Gregg Gillis is Girl Talk, the sample-driven music that soundtracks parties the world over. Known for cramming as many samples as humanly possible into one piece of epic dance excellence, Gillis has a voluminous knowledge of popular music. And anyone giving more than cursory listens to his albums will notice that he's a serious hip-hop head. (He put Biggie's "Juicy" over Elton John to divine effect back in '06.)
Complex caught up with Gillis at Outside Lands in San Francisco to talk about Pittsburgh, his hometown, and hip-hop.
Complex: What Pittsburgh bar would you want to black out in?
Greg Gillis: Gooski’s (3117 Brereton St.) First, because I live close to there. Second, because I have been there very, very late, and I feel like the people at Gooski’s know me—I played shows there when I was younger. So I feel like that gives me the best chance of getting home.
If you’re going to get into a bar fight in Pittsburgh, which bar would you in to be in?
The Brillobox (4104 Penn Ave.). Maybe the softest clientele in the city. Nothing against the bar; the bar is fine. I just wouldn’t want to get into a fight next door at Tea Bags (4114 Main St.). Because they’d probably murder you. At Brillobox though, I might have a shot.
What’s your favorite place to eat in the city?
I don’t eat there all the time, this is mostly a celebratory thing, but I love Peppi’s (various locations; check website), specifically their sandwich “The Big Wheeler.” It’s a sausage and steak combination thing with this red pepper relish. Anytime I finish an album, I’ll go in for that.
Apropos of your collaboration with Jim Jones, who is your dream rapper collaboration?
I’d love to work with the rest of Dipset. I love the production on a lot of their older records, when I did the beat with Jim, I was thinking about those tracks. The Heatmakerz, Just Blaze—all the old soul sample stuff. But outside of them—there are certain rappers I love but I just don’t think I’d complement their style so much. Like a Waka Flocka. He sounds so good on a Lex Luger beat, but that wouldn’t be for me.
Who has the best adlibs in rap?
Jim Jones is kinda on fire. But these days Lil B and Soulja Boy are taking it to absurd levels. Sometimes the adlibs are the song. They sometimes mix the adlibs higher than the actual vocals. But as far as energy and pure intensity, Waka Flocka is my personal king right now.
Watch the Throne or Ferrari Boyz?
I haven’t heard Watch the Throne yet because I don’t do iTunes. So I’m waiting to get the physical disc. I’m old school like that. I’ve heard “Otis” and “H*A*M.” But the Ferrari Boyz CD is dope. They just delivered the goods. And though I love both “H*A*M” and “Otis,” I can tell I’ll be listening to Ferrari Boyz more.
Would you ever want to produce a whole hip-hop record?
I’m interested in that, but I’d want it to be on my terms. One of the reasons I think I had lots of success with Night Ripper is that the format of it is just a little weird. How many samples are crammed in. It was organized in a way that maybe people hadn’t encountered before. I have some ideas for a hip-hop record that I don’t want to fully give away, but it wouldn’t be conventional. It might not have true songs on it. It might be a continuously flowing thing, like on a Girl Talk record, where it would be one song broken up into many different components. If I did something with a rapper, it would be difficult, because it would be outside the box of what typically happens. But after the Jones collaboration, I'm definitely interested.
What would say to someone whose only experience of rap music is through your music?
That’s very bizarre to me. I’ve listened to hip-hop my whole life, but now it’s practically all I listen to. That and oldies radio. On the one hand, it’s a compliment. Because ultimately the goal is to make something new with the music, something transformative, so when people say, “I don’t listen to hip-hop, but I like you,” that’s a compliment, even though we aren’t seeing eye-to-eye. But at the same time it’s bizarre. People need excuses to like things. With any band this can be the case. It all depends on how they’re framed, how they’re reviewed, what sort of people like it, and I'm not talking just critics. That stuff is impossible to ignore. And it has some level of influence, despite what you might think. What I try and do, what I push for, is to truly try and enjoy the music on its own terms. Just because this music is not loved by this blog or because this music is supposed to be dumb—it should be about what you’re getting out of it. That’s why I sample such a variety of songs. So when someone is like, “I don’t listen to rap, but I like you’re music,” I’m thinking, “How can you not listen to any rap?” It’s such a wide genre, from the Roots to Soulja Boy. Somewhere in there there is something for you.
Most underappreciated rapper?
This is a long conversation for me, but Soulja Boy. Maybe not most underappreciated, but definitely most misunderstood. It’s so surface level to say, “Oh, he’s a bad rapper.” If you delve into his mixtapes, you’ll find he’s a great example of someone who does what he wants to do. His stuff gets weird. I like people that are able to make accessible pop music, but are also not afraid to get nuts with it. He's a guy who has had hits, who can be on the radio, but on these mixtapes he goes in like crazy. I know he’s highly influenced by Lil B, a lot of that left-field stuff. You know, Soulja is the only person I follow on Twitter. All the time, people say, “Why do you follow the worst rapper in the world?” Daily, I hear that. I can’t even respond to that. I like music that’s dissonant; I like when he sings off-key, I like when the raps are sloppy. Because he’s not always like that; he goes both ways. He can deliver a hot single. It’s like the ‘60s girl group the Shags. They couldn’t play their instruments but they still made interesting pop music. He came up as a kiddie rapper, people labeled him that. But now he’s coming into his own as a weirdo. Still, no one can see past the ring-tone rapper thing. But go into a club and put on “Pretty Boy Swag.” It’ll pop off.