Without question, Soul Brother #1 Pete Rock is one of the most prolific, influential, and respected hip-hop producers of all-time. His song catalog is extremely revered thanks to ’90s classics such as Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.),” Redman’s “How To Roll A Blunt,” Run DMC’s “Down With The King,” and Nas’ “The World Is Yours,” as well as modern day gems like last year’s breath of fresh air, “The Joy,” with Kanye West and Jay-Z.
And let’s not forget the masterful remixes he created (and at times added dope lyrics to) with iconic artists like Public Enemy, House of Pain, and Jeru The Damaja, plus, his highly regarded Soul Survivor solo projects. Yes, twenty years deep, and Mount Vernon’s finest remains among the top beat makers and most heavily sought after DJs in the industry.
On the cusp of his latest release Monumental with fellow New York legends Smif N’ Wessun (due June 28th), we chopped it up with the Chocolate Boy Wonder and got the stories behind his greatest records. From the tears shed after hearing “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” mixed for the first time, to Jam Master Jay showing up at his mother’s house unannounced to work on beats, to watching Big Pun lay his verse down for the Soul Survivor album while simultaneously eating a bag of potato chips, Pete shares all his priceless moments.
As told to Daniel Isenberg (@stanipcus)
Heavy D f/ Big Daddy Kane, Kool G. Rap, Grand Puba, CL Smooth, Pete Rock, and Q-Tip “Don’t Curse” (1991)
Album: Peaceful Journey
Pete Rock: “That’s family. That’s where I got my start. [Heavy D] is my cousin. This is where it all began, ever since I was nine, ten years old. I’ve been DJing since I learned how to scratch at seven years old. My cousin Floyd, Hev’s older brother [taught me how to scratch].
“They had a little crew called Classy Rock Crew, and I was the youngest DJ, but you know, I couldn’t really go out to the parties they were doing late night. But you could catch me in their basement trying to turn on the equipment and practice DJing. My homie ‘Easy’ Lee Davis would help me perfect my scratching, being on time, and making sure I knew the speed [to match up the records].
“It was Hev’s idea to make that type of song. He used to make those type of fun songs. We used to always play around in the house and rap. But we had perfected our craft to a point where Hev was getting signed to major labels and putting records out. Hev came up with the concept, and it was his idea to get the people on it. He went out and got Kane, Q-Tip, all the people that were basically hot and on top at that time. He thought it was a great idea to engage them on the beat.
“That was actually the first time [I rapped on a record] ever. I never used to write at all. I wrote ‘Don’t Curse’ myself, but I didn’t consider myself a rapper. I didn’t feel I did too bad of a job writing that.”
Shut Em Down
Public Enemy f/ Pete Rock “Shut ‘em Down (Remix)” (1991)
Album: "Shut ‘em Down" Single
Label: Def Jam
Pete Rock: “I had a relationship with Def Jam and at the time I was with a company called Untouchables with Eddie F. They would go out and get us work. I got a shot with Public Enemy, and then after that I had a huge relationship with Chuck D.
I was a fan and I used to always see them work because we used the same studio as Keith and Hank Shocklee. I used to be in there watching them. I saw Ice Cube’s album being produced, I saw a couple of Public Enemy joints being made. From then, I think they wanted to give me a shot because they were hearing about me on the come-up.
“I made that beat in like fifteen minutes, that’s what’s ill about it. Immediately when I got the opportunity to do it, I got so excited that I just started working on the beat. I got everything I needed, did it real quick fast [at home before the session] and got the sounds down, then I got in the studio and tweaked it. I chopped it, lined it up better, and perfected it in the big house.
“I [rapped on it] on my own. I just did one version with [my verse] and one without it. They picked the one with it. They loved it.”
A Tribe Called Quest “Jazz (We Got)” (1991)
Album: The Low End Theory
Pete Rock: “Q-Tip came over one day and heard the beat playing and liked it. And I had the records sitting around because I had just made it, so the records were there and he saw what I used. I guess he liked it and went back and tried to re-create it and make it sound just like the way I did it. I had a few more elements in it. I had the same drums and the sample, and he actually did the beat the same way I did it. And he shouted me out [at the end of the song].
“At first I was a little upset when I didn’t get the credit when I looked at the album [liner notes], but I’m way over that by now. That was so long ago. I’m on to bigger and better things. I hate talking about old, wack situations that don’t mean nothing no more. But definitely, that was a classic.”
Vamos a Rapiar
Main Source “Vamos a Rapiar” (1991)
Album: Breaking Atoms
Label: Wild Pitch
Pete Rock: “I found the sample and made a beat out of it. I said to [Large Professor], ‘Yo, if you wanna use the record, do it your way.’ And he gave me co-producer credit on it. He actually made the drum programming on his album. He didn’t use my version of the beat, he did his own, which I think is a great version. We used to share samples and shit like that. I liked hanging out in his hood, and he liked hanging out in mine.”
They Reminisce Over You
Pete Rock & CL Smooth “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” (1992)
Album: Mecca and the Soul Brother
Pete Rock: “Troy was a close friend of the neighborhood that we grew up with since we were little. His older brother’s name was Gary. I wasn’t on the road when this happened, but they were on tour with Kid ‘n Play and Salt-N-Pepa. They were playing around throwing empty garbage cans at each other on stage.
“Troy was a playful person like that. He was at the edge of the stage and it was twenty feet high, and he slipped off the edge and fell [and died]. I don’t know how I made that beat while being depressed for such a long period of time. He was really close with everyone in the neighborhood. Mount Vernon is not that big, it’s four square miles wide and long. Everybody knew him.
“I found the record [for the sample] when I was digging with Large Professor. I made the base of the beat at my house, and I finished the rest at his house using his SP-950. Q-Tip had nothing to do with [making the beat]. I think what happened was he liked the horn riff that he heard. I had already sampled it, but I filtered it to make the bass line. The horn was already there, but he just thought it was a good idea for me to put it in there. And I put in there. I made the beat, he just suggested I put that in there.
“We used to all go digging together a lot. I used to come to Queens, and they used to come to Mount Vernon, back and forth, going record shopping together, everything.
“CL came up with the lyrics even before I came up with the beat. He didn’t have the beat [to write to]. He already had the song written. The beat made me emotional so I figured it would work. When the lyrics came together with the music, that was the match made in heaven. Thank God it matched the way it did. It was a great outcome.
“When we finished the song and mixed it, I had Charlie Brown from Leaders Of The New School in the session, and when we listened back to the record we just started crying. When I felt like that, I was like, ‘This is it.’ Deep in my heart I felt like this was gonna be something big.”
Straighten It Out
Pete Rock & CL Smooth “Straighten It Out” (1992)
Album: Mecca and the Soul Brother
Pete Rock: “When I’m making beats, I’m [constructing them using] whatever ideas I have in my head and whatever good records I have around me. I was playing with this one record, and I heard the sample and I liked what he was saying, but we wanted to flip it and talk about bootlegging, because that was really strong around that time. Bootlegging cassettes of albums and selling them on 125th Street.
”We filmed the video in Essex County Jail, in a real jail, and then from there we went down to 125th Street and did a reenactment of the bootleggers, and us destroying their stand selling our music and taking food out of our mouth. The people weren’t getting the quality sound, and [the bootleggers] were just making a quick dollar.
“‘Straighten it out,’ you can take that [phrase] and apply it to any situation you may be dealing with. If it’s between you and a friend and you guys have friction, ‘Straighten it out.’ Whatever business deal you got or beefs you got with people, ‘Straighten it out.’
“We watched other people get sued [for not clearing samples], but we were on a major label so we were clearing them. We had to get permission and clear the samples.”
Pete Rock & CL Smooth f/ Grand Puba “Skinz” (1992)
Album: Mecca and the Soul Brother
Pete Rock: “The last record we did for the first album was ‘Skinz.’ It was the very last song. That completed the album. We walked out of the studio and it was snowing, and we were [filming ourselves] on videotape saying we finished the album.
“Grand Puba’s family. When it’s family, it’s just a meeting of the minds. Like, ‘Let me get on that!’ ‘Go ahead!’ We were labelmates on Elektra Records. [He lived] right next door to Mount Vernon [in New Rochelle]. We used to hang out in Lincoln Park. We used to be in New Rochelle a lot, in the projects, going to the football and basketball games. I used to do parties in the New Rochelle High School gym.
”Puba wrote my first two raps [after ‘Don’t Curse’]. We did ‘The Creator,’ and he wrote ‘Soul Brother #1.’ I got inspired [to write my own raps] hanging out with Grand Puba and Brand Nubian. [Puba] used to gas me up. We also did a couple basement demos in my house that never came out.”
How To Roll A Blunt
Redman “How To Roll A Blunt” (1992)
Album: Blow Your Mind
Label: Def Jam
Pete Rock: “I built a relationship with EPMD, and when I met them I met the whole click. Redman, Keith Murray, everybody. We became great friends, me and Red. He used to come to my house and just work out in the basement with me and do music. That’s my brother. I treat everyone like they’re family. I get along with everybody.
“I gave him the actual disc [with the beat on it] and they loaded it up on their SP and laid it down, mixed it, and put it out. He liked the beat, used it, gave me a shout out on it, and I was happy.”
K-Solo “Letterman” (1992)
Album: Time’s Up
Pete Rock: “Once I met [the EPMD click] I started working with everybody, from EPMD down. I’m very grateful for that too. The way K-Solo delivered, the way he would spell out the words and rhyme it, nobody was really doing that as a rapper. He was original, he didn’t sound like anybody. And that’s what attracted me to him.
“I was having fun, just doing what I do best. Taking it to the next level and doing it. I would have stacks of beats, and that was just something that I picked from my stash, and we laid it down.”
House of Pain “Jump Around (Pete Rock Remix)” (1992)
Album: "Jump Around" Single
Label: Tommy Boy
Pete Rock: “That happened through Tommy Boy. Shout out to Monica Lynch and Tom Silverman for giving me a lot of opportunities to work at Tommy Boy as far as producing. At the time I was doing ‘Jump Around (Pete Rock Remix),’ I was doing ‘Down With The King.’ I was in the A and the B room in The Hit Factory when it used to be on 42nd Street. I would go to one room, finish up whatever I was finishing, scratches or whatever, go to the other room, lay down vocals or do whatever, just going back and forth all night, and finishing up the songs, both of them. I used to do that. The most songs I ever mixed and finished in one day was two songs, being in a studio with a budget.
“Everything started falling in the pipeline once the ‘Shut ‘Em Down (Remix)’ came out. Everyone wanted me to remix their records. So I just seized the opportunities. Back then I used to just re-work the [song] and put in a totally different beat. Any time I was getting ready to do a remix, I would just get the tempo of the original song, and make the beat to that tempo. There’s your remix. It’s just a different beat.
“[I was a fan of the original ‘Jump Around’]. The original is what I come on with first when I’m DJing at parties, and then I hit ‘em with the remix. They asked me to rap on it, if I can remember. Everlast is cool, that’s my dog. I haven’t seen him in a while. Last time I saw him was when I was on the “Rock The Bells” tour. We chit chatted back stage for a little bit. I love Everlast and what he does.”
Down With The King
Run DMC f/ Pete Rock & CL Smooth “Down With The King” (1993)
Album: Down With the King
Pete Rock: “That was a great opportunity. I thought I was dreaming actually, because I used to be a big fan of Run DMC. I remember buying their records when I was only eleven years old. When the opportunity came about, I thought it was a great idea to help get those guys back on the charts. That’s what I did.
“Jam Master Jay, R.I.P. man. He was the realest cat. He would show up at my mother’s house, unannounced, and when I would go to the front door and see it was him, I really, really, literally thought I was dreaming. He’d be like, ‘Come on Pete, let’s go finish working on the song.’ I would hurry up and get dressed, brush my teeth, wash my face, comb my hair, and go across to the basement and start making music.
“I went to [John Jay University] for a little while. I had a friend of mine that went to the school and I used to just go hang out with him on campus and stuff. And I ended up just taking a course or two, but I didn’t really do college too tough. Everything was taking off. I was in the music business, and that was more demanding. Not that it was more important, because nothing is more important than school, but it was demanding of my time. And I was having fun, so I put school on the back burner.
“We never did a live show [with Run DMC], but we should have. [CL and I] were broken up at the time after ‘Down With The King.’ That next year, after The Main Ingredient dropped, we parted ways.”
Heavy D “Blue Funk” (1993)
Album: Blue Funk
Pete Rock: “I remember making that beat in the basement, and Hev grooving to it. Once Hev hears something and starts grooving to it, he’s gonna make something with it. So that’s what happened, and how ‘Blue Funk’ came about.
“I remember the record [I sampled], but I don’t put that type of information out, it ruins the fun. I’ll let people find it on their own. If you know it’s a sample, then find it. It’s out there for people to find. I’m not gonna just give it to you like that. No one’s really supposed to do that as a producer.
“I use the SP-1200 still. It’s a dinosaur drum machine. They didn’t make any after that [or update it at all]. I got three of them.”
The World Is Yours
Nas “The World Is Yours” (1994)
Pete Rock: “I met Nas through Large Professor because he was from Queens. When I was hanging out in Queens, he would take me all over meeting different people and different rappers. Once I met Nas, he brought Nas up to my house, and we were going through music, and I played him ‘The World Is Yours’ beat.
”It wasn’t nothing at the time, it was just a beat that he heard that he liked. But it was a great piano riff, and he wanted to make the song. He had the idea of me singing in the chorus on it. He told me, ‘I want you to sing it.’ I told him, ‘Nah, I’m not singing, I’m not a singer.’ But he made me do it, and it came out the way it is now.
“Large knew that he had a jewel [in Nas]. And once I started working with him, he just had me on board. I was already convinced [of his talents] after that. The album started coming together when we started hearing each other’s work.
”Once I heard ‘One Love’ I was like, ‘Wow, this is dope.’ And Premier said when he heard ‘The World Is Yours,’ he went back and made ‘Represent.’ We were all kind of in competition with the music for a great rapper. No one will ever stop talking about Illmatic.”
I Got A Love
Pete Rock & CL Smooth “I Got A Love” (1994)
Album: The Main Ingredient
Pete Rock: “I make beats in abundance. All the time, I used to be in the house all day, making beats from morning until it’s time to go to bed. Whatever was there, CL picked, and we made something out of it. I just added sprinkles on top of it to make it what it is, scratches and so forth, and came up with [‘I Got A Love’]. We did the video in Jamaica, so that was fun.
“A close friend of ours that used to work with us suggested that we put that out as the first single. I kinda went with it, even though I felt we could have put out another single off of that album [first], like ‘Take You There’ or something else from [The Main Ingredient]. It’s all good though, it is what it is. It’s all good music.
“There’s nothing better than coming to the source and re-doing it, but I respect the fact that everybody knows what that sample is and who used it, and [Jay Electronica, Jay-Z, and The-Dream] brought it back and flipped it [on ‘Shiny Suit Theory’]. That’s dope. I like to hear stuff like that.”
Take You There
Pete Rock & CL Smooth f/ Crystal Johnson “Take You There” (1994)
Album: The Main Ingredient
Pete Rock: “I felt [‘Take You There’ was strong enough to be the first single off The Main Ingredient] at the time for what [radio] was requesting. The music was slowly, slowly starting to change, and being on a major label, they used to always stress making ‘radio records.’ So this was one of them that I felt would’ve been a good first single. But, you know, so be it.
“It made sense because everyone knew the sample. It was an old classic. But no one used the part in the middle like that. O.C. used it, but no disrespect, I feel I chopped the beat a little bit better.
“Crystal Johnson [who sang the hook] is actually still around doing music and doing functions, trying to get her music out there. She’s a great singer. We never got the chance to really get it in as far as for her own solo stuff, but we’re friends on Facebook, so we’ll get something done.”
Cant Stop The Prophet (Pete Rock Remix)
Jeru The Damaja “Can’t Stop The Prophet (Pete Rock Remix)” (1994)
Album: "You Can’t Stop the Prophet" Single
Pete Rock: “I just asked for the tempo, and built my own beat around that tempo. I did [remixes that way] a lot. I grabbed a couple exciting sounds, put them together, mixed them up, saw what I could use, and what I couldn’t. If I felt something was too much, I took it out, left the rest, and put something intriguing on top.
“I had a relationship with [Jeru and DJ Premier] at that time. I had a relationship with everybody, but I wasn’t hanging with those guys. Payday [Records] asked me to do [the remix]. [When Premier heard the remix] he loved it.”
The Notorious B.I.G. “Juicy (Remix)” (1994)
Album: "Juicy" Single
Label: Bad Boy/Arista
Pete Rock: “That was a song I contributed for his album, and I ended up doing the remix. I just basically took the same elements and made my own drums and used the loop, but just the Rhodes part of it, not the beat. It turned out to be cool, because it was ill to hear him on a hip-hop version of it.
“I got a chance to meet [Biggie]. I invited him to my house, and that’s my great memory of him. He was funny. I was playing beats for him, and he’d be writing constantly. He does that. [Biggie and I once] recorded a promo for radio back in the days, where I had the drum machine hooked up at Marley Marl’s house. I had the beat playing and he started freestyling to it.
“If he was still alive, he would be the king with all the money. No disrespect to anyone out there getting their paper, but [he would be on top].”
AZ “Rather Unique” (1995)
Album: Doe or Die
Pete Rock: “I met AZ way before Nas. I was working with AZ when we both were nobodies. I met AZ through a friend of mine who was from the Bronx and moved to Mount Vernon right on my mother’s block, and we became real close and used to hang out with each other a lot.
“He knew AZ, and one day he introduced me to him. We were working with him down in my basement, and we used to go out to East New York to look for him and pick him up and bring him back to the house to work with him.
“‘Rather Unique’ was ill because I had it perfected, with the beat ready with all these nice little fill-ins and drum stuff going on. And the assistant engineer stepped on the plug by accident, and I didn’t save it, and I had to re-make it. I had it going better than what you hear now. It was crazy. I had it going really dope before. I just did what I could, but there were certain things I did that I couldn’t remember from when I was programming it. I was mad.”
AZ f/ Nas “Gimme Yours” (1995)
Album: Doe or Die
Pete Rock: “That happened the same time ‘Rather Unique’ happened. I just ended up doing two [songs with AZ]. He picked two beats. And he said ‘I’m gonna put Nas on the hook.’ They were [in the studio] together. At that point in time, people were still in the studio with each other, before this email stuff came out. We were at Greene Street studios in Manhattan. It was quiet and fun, that’s about it.
“We were excited and really happy for [AZ] for his first record deal. Him and Nas developed a relationship, he got on Illmatic, made that hit record ‘Life’s A Bitch,’ and that [played a part in him getting his deal]. But I knew AZ before I met Nas.”
The Bitch In Yoo
Common “The Bitch In Yoo” (1996)
Album: "The Bitch In Yoo" Single
Pete Rock: “I remember getting a phone call from [Common] saying how upset he was about getting disrespected by Ice Cube. I told him, ‘If you need my help, I’m here.’ He came to New York and we hung out at a friend’s house.
"I made that beat at a friend’s house with records that I had given him so he could make beats, because he made beats too. I left them over there, [so I used them] and came up with the track. I couldn’t believe that [Common] would like it. I thought I would have to go home amongst my stuff. He was right there with me when I made it.
“He was charged up. I felt, as a man, if you feel disrespected, and you feel that in your heart, you fire back. That’s what it is. That’s how real men are supposed to get down. But this was a wax thing. I think Common stood up as a man and told him how he really felt. It was memorable, man. Very classic moment.
“I think Ice Cube might have been mad at me for the beat. But I mean, I make beats. It is what it is. It doesn’t matter to me if someone wants to use me for a beat to get at somebody. What I thought was dumb was saying if you make the beat then you have something to do with it. Nah, this is a man who’s gotta get something off his chest. If you don’t respect that, then I don’t know what to tell you. But I don’t think Ice Cube’s thinking about that anymore. He has a great career. I don’t think he’s mad at me for that.
“Common put [the intro that samples The Education Of Sonny Carson]. I didn’t put that in there, they put that in there. He likes movies, so that must have came up in his head and he said, ‘I’m gonna use that part.’”
InI f/ Pete Rock “Fakin’ Jax” (1996)
Album: "Fakin’ Jax" Single
Pete Rock: “The whole InI album was created in my basement. My younger brother [Grap Luva] was in the group, and he brought these other two members into the group, Rob-O and Rassan. I always liked the way Rob-O rapped. We got them a deal on Elektra before the President of Elektra records, Bob Krasnow, left. Before Sylvia Rhone came into the picture.
“He was the one who set me up with the deal and actually liked InI. He put us in the studio to finish the album, and do a video [for ‘Fakin Jax’], and so forth. But when Sylvia Rhone came into the picture, we didn’t see eye to eye on the project. She didn’t understand where we were coming from with that.”
Escape From New York
Sadat X f/ Deda “Escape from New York” (1996)
Album: Wild Cowboys
Pete Rock: “That was actually first an interlude on The Main Ingredient. Putting beats between records, I always thought that was something nobody really did before. And The Main Ingredient, being that it was such a classic album, Sadat reached out to me and was like, ‘Yo, what’s up with that beat?’ I ended up giving him the beat and putting Deda on it. We recorded that in Greene Street, [my home base studio at that time].
“Deda is a solo artist. He’s from Mount Vernon. I asked him to [get on the song]. But they built a relationship. [Sadat] always liked Deda’s style, the way he rhymed and stuff. So he wanted him on the song.”
In The World
Pete Rock & Large Professor “In The World” (1996)
Album: High School High: The Soundtrack
Label: Big Beat/Atlantic
Pete Rock: “We collaborated on that. I came up with the bass line and the drums, and he came up with all the other stuff you hear on it. The ‘in the world’ and the person screaming. I had a good feel for the beat, so I was intrigued to rhyme on it. We went back and forth. I thought it would be a good idea to do it like that.
“I did Menace II Society, Poetic Justice, and The Fan with Robert De Niro. Atlantic Records put [High School High] out. I did some work with Atlantic, and I was pretty familiar with all the people up there, and I think that [placement] just came from me having a track record of being on soundtracks.
“We never performed together a lot out there like that. We just did the song because we were having fun with the music. It was more of a hang out thing.”
The Saga Begins
Rakim “The Saga Begins” (1997)
Album: The 18th Letter
Pete Rock: “Rakim reached out, and we met up somewhere and I gave him a CD of beats. He put the vocals down on a half inch tape, and I ended up picking up the vocals from the studio he was working at. It had to happen like that because he was having some issues with the law, so he couldn’t really leave [to go places freely]. I always listened to cats [like Rakim] to keep myself on my toes, to help inspire me to be different. I used to hang out with him in Queens. I had family out there.”
Pete Rock f/ Raekwon, Ghostface, & Prodigy “Tha Game” (1998)
Album: Soul Survivor
Pete Rock: “[The song came together] from me being on the label, on Loud [Records], and everyone hanging up at the Loud office. Up there, there was a lot going on. Pun, Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang was actually the best rap roster at that time. And I was grateful to be a part of that. I used to always be up at the Loud office. One day, Raekwon was up there, and we just kicked it, I played a couple of beats, and we figured out that I would use him, Prodigy, and Ghostface on the song. There’s not really [a story behind that beat], I just heard the loop real quick and put it down. Everybody killed it, nobody more than anyone else. That’s why the song is so historic. Everyone is on one level. People were blown away.”
Pete Rock f/ Tragedy Khadafi, Cappadonna, & Sticky Fingaz “Strange Fruit” (1998)
Album: Soul Survivor
Pete Rock: “Me and a guy named Chris LaMonica were executive producing the album. There were a couple of compilations that came out [around that time], but I thought it would be great to do a compilation on some Pete Rock shit. That’s basically what I was on. And we would think of people to go and get.
"Cappadonna was easy because Wu-Tang was already on Loud. That was a given. Then we just went and fished for Sticky, and he was down. And Tragedy been my man for years. I met Tragedy back in ‘88, and we’ve been friends ever since. I wanted to make something eerie, and I always liked the song by Billie Holiday, so I thought it would be a good idea to make a beat like that and call it ‘Strange Fruit.’”
Verbal Murder 2
Pete Rock f/ Big Punisher, Noreaga, & Common “Verbal Murder 2” (1998)
Album: Soul Survivor
Pete Rock: “I remember Pun being in the booth, and he did everything in one take, and asked to do it again. When he did the first take, he was eating a bag of Onion and Garlic Wise potato chips at the same time. I’ll never forget this. He was sitting in the chair. He was eating the bag of chips, started doing the verse, stopped, and then started eating the chips again. He did the verse in one take, and I was satisfied with the one verse, but he wanted to do another take just in case I needed it for anything, back-up ad-libs or whatever. He was a straight professional. Pun came in and did his verse real quick, and Nore came another day. And then Common came one day and did his verse.”
It's A Love Thing
Pete Rock f/ CL Smooth & Denosh “It’s a Love Thing” (2004)
Album: Soul Survivor II
Pete Rock: “[CL and I] weren’t together still, but I just thought it was a good idea to use him on the song. He was with it, we did the song, and went about our ways again. We did another song called ‘Back On The Block’ too. I would just use him sporadically, but the relationship wasn’t A+. Regardless, I would always keep him in mind and use something, and give the fans something that they missed.
“At this point in time right now, I think it’s best that he be by his own solo self and just work with other people. We discussed [doing another album the last time we were] on tour, but that was on tour. It’s a different story when we come back home. No one’s the same. I just figured, if it doesn’t work, it’s not gonna work. If it happens, everybody will be the first to know.”
Jim Jones f/ Max B “G’s Up” (2005)
Album: Harlem: Diary of a Summer
Pete Rock: “That was dope. I came to one of [Jim Jones’] sessions one night, and just popped in to say what’s up. And I had a couple of beats with me, and I played some. We ended up doing a song called ‘G’s Up.’ We did that first. They bodied that.”
Ghostface Killah f/ Trife “Be Easy” (2006)
Label: Def Jam
Pete Rock: “Going to the studio in Staten Island and hanging out with Ghost was great. When I started playing beats for him, he was very attentive, and that’s what I liked about him. Everything I was playing him was fire, but he’s not too picky. He’s like, ‘I like this, and I like this, and I like this, and I like that.’ It was easy working with Ghost.
“I think [we linked up through] his manager Mike Caruso, or through hanging out in a Busta Rhymes session talking to somebody, something like that. Somewhere in the facility of what we do. I expressed to him that I’d love to work with him. I did like five joints for Fishscale. They only used three. One of the songs that they didn’t use on Fishscale, ‘How You Like Me Baby,’ is now on the Apollo Kids album.”
Ghostface Killah f/ Raekwon “R.A.G.U.” (2006)
Label: Def Jam
Pete Rock: “‘R.A.G.U.’ was [a beat I made] that I would have loved to have heard him and Raekwon on. I just threw the idea out there, and they made it happen. [When I make beats for them, I need that] griminess, guttery, New York swag with "the corner bodega with the cats outside shooting dice, playing basketball, in the park drinking brew with your homies" type of shit. I have every Wu-Tang record you could ever imagine, even unreleased ones. I got all the albums, and all their solo albums. I like Ghost’s album, Raekwon’s album, Meth’s albums, ODB’s album, GZA’s album, when RZA was Bobby Digital, all that. I was Wu’d out for a minute.”
Pete Rock f/ Jim Jones and Max B “We Roll” (2008)
Album: NY’s Finest
Label: Nature Sounds
Pete Rock: “That was for my album [NY’s Finest]. I hit them with the beat, and Jim couldn’t really figure out how to rhyme on it, but Max B was like, ‘Yo, this is how you rock to this.’ And then Jim caught wind and said, ‘Oh, okay.’ And we ended up doing the song, and it turned out really dope.”
J Dilla f/ Bilal “Remember” (2008)
Album: Pay Jay
Pete Rock: “He was a great guy. We had a great relationship. Very humble and quiet. But when something intrigued him, that’s when you’d see him start to sprout. When we met it was like , ‘Wow, wow, wow, wow!’ Like, back and forth. Q-Tip came and played me a cassette of his beats. Then I arranged my own meeting.
Someone from the Detroit side of things, I forget who, I got their number. I bought a plane ticket to Detroit and hung out with Dilla for a whole week. I spent the night at his house, he told me I could sleep down in his lab, make beats if I want, and use his records. Who does that? I wouldn’t do that with [someone I didn’t know personally that well].
“His Moms told me that [he was a big fan of mine]. He kept it pretty composed, but little spurts would come out, in his smile or his giggle. But his Moms was the one who told me the whole truth. She was like, ‘Look, my son wanted to be just like you.’ I said, ‘Wow, are you serious? Well, he learned very well! He actually took it a level higher than me!’
“And that’s what you’re supposed to do if you’re the new person. Stand in your own light, and take it steps higher than the current person that’s [on top]. I felt at the time that was what he was doing. I loved it. Immediately, he became my favorite producer. [If he was still alive] he would own it right now. He would own the title of ‘Number One Hip-Hop Producer.’ Everyone gotta get a turn at that. [My turn started] after ‘Reminisce.’ [Laughs.] After my first album I felt like I was on top. I had a silent ego. My ego spoke through the music.
“Just the way [Dilla] did his music, the way he did his beats, the way he chopped samples, the way he played live instruments, and the way he thought of bass lines. We shared a lot of that stuff, talking about how we made beats. I would play him some of my beats, he would play his, and we would make beats. It was just fun. It was a great experience knowing him. I never knew he was sick at all. I never knew until it started to really get detrimental. It was a shock to me man. It was crazy.
“I played that ‘Remember’ beat from the SP-1200. He had it hooked up in his basement, so I brought discs with me from New York. He used the SP too. That’s what I used my whole career, so after people heard I was fucking with the SP hard body like that, everyone started using it. I was playing beats on the discs, and when he heard that beat, he fell in love with it. He was like, ‘Yo, I wanna rhyme to that.’ So I laid it down right there in his house and I let him do whatever he wanted to do with it. I loved his beats more of course, but I loved the way J Dilla rapped.
“I met that cat in 1994. Actually, there’s a videotape out there of him picking me up from the airport and I’m getting in his Navigator and he’s blasting Mecca and the Soul Brother as I’m walking to the car. He’s winding the window down playing ‘For Pete’s Sake’ really loud. That’s from the first time I met him. I’m playing my beats for him in his truck and he’s bugging out. [The video is] not out there, but I’m trying to get it. Not to put on YouTube or anything, just for my own personal [collection].”
Its Like That
The Lox f/ Snipe “It’s Like That” (2008)
Pete Rock: “When you think back to 1992, lots of people were [sampling] Bob James. Constantly using ‘Nautilus,’ ‘Mardi Gras,’ ‘Tappan Zee,’ and using everything you could imagine from him. But the way you hear my beat, I had different drums to it. It was the Rap City theme song for the show on BET, and they would come on with that beat.
“Then when Arsenio Hall was still on the air, I played that beat for everybody to rap to, from Q-Tip to ODB to GZA to Phife to MC Lyte. When Arsenio was going off the air he did a big tribute with rappers, and I played on his show with the band for a week, and I was the band director or whatever. When the rappers came on, I was playing my beats straight out the SP-1200 with the band. And that was the beat that everyone was freestyling to.
“You know Yonkers and Mount Vernon, it’s like right here. I used to do parties in Yonkers. I used to go to little hole-in-the-wall spots like Brown Eyes and so forth, and be hanging out there. Plus I used to go to the DMV out there, and do School 12 parties, which is an elementary school [in Yonkers], and doing parties with my man Earl in Slobaum. So I’m very familiar with Y.O.
“Those cats were around, but they were younger than me. When you’re all in the same neighborhood and place, things just happen. Sheek Louch reached out to me and said they wanted to use that [specific beat]. And their manager too. Then they just took a memorable beat and made it D-Block. They’re one of my favorite groups right now.”
Stay On Your Level
Charles Hamilton “Stay On Your Level” (2008)
Album: Death Of The Mixtape Rapper
Pete Rock: “I didn’t really work with him. I think he got one of my beats somehow and just made a song out of it. I met him before, but I never really worked with him like that. We never had any physical type of dealing whatsoever.
"He probably just heard the beat, snatched it, and didn’t know I did it until somebody said something. It didn’t come out on an album or nothing like that, so it’s all good. I never heard it. I know what beat it is, but I never heard him on it. I gotta check it out.
“I limit emailing beats because people do steal shit and don’t want to pay. I had a situation like that. I’d rather not say the person’s name, but they’re a huge artist and they used my beat. They knew they used my beat, but they didn’t want to pay me. They tried to act like they didn’t know it was my beat.
"But the manager begged me to send them beats for the artist, and I did, and when I heard the beat on the album I flipped out. I was like, ‘Wow.’ So I quickly got on the job, got my lawyers involved and everything, and got my money and my publishing.”
Method Man & Redman f/ Saukrates “A-Yo” (2009)
Album: Blackout! 2
Label: Def Jam
Pete Rock: “Redman was like, ‘Yo, I think I like that joint.’ He actually did the vocals and sent it back to me, and I listened to it, and I heard Saukrates from Toronto on the hook, and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s dope.’ Then he put Meth [on it]. I didn’t know it was going to be a Red and Meth song. But it made sense for both of them to have it because they both sound great on it. Redman and Method Man are superheroes. [Redman and I] hit each other up still, but we don’t hang out as much as we used to. Life is reality man. When shit gets rough, you gotta buckle down and hustle.”
Raekwon “Sonny’s Missing” (2009)
Album: Only Built For Cuban Linx... Part II
Label: Ice H2O/EMI
Pete Rock: “I originally did that beat for Royal Flush [on NY’s Finest]. What happened was, I gave the beat to Raekwon [way before I used it with Royal Flush], and it was just lingering for years and years. Sometimes you can’t get to stuff right away. I didn’t think he wanted the beat anymore, so I used it for my album. Then I hear it on his album. I didn’t think nothing of it, but I wish he came and got another beat from me though, because I would have definitely laced him with some fire.
“I think he [realized it], but it is what it is. It actually made sense for Raekwon to rhyme over it. The sample is from The Education of Sonny Carson soundtrack, and they actually introduced that movie to hip-hop. It felt great [to be a part of Only Built For Cuban Linx II].
”Raekwon is a master. I’ve been a fan since day one. I used to go to Wu sessions just to hang out. I used to tell them the same stories I’m telling you. They would want to know how I made this beat and that beat, and what I was thinking about. All due respect to the general, salute. He’s on tour right now, but I got beats for him, and I know when he gets time, he’ll sit down with me and we’ll do it.”
Kanye West f/ Jay-Z “The Joy” (2010)
Album: G.O.O.D. Music Friday Series
Label: G.O.O.D. Music
Pete Rock: “‘The Joy’ is a beat I had since ‘96, ‘97. And I was just sitting on it, debating on who I would give it to. First I gave it to Strong Arm Steady, and that didn’t work out, because Busta said he did something to it. Then that didn’t work out, so I gave it to Kanye West and he did something to it and put Jay-Z on it, and that was the end all be all right there.
“Kanye’s ex-bodyguard reached out to me and said he was looking for me. I went to Hawaii, and I played it for [Kanye] and he loved it, and he wanted to use it as soon as he heard it. I brought a lot of other stuff there that he liked.
“I laid down a version to ‘Dark Fantasy,’ and on ‘Runaway’ those are the drums from ‘The Basement’ that I chopped. Those drums, the way that they’re looped, you can’t just put the record down and get it. The pattern, the way I put it together, is like a jigsaw puzzle.
“He got Jay-Z on it. That’s his homie, you know. Jay-Z didn’t come to Hawaii to lay his vocals [when I was there]. I was there for a whole week, and then after I left, weeks later, Young Guru the engineer called me and said, ‘I got a surprise for you.’ He played me the song with Jay-Z on it, and I was blown away. Because for years I’ve been trying to work with Jay, and I think he says the same thing, but we just kept missing each other.
“I’ve laid tracks down for [Watch The Throne], but I don’t think they’ve used anything. I’m not sure, but I don’t think so. I have no idea if [‘The Joy’] is going to be on Watch The Throne. I don’t want to say nothing until I know the facts. My suggestion is that it has to go somewhere. To not use it would be a travesty.
“I thought about [rapping on ‘The Joy’], but it’s all good. I didn’t want him to outdo me on my own track either. But I would rap with Kanye, it’s not like I’m scared to do it. At that point in time, I didn’t have anything. I have to be in a certain mode for my rhymes to sound correct.”
Pete Rock & Smif N Wessun f/ Sean Price & Styles P “That’s Hard” (2011)
Label: Duck Down
Pete Rock: “I think word gets out pretty quick, ‘Yo, Pete Rock’s producing an album for Tek and Steele. We should round up this person and that person.’ But out of respect for Tek and Steele, the artists came forth, that’s all I can say about that. It was a beautiful thing to get all them on a track together.
“They [recorded] that on their own, and I came in one day, and they played the song with Styles on it, and I was like, ‘Wow!’ I kept rewinding the verse like, ‘This is crazy.’ I didn’t [know they were getting him]. That was a surprise to me.
“Me and Dru Ha been friends for years, so we always talked about working and doing a project together, and now here it is. What we talked about doing for years is finally done. The response has been great. We had the listening party at the Ace Hotel in New York hosted by Cipha Sounds, and it turned out pretty good. I don’t want to jinx anything, but I have a pretty good lineup [for 2011]. I am actually doing a song with Nas for his new album.”