Photo credit: Courtesy of the artist
The renowned producer attributes his creativity to another legend: "I was musically charged, man. I had some adrenaline going on then. I'm serious, ever since I — I think after I met James Brown as a kid. I was seven years old," says Pete Rock. "I wasn't the same since."
The man who made "T.R.O.Y." and "The World Is Yours" spoke with Microphone Check hosts Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley about shaking the hand of the Godfather of Soul and attending his funeral, crawling through a dog door to practice on Heavy D's equipment, the effects of 9/11 on music and J Dilla. "I'm like, 'Yo, this guy's gonna have me out of a job.'"
ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: P.R. in the building!
PETE ROCK: Yes, sir. What's good, homie?
MUHAMMAD: Hip-hop royalty.
PETE ROCK: Yes, thank you.
FRANNIE KELLEY: This a big deal.
PETE ROCK: Well, you know, you too.
MUHAMMAD: Forget me. I don't count.
PETE ROCK: OK. Sure you don't.
MUHAMMAD: Just saying.
PETE ROCK: What's good? What's goodie?
MUHAMMAD: I don't know it's just — it's kinda bugged out cause we came up at the same time, but, yo, I'm a crazy P.R. fan. So I'm serious when it's like hip-hop royalty.
PETE ROCK: Thank you, sir.
MUHAMMAD: It's crazy.
PETE ROCK: Come on, man. You're timeless, bro. I can't even explain the fan I am of your stuff as well.
MUHAMMAD: I already know this.
PETE ROCK: Yes, sir.
MUHAMMAD: I mean, that's an inside joke between Pete and I. But, no, for real, man, the things that you have done for the art form and the imprint, the inspiration, it's — there's no way that one can mention hip-hop without talking about you —
PETE ROCK: I appreciate that.
MUHAMMAD: — on several, I mean, you can cut it from what you and CL have done or any of your other productions and all the people that you've worked with, man. So it's, you know, like an architect of the genre you are. And to be able to kick it with you just on some regular is kinda bugged out.
PETE ROCK: I appreciate it, brother. I'm just passionately in love with music. And God is good — he was good to me in hip-hop. He's laid it down and placed the good people around me to push me forward in this. R.I.P. to my cousin Heavy D. Love my family. I have a very huge Jamaican family, you know what I'm saying, and every one into music, whether it was reggae, soul, jazz, '80s pop, rock. You name it, we listened to it. We loved it. It raised us to what we actually was able to do for ourselves in the '90s with, like I said, the surroundings of great people. And just being a lover of hip-hop since Day 1.
MUHAMMAD: What was the Day 1 of hip-hop for you?
PETE ROCK: The Bambaataa days, the Grand Wizzard Theodore days. HBI [WHBI-FM], listening to Magic on HBI and Islam and those guys. Then from that, Supreme Team radio show. There were so many radio shows that were dope. But I kinda, kinda just went with the Magic/Marley thing, you know, BLS.
MUHAMMAD: Probably because that frequency — at least for me — that frequency was obviously the easiest to capture. Some of the others, Supreme Team, that was kinda hard to catch.
PETE ROCK: Yeah it was, but I've had friends who made cassette tapes of the radio show.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, OK.
PETE ROCK: So that's how I learned about it. Not to forget Jazzy Jay, Red Alert, Chuck Chillout, you know, that whole regime. And then y'all fell into that with Jungle Brothers, Tribe, the Native Tongue thing, Queen Latifah, everybody like that. 45 King, all the stuff Red Alert used to play. All that stuff, I was very attentive.
MUHAMMAD: What was the first hip-hop record that you bought that was your money, whatever your — I don't know if it was your allowance, your birthday money saved up?
PETE ROCK: It was some newspaper money, son. I was delivering them newspapers, you know, paperboy. But, yeah, seriously. I think it was Fatback Band I had bought. It was a 12-inch on Spring Records called "King Tim III." I bought that, you know. And then it went from that to Sugarhill Gang. Then it went from Sugarhill Gang to "Sucker MC's," and it goes on and on.
MUHAMMAD: Did you know back then that you would pursue a life in whatever it was your ears were hearing at the moment?
PETE ROCK: No, absolutely not. But I knew I wanted to be a part of it because I thought it was cool. When I used to see my older cousins forming little crews and stuff — Hev, and his brothers — along with, you know, people in the neighborhood. A guy named DJ Eric J, who taught me how to be funky. Hev's brother, Floyd, who's my cousin, taught me how to scratch. And then all the little underlings that was down with us, you know, Easy Lee — DJ Easy Lee — a guy from the hood, taught me speed. Yeah. So you know it was — all of that right there, was the beginnings and the coming up of me, under Heavy and everybody.
MUHAMMAD: Did they, did Heavy — I've heard you talk about this a little bit, being always positive and influence you in a way that was like, "Come on, come on, come on," or, "You could do it," you know. Did they ever give you that little brother, little son treatment, though?
PETE ROCK: Oh, of course. You always get sonned, kid. When you young, you young, you know what I'm saying? The person is older and bigger and they're like, "Yo." Cause as a kid, I was real curious about a lot of things when it came to music. When my pops wasn't home, I'd be in his records. When Hev and them wasn't home, I'd be in they basement.
They're like, "Yo, how you get in my house?" But they had a little trap door that I used to, you know, go watch their dog and play with their dog, Pudgy. I used to slide through the trap door and be in there cutting, trying to learn how to scratch and stuff.
MUHAMMAD: That's dope, man. Yo, one of the things — in addition to your beats or your scratches — you being on Marley Marl. The show was like —
PETE ROCK: That was a Heavy D thing, bragging to Marley, like, "Yo, my little cousin is nice, yo. I'm telling you, Marley, check him out." And then —
MUHAMMAD: So what was that like, that day like? Did you have to go to the studio to sort of like interview for the job?
PETE ROCK: Yeah, Hev was doing the Big Tyme album. Marley was working with him heavy. That was after "Mr. Big Stuff" success and everything and it's onto the second album and I'm up there doing scratches on "Girls They Love Me" song, you know what I'm saying. And that's how, that's how I got noticed.
MUHAMMAD: What was Marley like, you know, when you did what you did?
PETE ROCK: You know, Marley Marl. "Man, I'm Marley Marl, son!" In a good way, though, you know what I'm saying. I was a big fan regardless cause I'm like, "Wow, this is the man that's made the Juice Crew." I was a huge fan. So I was up in his crib trying to perform for him, and, you know, it worked out. It worked out, man.
MUHAMMAD: That's crazy.
PETE ROCK: Youngest DJ on the radio in New York City.
MUHAMMAD: That's crazy.
PETE ROCK: Yeah, I'm grateful to God for that. And Marley Marl, of course.
MUHAMMAD: What did you learn in that environment?
PETE ROCK: Everything. How radio works, you know.
MUHAMMAD: What you say "how radio works," you mean the production of a show or do you mean the power of radio?
PETE ROCK: Well, when I was up there that young, I just was happy to be up there. And when it was my time to do what I had to do, I was doing it.
But also just meeting artists at a young age, you know — Kid 'n Play, met Mike Tyson. All the rappers used to come up there. Redman, DJ Scratch. So many people, man, I met at a very young age, cause everyone wanted to know who I was, you know what I'm saying?
MUHAMMAD: What was that like in terms of — cause, were you still in high school at this point?
PETE ROCK: Yes.
MUHAMMAD: So you on the airwaves doing the most —
PETE ROCK: Last year of high school.
MUHAMMAD: OK. Crucial time, at least for me, in hip-hop. From like '80 — what was that?
PETE ROCK: '87, '88.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, OK, so from going from '85 into, like, now '87, big records were dropping out of New York City.
PETE ROCK: Big, big records.
MUHAMMAD: And there's only two big radio shows in New York. Pretty much not just New York City, but broadcasting to the world through cassette tapes, you know, being sent out to Europe, or whatever, from your show.
PETE ROCK: There's guys over there who has like every show of me and Marley Marl.
MUHAMMAD: So what is that like when you go on — what is that, Friday night? Saturday night?
PETE ROCK: It was both Friday and Saturday. Then, it turned into just Saturday cause he started rotating me and Clark Kent.
MUHAMMAD: Right. So what's that like Monday morning going to school?
PETE ROCK: It is actually better than going to school, you know what I'm saying, going to the radio station every Friday and Saturday?
MUHAMMAD: No, but I mean like what were your classmates like?
PETE ROCK: Oh, oh!
MUHAMMAD: Monday morning you walk in, you roll in.
PETE ROCK: Son. It was crazy, B. It was crazy — cause I was already doing my high school parties; I was already known in high school for DJing, you know what I'm saying? I'd be set up in the lunchroom — lunchroom's huge, you know. With no tables and chairs, it's just lunchroom and dancefloor.
MUHAMMAD: What high school was this?
PETE ROCK: Mount Vernon High School; Mount Vernon High. My English teacher, Mr. D — Mr. Denoffio — was the one who hired me to be the DJ. Before it was Eddie F, you know what I'm saying. Eddie F was the man in Mount Vernon, DJing everywhere. Then I kinda took — you know what I'm saying?
MUHAMMAD: Took the spotlight.
PETE ROCK: A little bit; a little something. Cause he was off and on —
MUHAMMAD: It's like hanging that jersey up. "Eddie F, now I'm here."
PETE ROCK: Yeah, I mean, he was off and running with Heavy D and The Boys. So I was the man in high school.
MUHAMMAD: I'm just thinking about like high school. I only ask –
PETE ROCK: They couldn't wait for another party to happen in school so I'd be DJing that joint. I mean, it was fun, man. Those were the days.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. What was the prom like, then? Were you DJing the prom?
PETE ROCK: I went to two proms — I went to my prom, my brother's prom.
MUHAMMAD: I'm just thinking you had to be the superstar. I only say that because, in our graduating year, Jungle Brothers was like, you know, like —
PETE ROCK: Raw.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. That, you know —
PETE ROCK: Them dudes was raw with it.
MUHAMMAD: So our prom, our high school prom, it was just a celebration that one could only like — movies are made of, you know what I mean.
PETE ROCK: That's what I was gonna ask you. I wanted to actually turn that question on you. What was it like for y'all in high school? Cause y'all started earlier than me, slightly.
MUHAMMAD: Well, more Jungle, you know. We all were rocking together but Jungle was like, yo. They had Red Alert — was Mike G's uncle. I mean, because we were working together before they became The Jungle Brothers, it wasn't a separation of the unit. So it was always that togetherness aspect, but it was like, "Yo, they on!" And it was just like, "Yo, they on." Everyone was proud.
PETE ROCK: Yeah, just like the same way with Hev. When Hev got on and "Mr. Big Stuff" came on the radio, yo, son, it was crazy! It was crazy in the hood.
MUHAMMAD: So when you 17 and you watching these records being made and now they're on the radio? But you're still in high school and you're looking at your teachers like —
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, school takes on — even lessons, everything takes a different level. You kinda puff your chest out, but not like, "I know everything." But it's just like, whatever it is, "I'm just supposed to get through this education, this route of you telling us how we should be, from going to high school and college." It's like, "Some other opportunities are showing and now I can really feel good about it." So it's just crazy.
PETE ROCK: Yeah, man. Undescribable feeling.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, I mean, you're talking — "Mr. Big Stuff (Remix)" was just crazy.
PETE ROCK: Marley Marl.
MUHAMMAD: On top of the original. All these different things: Ultramagnetic, Boogie Down Productions, Big Daddy Kane. Like all these — Masters of Ceremony. All these records that you feel are larger than life, and you just getting your foot into it, so.
PETE ROCK: Yep. Masters of Ceremony AKA Brand Nubian, circa first — the first version of Brand Nubian.
MUHAMMAD: Exactly. So it's, 17? I was 17 as a senior. I can't really describe that feeling.
PETE ROCK: It was like a domino effect, man, I'm telling you, man. It was like Hev started, then it just started rolling for everyone. I mean, even in New Rochelle, where Brand Nubian is from.
PETE ROCK: Mount Vernon — cats started just going hard, man.
MUHAMMAD: I'm just thinking for you, though. The only reason why is because you're on — like, everyone is going to the DJs. Everyone's going to Marley, everyone's going to Red Alert, like, "Here's what I just did." You know, like, breaking records. So I'm just like, you kinda like —
PETE ROCK: Yeah, people were coming to me.
MUHAMMAD: You the king of the —
PETE ROCK: Yeah, yeah, I couldn't believe it. Special Ed — I broke "I Got it Made" on the radio. He came to the house with the acetape; no one else had it. He had just came from mastering, him and Howie Tee, and said, "Here." And I played every song on the album on the radio — every song — like every cut on the album, I played it.
MUHAMMAD: When people would bring you records, were there records that were like, "I know this is not the best thing." How'd you handle that conversation?
PETE ROCK: Yeah, I mean, you know, I'd give it a shot once or twice just to make the person feel good. I did play it, you know what I mean. I was never the type that you could argue. I was playing everything. I played 3 Feet High and Rising, probably the whole joint. I was playing all of that — the interludes, the Jeff thing. I was playing that stuff.
MUHAMMAD: See, we don't get that anymore. You get maybe 30 seconds of a song on the radio. Like, no one's really trying to go into like in-depth album songs.
PETE ROCK: If you ever listened to us, you would hear Tribe interludes, you would hear everything in-between. I wanted people to hear it. Y'all didn't make it for people not to hear it, you know.
MUHAMMAD: Well, I know you didn't make music for people not to hear it.
PETE ROCK: Nah, not at all.
MUHAMMAD: You speak of, earlier, of Heavy passing and I know you didn't shield your emotions. The world saw and felt the pain.
PETE ROCK: Yep. It was beyond music, too, with him.
MUHAMMAD: In death and in loss, one of the things that really helps one get over it is life, you know? And new life.
PETE ROCK: Well, you really don't get over it, man. It gets — you — I've been to a lot of funerals, been to a lot of wakes, you know. You get used to that. But there's always that same process when it's someone close to you, that was everything to you, and you lose that. It started with Troy, you know what I mean.
MUHAMMAD: Well, that's why I bring it up, because with Troy, you created one of the best songs in hip-hop.
PETE ROCK: Thank you. I appreciate that.
MUHAMMAD: It has to be easily Top 5.
PETE ROCK: Mm-hmm. I see it a lot.
MUHAMMAD: I mention death and I see that song as like new life, you know, and it helps — I don't know what your process was —
PETE ROCK: It was crazy.
MUHAMMAD: To get to that point where you could create something that special. But to me, it just comes off as — it's like, you know, someone passing, but there's a baby.
PETE ROCK: Yeah.
MUHAMMAD: You know what I mean? That may have been born just around the same time or just thereafter.
PETE ROCK: Which is that song.
MUHAMMAD: So you can look back on that loss but then you look at —
PETE ROCK: What was created.
MUHAMMAD: What's created as like, "OK," you know. "It gives hope."
PETE ROCK: You're right. I see how you looking at it.
MUHAMMAD: Or whatever. So, what were you going through?
PETE ROCK: Grief. Just, you know, losing Troy — he was very close to us. Mount Vernon's a small town — four square miles wide and long. Everybody knew each other, you know. We grew up on the same block. He lived three houses down from my mother's house. We all grew up together from childhood — kids kids.
And when that happened, it sent shock waves through the hood. This the man that taught me how to scrap in the street. Like I got jumped, and he came back and made me fight the ringleader — this is that type of guy he was — and win the fight, cause if I didn't win it, he was gonna kick my ass. He was that type of dude.
But he was a great dude with a big heart, you know, was all about family and was a great friend to everyone. And when he passed, man, that's when it first hit us like, "Damn, I didn't think anything could happen to anyone in hip-hop music," you know. And that's when the reality set in. Then of course Biggie, Pac — losing them, it got even crazier.
KELLEY: So he was on the road when he passed away.
PETE ROCK: Yeah, yeah. I was home in New York when I got the news. They called me crying, you know.
KELLEY: Who was he with?
PETE ROCK: He was with his crew — he was with his people, you know, they was on tour. Kid 'n Play, Heavy D and the Boys, Salt-N-Pepa, I think. Keith Sweat. It was a tour and they were in Minneapolis. And I think Chuck D, too, Public Enemy. And it happened in Minneapolis, you know.
I wasn't there but they told me the story of how, you know, guys were playing. I know how it is on the road — when we play, we play like kids and stuff. And it was a freak accident, man. And he didn't even know where he was sitting was 20 feet deep, you know. And when he got through the — he was throwing em, too. So when the guy threw it at him, he tried to dip out of the way and fell over 20 feet. It was horrible. I felt bad for the family. That's just a time — I'll never forget that phone call, tell you that.
KELLEY: That's how my cousin died, actually. He just fell 20 feet.
PETE ROCK: So sorry to hear.
KELLEY: You don't even — you don't even know. But what was his job? Why was he on the road with all them?
PETE ROCK: He danced for Heavy D and the Boys; he was one of the dancers. He was only — Hev only had two dancers: G-Wiz and Troy, you know. And they was on the road, on tour.
KELLEY: Back then, like when budgets were a little bit bigger, did the crew that went on the road — was it bigger than it is now?
PETE ROCK: Yeah, you used to bring all your friends. You know, Hev brought everyone. Almost the damn near — the whole neighborhood came on tour.
KELLEY: And why did he do that? To get normalcy for himself?
PETE ROCK: To celebrate and let people know that there's more to life than just being in the street, you know what I mean, try to give people jobs. Hev was one of those people that, if it was dark and you couldn't find your way, he'll stick his hand out. That's how he was with everyone.
KELLEY: Yeah. Cause I think there's a misconception about the entourage.
PETE ROCK: Nah, man, nah. We do that just to show people the world, you know what I mean. That there's more to life than what you see in the hood. And he was good for doing that all the time. Yeah, that's just one thing everyone wants to, kind of, experience.
KELLEY: And that comes out of his pocket, also?
PETE ROCK: Yeah, well. It's Heavy D, you know what I'm saying.
PETE ROCK: You know, it is what it is. When we're all young in this business and there's not a care in the world about what you're doing with your money at that point — you know what I mean? We're having fun, and you only live once. That was the motto.
PETE ROCK: You can't take money with you when you're dead, so all we could do was spread it. For the children you leave behind or family members or whatever.
KELLEY: Thanks for talking about that stuff cause I know it's painful.
PETE ROCK: Oh, yeah. Very, very, very painful. Very painful, but you get stronger after years of, you know, going to a lot of funerals.
I actually went to James Brown's funeral. Touching him — touched his cold body, like, "Wow, man." Serious fan. I had to go. Rev. Sharpton was there and everything. People was there. He had on his little — the Michael Jackson glove on. Yep.
KELLEY: Is there anything to the idea that New York hip-hop has some of that pain in it?
PETE ROCK: Yeah, from losing Biggie and Pac and just people dying in hip-hop. "What? That's unheard of," you know what I mean? Like, hip-hop's an opportunity. When you get on, spread the love.
And when Big died — I mean, when Pac died — it just all hit home. It was very scary at that time in hip-hop with this, you know, uproar of '90s east coast-west coast thing and people were getting killed off the radar. It was crazy but, you know, we live and we learn, man. Never let something get too out of hand. Cats is sensitive and dudes get mad at the drop of a pin.
MUHAMMAD: Do you find — cause a lot of your music, it just rips through you. You choose these horns of life, you know, like these crazy soul-laden, thick, melodic, fat-sounding, drums is just sitting in the right place.
PETE ROCK: Know what it was? I was musically charged, man. I had some adrenaline going on then. I'm serious, ever since I — I think after I met James Brown as a kid. I was seven years old.
MUHAMMAD: You met James Brown?
PETE ROCK: Yeah, and I shook his hand. Me and my younger brother, yo.
PETE ROCK: In Mount Vernon. He came to do a concert. My mother took me to a concert in the hood — this place called the Left Bank. And, yo, she walked us in there, we didn't know what we was getting, right? So, boom! JB's and Bobby's — everybody's on stage and no James yet.
Then he walks out and then I just kind of froze, B, and was watching the show. Then during halftime — you know, he had halftime — so during halftime, he's backstage. My mother took me to meet him and he was — I just remember him saying, "God bless you. God bless you." And shook his hand.
I think from then on, he passed something onto me. I'm serious, man. He had a power. I don't know. I got it from maybe touching him.
MUHAMMAD: That's crazy, man.
PETE ROCK: Yeah, straight up. And then I wasn't the same since. Music always intrigued me, though, even since probably like three or four years old. Pops was a record collector, big time; playing music all day everyday. So that's what really put it in motion. But then, as I got older, you know, I always got more curious.
MUHAMMAD: Do you find that you're able to find anything made now from R&B and jazz that's like now, that's current, that gives you that sort of like, "I want to sample this. I wanna chop this up?"
PETE ROCK: Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah, big time, man. That's — jazz is one of the pieces of music that I always loved because of the melodicness and how deep it was, you know what I'm saying. If you listen to Miles — a lot of people would listen to his music and be like, "Well, I don't get it." But you gotta listen, you know what I mean. You gotta use your mind and open your imagination. Musicians like him, Thelonious, John Coltrane — the list goes on.
Roy Ayers stands out in my head the most because of what he had. When he plays that vibraphone, it puts you in a trance. And then his music in the '70s, he mixed jazz with funk. And that's what I did with hip-hop: took jazz and made it hip-hop for 'em.
But y'all did it first — Tribe, you know what I'm saying.
MUHAMMAD: We not talking about Tribe.
PETE ROCK: OK. I'm just saying, though. I'll just throw that in there. History's history, bro.
MUHAMMAD: It is, but the interesting thing about it is, what we've done, you know, what Large Professor's done, what Premier's done, what you've done, it's — everyone has the same sort of influences but just completely different.
PETE ROCK: That's how I feel about Dilla.
MUHAMMAD: And Dilla. What's your relationship with Roy Ayers considering, growing up on his music to sampling it to actually working with him.
PETE ROCK: He's like my second pop, man. He's like pop. I call him Pop. Yeah, he's a real cool cat, had a lot of stories to tell. I dug deep in him one day and was like, "Yo, tell me some Polydor stories, man."
He told me about a story where James wanted him to do a show for him. Invited him up — James had a office at Polydor — and he came up there and worked out a show. And Roy said he didn't do the show cause something was funny with some money, you know what I mean.
MUHAMMAD: That's crazy. It never changes, huh?
PETE ROCK: Exactly. And then James got at him the next day and was like, "Yo, what happened man?" And then that was it. He told me that story, you know.
MUHAMMAD: I can't imagine James Brown stepping to Roy Ayers.
PETE ROCK: Yeah.
MUHAMMAD: I mean, actually, now that I think about it, yes, I can.
PETE ROCK: You know James was crazy.
MUHAMMAD: James was, yeah, he was a little militant on it.
PETE ROCK: You know what they say about crazy people? They geniuses, so. That was a ill story.
But he's a great man, Roy. Like the best person you ever want to know. I musically dug into him as well and I told him how — you know, I was naming records, and he's like, "Oh!" Certain things he don't even remember. I'm like, "Yo, you remember when you did this? Blah, blah, blah." Love that when I'm around him. And that's it, really.
MUHAMMAD: Do you think — some people say that hip-hop has died, you know, or it's suffering a death.
PETE ROCK: Yeah, yeah.
MUHAMMAD: Is there anything that you see now that is like that baby?
PETE ROCK: Very interesting question. I think potentially there could be something. I see that the new generation — some of the new generation — idolizes what we did in the '90s and tries to bring it back. If you listen, in certain records you hear. But the majority of the radio is basically R&B that don't sound the same and hip-hop that doesn't sound the same.
And when we did it, it was real; it was actually original style of hip-hop making — like records. It was a style we owned. But it was also real music. And today, it's just a little different from what we did — a lot, a lot, a lot different.
Lyrical content is not as good as what we had to say. And that's important cause now, being older, having kids and stuff — I'm a father and everything like that, and my kid gets out of school, I want to pop on the radio and it's safe, you know what I mean? But it ain't. Unless you have satellite radio and you can make your own choice, you know what I'm saying.
But otherwise than that, though, to sum up, I think there could be. The world turns, music changes. It keeps changing, so hopefully it can change back to what's real, you know, not to what we did in the '90s. We're not gonna repeat those great records we made. We can't. We can only do what our soul allows us to do.
KELLEY: Well, there's some talk of — in this question of what is real hip-hop and what is not, that you can't just make a diss record anymore. People don't; people are criticized for not.
PETE ROCK: Well, they don't know how to do it. If you came up in hip-hop and listened to battles, they were done respectfully. It started with Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee and then, as rap and everything elevated, then you had LL going at Kool Moe Dee and Ice-T and everybody going. But nobody talked about hurting one another.
PETE ROCK: It was just about, "Yo, I'm better than you, yo." Like, it was about that. Now people going, getting personal with you, you know, in the battle — they going at you. Straight up getting —
MUHAMMAD: Crazy gunplay talk.
PETE ROCK: Right, right, right.
MUHAMMAD: Like, "I'm gonna off your head."
PETE ROCK: All of that, plus doing they homework on things that may have happened to you in real life and then expressing that, you know, just getting real personal with you, man. Making it real hard to, you know, make rap a joyful place — hip-hop a joyful place.
But there's always still a road on the side of the road everybody's on. There's always a little secret road right here. That's how I always — that's how I see it.
MUHAMMAD: I like that.
PETE ROCK: Yeah, you know what I mean. Yo, I mean, there's a — the new, young generation is — there's no real real leaders.
PETE ROCK: Can I say that safely?
PETE ROCK: Everybody's just following everyone.
MUHAMMAD: No leaders and it's —
PETE ROCK: So this road is real crowded and trafficy compared to this one.
MUHAMMAD: Before it was a lack of, at least a father, in the home, and now moms are barely there, you know, so you've got Grandma.
PETE ROCK: Some unfortunately, and some just irresponsibly.
PETE ROCK: You know what I mean.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, so it's really — it's kind of hard to blame, place blame, for these kids taking the position that they take, when they have to discover the world truly on their own — in the world of an art form or an occupation that they could make a lot of money in.
PETE ROCK: Yeah, and then after 9/11, everything just got — it wasn't nothing realer than that day right there. Nothing. That was the serious wake-up call. And it seemed like people just changed after that. Like, everything: music, people more angry, you know. Don't want to — can't even listen to the radio or watch TV. Got a bunch of reality shows that's, like, degrading women and our kids, and little kids are seeing that, yo. Calling — slapping "hip-hop" on it.
MUHAMMAD: You've always — at least, one of the dynamics I really love of you and CL was you guys were teaching, you know. The music, the whole — everything was just well-architected. Like, it's a building, a strong building like the Guggenheim or something. CL's one of my favorite rappers just cause his wordplay is crazy, his cadences — smooth but then rough and hard at the same time. It just —
PETE ROCK: Street edge.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, street edge. And a lot of dazzle, but substance.
PETE ROCK: Yeah, definitely, definitely.
MUHAMMAD: And I notice that you make songs that make you think. Hearing you talk about 9/11 and the world changing — I feel like there was a huge lesson, and I would think that after that that the music would be a bit more real. But it seem like it just went to more fantastical. I don't know what to call it. Is fantasy some of it, or—
PETE ROCK: It's sad when you listen to some of it. And then it's like, "Wow, man. This is a huge change." Cause, you know, I've seen a lot, man. I've seen a lot.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, that's what I'm thinking. You're still working, though. So you're in the position where you have artists like Joey Badass or a whole bunch of different — even Kanye, who has his arm stretched across the world and, really, if there's any representation of hip-hop —
PETE ROCK: Yeah, he's very keen, too.
PETE ROCK: With what he knows.
MUHAMMAD: So I'm just thinking, with the records that — I know you stay recording; you came in here with your equipment sitting right there. You just ready to hit the studio right after.
PETE ROCK: Exactly.
MUHAMMAD: Are you able to direct some of the younger — the Mac Millers, the Ab-Souls or whatever —
PETE ROCK: Oh, man.
MUHAMMAD: With that same conversation that maybe you and Cory had? Like, "This is the design or what the thought should be of the song?"
PETE ROCK: You know what it is? With the certain dudes that's reached out, like the Pusha Ts, the Kendrick Lamars, the Ab-Souls, the Mac Millers, they all are fans of '90s hip-hop. Like, big time. And they're telling me about, "Oh, you remember this joint you did, yo?" "Oh, word," you know. It makes me feel good to see that. We just need a lot more of that.
Unfortunately, you have prisms now of hip-hop. Like you can go to each — whatever kind you want to listen to. You got the ratchet hip-hop, and then you got real hip-hop and then you got commercial. Then you got the Southern, you got the South cats. And to me, what I've thought of the South, Outkast immediately comes to my head. Those are, to me, the realest cats I've heard come out of the South — and then Ludacris, on the spit tip. Now you've got so many areas in hip-hop that you can pick and choose. But overall, I would want real hip-hop to swallow all of that and just keep that s—- real.
KELLEY: What does that mean? What does that sound like? How can you tell if it's real or not?
PETE ROCK: Originality, you know, doing something totally unheard and totally new-sounding. Not necessarily — like, finding a sample that no one's ever heard in their life and you putting the world onto it by making a beat out of it. It's the best feeling a person could ever have.
Making a successful hip-hop song out of something like that is how we built a legacy. And to me, we need more of the music to be original. Real could be another word for "original," but that's what we mean.
KELLEY: OK. I read a interview — you talked to Complex a couple years ago and you went through a bunch of your classic records and one of 'em was the "Juicy" remix and you said that basically you wanted to make a hip-hop version of that song. Can you describe how you did that?
PETE ROCK: That actually was it. Me and Puff grew up in the same neighborhood. So when he had Biggie, we were all happy for him. He brought Biggie over and we started a relationship and I ended up doing the remix where, you know, I just kind of kept the same sample and just changed the drums a little bit. And I thought it was decent. But people responded to it like it was the remix of the year. You know, it's just changing of the drums; I didn't do nothing.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, but, see you say that. I'm like —
KELLEY: Yeah!. They're two very different songs, to my mind.
PETE ROCK: Wow, wow.
KELLEY: And to hear you describe —
PETE ROCK: The original's dope, too.
KELLEY: I'm not saying it's not dope. I'm saying there is a — I mean, the word "dusty" gets tossed around a lot, but —
PETE ROCK: I get it. I get it.
KELLEY: Yeah, so why, to you, is that more hip-hop than — I guess you could say a more polished, shinier — the shinier version that is the single.
PETE ROCK: Cause if you listen to hip-hop records, the way the drums are done — the pattern of the drums you hear on other hip-hop records —
KELLEY: It's like a language.
PETE ROCK: Right. And I was speaking that language when I made the remix. Just said, "Let me just —" Cause the record was an actual radio-friendly song. Before that it was Mtume. So when Biggie did it, it just — and being how dope Biggie was already. He told me — I think I remember him saying to me Hev used to inspire him on certain joints, like when he used to listen to "Somebody For Me" that Hev did, you know. That's all it was for me when I did that remix.
MUHAMMAD: You kinda underplay it a little bit by saying, "Oh, I just changed the drums."
PETE ROCK: I did! That was it!
MUHAMMAD: Yeah but —
KELLEY: You stripped some things out.
PETE ROCK: And I put the Spoonie Gee in there, I think.
MUHAMMAD: But that's hip-hop.
PETE ROCK: Yeah, that's why I said, that's what I was explaining to her. Taking them old school joints from Enjoy Records — you know what I'm talking about.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, you make it sound — but that's — everyone can't do that, Pete. It's technique, it's understanding the culture, understanding the feel — of everything. Everyone can't do that. No matter what school you go to, it's something that you have to be anointed by the creator, you know what I mean, to really be able to architect something as simple as you just saying, "Oh, I just changed the drums." There's a choice of drums.
PETE ROCK: I was always into trying to just blow out the original, you know what I mean? When I started doing them remixes, man, I was like, aight. Cause I think I was, you know, coming off of working with Hev and making dope joints with him, then, boom, just started doing them remixes. That's when Pete Rock CL Smooth started, actually. And yo, I was just on it; I was just on it.
Everything was hip-hop to me. Like I would hear the original version and just say, "Aight." I would hear music in my head just all going at the same time. So I would try to emulate what was going on in here, the same way James Brown did when he was thinking of "Funky Drummer" and trying to tell his band members, "Yo, play it like this, yo! This is what's going on in here." And that's how it was for me with the remixes.
MUHAMMAD: The remixes are crazy.
PETE ROCK: Thank you, sir. Thank you.
MUHAMMAD: Like, it shifts. It's something that I totally rely on in DJing, when you want to — well, I guess I was gonna separate the U.S. versus Europe or Asia. But I just know in Europe, there's certain frequencies that resonate with them just a little bit differently. Even now, 20 years later, you know. So it may be a kid that might have just been born in 1992, '93.
PETE ROCK: True.
MUHAMMAD: So you know there may be one — no clue as to what this music is that's going on.
PETE ROCK: Yep. Good fathers know good music; they gonna teach they kids that.
MUHAMMAD: Absolutely. But you go into to the club, they don't know what the "Jussumen" original, let alone a remix — and it's like, they straight confused because they've never heard this before, but it's just them frequencies. When the scratch is just top of the song —
PETE ROCK: Jazz.
MUHAMMAD: Just comes off and then it drops. And I watch the room and I'm like — they were a little annoyed at first, and now but the feeling of the music just has captured their bodies and they're like going with it. You don't get that with original songs let alone, you know, remixes that are being coined as remixes now.
Are you still excited about getting remix jobs? Do you still do them or not so much anymore?
PETE ROCK: Not really excited no more. But you know remixes didn't really count then when I was doing them. It wasn't — you don't get publishing for remixes.
PETE ROCK: You know what I'm saying.
MUHAMMAD: You talking from the business level.
PETE ROCK: Those were just, I was just saying, "OK, let me just showboat a little bit and show people I can do them joints." And then later, like now, today, I guess it's cool to bring back the sound of it, you know what I'm saying, but they don't count. Today you gotta make it count. You gotta make the hit song; you gotta make a hit record.
MUHAMMAD: So you get that conversation a lot? Is that — I get that from publishers a lot.
PETE ROCK: Yeah, yeah.
MUHAMMAD: This is the conversation. We talking business now, if you now really checking in and really paying attention to the interview.
PETE ROCK: Word.
MUHAMMAD: The business aspect of the music business definitely plays a role into what you do in the studio.
PETE ROCK: We all had questions about publishing later on in life, like now, because when we were young, we had no clue on what we was doing. I've never seen a check beyond six zeros in my entire life. Then we just didn't care about that. All we cared about was that. You know, "Wow, money," just the normal things that come with the music business.
But now that it bit us in the booty a little bit, so to say, to learn about our music and owning our masters, all that's important. We didn't know that then, but now we do. And it teaches you a valuable lesson about how you proceed in the music business.
MUHAMMAD: Your solo records, are you putting them out yourself?
PETE ROCK: Yeah. Yeah, independently. It's good cause you don't have to worry about nobody recouping nothing. Recoup was the big deal back in the major label days.
MUHAMMAD: Absolutely. Still now.
PETE ROCK: Yep, right now, too.
MUHAMMAD: Missing a couple royalty checks behind. "Well, that video—"
PETE ROCK: They got people out there that find stuff like that now.
MUHAMMAD: "That video — you guys forgot about that last video cost. Still ain't recouped this side of the deal." It's like —
PETE ROCK: But you know, you had this much money out there, such and such and such and such.
MUHAMMAD: Do you ever plan to put out more artists on your own label?
PETE ROCK: Yeah, yeah, definitely. I met so many good young artists today, right now, that show homage and show how it's really done, how they would want me to see are they doing it right. Some people know, like, "Let's get a beat from Pete. Let's work with Pete." You know what I'm saying. "I know he has a lot of knowledge on how to make music." I can't wait to start, get everything in motion and start putting these guys out — females, guys, whatever.
MUHAMMAD: What are your thoughts on the mixtape aspect of developing an artist?
PETE ROCK: You know what's funny about that? What's funny is it's the same thing as a remix, or it's another term for "album" now. Now people are calling albums mixtapes, because on a mixtape, you can do anything you want. You don't have to worry about sample clearance; you can just go in, and do whatever. That's kind of what I did with Camp Lo.
MUHAMMAD: 80 Blocks From Tiffany's.
PETE ROCK: Yeah, just kind of slapped some things together and did that. But to mention what you said, that's one of the tactics I always took in making hip-hop music.
It was just fun to me, man, fun doing all that stuff. We used to look forward to waking up the next day to go at it some more.
MUHAMMAD: Is there anyone out there now that gives you that feeling of like, "Oh man, I just heard ..." You know, someone new that's up-and-coming, you go —
PETE ROCK: Well, at that time, in the '90s when I was making InI's album, that's when Dilla appeared. And to me, after that — he still new, you know. He was only 32 when he passed away. So when I met him, I think he might have been like 29, 30, something like that.
MUHAMMAD: What was that like meeting him? I mean, I'm asking from your perspective because I know how much of a fan he was of yours.
PETE ROCK: Yeah, and I'm of his. It was crazy. Spent the whole week in the basement at his house and spent the night — no hotel — in his house just sleeping and getting up the next day, looking through his records like, "Uh oh! He has a lot of stuff that I've never seen." I used to be like, "Wow, I've totally been sleeping," you know what I'm saying. That dude just — a lot of '80s records he got his stuff from. Like, stuff from the '80s —
MUHAMMAD: Progressive rock records and stuff like that.
PETE ROCK: Yeah. And I'm steadily digging in the '70s still. I'm, you know, that '70s guy and them older joints. But that guy, man. Stayed a whole week there and his mother secretly said — she was like, "You know what? He used to always say he wanted to be like you." And I'd be like, "What? What?" And I'd be like, "Yo, he done took it to the next level on me!"
MUHAMMAD: That's what I'm wondering. What was that whole week like, you know, with you two?
PETE ROCK: It was crazy. I had Grap — my brother Grap was with me. He'd take us around Detroit, show us the whole D. They would have shows performing songs I've never heard in my life. The crowd is going crazy. They know this music, and I'm like, "Yo, why I don't know none of this?" So then, I'm asking him to "Make me a CD of all your s—-, man." You know, "Give me some joints!" It was fun.
MUHAMMAD: Did you guys work on anything together? He showed you how he does his thing?
PETE ROCK: Yeah, made beats in his basement. We did songs in his basement. He had this track board thing. I remember laying the SP beats down in it.
MUHAMMAD: Did he show you anything that made you go —
PETE ROCK: Yep! Yep, of course. On that 3000. I'm like, "Oh, that's how you do it! Ah!" Stuff like that. And I'm showing him stuff on the 12 that maybe he never knew, with the SP-1200. It was like kid in a candy store, man, with the both of us, cause I was a fan too. I ain't gonna front. When Tip played me the cassette of his beats, I was like, "Yo, for real? There's dude out there making this thing, type of beats?" And then I met him. Got a plane ticket and just flew there. I said, "I have to meet this guy."
KELLEY: Did he pick you up at the airport?
PETE ROCK: Yeah, blasting Mecca and the Soul Brother. He was driving the Navigator — Lincoln Navigator — and as I'm coming out the door, he's rolling the window down, blasting "For Pete's Sake." He's blasting it, and I'm getting in and I have a cassette of beats on me so I'm popping that in and he's just going nuts, you know what I'm saying. Then I was like, "I know you got some s—-, yo. Come on, play me something." And he goes in and I'm like, blown — totally blown away.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, he upset us all, man.
PETE ROCK: Blew me away. I'm like, "Yo, this guy's gonna have me out of a job."
MUHAMMAD: I was just about to say, retirement. You hear — those sounds you're hearing is not the illest, it's someone just signed off your retirement slip.
PETE ROCK: Oh, my goodness. That guy, man. He was unreal.
MUHAMMAD: Ship off, grandpa. You finished.
PETE ROCK: Yep. To this day, I'm like, "Yo, that dude is not from earth." He is not from earth, man.
MUHAMMAD: I just asked if he showed you anything —
PETE ROCK: Of course.
MUHAMMAD: Which says a lot about being open because some people are so closed off. But we just recently talked with Large Professor, and I'd asked him what did filtering, learning about filtering — does he remember that moment when he first learned about filtering. And he said, "Yeah." You guys used to rock. You guys were homies back then, and you showed him how to filter.
PETE ROCK: Yes sir. And then Eddie F showed me how to filter. Cause we were all new to this equipment so when Eddie got the equipment, even Eddie was like, "Oh, wow!" And then I'm like, "Oh!" So then we start messing around with it. And then start finding things. And then we're playing around and we're doing this and we're doing that.
One thing about me that I used to always get from Tip was like, "Yo, what's that wah-wah sound that you do?" And it was this certain EQ I had in Greene Street. 'Til this day I'm trying to find that EQ. I know I can get it, but it was — this EQ was this dope, dope, dope, dope EQ and it was very sensitive so when you turned the knob, it's already making sound. So we fixed it to where it was — this is technical talk by the way — we were fixing it to where a certain place to where I know where I wanted to get, you know what I'm saying? And I used to do that and Dilla asked me, "Yo, what is that? It's a wah-wah pedal?" And I had everybody thinking it was a wah-wah pedal you hook up to the sample or something. No, it's a EQ.
MUHAMMAD: That's crazy. Tip never shared that with me, but thank you! I got it from the man's mouth! Is there any other piece of technological innovation within maybe, like, the past five to 10 years that have made you feel excited about sampling, as with filtering? Cause I know when I first discovered I could filter, it was all the records that you never touched that you could, now you can go in.
PETE ROCK: I stopped sampling half a bar loops to one bar loops to making it bigger. And "The Joy," a song I did for Jay and Kanye was a perfect example of a old beat that I redid on the MPC and just added Curtis' vocal in there as well. So before, the beat was just without Curtis — it was just the beat, you know, with the bass line and the guitar or whatever. And then I said, "Let me go back and listen to that song," and I said, "Yo. Oh, this part is funky."
MUHAMMAD: Is it because you just had a different look at it or is it something within technology that makes it easier?
PETE ROCK: I had a different look at it being that it was the new generation, and you heard a lot more producers sampling soul music again, with singing in it and some on 45. But here, I wanted to sample the actual singing on 33, the way it was made. Which kind of, I think, it hit on the money. Jay Z immediately remembered the song; he said his mother used to listen to it. Blew my mind when he got on the joint so I was like, "Oh, OK."
KELLEY: Can you explain what it means between the 45 and the 33.
PETE ROCK: It depends on the human ear of a producer — is like how you hear, how you would rock a sample. Some people do it on 45, some on regular speed, you know. But I've heard a lot of interesting sound on the 45, at the actual speed, you know, of a 33 LP —
KELLEY: Played on a 45?
PETE ROCK: Yeah, played on 45.
KELLEY: So it's higher?
PETE ROCK: Yeah, it's higher, but there's also certain things that only sound right on 45, believe it or not, cause you so used to hearing it another way, you know what I mean? And it sounds just more interesting when you change it up a little bit.
KELLEY: Right, right. And how old was that song? The beat?
PETE ROCK: Which song?
KELLEY: "The Joy."
PETE ROCK: Oh, man, since 1997, '98, I made that on the SP-1200.
PETE ROCK: Yep, the SP, man, a magical machine.
KELLEY: Can I ask one more technical back-up follow-up question? When you say the EQ is at Greene Street, why can't you get it out of there?
PETE ROCK: Greene Street is no more now. It's a art gallery. It's no more studio there.
KELLEY: Oh, it's gone?
PETE ROCK: Yeah, it's gone. So before they got rid of the place they were selling the equipment in there, and I went back there to see if they had the EQ there still and they didn't. But I remember the brand at least and I been Googling it, you know what I'm saying.
MUHAMMAD: On Ebay every day looking for it. Craigslist, anybody? You got a fake name, a fake account.
PETE ROCK: Seriously. It's just on some music stuff.
MUHAMMAD: Now I know why we wound up recording part of Low End at Greene Street. Now I know why. I was like, "Why?"
PETE ROCK: I remember seeing Bob in there and I was like, "What is he doing here?"
MUHAMMAD: I'm like, "Tip, why you wanna leave Battery?" He was just like, "Nah, I just wanna mess with Greene Street." Now I know why.
PETE ROCK: It's a great sound in there man.
MUHAMMAD: Yo, that's hilarious, man.
PETE ROCK: Two: A Room, B Room. B Room is the bomb.
MUHAMMAD: Yo, the things you learn.
PETE ROCK: Yep.
KELLEY: Man, I want to talk about the studios cause this is a thing that — fans aren't aware of this: how studios are very different, how rooms can sound very different. And then also, like, the vibe is different — who comes through where. So what was special about Greene Street? And then I want to get to Battery so we can get into Illmatic that way.
PETE ROCK: OK. Greene Street was just special cause that's kinda like — no, actually the first place I worked on my own was Chung King.
PETE ROCK: I was 16 years old, and I was working with a group called Groove B Chill.
MUHAMMAD: Groove B Chill, wow.
PETE ROCK: Yep, and Starting from Zero album, which I ended up doing the title track and I'm like, "Wow, that's crazy." And then I did another song on there called "There It Is," where it was — I was struggling with the engineer, you know, not knowing what to do. Just, you know. And it started working out. Each day, I would come back and try again, try again, 'til we get this right, cause now I'm on a deadline. So, boom, we got it done. And that was one of the first productions I've ever done.
And then Greene Street was just a place that I loved the sound. I actually sat and watched Bomb Squad make Ice Cube's album AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted. I knew all the producers from Keith to Hank to Steve to the other little brother. And, yeah, that's how I ended up in Greene Street.
KELLEY: And where was it? What neighborhood?
PETE ROCK: On Greene Street, in the Village. 112 Greene Street between Spring and Prince.
KELLEY: OK. And then what about Battery? Was Battery special? Is that just where you were when you were working on "The World is Yours?"
PETE ROCK: Battery was special because Jive/Zomba was in the building. I think from the label being there, created the studios. I don't know how long they been there but I know you had a successful major label right upstairs.
I'd done work with Fresh Prince in there and Jazzy Jeff and mixed the Nas, "The World is Yours," in there. And while I was mixing "The World is Yours," DJ Premier was in there. It was a few other heads in there — there was a couple other dudes in there while I was doing the scratches.
KELLEY: So with "The World is Yours" — you were talking earlier about 2001 and after 9/11 things sort of went downhill. When Nas appeared and the anticipation for him — for Illmatic — was so great, was the feeling in hip-hop, in '91, '92, similar in some ways to how it was after 9/11?
PETE ROCK: Yeah. The excitement for him was at a high level because of how he sounded, his flow, the "snuffin' Jesus" line and — that was what caught everyone's attention. And then Large Professor brought him around everybody, introduced him to everybody. We started working on beats for him — Q-Tip, myself, Large Professor, L.E.S. and DJ Premier.
KELLEY: Yeah, Faith told me that she felt when she finally signed him — found him and signed him — that hip-hop was getting a little bit too pop? Or what was on the radio was pop and that he might sort of solve some of that problem.
PETE ROCK: Yeah. But even at that time, it was still a good time. The radio wasn't so bad. Just people wanted more. You had Hev mixing R&B and hip-hop together, so a lot of that you heard with, like, SWV records. You heard Father MC, certain artists with that sound. It was a good sound, you know. I loved it.
But Nas just brought the streets back with Illmatic. Like that's a straight street album. It's just — when you in the hood, Illmatic is held on a pedestal. It's one of those albums that if you listen to what he's saying, it really happens everywhere. Like, everything he says is the truth so — on that album. Not saying he's never — he's always speaking the truth, but with Illmatic, it was something that everyone could relate to, Because every situation he spoke of was relatable.
KELLEY: And you said Premo would sort of be around Battery when you were finishing "The World is Yours?"
PETE ROCK: Well, he just happened to be there cause he was heavily involved with the project. And when I was mixing "The World is Yours," he came through and I happened to be doing the scratches, at the time, for the breakdown. He said he was there just spectating and watching and it made him go back — the song, the actual song itself — made him go back and make better beats for Illmatic.
KELLEY: So there was competition?
PETE ROCK: That's how he got, "Represent," that's how you got the "Sittin' in da Park" joint and the other one, "N.Y. State of Mind."
KELLEY: So everybody knew that they had to get on this album. I mean, those are some legendary producers, and you guys were already legends. And you all knew that this was the guy to get behind?
PETE ROCK: Yes, yeah. A hundred and fifty percent, you know what I'm saying, a hundred and fifty percent. Never heard a lyricist quite like him ever.
KELLEY: Yeah. Did he inspire you?
PETE ROCK: Yeah. He inspired me to make — give him a dope beat. But the ill thing is I didn't really know how great I would sound singing a hook, until now, you know. I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to do the hook. I said, "I ain't no singer, man." Cause I used to hum on certain records I did, you know, be humming — playing around though. And he really wanted me to sing.
MUHAMMAD: Thank you for humming!
PETE ROCK: So, you know, it worked out.
MUHAMMAD: I say that because I hear some of the stuff when Dilla would be humming — it just reminded me of you. So I'm pretty sure you gave him that inspiration.
PETE ROCK: Yes sir.
MUHAMMAD: Did you ever meet Ahmad Jamal — that's who you sampled for that, "The World is Yours?"
PETE ROCK: Short story, right. Go into the doctor's office one day, right? Dermatologist, right. Got a wart on my finger, K? I go to the doctor, alright. The doctor's name is Sumayah Jamal, right? OK, cool. Go in there, boom boom, and so we just start talking.
Told her what I do. I said, "I do music," and she's like, "Oh yeah? My dad does music," and stuff. And I was like, "Oh yeah?" She started telling me she's been to Japan and all this. I said, "Who's your dad?" And she's like, "He's a jazz artist. You listen to jazz? He's Ahmad Jamal."
I almost had a heart attack, man. I was like, "What?!" I said, "The world is that small, man? Dag!" Who would have thought? I'm walking in — his daughter's a doctor, a dermatologist!
MUHAMMAD: That's crazy.
PETE ROCK: My dermatologist! I didn't know that, bro. Total freakish — totally — yo, it was crazy.
MUHAMMAD: Who'd you call after you left the office?
PETE ROCK: Yo, everyone! Everyone, everyone! "Yo, I just met Ahmal Jamad's daughter, Sumayah!" Yo, crazy, crazy. And then I was just going in. I was telling her, I was like, "Yo, the 'I Love Music,' song, that's what I used for, your dad's music —"
MUHAMMAD: Does she know Nas?
PETE ROCK: I don't know. She knows the song.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, she knows the song.
PETE ROCK: I mentioned it. She's heard of it, you know, so. I don't know if she's heard the actual song, but she knows.
MUHAMMAD: But she was never able to make a connection?
PETE ROCK: She probably knows now.
MUHAMMAD: No, but I mean to connect you two, and to get you two in the same room?
PETE ROCK: I don't know where he's at. I never even thought of that part, I was so excited.
PETE ROCK: I was so spilt over with excitement, I just forgot to even go in like that. But I can easily call her and just be like, "Yo."
KELLEY: Yeah, you gotta have a follow-up appointment or something.
PETE ROCK: Ain't nothing wrong no more but —
MUHAMMAD: That's crazy.
PETE ROCK: Yeah, isn't that nuts, bro? That's crazy. That struck me like a lightning bolt.
MUHAMMAD: Did you know when you were making that song that it would have the impact — that it's, again, another line-up, most important songs in hip-hop.
PETE ROCK: Yeah, I knew it was gonna be good because of Nas and it was a good beat. Like, it was very explosive just both of our talents together — was like, "Wow," you know what I mean. Wish I could have did more with him.
MUHAMMAD: Crazy, man.
PETE ROCK: Yep.
MUHAMMAD: Do you get approached by — it's funny that she — did you clear that sample by the way?
PETE ROCK: Yeah, we did.
MUHAMMAD: OK, good.
PETE ROCK: That's why I'm talking about it. I'm openly talking about it cause, yes, we had to clear the sample.
MUHAMMAD: Were there any samples that you haven't cleared that you feel like, "You know what? There's some good there."
PETE ROCK: Well, you know what, Mecca and the Soul Brother hadn't gotten cleared for a long time but they cleared those samples. Yeah, I mean, there's stuff that you couldn't touch. You know, Bohannon, for instance, not a nice man.
MUHAMMAD: Does it change your approach or do you still go in like, "Whatever. It's whatever."
PETE ROCK: Nah, I still go in. It's other — yo, it's so many records in the world. I mean, when we dead and gone, there's stuff that we still ain't gonna have. That's why I be such a beast in trying to find — look under the rock in your backyard or something, you know what I mean? I'm serious.
KELLEY: How do you dig now?
PETE ROCK: Any chance I get. A lot of the times I like going in these mom and pop stores — old shoe stores or old, like, antique stores where they got records in the back. Or Salvation Army. But now you got mom and pop stores that alphabetically have things in order and things like that. I like stores like that a lot. And don't overcharge you because they know what you do.
PETE ROCK: "This record was $3 before you knew who I was."
MUHAMMAD: What is your family life like? Not to go too deep and personal, but you have longevity in the music business so I'm just like, for the kids out there that's listening. I know coming up when I was 19 — my family structure was broken to begin with, so in trying to have a real — growing up and then wanting to have your own family in the midst of, you're working all the time, you're always on call, there's a huge demand for you outside of the home, you know?
PETE ROCK: Yeah. You know what, families are how it all starts, man. The love that you get, that you feel. Some people are not so fortunate, are born into difficult situations. I was fortunate enough to have a family that loved me. That's what makes you, gives you a sense of happiness and say, "You know what? Oh, wow, I can —" and then you feel like you can conquer the world. So why not start with music, you know what I'm saying? So that's kind of where my life ended up.
And now I have a son and a daughter, a 15-year-old and an 8-year-old. My daughter loves Black Eyed Peas, and I don't mind. I've even worked with them before, doing a remix with James Brown on it, called "They Don't Want Music." It's ill cause the message is, like, James is saying, "All they like is the 808 / Boom, boom, boom, boom." Cause in this remix he goes, "Boom, boom, boom, boom." And he's talking about, "Yo, all they like is that boom, boom, boom," which is the 808 sound, which is a lot of the South hip-hop that you hear. The strip club music and all that. They use a lot of the TR-808.
MUHAMMAD: So what kind of education are your children getting?
PETE ROCK: From me?
MUHAMMAD: From you.
PETE ROCK: A lot, a lot. My daughter lives with her mother, but my son lives with me. He just wakes up with it. And he likes — well, the first Macklemore song with the $20 in your pocket, you know, he's eight years old. He loves that song. He likes some other one — I forgot the artist's name. And then Eric B and Rakim from there, KRS-One, Nice & Smooth, Jungle Brothers, Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr, he gets it all.
MUHAMMAD: And taking any interest in —
PETE ROCK: Wanting to DJ?
MUHAMMAD: Watching and looking over your shoulder? DJing?
PETE ROCK: Yeah, he's actually — he likes video games, so I bought him DJ Hero, so he plays with that. I said, "You know what? When school's over, you're gonna have your shot of learning the real thing."
MUHAMMAD: That's dope. I started when I was eight.
PETE ROCK: Yeah. That's when I started — seven, eight — yep.
MUHAMMAD: So what's the key to success? It's been twenty some-odd years.
PETE ROCK: Man, you know what? Surround yourself with good people, do it passionately and whatever you feel in your heart that you love doing in life, go hard. That's it.
PETE ROCK: Yep. Simple as that. That's what we all did.
MUHAMMAD: Yep. Still doing.
PETE ROCK: Yes, sir. Still doing it right now, you know.
KELLEY: Thank you, sir. You gotta go to the studio right now?
PETE ROCK: Yeah.
KELLEY: Back to work.
PETE ROCK: Thank you very, very much.
MUHAMMAD: No, thank you. I feel like I still got a few more questions but we're gonna have to maybe get you to come back.