My production style came from the records I listened to when I was growing up. James Brown was the biggest influence, the first guy to influence my music style. I didn’t really start making beats until I was 13 or 14 years old. Later on, I was sampling jazz artists like Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, and Miles Davis. And on the soul side there was Barry White, Isaac Hayes, and of course Sly & The Family.
People like Russell Simmons, Marley Marl and Howie T had the ‘80s. But when the ‘90s came along, we wanted to come out with music that people were not sampling. When I started producing, I was working with the SP 12, which was the most popular drum machine at the time. Back then you had to have an external hard drive just to save more time on the drum machine. This was a new age. Nowadays, you have all types of production equipment and [studio software] out there. By the time the SP 1200 came out, that’s when I was really getting into it. Some of the music we were finding was crazy and we experimented a lot. That’s how the Pete Rock sound came about…the horns, the drums. I made a whole lot of beats on the SP [laughs].”
Was I worried about rapping on the same song as those great rappers like Kool G. Rap, Kane and Puba? Of course I was [laughs]. But like I said, Heavy is family. He used to always gas me like, ‘If you don’t do this rap I won’t do this with you anymore.’ He would encourage me to try different things. I used to sit in the studio when he was making Big Tyme and Peaceful Journey. ‘Don’t Curse’ came about because the actual sample was so funky. It was an old hit from Booker T. & the MG’s called ‘Hip Hugger.’ And it had that feel to Heavy like, ‘Hey, let me try to make a catchy song and get the hardest rappers to rhyme on the song and do them, but just leave the curses out.’ That was a great idea. Heavy is very intelligent when it comes to concepts.”
I loved the way the singer’s voice came off on the record [I sampled for] ‘Straighten It Out.’ It felt a certain way to me. I chopped it up, used the vocals for the chorus, and had C.L. rhyme over it. As for ‘They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.),’ I realized the song was going to mean a lot to people when I got extremely emotional in the studio as I was making the beat and mixing the song down. The final mix made me cry because I had lost a close friend Trouble T-Roy, who was Troy Dixon one of the dancers for Heavy D & The Boyz. ‘Reminisce’ was a tribute to him.
Troy was a guy that grew up with us in the neighborhood. He had the element of everything in one person. He was a street guy, a community person…he taught me how to do a lot of things…he taught me how to stand up for myself. He died when him and one of Kid ‘N Play’s people were playing around by the edge of the stage and throwing empty garbage cans at each other. He slipped and fell 20 feet. That was the worst thing that could have happened to us.
The music for ‘Reminisce…’ just spoke to my soul. I was looking for something to dedicate to Troy and I came across the sample from a good friend. He showed me the record and I explored the music on the album. I knew the song was special when I seen the reaction from the record label and from friends and people who I would play it for. I have never seen that emotional reaction from people before in my life about a rap song. People say ‘Reminisce…’ is the greatest hip-hop song of all time. I can’t say that. But I think it’s one of the greatest songs Pete Rock has ever done in his entire life. I climbed to the top of the mountain with that one. I think Troy was somewhere enjoying every minute of it.”
When we were recording ‘Down With The King,’ DMC was easy, but Run wasn’t so easy in the beginning. But then we finally convinced him. We ended up doing the song at Green Street and we presented it to Russell, who still didn’t get it, but the powers that be overruled Russell’s vote. It was just undeniable. I couldn’t believe Jay helped me accomplished this. If it wasn’t for him that song wouldn’t have happened. When the song came out, Run-D.M.C. was surprised. It shot right to no. 1 on the Billboard rap charts with a bullet. People wanted to see them win. I was just happy to construct a musical piece that they would get on.”
When I listen to a song like ‘The World Is Yours,’ I’m amazed at the lyrics. I used to stand back and look at Nas like, ‘Who are you? Are you for real?’ [laughs] His voice, the things he would say…you could just picture what he was saying. Nas was the actual lens of a movie camera. That’s how Nas hit me. Nas made me sing the chorus on ‘The World Is Yours!’ He was like, ‘Yo, I want you to sing this…’ I was like, ‘Nah, I don’t want to sing.’ Then he started singing the chorus too me [Pete sings]: ‘Whose World is this?…the world is yours, the world is yours…It’s mine, it’s mine…’ So I ended up doing it somehow, someway. We were practicing it in my basement and we recorded ‘The World Is Yours’ at Battery Records. Thank you to Large Professor for introducing me to Nas.”
I made this beat called ‘In The Flesh’ that was on the Main Ingredient album. And I made that beat in front of Biggie. He was like, ‘Oh shit…I just wanted to see how you did it, son.’ He was bugging. But Biggie wasn’t even interested in ‘Juicy.’ Next thing you know, ‘Juicy’ comes out and I don’t get credit. I really felt a way about it after Big passed away. We didn’t get to have the relationship that Premier had with him. I had a lot of music for Big, but it just didn’t happen.”
By this time, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth were becoming [well-known]. We had a Sprite commercial, and we did it because I thought as long as you keep the music the same you can’t sell-out. But if you let people tell you how to sound and what to rhyme over then you are a sell-out. We kept it hip-hop. It was like, ‘All right, you want us to do this commercial? Then I want to keep my music the same because this is Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth expressing ourselves.'
When we released The Main Ingredient, the West Coast battle was won when it came to selling records. Dr. Dre, Snoop and them were smashing it. Unfortunately, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth didn’t last. From the outside looking in our split looked nasty. It had a lot to do with business. That’s all I can say about that. I believe if we had maintained through the evil forces, which had a lot to do with people getting in our ears, we would have stayed together. People were dividing us to knock a popular man off his throne. It happens in this game and everybody goes through it. I always attempted to work with C.L. over the years. Even when I did my solo albums I would call him up to do a song and he would come to the studio. Now we are on tour overseas doing shows.”
When I heard Common’s lyrics it was fucking perfection. I knew feelings were going to be hurt [laughs]. I just thought, ‘When Cube hears this he’s going to want to fight.’ I didn’t even think that would be the beat for ‘The Bitch In Yoo.’ I’m my own worst enemy at times. I was like, ‘Nah, I can make something better.’ But Common made it into something. He made me great on that one.”
What can you say about him? Listen to what he said and how he delivered his rhymes. Look at the noise that was surrounding him…Roc-A-Fella was trying to sign him, this person and that person was trying to sign him. To me, Big L was the greatest thing that DITC ever produced. That’s not to disrespect Diamond D, OC, Fat Joe or Lord Finesse. You know how you have the golden child in a group. Big L was that person to me.”
But when Sylvia Rhone came into the picture she changed a lot of things. Me and her didn’t see eye-to-eye. And that’s no disrespect to anyone. That was just the business moves at the time. I didn’t have anybody guiding me to show me what to do. And the streets ended up bootlegging that album. A lot of the copies that came out weren’t even the right actual mixes. So INI’s album kind of fell through the cracks.”
‘Tru Master’ was one of those songs. It was my idea to put Kurupt and Inspectah Deck on the same track. I always loved Deck. And Kurupt and I had some history from the early ‘90s and I always wanted to work with him. I had a lot of help from a guy named Chris LaMonica that was working for Loud Records. He helped me recruit a lot of the artists for Soul Survivor. But I already had a lot of the artists in mind.
‘Verbal Murder 2’ (feat. Big Pun, Noreaga and Common) was all about hip-hop spitters…testing your skills…can you climb an oily wall? When you listen to that song those guys are murdering that shit. ‘Strange Fruit’ was also great because of Tragedy…that guy right there was one of the illest rappers. He was ahead of his time when he first started with Marley Marl. As time went on, Tragedy really came into himself as an MC. It was all about that Queensbridge style…that street corner mentality.
There were other artists I was trying to get for Soul Survivor that didn’t happen. I never got the chance to work with LL Cool J. Then there was Jay-Z. I used to chase Jay around forever [laughs]. I used to hang out at certain sessions with Just Blaze at Baseline. We always wanted to work with each other, but it never happened until years later. I love the fact that people call Soul Survivor a classic. Everybody is entitled to make a bad album here and there. But the good ones really stand out.”
I used to love that song as a kid (Mayfield’s ‘The Makings of You’). I also liked Gladys Knight’s version. But I never heard the live version of it. So when I heard the live one with Curtis and the bass player going crazy I was like, ‘Oh shit….let me fuck with this!’ I was just playing around and experimenting. I was just going to do one part of the sample, but when I heard how Curtis sounded singing it I just said, ‘You know what? Fuck that…’ I put the vocals on it…and that shit was butter.
Now what really fucked me up was Jay-Z being on it. I’m going to tell everybody right now. I had no clue that Kanye was going to do that. Because the way we were working on the song it was just him on it. And I jumped on it and did my adlibs. Then my man Young Guru called me and was like, ‘Yo Pete…I got a surprise for you.’ He played it for me over the phone. At first I couldn’t hear Jay’s voice too good. Guru is like, ‘You heard it?’ I’m like, ‘Nah..’ I was driving so I didn’t want to get pulled over by the cops so I just stopped the car. I heard Jay’s verse and I almost had a heart attack [laughs]! I was like, ‘Is that fucking Jay-Z??? Finally, I can’t believe it.’ But then when ‘The Joy’ didn’t come out on Kanye’s album people on Twitter and Faceback were like they brought his album because they thought it was going to be on there. But hey…maybe it will be on Watch The Throne.”
My younger brother actually put me on to Little Brother. He told me how they idolized me. ‘Bring Y’all Back’ was basically a track I wanted Little Brother to do for me. The style of lyrics that they had over the beats I had just matched perfectly. I actually brought 9th Wonder and his whole crew up to my house. They were sleeping on my floor in the basement while I was working on beats in the room. They spent the night…Big Pooh, Phonte, everybody. There were a lot of guys in sleeping bags [laughs].”