Volume 8: Lone Catalyzin' With J Rawls|
April 28, 2000
Anybody that's called my voice mail for the last couple of years or so knows that, judging by the music that's playing in the background, one of my favorite tracks in recent memory is the smooth Blackstar joint "Brown Skin Lady". A while back in my column on the best chopped beats of all time, I erroneously credited production on that track to Hi-Tek (hell, I could barely decipher the credits on that Blackstar album!). So surprisingly I got an e-mail from the real creator, a cat from Ohio by the name of J-Rawls who's been bombarding the underground scene with lots of mellow but rugged joints as 0.5 of the group Lone Catalysts. First on their own B.U.K.A. Entertainment and now affiliated with the Seven Heads imprint (J-Live, Unspoken Heard, Grap Luva, Mr. Complex, etc.), the LC's have put out a nice collection of pure hip hop jams ("Paper Chase", "Due Process", etc.) and have lots more on deck.
After standing corrected on my "Brown Skin..." gaffe, I asked Rawls to hit me off with an interview and he gladly obliged. Clean out ya ears and open your eyes:
SOULMAN: I guess we can begin with the basics... how did you get started in hip hop and producing?
J RAWLS : I got into hip hop because it's what my boys used to listen to on the block.
I started out beatboxing. Then I started rapping after hearing "La Di Da
Di" by Doug E. Fresh and Ricky D. Then we discovered Kool & The Gang's "Jungle
Boogie" that EPMD sampled in "You Gots To Chill", and we went
nuts....went through all my dad's records and started digging and finding
loops...been makin beats ever since...
SM: Just in the last few years I've noticed that there's maaad talent in the
"three river" area- Ohio, Pittsburgh Pa., etc. How difficult has it been
coming out of the midwest and being able to do your thing in the whole New
York indy hip hop scene?
JR: That is just the thing- there is talent everywhere, it just has to be
tapped. It is very hard to do stuff if you aren't from NYC, but we are
trying to break that barrier now...
SM: How did you link up with J Sands? I know from my own past experience how hard it can be to do things as a group when the members live in different cities. How do the two of you deal
with that and make it all work?
JR: I met Sands through my man Buka, who we named the label after, and we
discovered that we both went to the University of Cincinnati. We went to
the same college but met in Columbus....! We run our business via the
e-mail...and it works really well.
SM: You and Sands started B.U.K.A. Entertainment to put out your records
initially and also hooked up with Seven Heads, one of the key indy labels
to watch out for in the 2000's. First, how did B.U.K.A. come into existence,
and also how did you get involved with Seven Heads?
JR: B.U.K.A. came into existence to put our records out and to help some of our
peoples from the midwest with talent get some exposure...so we just made it
happen like that. I had Wes's (Wes Jackson, owner of Seven Heads) number for a long time but never called it until I could give him some product. So when we did the "Paper Chase" 12
inch, it wasn't time. But with "Due Process" we knew we needed Wes...and then
we called him. The rest is history.
SM: Other than "Thin As Paper", the MC Lyte remake that you and Sands did,
every beat I've heard from you has been real jazzy-sounding. Would you say
that it's a case of you staying on a jazz vibe so that people will identify
with a signature sound from J Rawls (in the way that Pete Rock made horns
his signature sound, for example) or is that simply what you like to sample?
JR: I dont know if I would say that was my signature style. I think I like to
make beats to what I am feeling right now. Right now I am into lounge
music. That is what I have been listening to, so that will be the influence
you will hear in the tracks. But by no means will I stay on a certain vibe
for any reason. I always try to make stuff that will make people say "that
doesn't sound like a Rawls beat".
SM: Who are some of your favorite jazz artists (to just listen to or to sample)?
JR: Ahmad Jamal, John Klemmer, Roy Ayers, Perry Como, Bobby Hutcherson... man, the list is endless!
SM: Is your production all samples or do you get down on the keys a little bit, too?
JR: I get down on the keys... I like to play samples. That always provides an
SM: What samplers / sequencers do you make your tracks on? What's the whole studio set up like when you're recording your records?
JR: I go to different studios... but I make beats on the Ensoniq ASR-10.
SM: A-ight, this is The World Of Beats so you know we got to get into the
record side of things. How many crates do you have right now?
JR: Word, these are the questions I was waiting on! I probably have about 5,000
records...and I still have a lot of my dad's records at his house. He is a
CD man now, so I have laid claim to that vinyl, ya know!
SM: How are the spots in the Ohio area? Good records? Good prices?
JR: The spots in Ohio are cool. You can find records for a quarter or fifty
cents. But there are also some spots where they will cost a little more.
The digging spots are pretty much dug up. Some of the small cities in Ohio
can have some hidden treasures.
SM: Do you consider digging for records to be a very important part of what
you do as a producer? Are you a cat that's into the whole record collecting aspect of
digging, where you're looking for all these crazy rare records not only to
use for production but also to add to your collection? Or would you say
it's more like, "yo, I don't care if it's rare or not, if it's hot I'm gonna flip it"?
JR: Man, diggin for records is an INTERGRAL part of what I do! If I can't sample
anymore, then I ain't making beats. To me, that is the essence of hip
hop. I ain't feeling these cats that don't sample. That is hip hop. Look
here, hip hop began 'cuz cats couldn't afford instruments. That is what gives
hip hop it's mystique. Do you think James Brown would be half as popular if
Marley Marl hadn't took that piece of "Payback" for (Big Daddy Kane's) "Something Funky"?
To me, that is hip hop and I don't ever plan on changing.
I do collect records and consider myself somewhat a record collector, but I am not one of those
break junkies digging for samples just because some cat used it or because
it has a classic break. If I come across it, then I will buy it. Unless it is
important to me, like Pete Rock and C.L.'s "T.R.O.Y. I paid $25 for that Tom
Scott and would have paid more... for real, because I had to have that. And
I paid nice money for the original to De La Soul's "Ring Ring Ring"... classics
like that I gotta have.
SM: I'm still astounded by the job you did on Blackstar's "Brown Skin Lady". We're not gonna give away the original you used for that, but every time I hear that song I can't help but wonder how
you thought to chop it up and put it back together the way you did. Did you
just hear the sounds and figure that you could seperate them and put them
back together again? Or was it more like trial and error, just chopping it
and then seeing if you could make something with it?
JR: Man, everytime I make beats I try to chop it up and imagine it sounding a
different way. I really don't like to use a straight loop too much, unless
it is just dope and I have to use it, ya know. That "Brown Skin..." beat is
old. I made that in '95 at college. I had been trying to do that beat for a
while. I actually made it and scrapped it, then made it again. Then when I
met Kweli in '97 and gave him the beat tape, I put the "Brown Skin..." beat on
there as an interlude. Mos Def loved the changes so much, they wrote the
song and called me a few months later singing it...
SM: Who are your major influences in hip hop? Who do you think is nice right now in hip hop?
JR: My major influences? Probably like Q-tip, Hi-tek, Pete Rock, Primo.
Man, when Tip was making beats (like the joints he did on) Nas' first album, the Mobb Deep album,
Crooklyn Dodgers)... I wish beats still sounded like that. I am from that
era and those are the kinda beats I make and like to hear.
SM: What's coming up soon from J-Rawls, Lone Catalysts and B.U.K.A.?
JR: Man, too much to name:
- Lone Catalysts- "Politix" 12 inch
- Lone Catalysts- "Superrappin" 12 inch featuring J-Live
- J Sands- solo 12 inch
- Makeba Mooncycle
- Brothers Grimm
- Camu Tao from MHz
- J Rawls solo album featuring Unspoken Heard, Mass Influence, All Natural,
- Apani B Fly, Mr. Complex and a bunch of others
- Lone Catalysts with All Natural 12 inch
- Lone Catalysts with Showtime from Atlanta 12inch
|J Rawls' Top Ten Reasons Why Producers Should Sample:
|10. Why not?|
|9. The challenge to make beats out of sounds|
|8. That is how hip-hop started|
|7. R&B samples any rap hit, so you may as well sample old R&B hits|
|6. 'Cuz beats made from keyboards sound like ish|
|5. Nothing beats a fat snare from an old record|
|4. Most producers can't play anyway|
|3. Listen to hip hop from 88-93, this is how its done|
|2. Music from the 60's & 70's is some of the best music created|
|1. Step 1: Watch Rap City!|
Step 2: Hear the garbage!
Step 3: See that's why every producer should sample
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Y'all remember that classic 30 minute Funkmaster Flex freestyle from a couple of years ago featuring DMX, Canibus and Noreaga? This was at the time that all 3 of them were on the verge of being the next big thing in the rap world. The general consesus of that freestyle display was that a) DMX ripped it, b) Nore sounded like he didn't really want to be there and probably shouldn't have been, and c) Canibus DESTROYED it! So, we ask the simple question... where are they now? Well, DMX has gone on to put out 3 multi-platinum albums, dominate the pop album charts almost continuously and also appear in a couple of movies- obviously, it's been a very good run for The Darkman. Nore's had his share of success as well- a couple of gold plaques, some hit singles and about 50 extra pounds, which is always a good sign that a rapper's been successful lately. And Canibus? His debut album did go gold but even he knows that it was a big dissapointment. And he was supposed to be coming right back out with another album to redeem himself but we still haven't seen it.
Even worse, around that same time when everybody was saying that Cani was the man, there were rumblings throughout the underground and on 'net newsgroups about some white kid from Detroit that was even better than Canibus. That white kid, Slim Shady aka Eminem, has gone on to debut with a quadruple-platinum album and he's also helped propel Dr. Dre's comeback effort up to 4 million in sales.
Right now Canibus is basically missing in action. I don't know who's running his career now that Wyclef is out of the picture, but they're not doing their job. Duke has mad talent, but right now it's just being wasted. Will the upcoming sophomore album put Cani back on the map? We'll see...
SOULMAN: SHIT I'M FEELIN' RIGHT NOW
MF DOOM: Doomsday LP
The year 2000 has started off with some certifiable bangers, and this is one of them. Grimy production, but the samples are R&B joints by folks like Sade, The Deele and James Ingram over drums snatched from old school rap classics! Perfectly unpolished all the way through, with ill rhymes from the ex- KMD lyricist- I crack up everytime I picture honey "actin' uncouth, spittin' all out the sunroof through her missing tooth"! Classic material, no doubt.
GHOSTFACE KILLAH: Supreme Clientele LP
Now THIS is what a Wu album is supposed to sound like. If they keep putting joints out like this, they will never fall off. Raw, uncompromising beats underneath Starks' ill wu-speak.. so what if you don't understand what he's saying? Rap has always been about speaking in code, just as long as it feels good. And this feels very good. "Apollo Kids" is, to me, a perfect record. "Buck 50", "One" & "We Made It" are also favorites. And lots of people don't get the beat on "Stroke Of Death", but I'm telling you right now, that track is the EPITOME of what hip hop is supposed to be about- aggravating, experimental, unconventional and just plain insane.
DILATED PEOPLES: The Platform LP
Every single track is scorching hot- not one wack moment in my opinion. Fans of their singles on ABB will love this album on Capitol. The most completely dope hip hop album since Gangstarr's "Moment Of Truth".
THE E-MAIL MUST GO THROUGH
Bumpy Knuckles Keeps It Real Part 2
I just finished reading your latest World of Beats and I had to e-mail
to let you know that you gave me an "oh shit" moment. I found my copy
of that Bob Azzam & the Great Expectation at a dirty-ass junky flea
market in Syracuse for $1. I assumed it was tough to find because I'd
never seen it and I know I'd heard you mention it before (actually I
think it was probably a recollection of something you wrote about it
that made me pick it up when I spotted it). However, I had no idea it
was THAT rare -- you made my day.
Peace Soulman --
I loved the record show stories -- especially the Freddie Foxxx. It
made me think of another Foxxx story --- My boy was recently on a
cross-country flight from San Fran to Newark with Foxxx, Big Shug and
the kid that manages them. When they got to the Newark airport my boy
was waiting for his girl outside the bathrooms and Foxx and his manager
were standing nearby. The manager approaches my man and asks him if the
girl he is with is his girlfriend. My boy says yeah and they strike up
a little chit chat about the flight and my boy asks him what they were
doing in San Francisco. The kid tells him that he manages rappers and
they were out there doing a show -- keep in mind, my boy is playing dumb
like he doesn't know who they are and he, as he himself said, "looked
like he belonged on the cover of white boy magazine." So my boy points
at Foxxx , who was laying back playing the wall, and says "is that guy
one of the rappers you manage?" And the manager (who I'm sure was
thinking my man knew nothing about hip-hop) makes a big deal and says --
"This is the world famous Freddie Foxxx." At this point Foxx is
smiling, looking at his manager like "why you fucking with this kid --
he doesn't know who I am." And my boy says "Freddie Foxxx?? .... You
mean the one with burn marks on his hips from his twin glocks?"
Needless to say, their jaws hit the grounds -- Foxxx stepped forward,
showed love and talked with my boy for a few mintues. My man said that
he never met a more pleasant, polite, appreciative rapper. I was
jealous -- I'm a big fan of Bumpy -- from way back in the Supreme Force
Anyway, just wanted to reach out and say that the column is incredible
-- I've read it from day one and I was ecstatic when you got this web
page together and I could go back and re-read them all. And thanks,
again, for that "Oh Shit" moment.
P.S. -- I was definitely feeling that Mr. Magic outro in this latest
column -- I wonder how many cats reading the column are up on that.
No One Ever Really Dies
Yagga yow!! Please pardon the potentially paranoid-making portentousness of
my little subject line (actually cribbed from the hip hop journalism ether).
I just was like trying to communicate my proud astonishment at having found
a vast trove of your writings on the net, 'cause I thought you'd disappeared
on like a shady-ass archaeological dig in a South Pacific backwater that
you'd set up with scraped-together financing from the bootleg jeans industry
'cause you heard this salty old Seventies rumor about Henry Kissinger having
dropped parachute-loads of colorfully decorated, possibly still pristine
fly-by-night-label twelves into the expectant hands of these islanders who
had a cargo cult that made a fetish of them, all of this in Henry's view
being a perfectly sensible attempt to influence Russo-Chinese geopolitics
(you know the steeze)...yeah, I hadn't gotten to read any Soulman in an
And now you seem to be where you belong, flourishing.
The appropriate benediction? "To all you bright motherfuckers in hip hop, keep shining."
I Love Nas
Son, u buggin' wit the top 25 shit... what's the deal wit ILLMATIC?
Soulman Sez: What's the deal with Illmatic? It's not one of my top 25 albums of the 20th century, son. Maybe 26, maybe 27... but not in the top 25. First of all, there were only 9 real songs on the album. Second of all, I wasn't really feelin' some of the tracks. I felt that with those producers the beats should've been even better. Third of all, I respect Nas as an MC- he was real nice back then- but I'm not as in awe of him as a lot of people are or were.The World Is Yours and One Love are perfection. Halftime & NY State Of Mind are dope. The rest are just ok.
That's just my opinion, based on 23 years of hip hop under my belt. I have the right to bug.
(Note: Me and Typenyce argued back and forth all night about my omission of Illmatic from my Top 25 Hip Hop Albums list... he said I was "on crack", I came back with a "fuck y'all", finally climaxing the battle by each of us displaying our "realness" credentials... boy, was it fun! We did eventually come to an agreement and no love was lost. And after thinking about it, I must admit... yeah, I probably did mess up on that one. Illmatic is indeed worthy of Soulman Top 25 status. But I still don't love it as much as some people do.)
WHO'S WHO IN THE WORLD OF BEATS
HELLO! MY NAME IS:
CLAIMS TO FAME (Look What I Done Did):
Don't really know- as far as records are concerned I found a Mike James
Kirkland for $1.85.
(Dave is way too humble- he is the owner and proprietor of Dave's Records, the place to be online for all your beat lovin' needs. www.davesrecords.com)
DAVE: THE EARLY YEARS:
I got started for a few reasons:
1) It went back to hip-hop- I'd been listening to hiphop since early puberty
and never really thought about the music that I heard as anything more than
just music, I never thought that it might have been from somewhere else. I
realized this, believe it or not, when I heard some sample Gangstarr used on
the rock group the Band at my cousins house! I couldn't believe that... I
mean, I knew they sampled shit but I just didn't realize the depth of
it. I didn't even realize there were beats like the "Substitution" or "Impeach The
President" on old dusty records!
2) The "World Of Beats" column, bro ! I was getting into it before I first started reading the
column. I had some reggae vinyl, I had Sly & the Family stone and a
few cds that I dug. But that column really got me into it. I would take
the "Beats To Catch" list and go around looking for that artist. Safe to say I didn't find
very many but it got me on the right track.
Right now I'm feeling ez listening shit, lounge and shit like Philipino pop
music, lush strings and ill percussion like eastern stuff, weird sounds
and even moog shit, electronic shit as far as sampling. Psych rock, weird
merry go round organ type shit, progressive rock, soft machine, lots of
organs and spare funky basslines and beats. I have to say my eyes are
open to a lot of latin/tex mex records but they're kind of hard to sample.
DECISIONS, DECISIONS: PHAT ASS BEAT OR BEATIN' UP A FAT PIECE OF ASS?
Okay, whatever man...I ain't even going to answer that...you know damn well
finding a phat ass beat !!
DAVE'S FAVORITE EQUIPMENT:
TUFF CITY (WHERE THE ILL BEATS IS)
LA or somewhere in the midwest or south. I've only been to
the northeast a couple times and frankly wasn't too impressed.
LA seems to be one of those long term cities-
you don't dig up shit quickly but you eventually find almost everything.
WE ASK DAVE: YOU STILL FEELIN' PRIMO?
A little bit a lot of his style of chopping up beats has been jacked by a
lot of people so it's sort of not him. But I have to admit that last
Gangstarr album got a little tiring.
THE MOST DOUGH DAVE HAS DROPPED ON A RECORD
DAVE'S ALL-TIME BEST ARTISTS TO SAMPLE OR JUST LISTEN TO:
Ooh, tough one. Probably a few different levels. James Gang, I love. Soft
Machine. Ian Carr Nuclues. Zappa, Captain Beefheart, classical music.
One of my favorite songs of all time is Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1.
James Brown, Niteliters are my favorite funk instrumental shit. Meters,
Dyke & the Blazers, African Music Machine, Tribe's "Low End Theory" and "Breaking
Atoms" by Main Source are still my all time favorite hip hop records but like I say I still
dig new wave...New Order, Morrissey,etc. Studio One, Lee Perry, old dub
reggae. If I had to narrow it down to one right now I'm feeling Wendell
Harrison "Dance With The Devil".
RECORD DEALERS THAT MAKE DAVE WANT TO HURL:
Lots of dudes make me nauseous how they talk about having an
original pressing of this and this for this and this many cents. But I've
gotten into a few scraps with people- nothing physical, but a few
confrontations. I just walk away from that shit. Most record stores are
alright, some are just set up poorly, like you have to stand and ask the
dude at the counter to play them and shit. If you are in LA, one that is
cool as far as vibe goes is Record Surplus. Real wide open, lots of people
but not enough to where it gets ridiculous. Listening stations, staff that
take a back seat and don't try to tell you what to do. THOSE places don't
last too long.
THE ULTIMATE QUESTION: HOW MANY RECORDS YOU GOT, AND HOW MANY ARE YOU LEAVING TO THE SOULMAN IN YOUR WILL?
2700. You probably will end up with them if I don't get my ass a job!
DAVE'S TOP TEN OVERRATED RECORDS:
- Ernie Hines: Electrified Love
Outside of the "Straighten It Out" shit, an average soul record
- Pharaoh Sanders: Ipha Zo
Nice record but not close to what people are paying for it
- Actuel Label
What's up with this sh*t?!
- Dorothy Ashby: Rubaiyat
"Moving Finger" is nice but it's not even in the same league as "Afro Harping"
- David Axelrod: Strange Ladies
Used to be a dollar bin record; not like that's bad but not worth 30 dollars
- Eugene McDaniels: Outlaw
Sounds like the Rolling Stones
- Skull Snaps
Good soul but not worth $300
- Billy Brooks: Windows of the Mind
Wack big band shit
- Caesar Frazier: Hail Caeser
Like a decent Prestige record
- George Semper: Making Waves
Fat break but that's it!
DAVE'S TOP TEN "PAVLOV EFFECT FROM SIGHT OF RECORD LABEL WHILE DIGGING DUE TO PREVIOUS PLEASANT STIMULI, EVEN IF THE RECORD SUCKS":
- Blue Note
- Groove Merchant
That's it for now... hopefully we'll return sooner for the next one (hate to keep y'all waiting!) A couple of last minute notes: CD's are now in effect! Available are 2 from the Best Of Archaeologists: The Soulman's Choice Joints and Funky 45 Joints. Both have nice clean CD sound (taken from old records, of course) and are available on CD or tape. Soulman World Of Beats Vols. 2 & 3 are each also available on double CD (taken from the master tapes, so they're still gonna sound pretty much like the tapes do). CD prices are $15 for single CD's and $20 for the double CD's. Tapes are still $10. e-mail me if you want to cop those.
And keep a look out for the UK's Big Daddy magazine, in which I'll be writing a new column called "Neva Stop Diggin'". That'll debut with issue #4, I believe - guaranteed dope shit.
e-mail the Soulman