Additional reporting by Chuck “Jigsaw” Creekmur
When speaking on the genre of Hip-Hop and Hip-Hop culture, you can’t have a conversation without including Pete Rock.
Forever going down in history as one of the greats, the New York native is one of the mainstays of production to come out of the East Coast, paving the way for real Hip-Hop through and through. When it comes to his beats, it was his fusion of jazz and rap that yielded some of the greatest, most heartfelt rap songs to date.
Exploding onto the scene in the 90’s as one-half of iconic duo Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Pete has been continuously gifting fans new music for three decades straight.
Dating back to the release of their signature timeless hit “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” in 1992, a tribute to their friends who had passed, to his own original PeteStrumentals albums chock full of samples, Pete’s passion, dedication, and talents in the lab do not go unnoticed — breaking through the barriers that separate the underground and mainstream.
Having worked with everyone from Gang Starr to A Tribe Called Quest to The Roots, Pete went on to form his own band titled The Soul Brothers. Ending the year on a high note, he unleashes PeteStrumentals 3, this time without samples!
AllHipHop: How have you been holding up with the COVID-19 pandemic?
Pete Rock: Everything’s good man, hanging in there. A producer’s life is staying in the house, staying out the way. Concentrating on being around your records, making music and making beats. Like a kid in a candy store waiting to see what you come up with next.
AllHipHop: PeteStrumentals 3 out now, how are you feeling?
Pete Rock: Oh, it was beautiful. Shout out to The Soul Brothers, everyone that’s involved in that album that helped bring that out to life. It’s something I’d been contemplating for a little while. Saying you know what, I’ve done PeteStrumentals
1 & 2 with the samples, I’d like to do the third one without any. Have the band play like it’s a drum machine and abide by direction.
AllHipHop: I’m like this does not sound like samples, this sounds like live beats right here.
Pete Rock: Yes, live joints. All by my direction and produced by me, the band interpreted everything I asked for.
AllHipHop: How does this compare to your first PeteStrumentals, released in 2001?
Pete Rock: PeteStrumentals 1 was samples, but samples of real instruments. Keyboards, guitars, etc. The new one we’re going to do is a little of both.
AllHipHop: You say “music is music; it’s what I think about it all day, every day.” What’s the reality of a day in the life of Pete Rock?
Pete Rock: It’s definitely music-filled, but also family-oriented. Building the kingdom slowly, Tru Soul Records. I have a label now that I’m very excited about. I have my first artist, Amir AKA the 25th-Hour Man. I’ve been putting snippets of what we’re doing on the Gram a little bit. It’s a mixtape called Worth Its Weight In Soul 21 Grams, shout out to Amir. I’m signing artists and doing projects, something I always wanted to do since I could do it.
AllHipHop: What’s your take on the rap game today and how it evolved?
Pete Rock: As the world turns, everything changes. For some of us, it started out a little rough and it’s gotten better. I believe even some of the new artists are more conscious of what they’re saying in their lyrics. Not everyone, but you have some people now that’s taking life more seriously and starting to talk about reality in their rhymes. I’m feeling that. I’m starting to work with some of them, so that’s a plus.
AllHipHop: Who are some of the people you’re excited to work with?
Pete Rock: I’ve worked with Kanye and Kendrick, rubbed elbows with J. Cole and talked to other young cats like Freddie Gibbs, Action Bronson. The normal Griselda, that movement’s the new spark in Hip Hop.
AllHipHop: At one point, it felt like we were in a civil war. It was contentious, how do you think we got past that? Even though we don’t rock with everything, we’re co-existing and it feels respectful.
Pete Rock: People are putting their minds, their thoughts, their feelings into the music and it’s making a difference for Hip Hop. It’s being more accepting of certain vets. It’s actually reintroducing what we did in the 90’s in this day. It’s changed and gone in a much more interesting direction, I’m happy to be involved in that. Some real good surprises and things I want to come into fruition. I don’t want to mention it but I’m definitely excited to be a part of everything that’s happened. Shout out to Busta Rhymes on his new project out there, that’s crazy. We got together and did this wonderful work on his album. Shout out to him man, that was a real big firecracker bomb towards the end of the year. Musically, one of the best releases of 2020.
AllHipHop: Will you and CL Smooth ever line back up? 1992’s Mecca and the Soul Brother (their debut) is coming on its 30th… nice time to reunite.
Pete Rock: Only time could tell. We speak, we talk, but everything’s a process. Nothing’s definite though, we’re going to have to see.
AllHipHop: What are your top pieces for MUST-HAVE technology to produce a record and album?
Pete Rock: Well me, I’ve been doing this for such a long time so I’m used to normal equipment. Everybody uses a lot of things, but when I’m in the studio, in the lab somewhere, I’m also using equipment. What I use personally at home is Pro Tools 10 with turntables, mixer, Serato, drum machines, all of the MPCs from the 2000XL to 2500 to Renaissance. It’s having fun doing what I’m doing.
AllHipHop: Word on the street Havoc of Mobb Deep started making beats because they didn’t have it in the budget to afford his tracks/beats for the first infamous album.
Pete Rock: I don’t know. Maybe they were discussing that, but I would’ve loved to lend my talents to that first album. P’s my man anyway, rest in peace to Prodigy. Havoc man, we talk here and there. We talk once in a blue. We on Instagram, we DM each other sometimes. Shout out to Mobb Deep, I would’ve loved it. I don’t know if that was the case, [laughs] but I would’ve definitely made it happen regardless. If I would’ve knew that was being said. I would’ve been like “yo, whatup!”
AllHipHop: “They Reminisce Over You” was inspired by a close friend who passed, how difficult was it for you to create that record?
Pete Rock: Very difficult, but I realized at that moment, emotions help sometimes. Especially when you don’t want to release it negatively, it helps when you’re doing something positive. Your feelings and emotions are being poured into something you’re doing and that comes out of it, whoa. That’s where my head was, it took us a while. Like every death, a very close loved one that you never really get over. You ease from it and sometimes, you still have your moments where you go and cry in the corner somewhere.
AllHipHop: You did Nas’ “This World Is Yours,” what was the energy of that session?
Pete Rock: Great. We were young, in the basement chillin’. Illmatic’s one of the best albums ever made. It was enjoyable moments in the basement: coming up with the idea and playing a couple of beats before he heard the beat he liked. When he heard it, he froze. As I was going to change the beat, he said “nah, nah, nah, let that play.” We started coming up with the ideas for the song, then we did it.
AllHipHop: Did you anticipate it]d become what it was at that time?
Pete Rock: Kinda, because everything else that I heard was like “wow, I gotta do a great job and give him something dope.” It was heavy competition silently, going on between producers on that album.
AllHipHop: That was fierce. Were you a part of all the producers wake up on a Sunday and go to this diggin’ spot?
Pete Rock: Yeah. The Roosevelt Hotel used to have record conventions in the ballroom section, downstairs of the hotel. We used to go there there and spend all our money on beats and records. [laughs] All that fly stuff that people wasn’t sampling yet.
AllHipHop: How does it feel to be recognized as one of the greatest producers of all-time?
Pete Rock: Aw man, that’s wonderful because it makes me not ever want to quit. The fans do that for me. Really, the fans are so important in your career. People need to realize I take the time out and show them some love too. Thanks to my fans and supporters for that over the years. Just know that I’m always passionate and I love what I do, as far as music, producing, beatmaking, whatever. I love it and I’ll always be here until I can’t.
AllHipHop: How are you adjusting to the streaming era and social media?
Pete Rock: I mean, I think about life before social media. There was actually life more fun before all this came. I could do without it. The thing about it, it’s a tool that could be used when you’re doing your music. You could promote your music worldwide where everyone on the whole planet could see it, that’s the good part. They could do away with the rest of it, to be honest with you.
AllHipHop: You do a great job though, I envy your social. I’m like “where did he get this from?”
Pete Rock: [laughs] Thank you bro. Sometimes, you post things without a care. I posted something recently, it was a funny Stan Lee post. They flagged me for it because he was cursing and talking about the explicative word. I thought and everyone else in the comments thought it was funny, but there’s always someone I believe in the comments that reports you. I’ve never been reported before, ever. People are angry today so they’ll report you now.
AllHipHop: If you could bring back one song in 2020, what would it be?
Pete Rock: Jeez, can I have at least 5 songs? Probably a Heavy D song, maybe a Public Enemy remix, “House of Pain” or something.
AllHipHop: House of Pain was an interesting thing to me, you put an acceptable spin on it.
Pete Rock: I’m not going to take anything away from the original version because the original version is dope, it’s just my version was also dope. You had two dope versions on a dope ass hip hop record. “Jump Around” was really the thing when it came out. So to have a dope remix attached to it, it made it even 10 times better.
AllHipHop: I always felt like if I hung out with those guys, one of their guys would sneak you or steal you.
Pete Rock: [laughs] Nah they’re cool man, they’re real cool. Shout out to Everlast, we’re cool on Instagram. That’s another good thing on Instagram, you can reach out to people because everyone’s on there.
AllHipHop: You mentioned Clubhouse, Clubhouse is where we’re getting a lot of authentic stories for Hip hop.
Pete Rock: Yeah, I think it’s a good thing depending how it’s used. If it goes down like how mine went down last night with them cats, then it’s a good deal.
AllHipHop: Is there anyone that you haven’t worked with that you’d like to do an album or songs with?
Pete Rock: Hell yeah. I never worked with LL, I never did nothing with him. Or a straight up Erick Sermon record or any of the new dudes. I heard Waka Flocka rhyming on something hard like boom bap s###, I’m like “oh okay.” I’d do something with him.
AllHipHop: Waka’s very underrated.
Pete Rock: Yup, he’s dope. When he’s spitting, I was definitely blown away. I knew he could rap because he’s from New York.
AllHipHop: Can you speak on your Jamaican roots? Do you have Jamaican roots?
Pete Rock: Of course I do, my whole family. My father, my sisters and brothers were born there. My older brother, rest in peace, was born in Jamaica. Me and my younger brother were born in the Bronx, then moved to Mount Vernon man.
AllHipHop: Did that impact your music?
Pete Rock: Of course. I believe Hip Hop stems from Jamaica, to be honest. That’s where it all comes from. Shout out to Kool Herc, the godfather, for making that noticed and bringing that to life for the community. You can’t thank a man enough for something like that, because it made who we are and it gave us a life to live. That’s all owed to Kool Herc.