NY’s Finest is getting close to drop. Are you ready for that?
No doubt. I’m excited.
How does NY’s Finest rank in your catalogue of compilations?
It’s up there. It’s like No. 2 to me. I didn’t really like Soul Survivor 2 due to the stresses of working with the people at BBE who thought they knew how to tell people how to make their music.
I always wondered why you weren’t rapping on Soul Survivor 2 as much as you were on the first Soul Survivor.
You can tell. So when people say that’s not my best, I’m like, ‘Damn, good. Somebody else notices.’ Because to me, it wasn’t my best work at all. And then right now I’m in limbo with them, going back and forth to court, trying to sue them for what they did.
Based on your history and who you are, how can a label tell you what to do?
I always do what comes to the heart and the soul so to me, that was the only thing that ever mattered. Expressing yourself was important and that was one way that I was expressing myself, through music. So to me, they have to understand that it’s coming from within. It’s not a factory. You can’t just make this stuff up like you work at a factory like how they make food and how they make bread and whatever. This comes from within. It comes from the heart and the soul. It basically comes from the inspiration of other artists as well as people like James Brown and everybody that kind of inspired me when I was coming up with my music.
What points were you trying to get across as an MC on NY’s Finest?
Just talking to the fans and the people and telling them what I’m doing right now and telling them where I’m at in life and where I’m at in hip-hop and how I see them. I don’t ever rap to battle. I’m not just talking for the fun of it. At the end of the day, I’m a producer and I love making the beats anyway. You make more money that way.
You’ve always been on the mic your whole career and if you look back to when your classics like The Main Ingredient were coming out, it wasn’t such a rarity to have a producer/MC like a Q-Tip, Lord Jamar or Erick Sermon. Do you think being able to do both is treated differently today than it was 10 years ago?
Certain people just get threatened when you can rhyme and then you can make beats and then you DJ. If you do all three things, people can get threatened. In a sense, I think it’s a great thing. That’s like three talents in one. Because for me, I started out as a DJ. And I was always curious about the man behind the beats. That was a real heavy individual. I used to listen to the radio a lot back in the day and I always wondered who was the person that was making these incredible beats. I always wanted to take part of the position in doing that. That was my main goal for awhile, even in my young years when I was, like, 10 or 11 years-old. When you love music a lot, you tend to want to know everything about it and everyone involved.
Do you still have that same passion today?
Oh yeah, definitely. Regardless of how the business is, I don’t have any qualms about the way the business is today as far as the business side of it. The music side and being creative, I love doing it. And then the fans love my music, so that’s why I keep doing what I’m doing.
Your fans had a mixed reaction to “We Roll”, which featured Jim Jones and Max B and definitely exposed you to other fans who may not be as familiar with you and your work. Do you consider “We Roll” a success?
I did it because of that and I also did it because I’m a fan of Jim Jones’ music. I wanted to work with him. I did “G’s Up” on his first album. I came to his studio one day and played him this joint. Him and Max B were feeling it. The next thing I knew Max B put a hook to it and the song was done. It was beautiful. I kind of took them into my world with that one and I like the way that came out, really. I’m glad that they was feeling it.
There’s mixed reviews about “We Roll”. Some people don’t see that being a good combination, Jim Jones on a Pete Rock beat. I think so. I think it’s beautiful that he can do a beat from me because he usually does his music his own way. I tried to take him out of his realm and take him into mine and it was beautiful.
Not a lot of major producers go out of their realm or comfort zone like that.
I think it was also a respect thing between the both of us, just us respecting what each other can do. I like his music, he likes mine. And it was more them reminiscing on their lives. That touched me. I always want to work with cats that want to work with me, whether you’re new or old. It don’t matter. I like guys like Cassidy and T.I. and Kanye, guys that spit hard. I like dope MCs, period. It don’t matter if you’re young or old.
DJ Green Lantern did a beat on NY’s Finest, which is the first time an outside producer has ever had a beat on a Pete Rock project. How did that come about?
There’s a first time for everything. If you got a hot beat, holla at me and I’ll fuck with it. Big shout out to Green. He definitely blessed me. I was really excited to hear something like that come from him. You can definitely hear the inspiration too.
Was that a difficult decision for you to let another producer on your album?
Nah, not at all. When somebody makes something and the beat grabs you, it grabs you and you can’t do nothing about it. It grabs you and you can’t get away from it. That’s how I felt about that beat.
What prevented you from naming NY’s Finest “Soul Survivor 3”?
I don’t know, because after making Soul Survivor 2, I felt like that was kind of a nightmare so I wanted to get away from that and start a new theme.
What was it like working with Redman this time around on “Best Believe”?
Like any other time I worked with him, beautiful. I worked on his first album Whut? Thee Album and I did the song “Best Believe”. We actually had a relationship before that. I was basically an EPMD fan as well. I like hardcore, street hip-hop. They was doing a lot of that and I was checking for EPMD. And Redman definitely came from EPMD. Once I got a relationship with EPMD I met Red. He used to come to my crib back in the day and we would do demos in my basement. He had ideas and we would just put it together. For this album, I just called him up. I did something for his album on Red Gone Wild called “Gimme One” and then we did this song.
Every compilation you have ever done has had a different lineup of guests. How do you decide who to feature on your compilations?
Yeah. Sometimes I find myself going backwards again. I like O.C. a lot and I think I want to do something new with him on my next project, but you know, I want to do something totally different that no one has ever done before. It’ll still be hip-hop and it’ll still be Rock hip-hop, but it’ll make people say, “Word!” I can’t tell you the idea but it hasn’t been done before. I’m going to try to pull it off as much as I can.
Did artists you featured on your Soul Survivor series reach out to you to get on NY’s Finest?
Yeah. They still want to do something and I’m like, ‘That’s dope.’ We still do songs even if they don’t make it. There’s a song I did with Red Café that was hot but due to the timing, it didn’t make the album. He wanted to use it for his album so I let him. I’m going to mix it down for him. It’s him and Talib Kweli. It’s real hot.
How important are good relationships when it comes to putting these compilations together?
It’s very important. To me, all I want the artists to know, and I’ve always wanted to say this in an interview, is that I’m real serious with this music. I got so many beats. I know there’s ideas here that people can use, but at the same time, the way the business is today, it’s hard to get a hold of certain people or even to do records with certain people because of the way they do business now. I just want people to know how much love I got for this and I’m going to be here regardless, whether they say I’m getting too old or whatever. I’m 36. I got four more years ‘til I’m 40, hopefully. I’m looking forward to giving the fans good music. I want a lot out of hip-hop.
Does it ever frustrate you when you try to get with a new artist and you show them respect but that respect may not be reciprocated?
Yeah. Not to the point where I’m just distraught, but it’s just like, everyone has an ego. I used to get frustrated but now I just look at it like, ‘Oh, boy.’ People have to taste reality again. There’s some certain people…You have to realize that these people never had it like this before to where they get lucky and they get a record deal and they make a lot of money but then they don’t know how to keep it or they don’t know how to stay in the game or they don’t know how to achieve longevity.
You’re also able to take artists like Kurupt and Inspectah Deck and put them on a song like “Tru Master” and have the chemistry sound natural. How do you make your collaborations sound so natural?
Yeah. (laughs) That’s my favorite song too off Soul Survivor 1. They sound natural because the guys that I’m working with sound natural. When everyone’s natural, that’s what you’re going to get – organic hip-hop. Kurupt, he’s like a soul brother. He loves hip-hop, he spits hard, he writes rhymes and he’s always talking about hip-hop in his songs. When I’m around him, we chat about shit and it’s the same with Deck. I’ve been developing a relationship with Wu-Tang Clan. That was one of the highlights of my career – meeting those cats and then doing beats for them, from RZA to Raekwon and Inspectah Deck, Ghost, U-God, Ol’ Dirty…It was beautiful, man.
Are you ever surprised by how some collaborations come out?
Yeah. I’m always happy when we do something hot together and when I do something dope with an artist. When you feel good about it, then you’re very confident.
It’s hard to mistake the Pete Rock sound. You can tell producers who have borrowed elements from you, but has anyone ever been able to successfully bite your sound?
That’s the whole thing. My whole purpose for doing music is for people who want to make music to learn how to. The inspiration, I guess it comes with the game. If you’re serious and passionate about your work, I guess other people will feel the same way when they hear your music.
With the rising cost of sample clearances, are you working on more original beats?
I do, but I love the sound of a raw sample. But yeah, I already started making beats with the keyboard. But I’m making it to the point to where it sounds so close to being a sample. Even if it’s a keyboard sound, I can make it sound like a sample.
How do you like doing beats like that?
It’s cool. The keyboard is easy. It’s like, super-duper easy. The only thing is learning how to play the real, real piano notes and chords and stuff like that. But as far as making hip-hop, keyboard beats, that’s so easy.
How many beats do you think you have in your archive?
A lot. I can’t even explain how many there are. A whooole lot.
How have you grown as a producer over the last few years?
I think staying tuned into the street has helped me grow in the game and just dealing with the business side of it and just seeing what it takes to be successful. It’s not easy. It’s extremely hard to be in the position that I’m in and to get where I’ve gotten. I thank the fans for loving what I do because once I found this hobby, I never stopped doing it and I stuck with it because it defined me as a person and as a musician. Hip-hop is very important to me. Before even Bambaataa and Jazzy Jay and Flash and all the greats that made it into what it is today, without Kool Herc, there would be no hip-hop. And without James Brown.
Do the pioneers get the respect they deserve today?
You know, some of the new, young artists, some of them are very egotistical and they say things about the older cats who have been in it. What they don’t realize is that without them, they wouldn’t be where they are right now. But certain cats are ignorant and they’re in a position to make money and that’s all they’re thinking about.
DJ Premier expanded in the pop world with Christina Aguilera…
(interrupts) I got a couple of crossover beats. I plan on doing some hip-hop pop in a nice way. In a way where it’s still Pete Rock and you still here elements of me and you hear new elements of me.
Do you still find ways to improve chopping your samples today?
Oh yeah, definitely. Rest In Peace to my man J Dilla, for real, man, for just inspiring me to get back into chopping records. There was a time in music where I just kind of fell back and he used to tell me how heavily inspired he was by my beats and he showed me with the MPC 3000, he just kind of showed me his techniques and his way of chopping beats and it was like, ‘Whoa!’ To see him do it is crazy but just to hear it, it’s even crazier. To my man, I love you. Rest In Peace. J Dilla forever. We’re going to keep his music alive.
What was it like recording with Dilla on Soul Survivor 2?
It was dope. It was dope just spending time with him in Detroit and out in Cali when he lived out there. It was dope just doing music with him. He never told me that he was sick. It was always about music with him. I love that song. That was like the highlight of the album to me. Everybody thinks it’s the CL Smooth song, but I think that’s one of the hottest ones on there, as well as the one with the RZA and GZA.
Man, he’s the king. It’s like he was a professional before there were professionals. He definitely did his homework. We lost a real gem in hip-hop. We’ll keep his music alive.
It sounds like even though you’ve done what you have, you can still find inspiration from other producers.
Yeah. I listen to a lot of people. I listen to Just Blaze and Kanye and my man Nottz from Virginia. I listen to a lot of New York producers and a lot of California producers, just a lot of producers from everywhere, from the Midwest. I get the inspiration from everyone and just listen to the way they do beats and see how could I do it and not sound like them.
You’ve done some dope work with The U.N. in the past. Are you still working with them?
Big shout out to Roc Marc. We’re going to set it on fire in the ’08.
Will you do any more work with Freddie Foxxx?
Yeah. Foxxx is my big brother. I definitely have to do some more work with him. We did a couple of joints together. He did “The 45 Don” and he did another one for me that I like a lot.
What do you have left to accomplish in hip-hop?
Really, just to start scoring movies. That’s it, man. Once I start doing that, I’m good. I’m inspired doing that.
Do you have any movies in mind?
I like action movies. I’m not involved in any scoring stuff as we speak, only video game stuff. I’m working with Grand Theft Auto for the New York version coming out. I’m trying to get some music together for that and there’s just a lot of other things.
How important is it as a producer to expand your horizons to where you’re not just working on songs for albums?
That’s the step up right there, to start doing stuff like that and to start scoring movies. That’s the next step. That’s the big, big step because that’s not easy. But I’m into it. I’m into music whether it’s classic, jazz, funk, contemporary, hard rock, soft rock. It doesn’t matter what it is. I’m into it.
You also stepped into the reggae world on the Green Lantern-produced “Ready Fe War”.
Yeah, definitely. You know my family’s Jamaican, my mother, my father, my grandmother, Rest In Peace. My older brothers and sisters and my younger brother and myself were born in New York but the rest of my family was born in Jamaica. I have a beautiful son named Elijah and a beautiful daughter named Skye. I have a great family at home and I’m enjoying myself.
Are you surprised that NY’s Finest hasn’t leaked yet?
Yeah, I’m surprised. I think people are not expecting NY’s Finest to be what it is. I think it’s a great album. I think it’s one of the best ones I’ve done so far, in awhile. I just think people are kind of tired of hip-hop and the way it’s going and hearing the same songs like every five seconds. But once they hear that it’s a great album and it’s good music, maybe it will start picking up somewhere, somehow.
CL Smooth recently released “Multi Barz of Fury”, which was produced by you. Did you guys work on that together?
Nah, I had nothing to do with that. I had nothing to do with that right there.
So we shouldn’t expect anything from you guys.
No. I’m not thinking about that right now. I’m just focusing on putting out good music and I feel that’s more important to the fans, just to let them keep hearing dope shit.
What upcoming albums would you like to be a part of?
Probably Lil’ Wayne’s album. Kanye’s album. Cassidy’s album. T.I., Ludacris, you know, lots of people, man. I mean, shit, there are so many to name, but those are some of the few. Oh, 50 Cent.
Do you think your fans would be surprised to hear the artists you named?
No. I want to work with Lloyd Banks or Tony Yayo, one of those cats, like, anyone in the G-Unit. 50 did one of my beats and put it out on his Whoo Kid mixtape. He called the song “Emotional”. It was on a Whoo Kid mixtape, so you can check that out.
Could you takeover the more commercial hip-hop scene?
Yeah, I think so. My whole thing is I’m not trying to step on nobody’s toes. I’m just trying to put out good music and taking over anything, the only thing I want to take over is my mind and my mind, body and soul each and every time I make music and just put it out there and work with new artists and old artists, it don’t matter. I’m just trying to revive the right side of hip-hop because it’s definitely not dead, period!
You did an album, My Own Worst Enemy, with Edo G, where you did all the beats. Would you do a project like that again with somebody?
Yeah, definitely. I’m doing that right now.
Can you let us know anything else on it?
Only on NY’s Finest. I got my man Doo Wop on there, the mixtape DJ. He did a joint called “Let’s Go” that I think came out real nice. I think he’s one of the dopest mixtape DJs that I’ve ever heard that can rap. Homie spits fire.