Going into TLET hip-hop was coming out of the ’80s, which was such a heavy James Brown–sampling period. The exciting thing about that whole time in hip-hop was, like, the kids got to run in the playground. Later on, the whole sample issue took us out the Golden Era of hip-hop—but at this point you were still able to sneak stuff and clear stuff. The cat wasn’t out of the bag, so to speak. Going into TLET, they were still able to go crazy with it. People weren’t getting sued yet.
Around the time of MM, the budgets started going up. It happened even more when they did Beats, Rhymes, & Life. In ’91, there was a little bit more of an innocence because the business of hip-hop hadn’t been completely discovered by the masses yet. The biggest thing that affected the music was the samples being harder and harder to clear. A lot of the budgets became $200,000 for this sample and $100,000 for this sample. That affects the way you make music.
Now this is a really tough one because musically MM is crazy too. The samples are, to me, more intricate and more layered. But for its influence on the culture, I’d have to pick TLET, because it changed what a lot of people were sampling. Plus it inspired a generation of kids to become more informed about jazz. When you would look at the liner notes—because that’s what you did at that time, you looked at the notes on your record or your cassette—you would read everything, like, ‘Who’s this guy?’ Then you’d go to the record store and buy an album by Ron Carter.