Rockin’ with Bionic Pete [Interview]
Vancouver, B.C. – Pete Rock is a classic kind of guy. Not only in the sense that he’s inextricably linked to much of hip-hop’s original sound, and has worked with pretty much anyone who’s anyone, but he’s every bit a gentleman as well. We had the privilege to meet up with mild-mannered Pete Rock in his downtown Vancouver hotel suite, where we caught him eating dinner and watching some TV: is there really anything better than watching the Bionic Man with Pete Rock? Doubtful. He talked freely of projects past, present and future, explored the topic of twitter, and shared some favorite Wu moments as well.
“Nothing’s hard to find when you’re always doing your craft…to find something and let the world hear it is something I strive to do all the time.”
HipHopCanada: So what are you working on these days?
Pete Rock: A lot. I just finished a Tek and Steele album Monumental, which is coming out June 28. I’m working on a Camp Lo album right now, mixing it down. Which will be the mixtape 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s Part 2, produced by me. And we’re coming out with an album as well, called 80 blocks from Tiffany’s.
HipHopCanada: When I interviewed Planet Asia several years ago he said he had a Planet Rock album with in the works with you…when will we see that?
Pete Rock: We’re at a standstill right now I guess. I’m going to the West Coast tomorrow to find out how he’s doing, to see what he’s up to and see if we can listen back to what we did and maybe redo some of the beats. Cause I know I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to my music, that I’m gonna wanna do some of the beats over, even if there’s no rhymes on it. Just beat wise I wanna give him some hot shit to do.
HipHopCanada: Do some artists get frustrated by deadlines if you take your time like that?
Pete Rock: Some artists do and some artists is like, okay I’m rolling with the punches.
HipHopCanada: A lot of people want to work with you, how do you filter out whom you will and won’t work with?
Pete Rock: I don’t really filter out anyone because I believe in making everyone sound better, stepping their game up and helping their craft. I’m like that gym partner that’s teaching you and helping you work out.
HipHopCanada: Pete Rock the hip-hop spotter?
Pete Rock: Yeah that’s me.
HipHopCanada: Being in the game for as long as you have, can you trace back your career through the different styles and trends of hip-hop, and see your influence in those areas?
Pete Rock: Yeah I can definitely trace it back to when I was making beats on the drum machine, before I even thought about making records. I was just working out on the drum machine, DJing on the turntables, finding drum breaks and stuff, being schooled and taught by Eric J, who taught me everything about timing. And there’s other guys that played a part in my career as far as helping me learn how to DJ and make beats. Eddie F, another guy named Lee Davis, Heavy D was one of the main characters who got me noticed working off him and doing co-production. I trace a lot of my work that I’m doing today back to that, to help me be who I am today, to help me stay on my toes. And I listen to stuff that’s going on around me now, playing on the radio, whoever’s new record it is, whatever new artist is coming out, I always keep my ear tuned to that.
HipHopCanada: Hearing Kanye sample your drums on “Runaway” shows that hip-hop has kind of come full circle. How does it make you feel to be a part of that?
Pete Rock: When I get the proper credit for it, of course it makes me feel great. But until that happens, then no one’s gonna feel great about not receiving credit for sampling their drums and stuff off of their albums.
HipHopCanada: You’ve worked extensively with Wu-Tang…if there was a Wu rumble, who do you think would win?
Pete Rock: No that’s too hard, don’t do that to me. See that’s not right. It would be a big huge fight between Ghost, Rae and Meth. Ghost and Rae are so classic cause everybody remembers them from the Cuban Linx album. To pit them against each other? I can’t even see that. Rae’s dangerous. But as far as Ghost goes, forget it man. He’s soulful street guy. And Raekwon is the same way. I can’t say who would win.
HipHopCanada: It seems like you and Wu-Tang were coming up creatively at the same time, do you have some good feelings about those times?
Pete Rock: Yeah, just being in the Loud [Records] offices freestyling and doing those kinds of things in the back room. I would play beats and the guys would be all back there buggin out and listening to the stuff and freestyling. You had all kinds of different things that Raekwon was spitting, and you had Big Pun back then and Prodigy and all kinds of people. To me, Loud was one of the hottest rosters that I ever was a part of as a solo artist.
HipHopCanada: If RZA calls himself Black Mozart, what classic guy are you the black version of?
Pete Rock: Miles Davis.
HipHopCanada: But he’s already black!
Pete Rock: I’d be the black Liberace. I liked him because he wore diamond rings and played that piano.
HipHopCanada: What process do you go through to find such huge variety in your samples?
Pete Rock: I go looking for it. I go to the mom and pop stores, that’s where they have it. On the West Coast in Cali you have Amoeba music and they have a great store. But otherwise the commercial ones don’t carry vinyl anymore and Tower Records is no longer. So we go to the mom and pop stores and private dealers and find things and you dig.
HipHopCanada: So is that digging in the crates culture still alive and well?
Pete Rock: For us it is. We keep it alive. Nothing’s hard to find when you’re always doing your craft. Stuff you stumble upon and you don’t even mean to. To find something and let the world hear it is something I strive to do all the time.
HipHopCanada: When you hear a sample and it clicks with you, can you already see what you’re gonna do with it, does the whole song appear?
Pete Rock: Yeah. When I hear a sample I like I hear how I’m gonna do it. I hear how I’m gonna break it down, manipulate it. Constant listening to records and even playing stuff over. And it’s not all about sampling, I play my own basslines. Learning the keyboard every day just playing with it. I have two so I have to do something with it.
HipHopCanada: You and DJ Premier recently had a battle in Japan, what else is coming up from the two of you?
Pete Rock: We’re working on the album. We’re doing an album together which I think is gonna be one of the pivotal monuments in hip-hop. This project is bigger than us, it’s about the fans and the hip-hop, keeping the culture alive. Something that we’ve grown up listening to and gotten involved with over the years.
HipHopCanada: Is is hard to keep the same momentum going and stay true to the roots of your craft?
Pete Rock: Not at all. I think if you love what you do you’ll always be creative. If you just love it and you wanna make beats that’s all you’re gonna do all day 24/7 then this’ll always be around. I think passion is the number one key to surviving in music, doing everything you do to the best of your ability. That’s what I do every time I apply myself to making a beat.
HipHopCanada: There was a twitter rumor about a Pete Rock and Nas album…
Pete Rock: An album? I wish. I’m learning about twitter every day. Cause sometimes I used to get excited when I’d see a tweet that wasn’t true and be quick to correct it and jump on twitter and correct the person. I realized that people just get on twitter and make up stories and make up things cause they want it to happen. I’m like, yeah, keep tweeting it cause I want it to happen! And that’s one of my biggest goals, to try and work back with Nas. We’re doing something now. I just gave him a beat and he wrote to it and we’re developing a working relationship with each other. Again. So this time I wanna make sure I give him the right songs and more than just one song.
HipHopCanada: Have you worked with any Canadian artists that have left and impression?
Pete Rock: Kardinal I worked with. Drake I haven’t worked with. I have worked with Saukrates. And the bald guy with the glasses…Choclair. Those were the only people I ever encountered in Canada.
HipHopCanada: Well thanks!
Pete Rock: You’re welcome, thank you.
Interview conducted by Amalia Judith for HipHopCanada
Photography by Kassandra Guagliardi and Amalia Judith for HipHipCanada
Don’t forget to check out Pete Rock on twitter.