Legendary producer Pete Rock brings hip-hop wisdom to Calgary

Alongside AZ Big L and Masta Ace CL Smooth is arguably one of the most underrated emcees of all time. The story goes that while CL’s soft-spoken crass-free bars were technically proficient and lyrically enthralling they were always outweighed by the exceptional beats of Pete Rock. Which is justified. Go listen to Nas’ “The World is Yours.” Or Biggie’s “Juicy.” Or Jay and Ye’s “The Joy.” All Pete Rock’s. All standards. His beats can’t be matched.

But the notion that Pete Rock is a household name is where fans give themselves too much credit for spreading the rap gospel. The Soul Brother #1 is obviously one of hip-hop’s finest producers matched in five-borough significance only by Premo and RZA. As Okayplayer.com ’s blog The Revivalist put it Rock is the “godfather of the horn sample.” Who knows where Dilla Kanye and 9th Wonder would be without him? Even Four Tet cited him as an influence for the creation of Rounds .

Rock’s revolution was one of sample chopping which required (you guessed it) actual vinyl. That whole Internet thing dealt a fair bit of a blow to the tradition — scratch that requirement — of accumulating enormous amounts of records. Respect was earned by using original obscure beats garnered from hours of searching (that’s why Rock now owns a collection of some 90000 LPs although he admits that he hasn’t counted recently). What Rock did — and still does — requires enormous dedication knowledge and time.

“I still crate dig” says Rock. “Just because people are doing different things around me doesn’t mean that I have to change what I’m doing. Which means I like to dig for sounds: I go to the record store smell the dusty air. Finding the right records seeing other albums and being around incredible music that’s not being heard that’s my favourite thing. I still think the old-fashioned way.”

Some of the greatest soul-based hip-hop records of the past few decades arrived via that old-fashioned methodology. Long before the solo classics that were PeteStrumentals and Soul Survivor Smooth and Rock collaboratively constructed the legendary Mecca and the Soul Brother which the duo is now touring. The album an Illmatic -like creation of outstanding sample-heavy tracks such as “T.R.O.Y.” and “Lots of Lovin” is now a full 20 years old.

“Well you know it’s one of our greatest creations” Rock says. “We enjoyed music growing up as kids and we’re still with it. When hip-hop came about in ’76 ’77 and things grew and people were learning how to make beats and sample and stuff that’s when we were really attentive to what was going on in music at that time.”

Rock’s awareness of the music landscape hasn’t faded with the steady decline of the art of sampling. Along with Rakim Nas and Pharoahe Monch he swiftly names Kendrick Lamar Drake J. Cole and Pusha T as emcees he respects and would be down to work with (Rock’s perhaps one step closer to working with Lamar after bringing Black Hippy teammate Ab-Soul onto his impressive free 80 Blocks to Tiffany’s Pt. II mixtape — a combined effort with Camp Lo).

“I listen to everybody” he says dismissing the assumption that classicists stick to their own era. “I don’t have nothing against anybody. Everyone’s talented I just pick my favourites that I like. I even like Kanye when he spits. I like Drake and all the rest of those guys; I think they’re dope.”

But that doesn’t mean that he wholeheartedly approves of the move away from sample-based producing (although to be fair both Yeezus and Nothing Was the Same featured some of the most clever sampling in recent memory). To Rock sampling serves as an ongoing reference to the roots of black music whether it be jazz soul funk or pop. In that sense he’s as much of a teacher as KRS. With PeteStrumentals II a collaborative album with DJ Premier he won’t be backing off from that role any time soon.

“I want to make music forever with whoever I can make it with” he says.