True Master is a sharp dude. The type that calculates three moves ahead. The type that could have excelled in a career business had he not chosen hip hop/rap music as his primary vocation. He speaks carefully and with a purpose. And his understanding and appreciation for the art of beatmaking is among the deepest that I have seen yet.
Most well-known for his contributions to the Wu-Tang Clan collective, a closer examination of True Master shows you just why he’s been a big influence on many beatmakers and rappers. I got up with True Master for this interview in 2007; I held back widespread publication of it because I knew his words would prove to be timeless, and that they would be valuable to a new breed of beatmakers.
In this interview, True talks with me about why he’s only had to clear one song in career, some of his most creative tricks for making drums, why he doesn’t deviate from the art form of sampling, why Easy Mo Bee is one of his greatest inspirations, how he used make beats at RZA’s house, why shortcuts in beatmaking are more common today, why you can allow money to dictate the music, and the time Lyor Cohen told him he could have whatever he wanted.
BeatTips: Your music is sharp and never sloppy. You can never tell on your beats where the loop begins and ends.
True Master: Well, I don’t loop! Most of my career I haven’t looped. I’ve only cleared one song in my whole career, so far. And that was “Til It’s Gone,” on Busta Rhymes’s album, It Ain’t Safe No More. I sampled the hook. Other than that, all my tracks, I chop ‘em up and reassemble them. So it doesn’t have a looped sound. So it sound more of…like a live feel, not synthetic, ‘cuz I try to sit down and redo it so that it’s not too…Like, my shit is sharp. But at the same time, I try to make it a little off, you know what I mean. I try to create a live feel to the machine, something that’s more realistic… I break everything down into so many pieces…that art form in itself, a lot of people ain’t gonna go through that time. That’s how I started making beats, and I like to stay on that same thing, you know what I mean. Rather than deviate from that. I use my same old machine.
BeatTips: What did you start off using?
True Master: EPS 16 Plus. I got ASRs and all that. I made joints on the ASR, like “MGM” [Wu-Tang Clan/Ghostface & Raekwon], you know, stuff like that. The EPS is an Ensoniq machine. They come in a rack mount or keyboard version. The keyboard version is more simpler to use. Even though the ASR 10 is supposed to be an upgrade to that model, the EPS 16 Plus is killin’ the ASR!
BeatTips: Did you use the EPS for that Black Rob joint?
True Master: I used the EPS for that. And that’s an old ass machine. It’s the same machine, all the way from “Brooklyn Zoo” to now. Actually, it’s the same machine that RZA used to use when he made most of the classic Wu Tang shit. Before I had a machine, I used to go to his house and make beats on that machine. Then I bought the machine from him and I started fuckin’ with it.
BeatTips: How do you approach drums? Do you sample from records or sample CDs?
True Master: I sample off of records, sample CDs. I got live drummers that let me sample snares and kicks. I’ve sampled off of T.V. programs, anywhere that I could find a snare or a kick.
One of my greatest inspirations and mentors is a brother named, Easy Mo Bee. He taught me a lot with drums. ‘Cuz really, drums is the essence of the shit. You can have the illest sounds in the world, but the drums gotta have a certain feel to ‘em, you know what I mean. They gotta hit a certain way. Drums is the pulse and heartbeat of the whole shit. I give credit to Eazy Mo Bee, as well as RZA, for inspiring me. But Eazy Mo Bee was the one who definitely showed me how to get ‘em tight. He used the SP 1200. I never used the SP 1200, but nevertheless, I learned a lot from him. How to truncate shit. He showed me tricks.
BeatTips: What tricks?
True Master: With hi-hats and snares, volume changes… If you take your kick, and let’s say, you copy it, three times, then lower the volume on one kick, then keep one volume the same, then lower the volume on one. So it’s a three-hit flow. One hit is softer, one hit is milder, you know. That’s one of the tricks… Adding an echo to one hi-hat is another trick. There’s gotta be some unique ingredient while you’re doing your beats. ‘Cuz a lot of times it’s more of feeling your way through it, as opposed to knowing exactly where you want to go.
BeatTips: When you sample them, do you sample dry or do you add effects before hand?
True Master: I put effects first. A lot of times I track it with the effects already. These EPS got crazy effects already built in.
BeatTips: Were you ever a DJ?
True Master: Yeah, I had my two Technics, I used to do my DJ thing. I used to pause tapes… And I first used to make beats on a Casio SK4. It had like four little pads on it, each one was like a second. So I had to get real sharp with little stabs. Create beats from sharp stabs.
BeatTips: Describe the Hip Hop-Rap formula. For you was it more getting the sample to match the drums or how was it?
True Master: I could do it both ways. I could start with a sound and go to the drums or start with the drums and go to the sound. Most of the time, I start with the drums and go to the sound. So my drums is basically my foundation. But I’ve learned how to match drums through snares to sounds, you know what I mean. And that’s been important.
BeatTips: Do you use Timestretch?
True Master: Nah, I was never able to fuck with that. All those advantages that people was using, I don’t even have those shits.
BeatTips: What do you think is the most significant change in hip hop/rap music today?
True Master: It’s a lot more advancement in the way things are being made, which makes people take shortcuts. You can still be creative…but that [from before]kind of sound, you just can’t get that sound. There’s so much you gotta do. You gotta be able to chop the sh*t up, and put it back together in an inventive, melodic way.
BeatTips: Sounds like you listen to a lot of music before you even sit down to make beats.
True Master: Well, I listen to every form of music. At the same time, you have to make a lot of beats. I always tell people that you gotta make so many beats that you forget what the fuck you got! If you know what you got, you don’t have enough. Sometimes when I’m listening to my shit, I’m just as surprised as the motherfucker hearing it. Keep it movin’. Go back in your archives. Always keep working.
BeatTips: How were you able to maintain throughout time?
True Master: You know what it is, I’ve always been a business man. And another thing too, man, a lot of people lose they original thing because they be too under pressure for the money. The money will make you lose the passion, if you ain’t…you know what I mean… I’ve always been pretty sharp on hustlin’, gettin’ my money, you know. I never was really buggin’ off of the money. So I was able to approach [music]from a more pure form, not running for the money. I was seeking for nothin’. I was just doing it ‘cuz I loved doing it. And I always wanted to do it like that.
BeatTips: When you were making your music, were you knowledgeable of maintaining your own identity within Wu-Tang?
True Master: I was an MC, too. When I first met RZA and GZA, and Dirty [Ol’ Dirty Bastard], we all just started rhymin’. So I started out MC’in’, and I always had the ability to think of different flows and the sounds that would compliment those flows.
BeatTips: How much did you learn from RZA, and then when did you start understanding your own thing…Like for me, I was also rhymin’ first, you know that…And I started producing on the SP 1200. Then I switched to the MPC 60 II, ‘cuz Preme [DJ Premier] had it. And Rone [Mike Rone] showed me how to use it. Preme taught Rone, Rone taught me, then I started getting a hang of it and I went my own way… This is one of the reasons why I wrote The BeatTips Manual, because there is a lot of shared information, but it’s on a real quiet tip among a small group of people who already know each other.
True Master: Word!!! I’ve shared information with Premier. Premier has shared information with me. I guess some people across the country be like, “Well, they’re all from New York, do they really know each other? Do they sit down and talk?” We basically all grew up, sharing information and sharing ideas! I can remember taking sounds to RZA’s house, but I ain’t got the machine… I remember when I first got my machine, I had Easy Mo Bee come through the crib and make a beat. Even though he didn’t have my machine, I wanted to see his ideas coming through on my machine. So I sat there with him and was observing.
BeatTips: Right now, what beatmakers do you still check for?
True Master: There’s a lot of good producers out here. I love Premier, RZA, all my peers…Kanye West is talented, Pharrell is talented. Even like a lot of stuff from the South.
BeatTips: What’s the name of your production company?
True Master: My production company is called Persia Legacy. As far as the business side, I’ve always been business-minded. When I was younger, I went to school; I got an Associates Degree in Business Management. I never really went to school for a long time, but I always knew that business was something that I wanted to learn. Even before I didn’t have money, I knew what the fuck I was going to do with it once I got it. I’ve always worked for myself. I remember I used to do real estate, even when I ain’t have money. I used to go to mortgage brokers and ask them what I needed to know.
BeatTips: The way the game is right now, would you recommend somebody trying to come in the game as a beatmaker or a rapper?
True Master: Just try to study some business before you jump into this shit, ‘cuz then you’ll be fucked up, owing taxes…Start studying the business aspect of it—how to hold on to your publishing, what to do with your money, you know what I mean. Get an accountant to work with you.
BeatTips: Do you consider it more of a beatmaker’s game or a rapper’s game?
True Master: It’s definitely become more of a producer’s game. Production is the driving force behind everything in this business right now. So as far as leverage, the producer got more leverage.
BeatTips: Do you have a manager?
True Master: Thus far, I’ve done everything myself. If I feel comfortable with somebody, I work with them. I’m not against a manager. There’s a lot of things that I want to get into now, like scoring music, video games, commercials. I just did a commercial for Japan with Raekwon.
BeatTips: What’s your influence on production?
True Master: I think I definitely made my mark. I’m not a household name, but I’m satisfied.
BeatTips: You’re a household name for those who know!
True Master: I could remember Lyor Cohen calling me one day, when Meth’s [Method Man] album, Judgment Day, was about to come out…saying, ‘Can you come see me right now… I need to see you right now. It’s a big album about to come out, and you did six songs on it and I never saw you, I don’t even know who the fuck you are. I want to see if you’re real…” I walked into his office, Lyor told me straight up, “Whatever you want, you can have.” I told him I didn’t even know what I want. He said, “I act off of what I feel…If you wanna a deal, you got it.” But I never really pursued it. A lot of shit came at me like that, but I never really jumped on the pot like that. I like to take it easy. I process it different. You know what it is. I don’t like to push or pull and I don’t like to be pushed or pulled.
The music and videos below are presented here for the purpose of scholarship
Ghostface Killah – “Fish” feat. Raekwon and Cappadona prod. by True Master
Wu-Tang Clan – “MGM” (prod. by True Master)
Ol’ Dirty Bastard – “Brooklyn Zoo” prod. by True Master
Cappadona – “Milk The Cow” prod. by True Master
Cappadona – “Slang Editorial” prod. by True Master
Inspectah Deck – “Lovin’ You” prod. by True Master
Inspectah Deck – “R.E.C. Room” feat. La The Darkman prod. by True MasterArticles, Beatmaking, BeatTips, Editor's Choice, Interviews, True Master