"There’s a new guy called Jay Dee who reminds me a lot of me when I came out, you know what I'm sayin'?"
Pete Rock, 1996
From the moment he appeared as the 16-year-old featured DJ on Marley Marl’s In Control Rap Show on WBLS in 1988, Pete Rock was destined for higher heights. Following in the footsteps of his radio mentor, the Mount Vernon-bred starchild may have caught his initial break via a bit of music biz nepotism (being cousin to the Marley-produced Heavy D), but proved more than worthy of these blessings by going on to become hip-hop’s most dominant producer of ’92 and ’93. Echo-soaked horn hooks, a raucous snare, and an out front hi-hat were the foundations of the Pete Rock sound. It’s a style whose influence reverberates today, as vintage yet still fresh sounding remixes for Public Enemy’s “Shut ’Em Down,” Das EFX’s “Jussumen,” and EPMD’s “Rampage,” and the Soul Brother’s crowning production jewel, Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth’s “They Reminisce Over You,” all attest. With Pete and C.L.’s debut LP, Mecca and the Soul Brother , hip-hop’s production standards were pushed to an unprecedented level of excellence. Never before had the music’s power to move minds as well as heads flowed with such soulfully orchestrated finesse.
Of course, as David Clayton Thomas once crooned, “What goes up must come down,” and for Pete the inevitable leveling off of his success manifested itself in a number of ways: other producers co-opting his sound, a mixed reception to Pete and C.L.’s sophomore effort, The Main Ingredient , the dissolution of the duo’s partnership, and the changing tastes of rap’s always fickle listenership. While recent Pete Rock fare such as AZ’s “Gimme Yours,” Das EFX’s “Real Hip-Hop” remix, and Monica’s “Before You Walk Out of My Life” remix displays his ability to create dope tracks and make hits, his attention has recently turned to the establishment of Soul Brother Records – an imprint inspired by Pete’s childhood hero, James Brown. Naturally optimistic about his future as record label Big Willie after a low-key ’95, Pete maintains that his cup shall once again runneth over sooner than later. With the night on our minds at a recent evening session at Greene Street Studios, we chatted about these and other subjects.
Words: Chairman Mao | Photos: C+
Originally Published in ego trip #7, 1996
How do you think working with Marley influenced you as a producer?
Pete Rock: Basically, I was following all the stuff that he was doing ’cause his was the rugged hip-hop funk. He influenced me just by Heav bringing me around and watching what’s going on. Heav would bring me around a lot of other producers like Teddy Riley, Howie Tee, Eddie F. – and basically I learned from watching everybody. I was very young. It was fun, man. I mean it’s still fun. I still like doing what I do. The business definitely has its cutthroat parts to it, but basically I still love being in it.
Speaking of the business, your rise to the status of hip-hop’s hot producer was pretty rapid. Today you’re still very active but it’s obviously not the same. How do you view the ups and downs of it all?
Pete Rock: I feel that everybody deserves the chance to get the light shined on them. Everybody gets a chance. Basically I’m still bringing it. I’m still bringing the phatness. What I was doing was trying to get my label together and get my groups together so I can have a roster of things on my label. That’s why you haven’t heard that much from me. But in ’96 you’re gonna hear a lot. I got a lot comin’ out this year.
Your signature sound at the height of your success was very distinctive with the horns and the reverb etc. How did it develop?
Pete Rock: I don’t know. It just dawned on me to use horns. I just said, I’m gonna make this my trademark. I’m gonna use horns. And a lot of the songs that I’ve done and a lot of the remixes I’ve done are just very, very horny. [laughs] So that people knew when they heard a crashing snare and some horns and a phat kick and snare and bass line – they knew it was a Pete Rock beat. Nobody at the time was making beats like that. I’m kinda glad that I set the trend for other people to come up behind me and do the same thing. I’m not the type to say, oh, somebody bit my style or something because everybody deserves the chance to do something. I like a lot of producers. I have two favorites – Large Professor and DJ Premier. And there’s a new guy called Jay Dee who reminds me a lot of me when I came out, you know what I’m sayin’? Because basically his style is different, but it’s like the same. In other words, when I came out I was doing a certain thing. He’s out now and he’s doing the same thing. It just gave me flashbacks.
So then how has your sound changed and evolved up to now?
Pete Rock: I think it changed for me a great big deal. I felt that I wanted to change it, calm it down a little bit to see how people’s gonna adapt to the new Pete Rock sound. So basically I started using vibes and a lot of live instruments. Some of the snares is not crashing as much as they used to, but they definitely still hittin’. I’m just taking a lot of beats that I never was really interested in to sample, and I take ’em and sample ’em now and just make it funky. Before, I always just wanted that bap! That phat snare. Now it doesn’t matter to me. I’m just taking anything and everything and puttin’ it together and makin’ it phat.