As one of hip-hop’s most respected producers, Pete Rock wants to continue forever
"My digging is off the chain! That's really the most important part of beatmaking—finding sounds that are dope."
by David Ma
Pete Rock was reflective when I spoke to him for Wax Poetics Issue 29. He was open to all questions, candidly detailing accounts and interactions behind his deep-rooted history. Here, Pete shares more past stories. From early production gigs, to collaborating with the Wu-Tang Clan, to his relationship with Biggie, Pete explains why he’ll probably never stop making beats.
You’re regarded as one of the best producers to ever use the SP1200. How does that strike you?
Pete Rock: It makes me feel great. It makes me want to continue forever. I don’t ever want to stop because it’s so important to me that real music gets heard and that we put the balance back into hip-hop. It’s really important to me.
How did Heavy D aid in the development of your career?
Heavy D had a production company called Untouchables Entertainment. Heavy [D] had C.L. and me solely produce at first. When he heard that C.L. could rap and that I had my own sound, we started doing more. We were proteges, really, and Heavy got us signed to Elektra. I owe a lot to Heavy D and Eddie F.
What was the reaction to the early tapes you and C.L. made?
Man, people just really loved these demos! It blew my mind! I took these demos to lots of major labels, and they’d thought we made them professionally somewhere. [laughs] They liked the quality and all that. Production-wise, everyone seemed to like the style I was comin’ with. It was new and different from what Marley [Marl] was doing. I began getting coproduction work with Heavy D on his Living Large album, and his second album too, Big Tyme.
What’s an early production job you’ll never forget?
It was on Groove B Chill’s Starting From Zero. It was a crazy session, because I didn’t know what I was doing, the engineer didn’t know what he was doing, we couldn’t do exactly what we wanted to do. It was crazy. [laughs] After a couple hours, we finally got somewhere. I then laid down beats, and they ran over ’em. It was an early learning experience. Plus, it was mad fun too. I was only sixteen.
People weren’t hesitant about working with someone so green?
Nah, I got work immediately. I was real lucky. From there, I started getting offers for remixes. Eddie F had a lot to do with it. He had a crew of people who would go out and strictly get me remix work, and it worked.
There are many stories about you digging for records. Do you still actively look for records?
My digging is off the chain! I always have so much energy to do it! That’s really the most important part of beatmaking—finding sounds that are dope. Large Pro and I would bring records over to each other’s house and just bug out. Through Large Pro, I met Nas, and that’s how “The World Is Yours” happened.
Did all the producers from Illmatic recognize Nas’s talent immediately?
Yeah, totally. Everyone thought this kid was real dope. Me, Premier, Large Pro, and Q-Tip all thought so. But I recognized his talent from “Live at the Barbeque” on Main Source’s joint. A lot of people thought that at the time. It was funny, because when he came up to my place in Mount Vernon, he was like, “One day I’ll succeed.” He was real confident, and I just knew he was gonna be successful someday.
Are there any MCs working nowadays that you think are real dope?
Umm, [thinks for a few seconds] Ghostface!
Do you think he’s gotten better with age?
Yeah, he really has.
What do you think accounts for his progression?
He understands what hip-hop is. You have to come from an era where you soaked up Bambaataa and Cold Crush. Immediately, you could tell where that’s where his influences are, and he’s bringing it to the forefront with his own unique personality traits. I commend and love him for that.
What’s your impression of Wu-Tang, having worked with them?
What do I think of Wu-Tang? I think they are one of the dopest crews ever in hip-hop. I had a deal with Loud Records, and it helped me get closer to those cats. They were all over the first Soul Survivor. I’ve worked Inspectah Deck, Ghostface, Method, Rae, and so forth. They all showed me a tremendous amount of respect. They realize what’s real, so we linked up.
Speaking of revered emcees you’ve worked with; you knew Biggie too, right?
Yeah. Sean [“Puffy” Combs] brought Biggie over to my house in Mount Vernon way back when. We kicked it and talked all night. Biggie wanted to see my procedures and how I made beats—that’s how we met.
There’s a song called “In The Flesh” on The Main Ingredient, and he was present when I made it. I remember, I made it from scratch right in front of him! So when I hear that track nowadays, it takes me back to that exact moment, like, “That’s how I met Biggie!”
You produced “Juicy” but never got credited for it—What’s the story behind that?
Biggie and Sean came to my house one day and the beat was playing on my drum machine. Biggie thought I was making it for C.L. When I told him I was just making it for myself, he immediately wanted it. I said sure, but didn’t think much of it. Then, next thing I know, I heard it playing somewhere. I’m over it now though.
Have any efforts been made to give you proper credit for it?
No, nothing’s been done, but that was back then. Life goes on. I settled and just did a remix for it. Really though, I just wish Biggie was still alive for me to work with him.
You mentioned Large Professor earlier. What role did he play in your own history as a producer?
His main influence on me was the digging aspect, which is important. He just broadened my mind on all the different records that were out there. He’s still one of the few elite producers I know. And he’s still dope to this day! He’s still one of the guys that are still into digging, and he got me into it.
Now that you’re older, with such history and experience under your belt, has your approach to making beats changed in any way?
I’ve always been a hard worker, but as I get older, I’m more conscious about what I make and how it’ll be listened to.
Do you think you’ll ever move onto another facet of music making or will you always produce?
Nah. I have countless beats, over twenty thousand discs or more just laying around. I love tapping on the drum machine, and will probably never ever stop. I’ll always make beats.
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