"Once You Have a Love Like That You'll Always Be Around": An Interview With Pete Rock
With the release of his new album N.Y.'s Finest, the legendary hip-hop producer looks back and forward at the same time: remembering both his hardships and victories while looking forward to hip-hop's new age.
Talking about hip-hop without Pete Rock is like talking about the National Basketball Association without Julius Irving. They both transcended their respective professions and brought the old school into the new – and influenced an entire generation of players in the process. While things were getting stale, they were bringing style hard: not only inside their profession, but outside on the streets. The confidence factor became a whole new ball game with the like of Julius Irving, and hip-hop became a worldwide phenomenon with the beats of Pete Rock, whose legacy continues on his latest disc, N.Y.’s Finest.
Raised in Mount Vernon, New York in the ‘80s, he obviously didn't have the exposure and means to the technology that producers have today. Being introduced to the world by Marley Marl in 1987, Pete Rock was soon cutting up records as a DJ far more often than his peers. His technique was championed in 1991 when he dropped a record the landmark record with C.L. Smooth, All Souled Out, that sent ripples through the hip-hop community. His work with C.L. Smooth got him the fame and the recognition, but Rock claims his attitude towards making music has changed since then. "It's more worldwide and more international. It's way more open. Even doing pop music and doing it in a way where its catchy and intriguing and the music is speaking to you. This music is soulful."
It's been debated over the past several years that Pete Rock might be loosing his swing. With his past couple of releases (including Petestrumentals and Soul Survivor 2) he's found himself on smaller labels with much less of a marketing push. Could this mean Pete Rock's respect from the hip-hop community is diminishing? Asking him (Rodney Dangerfield-style) if he feels like he's getting no respect, he replied "Nah, of course I am. I collect at least 7,000 props a day!" Pete laughed. "I'm glad that the music that I've done people are enjoying and are inspired by it. They talk about their favorite joint that I've done and that makes me feel good and keeps me going."
Over the past couple of years, the game has been providing a bundle of negativity. Considering that one of the hip-hop's dominant figures is claiming, "Hip-Hop is Dead" and the Wu-Tang Clan is providing us with solid recordings but a world full of baggage, things aren't looking so sharp as far as role models go. But Pete Rock is surprisingly positive: he just thinks people aren't working hard enough and he's planning on leaving behind those that caused grim moments in his life during the creation of Soul Survivor 2.
"Soul Survivor 2 was a lot of dim shit goin' on. A lot of people were around me who didn't really care about what I was doing. People kept criticizing and were telling me how to do my music, which has never really been for me. I've never really been through that after being on a major label. Independents you're supposed to have your own creativity – your line is endless. With them, it just seemed like what is this, what kind of people are these? They remind me of bootleggers, you know what I'm sayin'? They don't work with anybody where they come from: they only work with people that made a mark in the game -- to try and get as much as they came out of it -- but in a negative way," says Pete in anguish. "I just look back on that situation and make sure not to ever make those mistakes again. I'm trying to get with the right people, people that appreciate what I do," Pete claims in light of his new positive attitude towards his work.
"I just feel like today is very much advanced with new technology, new sounds, new everything. You have to make it sound like you care about your beats. A lot of the beats that I hear, they sound a little effortless. People don't spend enough time with making a song these days," says Rock. "The subject matter has to be catchy, something that's not offensive to the people; something that's fun and exciting that everyone can listen to and enjoy and not base it on the materialistic life that the game has to offer. Of course that comes with the game, but there's more important things that you can touch on, there's a lot in the world goin' on."
This may be contributing to his changing production style. He may still be expanding upon his soulful, jazz filled beats he was creating in the early ‘90s, but he's left behind his true partner along the way. The E-mu SP-12 was substituted for an upgraded version of the AKAI MPC. Those that know about loyalists to a drum machine know that this a significant transformation for a guy like Pete Rock. Upon asking him of the switch of devotion he said, "To try the new technology, and its kind of fun what Roger Lynn has done with today's machinery. I think he's a very talented guy that knew nothing about rap music, and I'm willing to teach him a thing or two about somethin' and maybe he can collaborate with me on a drum machine. I like the MPC a lot."
On his new latest record, NY's Finest, Pete Rock finds himself working with some of the best in the game and getting back to what he feels is right. "I still do what I started. I don't ever forget how I started and where I came from, and I always kind of keep those elements within me. Mix it with today's sound, which I think is a great sound; just getting to reintroduce my beats to a younger generation coming up in hip-hop."
As far as a younger generation goes, Pete invited up-and-comer Jim Jones -- one of the founding members of the Diplomats and now a successful solo recording artist -- to be featured on NY's Finest. In return, the duo (along with Max Beat) created one of Pete's most youthful tracks to date. "This something that I felt like the younger generation pays attention to. I felt like with the fans that they have, I wanted to mix with them and see what I could get out of it. Me, Jim Jones, and Max Beat came up with a dope song called 'We Roll'. I felt like the hook, which Max Beat came up with, was the main element we needed to bring the rest of the song at."
Pete Rock has been a staple of hip-hop for almost two decades now, and he doesn't plan on slowing down any time soon. His work ethic is as focused as ever and he seems just as glad to be in the hip-hop game even when others are foreseeing its downfall.
"I love what I do. Regardless of the ups-and-downs the ins, the outs, the politics – I still love it. Once you have a love like that you'll always be around. Just being alive. Just breathing life, breathing air. There's a lot of good friends of mine that aren't here, and I'm just happy to live for as long as I've lived. To make music for hip-hop heads – for people who love soul and hip-hop."