Jerry Barrow of Scratch: Itchin’ For A Scratch

J erry Barrow. The general population may not know his name at this moment, but the New York native has quietly helped shape the way you perceive Hip-Hop through his work at The Source, Trace magazine, Right-On magazine and even a short stint with AllHipHop. But the self-proclaimed beat junkie has found his calling at […]


erry Barrow. The general population may not know his name at this moment, but the New York native has quietly helped shape the way you perceive Hip-Hop through his work at The Source, Trace magazine, Right-On magazine and even a short stint with AllHipHop. But the self-proclaimed beat junkie has found his calling at SCRATCH magazine, the premiere Hip-Hop magazine devoted to production and deejaying.

With his duties, Barrow isn’t the easiest person to track down, but AllHipHop’s own illseed managed to catch the moving editor after hours on instant messenger. Check out the digital conversation between these two Hip-Hop heads as they talk about Jay Dilla, the state of beats and the difficulty catering to the masses and the core audience simultaneously. (11:57:37 PM): What was your agenda upon arrival at Scratch?

Jerry Barrow (11:59:10 PM): I wanted to make the life and work of producers as interesting to the masses as the MCs they were familiar with. Thus you have Just Blaze with a ball of fire in the palm of his hands, and Cee-Lo literally cooking up music in his kitchen, off the wall stuff like that. When I came in, most of that issue was done so those were the only stories I could touch in that way. (11:59:49 PM): How difficult is it to find an audience that’s interested in production only?

Jerry Barrow (12:03:12 AM): The challenge is that Hip-Hop magazine readers have not been introduced to the idea of making music on a grand scale, and the people who buy production magazines, don’t particular care for certain aspects of other Hip-Hop magazines. So trying to service two audiences is extremely difficult. With each issue, I am trying a new mix of things. I wasn’t prepared for having to cater to two audiences. When I left The Source, I looked forward to just dealing with production, but after the Jermaine Dupri issue hit stands, my bosses wanted to up the ante so to speak. I wished I’d been given more time with the old format, of just production, because that Jermaine Dupri issue ended up selling really well. (12:06:07 AM): That said, you have been accused of dramatically decreasing the more technical aspects of production in exchange for more lifestyle/rapper driven content. How do you address this?

Jerry Barrow (12:09:31 AM): Some people think that I just arbitrarily changed it. I had several long meetings with my publishers, where they essentially said that the technical aspect was good, and we need to keep it, but we have to find a way to attract more readers. They didn’t know what to do because they’d already had the biggest names in production on the cover. (12:09:49 AM): Right, right…

Jerry Barrow (12:12:34 AM): They were telling me “Put Biggie on the cover, put ‘Pac on the cover,” and I was like “Huh? You’re kidding, right?” But that is what has worked for them in the past, so I forgive them to a degree. It was frustrating, but they’re businessmen and needed to see their business grow. So I took a potentially negative situation and turned it into a positive. If we’re going to bring MC’s into the book, lets bring Hip-Hop back to the essence, which is how the Nas and [DJ Premier] cover came about. (12:13:29 AM): That had everybody talking. What was the feedback like?

Jerry Barrow (12:15:54 AM): See, the feedback comes in two waves: people who are Hip-Hop fans and read Hip-Hop magazines LOVED IT. They couldn’t stop talking about it. Even producers I know where like “OH S**T, WORD?” But the complaints have come from some of the old readers and producers who felt like once again producers are being placed in the background. And I understand their frustration. But there is a method to my madness. (12:15:11 AM): Which is…?

Jerry Barrow (12:16:35 AM): The success of Dupri and now Nas/Preemo made it possible for me to put RZA on the cover. That would NOT have happened before. They needed to see results in order to feel comfortable again.

Jerry Barrow (12:17:33 AM): If I had come to them in May, when I first started and said, “I want to do a RZA cover,” they’d have said ,”Hell no.”

Jerry Barrow (12:18:46 AM): And as you can tell, we HAD that RZA story since May. That’s when it first started. (12:19:53 AM): LOL! Right.

Jerry Barrow (12:20:08 AM): but I held it because I felt he deserved a cover. (12:24:33 AM): I know for a fact, Marley Marl wanted the cover and, based on his work, deserves it. How do you manage that?

Jerry Barrow (1:00:48 AM): If it was totally up to me, Marley, Pete Rock, Large Pro…all of those cats would be on the cover of Scratch. They’re icons in production. In a perfect world, I can build Scratch up to the point where they’ll feel comfortable letting me do that. I didn’t think when I started that I’d get RZA and DJ Premier on the cover, and I managed to pull that off. (1:07:32 AM): How do you intend to address the untimely death of J Dilla? Can a brother get a cover?

Jerry Barrow (1:08:36 AM): I was on the phone with ?uestLove the day Dilla passed. Neither of us knew he had died, and after we confirmed to do The Roots cover, he asked me could he interview Dilla for Scratch. I was like, “Hell yeah,” Even though we’d interviewed Dilla in November, we only got a few minutes with him on the phone. I knew ?uest would bring a very personal perspective ,and ask questions we wouldn’t even think of. So we agreed it would run in the next issue to give him some time to do the interview and write it. (1:11:08 AM): Damn.

Jerry Barrow (1:11:21 AM): Then our phones got cut off. An hour later, his manager calls me and then I get [instant messages] from all over saying that Dilla passed and my jaw just dropped. So, the choice then is, ‘Do you bump the Roots cover for Dilla?’ They’re family. It just doesn’t make sense. And who better to pay tribute to the man than them? It was like it was meant to be. And I was finally convinced it was a good idea when I spoke to Mrs. Yancey [Dilla’s mother]. Taking The Roots off the cover would be like taking Dilla off the cover to me. It’s like, support the artists while they’re HERE. That’s why the coverline is “LOVE THEM NOW.” And son, I got some really mean spirited letters [after] Dilla passed, saying that we neglected him when he was alive. People don’t know how hard we worked to get the interview we DID get – we got the LAST interview, man. That’s a blessing. (1:21:24 AM): What’s the state of affairs as far as beats and production are concerned. There are a lotta complaining rappers. What about producers?

Jerry Barrow (1:22:02 AM): Well, I think I hear more beats than the average A&R. [laughs] There are some talented people out there, but a lot of hot garbage. The best stuff I hear is at the beat battles. The playing field has been leveled with software being cheaper, but now everyone with a PC thinks they’re a producer, and they don’t understand the fundamentals of melody. There is no microwave method for being a producer, you have to put in work and time. [Funk musician,] Amp Fiddler told Dilla, “Here’s the MPC, figure it out.” No one was holding his hand. (2:38:56 AM) Were you bringing this same sort of flavor with Scratch to The Source when you were there?

Jerry Barrow (2:41:06 AM): Oh man, I had a ball because I pretty much isolated myself from the [bulls**t]. I was taking meetings with Jean Grae, Rock from Heltha Skeltah, and Lord Have Mercy. Me and Fahiym [Ratcliffe] called ourselves ‘the last of the Mohicans,’ because we stubbornly held down the underground. I was trying to get J-Live “Hip-Hop Quotables” and all kinds of nonsense. You could tell when I was overseeing a section. When I did “Mic Check,” you saw Murs, Jean, Grits – a lot of Independents. And then I made Paul Wall and Chamillionaire the lead “Mic Check” one issue, instead of Bone Crusher. Dave [Mays] got p#####, and then I got taken off of “Mic Check.” LOL. But look at Paul Wall and Chamillionaire now, compared to Bone Crusher. I knew what I was doing. (1:52:13 AM): Now, some people heard your name being shouted out by Star of Power 105 in New York…care to comment?

Jerry Barrow (1:52:44 AM): LOL.

Jerry Barrow (1:54:04 AM): Maaan, only ‘cause it’s AllHipHop, and y’all are the reason it all happened. (1:55:43 AM): What did we do?????

Jerry Barrow (1:56: 38 AM): The transcript he was beefin’ about is on there somewhere, buried in the AHH archives, gathering dust. All I’ll say is we spoke like two men, and squashed it. I heard he said some nice things about me on the air after we spoke, so I thank him for that. (1:25:13 AM): Moving along, have you ever been a producer?

Jerry Barrow (1:27:07 AM): I dabbled in it many years ago. One of my writers, Sean Sharp, is a producer, and we actually made beats in his home studio many moons ago. I’d make loops in Cool Edit, and bring them to his crib – just stuff I thought could work, I’d raid my dad’s record collection for breaks. Then, I started working at The Source, and the hours just made it impossible to keep doing it. (1:38:56 AM): What’s your take on sampling vs. keyboard beats?

Jerry Barrow (1:41:17 AM) : I’m a sampling head myself, because that’s what I grew up with. But there are some dope electronic beats out there as well. My joint right now is that E-40 joint that Lil’ Jon did, crazy! But sample wise, Just Blaze murdered “The Champ” on the Ghostface album. I think its harder to be original with the keyboards, because they use all of the same sounds. But then the sample cats all fall back on the sped up loop and that gets repetitious. “Grillz” is my guilty pleasure, right now. It’s an ign’ant ass song, but the beat is crazy. Hahaha. (1:42:16 AM): Thoughts on “Laffy Taffy” – more hate! (1:42:26 AM): Sorry! I’m bout to go off, like biz.

Jerry Barrow (1:42:30 AM): Oh, man don’t get me started… (1:42:50 AM): Come on Mr. Barrow, keep it real here.

Jerry Barrow (1:42:56 AM): I don’t wanna be seen as a hater, but I can’t mess with “Laffy Taffy” unless its 2am and I’m drunk in a club.

Jerry Barrow (1:43:03 AM): that will never be on my ipod, but there is a place for “Laffy Taffy.” (1:43:18 AM): Favorite producer?

Jerry Barrow (1:45:29 AM): Oh man…Favorite producer right now, I have to say Just Blaze. He’s killin’ it. That “Safe To Say (The Incredible)” or “No More Fun and Games.” My all time favorite, Pete Rock, hands down. I’mma get Pete Rock his cover.