I feel good. I’m good, man.
You just released The Wu-Tang Clan and Friends album. How did you put that together?
That right there was put together after I did the DVD that’s out now, The Beat Kings. While I was doing The Beat Kings, I was still doing a lot of things. I was still doing shows and still doing studio work. I was working on the follow-up to my album The Problem. After I finished the DVD, I felt that my music went up a notch. I said, “Hold on, let me get everything out of my system.” I went to my archives and found some remixes that I did that never came out with the extended family and I put that together.
What’s the story behind the Ghostface “Maxine (Remix)”?
That was something that I did shortly after the album came out. You know how it is sometimes. You do a remix and it might come out and it might not. It was just that type of situation.
What was Raekwon’s “Treez” recorded for?
That was a track that was already done. I was going to put that on The Solution (follow-up to Mathematics’ The Problem). I took some recordings that I had for The Solution and I put them on here. It wasn’t new, but it wasn’t old either.
You also did remixes for “Wu Banga 101” and “The W”. How do you approach a remix?
It’s like whatever I want to do with the track. I did the original “Wu Banga 101” and you can hear that as a park jam. It was one of those types of beats. That one right there was just in my head like that. That’s where the “Wu Banga” remix came from. “The W” is totally different from the original too.
I don’t want to be speaking in circles and be speaking funny, but sometimes in music, it’s hard to explain because music, to me, is more emotional. You don’t really think about it. It’s a feeling. The whole point of music is to make you feel good when you’re not feeling good or to find a song you can relate to when you’re going through something. Music, to me, is an escape and you try to get all your thoughts out of your head with music. You just want to relax and feel good. What I do with music, I just hope I bring out feelings and emotions.
Looking at that, do you and the artists you work with record based off how you feel and not worry what album, if any, the song would appear on?
Me, yeah. That’s what I do. I’m about quality anyway, off top. I know there’s always a home for it. Sometimes a song might not fit an album. I’m not saying that the song is weak or anything, but I think all albums should be based on a certain type of theme or a certain type of mode. One song can put the album out of whack to me. I always attack it personally like, This is how it is, this is how we rock. I think the music is what brings the whole feeling to the song anyway. When I make a track, I know what direction I want the track to go in. I can also see certain artists on the track and I might start working it in that type of direction. Some songs I see Meth on it and I would start fine-tweaking it to really fit Meth. Once we get in the studio and do it, if I feel like there’s a subject involved and I need it to be about something, the artist might be like, We can add this to it, or we might have the same thought. That’s basically how it goes down though.
What was your inspiration for putting The Beat Kings DVD together?
Just doing interviews. I love to talk music and most producers do. A lot of interviews are on producers and there are certain things the producers might not get asked to bring their production to light. I wanted to interview producers and create a foundation. At the time I was doing it, a lot of new producers were starting to come out. You have the Fruity Loops where you can download it off the internet and you have machines that can make beats for you at the touch of a button. I wanted to give those producers a look into how it really was.
All the producers I interviewed are a great part of hip-hop history. I got Marley Marl explaining how he stumbled onto producing and Mark the 45 King explaining how he used to have to cut tapes. The average cat will be like, Mark who? The 45 who? They don’t understand how extensive his track record is. You get a history of it on the DVD. Easy Mo Bee is on there. Sometimes producers don’t get their just due. He’s definitely great. He produced for Biggie, Nas and the Genius’ first album Words From a Genius. Salaam Remi did joints from the Fugees to Celine Dion. It was just really a guide though and the more and more I got into it, the more and more the project became what it is, The Beat Kings.
You interviewed these producers in their own studios. Were you able to pick up some things that could help your own production?
I learned a lot from them. For me, it’s not really about watching a producer work. I think that’s in a producer’s early stages of production. I know what to do on a board. The whole thing about being a producer is how you put it together. For me, it was hearing them talk and seeing what equipment they use. When you listen to the music and hear how they do certain things, that’s what did it for me. I study by listening. Whether it’s the hip-hop greats or Isaac Hayes and Willie Hutch, I throw them on and I just listen.
Did you get everything you wanted for Beat Kings?
There’s a lot of producers that I didn’t touch that I wanted to touch. There’s a lot of West Coast producers I didn’t get to touch like Dr. Dre, DJ Quik and Battlekat. I didn’t get to Houston. I didn’t really get the South but I did get David Banner. First things first. The Beat Kings is an introduction to production. There’s a lot of information if it’s used right. More stuff is coming.
It’s hard, as a person, to really understand certain things about the music. You can’t show them how to use certain machines because their focus is going to be all over the place. Cats speak on the techniques, but as far as showing it, that’s more of a How To video. That’s in the works though.
A lot of producers are very secretive to their techniques and don’t offer a lot of advice. You don’t seem to be like that. Do you want to be a role model for up-and-coming producers and help them come up?
Of course. Music will be lost if we don’t. That’s like the Shaolin Temple at one point. They weren’t taking no students in. If you don’t take no students in, a lot of techniques are lost and books are destroyed. You had different things going on between the Chang Dynasty and the Ming Dynasty and they were trying to destroy each other and the Shaolin Temple was trying to stay out of it and they weren’t taking any students at that time. If you don’t take students and people don’t learn, things become a lost art form.
We have our own styles and originalities in hip-hop and I don’t want anybody to mimic me like that, but do what you do and add your own thing to it. It needs to be kept alive. I won’t be alive forever in this form. We just lost a great producer in J.Dilla and if somebody doesn’t pick up on what he was doing, it’s going to be lost forever. The only way you can keep his legacy alive is to find his records and even then you only have that portion of it instead of what it could be.
Fruity Loops is all good, but there’s more to music than that. If you’re going to get it, get it right. If you’re going to do it, do it and do it right.
You have a very consistent sound in the projects you put out. Is that a conscious decision?
No. I learned a lot from the DVD and you’re going to see me doing a lot of expanding. My sound is my comfort zone. I can bang those joints out all day and still keep a quality to them. That’s nothing. Right now, I’ve been hitting the board a lot more and I’ve been a lot more diverse and ready to expand now. I think that’s an important quality of music. You have to keep the quality there though and still keep your signature and do the damn thing.
Timbaland is another cat. He can do hip-hop but he definitely kills it in the R&B world. To be able to do both is a blessing. It’s all music and I’m a fan of good music. There’s a lot of songs that inspired me that was not hip-hop. Most of our hip-hop beats come from a lot of the soulful and R&B joints that we might chop up, straight-up sample or replay. Now I’m trying to step out of that but still keep a quality of music because I think that’s the most important thing. It has to be great. That’s the only way your job is well-done.
RZA’s done a lot of experimenting over the years and he uses a lot of different keyboards. Does RZA’s experimentation help you to step out of the box and try new things?
RZA, with him, he’s always been like that, music-wise. I’ve always seen that in him. He’s the one who put me on to the ASR-10. He was always buying new equipment and trying different things. When I first started, he was really into it. When he made “Ice Cream,” that’s what made me want to produce. I still use the same ASR-10 to this day. To me, that’s what I perfected. I get other equipment. I have a Motif and I have Tritons, but I always go back to my ASR-10 because that’s what I know. RZA will pick up a piece of equipment and figure it out real fast. That’s how his brain works. He’ll figure it out on the same day and have it doing something. I take my time. Experimentation is new to me. I was always in my comfort zone when I did what I did. That’s just me understanding me. RZA will just pick up a board and have that shit rocking in no time.
What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned working with RZA?
How have you noticed your production techniques changing over the years?
Maturity. When I first started certain things, I didn’t know how to do everything. Now I know how to tighten my beats up and get all the floors out. If I want to add something different, I’ll put it in. Just the maturity of making beats is how I’ve changed. If you notice, over the years, things have gotten tighter and tighter and tighter. I also have more experience in the studio. At one point, I needed an engineer in the studio. I don’t need an engineer now. I go in there and do what I do and get loose. That’s important. A lot of cats don’t know how to do those things. I started off as a beat-maker and now I know how to make songs. Producers know how to tweak their own music and how to work a studio. That’s a producer.
You’ve done a lot of great tracks, but you’ve never stepped too far outside of the Wu fam. Is there a reason for that?
That’ll happen. I don’t want to say I avoided it, but I never stressed it. I always stayed in my comfort zone. Right now, I would say in the last year at this time, I still wouldn’t be stressing it. But right now, it’s time for me to do a little bit more. I think that comes with time. I’m still a student and I’m still learning. I think that’s the good thing about it, that you can still learn. That’s what that DVD did for me. I learned a lot. What you hear from me from here on in should definitely reflect that learning. I just hope everybody appreciates it.
Has being Wu-Tang affiliated ever hurt your chances of working with artists outside of the Wu?
Perhaps. Being in my comfort zone and making the kind of music I make, you have a lot of people that love it but they might not know how to rhyme to it because it might not get them on the radio or they can’t do a video for it. It probably has limited me, but at the same time, I’ve never stressed it because I was in my comfort zone and I have a big family, so over the years I was still able to pump out joints and do what I do and be pretty much satisfied.
Do you feel any competition with other Wu producers like Bronze Nazareth?
For me, I would say not nowadays. Back in the days, even when I first started producing and everything, RZA is playing a beat or True Master comes along with a beat, it was a battle to get on albums. If your beats weren’t right, you weren’t making the album. There were only a few slots open, so to get one or two slots was a battle.
We’re all grown and we all learn, but for the most part, now, I rarely see RZA. If I see RZA, we speak and everything, but it’s not like we’re around each other all the time like we were before and we would both come with beats. There’s no competition right now. I don’t feel it like that, personally. But I’m sure when I get back in there with those cats, there will be competition. You always have to come with that heat. For the most part, when I make it now, I just do what I do.
You linked up with GZA in the Cold Chillin’ days. Did you ever think the two of you would accomplish so much in hip-hop?
Nah, but when I first linked up with GZA, there was something you could see. You could see it was the beginning of something, but I could never say I put my finger on it and would know what it would become. I had no idea of that. Just being around GZA back in those days and RZA too, you knew something good would come from it.
Granddaddy I.U. didn’t have great things to say about the Cold Chillin’ days when I interviewed him. Was working with the label a good experience for you?
This is what I can say, because I was never a Cold Chillin’ artist. I was there, but I was there at the later part. I’m sure when it first started and it took off…Everybody wanted to be down with the Juice Crew and they had Kane and Masta Ace and Marley was doing the beats. At one point, it was being run right.
Look at Loud. The first staff there that hustled and Steve Rifkind and how they got Wu-Tang out, that was a label. But then when Loud went to Sony, it became something different. The corporates got involved and they got rid of some people who didn’t have a college degree but they knew what they were doing in hip-hop because they got the Wu to where it was. They hired kids with college degrees and gave them big salaries and they’re the ones that messed it up.
At one time everybody wanted to get down with Def Jam. They were like the Yankees and I hope they don’t end up like Loud. I saw them put out two albums on the same day (Method Man’s 4:21 and The Roots’ Game Theory) and I know Lyor or Kevin Liles wouldn’t have done that. You’re cutting yourself short. You’re putting out two artists on the same day? And a lot of times, they don’t have no videos and no promotion. You want labels like that to stay around.
To me, Def Jam was like the Motown. That’s like the first label in hip-hop. Motown, come on, everybody wanted to be down with Motown back in the days. To me, that’s how I see Def Jam. I just hope they don’t go down the same path.
But to get back to the original question, hey, it is what it is
How was the Cold Chillin’ Blizzard Tour for you?
That was a great experience for me. That was my first tour. It was a major tour and it was only two or three weeks, but at the time, that was a major tour for hip-hop. That’s where I first got my feet wet doing a tour and learning the ropes and seeing how things are organized on a tour, as far as moving state to state and being on the right bus. It was fun and to be on it with a lot of big names like I.U., Biz, Kool G. Rap and DJ Polo, Kid Capri, Kane…That was a good tour right there.
RZA just brought Kane and GZA together on “Cameo Afro” off the Afro Samurai Soundtrack. Although you were working with GZA back then, did you ever have a chance to work with Kane?
Nah. Besides being on the stage, I never got the chance to work with Kane. I got the chance to work with Mister Cee a few times. Mister Cee actually help me and GZA put together our show on that Cold Chillin’ tour.
What made ODB so great to you?
Just who he was. He wasn’t scared to be himself and he wasn’t scared to say what he thought. A lot of times, most people may want to do certain things but they won’t act them out. He’ll do it and he won’t care what you think about it. That’s who he was. That’s why he said, “Ain’t no father to my style.” He was free. RZA has said he’s one of the freest brothers he’s ever known. He got caught up in a couple of things but he was free to be himself.
You designed the Wu-Tang logo that is now internationally recognizable. How did that idea come to you?
That just popped up. Really, it was done in one night. When RZA was still on Tommy Boy, that’s when the Wu-Tang idea really came. I did a sticker for him in graffiti that was a W. That’s when the first W really came. We were saying how we needed something that would really stick in people’s heads. When you see Batman’s symbol, you know Batman is coming. Everybody knows that Batman is coming. There’s no words. You just know that Bruce Wayne is coming. We wanted something like that. That’s why we had the W. I was in the lab when I was still living in 40 Projects and sat down and that’s what I drew. They came and got me when I was on a job site. I was doing carpentry at the time. When they saw it, they were like, This is it. That was it.
Did you think it would be as recognizable as it is today?
No. I didn’t think it would be that recognizable. We tried to get something that would be recognizable and something that people would see and know it was Wu-Tang. I didn’t know it would be that forceful of a logo.
Are you working on Wu-Tang’s new album, 8 Diagrams?
I’ll be there. RZA’s been working on his tracks right now. He’s going in in the beginning of this month and I’ll go in there later on to bring something to the table.
What would the release of 8 Diagrams mean to hip-hop today?
I guess we’ll find out when it comes out. I don’t want to say anything or predict anything. Once that day happens and it comes out, then we’ll see.
Are you working with artists like Buddah Bless and Eyeslow on their albums today?
Me and Eyeslow are getting ready to do an album together. Me and Bad Luck already did an album together. I haven’t spoken to Buddah in a second. I have to catch up with Buddah.
The two artists I’m really working with are Eyeslow and Bad Luck. I’m also working with Hot Flamez. I’ve been talking to Ali Vegas. He already perfected his craft. But all these guys are nice. If they weren’t nice, I wouldn’t have put them on my album.
Slugz was on The Problem but he wasn’t on Wu-Tang Clan and Friends. Is he still around?
To me, he’s nice as hell. I don’t know what he’s going through in his life. I’ve been trying to catch up with him, but I’ve been unsuccessful. Hopefully I’ll be able to catch up with him. I put the word out. If he comes across this interview, my number is still the same.
Are you going to release another instrumental album?
Yeah. Actually, I got one ready. When I was trying to clean house and start up, I had some joints, so I said, “Let me package these up.” That’s ready to go and it should be coming out soon. It’s titled Lesson 1.
Do you have more freedom working on an instrumental album?
Any project I do, I have freedom. When I do an album like The Problem, I’m in control the whole time. I got who I wanted on it and I did the songs I wanted to. I was very happy with that project. Freedom is not a question to me.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming producers?
Get The Beat Kings DVD.
What are you going to be working on for the next couple of months?
I’m working on this soundtrack for this movie called Michael’s Method. I’m working on the soundtrack and score for that and an overseas tour with Method Man.
What do you want to say to everyone?
Hit me up and make sure you go out and cop the Wu-Tang project and DVD and keep supporting.