With His New Beat Tape, 'Back to the Beat', Produced Along with The 45 King, This Beatmaking Vet is Proving Why He's Still on the Rise
Interview By JOHN NOTARFRANCESCO, Intro by ZACH COLE, Edited by AMIR SAID (SA'ID)
Photo courtesy of Redefinition Records
The New Jersey based hip hop producer K-Def established a solid following under the wing of the father of modern beatmaking and Juice Crew founder, Marley Marl. For K-Def, the learning curve was steep, but he was quickly catapulted into the spotlight when he served as a key producer on The Lords of the Underground’s classic LP, Here Come The Lords.
Well-versed in the art of manipulating samplers to craft just about any boom-bastic sound he wanted, K-Def earned a reputation as one of hip hop’s finest producers with an ear for hard-hitting and catchy beats. He has produced for the likes of Ghostface Killah, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, El Da Sensei, Diddy and KRS-One. Additionally, his group Real Live (with rapper Larry-O) released The Turnaround: A Long Awaited Drama (1996), a widely respected album that featured the song “Real Live Shit.” Below is a featured interview with K-Def, as told to John Notarfrancesco of Redefinition Records. (Interview Intro by Zach Cole, Edited by Amir Said)
K-Def: I first learned about sampling through the Casio SK5. The SP…that machine was crazy man. I remember I went to Power Play studios in like 88 with my cousin Larry O. I think Biz, Extra P (Large Professor), Roxanne Shante were there. We were there at the time with KRS (KRS One). I remember seeing the SP (12, not the SP 1200) hooked up with the slave running off of it. I would see what they were doing and I would hear my boys talk about it and started to see what I could do with it. That was before I got it. Anyway, some time later, I had an SP and I didn't have it long, because it got stolen, I think it was the 12 that was stolen. After that, I went and got the 1200 (SP 1200). But the 12…yeah, it had the big ol' Commodore floppy connected to it. It was ugly. It was big and ugly. I went down to Rutgers (University in NJ) to a party or whatever and they stole it outta the car. I only had a few tracks that I was messing with on the 12, I didn't have it long before I got that 1200.
You know, at first I was happy with it, but then I started getting pissed off because I had to push the record speed up really fast so I could get enough time in there, and then still had to add drums. It had very limited time, and it was in mono. The great thing though, the illest thing about the SP1200 was that it had the cut offs. If I take Nautilus and chop that up (hums bassline). Instead of trying to chop each note, you can take the second downbeat and tap it twice on a pad, and it will still play out the rest of the sample after the second tap. You could do some good stuff with that. That was the greatest feature, because when it cut, it really cut. Pete Rock was really good at that. If the down beat was off, or it didn't flow right with the drums, he was good at getting it to work for him. Those little things started frustrating me about the SP.
A few of my boys had it, and I would watch them make miracles out of it, it was like they had unlimited time, but then I started seeing how much they had to mess with it to get the sounds in, and that’s obviously part of why it had that gritty sound. It was 12 bit or whatever, it wasn't even 16. That grainy gritty sound…it would sound hot on some particular drums or even some loops, but at the end of the day, you would either use it for drums or some horns or something short and simple, and you could make it work. I think Hip-Hop was the way it was back then, because of the limitations of the SP. If you had access to a studio and could record multiple passes, then you know, that was great, but many of us, I know myself, I just had a lil four track recorder. It wasn't like I could go too far. But I wont front, it was fun for drums. It helped me understand how things worked. The SP didn't let you do too much, but you had to do a lot. I've seen dudes fill up all the banks on there, on one disc. I’m not knocking it, but at some point, the word 'Stereo' came into play and maybe that's why they didn't make more after that. The rack mounts like the 950, 1000, 1100, 3000, and all that. They added functionality.
After the SP, I got the MPC60 and then the 3000. When the MPC3000 first came out, the whole hip hop community was begging for a new SP, but EMU never did it. Just like when Roger Linn left Akai and Akai got stuck, and after that I don't think they were the same.
Pete Rock was nasty with the SP and so was my boy Nate from Patterson (NJ). Those were the best guys I've seen rock the 1200. They could chop stuff up so fast like it was second nature. People said that about me on the MPC3000, but man, if anyone were to ask me? I will say that Pete Rock is the Don Master of the SP. Anything anyone could ever wanna know about the SP, Pete is the guy for that. Excluding Pete Rock, a lot of beats on the SP just didn't have that studio vibe, that thick sound. Guys could use it in their bedrooms, but when they took it out, it didn't have that quality sound, it wasn't gonna work. Pete was around guys who knew what to do with sound. Like Eddie F. And Marley? Marley was the 1200 master! He had stuff that he did on the 1200 that inspired other guys to get the 1200 and do their own thing with it.
Pete was meticulous, he amazed me because whatever he picked…he already knew what he would do before he brought it into the machine. When he did the Champ MC Remix for “Keep It On The Real,” he chopped those drums up and man, if you play the original break he sued, it was going 100 miles an hour, but his was around 86 and it had a feel that when you play the original record, it was low, it was fast, but Pete just tuned it down, tapped it out. He owned the drums he sampled, he made them his own. He could take 2 sounds and program it in a way that it was like he was playing it. I'll tell you something, I think he was doing what I was doing, he would compress stuff or EQ it before he sampled it in. That's what a smart dude would do. Even if I did a beat CD, I would EQ or run it through a compressor to get it to sound right.
Extra P (Large Professor) was nice, too. He did a beat with Spinnin Wheel. The “Its a Boy” remix for Slick Rick. It made me really say, like…wow. I was like what is THAT? Then when I heard how he took all the drum pieces from the different sections of the original, I was like that’s genius. Extra P was another one of those guys. He did some stuff that sounded so clear and clean. I think the "Resurrection" Remix, that took me to another plateau. He took one loop, "Spirit," and chopped it up and to this day I still can’t figure out the parts that he used to make it because with the 1200, there’s a way you can get it to blend cutoffs in a smooth way, and I haven't seen too many guys master that or that machine in that way.
Oh yeah, Buckwild. When I heard Buckwild's “C'mon Wit' The Git Down” Remix (for the Artifacts), I was like “Those drums ... man!” When I heard those drums I thought it was so hot. It made me say this guy knows what he's doing. His shit sounded harder than the record that he sampled it from or anyone else who ever used it since. That break, even though his was mono and the original was stereo, the 1200 was so gritty that it gave it certain dynamics that just made it so great. I gotta give Buckwild credit for that one. But after a while, at some point, you gotta move forward. The people dictated that they had enough of that sound, not so much the man using the box, but the audience responded to different sounds. But when it was relevant, when it had its day, man, that was IT.
DJs have an advantage when they make beats. The instincts of the DJ is to get the best sound quality and understand how the listener receives it. Pete Rock had that. He would put the drums in your face first and anything else, he made it fit and sound the way it needed to fit with the drums. He was the first to chop up "Brethren" and just make em smack you in the face. The stuff he did on his second album, that stuff was not even normal. "I Got a Love" and all of that? Not normal. Those songs were crazy. Pete Rock was a special identity because he could take all these lil sounds that weren't meant to go together, or in the same key, and he could make 'em fit. He could track and track and track and just keep loading sounds and adding new layers. Most guys would just use whatever came out of the machine and that was it. Some of the gifted ones could do it all in the machine, to the degree where you would think they used other equipment or multiple tracks, but not too many could really do it like that.
Now there's a different sound and style, but at the time...man, those guys that were doing it. Diamond D and them, they would be reigning terror nowadays. But now the sounds and technology is so different, and the audience as a whole, they want a different sound. The 12 was a good piece but by the time it got its due, it was on its way out.
Everyone was laughing at me when I had the MP. Me and Marley bought the MPC 3000 at the same time, we went to the store and bought em. I think Pete moved to the MP much later when he got a deal with Akai. When I was using the MPC60, I had plenty of arguments with guys that I lost until I got the 3000. Then, people heard that and would say, 'its in stereo?! And it has cut offs?!' I was like yup, stereo, cut offs, filters, modulation AND you can assign what to cut off or not. You had options, the 16 levels, and all of that. I figured out some tricks that I could benefit from the 1200 and that I could make it work on the 3000.
K-Def's Equipment Through The Years
• Casio SK5 – I think I got that in 87, 88
• SP12 – It was just stupid, like 2 seconds of sampling time
• SP1200 – I rocked that for a short period of time, 10 seconds was better but not enough
• MPC60 – I grabbed that in '89 and then I added the S1000 in 92
• MPC3000 – I got on that in '94, with the S3000 too
• Cubase – I moved on to that in '97 and ever since then i've been doing all of my music on
Cubase. It does whatever I need it to do. When I first started guys would knock it and say “Yo, that’s not real, that’s not the way its supposed to be,' but look at it now? And I would tell them, “Yo, you're using a sampler, its a machine, with a computer chip inside. Your ears dictate what your music sounds like, not what you use.” When I jumped on the computer I was like a kid in the candy shop and it just keeps growing, I just keep getting better and adding on to my capabilities. I feel lucky that I started early as opposed to jumping on the bandwagon later. Strictly hardware manufacturers will need to make a new machine every year just to keep up with the potential and new functions. I just wanna say, don’t knock the technology because you prefer a certain machine, because you're going to limit your self to that one piece as opposed to learning new things and getting better and mastering the full range of music production. I'm a one man band, but it pays off because the more I do, the better I get and I can do it all own my own. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I'll never go back to hardware. I can say to each his own, and do what you feel works best for what it is that you want to accomplish.
Some of K-Def's favorite tracks produced on the SP1200
• Buckwild – "C'mon Wit Da Git Down (Remix)"
• Extra P - "Resurrection (Remix)", "Fakin The Funk"
• Biz Markie - "Just A Friend"
• Pete Rock - "I Got A Love," "Escapism," "For Pete's Sake," "Can't Stop The Prophet (Remix)"
• Beatminerz - "Who Got Da Props," "I Gotcha Open,"" (and a few others from those albums)
• Diamond D - "Flow Joe"
• A Tribe Called Quest – "Lucien", if that was done on the SP. They had a lot of good music
• Marley Marl – Forget about it man, I could name a thousand songs. Oh, but check it, the beat for “The Bridge” – that wasn't done on the SP. That was done on the DigiTech. A DigiTech sampler and an 808 drum machine. To this day I still wonder how he was triggering it, but man, he did it. The TR-808 to the DigiTech sampler. He had four of them. [Editor’s note: In Marley Marl’s interview in The BeatTips Manual, he details how he did it.]
• Stream the 'Back to the Beat' Beat Tape on BeatTips
• Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K-Def
• Twitter: https://twitter.com/DJKDEF
• Instagram: http://instagram.com/djkdef
• Redefinition Records: http://www.redefinitionrecords.com/collections/k-def