Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth: Breakup To Makeup

The dynamic duo catches up with HipHopDX in Los Angeles to discuss influences, Nas' "Lost Tapes 2" and enjoying the ride more the second time around.

Pete Rock & CL Smooth look a little bit older in person than they do on their '90s album covers – but they don't look old, not by any means. On the evening of November 6, sitting in their cramped dressing room in the belly of the Barnum Hall Theatre inside Santa Monica High School, Pete, clad in a plaid shirt and jeans, chews peanuts and talks in slow, measured tones. The respected producer's emceeing half, C.L. Smooth, has a militant intensity about him, a mean mug that borderlines a grimace – until you speak to him and his sense of humor reveals itself. They are an interesting pair, to say the least.

All jokes aside, the recently reunited pair sat down with HipHopDX just minutes before their special appearance to perform as the headliners of the third annual One Nation Hip-Hop Summit. A week earlier, they performed at B.B. King's Bar & Grille in Manhattan and before that, as headlining acts on some dates of the Clean Energy Tour, which came to a handful of colleges and universities in California in the weeks ahead of the November 2 election, in a concerted effort to defeat the state's Prop. 23 and raise awareness around the green movement.

In Santa Monica, however, politics were suspended, if only for the 15 or so minutes that DX was able to get an audience with the legendary duo. As video cameras rolled and photographers snapped flicks, DJ Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth discussed everything and anything on their minds – as only two pioneer vets can.

HipHopDX: The Clean Energy Tour, how did that come about?

CL Smooth: [It's a] positive thing that we wanted to get involved with, of course it was over on the west coast, but of course everything that affects you indirectly affects you directly. So, we wanted to be a part of something positive and it was a positive movement. And we got passed and things looking forward to get your mind right and you want to change things, you can.

DX: Pete, what's up with Lost Tapes 2? You on there when that comes out?

Pete Rock: I don't even know what's going on with that. I don't know if [the work I did with Nas was] for this album or that album. I'm clueless.

DX: Did Nas reach out?

Pete Rock: I haven't spoken to him.

DX: What have you been up to?

Pete Rock: Just working and on the road, doing shows. Trying to create.

DX: Overseas?

Pete Rock: Overseas a lot. [I'm] going next month for what, 12 or 13 shows. Sweden, London, Paris.

DX: What has been the most unexpected experience, for instance I'm from Ukraine, and Onyx is going there soon...

CL Smooth: I would like to go to the Ukraine, that seems very interesting.

Pete Rock: I've been to Russia before. There's a community of Hip Hop there.

CL Smooth: There's an authentic community; we're into that feel-good thing.
DX: I like a lot of Soul music, man, but what were you guys listening to growing up?

Pete Rock: Who do you think we were listening to? That's a good question to ask you, since you said the big word "Soul"...

DX: Marvin Gaye.

Pete Rock: You're right on the line with that. Al Green, Isaac Hayes, Barry [White], James [Brown].

DX: So you take that and interpolate it into Hip Hop?

CL Smooth: Yeah.

Pete Rock: Yeah, of course. That's what we're doing it for, actually. And they didn't even know what they were doing it, but we turned it into something for.... that was created in our communities in the '80s. Kool Herc, Afrika Bambataa, those guys, made it into Hip Hop.

CL Smooth: Last week we performed in Times Square, at B.B. King's [Bar & Grille]. We stayed out in the dressing room the whole night. It was the most crazy, we had a lot of producers and deejays surrounding the dressing room. Know what I'm saying? What I appreciate about traveling now is getting to see things. When you get more mature, you can sit back and see things a little more than you do when you are younger. You're more unified in what we're doing here and what the purpose it. And once you start to find out that, then it starts to get easier, the trip starts to get more fun, before you know it, you're starting to drink red wine, splitting some of that cheese, then you start to feel a little better and get some of that music to go with that.

DX: What kind of wine? Merlot?

CL Smooth: Merlot. You drink that with anything.

DX: It's the truth serum.

CL Smooth: It's definitely a truth serum but it's the only serum I know.

DX: When was your last L.A. show?

CL Smooth: It doesn't really matter. I remember what it is now to be ...

Pete Rock: We here now.

CL Smooth: With yesterday, you can remember it better than I can, because I was actually living it. Now I'm a little bit more conscious of my movement, where we're at, what we're doing, just appreciating the people we're around. You can be around here but not really be here. That's the thing about music, it takes you somewhere else, you don't really have to be here if you don't want to.

Pete Rock: If you delve into the music.

DX: Pete, what's Kanye West like to work with?

Pete Rock: I think he is today's genius. Lyrically, musically, he's taking to another level. And it reminds me a lot of when we were out back in the '90s, 'cause we came with a new formula how to make music. It's the same thing, but now on another level.

DX: Any other music excite you these days?

Pete Rock: There's other artists that I listen to and I like. I mean, today's music is what we're trying to do but in a different way, you know? We always were original with a style of our own so we're trying to recreate ourselves and it's not an easy job but we're working on it.

CL Smooth: Plus we look at everybody as doing their thing, it's showtime. We're looking at taking pieces of what they're doing and what you admire about it it, the showmanship, how they look, how they take their craft seriously. That's what motivates this group to do better and do more, and think that they can contribute more.

DX: You're talking about yourselves?

CL Smooth: Yeah. Like I'm over here on the side talking about these guys. Music allows you to appreciate the music before we were born, during our time and after our time. When you make a certain type of music, it's timeless, you'll always be relevant, you'll always be around. Know how to take the craft seriously.

DX: So what music do you want your kids listening to, as opposed to what they are listening to?

Pete Rock: Oh man, sometimes you can't help it when you're in the car with them. It's your kids. They're ahead of you...

CL Smooth: My kids aren't kids any more, they can listen to whatever they want.

Pete Rock: He has three kids.

CL Smooth: They can listen to pretty much whatever they want to listen to. I don't block them from anything. When I was growing up, it was like a limit to what you can listen to in the house when it was loud. I liked to listen to Mr. Magic and different shows, the [DJ] Red Alert show, listen to a lot of off-brand shows, like Long Island show, Mantronix, and all those different dudes, man, you know, like, Dr. Dré, all those guys from Hempstead, you know what I mean? A lot of dudes had a lot of great shows back then.

Pete Rock: Ed Lover & Dr. Dré.

CL Smooth: Ed Lover & Dr. Dré. But they had these other guys from Hempstead, they had a nice radio show. I used to tape them a lot with mad cassettes. That's what makes you creative... It's not the brand names but the people that keep it rotating, and really appreciate it. Like a guy would come up to me and say, yo, this guy, and I don't know that rapper, but it's the one that inspired him to love music and get to me to tell me who and what inspired him to listen to my music. So, it's like, oh, the rotation, still keep it learning, who's what, what's what. Nothing is just concrete, like you know everything, like you're in the music business,  you make music, so you know everything. Like, I don't know shit – I just know what I know. That's how it is. We are stuck in our world, and we are learning still, that's how we keep it fresh and new.

DX: Timeless music. Some artists are lucky to get that one song and you have numerous.

CL Smooth: We're trying to build catalogues so it's very delicate when it comes to that.

DX: At this point, are you working on new stuff or just touring off the catalogue?

Pete Rock: We haven't been going into the studio yet, but I'm pretty sure we will once I'm excited about the beats I'm making. 

DX: What was the spark that brought you back together?

CL Smooth: You [are] always connected to each other. Even countries at war with each other have to have treaties and sit downs, even mobsters have sit downs, even killers have sit downs. Gotta have sit downs and daily meetings to make things happen. Otherwise, if you're not communicating in the manner, with the right tone, things are going to be a bit difficult. But with respect and admiration, things will look bright every day. You have to just look at it that way.

Photo by Margaret Molloy

Purchase Music by Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth

Purchase Music by C.L. Smooth

Purchase Music by Pete Rock



  • Sandra

    Assasin221. The interview wasn't weird. It was above your head THAT'S ALL!

  • rony22

    C-L SMOUTH is the BEST MC IN THE ALL MOTHER HEARTH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!





  • Assassin221

    Nothing but respect for Pete Rock and CL, but that interview was weird as hell.

  • Mike

    Yo, Real hip hop right there son, music any and everyone can listen too, plus they music make sense, Yo Pete Rock, C.L drop another hot album man, the people have been waiting way to long. Most Def one of hip hop best group period.

  • Bailey-House

    One of the headline moments of this article states 'to discuss Nas, Lost Tapes 2'... well, that fell a bit flat. I was expecing some news... it just turned out to be 'non-news'. Pity.

  • stro

    Nice - Pete & CL are my favorite duo of all time. Glad to see them back together! Hope their new stuff is dope. Grap Luva is back too I think he is gonna drop a solo joint soon.

  • Toppdogg908

    so glad these guys are back together I was just listening to "T.R.O.Y" and "Take you there" the other day, without a doubt the break up of Gangstarr and Gurus death factored into their reunion

  • j

    liked the interview. I thought that it was good that the interviewer didnt drill the whole "oh you guys are back together" thing into the ground. CL was JUST interviewed a couple weeks ago, so it woulda been pointless.

    • well

      not even a song was mentioned. this same interview questions could be interchanged with any artist. that's sad. HHDX is better than this.

  • HipHop

    Their two albums are fucking classics. Nice to see them together again.

  • nowayjose

    poorly researched interview, i learned absolutely nothing new or meaningful.

  • nuh uh

    poorly researched interview. i learned absolutely nothing meaningful.

  • Anonymous

    big ups to pete and cl livin legends. bout time they get back together. guru dyin had to have played a role in this. cl is made to rock soul brother production. the beef was corny, cl wanted more props, everybody love cl, everybody loves cl more when hes on petes beats. thats why cl solos go nowhere. they can still drop a classic, they havent lost a step.

    • StraightRight >>>

      I also thought the same thing that Guru's death played a major role in these two coming back together...And now that Pete and CL are back together, let's make sure as fans that we keep them together and that they can continue a very strong mutual friendship as well as a more powerful musical unit that they shared gracefully throughout the years they made wonderful musical...Now is the time for these two to add on to their powerful cohesive catalog of music that they must finish...I believe that Pete and CL's journey of music together is not quite accomplished yet and now is the time for them to finish out the rest of the catalog of music together where they left off at since 'The Main Ingredient'...If these two make at least 2 more albums together, who knows maybe they can pull off winning some Grammy Awards this time around and coming back together as group will probably turn out as being well worth it for the better for them...Let's keep the happiness and strong support for these two to make this happen in a major way because we need this...We need more albums from these guys again...They can take this game over if they want to as long as Pete & CL continue to believe it from within and surprise the world with more dynamic music...We need the hype back in Hip-Hop and these two still have enough energy to do it!