New BeatTips.com Senior Contributor Introduces Himself
First off, let me say I’m happy as hell to be involved with BeatTips.com, and I know it will be a pleasure to post articles here. Music and Underground hip hop is my passion, and I’m sure I have a lot that I can share with you all.
I guess I should start by telling you who I am and why I have something to say. I’m a record label owner, beatmaker/producer, MC, and recording engineer. I started out in the music business as a High School intern at an East Village (NYC) recording studio at the age of 17, that was in 1996. After that, I went to the Institute of Audio Research (IAR) just down the street. I was a young buck at 18 in that place, talking shit, being a hard head, pissing people off and learning a lot. Not just about audio, but on how to interact with people for a change.
I then interned in a demo studio where heads came up to the spot for 15 dollars an hour. This was in the age of the “Village Voice listings.” The Village Voice, one of NYC’s most well-known art/culture based newspapers, used list ads for dozens of recording studios. It was funny seeing all the studios that pulled the old “AAA” trick to get to their name at near the top of the fold.
It was a different era. When gig at the demo studio dried up, I bounced around a bit.
At the time, I was a big fan of Company Flow. So I tracked down the studio where they recorded at: Looking at the back of one of their records, I got their address and I sent in my resume.
The engineer that was running the place, Ozone Music, was actually looking for someone right at that time, so I quickly landed a job as an intern there.
I tell people all the time: Ozone Music was like walking onto a post-modern set of “Fame.” You had all these eclectic artists coming in and out from all kinds of genres; there was a graff mural on the wall as you walked into it, etc. They pressed CDs, they served as a management company and recording studio. I learned SO MUCH there. It was there that I got my first credits on records as an engineer working with artists like Company Flow, Anti-Pop Consortium, Mike Ladd, Mr. Lif, The Juggaknots, Sonic Sum, Saul Williams, and so many more. I was there a little after year, before Ozone Music shut down. Even still, my credits were already deep. In fact, by the time they were done, I was getting paid to run sessions myself.
At this point, around 2000, EL-P and his manager were building what would become Definitive Jux (Def Jux) Records, and I was asked to join them as their recording engineer. I took the opportunity, and I served in that role for the next five years. Working on classic records like Cannibal Ox’s “The Cold Vein,” Aesop Rock’s “Bazooka Tooth,” EL-P’s “Fantastic Damage,” and many more. I was there for some of their most inventive times, and through my approach to mixing records, I added to the overall sound and feel of some of those records. (You can see my full discography, which includes all my recording, mixing, producing, rapping, etc, here.)
In 2004, I started my own record label, Uncommon Records, with the goal of putting out “progressive hip hop.” After being let go from Def Jux (budget cuts; label folded a earlier this year), I made the decision to pursue my own musical aspirations, while also making a career of something else. I returned to school and took up Broadcasting at CSB in New Jersey. And through some hard work interning (once again), I quickly landed a job. All things considered, I look back on that decision with some regret. But I know that it was a welcome break from the everyday pounding you can take in a studio. So ultimately, that move served as a valuable lesson. It made me realize how much I truly love music. Currently, I’m still in Broadcasting. But each day, I’m pushing closer Recording full time again.
Meanwhile, of course, I have been running Uncommon Records, which has grown well over the years. When I started the label, I did it all. I was pressing CDs with my partner in rhyme, Cirrus Minor. I would call brick and mortar stores across the country, one by one, asking if they would carry the our product. I worked with some random press agents at the time, usually doing my own mailings with a list they would provide to me. And through it all, I’ve experienced a great deal of change.
I’ve run my label through the ongoing transition from out of physical demands into digital realities. I remember when there was a time when you couldn’t send a writer an email with audio. They would freak out and ask for a CD only. Now it’s rare to send someone a CD. This is just one minor of example of how quickly things of changed in the 6 years of running Uncommon.
Uncommon has released 8 CDs and 25 Digital projects, and that doesn’t even include some of our free releases and side projects. Our roster includes Masai Bey, Agartha Audio, Taiyamo Denku, Short Fuze, my own group, The Presence, and many more. We’ve had the privilege of putting out great records, and quality remains as the main measure that we use in deciding what we release. We are an underground label that has no intention of changing our standards or stylings for anyone at any time and we’re damn proud of that.
I wear many hats. In addition to being a engineer and label owner, I’m also a beatmaker (producer). My production style has evolved over the years from an emphasis on playing out drum patterns on the MPC and adding to them, to what I do more of now, which is finding full samples with unique drum patterns and chopping them up in a recorded live manner. Either way, I’m a proud sample-based musician. You’ll never hear me write about how to “get away or around sample usage”. (Playing some notes on a keyboard does NOT necessarily make someone a musician, and replaying something from a sample and killing off the sample isn’t superior to anyone who samples.) I have an MPC 2000XL, I record and arrange into Pro-Tools. Occasionally you will hear some synth, but honestly, I haven’t invested a whole lot into that. I have some synth plug ins, some Iphone apps and my KAOSSILATOR. A lot of times I just sample that stuff anyway. I don’t think we’ve reached anywhere close to the end of how we innovate with sampling, and that goes to a lot of what you’ll see me write about here on BeatTips.
Although, I have worked on a lot of music that some people might deem to be “avant garde hip hop,” that’s not my only area of expertise. I continue to be associated with experimental innovators in hip hop and beyond. As such, you can probably imagine who I am most inspired by, but may not expect some others. As a contributor to BeatTips, I think you should know who they may be. The three main beatmakers/producers that I look toward for inspiration these days are Madlib, RZA and The Alchemist. I think these guys have an element of surprise in their music, where you don’t quite know what’s coming next from them. That’s really important to me. At the same time, I’m rooted in styles created by Marley Marl, Pete Rock, and especially, DJ Premier.
Finally, I should point out that I have experience with all sorts of equipment, recording methods, and production techniques. Between production, recording, and all that encompasses running a label, Sa’id and I feel that I bring a lot to the table, which is why I really look forward to sharing my knowledge, successes, and trials on BeatTips. To that end, I’ll share some studio stories, some techniques I or others have used, review music, talk about my label’s trials and tribulations, and much more. I fundamentally respect innovation and progression—in the appropriate context—the most. And in addition to all of the above, I want to break down certain moments in the beatmaking tradition that I think were pivotal achievements.
I hope everyone enjoys my contribution to BeatTips. And I look forward to exchange thoughts with everyone. Please be sure to leave comments. I’ll always be checking for them and ready to respond.
—Paul “Nasa” LoverroArticles, Beatmaking, BeatTips