Back to basics with Pete Rock
by David Ma
Pete Rock keeps active nowadays by doing what he perfected as a teenager: putting sounds into his sampler and banging out beats. “I was nineteen years old when I mastered the SP,” remembers Pete, now thirty-seven years old. “I promised myself I would make the sampler my instrument, so I read the manual, like, fifty times. You couldn’t find me for months after that.”
For over twenty years, Pete’s signature beats had artists, record execs, and peers taking notice. His partnership with C.L. Smooth produced acclaimed albums, while his many remixes displayed his steadiness as a beatsmith. As a result, his style and approach have been instructive for today’s producers. “Ninth Wonder, RZA, and Just Blaze have all mentioned me when they talk about their influences,” he says with enthusiasm. “I never thought I’d get so much respect! I’m honored, ’cause all those guys are dope to me.”
Pete, enjoying the growing acknowledgement he gets these days, proudly explains: “I love it. I love the fact that when people talk about hip-hop producers, I’m always mentioned.”
Wax Poetics: Do you remember the first day you got your hands on the SP1200?
Pete Rock: I was at my friend Eddie F’s house. He was a DJ for my cousin Heavy D, and he was showing me all his equipment. I didn’t know what the SP was. I knew it made beats, but not exactly how. Eddie said, “I got an extra one—want it?” So I took it and didn’t leave my house for months, literally.
Do you view making beats differently now that you’re older?
My outlook’s changed and definitely grew. I’m more patient now. I mean, I [still] got mad beats on the SP, and they are all different and varied. But when I was younger, I just focused on a certain style that I thought was mine. Now I’m open to doing whatever I feel is fresh.
What was your first official remix project and how’d it happen?
I was lucky enough to land a gig at Def Jam. They asked me to record Public Enemy’s “Shut ’Em Down.” That was my debut remix. After that, everyone wanted to know who I was. Then, me and C.L. put out our first EP in ’91.
Take us back to when you met C.L. Smooth.
It was in high school. I heard from a mutual friend that C.L. could rap, and our friend hooked us up. We started making music together in my next-door neighbor’s basement. I did a party in my neighbor’s place and left my equipment there, so we just stayed [laughs] and started doing demos. We made about fifty songs there.
Was the All Souled Out EP just selections from these demo tracks?
Yeah, it was mostly stuff we made in the basement. But we took it into the big house and enhanced it and cleaned things up. I was just getting a hang of things. We weren’t completely comfortable till the next album.
So you were pretty confident by the time Mecca and the Soul Brother hit?
Yes, definitely. That album is a burst of young energy! It was [just] us going for the gusto! At that point in time, I just wanted to really put my sound on the table. This was gonna be it; this was gonna be the album that would define who we are. And I think we did that.
Do you remember finding the Tom Scott record with the horns you sampled for “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)”?
Large Professor played the record for me at his house; that’s when I first heard it. I was in a New Orleans record shop when I found it for myself. Black Sheep had used it for “Similak Child,” but I went more into the record; they just sampled the beginning. By going into it further, I found those horns! It made me cry, seriously.
Why were you so moved?
It just reflected all the sadness I was going through. Troy was a close friend of ours and this is his tribute song. He was also Heavy D’s dancer and known throughout the community. We were all appalled when he died. I made that beat out of depression.
How were things when The Main Ingredient was made?
Better. I was twenty-two or twenty-three by then, and wanted to mix R&B and hip-hop [together] a little bit more. “Searching” is R&B and sort of just matured that way. If you listen to The Main Ingredient, there are still elements of Mecca in it. We had matured a lot by then, and I’m proud of that album.
Let’s shift gears and touch on your friend, Marley Marl. You’ve said in interviews that he was an influence on you.
The first day we met, I was speechless. I couldn’t believe I was in the guy’s house that’d produced for the Juice Crew! Marley’s sampling was so funky. He’d take a snare from this record, a kick from that record, and just build new sounds! His technical abilities, along with what he chose to sample, amazed me. I really think he made history with sampling.
Is it true he had a heart attack recently?
Yeah. I picked him up from the hospital. Luckily, he’s fine now. But he said he didn’t even feel it when it happened, and that it wasn’t painful, which is good. It’s scary. I dropped everything and went to the hospital. Man, I’m just glad he’s okay. I was really upset; I thought I was gonna lose another friend.
Do you remember the last time you and Biggie spoke?
Man, it was right before he died. He told me: “Pete, my raps sound best with you and Large Pro. I love that shit!” That was the last thing he said to me before he died, I swear.
After all these years, with all your history, how do you want to be remembered?
Well, they still play “T.R.O.Y.” in the clubs, and it makes my day when young cats come up to me and tell me how much they love it. I just want to be remembered as one of the best. I just want my beats to still make noise ten, twenty years from now.
You know, I’m just really thankful. I’m thankful, ’cause not many from our era are doing it, and many don’t even get recognized. Thank y’all so much for caring.
Your work has inspired young producers and impacted many people. What records would you say have inspired Pete Rock?
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