Rappers tend to talk about “making a movie” rather often. And you don’t need to visit UrbanDictionary.com to know this can quickly take the form of failed attempts at acting, such as T-Boz’s spouting the classic line, “Africa is far!” during her riveting performance in Hype Williams’ Belly. There’s also the trite phrase, “Let’s make a movie,” which more often leads to byproducts that are better suited for the straight to video isle than your local IMAX.
But composer and editor, Adrian Younge is one of the few people equally at home crafting products for both the silver screen and your subwoofers. After both editing and scoring the 2009 blaxploitation send up Black Dynamite, Younge was commissioned by RZA and Bob Perry of Soul Temple records to reboot a few Wu-Tang releases. Ghostface Killah’s Twelve Reasons To Die was the first assignment.
And while Younge and Tony Starks never logged studio time together, their appreciation for a great narrative and vintage soul music meant Ghost would be returning from Emerald City and the bare bones sonics found on 2010’s Apollo Kids. Before the pair hit another series of road dates together, Younge explained his approach and why he was the man for the job.
Adrian Younge Details His Concept For “Twelve Reasons To Die”
HipHopDX: There’s a bit of an odd trajectory between working on Black Dynamite and a Ghostface Killah album. How did you pull that off?
Adrian Younge: Bob Perry, the co-owner of Soul Temple Records with RZA, hit me up because he heard the project I did right after Black Dynamite—Something About April. It was kind of like an Italian story mixed with Wu-Tang album. Between that and Black Dynamite, he thought I’d be a good producer to work with on their upcoming releases. So he hit me up and told me they’d like me to do a Wu-Tang project, and of course that’s one of the things I’ve always wanted to do. I didn’t really believe he was serious until two weeks later when he hit me up again. I didn’t want to do it unless we had some kind of concept behind everything. Ironically, I also wanted to do a concept record. So I just kicked back for two weeks and conceptually thought about what the album should be.
DX: So what kind of concept and setting did you come up with for Ghostface?
Adrian Younge: It’s going to be a soundtrack to an Italian Crime/Horror film that takes place in the late ‘60s. I wanted to create this story…really this whole world. It’s a product that essentially sells itself before people even hear it. It just sounds interesting, and it’s something different. Bob wanted to do that at the same time, and we all pretty much came together and elaborated upon the story. We presented it to Ghost in a script form, Ghost took the script, and just ran with it. He killed it, man!
DX: I’m thinking Wu-Gambinos. But it’s amazing that you all can pull this off without face-to-face interaction with Ghostface…
Adrian Younge: I hadn’t spoken with Ghost. All we’ve did was correspond via e-mail and all that stuff, because I just gave him a script. [At one point] I didn’t know if he’d heard the whole album. But, in speaking with his manager, he was tripping out about it, and he said Ghost is tripping out about it too. I’ve spent a lot of time with RZA, and he’s had the same reaction. I’ve was working with RZA every single night, and he’s the executive producer on the album.
I’ve always had a personal dream of giving the people what I received from Wu-Tang in the early ‘90s. It’s was a reaction where you heard it and went, “What the fuck is this?” because it just hit you in your heart. That’s what I want this album to be for older people and young people. A lot of times we get stigmatized by music that isn’t as clever as some of the old stuff. There’s a lot of cookie cutter shit that people are going after. I just wanted to give people something with an edge that Wu-Tang had—and still has—but on a live level.
DX: A lot of us Wu fans got burned by some of those albums that RZA wasn’t a part of. How aware of that were you both as a fan and as someone directly involved with this project?
Adrian Younge: Honestly, when I do stuff I really only compete with myself. And I hold myself to a very high standard. I never think about what somebody else is gonna say. When I’m making music, I act like there’s a whole audience inside my brain, and I try to please them. When people outside of my head actually like what I’m doing, that’s flattering. That’s the rule I go by. I feel that when you start to really pay attention to what other people want, that’s when you start descending into something else. And you can’t do that if you want to have that edge. That creates watered-down music.
One of the reasons the Wu-Tang fan base is so protective is because of what Wu-Tang represented. Wu-Tang represented that Punk element in Hip Hop; there was an element of going against the grain. When Wu-Tang is not doing that, people get mad. If Wu-Tang got on some jiggy shit, fans would get mad, because some of them have that W tattooed on them. And that’s not a sound that represents them. It’s a symbol and a trademark of a quintessential subculture within Hip Hop. If any part of that goes against that concept, then people get pissed—especially Wu-Tang fans.
How ‘60s Soul & Wu-Tang Clan Influenced Adrian Younge
DX: Some of your early stuff—especially Black Dynamite—pays homage to the ‘70s. How do you balance that with the coarseness of something like “Bring Da Ruckus?”
Adrian Younge: To be really honest, a lot of people know my work from Black Dynamite, which was ‘70s Blaxploitation. But my sound is really late ‘60s. I had to cater more to ‘70s stuff for that soundtrack. If you listen to my other albums against that, you’ll say, “Oh, I get it.” The ‘60s is that hard, raw shit. The ‘70s was when that sound started getting cleaned up a little bit. Every year, it gets cleaned up a little bit more. As far as Wu-Tang shit, this album is dirty.
The funny thing about me is that I’m that producer who buys more equipment when I get more money. And that makes my sound more fucked up. I like to keep it as raw and dirty as possible with no polish just like Wu-Tang.
DX: Something About April was a soundtrack to a movie that didn’t exist, and this Ghost album is Italian Crime Noir. What do you find so appealing about this narrative quality in your music?
Adrian Younge: Well my music is cinematic. I’m a producer. An instrumentalist. My job as an instrumentalist is to create words and cast emotions without words. When you put it to picture—whether it’s actual video or just something in your head—it really moves people. I always like to have that cohabitating element with my music. And there’s something about cinema that I love with music. To me, cinematic music is the best music. The best slow songs in the world are cinematic. It’s the shit that makes females want to fall in love in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It makes you feel good.
I love narrative-driven music with a purpose. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be talking about something. I’ll listen to a whole album filled with emcees talking about wack emcees; I love hearing that shit. But I like to really feel a story with music. That’s a big deal to me.
Adrian Younge On The Importance Of Composition In Hip Hop
DX: Given that, and Ghostface’s natural penchant for storytelling, this sounds like a perfect fit…
Adrian Younge: Honestly, I was originally approached to just generically do a Wu-Tang project. And Bob asked, “Why don’t you do this new Ghostface project?” The reason why he picked that is because he knows what I do. He knows I love cinema shit. And how many rappers are as cinematic as Ghost? I gave him a platform, and Ghost really told a great freakin’ story just like I hoped he would. I put a lot of work into making this. This and my album with The Delfonics are big moments for me.
Just like with The Delfonics album, I’m thinking, “Man I hope he brings it.” And he definitely brought it. I say this humbly, but I think I gave him something that inspired him. I think he took this as a challenge to really take this shit to the next level. I can’t wait for people to hear it. Whether someone likes the album or not, this is a moment in Hip Hop history. It’s real music, real composition, real strings and clarinets and opera singers. It’s a high-end production, and it’s not just someone making beats. It’s a composer, and that’s something that’s never really been done in Hip Hop…especially through that RZA/Wu-Tang perspective.
When Ghost heard the initial beats, he hit RZA up and complimented him on the production. And RZA had to tell him, “Nah, this ain’t my shit. A dude named Adrian Younge did that.” It’s something special, and this is gonna change something in Hip Hop. I don’t know what it’s going to do, but it’s gonna change something in Hip Hop because it’s some deep shit.
DX: It’s interesting you brought up your Delfonics album, because they have history with Wu-Tang and especially Ghost on “After The Smoke Is Clear…”
Adrian Younge: Yeah, Wu-Tang sampled a lot of The Delfonics back in the day, and they had them in the studio working with them. On this Ghostface album we used one of the beats from my Delfonics album with William Hart. RZA heard it, thought it was dope and wanted to use it for this project too. We used “Enemies All Around Me,” so it’s come full circle again. They’ve been working together for decades.
DX: Legend has it that prior to recording Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Ghost and Rae went off and only listened to the RZA beats on a little boombox. And you generally stay away from what’s currently on radio and stuff. How do you use being so insular to your advantage?
Adrian Younge: I own a record store, and we specialize in vintage vinyl and breaks. So all I do everyday is listen to raw ass shit. I listen to raw ass shit made by musicians and composers. This is crazy, high-end shit produced at Capitol Records back in the day. I listen to the way they wrote and recorded stuff, and to me, it’s like a brand new palette that no one else has. That’s where I draw inspiration.
Today, when people listen to music they draw inspiration from software. I draw inspiration from a real drum set or a vintage mic from the ‘60s. I have more to play with than the average producer today. RZA told me the same thing about how they used to listen to those old tapes all the time. They would battle to see who had the best mixtapes of old slow jams. Great composers, great producers and great emcees study the past. They listen to history when they’re trying to get inspired and create new ideas. And that’s what I do all the time.
DX: Just as a Wu-Tang fan, what are your hopes for a possible reunion as their 20th anniversary approaches?
Adrian Younge: I hope that this Ghostface album inspires everyone to get together and do something. My goal in 2013 is to try and change Hip Hop. I hope we strive to make music that has a higher quality of composition. I say that humbly. It’s not that I’m saying I’m going to come in, take over and kill shit. I want us to put more time into creating music—not just making a beat in five minutes and people accepting that. That’s what’s going on in Hip Hop right now, and it doesn’t necessarily happen in other parts of music. So I want to help bring that time and quality element back.