By David Ma | The almighty Prince Paul is a producer’s producer, one whose catalog is as classic as it is instructive. From his albums with De La Soul, solo works like Psychoanalysis , Da Gravediggaz’s devilish 6 Feet Deep , or on his new effort, Negroes On Ice (with his son, DJ P.Forreal ), Paul injects humor and provides narrative through his trademark skits – a platform he’s obviously mastered. With Paul so widely revered for these innovative interstitials, it makes sense that the art of the skit underscores his 5 life-changing picks. Here, one of our favorite dudes and all-time greatest producers sheds insight into the recordings that helped shape his own work, a deep-rooted list that stretches from his early childhood and adolescence favorites to those of his golden era contemporaries and beyond. Says Paul: “From the structure of the albums as a whole, to the entire songs – everything – every record here blows away everything out nowadays.”
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The Amazing Spiderman (Buddha Records, 1972)
Prince Paul: This had combinations of music and stories in between. And I think this record changed my life based on the fact that it was the first time, especially as a kid, that I was taken to another place based purely on sound. It was kind of spooky at the same time because it talked about Peter Parker’s dad getting shot and murdered. Green Goblin’s parts all had scary sound effects too. And you could hear Peter Parker’s uncle talking to him from beyond the grave! And Kingpin’s voice was super scary too. I remember it all! I think it’s because it embodies so much emotional elements. As a producer, I always carried that element into my own work, even until the present day. If you listen to this as an adult you might shrug and say, meh. So maybe you should get drunk and high and listen to it in the dark or something. [ laughs ] Then it’ll mess with you! But to me, it’s brilliantly recorded, brilliantly produced, especially with limited early ’70s technology.
Stevie Wonder – Innervisions (Tamla, 1973)
Prince Paul: Stevie Wonder obviously makes great music. But to me, this from top-to-bottom really embodies a person’s soul. Just his lyrics alone on “Visions” or “Higher Ground” or “Living For the City” you feel like it’s his soul he’s letting you in on. The writing is super genius and the production is out of this world. And a lot of people obviously tie my work into the concept of ‘skits’ but this was the first time I heard a skit on a record within the actual song. The words on “Living for the City” about a guy being in the big city, all the shit he sees, cops chasing after him and all that stuff stuff—all that could be seen in your head. So that just means this was produced and done very well. To me this is the epitome of an artist record.
Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (Def Jam, 1988)
Prince Paul: This was one of the first albums that production-wise, to me, was so brilliant. It was so intricate, with the drum programming, the samples, the layering, all that. It was so intense and used a lot of technology that at the time wasn’t used that way. A lot of people were still starting to sample and just using loops and a little drum track underneath. But this had so much intricate stuff on it! I mean, with the scratching and all the noise in it, it could’ve been chaotic but it wasn’t at all. They were all really tight arrangements like R&B songs, basically because it went to bridges, breakdowns, chorus and verse, all that. To me, you could listen to this from front to back and get caught up in everything it embodies. This album gave me a guide to make 3 Feet High & Rising . I mean, I couldn’t make it as intense and kinda did my version of layering and whatnot, but it gave me a base to start at.
N.W.A - Efil4zaggin (Ruthless, 1991)
Prince Paul: On this you can tell Dre was influence by The Bomb Squad. The way it’s put together is so brilliant! It was like Dre’s version of Bomb Squad. It was cleared samples but also had live instrumentation. It was the first time I heard live instruments on a rap record that sounded exactly like the original. Like for example, I was like, I never knew there was an instrumental version of “Dr. Funkenstein”! But it wasn’t Parliament’s version [used for “Niggaz 4 Life” ], it was just being played identical to the original. Just that alone fascinated me. And the skits on there were really intense too. From the crowd noise, to the gunfire, to the transitions from song to song, was just so live! It made me want to step my game up. This album really influenced me while I was making the Gravediggaz album. My production is nowhere near as good as that. [ laughs ] But it was what I was listening to a lot during its making. It’s a producer thing.
N.E.R.D. - In Search Of… (Virgin, 2001)
Prince Paul: To me it’s brilliant because it came out in a time where I thought all music was crap and everything was just failing. This was the early 2000s and everything was more radio-driven than ever before. To me it’s when rap began taking on obvious pop formats and you can tell things were being written specifically for radio. This was so refreshing because it was a throwback to real music. Arrangements to me are real important and the ones on here are great. Don’t get me wrong – the record is very catchy too. But it doesn’t sound like they made it with radio in mind. This gave me hope that you could make bold music and not sell out to the masses. I remember going down to Sam Goody – I don’t think longer exists anymore [ laughs ] – but it was close to my house. And when I saw the CD I asked this young white kid who worked there, “Hey man, how is this?” He said, “Aww, that’s garbage! I wouldn’t get it if I were you. Don’t waste your money!” So the first thing I said was, “I’m a buy it!” [ laughs ]. I literally played it for like 2 months straight. It goes to show the quality of music on there. And on all the records I mentioned. They all have a narrative and the skits especially altered all of my work.