A few years ago, my sister gave me a Roland BOSS SP-303 Dr. Sample as a gift. I was thrilled. Unfortunately, I immediately realized that the memory cards required for this sampler were difficult to obtain and very expensive. Additionally, I found the Dr. Sample to be limited and was frustrated with it. I consulted with my sister, and upon receiving her blessing, decided to trade it in and upgrade for an SP-555.
After trading in my 303, I discovered Nick Tha 1da on YouTube doing one of his 303 tutorials. Watching him play the 303 like an instrument made me re-evaluate the tiny sampler’s potential. I did some internet research and discovered a large community of people who used the limitations of the 303 to their advantage to create some amazing music. I also discovered that many 303 users were avid supporters of the Roland SP-404. I wanted to understand why these machines resonated with so many talented people. I decided to start an in depth interview series with 303 and 404 users titled 303s and 404s.
The first member of the vast 303 and 404 community to reach out to me is also perhaps one of the most well know. Mr. Dibia$e, a member of the Green Llama crew, has reached legendary status in the LA beat scene through his victory in the Los Angeles Red Bull Big Tune 2010 beat battle and numerous impressive live shows. Dibia$e has captured the attention of countless fans and the respect of his beat making peers through his un-quantized beats, expert chops, and distinctive mute-outs. I am honored to present my first entry of 303s and 404s with Mr. Diabia$e.
DJ Sorce-1: I saw in an interview that you got your first sampler in ‘95. Have you been doing music non-stop since then?
Mr. Dibia$e: Yeah, pretty much (Laughs). I started out rhyming. I was needing beats, so I started looping up stuff.
(Via Abdullah Saeed)
DJ Sorce-1: What made you decide to focus on producing?
Mr. Dibia$e: Once I saw how active the beat battles were, I was like, “Man, I don’t even have to break a sweat rhyming.” Then the beat scene grew and it was pretty much a wrap. I saw the homies traveling off of beats so I thought, “I better put everything in one basket instead of multi-tasking.” Sometimes I get the urge to rhyme, but I’m not that focused with the writing.
DJ Sorce-1: How many hours a day would you say your spend working on beats?
Mr. Dibia$e: Now that I’m working again, not that much. Sometimes I take the equipment to work. I probably spend like three hours a day on beats. But there was one point where I was like all day pretty much. I was doing the music full time from 08 until maybe eight months ago.
DJ Sorce-1: What made you decide to go back to mixing work with your music career?
Mr. Dibia$e: I was kind of like you, doing the coaching and all that and working at a park. With that job, the schedule was flexible, so it was kind of easy to balance with the music. I wasn’t really travelin’ to other states or even out the country, so it was easy to do some shows and then drive to Hollywood after I clocked out of work or go to San Diego or The Bay. But once I started travelin’, a little after Red Bull, that’s when I stopped working at the park. I had a booking agent and tried a few of them out. Now my wife does my booking. Once I got a booking agent, that’s when the shows started really picking up and I started going out the country a little more.
But the beat scene, it fluctuates sometimes. I had to get a little job on the side for the times when it’s like a dry spell. You know, you want to be comfortable. Sometimes I would stress out from chasing down money from selling beats. It would always come through, but the stressing out for years, I was over that. So I just got another job. Plus, when I moved out here to Sacramento, I had to get something. I was pretty much starting over because I’m from LA originally.
(Via Patti Miller Photography)
DJ Sorce-1: How is the re-adjustment to balancing work with music going?
Mr. Dibia$e: The job I have now is similar to the park work I was doing, like a city job. I’m basically at a person’s house looking out for them while they’re sleeping. I have my equipment and I pretty much just make beats. It’s kind of a chill job. I was trying to get something that wasn’t too stressful so I could balance the two. They’re pretty good on the schedule and I get time off, so it’s cool.
(Via Polaroid Gang)
DJ Sorce-1: I’m glad to hear it hasn’t been a negative experience. Work can definitely consume your drive to be creative.
Mr. Dibia$e: I’m getting older now, but when I was younger, when I was working at the park, shit, it didn’t even matter. I would write rhymes, make the beat, record the song, go to work, and come back at night. I’d do the same thing, stay up, and repeat the process. Then on my off days, the homies were living in Fullerton, so I’d crash out there for the weekend and go on a beat binge. I’d knock out 20 beats in a weekend and call it a day. That was like 07.
DJ Sorce-1: If you have a weekend with free time, can you still churn out 10, 15, or 20 beats in a weekend, or is that hard to do?
Mr. Dibia$e: No. I was single at the time. All I had was my job and I’d be at the homies house so I could afford to lock myself in the lab. Now, I have a lot of responsibility, so I can’t lock myself in the lab on some all-day shit. But sometimes I’ll crank out like five or six beats on a good day.
(Via IllSociety Magazine)
DJ Sorce-1: I know you still use the Roland SP-404 a lot. When we spoke before this interview, you were saying that for the last couple of projects you used programs like Ableton. Are you using more software these days?
Mr. Dibia$e: Swingology101 was done with Reason 5. I’ll make a beat on Reason and then run it through the 303 or 404 for its compression to dirty it up. A lot of times I combine stuff. Back in the day I just had the MPC and 303 and that was it. I had a cool workflow because I was using the MP for so long. Now that I’ve learned all of this software, sometimes I’m combining three different things and running it through the 303, just re-sampling stuff, and it be taking some time just to get certain effects. Back in the day I wasn’t doing all that. I would just make a beat and record it straight to an external CD burner. I wasn’t even messing with computers back then.
DJ Sorce-1: Which sampler has a better workflow for you, the MPC or the 303?
Mr. Dibia$e: I like the MP but I felt limited at the time. I wanted to have effects and filters with certain beats I made on the MP. If I wanted filters, I had to sample the MP through a 303 or a CDJ just to get the wah-wah effects. With software the effects are built in already. All you do is add the little auto filter, then map your knobs and you got your instant filter. With the hardware, it might have been harder, but it kept you occupied, and it kept you thinking.
(Via Impose Magazine)
DJ Sorce-1: So using a combination allows you to grow a little bit and become more layered?
Mr. Dibia$e: Yeah. Combining the two is like the best of both worlds. I hear a lot of people clowning Fruity Loops and all that. Back in the day I used to be like, “I’ll never mess with software.” I was holding myself back all those years. It’s good to use both. Once I started doing that, that’s when stuff started getting serious. I started entering the beats battles and winning them.
DJ Sorce-1: What is your proudest accomplishment from the time you spent doing beat battles?
Mr. Dibia$e: The Red Bull definitely. Just getting accepted to it was an accomplishment. And I was lucky enough to win it and be runner up. I used to enter mad battles in San Francisco and throughout L.A. Sometimes I would just catch a Greyhound from L.A. to The Bay and I would end up winning it. I was taking a little chance man. If I won it, I won it. If not, all good. I was getting a place to play some beats on loud speakers. That was the cool thing.
DJ Sorce-1: You were getting to introduce a new audience to what you were doing.
Mr. Dibia$e: Yeah. The battles there were kind of challenging because they would give you samples and sometimes they had challenges where you had to flip a remix. It was fun. The battles in L.A. were called the Hotel Room battles. They used to have MC battles, and then they started having the beat battles. Pretty much everyone used to enter them. Mike Gao, Tokimonsta, P.U.D.G.E…all kinds of beat cats in the scene were entering them. It definitely kept your sword sharp going against everyone. This was around 08 or 09.
(Mr. Dibia$e and P.U.D.G.E Via Carmen Luceno)
DJ Sorce-1: I’ve seen a lot of YouTube footage of you rocking the SP 404 live. Were you using it at all in those battles?
Mr. Dibia$e: No. They weren’t live battles like that. You would just make the beat at home and then bring your CD. In 2006 or 2007 they did have battles in L.A. at this record store called Rehab and you’d have to bring your MPC. They would have performances in the beginning of the night with cats rhyming, and all of the producers would be at the back, like 16 cats with they MPs. Everybody had two hours to flip the same record and get they drums from a breakbeat record. After all of the performances was over, everybody would come to the back and plug they MP up to the monitor speakers. That was the first beat battle I was in where I was making the beats under pressure.
DJ Sorce-1: What's the atmosphere like in that situation? Is there any talking or is it really competitive?
Mr. Dibia$e: Those battles were cool. Some of the homies in my crew were in it as well. I was in a crew called Missing Page back in the day, like 2005. Pretty much everyone rhymed and made beats except for a few cats. We were all entering the beat battles. One of the other homies from Japan, BudaMunk, was living in L.A. at the time, and he was entering them battles too. So he was in them and my homie who was in Fullterton was in those battles. It wasn’t aggressive or nothing.
Some of them Red Bull battles seemed aggressive. A lot of egos. I was in a few beat battles in San Diego back in the day that was kind of aggressive and cats bit my style. Just like bold face bit, came up to me before we battled and said, “Yo, I got something for you. I made something just for you.” Then they would flip a beat that I’d flip, the same samples, like some video game shit, and play it against me. I was just like, “Wow, OK” (Laughs). Dude ended up winning. We went to overtime. I thought I got ‘em in the first round, but they had judges that night. It went in his favor and he ended up winning the whole thing. Other than that I don’t be taking losses too serious.
DJ Sorce-1: That could be seen as a good thing. If other people are making stuff specifically for you, you know they’re considering you one of the top producers in the battle.
Mr. Dibia$e: Yeah, I guess you can see it that way. I’m pretty much retired from the battles now. It was fun for a while. I get the itch to enter some, but I’m just on the live shows now. I’m trying to build that and improve on that.
(Via Empower Network)
DJ Sorce-1: In a lot of the footage of you that I’ve seen you’re using one or two 404s. Is that your weapon of choice for live shows?
Mr. Dibia$e: Sometimes I’ll use the MP, but I haven’t used that in a minute. I use Ableton as well, and sometimes I’ll use Ableton and the 404 together and go back and forth between the two. But yeah, I’ve mixed it up throughout the years. I was using the 303 with a laptop, but I couldn’t get enough sampling time on it. With live shows, you could get maybe 15 minutes. It’s funny; all of the homies like Ras G and Sam were rocking the 303s back in the day for shows. I remember when Ras G went overseas for the first time. He had to use my 303 when he went so he could have at least 30 minutes of sampling time. He didn’t have a laptop, he just had the MP and a 303, so I let him use my 303 because I had a 404. I was telling him, “Yo, you can fit hours into a 404. It’s pretty much the same as a 303 but it got more effects.” They were sticking to the 303 religiously, until the 303s started breaking down. Then they started getting the 404.
(Ras G Via Culture Remixed)
Click here to read Pt. 2.