Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hip Hop Is Read Interview with No I.D. (Part One)

Aaron Matthews: I wanted to start off by asking you about how you got your start in production.

No I.D.: I got my start, really taking a few years as a producer, me and Common used to be in a rap group and when we broke up as a rap group, we kept going as solo artists. I was rapping also so I just decided to make some beats for myself. Just to see, you know, how I would fare. And it’s like, basically every beat I would make, he would want for himself. And that kinda turned into the demo that would get him a record deal.

A.M.: Were your parents pretty heavy into music? When did you first really discover hip-hop, when did it become something you really wanted to do?

I.D.: It’s funny, me and Common used to go to the same grammar school and the same high school, so we grew up together. So the first day we kinda encountered was just breakdancing and just listening to hip-hop. And we were like a little breakdance crew. The main music in Chicago was house music. So that’s what I was really into as a DJ, because that’s basically what everyone listened to. And that’s basically, as hip hop, from us breakdancing to us then starting to rap, that’s how I got familiar and wanted to be part of hip hop.

A.M.: Were there some really early records that you gravitated to or do you remember what were your early favorites, when you were coming up?

I.D.: Oh yeah, definitely. I think my real love came when…matter of fact, I even say I wanted to do hip hop once I heard Paid In Full and Eric B. For President. And then Criminal Minded and Ultramagnetic’s first album.

Those are the first albums that stick out in my head that I really had to have loved and made me say “I want to do hip-hop.”

A.M.: So you started producing in the early 90s?

I.D.: Well, that’s when my first records came out. But I used to produce for our group back in the 80s, but I don’t really count that, ‘cause none of that stuff ever came out.

A.M.: What was your studio set-up like back then and how has that changed?

I.D.: One thing about me is I like to change my set-up every couple years. So I started with just the SP 1200. I had to really do Can I Borrow A Dollar? with one SP-1200. Which is 10 seconds of sampling time. After that, I kinda got into…I really never had a full set-up until maybe the 3rd album. Where I had a real studio. Everything we was doing was like, sample at home, leaving him beats on the answering machine. And him coming up with the raps and we go in the studio one time and lay everything.

A.M.: So this was One Day It’ll All Make Sense, you actually had a full studio set-up and before then it was really just the SP?

I.D.: Yeah, it was the SP and on Resurrection, it was the SP and the Akai S1000.

A.M.: You notice if you listen to the two albums, Can I Borrow A Dollar? had some really great beats, but Resurrection was a really big step up, I feel. So in addition to the SP, you had the Akai set up.

I.D.: Right. In college, I had lost a lot of my crates of records. I left ‘em with a DJ and never got ‘em from him, never got in touch with him again. So I had like 2 crates of records and an SP1200 on Can I Borrow A Dollar? Once we made some money and things got going…Actually, it’s funny, I remember saying one day to a guy that after I did “Soul By The Pound”, I figured out that I could just take sounds and make beats. And he started laughing at me and joking, like, ‘you only say that because you don’t have samples and you don’t know how to…’ Common was looking at him, like, ‘Oh yeah?’ And I remember really from that point, just being in real hard for samples and getting that S1000 and just trying to prove a point.

A.M.: Like, ‘I can DEFINITELY make beats with these sounds.’

I.D.: Oh yeah. Definitely. [laughs] So that’s why it was a big jump in my eyes and in my skill. Because I’m just competitive like that and when I got challenged, I went off the hook.

A.M.: I want to ask you about some specific records, let’s see if we can go chronologically.

Tell me about the Thump Mix of “Soul By The Pound”.

I.D.: A lot of times, like I said, a lot of records would be me working on a record for me, and Common being like, ‘Gimme that, I like it the way it is, I want to put this to that and that with that.’ Even though we weren’t in the studio hearing the full songs, I feel like beats weren’t never really getting finished. So it wasn’t like I could really listen to a song and say, ‘Nah, I think we should do it like this or like that.’ But once it came time for us to do a remix and I had more time, and he had more time to write, it was probably more what he wanted to do on the remix than on the original version.

And we had more time to throw together an actual song versus having 15 beats and 15 songs that we trying to lay down in a week.

A.M.: So this was you thinking, ‘I really want to push that song out there and make it sound that much doper.’

I.D.: Right. Because that was actually the 3rd single, and it was a single going into the Resurrection time period, so I was growing.

Matter of fact, I did this with the words samples and everything. I was maturing in my concept of producing a record versus just having a beat. And really realizing that, okay, this is about to be the next video. We don’t want to just come with the old version, let’s make a better version of the song. So it just gave me and [Common] a little more time to focus in on the record and come up with a better chorus, and a better tempo and him coming with the extra lyrics and that.

A.M.: What about “Resurrection”?

I.D.: Aw man…I had that loop and I programmed it. And Nice & Smooth was one of my favourite groups of all time and I remember putting that word sample in there, because around that time, I used to come with the word samples, and the beat, to help him give a concept.

It’s like “Watermelon”, like I put [the vocal sample from “Watermelon”] in that beat before we knew what the song was about. So I used to do the beat, put little words, catchphrases, in the beat and I think we ended up letting [Mista] Sinista scratch it in there.

A.M.: Did he do all the scratches on that album?

I.D.: Sinista did, yeah. Of the X-Men. Like I said, every beat was me doing the beat and trying to put something in it to signify a chorus or concept. So me being a DJ even though it wasn’t like I had Pro Tools at home…I just would sample the words in there, that I would scratch or whatever. That’s how a lot of records that had…like “ThisIsMe”, “Book Of Life”, we would just come up with stuff to sample and eventually it would get cut in.

A.M.: Can you tell me a little about “Communism”?

I.D.: “Communism” and “I Used To Love H.E.R.”’s beats were made at the same time. At the time, remember, I just wish he would have made a full song – even though I guess it was perfect the way it was. That was one of the first beats that I got a lot of respect from a lot of producers I respect. And I remember Pete Rock calling me…he used to try to call me and find out what sample I used. I remember somebody saying, ‘Pete Rock wanna talk to you!’ and I’m like, ‘Okay’.That was kinda my first time that I got the people that I looked up to, to look up to what I was doing.

And the funny part is, I didn’t really remember what I used. And not too many people to this day know. And it was a big question back then, and I was saying titles, trying to guess and remember…[Pete] probably thought I was lying to him or something.

I could probably figure it out, but back then, I was really into taking little parts of nothing and making it into something. That’s what “Communism”, and “Orange Pineapple Juice” and “Book Of Life” and “Soul By The Pound” were. Me really taking nothing and turning it into something.

A.M.: Who did you really dig at the time? I definitely hear Large Professor, ‘cause he remixed “Resurrection” for the 12’…

I.D.: Oh yeah. Large Professor, Pete Rock, A Tribe Called Quest, Beatnuts. Those were the first guys from New York that taught me some things, as far as digging. It was a lot of good records in Chicago back then that nobody could get to, because the people in Chicago didn’t know about digging for good samples. And New York didn’t know where to go when they came. So I was like the connection. They’d give me the list of what to look for and I’d get it, and I’d send them copies of whatever I got. So, just people in that vein. I was turning into a real sample heavy, Digging In The Crates type of producer. All of them…Buckwild, Showbiz and A.G.

But even then, I still loved Dre and the Alkaholiks, and all the stuff that was on the West Coast.

The whole thing about the first two albums we did, it was more about us getting respect from those types of people more than us thinking about sales. And I think that’s why a lot of his [Common’s] early work that we did, stood a good test of time because it was really just about respect, it wasn’t even about sales?

A.M.: Did you guys do okay, initially, for how much you actually spent to make the album?

I.D.: Definitely! I mean, for what we spent, we did great. But you know, in the history of the sales race and all that, it was more critically acclaimed than jumping off the shelves. Even now…“I Used To Love H.E.R.”, classic. When we came out with it, it wasn’t like everybody got it.

A.M.: So it wasn’t something like “T.R.O.Y.” or “Looking At The Front Door” that people immediately latched on to, it took a while for people to get it?

I.D.: Yeah. Definitely. I think it took a while and I think over time, when enough people said it to each other, that’s when everybody accepted it. [laughs]

A.M.: Now Resurrection is considered a classic. How does it feel to have participated in the making of a classic album?

I.D.: That’s better than most things I have ever experienced in music. Making classics is what I’m doing music for, not really to make a lot of money. Even though that’s cool too. [laughs] But to make history is better than to make money, to me. So it’s overwhelming still, right now. The best feeling I have in music is when someone walks up to me and says, ‘Man, when I first heard this record…’ Like when I hear a guy like hip-hop, I met him because he was a fan of Resurrection. And wanted to ask me about how it went and that’s how we became friends.

A.M.: Let me ask you about one more track, another favourite of mine off Resurrection. “In My Own World – Check The Method”.

I.D.: That was one I made for me but I played for [Common], saying…because every album he would try to put us on a song rapping. And that was one I made that was really for me. Because after Can I Borrow A Dollar?, that’s when Relativity offered me a record deal. And they told me, basically, ‘go do a demo’. I did “In My Own World” and “Maintaining” in the same day. I just knew, alright, I’m going to keep this record if he don’t want it. But I kinda figured he would really want it. And I let him hear the beat and I went and wrote my rap that I kinda already had.

A.M.: So you were already working on lyrics for that [solo] record?

I.D.: Yeah, yeah. Most of the beats that I did, I would come up with songs to ‘em before. That helps me do a beat, when I know the rap pocket.

A.M.: Tell me about making The Black Album [Accept Your Own & Be Yourself] (The Black Album).

I.D.: Honestly, that was like a down period for me. That’s kind of where Common and I started going our separate ways. I really wanted The Black Album to be like kinda what Dre did with his album. I really wanted everyone in my circle to get on the album. Which was Common, Shauna, she was in the group Infamous Syndicate, I just got them a record deal. Kanye was around and a couple other people. Dug Infinite was around too.

The whole concept was, everyone get on an album, but [there] was a lot of internal rifts going on and jocking for position that kinda made everybody not participate to the [level] I really wanted the album to be. So I was really a little down about it, I didn’t really want to rap the whole album. I wasn’t really prepared to do it because at the time, I had just built a studio. And I did that whole album myself in that studio. Mixed it, recorded it, no engineer, nothing.

A.M.: Was this the same equipment you used for Resurrection or had you already upgraded?

I.D.: The funny part is, I told Common, let’s get a house and build a studio and just cut there forever. He didn’t want to do it, so I got a house and built a studio in it. Back then, there was a lot more to it than getting Pro Tools. I was learning how to engineer, learning how to run all this equipment, tape machines, all kinds of stuff. And what happened was, Common felt like, ‘You focus on all that, I gotta do an album’. And he kinda went and did an album without me. That was like our little rift period. But I was in such a beat zone at that moment, I was like, ‘He’s not going to finish his album without me coming with something’, so I didn’t really worry about it. And once I finished the album, he was shooting the “Reminding Me (Of Sef)”, he had the whole album [One Day It’ll All Make Sense] done, he was like, ‘You could come with a couple more beats’. And I came with enough to get 10 on that next album. In a real short amount of time.

My album wasn’t the funnest experience, but I really feel like I was probably in my biggest zone on the beats in that time period.

A.M.: Could you tell me about “State To State” off that album, with Common and Dug Infinite on it?

I.D.: That was one of the ones where I played it…’cause I really wasn’t playing [Common] my album and I played him that one. And even though we were going through our little rift, he was like, ‘Man, I need to get on that one’. Again, I already had the words sampled in there [Run D.M.C.’s “My Adidas”] and the beat and everything. So that was one of the fun records. I think the album really would have been what I wanted it to have been, if I had him on every song, that was my plan, I think that album would have been a classic. To me.

A.M.: So it originally would have been more of a producer’s record with a couple featured emcees that would have been on every track?

I.D.: Yeah. Kinda like how Dre and Snoop was. Dr. Dre’s album really wasn’t just all him, it was everybody in their circle.

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