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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Skillz a.k.a. Mad Skillz Freestyle

I've always thought of Skillz, formerly known as Mad Skillz, as an underappreciated talent in the rap world. While hist 1996 debut From Where??? seems to have achieved a sort of cult status since the Internet boom, it still doesn't get the recognition it deserves.  How can you wrong with two early Dilla beats, a Large Professor, Q-Tip, and Skillz posse cut over a Large Pro beat, and producers like The Beatnuts, Buckwild, and Shawn J. Period rounding out the production roster?  Add in Skillz' lyrical abilities and you have an extremely impressive rookie effort.

Since then, his sophomore effort I Ain't Mad No More was marred by label problems at Rawkus and he has yet to see any of his more recent albums find commercial success.  While his solo career may not have panned out the way some fans would hope, it is good to know that Skillz has had major success as a songwriter for other artists.  Skillz seems happy with this arrangement and has recently announced his retirement as a solo artist (check link in previous sentence).  I'm happy that Skillz is making a living off of music and enjoys working with other people, but I still hold out hope that some day he'll release a Frow Where-esque album.  

While I can't share any new Skillz albums with you today, I can share this great freestyle from the Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito show from 1997.  

This was posted on DJ Nes's Dirty Waters blog, one of the all-time great rap archive blogs out there.  Endless freestyles, mix tapes, and rare 12"s for rap fanatics to drool over.  Make sure to check it out.                  

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

J-Zone Studio Video

J-Zone's new album is dropping soon and I can't wait.  As much as I loved Root for the Villain, it's nice to know J-Zone hasn't hung up the mic and MPC.  It's also nice to know that J-Zone still likes his equipment half broken and his attitude curmudgeony.  He's one of several producers featured on this blog who lives the motto less is more.  This video perfectly captures his attitude towards making music and showcases his love of limitations.  Enjoy.        

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

14KT- Nickel & Dimed

You've seen him before on Heavy In The Streets abusing the multi-track recording program Cool Edit and flipping the living hell out of D'Angelo's "Lady".  Now, after waiting all summer, I'm happy to report that I can finally celebrate the release of 14KT's mostly instrumental album Nickel & Dimed.  I bought it when I woke up this morning and I am happy to say it hasn't disappointed.

One of the album's highlights is the first track, "Five & Ten".  14KT airs out greedy "fans" who refuse to pay for music and rappers who ask for free beats and rap about having lots of money.  I'm sure his lyrics will resonate with many modern-day producers who are sick of not being compensated for their hard work or appreciated for their talent.  I am still getting familiar with 14KT’s catalog and know more of his production than rapping.  That said, he more than holds his own with verses like, "The spirit told me 'Pete, keep your eyes on the greater purpose.  Gotta use your craft to show the weight of what your worth is.'”  Well said.  I hope 14KT continues to hone his craft because he is one hell of a talent. 

Make sure to buy...yes buy Nickel & Dimed by clicking here.                                                                   

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Count Bass D- Dwight Spitz: Deluxe Edition

Dwight Spitz (Deluxe Edition) cover art

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a 10th anniversary deluxe edition of Count Bass D's classic Dwight Spitz on his Bandcamp page.  Listening to these tracks for the first time in a long while brings back some great memories from my early college years.  If Dwight Spitz is new to you, make sure to check out August 25, 2001, Count's beautiful instrumental tribute to Aaliyah.  The emotional potency of the song is impressive.  This album is also notable for its flawlessly produced and unusually short songs, as well as several killer guest appearances from the likes of Edan and MF Doom.  While I love many projects Count Bass D has been a part of, this is without question some of his finest work. 

Make sure to purchase a copy by clicking here.     

Friday, August 23, 2013

Kid Capri and Ron G Interview

Shout outs to Edy K for posting this vintage clip of Kid Capri and Ron G on Yo MTV Raps from 1992.  Highlights include Kid Capri doing live blends of "Something in the Way You Make Me Feel" and "Remember the Time", Ron G rocking three turntables at once, and both Kid Capri and Ron G freestyling.  This was aired when Kid Capri had just dropped The Tape.  Towards the end of the interview he talks about his second album dropping, which makes you wonder what happened to that album, because his next studio release would be Soundtrack to the Streets in 1998.  If you know the back story here, speak on it in the comments section.  

John Doe- "99 Problems" Juggle

Nice video of 'Til My Tape Pop alumni John Doe destroying some doubles of Jay-Z's "99 Problems".  This is one of the cleanest beat juggles I've seen in a minute.  I just wish John posted the entire routine instead of two snippets of it.  Irrefutable proof that he can rip it live just as well as he can compose a classic tape.

Monday, August 12, 2013

14KT Making A Beat with Cool Edit

Those of you who follow my blog already know that I am a fan of Detroit producer 14KT.  I'm eagerly awaiting the release of his Nickel & Dimed album after being blown away by the audio trailer.  While my other post on 14KT showed him using Native Instrument's Maschine, he is one of several producers I've featured on Heavy In The Streets who has utilized the multi-track software Cool Edit (now Adobe Audition).  Nick Tha 1da gets credit for putting me on to this video of 14KT making a beat with Cool Edit during my recent interview with him.  My favorite part of the video starts around the 5 minute mark where 14KT compares the sampling process in Cool Edit to the MPC.  He states that with Cool Edit, "There's so much freedom, because it's like a blank sheet of paper."  This video serves as further proof that you can make great music with any program as long as you take a creative, positive approach.      

Sunday, August 11, 2013

From Da Bricks Interview with Eddie James


"Unfortunately, the streets are the streets and some people can’t get out of it. I haven’t spoken to him in about eight years bro. I wish him well, wherever he is."- Producer Eddie James on rapper AK Skillz

If you grew up on the east coast, it's almost guaranteed that you have a soft spot for New York independent rap singles from the mid to late '90's.  Acts such as Cage, the Juggaknots, Mike Zoot and Shabaam Sahdeeq became household names for many of us as they provided the perfect counterbalance to shiny suit era rap that was dominating the airwaves.  Few singles capture the sound of that era better than Ak Skills "East ta West" 12".  I get goosebumps every time I hear this song and it reminds me of a simpler time in my life.
While I enjoyed Ak's other songs, "East ta West" will always reign supreme for me.  I was listening to the song recently and wondered about the whereabouts of Ak and the song's producer, Eddie James.  While James' output was limited, he had production credits on a group of  impressive singles and showed a great deal of promise.  Unfortunately, it seems that both he and Ak disappeared before they reached their full potential.  I decided to do some Internet research and found this informative 2007 interview with Eddie James on the now defunct website From Da Bricks.  The interview contains good info about the equipment used to create Ak's singles and breaks down how they were constructed.  I don't want to give away too much info because the interview speaks for itself.

Read it by clicking here.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Bink! Interview with PMP World Wide

Nice interview with Bink! (now going by Binkdog?) where he talks equipment, influences, and sample clearances.  I like the influences part of the interview and found it interesting that he credits RZA for putting a lot of people on to sampling soul records.  He also states that before RZA, a lot of producers were looking for jazz records because of A Tribe Called Quest.  It's also refreshing to see a producer acknowledge that hip hop doesn't have to be one specific sounds (i.e. sampling crackly records), it can be a variety of sounds.  To learn more about Bink!, check out his production credits at Discogs.

Friday, August 9, 2013

M16 Annihilates The 5th Dimension's "Aquarius"

If you are a producer, I recommend that you subscribe to M16's YouTube page immediately.  Best know for the Playaz Circle track "Duffle Bag Boy" and Jeezy's "I Do", he shows amazing versatility in his videos by making beats on a variety of platforms.  I've written about my interest in iPad apps and their place in the production world in earlier posts, so I was excited to see several videos of M16 using the app Beatmaker 2.  When I previously wrote about the iMPC app, I was especially interested in how it allowed producers to use it in unconventional settings.  It appears that M16 is taking full advantage of the mobility of the iPad as there are several videos of him use Beatmaker 2 on the highway.    

The highlight of his YouTube page is the video that showcases him flipping the fuck out of "Aquarius" by 5th Dimension with FL Studio 10 and the Open Labs Miko (Timberland Edition) keyboard.  The video contains a wealth of information on sample chopping, adding drums, and using EQs to isolate baselines.  It also succeeds at showing how efficient M16's work flow is as he composes a rough draft of the easily and quickly.  Make sure to watch this if you want to be schooled on how to use a sample to create something completely different than the original song.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Since The Avalanches Left You

(Via Wikipedia)

Ever heard of The Avalanches?  They released the sample based masterpiece Since I Left You in 2000 and have yet to release a follow-up.  The album used an estimated 3,500 samples, many of which were sampled through an Akai S2000.  It is one of the most impressive sample based compositions ever created.  For fans of The Avalanches, I have three pieces of good news for you.

1) They are remixing a song on the Australian band Hunters & Collector's upcoming tribute album.  The album becomes available for pre-order from a variety of websites tomorrow.  

2) If you go to their website and register, you can download a ton of great mixes and unreleased material.

3) I found this fascinating interview/article about the making of Since I Left You on Sound on Sound (SOS).  The article gives an amazing amount of insight into the making of the album and the sampling process used by the group.  While some of the technical lingo is way over my head, all of the interesting tidbits and background info make for a great read.    

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Pipomixes- SP-1200 Volume 2

I've been messing with Pipomixes since I first started writing.  While he is known for his impeccable mix tape taste, his site offers much more than just mix tape downloads.  He also posts first-rate videos, interviews, and other interesting tidbits culled form all over the web.  His site also features several mixes of his own that showcase his ability to flip 2Pac, Biggie, Dre, Gangstarr, and a variety of other artists.  His most recent mix, which focuses on songs produced with the SP-1200, is right up my ally.

After reading the description on hid Soundcloud page, I'm glad to know I'm not the only person willing to spend endless hours researching and writing about vintage equipment.  Pipo describes the background research that went into making the mix by saying, "I used the old "double source" system of verifying whether the 1200 was actually used on different songs or albums. In other words, if I read/heard two separate interviews where a given producer confirmed using the SP-1200 in some shape or form (whether for the whole beat or just the drums) that song became mix eligible."  Huge props to Pipo for putting that much effort into his mix tape preparation.

You can download or stream the mix by using the widget below.  Also make sure to check out his Soundcloud page for more mix tape goodness.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Ayatollah and Cormega Studio Session

(Ayatollah and Cormega at the Studio Via Ayatollah's Twitter)

I just started following Ayatollah on Twitter and was instantly drawn to all of the great pictures he posts.  I decided to share one of my favorites from a studio session with him and Cormega.  In addition to having a cool Twitter feed, Ayatollah has an extensive resume of MPC 60 crafted bangers that you need to check out.  

DJ Pain 1- Undressed 3 (Instrumentals)

Madison, Wisconsin producer DJ Pain 1 continues to be one of the hardest working producers in the industry.  He constantly uploads instructional videos to his YouTube page (a MUST if you use a program like Acid Pro), releases free sample packs, sells drums kits, and gives away instrumental albums filled with previously unreleased beats of his.  His most recent instrumental album, Undressed 3 (Instrumentals), is already generating a buzz and getting rave reviews from users of sites like DatPiff.  Make sure to download it by clicking here.     

Apollo Brown Uses Broken Equipment to Make Great Music

When I was younger I thought being a great DJ and producer meant owning piles of expensive gear.  I've realized over time that this is a completely flawed way of thinking.  Growing up I was discouraged that I was unable to afford an "adequate" sampler and it prevented me from trying to produce earlier in life.  I know some analog purists hate the fact that beats can now be made with cheap software, a computer, and mouse, but I think it is inspiring.  DAWs provide a great entryway for people who want to produce but don't have a lot of capital to invest.  

While some shake their heads and laugh to themselves when people mention programs like Acid Pro, Cool Edit, and FL Studio (formerly Fruity Loops), these programs can no longer be denied.  Danger Mouse, one half of Broken Bells and co-producer of numerous projects with The Black Keys, has used Acid Pro on several of his critically acclaimed projects.  Grammy award winning producers 9th Wonder and Boi-1da have shown that award-winning, major label music can be created on FL Studio.  And Apollo Brown, a veteran Detroit producer whose resume boasts collabos with Ghostface Killah and OC, continues to use the obsolete multi-tracking program Cool Edit and a computer with a half-broken keyboard to crank out beats that are undeniable.

In a must-read 2012 interview with Kevin Nottingham, Apollo broke down the method to his madness.  "I still have the same computer, I still have the same four blown speakers, and I still have the same keyboard that only 16 keys work because it got flood damage...Only thing that is different is my mouse because my other mouse broke...My setup is very basic, simple and that is what I live by…simplicity."  Apollo's story helps re-enforce the ideal that you shouldn't stop being creative just because you don't have the means to afford pricey equipment.  If you feel that you should be making music, try to find a way to make it, even if your setup isn't ideal.  

Apollo's story is also inspiring because of his perseverance.  He states in several interviews that he has been making music (with Cool Edit) since 1996, but didn't receive a great deal of recognition until 2007.  Now in his early 30s, Apollo appears poised to reach new highs with his music.  This goes to show that hard work, passion, and a willingness to not give up can help you overcome various obstacles.  If you are a producer struggling to get by right now, remember that instead of sitting around and counting the reasons why you haven't been recognized yet, you should start working on improving your craft and getting better every day.   

For further inspiration form Apollo Brown, check out the video below.  Also make sure to stop by his Bandcamp page.  

Monday, August 5, 2013

J-Force Rocking the SP-1200

I love beat making tutorials, but I'm also a fan of fly on the wall videos where the audience simply watches a producer make music.  Unkut TV recently posted a perfect fly on the wall video of SP-1200 destroyer J-Force going to town in what appears to be his home studio.  Shout outs to Unkut for doing some great work with their video series, I hope they keep postings videos like this.

Beat Critique Service from !llmind

It seems to be a growing trend for established producers to provide consulting and feedback through services like Ustream.  Producer !llmind (50 Cent, Erykah Badu, Kool G Rap, Ludacris, Redman, Scarface, etc.) is currently doing this by offering "proper critique and direct video engagement" to aspiring producers through his website.  For the very affordable price of $10 per track, you can submit a beat and have !llmind provide expert advice.  While I have no direct feedback to offer because I have never utilized this service, it seems like an amazing opportunity for producers who are attempting to bring their sound to the next level.  You can read more about it by clicking here.  Also, if you are in need of samples to enhance your sound library, check out !llmind's BLAP KIT series

If you end up utilizing !llmind's Beat Critique Service, please drop a comment to let readers know about your experience. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

303s and 404s: Nick Tha 1da Pt. 3

This is my third installment of 303s and 404s with Nick Tha 1da.  Make sure to check out Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 if you haven't already.  

DJ Sorce-1:  What’s your favorite genre to sample?  

Nick Tha 1da:  I guess bossa nova.   There are so many bossa nova songs that don’t even have a Latin flair but are more on the Jazz/soul side; almost like a funky aesthetic.  The first genre is bossa nova and the second is American covers done by foreign artists.  A lot of times you’ll have a Polish group doing an Al Green song and their take of “Still Here with You” or “Love and Happiness” is so much different, but it still has the same bass line or vibe.  When people hear it they’re like, “It sounds like Al Green, but that ain’t what he sampled.”  I can’t say I have a favorite genre because I like all styles. 

DJ Sorce-1:  How did you discover bossa nova?

Nick Tha 1da:  When I first started collecting records, which was probably around ’97 or ’98.  I went to visit my cousin Paul and Thea and they’re in Texas.  My cousin thought I was only on the new stuff, but I was only listening to things from before I was born.  They were heavy into jazz.  They pulled out Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66 and that was the first time I actually heard older Sergio Mendes.  I was familiar with his more popular songs but once I heard the older stuff I was like, “Oh my goodness that’s a Dilla sample.” 

Shortly after that I went to Brazil.  I went to Rio for the first time and my mind was blown.  What people fail to realize is that bossa nova is totally based on fusion.  They took the cool jazz of the west coast and the east and mixed it with the samba rhythms.  If you listen to a lot of Samba songs it’s heavy in African drumming.  If you like heavy percussive stuff, all of those DJ breaks that you hear people play at break dances like “Soul Makossa” and “Mamma Say Mamma Saw Mamaco Saw” were in bossa nova too. 

When I tried to come out with that first project, BossaBang!, which was all samples from Brazil with hip hop drums, that’s what sealed the deal.  I was fortunate enough to go to Brazil a second time.  I went to a couple of places, but in Rio I realized, “If I only scratched the surface before, now it’s really crazy.”  I came prepared.  The funny thing about that second BossaBang! is that I made a lot of those beats through the TV in the room I was staying in.  I had no speakers, but I had my 303.  I would hook the 303 outs into the TV that was in the apartment.  I would listen to all of the music through the 303.  If you go back and listen to some of the tracks you’re like, “Nick, why does that sound so murky and unmixed?”  It’s because I did it in Brazil, in room, with some bossa nova records.  I feel like a lot of projects now sounds too crispy and too professionally done, when all of the hip hop that we loved was straight grimy.  Onyx?  Grimy.  Kool G Rap?  All them joints was grimy.  I feel like recently everyone is getting into this overproduced sound.  Going to other countries and seeing stuff, I feel like everybody is like five or ten years behind in hip hop.  They still like stuff sounding real dirty and they get crazy when 50 Cent’s “In the Club” comes on.  (Laughs)  They have a stronger respect for the culture, you know?

BossaBang! cover art

DJ Sorce-1:  Yeah, I agree with you though, they seem to appreciate the cultural aspects as much as the material parts of rap music.  Have you ever ghost produced for anyone?

Nick Tha 1da:  I’ve definitely done some ghost producing.  The funny thing is that it’s no big names.  If you hear my track record and know my songs and my beats, I pretty much stay within my own realm.  Just like I was saying, as far as major labels go, it’s a little too overproduced for me.  I’ve submitted several songs to major labels and the first thing they would tell me is, “Yo your mixing is ridiculous…in a bad way.  What is this, it sounds like a two track.”  I’d say, “It is a two track.’  I didn’t put drums on one track, hi hats on another and the baseline on another track.  Nooo.  You just got it straight out the machine.  Like Dilla said, “Straight off of the motherfucking cassette.”  More so than ghost producing I’ve supplied samples to the industry.  I’ve been doing that for years now.  I can say that with confidence.   


DJ Sorce-1:  You said that the songs you submitted to labels were criticized for their sound quality.  Would it be possible for a producer on a major label to use the 303 or 404 as their main mode of production?

Nick Tha 1da:  Madlib is an inspiration.  He used the 303 to create some tracks for Madvillian with MF Doom if I’m not mistaken.  Madlib does production for major labels.  He did some Erica Badu, he did some Kweli joints, and he did “Shopping Bags” by De La Soul.  He made "Shopping Bags" on the MPC 2000, which he never does.  I wonder if the label had anything to do with it.  The projects where he is solely using the 303 were all released on Stones Throw.  They’re more into the artistic side.   

DJ Sorce-1:  Right.  They have a different mindset than a major and that’s why people like them.  I read an interview with the engineer who mastered Quasimoto and it sounds like it took a lot to get the album from what Madlib made to being “studio” quality.

Nick Tha 1da:  I can see that.  I look at him as an inspiration, not only on the beat tip, but also for his aesthetic that you can create what you want and let the people accept it for what it is.  People absolutely loved Dilla’s Donuts and the majority of it was made on the 303.  I’ve even heard his mom mention that he was going through a phase; he called it the Dill Withers phase.  That’s when he was straight up getting the records and chopping them.  For anyone using a 303, it’s the simplest way to do that. 

DJ Sorce-1:  While we’re talking about major label artists, I heard that your Katrina beat was almost used by Lil’ Wayne. 

Nick Tha 1da:  The vocal sample says, “I lost my man down in New Orleans.” You gotta remember at the time, the way people felt about Katrina left the same taste in our mouth as the whole Treyvon things.  As soon as I made the track I was in two beat battles.  In both beat battles I was in, people went nuts.  I had somebody approach me like, “Yo, you need to get somebody from New Orleans on this.”  At the time Wayne was going real hard with The Carter series.  My ideal thing was to pitch it to him, but he never got back to me.  From what I heard it did get down to their camp.  To play it on the safe side, I only give them a snippet with tags on it just because I didn’t want them to pull a jack move.  I wonder in retrospect if a jack move was what I needed.  I love that I can still play that beat and people will go, “Yo, that still sounds fresh and relevant.”     

DJ Sorce-1:  How did you make “Fuel”

Nick Tha 1da:  I actually think I made it for a remix.  To make sure that beats are spit-able I’ll freestyle over it myself or blend an a cappella over it.  I think I did Royce’s “Boom” or something.  I made that when I was hitting the battle circuit hard.  People have told me that “Fuel” has a very Primoesque sound.  To bring it back full circle, the sample to that beat is “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” by Ken Boothe.  He’s a reggae artist from Jamaica and he did a cover of Bill Withers.  That’s what I was saying when I said we gotta re-write these rules of hip-hop.  I have no problem telling people my samples as long as you don’t come knocking on my door on some crazy stuff like, “We heard what you sampled.  Now you gotta pay this check.”     

Loop Diggin 101:Tha Mixes cover art

DJ Sorce-1:  What is your favorite feature of the 303 and the 404?

Nick Tha 1da:  Favorite is the battery power.  I’ve never been able to make beats on the go.  I always had to be in front of my computer or my sampler.  Even with the 303, I would need electricity or something I could plug it into.  With the 404…if I have six batteries and headphones,  I’m on the airplane, I’m on the bus, I’m in a rice field in Cambodia, and it don’t matter.  I’m making beats.  Overall, I think the 303 is a beautiful machine.  It has very warm sound, great pads, great effects, and great size.  

(Via Paige in Full Facebook Page)

DJ Sorce-1:  OK, final question.  What’s the most limiting thing about the 303 and the 404?   

Nick Tha 1da:  With the 303 it’s those smart media cards.  They’re expensive and I can’t go into Office Depot or Best Buy and buy those.  So it’s at an extreme disadvantage, especially when you fill up cards with the quickness.  The 404 sounds crunchier to me, like the highs are a little bit louder on it.  Whenever I want some low end bottom, I need some 808s on deck to play on top of the beat because the highs and the mids are really up there.  I would look at that like a disadvantage.  I’ll play a record and the record will be real warm and fuzzy.  Then, by the time I throw it in the 404, it already went up a couple of notches, even if I didn’t do anything.   

DJ Sorce-1:  It’s interesting, Dibia$e said that some people like the sound of the 303 so much that they’ll do part of the beat in the 303 and then dump it into the 404.

Nick Tha 1da:  I have no idea, we’d have to talk to Roland, but I think when they were making the 404 they said, “Let’s give the 404 more effects and let it do more.”  I don’t think they said, “Let’s keep the sound the same”, so they ended up switching that too.  But the sound on the 303 was just perfect.  

Many thanks to Nick Tha 1da for inspiring me to start this series.  His YouTube videos showcasing his talents on both the 303 and 404 are some of the best on the internet.  They are essential viewing if you like this sort of thing.  Also make sure to check out his Bandcamp page and his Behind the Beats interview.  

Saturday, August 3, 2013

303s and 404s: Nick Tha 1da Pt. 2

During Pt. 1 of our interview, Nick Tha 1da talked about Roland SP live performance, micro-chopping samples, and the need to limit quantization while making beats.  For Pt. 2 of 303s and 404s, Nick talks about the special bond shared by DMV producers, not pitching up records for sampling, and his love of records with "that grimy" sound. 

DJ Sorce-1:  I like when producers have the attitude that it’s OK to learn the new equipment, but it’s also OK to keep your go-to method that you are most comfortable with.  Sticking with what you know can help you maintain your signature sound.  

Nick Tha 1da:  The beautiful thing about programs these days is that they have the capability to produce sounds that you wouldn’t normally find on a record.  But, as you said, analog all day.  There’s something about physically touching the pads and making music. 

DJ Sorce-1:  I think there is definitely something about the actual touching of pads and pressing buttons that makes people feel something.  I showed a friend of mine one of your videos and he said, “That guy is playing the 303 like it’s an instrument.”  I told him, “It is an instrument.”

Nick Tha 1da:  That was my intention all along.  At the time when I was getting interested in making beats you had Qbert and Roc Raida taking turntablism through the roof.  Before, you just had DJs rocking parties.  I wondered why nobody was taking that approach with samplers and beat machines.  Now you got AraabMuzik and Exile doing killer live performances on the MPC.  It’s actually here now and it has arrived.  

DJ Sorce-1:  It seems like the live beat thing has really blown up.  You have guys in LA like Dibia$e, Samiyam, and Ras G killing live shows and making a name for themselves.  It’s crazy, because I religiously listen to rap music and have always been into DJ culture and production, and I really didn’t know about a lot of this stuff until a year or two ago. 

Nick Tha 1da:  Oh man, the rap world goes hella deep.  That’s what I love about being a crate digger.  Just when you think you’ve scratched the surface there is so much more in the culture that you can experiment with and learn about.   

DJ Sorce-1:  You recently started rocking the 404 as well as the 303.  I’m curious what your opinion is of the different effects and features of the 303 and 404.  Sometimes a feature that people love will be removed from an upgraded SP.  

Nick Tha 1da:  Well, going from the 303 to the 404, Roland did make improvements, and that’s what it’s all about.  For instance, I really like the pitch adjuster of the 404 over the 303.  The 303’s is absolute hot garbage.  It makes it sound like you’re playing samples in a metal trash can.  With the 404, if you mess with the knobs and adjust the drive and the resonance correctly; it’s the same exact sample, just in a different pitch.  It doesn’t change any of the time stretching or any of that.  I love that effect on the 404. 

I never looked at the machines from a DJ point of view; I looked at them from more of a producer point of view.  I was always more concerned with sequencing beats and how to clean up my chops so they cut off at the correct time.  After I construct the beat, then I worry about the effects and all of that.  The effects are awesome for doing live shows.  That’s really relevant when you’re looking at the LA beat scene.  That’s one thing we don’t have over here.  People in the clubs in DC, New York, and Philly, they don’t want to start around for 30 minutes hearing a set of me just playing beats.  They need some type of singers or open mic.  That’s all cool, but like I said, I really respect the LA beat scene for what they are doing with bringing the producer to the forefront.    

I have a couple of beat homies who are originally from the East Coast, same as my side, and now they’re over there in L.A. doing their thing.  My homie MNDSGN is definitely a favorite of mine on the producer tip.  Mind Design uses a few different things, he has a good ear, and he can play a lot of stuff outOhbliv uses the 404 and he does his thing with it.  

(Ohbliv Live Via Ohbliv's Facebook Page)

DJ Sorce-1:  You seem to be friendly with a lot of the DMV producers.  How did you get involved in that scene?

Nick Tha 1da:  I feel like Kev Brown, Roddy Rod, and Street Orchestra really influenced me to keep moving on my journey as a producer.  I remember when I was getting into it seriously and there was a Beat Society producer showcase.  Beat Society was brand new; I mean it hadn’t been out a year.  At the time I was only 20 and the event was 21 and up, so I couldn’t even get in.  I was like, “Damn yo, this is what my life is about right now.  I totally want to check this out but I can’t get in.”  I saw Roddy Rod and he said, “That beat CD you sent me was good.  You had some joints on there.”  I told him, “Yo, I appreciate it, but I really want to see the show.”  Sure enough, Roddy Rod gets me in. 

The show that night was Raheem Devaughn, Kev Brown, Street Orchestra, and another producer who I can’t remember right now.  They had SP-1200s, the MPC-2000, and everything else sitting on the stage.  People were going nuts.  They were doing their beats live and Kev probably rocked Albany.  At that moment I was like, “Personal goal.  I gotta get on stage and play my junk.”  It was pretty much after that time that I got to know people.  I’m a pretty open, talkative guy.  We were already here and we were already bubblin’ on the open mic and beat scene.  It just blossomed into watching each other evolve into the producers we are today. 

(Via Ticket Fly)

DJ Sorce-1:  I like the community vibe.  When I watch the behind the Behind the Beats series or Scratch Magazine TV, I can tell that people legitimately respect each other when there are a group of producers in the same room. 

Nick Tha 1da:  It’s no secret now that sometimes you can get more satisfaction if you’re part of a movement.  Look at Wu-Tang and even 9th Wonder and his SOUL Council.  If you get a lot of like minded individuals together, it gives you more of a push in the direction that you want to go.  

DJ Sorce-1:  Earlier in the interview we discussed sampling off of vinyl.  I saw in the Behind the Beats interview that you don’t pitch your records down when you are sampling them.  Is that still the case? 

Nick Tha 1da:  I’d say 75% of the time they are the exact same speed that was played on the turntable.  That’s for the simple fact that at one point, I wanted people to figure out what I was sampling.  This was early on.  I thought, “If I can keep it the same pitch they’ll be like, ‘That could be Bobby Womack, but I’m not sure.  He just killed it’.”  You have to remember in the late '90s and early 2000s everybody was pitching up records.  There’s nothing wrong with that; I’ve made plenty of beats like that too, but at the time I wasn’t putting these releases out, so I wasn’t worrying about sample clearances.  I just kept it at the original tempo.  I also found it easier to be able to have a portable turntable with the sampler and make beats while traveling.  I could immediately make a beat as opposed to saying, “Oh man, I could change this pitch.  I gotta go home and throw this on the computer and do this and do that.”  There would be too much hesitation as opposed to actually getting a track completed. 

DJ Sorce-1:  I’ve heard several producers talking about having a preference with sampling a 45 or a 12” versus sampling off of a LP because of the difference in sound quality.  Do you have any preference, or is it just whatever song catches your fancy?  

Nick Tha 1da: Strictly albums.  I like to play albums all the way through.  Sometimes you find your best stuff in the middle of the song or at the end of the song.  Songs are always hot when they have the sample straight in the front, but a lot of people miss out because they are just looking for samples instead of actually appreciating music.  The way you’re sitting at home trying to make music, you gotta remember that somebody thirty years ago was in the same position.  They wanted people to hear their music, not just skip through it.  I don’t put out a beat CD for you to listen to the first three seconds of each track.  I want you to listen to it. 

DJ Sorce-1:  That’s a great point and I think you’re the first person I’ve ever interviewed about sampling to make that point.  The people that we are sampling from had the same dreams as us.  

Nick Tha 1da:  There is a group called 21st Century.  If you’re not familiar with them, as soon as you look it up you’re going to be like, “Oh, this person and this person sampled them.”  I remember one time I was talking to a friend who is in the industry now.  I was like, “Yo, check out this beat I just made.”  It sampled 21st Century and I thought the beat was fire.  He said, “Yeah, the beats alright.”  I was like, “Just alright?!”  He said, “That’s my father singing on the track.  It’s cool, but I talk to him all the time, and he’s always questioning, ‘What if this had happened differently with my group?’” 

Musicians then had the same struggles that we go through today as an artist.  I feel like once you have that real mutual respect and you can see where an individual is coming from, it translates in your music and it’s more organic.  Know something about the artist, as opposed to saying, “I’m taking this Bob James” and you don’t even know who Bob James is or what groups he played in.  I’m not saying you have to do that for everything you sample, but at least be knowledgeable.  Show respect, the same way you want that respect.     

DJ Sorce-1:  I think that’s a great point, especially in the digital era.  It’s still important to listen to things carefully.  Do you have a favorite digging city or town?  

Nick Tha 1da:  I don’t have a favorite city; I just make a point to dig wherever I go.  Actually, to be honest, my favorite place to dig is overseas.  Everywhere I’ve been overseas they have 50 cent records.  With the conversion of American money it comes out even cheaper.  The whole issue with digging overseas is shipping it back, unless you have some crazy DJ bags. 

You know what I think is the best kept secret here in the states?  A lot of people turn their noses up at it, but Goodwill and the thrift shops.  Don’t sleep because a lot of people are loading off records they inherited.  The records just don’t have value to them that it did to the person in their family who was collecting them.  Here in Maryland we got a place called Langley Park.  It’s basically a Latino community, and if you go to the thrift shops there it’s all salsa, meringue, bossa nova, and stuff that you wouldn’t find at a normal record store for those prices.  You gotta always keep your eyes peeled.

DJ Sorce-1:  Do you have any dollar bin miracles or expensive records that you’ve found for cheap?

Nick Tha 1da:  I have a lot of friends who are DJs and producers and they’ll say, “Yeah man, I saw that Cortex record, but it’s all scratched up so I didn’t get it.”  When I ask them how much it was they’ll say, “99 cents.”  If you’re making beats it shouldn’t matter if it has scratches or anything on it.  If you’re a DJ, I can understand because you don’t want the record the jump, but I like that grimy. 

The one I just mentioned, Cortex, was a good find.  It’s a French record and it’s hella rare.  The famous sample on it is MF Doom’s “One Beer”.  It was also used on Jaylib for the song “No Games”.  That record normally goes for all types of money because it’s no longer pressed and it’s French so it’s hard to find here.  I found it for $10 and that’s way outta my budget.  I probably have dozen records that I paid $10 for.  Everything else is a dollar or less.

DJ Sorce-1:  I haven’t heard of it before.  I didn’t get into trying to produce until two or three years ago, so I wasn’t really digging that hard for samples before that.  I was trying to pick up 12 inches and stuff that I would actually play out.  

Nick Tha 1da:  I’m the complete opposite.  I like buying stuff that’s not even danceable.  I found another good rare record for a dollar, the Lyman Woodard Organization.  That’s a fire album.  It’s been sampled a couple of times.  I notice that when people sample records they take the easiest song that is sample-able as opposed to listening to the whole track.  If I find a good record; I’ll go ahead and sample the entire album. 

(Via Soulstrut)

Click here to read Pt. 3.  

Friday, August 2, 2013

303s and 404s: Nick Tha 1da Pt. 1

The second entry of 303s and 404s features the original inspiration for the series, Nick Tha 1da. Hailing from the D.C./DMV area, Nick works the 303 like few others. In addition to teaching a variety of music classes at the nonprofit Words, Beats, and Life and DJing in and around the D.C. area, Nick has achieved beat placements with Boog Brown, Chaundon, Grap Luva, and Kenn Starr with his refined micro-chopping and gritty sound. Having recently upgraded to using both the 303 and 404, Nick broke down the his favorite features for both machines, his digging philosophy, and his affinity for Cool Edit. I am honored to present my second entry in 303s and 404s with Nick Tha 1da.

DJ Sorce-1:  In addition to producing, I’ve read that you also teach music classes.  What sort of music classes do you teach?      

Nick Tha 1da:  I teach music production, engineering, recording, composition, and freestyling.  I’ll go wherever, like New York and Boston, but I mainly teach in DC.  I do that through a nonprofit called Words, Beats, and Life

DJ Sorce-1:  I know from talking to you previously that you lost some of your setup in a fire.  Can you tell me a little bit about that?   

Nick Tha 1da:  At the time my setup was just vinyl and an SP-1200.  I didn’t even have the 303 yet.  My upstairs neighbor’s furnace caught fire and burned a hole in their floor and my ceiling.  Then, when the fireman came to put out the fire, I also got all of the water damage that came through the ceiling.  That was kind of sucky. (Laughs)  But you know what they say.  Whenever those kinds of things happen, it makes you stronger.       

DJ Sorce-1:  You had an SP-1200 at that time.  Was that the only equipment you were using to make music? 

Nick Tha 1da:  I was just rocking Cool Edit and the SP-1200.  I’m still an avid fan of Cool Edit.  Shout outs to my Cool Edit fam, ‘cause I know Apollo Brow gets down with it still.  I don’t know if 14KT still uses it, but he can make a full beat off of Cool Edit.  After the fire, I had to get rid of the SP-1200.  I found out that Damu the Fudgemunk got that same SP.  It’s a small beat world.  

DJ Sorce-1:  Do you ever exclusively make beats in Cool Edit?

Nick Tha 1da:  Before I got any hardware, that’s how I learned.  You just copy and paste.  You’re working with everything from micro-chopping to straight loops.  Peter Quistgard was the person whose name you had to enter in order to unlock Cool Edit after you downloaded it.  Whoever he is he gets big up because he sparked a whole revolution of Cool Edit producers.  

DJ Sorce-1:  Would you ever put out the beats you made on the 1200?   

Nick Tha 1da:  They were a little amateur.  (Laughs)  But that style seems to be in now, especially on the 1200 tip.  I have put a couple out as remixes.  If you go on Underground Hip Hop, I did a project for this guy K-Cromozone.  A lot of that project had 1200 beats. 

(Via UGHH)

DJ Sorce-1:  It seems like when the fire happened, you changed your setup to Cool Edit and a 303 because the 303 was inexpensive

Nick Tha 1da:  That was the action plan after the fire.  I wanted to find a way to start making a whole bunch of beats again and not cry too much over my situation.  I was thinking about my options and my pops came to me with the whole SP-303 thing.  I wasn’t even looking at it.  I have a secret love affair with the ASR-10 and I said, “Yo, I’m going to do whatever I can to find an ASR-10.”  Then my pops found me a used 303 at Guitar Center and ever since then it was on.   

DJ Sorce-1:  You have several videos on YouTube showcasing your skills on the 303.  It seems like there aren’t as many videos as you would expect of people killing it on vintage equipment.  Do you think producers want to keep an element of secrecy to producing?   

Nick Tha 1da:  That’s a great point you just brought up.  I’m tired of all of this hip-hop supremacy, secrecy bs.  If you can find out what I sampled props to you.  You figured out the Holy Grail.  If we show people certain tips and tricks, they can help develop it so we can all use it for the better.  You feel me?

DJ Sorce-1:  Yeah.  Talking about the process and sharing information helps people make better music.  I realize that a lot of producers probably don’t agree with me, but that’s my take.    

Nick Tha 1da:  Absolutely.  The funny thing is that when I made those videos, I wasn’t like, “Alright, I’ma make a tutorial for the world to see.”  I was actually making them for these projects I had when I was in college.  At the time I was just 100% crate diggin’ and making beats.  That’s how they started.     

Everybody gives me flack for the SP-1200 video I made because they’re like, “Yo, he’s sampling to the SP-1200 straight out of his computer.  That’s wack.  I thought Nick was about vinyl and samples.”  The funny thing is I had to rip the vinyl to the computer to sample it.  It’s not like I didn’t have the vinyl.  I see cats sampling off of YouTube now, which is crazy to me.


DJ Sorce-1:  Yeah, people sample anything now.  And I’m finding out that a lot of people used stuff other than vinyl back in the day.  Do you use anything besides vinyl for samples?

Nick Tha 1da:  I say everything is fair game except for YouTube.  For me, the quality isn’t there.  It’s already been lowered from CD quality.  I’m like, “Damn, how you gonna go from record quality, to CD quality, to YouTube quality.”  Unless you just don’t care and you’re really manipulating the sample.  And I’m not hating on anybody that does that.    

DJ Sorce-1:  I’ve seen videos where you do some serious micro-chopping.  I’ve also heard beats you’ve produced where it sounds more like a straight loop.  When you’re doing stuff on the 303 and 404, which method do you prefer?  

Nick Tha 1da:  I like to chop.  I mentioned this in the Behind the Beats interview, but I learned how to chop so small on the 1200.  I’d take any piece I could and add filters or make it trail off so that I could extend the sample.  By the time I got to the 303, I was like, “Yeah, no problem, I can flip this any way I want.”  This is me giving away a secret, but the key to the 303 is that the metronome throws you off.  If you can do a beat completely live and keep your timing, you can actually use more sample time and flip it and all of that.  A lot of times quantization makes it sound a little bit more rigid and your samples don’t come out the way you want.  I’m not saying I get everything on the first take; I gotta do it a couple of times.  I also like using the 303 and the 404 for their live capacity. 

DJ Sorce-1:  I’m curious how much of your live shows can be internally sequenced in the 303 or 404.  Do you need a computer or anything else to help you out? 

Nick Tha 1da:  Not at all.  The beautiful difference with the 404 is that it holds so much more.  Between the 303 and the 404 you don’t need anything else.  I just did a show a few days ago with no computer, no turntables, no PC, just the two systems themselves.  Basically all I had loaded up was a couple of drum kits.  I always keep drum kits loaded on there just in case I want to do live beats or make a quick pattern.  Then I run off the pattern and do all of my chops.  It gets no more simple than that.  I feel like it’s just a muscle and the more you practice, the more efficient you get.      


DJ Sorce-1:  How many hours a day would you say you have to practice to get to that level?

Nick Tha 1da:  I make beats every day.  Got to.   I split my time between doing all things hip hop.  If I’m working on a theatrical show for somebody with a hip-hop soundtrack I’m working on that for 3-4 hours.  Then I’m working on beats for another four hours.  Another night I’m DJing here in DC for like six hours.  Then after that, more beats.  I probably spend at least eight hours a day.   

DJ Sorce-1:  Wow.  That is serious dedication.  When you’re making a beat are you more of an early morning or late night person.  

Nick Tha 1da:  You never know when inspiration will hit, but I’m definitely a night owl.  Sometimes I’ll get in at three in the morning from DJing and I just can’t sleep yet because I’ve been playing Ruff Ryders Anthem all night.  (Laughs)  Or Simon Says by Pharaoh Monch.  So I still have my energy up.  I’ll use that time to make something until I wind down.  A lot of times I’ll break it up and have days or mornings where I just work on drums and nothing else.  That way I don’t feel like I’m too stuck in a box trying to complete a beat.  I also have something called Sample Sundays where I pretty much spend all Sunday digging through records and listening to samples.  I’ll play the whole record, front to back, all day.  

DJ Sorce-1:  I need to start doing more of that. 

Nick Tha 1da:  You got to.  I got records that I’ve bought and still ain’t heard yet.     

DJ Sorce-1:  You seem so comfortable with the 303 and 404.  Are you ever tempted to branch out to another machine?

Nick Tha 1da:  Those two are my favorites.  The funny is that I just got put on to the 404.  I was using the 303 exclusively for a minute, but the buttons started sticking on me.  If you look at my videos, I’m hitting the crap out of them pads.  Out of the eight pads, four or five weren’t sticking.  I started making beats and I call them the four button beats.  They sound real simple, but they were being made with what I had available.  So I went to a recording studio session for one of my albums and UnOwn was there.  He’s a hot producer from the area.  He’s done a lot of work with Oddissee, he’s part of a group called the Jazz Addixx, and he did production for a whole bunch of people in the area.  UnOwn was like, “Man, I just got the SP-404sx, but I got this regular 404.  I’m not doing anything with it if you want to hold onto it for a minute.”  Once I got my hands on it I was like, “Oh man, this is just a super upgrade to the 303.”  Essentially, that’s what the 404 is.

(Via SP-404 Video)

DJ Sorce-1:  It’s like the 303 on steroids. 

Nick Tha 1da:  Basically.  The memory cards are easier to find and cheaper.  They’re larger gigabyte cards.  It has a built in mic which is awesome.  You can beat box into the machine.  Its battery powered so I’ve been on airplanes, busses, and trains just making beats.   

DJ Sorce-1:  When you’re on an airplane, train, or bus, do you get distracted by people looking at you?

Nick Tha 1da:  Not at all.  I try to just stay in the zone.  Just so they don’t think I’m crazy I’ll be like, “Yo, you want to listen to it and see what I’m doing over here?” if they seem really interested.  A lot of times the youth are more accepting than the older folks.  And to answer your earlier question, the 303 and 404 are what I love, but I made a personal mantra to myself to be able to sit in front of a machine make a beat on anything.  I’ve been teaching myself to make beats on Maschine, Logic, and all of the above.  But I’m never gonna stop using the 303, 404, and Cool Edit.       

(Via Paige In Full)

Click here to read Pt. 2.