Beyond Hip Hop

  • DJ Anna
  • XLR8R
  • July 01, 2003

Separately, rule-breaking producers Madlib and Prefuse '73 are imploding hip-hop from the inside and reaching fans in other galaxies. What happens when you bring these two sonic renegades together to chat? Two producers. Two sounds. One conversation. What happens when you bring two top artists together for the first time to talk about their work? XLR8R wanted to find out. One weekend in May, we linked up a couple of this era's production radicals to speak to each other and us about their lives in music.

Madlib (known to his close homies as Otis Jackson Jr.) and Prefuse 73 (the main production alias of soft-spoken Scott Herren) are changing the sound of hip-hop by pushing the boundaries of modern produc- tion. Between Prefuse's trademark staccato push-button edit style and Madlib's dubbed-out jazz loops and dirty drums, these cats are revolution- izing sampled music with each new project.

Madlib grew up in Oxnard, CA, and he still lives nearby in LA's Mt. Washington district at the Stones Throw house, along with label owner and founder Chris "Peanut Butter Wolf" Manak, label manager Eothan "Egon" Alapatt and resident designer Jeff Jank (can someone film a reality show of that place, please?). Madlib came to prominence in the late '90s with his group Lootpack, as he and cohort Wildchild produced such Cali classics as "Whenimondamic" from their classic album Soundpieces: Da Antidote, and guested on Tha Alkaholiks's "WLIX." In 2000 he released Quasimoto's Unseen, a bedroom project destined to be a classic. Quas is a high-voiced creature with a taste for jazz, weed and resorting to violence when necessary. The raps were ridiculous, the beats sublime. In addition to production credits on albums by labelmates Wildchild and Dudley Perkins, this year also sees Madlib release two collaborative projects: Madvillain with MF Doom and Jaylib with Jay Dilla. But the mother of all projects may be the upcoming Shades of Blue, in which Madlib remixes and reinterprets parts of the classic Blue Note catalogue. Oh yeah, and he's also releasing a tribute to Stevie Wonder ("Stevie Vol. 2") under the guise of his live jazz project, Yesterday's New Quintet. Whew!

Prefuse 73 left his Georgia roots for Spain two years ago, and he still lives in Barcelona. He earned his indie-electronic fan base with such early projects as Delarosa/Delarosa S. Asora and Savath & Savalas on Chicago's Chocolate Industries label, but his first Prefuse 73 LP, 2001's groundbreaking Vocal Studies and Uprock Narratives (Warp), reached out to hip- hoppers and beatheads all over the world. Prefuse recently started his own label, Eastern Developments, a showcase for like-minded pro- ducers like Dabrye and Daedelus. This year sees the release of Prefuse's One Word Extinguisher album on Warp, a more mature and melodic but equally stunning follow-up to Vocal Studies.

We got Madlib and Prefuse 73 to meet each other for the first time at the Stones Throw Manor. It was a typically gorgeous, smog-filled sunny day as we sat in the sparse white living room with the balcony overlooking the sprawl- ing hills and canyons surrounding Mt. Washington. Prefuse was in town on tour with RJD2, who decided to tag along, and Madlib emerged from his studio downstairs. We sat down in front of the big screen TV showing blaxploitation movie clips on mute. Prefuse sipped coffee and Madlib smoked a joint, and the conversation went like this:

XLR8R: You both come from traditional hip-hop influences and traditional production back- grounds. How have you gone from there to what you do today as innovators and bound ary-pushers?
Prefuse 73: The shit that I make, the reason I make it is for myself. I just don't want to bore myself in the studio, so I'm doing what I'm doing. If it sounds different or bugged out or pushing any envelope, it's because I want to keep myself entertained instead of doing the same shit.

XLR8R: What about you, Otis?
Madlib: Me? I'm just trying to do as much as I can while I'm alive, you know what I'm saying? Do every type of art form, every type of music. All types of black art that there is, I'm going to try to do.
Prefuse 73: I worked at a straight-up studio in Atlanta doing typical Dirty South shit, which made me not want to do typical shit. That got me burnt out on it. Like pressing this button, and there'd be a big crew behind me like "Do this! Ch-ch-ch-ch" and I'd be like 'Yo, I don't wanna do that shit."

RJD2: You mean musically?
Prefuse 73: I mean, yeah. That's how I got my first MPC working at a studio. The guy at the studio didn't do hip-hop, and he was like, "I'll buy an MPC and you can pay it off if you do beats for these guys," and it was all like these guys from Decatur and Atlanta that want their demos done. So, I'd make their bounce shit, just one note, a simple bassline and tons of high hits and they'd be stoked. They just wanted a demo to shop and bump in their car, they didn't give a fuck. Cutting each other's hair in the bathroom, giving fades and shit.
Madlib: That's some ghetto shit.
Prefuse 73: (laughs) Yeah, ghetto as fuck.

XLR8R: So, do you still use an MPG to do your stuff?
Prefuse 73: Yeah, totally, totally.

XLR8R: And Otis, you use a SP 1200?
Madlib: I use a 303, a little $200 machine.

XLR8R: Really?
Madlib: It's just like an SP or whatever. It doesn't matter what you have, it's what you do with it.

XLR8R: Do you use anything more technologically advanced to record or anything? Like ProTools?
Prefuse 73: I mix my shit with ProTools but I don't use a computer to sequence.
Madlib: I use an eight-track or a sixteen-track, a little compact board.

XLR8R: Do you like the way it sounds?
Madlib: I want my stuff dirty like Lee Perry, you know? Raw.

RJD2: Or do you just hate learning new gear?
Madlib: I could learn that shit in a day if I wanted to. I don't want to take the time to do that, I just want to do it the hard way.
Prefuse 73: The time the three of us take to make music is crucial. Not sitting behind some manual, you know?
Madlib: Yeah.

RJD2: Yes, time is definitely of the essence.
Prefuse 73: Yeah, time is everything when you're doing the shit we're doing.

RJD2: Especially when you live this lifestyle-I mean touring.
Prefuse 73: Yeah, touring. You're on the road, you got to rock shows, you got to tour, you got to pro duce for other people, you got to do your shit, you got to do press publicity bullshit. You got so much crap that you barely got time to eat. It's weird when you realize what it's like-you got to do interviews and all that shit, all the publicity comes into play.
Madlib: It's work.
Prefuse 73: 'I'm never going to answer the phone again!" It's like 9 to 5.

XLR8R: Are you guys trying to diss me?
Prefuse 73: [laughing] No, no, no. It's just when you're on tour and you got to do tour press, and it's like the same questions.
Madlib: Mmm-hmm.
Prefuse 73: Like "yes, this is what I use, yes they're dope"
Madlib: Same old bullshit. I wish some cats would do some good interviews. Same old ques- tions with every magazine I do.
Prefuse 73: When I was on a press tour, they would be like, "What do you want to talk about?" and I'd be like "I don't care, as long as it's not music."

RJD2: No shit! Movies, food, ass, TV whatever, I don't give a fuck. I'd rather talk about that goddamn white wall than talk about my flicking record, know what I mean?
Prefuse 73: Me too, me too. I did that in Japan-I was like "No more bullshit." I had like the frequently asked questions...
Madlib: You have to talk about your record.

RJD2: I'm going to start asking questions.
Prefuse 73: Yeah, interview the interviewer. Anna, here we go!

RJD2: Yeah, so Anna, what's so great about being an interviewer?
XLR8R: Well, let me tell it like this.. No, seriously, here's a question that's not musically related-well, not exactly ....
Prefuse 73: [laughing] Okay.

XLR8R: What inspires you in your day-to-day life?
Madlib: Being alive. Good trees.. family and friends.
Prefuse 73: I say people. Mostly always people.
Madlib: Friends. And enemies.
Prefuse 73: True. Mine goes back to people. Anything I make, I'm always thinking of a person.
Madlib: Yeah, an alien. Other beings.

XLR8R: Otherworldly beings?
Madlib: Yeah, other worlds.

XLR8R: Do you think smoking weed influences your work?
Madlib: Nah, I'd be the same regardless. It's just something I like to do. Wake up, go out, go to sleep-it's just like eating.
Prefuse 73: Yeah, I'm a coffee fiend. I used to smoke weed every day, now it's coffee. It's just as evil. Coffee is like bad, weed is chill.

XLR8R: Does you guys have a muse?
Prefuse 73: A person that inspires, like one person?

XLR8R: Yeah. A girlfriend, or wife or child?
Prefuse 73: I used to, I don't have a girlfriend anymore.

XLR8R: Madlib?
Madlib: My daughter. She's like me, we're like twins. She's trying to do her thing too, make beats and stuff or whatever.

XLR8R: How old is she?
Madlib: Seven. I didn't tell her to, she just did.
Prefuse 73: That's dope.

RJD2: That's hot.
Madlib: I bought her a drum set so she could play the drums. I play my drums, she plays hers. She's got badder rhythms than my homies.

XLR8R: Would you like her to be a musician when she grows up?
Madlib: No. Well, if she wants to.

XLR8R: Why not?
Prefuse 73: You don't wish this hell on anyone?
Madlib: Yeah, exactly, but if she wants to...
Prefuse 73: I think people think you make music and it's just easy and you get paid tons of money.

RJD2: You do get paid tons of money. I saw how much you got paid last night!
Prefuse 73: [laughing] Me? I didn't get paid shit last night! Oh yeah, I had my CDs. I just made some custom-made CDs-had some CDRs, drew on them, made some money.
Madlib: There you go, that's what I'm trying to do.

XLR8R: Do you guys want to speak on biters?
Madlib: No.
Prefuse 73: No.

RJD2: Why, you got a guilty conscience?
Prefuse 73: [laughing] No! Well, I had people say "Sorry I bit you on that track."

RJD2: So, now you're gassed up, think you're hot shit?
Prefuse 73: No, no, no, not like that! Hold on, we have to go outside for one second! No, biters-it's flattering and it's not flattering. I mean, once you hear [someone bite your track], it makes you do something different. Not different-you just want to evolve on what you started to do.

XLR8R: So, in some ways it's a good thing.
Prefuse 73: Yeah, I think it could probably push you if you hear 10,000 records that sound like yours.

XLR8R: Do you want a mainstream hip-hop audience to be listening to your beats, to be buying your records?
Madlib: I want people who love music in general to buy my stuff. That's how I am, I'm not just hip-hop-people that like good music period.
Prefuse 73: Me too. I want the crowd at my show to be across the board. Hip-hop heads, cool, whatever, jazz heads, indie rock heads-just if they're into the music. And the diversity of the crowd, which is what makes a show better anyway. I mean you got all these people in one place, and they're just amped on the music and that's dope.

XLR8R: You both do projects with emcees and vocalists, what's a dream project for you? Or someone you'd really love to work with?
Prefuse 73: (laughing) Just Ice.
Madlib: Herbie Hancock.
Prefuse 73: Oh, not just emcees?
Madlib: Oh, emcees? Whatever.

RJD2: You don't like emcees anymore?
Madlib: Ain't nobody making me go "Ohhh!"

XLR8R: Nobody?
Madlib: Nope.

XLR8R: That's depressing.
Prefuse 73: So, you're not a 50 Cent fan?
Madlib: I wasn't trying to hear it, but I heard it. It's cool if you're partying, but I'd rather listen to some Thelonious Monk, that's what I bump. All day.

XLR8R: You both record under different aliases and release side projects, and I'm wondering how that becomes another outlet for creativity, if it affords more freedom. Like for you, Scott, with Savath and Savalas.
Prefuse 73: I just like to play. I mean I like to make beats and I make them in a certain process, but I like to play music and write in a more traditional form. I mean, the shit I made recently sounds like Spanish folk music. It's not folk music, but it's a different outlet; like you were saying, exploring different music. On an MPC, you work in a certain way. It's just a dif- ferent process. The compositional process is just totally different.

XLR8R: Otis, do you play your own instruments with Yesterdays New Quintet?
Madlib: I just put stuff together. I'm not like a musician, there's no crazy solos or nothing, just like vibes put together; put a song together in my head, and just play it. There ain't nobody around, so I got to do it myself. Nobody can do it the way I want it, so I just do it myself.
Prefuse 73: I have to do that shit too. If you're playing alone, it can never be one hundred per- cent live... You never have a drummer just sitting next to you. Madith: All my new stuff, I just play drums. Just play the drums and add everything else.
Prefuse 73: See, I want to do that shit.

XLR8R: That's on what album?
Madlib: The albums I've been doing since the first Yesterday's New Quintet. I have like 30, 40 albums.

XLR8R: Of Yesterday's New Quintet stuff?
Madlib: Yeah.

XLR8R: Whoa. What are you going to do with them?
Madlib: I don't know. I just pick songs off each one and put an album together.

XLR8R: What about Quasimoto?
Madlib: Yeah, should be out soon, same old shit, like the last one... Shit ain't even supposed to be out, that shit was just for me.
Prefuse 73: [laughs]

XLR8R: What do you guys want people to be saying about you in 25 years?
Madlib: "He's still dope!"
Prefuse 73: Yeah, hopefully.
Madlib: "He's still doing something."
Prefuse 73: Yeah, still making music, valid music that people are still listening to, that communicates.

RJD2: Do you guys get worried about how hip-hop commodifies people's careers?
Madlib: Yeah, well, I don't worry about it.
Prefuse 73: That's the best thing about...

RJD2: Or do you just don't give a shit and do it anyway?
Madlib: Just do your shit, even if there wasn't no hip-hop scene.
Prefuse 73: I think doing different things helps. If you do different projects, doing live shit and whatever-like me doing Prefuse shit and me doing Savath and Savalas, having those separa- tions and doing different shit, you [have] longevity.
Madlib: Yeah... longevity. You can't just do the same old shit.

RJD2: Do you guys feel pressure to get involved in the business aspect of your shit?
Prefuse 73: I can't. I need help, but I can't, I have so much shit to do music-wise.
Madlib: It's so hard.
Prefuse 73: I've been trying for two years to get a manager that I can trust and depend on to do things for me, but that's a lot of money you're giving up. That's a lot of percentage of-I mean, we make money, but we don't make that much fucking money. I mean, c'mon.
Madlib: Umm hmm.
Prefuse 73: I mean, you're giving away what? Twenty percent? That's the norm. I can't do that. I'm not really rich enough to do that, and cats that do have managers that make less than us, I'm like "How?" I mean, how do you pay for that shit and pay your rent?
Madlib: They're broke.

XLR8R: What's your daily routine as far as making music?
Madlib: Wake up, eat some cereal and make beats. Then it's about twelve o'clock at night and I have no windows, so I don't know what's what.
Prefuse 73: That's insane. I wake up, go straight for the coffee, café con leche, work, and then sometimes I'll try and stop for a minute in the afternoon, especially where I live now. Just walk around, listen to my headphones, listen to what I did, see if it sounds right, go back and mix it again. But I like to mix everything in iPod head- phones, you know? So I know it'll sound good in the worst headphones I could get.

XLR8R: Who are you checking for production-wise?
Prefuse 73: [points to Madlib and RJD2] Him and him.
Madlib: I don't check for producers, I just listen for good songs. Serious, I'm just looking for some good songs.
Prefuse 73: That's what I'm saying, but the shit that both of them do for me, as far as contemporary people making beats and shit, it gets me. It gets me amped, it's totally different. We all do different shit, but I'm amped on it, you know?
Madlib: Everybody's different, [we] all have our own styles.
Prefuse 73: Exactly.

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