s crazy? I may do it. I may do it on soul tracks, but I have the option to do it however I choose.
Did you do anything different on The Return of the Magnificent that you didn’t do on The Magnificent?
I wanted to keep it in the same vein as The Magnificent but mature a little bit. I wanted to show a little bit more growth on this one but I didn’t want to give people something completely different from The Magnificent. I just wanted to show people that I matured.
What was the inspiration for the album cover?
That’s a take off of an old Diodato album where he did the exact same thing. That’s a part of the nostalgic theme. Unfortunately we don’t have album covers like we used to. That was done with a nostalgic feel to where maybe we could get the same feeling on a CD cover.
Is that why you also included extensive liner notes?
Yeah. It’s crazy, but I remember some of the liner notes from the early Earth, Wind and Fire records. That’s the feel that I was kind of after. I wanted to bring back some of that nostalgia from back in the day, whether it was taking a cover from an old album or typing the liner notes to even the feel of the songs.
Have you seen your production techniques changing over the years?
Yes. Absolutely. You know what’s crazy? I think this album is the first time that I think I got them where I want them to be. I’ve become a slave for technology and for equipment. I became one of those guys where if you came to my studio, my studio looked like Star Trek. Now I use two things in my studio. I had to get to the point where it wasn’t about the equipment but what I had to use to bring what I wanted out. I think when we get obsessed with equipment, you get hung up on trying to get it out on an intricate piece of equipment that the idea is not first. I think this is the first time where I’ve gotten back to the idea. Who cares about the piece of equipment? It’s about the idea you put out. I’ve definitely seen my production come full circle.
Can you take us through the making of a Jazzy Jeff beat?
You know what’s crazy? A lot of the stuff that I make starts in my head. I’ll get an idea, and it’s funny, it can be an incredible idea, and it’s only going to last in my head for three minutes. If I don’t write it down or put it in a Dictaphone, I’ll forget it. Sometimes I can write a piece of my idea down to the point where if I read it, I can remember what the idea was. That’s how most of it is. It starts in my head. Whenever I can get to my equipment to put it down, it just goes down.
Do you see yourself doing more production with artists in the near future?
I do and I don’t. You know what I think is really funny with me? A lot of times, I think I work with who I’m comfortable with. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to be the Pete Rock or the DJ Premier. I respect those guys so much because they have so many different production credits with different people. I felt really comfortable working with Will and working with Jill. The people I’ve worked with are people that I felt primarily comfortable working with. It’s not like I work with people I just met. I don’t think I’ve mastered that yet. I think I would like to do a little bit more production, but I never put myself out there like I was that producer where if you needed beats, call me. I was never that producer that had beat tapes circulating or anything like that. It was a little bit different for me. I wanted to work with who I felt comfortable with.
Do a lot of DJs still mention the transformer scratch you’re credited with inventing to you today?
Absolutely. Absolutely. It kind of bugs you out because to get the respect that I get as a DJ from so many DJs, it’s really, really, really humbling. It’s really humbling for someone to come to you and say, “You’re the reason I DJ.” I never looked at the impact I had to be life-changing for anybody. This is something that I started out doing for fun. To think that you impacted somebody’s life to the point where they made a career decision, it’s really mind-blowing.
Do you keep up with new scratch combos and tricks today?
Somewhat. I don’t sit and practice like I did. Most of my stuff is second-nature now, but I definitely keep up with what they’re doing and what’s going on, just the evolution of the DJ. It’s almost like a big, giant fraternity that the DJs are in and I get a kick out of it because I didn’t expect it to go to where it is now. I’m always looking and paying attention to what somebody is doing. The techniques and the technology that has happened over the past 20 years is incredible.
Is it tougher to make it as a DJ today than it was 10 or 15 years ago?
Yes. Absolutely. And primarily because of the way the music is and the way that the industry is. It’s not about the play selection of a DJ as much as it’s about making sure you play all of the popular stuff. When I came up, a DJ pretty much cut his teeth based on the type of stuff he played and if he played something different. It’s not like that anymore.
The 400th episode of the Simpsons just aired and you worked with Bart on “Deep Deep Trouble.” Are you still in touch with the Simpsons?
No. We did that project so long ago and I haven’t been in touch with them since.
How would you describe the Philadelphia hip-hop scene today?
You know what? I’m not really involved as much with the scene today because I travel so much. I try to keep up as much as I can, but unfortunately I’m not home. That kind of throws a monkey wrench in it with just trying to stay up to date to what’s going on in the hip-hop scene in general. The Philadelphia music scene blew up so much to where everybody is on the road. People come and it’s like, “Where’s everybody at?” It’s kind of like all of the musicians and singers left Philadelphia to go work.
There are rumors that you and Will Smith will be teaming up for another album. Is that true?
Nothing is concrete. That's a rumor. If it jumps off, I will definitely let you know.
Do you get the respect you deserve for everything you accomplished with Will Smith?
Of course I went through periods and times when I felt like, ‘Wow, we got overlooked.’ I think maturity is understanding what you do and who you do it for and it lets all of that go away. We’re very proud and happy for what we accomplished and the people know. You don’t have to let industry people validate you. You just end up letting that go.
Is the casual fan who doesn’t know about your DJing surprised at your skills?
I think what bugs them out is that I’m not just the guy who got thrown out of the house. I love that. I love converting people. I’ve had a million people come to shows. I don’t care why they come, whether it’s because they think I’m a great DJ, was on Fresh Prince or because I had something to do with Jill or because I was the guy that got thrown out of the house. I don’t care why you come, but when you come, I want to make sure that I get you.
It’s amazing to see people who only know me from The Fresh Prince. They say, “I didn’t know you DJ'd! And you’re really good too!” I love that! I think I’ve prided myself my whole career on the fact that I don’t want you to put me in any category. I want to be the most confusing guy that you’ve ever met that does music. People don’t know who to associate me with. People don’t know if they want to say I’m pop because of what I did with Will or if I’m soul because of what I’ve done with Jill or if I’m underground or if I’m house because of what I’ve done there. I don’t want to be categorized.
How are you gauging the success of The Return of the Magnificent?
I think the success was gauged the day that I finished. I don’t ever gauge the success off of the sales. I think the fact that it’s completed is cool and I’m satisfied with it. You can’t really gauge your success off of sales. You almost have to gauge success off of how people feel about something. I made this album for people who like what I do. If the people who like what I do enjoy this album, then it’s definitely a success to me.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to go in the studio and do a few more projects between now and the end of the year and just go back out on the road to really support all of the stuff that I’ve done. This is like an ongoing cycle for me, where you put the record out, you hope people like it and then you come back home and you start all over again.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming DJs and producers?
Surround yourself with honest people. Surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth and not just tell you want you want to hear. You don’t need to surround yourself with people that are just busy telling you that you’re good. You need people to be honest with you and tell you when you’re not.
What do you want to say to everybody?
You know what’s crazy? I’m blessed and I know that I’ve been blessed. I do not take this for granted. Thank you for all of the support from the people who have supported me and have enjoyed what I do. I think there are too many people out there who don’t thank people because they think people are supposed to like them. That’s not the case. It’s a privilege for people to like what you do and I just try to let people know that I definitely, definitely appreciate them.