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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Rewinding with 7L @ Strictly Cassette

Strictly Cassette has an must-read interview with 7L where he discusses his first cassette, mix tape DJ's, his involvement in Get On Down, and lots of other essential goodness for the musically obsessed.  Take a look by clicking here.

Monday, March 25, 2013


For a while I've been really inspired by these videos of Nick Tha 1da crushing it on a Roland SP-303.

In addition to being a huge fan of his beats, I'm interested in the SP-303 mode of production.  I owned one of these briefly and upgraded for an SP-555.  It was only after I made the upgrade that I learned about J Dilla and Madlib using the 303 to make some legendary music.  I was also surprised to find out that artists like Beck and Panda Bear used the 303 as well.

The more I dig, the more 303 goodness I uncover.  It seems there is a large community of people using this machine, that I once viewed as dated and limited, to make amazing music.  I want to start an interview series about the 303 here at HITS.  If you think this is a good idea or have artists you think I should reach out to, post a comment.  In the meantime, check out this mr. dibia$e SP-303 beat.

Thanks to Nick Tha 1da for putting me on to this.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

DJ Zimmie - Footnotes Vol. 1

DJ Zimmie continues to put out some really nice mix tapes.  His most recent Footnotes series is perhaps his most ambitious project yet.  According to Zimmie, the series aims to be an "encyclopedic mix series of sample-based Hip-Hop by year. Mixes will be released chronologically, multiple editions per year when necessary, to educate listeners on the ingredients of Hip-Hop."  Essentially, Zimmie will guide listeners through various rap songs and their sample sources.  Footnotes Vol. 1 covers songs released between '79 and '81 and is already getting love from sites like ego trip.  Check out Zimmie's post about it on his website or hit the direct download link by clicking here.

For those that still check out HITS, you may remember that I was also a big fan of his summer mix tape You Gots to Grill Vol. 4.  You can find that mix, along with all of his other mix tapes, on his Soundcloud page.     

Friday, March 22, 2013

Stakes Is High

(via Plug 1)
It's crazy how a simple image of a few machines can be so inspiring.  This is a picture I snatched off of Posdonus' Twitter showing an E-mu SP-1200 hooked up to an early Apple computer.  The picture was taken during the Stakes Is High recording sessions.  Love the album, love this picture.

Black Milk, Focu$, and Twitter

Something about a recent interaction between rapper/producer/musician Black Milk and aspiring producer Focu$ caught my attention.  Focu$, clearly a fan of Black Milk, hit him up on Twitter seeking advice about how to get the final mix of his music sounding right.  It should be noted that Milk is an extremely talented veteran producer who gets co-signed by the rap game's biggest producers.

Black Milk responded to Focu$ honestly and thoughtfully , even taking the time to listen to his music and offer some meaningful feedback.  He was also very humble, admitting that he himself is still learning some of the aspects of mixing and mastering.  

(Click images to enlarge)

This was striking to me.  I think Focu$' final tweet sums up the importance of the conversation best by simply stating, "No one in your position ever helps.  Thanks."  Inspired by this interaction, I decided to check out the most recent Focu$ project (The Dreamer) on Bandcamp.  Even if Focu$ doesn't feel like he has perfected his craft yet, I hope he sticks with it, as he clearly has talent.  I ended up buying a copy of The Dreamer and am enjoying listening to it as I write this piece.    

I don't want to get on a soapbox here and start a rant about social media, I just wanted to point out that it is refreshing to see an aspiring musician connect with an established musician in a meaningful and productive way.  Thank you Black Milk and Focu$ for showing us how to do this.  

If you haven't already, make sure to check out Black Milk.  His Album of the Year project belongs in your collection.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

'Til My Tape Pop #2: The Last Amateur Interview with John Doe

I discovered John Doe, one of the founding members of the DJ collective the 1200 Hobos, when I was interning as a concert promoter in London in 2005.  I had recently received his Popular Fallacies mix tape as a gift and it was unlike any mix tape that I’d ever heard before.  The CD was in constant rotation in my Discman during my time in London and continued to inspire me during my years as a DJ.

Time passed and my connection with music changed as I began to focus on writing instead of DJing.  I was pleasantly surprised when John emailed me a few years ago.  He had enjoyed my blog and offered to pass along a copy of his 2007 mix tape The Last Amateur for review.  I was once again blown away the skill it took to put together.  I immediately requested an interview. 

It turns out that the composition of The Last Amateur is as interesting as the final product.  By using what many would consider a dated mode of production, John managed to create something that blows 99.9% of mix tapes that have been released since 2007 (or before) out of the water.  Read on as the last amateur breaks down his creative process.

DJ Sorce-1: When I hear a Jon Doe tape, I’m impressed by the beat juggles, sample drops, blending, and scratching.  Do you have any influences in terms of mix tapes or are your creations something uniquely your own?

John Doe:  Honestly, one of my influences came from hearing mix tapes that weren't very good.  I would hear other tapes and think, “Why didn't they do this, scratch this, or put this underneath this.”  It made me want to create something ten times better, a hundred times better if I could.  There was a time when blend tapes were big, rare groove and sample tapes seemed to be pretty big, and scratch tapes were pretty big.  I wanted to do all three, and I guess that’s what I was trying to do; put all three of them together in one really good package.  In terms of tapes that influenced me, do you have a copy of Tapes Skills Techniques

DJ Sorce-1: No.

John Doe:  That’s actually the very first 1200 Hobos tape that was made before I became a member.  A friend of mine let me borrow it and I was blown away.  I was even more blown away when I realized it was by someone here in Cincinnati.  A lot of the ideas of it were the kind of ideas that I had wanted to put out myself.  Listening to Tapes Skills Techniques, meeting Mr. Dibbs and hearing his other work like Turntable Scientifics, and watching DMC tapes also influenced me. 

DJ Sorce-1:  Besides the 1200 Hobos, were there any other local DJ’s that influenced you?

John Doe:  Locally my main influence was Dibbs.  We used to DJ together on a radio show.  When you DJ with someone, especially with scratching and stuff, it helps you get your skills up that much more.   We DJ’d together for 3-4 years weekly.   

I also like Kid Koala.  I think the Scratchcratchratchatch tape that he did was really unique and different.  That was the one that had the “I got a rock” CharlieBrown sample that he cut up.  When he did that, I thought “God, that's hilarious, but it’s so hard.”  When I listened to that tape I could tell that he pretty much did what he wanted to.  That’s why I list him as one of my influences; I don’t think he was trying to appeal to anyone, really, except for himself.  I think my style might also be a little quirky, but in a different way.

DJ Sorce-1: Well, you definitely have a subtle sense of humor.  I love the sample at the very end of The Last Amateur from the movie Se7en where Kevin Spacey brags, “What I've done is going to be puzzled over, and studied, and followed.”  Right after that, Brad Pitt says, “Yeah…delusions of grandeur.”  It shows that even though you care about making a good product, you don’t take yourself too seriously.

John Doe:  (Laughs) Exactly.  It was kind of a funny, almost tongue in cheek.  I guess you really could study it and it and take it apart if you wanted to, but “delusions of grandeur” is what someone would say to me if I really thought people were going to study one of my mixes. 

DJ Sorce-1:  Do you have a favorite era or year for rap music?

John Doe:  Any era that still uses a lot of samples.  If you listen to my CDs, a lot of it is sample based.  I like songs that are from samples, so I play a lot of that era and a little bit later. 

DJ Sorce-1:  You used “Dangerous” by Bas Blasta on the track "The Big Hit", right around the 4:05 mark.  I thought I was the only person still up on his singles. 

John Doe: That’s a dope record.

DJ Sorce-1:  It is a dope record.  Another record of his that I love is “Ain’t Watcha Do”, which the Beatnuts produced.

John Doe:  People like him get missed.  I still find myself picking up stuff from 10-15 years ago that I’m like, “wow, this is pretty dope.  I can’t believe I missed this.”

DJ Sorce-1: Is there any one group or region that you tend to learn towards for rap?

John Doe:  I definitely lean towards the East Coast. (Laughs) For a time I lived in Florida when I was in high school.  Miami bass was really, really big down there.  I really didn’t get into it; I was more into the New York sound.  What I liked about the Miami sound was the scratching.  From what I heard, New York DJs could not cut like Miami DJs.  So I liked Miami scratching but I like the New York style beats. 

DJ Sorce-1:  In an interview you said that you don’t use a computer when doing mix tapes and that you only use vinyl.  Is that still the case? 

John Doe:  I still do vinyl, pretty much exclusively.  I still go digging, but not as much as I used to.   

DJ Sorce-1: You seem to have an extraordinary knowledge of breaks and samples.  Do you make beats yourself?

John Doe:  No, I don’t.  I have a lot of the capabilities to make beats but to be honest, if I was going to work on a project I’d have a lot more fun making Popular Fallacies or The Last Amateur part two rather than sit here and make beats.

DJ Sorce-1:  At the end of the tape, you scratched the line, “I stay amateur while others turn pro.”  What kind of statement were you making? 

John Doe: I really am the last amateur. I have a regular job. I’m an environmental chemist. I wouldn't say that I’m a professional DJ. I still put my CDs together the way I want to. I've advanced my style, but I’m still an amateur.


DJ Sorce-1:  When composing a mix tape, what equipment are you rocking?

John Doe:  I use turntables and a mixer.  I also use, believe it or not, an analog multi-tracker.   There’s a picture of it on the back of the CD case.   So yeah, all of my equipment is pretty dated, but it’s all about what you put out.  I've always stood by that. 

DJ Sorce-1:  There’s no computer in your studio?

John Doe:  No, there’s no computer down here in the studio.  I don’t use any programs.  I record to cassette. 

DJ Sorce-1:  The way different lyrics are pieced together and everything is inner-connected, it’s almost like you have a photographic memory.

John Doe:  By putting my CDs together the way that I do, you can really tell what my personality is like by listening to it.  I read somewhere that when you DJ, your personality should be able to show through what you play.  I know a lot of people that like the same stuff that I do, but just playing it isn’t going to show my personality.  The way I put things together though; that can really show what I’m about.

DJ Sorce-1:  Do you do most of your recording in a studio?

John Doe:  I actually have a home studio.  That’s what I use.

DJ Sorce-1:  Are other people a part of your recording sessions or do you record by yourself?

John Doe:  Pretty much when I record, there’s no one else around.  My wife and stepdaughter are home, but they don’t come and hang out with me when I’m recording.  I stay down here and work, usually a little bit later at night when they've gone to bed. 

DJ Sorce-1:  I have a small home studio in my apartment.  There is something really nice about being able to make music where you live

John Doe:  Oh yeah.  I can work on stuff, go upstairs and make a sandwich, then come back down and keep on working.  There were times when I used to be able to work on music until two or three in the morning knowing I had to be at work at seven or eight.  I really can’t do that anymore. (Laughs)  I can stay awake until one.  I try to start working on music a little bit earlier in the evening, but I've found in previous years that I was a little bit more creative after midnight.  I don’t know what it is.

DJ Sorce-1:  When you’re making a CD, do you write things down?

John Doe:  Oh yeah.  I've got legal pads and composition books full of notes.   I use them to map the tapes out.

DJ Sorce-1:  I read that you started The Last Amateur in 2004.  After you started recording it, you got married, bought a house, and didn't end up finessing it until 2007.  Do you think having that amount of time was helpful?

John Doe:  Yeah, I would say so.  As soon as Popular Fallacies was done, I already had notes started and I think I had part of the intro for The Last Amateur done.  There was so much going on in my life that I tried to do stuff here and there, but it wasn't until I was a little more settled that I could really sit down and attack it.  To me there was no rush to put it out.  I guess that’s why it took so long.  I was picky, and you’re always your own worst critic.  And when you’re putting everything together yourself, it takes a little bit longer to get things pressed up, get the artwork done, and things like that.  

DJ Sorce-1:  The CD I have looks really nice.  The artwork is well done and it’s packaged well.  Did you recoup what you spend to get it pressed up?

John Doe:  The response was good.  When I changed my profile on MySpace to a picture of me holding it, a lot of people emailed to ask if it was done.  That was cool.  But yeah, I recouped what I spend to have the CD copies made.  The CDs sold pretty well through MySpace and people randomly emailing me.  
A friend of mine, DEVIous TSC did the artwork.  I had the CDs pressed up at another place and everything was printed here locally so I could check the proofs.  I assembled the CDs at my house.  I did the mix-down of The Last Amateur in my home studio but I didn't do the mastering.  I had to go to a studio to get it mastered by an engineer so it bumped and everything sounded really good.  

DJ Sorce-1:  The sound it really clean.  You can definitely tell that it’s a labor of love.   For source material, how many records would you say that you have total?

John Doe:  I would say about 3-4,000.  I probably have an extra 1-2,000 at my parent’s house.  I would say around 4-5,000 total.  I try to weed stuff out sometimes.  I've started pulling out records, and with some of them I realized, “I haven’t played this in the last 10 years.  Do you I really need doubles of Foxy Brown’s fourth album?” (Laughs)

DJ Sorce-1:  You break your CDs into three or four minute segments.  How long does it take for you to perfect one of those segments? 

John Doe:  That entire mix was laid out, minute 1 through minute 60, and then I broke it up later.  I didn't work on one section at a time.  I went all the way through, and then when I listened to it I would come up with names for the different parts.  It kind of seems like it was made as individual sections, but it wasn't.  It was one big, continuous mix.  That’s why some parts are really long and other parts are shorter. 

When I make a mix tape, I work in blocks of 16 bars.  Every single song that I use, every beat, is 16 bars long and that’s it.  That’s why everything goes in and out so quickly.  That’s one concession I made.  You’re not going to want to listen to me scratch over one beat for three straight minutes.  I’m going to do what I can in 16 bars and then move on.   I really don’t know where that formula came from.  16 bars is usually the length of a verse, so I just did that, and it’s the format that I've stuck with.  16 bars is approximately 40 seconds, so I try to give you the best of everything squeezed into 40 seconds of each song.   

DJ Sorce-1:  You seem to have a pretty specific mode of production.  Would it be hard to make a project with someone else?

John Doe:   I think so.  It’s really a matter of time and scheduling.  I usually work on music pretty late, until around midnight, I can’t meet up with anyone or have them over to my house that late.  I've been doing this by myself for so long, I don’t see a need to collaborate with someone.  Now, if I did 30 minutes, and someone else did 30 minutes, that could probably work.  As far as working on something together, I don’t see how that would be possible with timing and schedules.  

You can pick up Popular Fallacies and The Last Amateur via John Doe's Bandcamp page.  They are both being sold for a "name your own" price.  I highly recommend both.  

To read the first installment of 'Til My Tape Pop with Cosmo Baker, click here.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

"Make Those Records You Make": Prince Paul Speaks on De La Soul is Dead

On May 13th, 2016, De La Soul is Dead will turn 25 years old. As my favorite album of all-time, I aspire to write a 33 1/3 oral history about the making of, reception, and legacy of the album to coincide with the anniversary. So far several people have been kind enough to talk to me at length, including 7L, 88 Keys, DJ Neil Armstrong, and Prince Paul.

I've decided to share a snippet of my interview with Paul where he breaks down the equipment and creative process that was used to make DLSID. If nothing else, I hope this interview sparks conversation about DLSID and gives people an inside look at what it was like produce sample based music during the early 90s. 

(via DJ 7L)

DJ Sorce-1: Everyone I interview about De La Soul is Dead mentions how the production stands out, especially for the time. Given the equipment you guys were using, it’s crazy that the beats are so layered and all of the samples are perfectly on beat and in key. 

Prince Paul:
We had the experience of making the first album to give us a better idea of how to do it on the second album with the equipment we had. It’s funny, at the time that equipment was considered kind of new. Making records before those samplers was hard. On De Le Soul is Dead, we were like, “Wow, we can lock things up, we have delays, we can move samples around, and we have pitch shifters.” Now you could probably throw it in the computer and slap it together in two minutes. But at the time we thought we were ahead of the curve in technology.

DJ Sorce-1: I know in talking to you for an earlier interview that you guys were using an Akai S-900, an Emu SP-12, and a Casio SK-5 on 3 Feet High and Rising. Did you use the same equipment for De La Soul is Dead?

Prince Paul: Yeah, we used all of the same stuff. We were at the same studio, we were at Calliope. I think we mixed the album at Island Media in New York. We basically used the same format.

DJ Sorce-1: When you say SP-12, I've heard people abbreviate the SP-1200 by saying SP-12. But they are two different machines. Were you using the earlier model?

Prince Paul: Yeah. The SP-12 doesn't have a disk drive so you can't save the samples. The 1200 has a floppy disk drive that you can save your music in. So we had an early one, the very first one.

DJ Sorce-1: I’m amazed that you guys were utilizing an SK-5. I know that's a pretty limited sampler. Did you just use the external mic device to sample?

Prince Paul: I honestly don't remember. I still have that sampler, but it's in my attic. I think there was a mic input and it also had mic built in on top of it that you could speak into. I think we just plugged into the mic input and sped samples up. Obviously the sound was kind of jacked up, but nobody was concerned about quality back then. We were just impressed by the novelty of sampling. Everyone was like, "Ooh, I can take a piece of something and play it on a keyboard.”

DJ Sorce-1: Did you have a favorite sampler that you were using at the time?

Prince Paul: Probably the S-900. I could navigate that pretty easily. I broke it out recently because I have a couple in racks in my basement. I plugged them in and played some old samples through them. Even though it's big and bulky, nothing sounds like that. It’s pretty flexible, it's easy to work, and it's easy to truncate your sample and get things tight. You can trigger certain sounds with different keys on the drum machine.

When you look at all this new technology, everything sounds very sterile. Everything is clean and super quiet. It kind of lacks something. When I plug that in, it's like, "Wow, this is hip hop." It makes a big difference...a way bigger difference than having an MPC or something. It has its own character.

DJ Sorce-1: A lot of producers still seem to embrace vintage equipment. I think in a lot of ways, rap thrives off of the imperfect yet warm sound that vintage equipment gives you.

Prince Paul: Yeah. Certain pieces of equipment make you program a certain way because you are limited. That's the beauty of those machines.

DJ Sorce-1: I’m curious how Tommy Boy responded to the album. 3 Feet High and Rising was so successful, was there an outcry when you submitted De La Soul is Dead? I would assume some people were worried about how dark and different it was.

Prince Paul: They were pretty supportive, basically because we were tried and tested. The success of 3 Feet High came as a surprise to everyone. After it came out, we were able to come in and tell them what we wanted and how we wanted it done because we were so ahead of the curve on everything. They couldn't figure out our thinking, our sensibilities, or how we created. They were like, "You tell us what to do”, which was nice. It was nice to have a little more control over your projects. A little more respect, I should say.

DJ Sorce-1: I know the way you were getting financially compensated by Tommy Boy might not have been ideal, but it is cool that you were given that level of creative freedom.

Prince Paul: On the first album, there were concerns. They had Dante come in and more or less be their eyes and ears so that he could report back to them. On the second album they said, "You guys know what you’re doing. We trust you. Make those records you make." It was cool. I think their main concern for the second record was keeping track of the samples because they had messed up the first one so bad with clearing the samples.

(via Scion)

DJ Sorce-1: That seems to always get overlooked when people discuss this album. De La Soul is Dead was made after a sample lawsuit against you guys that was pretty historic…and it’s so sample heavy. Especially when I look at the sample list for "A Roller Skating Jam Named 'Saturdays'"; you have seven or eight samples that make up that beat. For a label to clear that many samples seems unfathomable by today’s standards.

Prince Paul: Yeah. It’s just how we made records in those days, so it didn't seem uncommon. Once Tommy Boy became so concerned with making sure to get every little sound was cleared, it made it a little different than the first album. The first album, when it came to sampling, they were like “Eh, whatever, you guys probably won’t sell that much anyway.” But when it was all eyes on De La they were keeping track of every sound we used. Even with stuff that wasn't sampled. They were really anal about a whole lot of sample stuff, which is understandable. But having the lawsuit wasn't our fault to begin with. We were like, “You created this problem. We’ll always give you all of the sample information, that’s without a doubt. How you guys retain the information and what you do with it is up to you.”

(via Plug 1)  

DJ Sorce-1: The composition of the samples is incredibly impressive. I’m curious if any of the beats stand out as being particularly difficult to compose. For instance, on “A Roller Skating Jam Named 'Saturdays'”, you have the baby scratching, the drums, the “and roller skates” vocal, and then the main loop comes in. And I’m only breaking down the beginning of the song. How difficult was it to get all of that to sound right?

Prince Paul: It’s all about the arrangement. Pos came up with the main loop and a lot of the other ideas for that song. I showed De La a lot about how to navigate through the equipment and how to make everything layer properly. The key to making it work isn't necessarily how much you layer; it’s how you arrange the samples. You have to put samples in key so everything sounds like it belongs. How you EQ everything...there’s a science to it.

(via Plug 1)  

Early Public Enemy production used layers upon layers and layers, and their arrangements were always super duper incredible to me. We were kind of like students to what they did. To me, our production didn't even come close to what they were doing…almost like a fake version of how well they sampled and meshed stuff together. (Laughs) It makes it easier when you have a blueprint of what to do or how to make something sound. When I listened to Public Enemy, my guidelines were for us to always be high quality. To me, what I was making wasn't quite at their level, but it was good enough. (Laughs)

DJ Sorce-1: I think today’s equipment makes it easy for people to arrange samples so that everything sounds in key. With the equipment you were using, I would think that you either had some technical musical training or you just had an incredibly good ear for hearing what went well together.

Prince Paul: A lot of the engineers that we used were also musicians. We wouldn't always go by what they would say, cause engineers will make you do some real stupid stuff, but it’s always good to get another opinion. And a lot of it was us just listening. If we cringed at something, we’d say, “That’s wrong” and adjust it until it sounded right. There might be things you try to put together that don’t mesh well, so you know not to put them at the same time during the song.

The bulk of it is feel and the other part is common sense. It’s like putting clothes together. You’ll say, “Oh my god, I love this hat, this jacket, and these pants”, but they might not all go together. You have to rock them in different ways with different shoes, shirts, and whatever else. Even though in your gut you want to rock them all together, you have to get that out your mind. Same thing with music. Everything has to fit right; you can’t force things together just because you like them.

To learn more about the making of De La Soul is Dead (and other De La albums), check out this interview I did with Paul a few years back for The Smoking Section.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

"I Still Do J-Zone Shit": An Interview with J-Zone Pt. 3

This is the third and final installment of my interview with J-Zone.  Make sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven't already.

DJ Sorce-1: Alright, so if there are no memorable cassette digging stories, let’s hear a vinyl one.

J-Zone: It’s in the book, but probably one of my favorite memories is when Vance Wright and I caught a crack head in New Rochelle getting rid of his 45s. He wanted a couple hundred bucks for a few hundred 45s. We gave him 25 bucks each; 50 bucks total. I was maybe 17 at the time, but I knew beats. I was young, but I knew what records had drums. Vance, at that point, was more on the business side of the game. He wasn't an avid sample scrounger like I was. I got half of the 45s, but I got all of the great shit. I gave Vance all of the standard records and shit I already had. I got Ricky Williams’ "Discotheque Soul", which is worth a couple hundred bucks. These records all cost a quarter apiece if you break it down. This guy had shit that I've never seen again, like local private press funk 45s and limited press shit. I got most of my best 45s off of that crack head. That was crazy.

In the 90’s a lot of DJ’s were selling equipment and records. They needed money because they had drug habits or families. This was pre-Internet, so a lot of them didn't know what they could get in terms of price because there was no EBay, Discogs, or Amazon. There was no way of knowing what something was worth unless you were part of this small clandestine group that would know, “ OK, this record has a drum break and it’s super duper rare. You can get 200 bucks for this 45.” Now all it takes is the click of a button. Back then, they didn't know. To get a good price, all you had to do is keep a straight face, like “Yo, I’ll take this shit, and if I don’t want it, I’ll give it to my cousin.” Just play it off like it’s junk and you’re doing them the favor. They were giving records away, and unbeknownst to them, you just got $1200 worth of 45s for 25 bucks. It was cool, because when you had knowledge back then, it helped you get an advantage. Now you can have all the knowledge you want, but everything is on the internet and nothing is sacred anymore. It kind of takes the rush out of when you find something dope.

DJ Sorce-1: Yeah, I definitely remember a certain excitement in buying records that weren’t even super rare, just white labels that didn't come out on albums. When I was in high school there was a white label of the Nas and Large Professor song "One + One". I remember when that came out; owning that record where I lived was kind of a big deal. Probably not in a major city, but I grew up in a college town. Now I can just hop online and a song like that is either on a blog or ITunes and I just download it. In some ways that’s cool. But I miss the times when I had something that nobody else had. I could show it off.

J-Zone: Exactly. And for me, at the end of the day, the rarity gets you excited, but it’s really all about the music. I’m not a snob. I have plenty of rare rap tapes that suck. I’ll listen to my EPMD tape more than some of the rare shit. I have some shit that I’ve Goodled and gotten nothing, but the tape sucks, so what’s it worth? I’m sure some jamoke will pop up in a couple of years saying, “Yo, this is super rare, I want 200 bucks for it.” And it’s just a guy rhyming over an 808 and there’s nothing good about it at all. And when that day comes I’ll sell mine for $200, because I don’t keep shit because it’s rare. I keep it because I like it. If an album is rare and I like it, that’s even better. 

DJ Sorce-1: I have some non-rare stuff like Murda Muzik on cassette that I’m considering getting rid of. Do you hold on to stuff like that?

J-Zone: It depends. If I got it on cassette first and it’s not something I spin out or something that I really love; I’ll just keep the cassette.

DJ Sorce-1: Can you give me an example?

J-Zone: I’m going to hang myself by saying this, but it’s just my opinion. Somebody gave me Midnight Marauders on cassette, and that’s fine, because I wasn’t a big fan of Midnight Marauders. People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm was my favorite Tribe album. Midnight Marauders, I liked it, but it wasn't like, “Oh shit.” It wasn't one of my favorite Tribe albums, so having it on cassette is enough. If I ever need to put a song in a DJ set I can rip it through Pro Tools and make an MP3 of it. It’s not like I need the album cover nice and big or I need the CD for pristine quality. But albums I’m crazy about, I usually try to get them in all three formats if I can. I won’t go hunt an album down on cassette if it’s like a Midnight Marauders. Whichever format I can get it in first is what I’ll keep it in. I have Tim Dog’s Penicillin on Wax on tape and vinyl. I had the CD but I lent it out and never got it back. Now I think it’s worth about 50 bucks. 

DJ Sorce-1: Holy shit! I have it sitting in one of those stupid CD binders in my apartment.

J-Zone: Yeah. It’s super hard to find. You can’t find that shit and I had it when it came out on CD. So I have doubles of the vinyl and one copy of the tape, but I can’t find it on CD. That’s my favorite hip hop album of all time and I want it in all formats so that no matter where I am, I have access to it. Doing an all vinyl party? Ok I got it. Using Serato? Ok I got it. Need it for the car? Ok I got it. Need it form the walkman? Ok, I got it. 

DJ Sorce-1: Yeah I’m checking Amazon right now. A new copy of the CD starts at $91.65 and used copies start at $25.61.

J-Zone: I might get a used one. 15 years ago was probably the last time I saw it. Another thing that’s cool about the different formats is that the album art is sometimes different. Like if you look at the Peoples Instinctive tape on the inside flap, Tribe looks like they’re on a ledge, kind of looking down. I have the vinyl of that album and I haven’t had the cassette in years. The vinyl doesn't have that photo and I don’t know about the CD because I never had the CD. So if you’re a nerd for album art, try to get an album in as many formats as you can.

(Editor’s Note: At this point of the interview, I Google the picture J is talking about. He also looks it up as we continue.)

J-Zone: Wow. That’s crazy. That’s by my house! I just realized that. That building is Rochdale Village. That’s right up the street from my house. That’s wild. That picture brings back memories. I haven’t seen that since I had the tape version. I always thought People’s Instinctive was there best album because that’s how I discovered Tribe. It was so different than everything else that was out at the time. The Low End Theory was more accessible and a lot more street kids liked that one because it had something for everybody, as did Midnight Marauders. Peoples Instinctive was kind of bohemian, which usually wasn't my flavor, but I loved it, and I loved the videos. “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” is one of my favorite videos. 

DJ Sorce-1: J, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about tapes. Are there any last tape recommendations that you have for my cassette heads reading this?

J-Zone: Yeah. Going back to one of the tapes I mentioned earlier, I like the MC Sergio one, Making A Killing. That has bonus cuts that aren't on the vinyl that never came out on CD. MC Serigo was on Warlock/Idlers records. He’s from Brooklyn. He came out in 89 or 90 and his producer and DJ was Backspin, who went on to do beats for Leaders of the New School and Busta Rhymes. Backspin did beats on both Leaders albums and he did shit on Busta’s first solo album. He was Sergio’s DJ and producer back then. They had a click called ISP (Ill Squad Productions) with Cut Master KG and Dollar $ Bill. They were just a bunch of guys from Flatbush that were in the same crew. Making a Killing was very generic for the time. It had funky samples, battle rhymes, and wasn’t very well mixed, but it has a campy appeal to it. Kind of what an indie album would sound like at the time.

A sincere thank you to J-Zone for taking the time to talk to me.  If you haven't already, make sure to pick up a copy of his excellent book Root for the Villain.  I highly recommend it to anyone who checks my blog. 

If you are interested in checking out some J-Zone music, click here.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"I Still Do J-Zone Shit": An Interview with J-Zone Pt. 2

During the first entry in my interview series with J-Zone, J broke down how to sample off of cassette for all of the SP-1200 users out there.  For the second installment, J talks about some of his favorite tapes from his personal collection.  Be on the lookout for Part 3, coming soon.

DJ Sorce-1: Do you have a Top 5 list of rap albums that are only available on cassette. 

J-Zone: Cassette only stuff...hmm. There definitely is cassette only stuff, but it’s usually cassette and CD only or cassette and vinyl only. But just cassette? Excluding the obvious shit like the Hieroglyphics ones that came out on cassette only, like Casual’s EP, the Baritone Tiplove tape comes to mind.  The album is called Livin’ Foul. It was re-issued on double vinyl like four or five years ago, but it was a super limited run. It was cassette only until 07, so for 15 or 16 years it was cassette only. Livin’ Foul is definitely my number one pick.

Baritone Tiplove is like J-Zone and Chief Chinchilla or Madlib and Quasimoto before they existed. The real guy’s name is Phil The Soulman. He’s a record dealer from Philly who I bought breaks from in the 90’s. He’s also known as Phil Most Chill. Baritone Tiplove was like the Chief Chinchila or Quasimoto of Phil Most Chill, it was his alter eager. I had never heard Livin’ Foul until 04 when he sent me a couple of cuts from it. When I listened to it I was like, “Yo, I gotta hear this whole thing.” (Editor's Note: You can read Phil Most Chill's write-up on the making of Livn' Foul by clicking here.) 

People always said that when I did Chief Chinchilla, I was biting Madlib and his Quasimoto album. But in reality, I was biting Baritone Tiplove. I don’t know if Madlib knew about Livin’ Foul, but that was the original Chief Chinchilla or Quasimoto. It was really well produced. I’ll say it on record; it was on the level of The Bomb Squad and Public Enemy in terms of production. Production wise, it was as good as Fear of a Black Planet. A label called Easy Street put it out. I don’t even know if they ever put anything else out. They might have done one or two other releases, but they weren't really accustomed to dealing with hip hop, so they kind of didn't know what they had on their hands. 

Livin’ Foul came out in ’91. The Biz Markie lawsuit had just happened and that album is chock full of tons of samples. The label basically panicked because of the lawsuits and didn't want to put that shit out on other formats. I remember Phil telling me it had something to do with the samples he used, so they made it some low key shit that was only available on cassette. I can’t imagine that shit getting out of the East Coast at all. It probably came up in batches of one and two in certain record stores, but the cover is so crazy that you would probably bypass it and think it was a joke or something. It just fell under the radar. I’m surprised that record hasn't caught on more with today’s generation that goes back and looks for stuff. It was the precursor to so much stuff that blew up later, whether or not we knew that we were borrowing from it. 

DJ Sorce-1: Obscure regional tapes have become very popular on Amazon and EBay in the last five to six years. Do you have any tapes that fit that mold?

I also have a bunch of regional shit on cassette. The Ichiban label had a lot of stuff that I don’t remember ever seeing on CD. Albums like the 1-5 Posse’s Lifestyles of the Young and Crazy. That had some really good production. I've never seen the CD; I've only encountered the cassette. 

The region that a group came from helped determine the format of an album. By 1991-92, vinyl was becoming strictly a DJ thing. Looking back before that, hip hop albums always came out on vinyl. Then in 91, 92, and 93, CDs really started to take over. Around 92-93, a lot of the albums that came out were promo only for vinyl. The emphasis was on CDs and cassettes, so vinyl production slowed down.

If you take a group like Gang Starr, they were gonna have it on vinyl, because the DJ’s who were into that kind of shit, they requested it. But of you were someone like E-40 coming out with an album in 1994, the single might be vinyl, but you’d do a couple hundred promos of the album on vinyl and that was it. Or they would do what Rap-A-Lot records did with the hot wax, where you’d take the six best cuts that you could play out, and that was it. A lot of those regional groups, if they were coming from someone in the south or Midwest where there wasn't a heavy vinyl culture for hip hop, they might avoid vinyl altogether and only do cassette and CD. 

Some of those regional things were only on cassette. It just depends on the region and the time. I have an MC Sergio album that didn't come out on CD. I know Warlock records, a lot of their stuff didn't come out on CD. I don’t think the Krown Ruler’s album did either. The Jungle Brother’s album did eventually, probably because of demand. But labels like that weren't focused on CDs. A lot of times bonus cuts were on cassette and not on vinyl, so you had to get the tape to get all of the songs. 

I would say cassettes started to fade in maybe 96-97. The last time I remember everybody buying the tape for something was Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. Everybody called it the purple tape because of its purple shell. Slaughterhouse was yellow, Illegal’s tape was red; those tapes had the color shells. I have Cuban Linx on vinyl. Everybody I knew had the cassette. All the DJ’s had it on vinyl and all of my friends had it on cassette. That was 95. By the times Iron Man and Wu-Tang Forever came out, everybody had the CD. 

Cars also started having CD players in them. I think a lot of times, the places where we listen to our music steers where the technology goes. I have a 01 Volkswagen with a cassette player and the CD is a trunk loader. It’s such a pain in the ass to put CDs in the trunk that I always listen to tapes in my car, because I can control it, it’s right there. If your car doesn't have a cassette deck, you’re not going go out of your way to buy one. I think cars and portable music players determined what was available to the consumers. It was a domino effect. By 2000, the cassette section of music store was like a piece of one wall of the store. At that point, stores had to look at what was feasible and what people would buy, because they were trying to run a business. A lot of the stuff just got phased out because it was forced out.

DJ Sorce-1: It’s interesting how the popularity of a format goes in waves. Sometimes, I think when media keeps on evolving, people find comfort in defunct media. I’m into movies, and a lot of horror movie fans love VHS horror movies that you can’t get on Blu Ray or DVD. I think some people crave that grimy quality of VHS for the nostalgia it evokes.

J-Zone: Exactly. I have movies on VHS that were never re-issued. It feels like you’re watching it at the time it came out when you pop the tape in. It makes you feel like you’re in 1972 or whenever it came out.

DJ Sorce-1: With defunct forms of media, there is always an issue of maintaining the condition, especially if you actually use it. If you take care of vinyl, it’s pretty durable. I know that with repeat plays cassettes can wear down quickly. Do you convert all of your cassettes to digital so that you have them backed up, just in case?

J-Zone: The valuable ones I do. My last car didn't have a cassette player. A lot of my cassettes, I would run them through Pro Tools, clean them up, make them sounds good, then bounce them down to CD. The car I just got is actually newer than the last car I had and it still has a cassette deck. My 99 Mazda didn't have a cassette, but my 01 Volkswagen has a cassette. So now that I have a cassette player in the car, I've gone back to using tapes. Store bought tapes get worn down so I either dub them to another cassette and use that or make MP3s out of them. For old radio shows and shit, I’ll digitize them. Those can never be found again. 

DJ Sorce-1: Like the old Stretch and Bob tapes?

J-Zone: Even some of those, Fat Beats reissued them on cassette. I have shit I've personally taped off of NYU radio and smaller local stations. I gotta keep that stuff...I gotta preserve it. Over years the tape will deteriorate.

DJ Sorce-1: I love people’s crazy stories of digging in a sketchy basement or some crazy person’s house. Do you have any of those kinds of stories about buying tapes?

J-Zone: Most of my stories like that are about records. There is a place in Queens that’s still opened called Breakdown. I've been going there since I was 12. They’re still open. I was actually in there the other day. I got most of my cassette form there. It looks like an old, used record store. There are records all over the place and they have lots of VHS tapes and strange shit. It has a grimy look, but it’s not like Out the Past in Chicago where you’re like, “Oh shit. I’ll get cancer when I leave.” It’s not like that. I got a lot of my tapes from Breakdown. People know I’m into tapes, so whenever somebody is selling tapes or getting rid of them they come see me. But I don’t have any crazy, life is on the line story about tapes. Those are all about vinyl.

Click here to read Part 3.