Pete Rock Interview: Soul Brother #1

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by RiotSound contributing writer Todd Davis

Born Peter Phillips in the Bronx, New York in 1971, the now legendary Hip-Hop producer, known to his fans around the globe as Pete Rock, seems to have been destined for a career in music at an early age. As a young child Pete would accompany his Jamaican father, a part time DJ, to Wembley, a cricket club in the BX, watching in fascination as his dad would spin records into the wee hours of the morning. The Phillips family would later relocate to Mount Vernon, where while attending high school Pete would eventually meet his future group-mate, rapper CL Smooth. Although the duo wouldn’t drop their first commercial release until 1991, Pete Rock’s first forays into Hip-Hop were already taking shape by the mid ‘80’s. By 1988 the seventeen year old wunderkind would link up with Hip-Hop icon Marley Marl, becoming a DJ on Marley’s famed WBLS radio show, Marley Marl In Control. Being on the air gave the budding producer significant exposure, eventually leading to a variety of production as well as remix projects. Pete Rock has since gone on to work with such stellar artists as Run DMC, Public Enemy, Nas, Jeru The Damaja, House Of Pain and The Notorious B.I.G., as well as his very own cousin, Heavy D.

Shortly after the release of his debut EP with CL Smooth, All Souled Out, Pete Rock & CL dropped their now classic 1992 opus Mecca And The Soul Brother, which was followed in 1994 by the equally successful and critically acclaimed The Main Ingredient. Unfortunately, with little to no warning, the two prolific artists soon parted ways. Over the past decade Pete Rock has continued doing what he’s always done best, make great inspiring Hip-Hop music. Along the way Pete has continued in his tradition of collaborating with artists of the highest caliber including Big Pun, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Dead Prez, Pharoahe Monch, Talib Kweli, J Dilla, Q-Tip, Keyshia Cole… and the list goes on and on and on. RiotSound.Com recently tracked down the Chocolate Boy Wonder as he prepares for the release of his latest solo album, the appropriately titled NY’s Finest.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Hey man, it’s been quite some time since the masses last heard from you, what’s been up with Pete Rock?

PETE ROCK: I just been doing production and doing a lot of traveling and DJing in between, you know, just to keep being able to survive. You know, the game has changed a lot so there’s survival tactics that you must take in order to keep your head above water, and that’s what I’ve been doing. And in between those times I’ve been doing records and stuff like that and still producing for other people. But now I have a new project that I got coming out called NY’s Finest, and that’s basically – it’s just the way I do production now is just a slight bit different, but the same. I’m still giving you Pete Rock, but just with a little twist.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Why did you decide to call it NY’s Finest?

PETE ROCK: I felt like I wanted to name my album after my city where I was born and I felt it would be real important to Hip-Hop because New York took a lot of hits, Biggie passing away, Freaky Tah. A lot of New York rappers were dying and then 9/11 happened and people’s ways have just been shifted. Like no one’s the same after that, so I felt like for my city I wanted to do an album and dedicate it to New York, you know, ‘cause I felt it was important. And I also feel that with all of this New York and the South stuff going on, all this back and forth about the South cats and rap and with New York and the South not getting along, my whole thing is, to me, all of that is nonsense. It’s just people in the media start stuff to see – to really see [things] be destroyed. That’s how I felt.

I felt like the media are a bunch of dogs who just want to see people kill each other or start trouble and I felt like, man, when rap started it was never like this. Like it was a great opportunity to be a part of rap music if you discovered a talent that you had; whether it was making beats or rhyming or whatever, you happily wanted to express yourself the best way you can in music. And I felt like New York needs that kind of pick up, that lift, you know, ‘cause I feel like we all as individuals need to come together and support one another. ‘Cause if you look at the South cats that’s what they do, they come together and they support one another. I want to bring that love back to New York. I’m not saying that it’s gonna happen, that I’m gonna be successful with it, but I’m putting in my effort.

RIOTSOUND.COM: What makes this album different from your previous solo releases?

PETE ROCK: I think the sample choices. I dealt with choice this time around and just giving people the versatility that I always been giving, and [in that same way] I did it different this time compared to anything else that I’ve ever done. Everything else that I’ve ever done was young and vibrant and energetic and timeless, and I’m doing the same thing but with a twist this time.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Elaborate more on the Pete Rock with a twist part, how would you describe the overall sound of NY’s Finest?

PETE ROCK: People know me for the horns and stuff like that. A lot of people are wishing [and] want to hear that again, and I didn’t really stress it this much on this album. I felt like just making good music and it doesn’t matter if I’m using horns or keyboards or whatever, I just felt like that this time around I wanted to just throw [in] different elements and sounds. It’s basically still soulful and funky and Pete Rock, Pete Rock-ish, but I just did it differently in a way to where you’ll be like – ok, I never really heard him do this type of style before. I got a straight reggae song on my album with Chip Fu and Renee from Zhane’, you remember the group Zhane’ right? So I did something different like that in a sense, but it’s still kinda Hip-Hop-ish, but it’s straight Reggae, you know, ‘cause I took an old reggae record and replayed it.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You mentioned Chip Fu and Renee; how do you usually go about the selection process when picking the artists that you want to appear on a Pete Rock project?

PETE ROCK: I think that happens because I stay abreast to what’s going on right now. I listen to the radio even though half the stuff they play on the radio I’m not a fan of. But there is some clever things like Kanye West, a couple of other people, Jim Jones, you know, Dipset and a couple of other cats that still keep an element of real Hip-Hop in their music. And that’s how I go about picking and choosing who I want to use. Like for instance, The Lox, Styles P and those guys, we’re from the same neighborhood. He’s from Yonkers, I’m from Mount Vernon. Yonkers and Mount Vernon is not even five minutes from each other, and those cats right now are the people doing it today. So [with that] it was really easy. Like I only picked a few cats [you] hear on the radio today, then I [also] went and got my man Royal Flush from back in the days. We did something hot. I did something with Chip Fu from the Fu-Schnickens. I did something with my man Doo Wop. I got Papoose on the album, I got The Lox, you know, Dipset, Redman, Little Brother, my man Rell. I think I got a nice pick of guys this time.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Was there anyone else in particular that you wanted to get on the album but for whatever reason it didn’t happen?

PETE ROCK: Yeah, I actually wanted to get a few females down. But I have – like I had an idea but I don’t really want to say it because I know somebody will probably try to run with it.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Overall, what do you feel has allowed you to have such a lengthy and enduring career in music?

PETE ROCK: Um… being passionate and being truthful about how you feel about your music. I have a lot of passion for what I do. I still love what I do. Regardless of how the music business has changed, regardless how the business is, I still love to make music. And I love the fact that when I dig around the world for records and I find amazing things that the world doesn’t know about, I love to put the [people] onto those things. That’s what keeps me going, and the fans of course. I do this for my fans. Like I don’t do it for anything else but them.

RIOTSOUND.COM: I noticed that for the new album you have a new label situation with Nature Sounds. Did you have a falling out with your former recording home BBE Records?

PETE ROCK: Yeah, it was a falling out with BBE and it just didn’t work out. The relationship didn’t work out. I only really did a couple of – I did Soul Survivor II, which was probably one of the less liked albums by me. I didn’t really like the fact that I was working under some kinda wack pressure from an A&R guy that was working there at BBE that thought he knew how to tell Pete Rock how to make his music. And that’s where it all fell apart and I couldn’t work under those conditions. And money issues, the whole thing. So, I can’t really discuss it much, but yeah, BBE and myself had a huge falling out.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Are you happy now with your new recording home at Nature Sounds?

PETE ROCK: Yeah, yeah, I’m happy with Nature Sounds. I can’t complain. But at the same time, I do this for a living, I get paid for what I do, so…

RIOTSOUND.COM: Do you have any additional aspirations that you’d like to get out and pursue?

PETE ROCK: Oh yeah, definitely. I would like to start scoring movies, you know. I’m getting into that right now and working real hard on that. And then maybe even catch the acting bug and get thrown in a couple of movies doing stuff. I’m really good as far as like being a movement actor. I’m not saying I can’t speak in a movie, I can do that too, but I like to just be that person in the background saying a few words, that’s all.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Back in the early to mid ‘90’s you began branching out and helping up and coming artists launch their careers, NYG’z and A.D.O.R. come to mind. And at one point you even had your own short lived imprint situation through Elektra Records with the INI project featuring your younger brother Grap Luva as well as Rass and Rob-O. Do you plan on starting up another label venture anytime soon?

PETE ROCK: Yeah, I got a few acts that I’m working with right now. But the only thing is, I just want to make sure that I got all my ducks lined up in a row before I put anything out on anybody.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Since we’re on the topic of INI, a single, and might I add a mighty solid one, “Fakin’ Jax”, was actually recorded and released. The INI album however, Center Of Attention, was permanently shelved. Where did things actually go awry with the whole INI thing?

PETE ROCK: I think what it was is that there was a transition at Elektra Records at the time. When I finished the INI album there was a guy who was the president who approved of INI and got them signed to Elektra. But once Sylvia Rhone came into the picture things didn’t work out between me and her. We didn’t have the greatest relationship. She came in with some of her own insight which I didn’t approve of, and I felt she didn’t understand real Hip-Hop music. She came in with the brand new polished sound, which was, to me, it was like water to skin. It just rolls off of you. It doesn’t stick to you. You understand? And I felt like me and her, I didn’t feel like we would have a great relationship with our thought processes going in different directions.

RIOTSOUND.COM: What is the one thing that most people would be most surprised to know about Pete Rock?

PETE ROCK: That I can cook my ass off!

RIOTSOUND.COM: For real?

PETE ROCK: And I also clean the kitchen!

RIOTSOUND.COM: What type of cuisine do you favor cooking?

PETE ROCK: Oh man… I love Jamaican food, but I could make basically any and everything, you know. I look at cookbooks a lot. You know, I make up my own stuff too sometimes.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Do you ever watch cooking shows or the Food Network?

PETE ROCK: Yeah, with Rachael Ray. You know, seriously man, it’s fun to look, Emeril and all those guys. I watch that stuff.

RIOTSOUND.COM: I would’ve never imagined that!

PETE ROCK: Yeah, I love stuff like that.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Besides cooking, what else do you enjoy doing?

PETE ROCK: Aw man, just probably being home with my family, with my son, you know, my daughter and just spending time with them and getting closer with them. It’s not much I don’t do besides making beats. When I have free time I still make beats on the free time, you know. I’ll play a little Xbox or PS3 now and then, but you know…

RIOTSOUND.COM: Seeing the way Hip-Hop is today and yourself coming from that “Golden Era” of Hip-Hop, how do you truly feel about today’s rap music?

PETE ROCK: I’m not going to say I’m totally happy with it. It’s a lot of egos, and for the sake of Hip-Hop a lot of egos could be dismissed. But as far as me being happy, I could be happier with hearing better singers and putting a balance back in music. There’s no more [people] like Luther Vandross’ around. There’s no more Patti Labelles. Keyshia Cole is great, I think she’s good, you know, and I also did a new song on her album Just Like You. A song called “Got To Get My Heart Back”. A lot of people don’t know I did that song.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Oh wow, I didn’t know that! So is that sort of a new direction for Pete Rock?

PETE ROCK: Yeah basically, not really different ‘cause I’ve been making those kind of beats for a while, you know, R&B/Hip-Hop. I kinda started my career doing that, working with Johnny Gill and groups like Basic Black and Teddy Riley with Guy, Heavy D & The Boyz, stuff like that.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Speaking of your cousin, The Overweight Lover, I’m hearing he’s finally planning a return to music.

PETE ROCK: Yeah, definitely.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Do you plan on being involved at all with his comeback attempt?

PETE ROCK: I told him, I said – look, whenever you’re ready let me know, I’m ready for you dog! So whenever he’s ready to do stuff [I’m here for him]. I think what he needs is just the confidence of – he needs some type of music to bring it out of him.

RIOTSOUND.COM: And, who better to bring it out of him than you?

PETE ROCK: Yeah, exactly.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Doesn’t he know that his fans are missing those feel good Heavy D records that he’s known and loved for?

PETE ROCK: Yeah man, people love Heavy D. It’s funny how much fans that that guy has. You know, like I used to be on tour with him and see 30,000 people in the arena go crazy for this big big guy, you know, big lovable huggable person. So like everybody’s mother, like of my age, looooves Heavy D. I’m 37 years old, so you know the older folks really love him.

RIOTSOUND.COM: It’s even deeper than that. Back in the day my grandmother even loved her some Heavy D!

PETE ROCK: Yeah, man, yeah. I remember Q Tip’s mother, I remember Q Tip was telling me his mother loves Heavy D a lot.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Your former partner in rhyme CL Smooth dropped his long overdue first solo CD last year…

PETE ROCK: I didn’t even know he had an album out – that’s funny!

RIOTSOUND.COM: Are you serious?

PETE ROCK: Yeah, I didn’t know. I didn’t know. I mean, I never heard anything.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Well, for those who don’t know, what really led to the two of you breaking up? What was the final straw?

PETE ROCK: We kind of went our separate ways. We just didn’t get along at a certain part in our career. The maturity levels were uneven and I felt like, you know, all I wanted to do was music and just keep doing that. That’s all I was focused on. That’s all I cared about. You know, we just saw differences in each other. And the record label had a lot to do with splitting us up. When Sylvia Rhone came into play it was all difficult. It went from all angles ‘cause she dropped INI, she dropped me and CL, and from then on I just kept it moving and kept doing what I had to do to keep doing music.

RIOTSOUND.COM: But you guys even came together briefly to record three super tight joints for your last solo release Soul Survivor II?

PETE ROCK: Like we attempted to work back with each other but I just felt like things haven’t changed. So, I just – at this point now I’m not even thinking about a reunion or anything like that. I’m just doing music.

RIOTSOUND.COM: I understand that and all, but can you truly imagine what the outcome really could be if you put out another Pete Rock & CL Smooth reunion album?

PETE ROCK: Yeah, I mean it’ll probably be great, but, you know, it’s not really my thought process right now.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Okay, I’ll leave that one alone for now!

PETE ROCK: Yeah, it’s all good.

RIOTSOUND.COM: What would you say has been your biggest Hip-Hop moment?

PETE ROCK: Aw man, just working with Run DMC. I used to be a big huge fan of Run and D, and then to see them in my home was just ridiculous. It was just like, “Oh my God!” I used to steal money to buy their records, you know, it was funny. I think that was one of my biggest accomplishments ‘cause at the time their album Back From Hell wasn’t doing so well. The title kind of said everything for itself. And then when I came along, I have the actual Billboard Magazine where they were back to number one with a bullet on the R&B Hip-Hop charts and on the straight Hip-Hop charts. “Down With the King” was number one with a bullet.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Yeah, I remember quite well their return to form.

PETE ROCK: Yeah, you know, and then the talk started flowing around about, people started calling me “the Savior” and [all this and that]. I was just like – I’m only Pete Rock that loves to make music, that’s it. You know, certain people could just take it a little too far. But it’s just about making music for me, that’s it.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Maybe you could bring some of that PR magic to that forthcoming Rev Run and Kid Rock duet project?

PETE ROCK: Oh really, who? Who?

RIOTSOUND.COM: Rev Run and Kid Rock!

PETE ROCK: Kid Rock and Who?

RIOTSOUND.COM: Run.

PETE ROCK: Oh yeah, that should be good.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You should try and get some shine on that record!

PETE ROCK: Yeah, I’ll definitely try to throw my hand in there somewhere.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Going back to your earlier days, when you first started making beats, what equipment did you have on hand? And do you feel that equipment, and your way of adapting it, was instrumental in how you developed your skills as a producer and moved forward to forge your own unique style?

PETE ROCK: Oh, I didn’t have shit. I had two turntables and a tape deck with a pause button. A double cassette deck, and that’s how I would overdub. Like I would make a pause button of a certain part of the record that I liked and just kept pausing it, And all I had at the time was two turntables and a mixer, a box radio that I had my whole equipment hooked into and the pause button. And then from the pause button I graduated to a SP1200 that Eddie F gave me, because he had an extra one, and once he gave me that it was a wrap! That was it! People couldn’t find me for months ‘cause I was trying to learn how to use that thing.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You’ve produced a lot of landmark remixes; from P.E.’s “Shut ‘Em Down” remix, to House Of Pain’s “Jump Around” and on an on. One of the trademarks of your classic remixes has always been the addition of your own verse to the song; how did that idea come about? Usually when producers remix a track they don’t rhyme on it, but you made that a hallmark of some of your most well known works; can you talk about that?

PETE ROCK: [It was] just trying to get people to know who I am. Trying to get known and want to be heard. It was like – what do you call it – a trademark sound; and along with the sound came a voice. And basically, I was just getting to know my fans and my audience, just getting to know people and people getting to know me.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Outside of how other people may describe your music, how would you describe it? What have been some of your most important influences that have remained constant in your career over the past two decades?

PETE ROCK: Just being a big fan and lover of James Brown’s music, respecting him. And, even though he’s not with us anymore, he’s still here. His music will live on and on, forever and ever. And without James Brown there would be no Boom Bap, alright. He’s the creator of the beat, period! And I keep that with me at all times. And also [I try] being inspirational to my fans and to the people who are curious about Hip-Hop, who are curious about Pete Rock who doesn’t know Pete Rock. Just putting it back in their ears again.

RIOTSOUND.COM: If you had to name your favorite Pete Rock produced tracks, what songs would make that list?

PETE ROCK: Very hard to choose, but I’d have to say “They Reminisce Over You “. I would have to say “Shut ‘Em Down” remix. I would have to say Heavy D’s “Don’t Curse”, and then the last one would be Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid In Full”.

RIOTSOUND.COM: “Don’t Curse” kind of set off the whole posse cut movement, didn’t it?

PETE ROCK: Yeah, and that was actually Heavy D’s idea. All of it was his idea. The beat kinda brought the ideas to him and he felt he wanted to make that a posse cut and call it “Don’t Curse” just to show people the versatility; like that every rapper doesn’t curse. We get that parental advisory slapped on our albums and we just wanted to show people like – hey look, here’s a record with no cursing! We can do that too if you want! So that’s basically why we did it.

RIOTSOUND.COM: What, in your mind, is the most overlooked aspect of Hip-Hop right now that fans need to be aware of and pay attention to?

PETE ROCK: What’s overlooked is the fact that we have a great, great, great jewel here. Do not abuse it. Do not abuse Hip-Hop. We need to unify and come together, and I’m speaking to New Yorkers. There’s not enough unification in New York. There’s a lot more hate than people coming together and making a difference in Hip-Hop again.

RIOTSOUND.COM: What do you have in store for the future?

PETE ROCK: I see myself probably owning my own label and maybe starting a class where I teach people how to make music.

RIOTSOUND.COM: When exactly does NY’s Finest drop?

PETE ROCK: February 26th.

RIOTSOUND.COM: The first single release was the “914” track, featuring Styles P and Sheek Louch, correct?

PETE ROCK: Yeah, that was the first single. On the other side was with “The PJ’s”, with Raekwon and stuff on there.

RIOTSOUND.COM: So, what’s the follow up to “914”?

PETE ROCK: The Jim Jones song called “We Roll” is the second single. And then on the B-side I did a song called “Till I Retire”, which is just me solely.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Now that’s the one! Not to take anything away from the other songs but “Till I Retire” is straight fiya!

PETE ROCK: Wow. Oh yeah, it’s definitely a single. For the video [we are going to do] “We Roll” and then at the end of “We Roll” they’re gonna slash into “Till I Retire” and I’ll just do a verse of that.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Everyone who I’ve played the record for agrees it’s a definite album banger and future PR classic!

PETE ROCK: That’s hot, that’s hot! That’s dope!

RIOTSOUND.COM: Are you going out on the road to promote NY’s Finest?

PETE ROCK: Of course, of course. I’ll be in a town near you real soon.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Well, I’m up here in the Bay, so whenever you’re out this way hit me up!

PETE ROCK: Okay man, I’m always out there digging for records. I always go to the stores and I don’t mean just Amoeba and all of that stuff, or Groove Merchants. Those are stores that I done ran through back in the days. Like, I’m into bigger and better things now. I’m more secluded and hidden, you know. I find spots and I just stay there, you know…

RIOTSOUND.COM: Any message for the readers of RiotSound.Com?

PETE ROCK: Get my album February 26th, it’s gonna be hot! NY’s Finest!

RIOTSOUND.COM: Thanks man!

PETE ROCK: No doubt, thanks a lot. I appreciate it.

For more news and info on Pete Rock check out www.MySpace.com/OfficalPeteRockPage