Iconic emcee Rakim said it best: “It ain’t where ya from, it’s where ya at.”
No one embodies that adage better than one of the producers who came to define the west coast Gangsta Rap sound of the ‘90s, Stephen Anderson, better known as Bud’da (pronounced Butta). The trackmaster who helmed the majority of the Westside Connection’s double-platinum selling masterpiece, Bow Down, actually hails from the home of the “Black and Yellow,” Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Discovered by the man who put Pittsburgh on the Rap map in the mid-‘90s, Sam Sneed, one-fourth of a Sneed-led collective of beatmakers from the ‘Burgh went on to help Dr. Dre shape the sound of his then new label, Aftermath Entertainment.
HipHopDX recently caught up with Bud’da, (courtesy of Hoopla Media Group), to take a stroll down memory lane and revisit a time when “The Gangsta, the Killa and the Dope Dealer” turned to a relative new jack from the steel city to provide the platform for their declaration of west coast power, as did a recently reprieved Death Row inmate looking to declare he was “Str8 Gone” from Gangsta Rap.
HipHopDX: You’re both from Pittsburgh, and you both have the last name Anderson, so are you and Sam Sneed actually blood relatives?
Bud’da: Nah, not blood relatives. That’s like my brother, but it’s not blood.
DX: Have you known each other since you were kids?
Bud’da: Nah, we didn’t know each other since we were kids, but I met Sam [Sneed] years ago. And it’s funny, we were actually in Ohio [and not Pittsburgh]. We had did a show in Ohio. I had a group that I was doing, and I think Sam might’ve performed or he had somebody performing. And the RZA was there, but at that time the RZA was called [Prince] Rakeem Allah. So that’s how I met Sam. I met Sam there and we just got cool. And I would see him every now and then, ‘cause he kinda lived on a little bit of the outskirts [of Pittsburgh]. He lived in a place called McKeesport. Whereas I lived a little bit more closer to the city.
DX: So in the early ‘90s you were part of a group that was already like touring around the region?
Bud’da: [In the] early ‘90s I had a couple different rappers I was working with. And there was a show in Ohio – almost like a talent show, so it wasn’t necessarily a tour. And that’s how I met Sam, ‘cause there was a bunch of different people from all different places that were performing there.
DX: Let’s bring it up a little bit [in the timeline]. When I spoke to Sam back in December, he noted that he brought you and Stu-B-Doo out from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles, and you in turn brought Mel-Man out from steel city and introduced him to Dr. Dre. You, Sam, Stu and Mel are seriously like one of the greatest collectives of producers in Hip Hop history that folks don’t recognize as such the way they should.
Bud’da: Man, I appreciate that, I really do. And it’s a funny story, even in regards to coming out here. Both myself and [Mel-Man], we wanted to leave Pittsburgh bad. To where we went to Atlanta first to try to see what was crackin’. And that’s before Atlanta even had anything jumpin’ off. So, I had seen Sam when he was in town one day, and he mentioned, “Hey man, you should come out to Cali. I’m working on my album.” I was like, “Yeah, that’d be cool.” [But after that] we would miss phone calls, and I’d try to call him, and I’m like, “I’m trying to get out this city, man!” At first I thought he was playin’ me … and [so] I stopped calling. I’m like, I can’t keep calling this cat. I wanna get out this city bad; I wanna make it happen. So he calls, and he’s like, “Man, I got a new place. I’m ready for you to come out.” I came out to Cali, and I been out here ever since.
DX: It’s just ill to me that cats from Pittsburgh ended up shaping the sound of California Gangsta Rap for a good portion of the ‘90s.
Bud’da: Yeah. You know what’s interesting, if you talk to anybody from Pittsburgh who’s creative at all, being that we’re kinda Midwest we had the best of both worlds in a sense. I listened to different music, everything from Compton’s Most Wanted to Diamond D. And on top of that, I got a background of family [members] that had a band. And they’d constantly be playing Prince and all type of other stuff. So, just in having a well-rounded [source of] opinions and visions on music, I think that’s what kinda gave us all a edge in steppin’ into a new area. I know as far as myself, I was always a fan of Dr. Dre, DJ Quik and different artists and producers out this way. But I think what we [brought] to it was basically giving like an east coast swing and feel to the melodic [sound] that they had going on out here.
DX: Were you already making that synth-heavy G-Funk before you came to Cali?
Bud’da: Nah. I was straight up Hip Hop. It took for me to be involved with some of the things that [Dr.] Dre was doing and that Sam was initiating to get acclimated [to] instrumentation with music. ‘Cause I was self-trained in Hip Hop: sampling, and choppin’ samples up, and just doing different things with music like that.
DX: You weren’t acclimated originally to the keyboards, but 15 years later I’m still in love with the gloriously vicious “Cross ‘Em Out And Put A ‘K.” It sounds like you got acclimated pretty quick.
Bud’da: This is the funny thing about that: you learn to do things a certain way because you may be … you may not have all the resources that someone else has but you learn how to work things a different way. I think that’s how inventors end up inventing things. I’m saying that to say, a lot of the sounds on that [Bow Down] album, especially “Cross ‘Em Out And Put A ‘K,” I sampled Moog sounds into a SP-1200 and actually played the notes on the SP-1200. So I can tell the little twerks and how the sound [differs]. But I know that in itself probably made everything sound a little original and a little bit different, and gritty as well, because it was coming from a source that it wasn’t necessarily supposed to come from.
DX: You put the “Gangsta” back in G-Funk with that one. I just have to ask again, are you sure you’re from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and not Pittsburgh, California? [Laughs]
Bud’da: [Laughs] Aw definitely. Yeah, I’m from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Six hours from Philadelphia.
DX: So taking it back here, was it Sam who hooked you up with Ice Cube?
Bud’da: Yeah, it was Sam that hooked me up. Sam hooked me up with a group called Kausion, which was a group of Ice Cube’s back in the day. [And], I ended up landing two songs [on Kausion’s South Central Los Skanless], which was my first two placements …. That’s how the relationship started with Cube. He actually contacted me personally after that to try to get at me, and mentioned he was doing a group called the Westside Connection.
DX: Did you have the beats that became “Bow Down” and “3 Time Felons” already in the can?
Bud’da: Nah, uh-uh. I might’ve had a couple [beats already], but for the most part once he said what the project was, and what he was trying to do and the direction, I just went into beat mode at that point and started creating music. I would hit him off with maybe 20 beats or so a week. I was trying to get the whole album if I could. So I was doing nothin’ but smoking cigarettes, drinking strawberry Quik and making beats. [Laughs]
DX: Wow. Do you got any of those [leftover] beats still in the vaults somewhere? I wanna hear them shits.
Bud’da: I was just thinking about that the other day. I had loaned my SP-1200 out to somebody. I gotta actually buy another one. I do have every single one of those disks [though], and I have any of the other beats that [Westside Connection] did not use. ‘Cause to end up with [five tracks] on that album … and you submitted at least , 25 a week, there’s a lot that’s in that vein that they didn’t pick.
DX: Cube shoulda took all of ‘em, ‘cause you made that Bow Down album the classic that it is, for real. I mean, QDIII did some dope shit, but without you who knows how that album woulda turned out.
Bud’da: Man, thank you. And I had no idea. I mean, I was still wet behind the ears. I was just happy to even be working, and doing what I love to do and getting paid for it. So I was just goin’ hard doing beats, and just trying to solidify as much of the album as I could. What’s funny is, once it came out and was blowin’ up – you work so hard, you don’t necessarily know how intense it is and how big a record got. So when that record was at its peak, I was still working, trying to solidify other things, about to sign with [Dr.] Dre, and I had no idea how big the record was even getting.
DX: Was Cube showing the proper amount of love to his best producer’s bank account at that time?
Bud’da: [Laughs softly] You know to me, coming from the ‘Burgh, thinking a $100,000 was a million, for what I got at that time I loved it. I couldn’t complain, ‘cause like I always testify to, the first time that I sold a beat – which was the one to Kausion [for “Land of the Skanless”] – and Sam Sneed had mentioned how much they were gonna pay I was like, “What?! For what I got on this little floppy disk they’re gonna give me $500?!” And he was like, “Nah nigga, $5,000.” I’m like, “What?!” So you can only imagine, I was like [very wet behind the ears]. [But], it was by the skin of my teeth that God allowed me to escape from Pittsburgh at the time, ‘cause it was goin’ down … craziness. And [so] for me to come to [Los Angeles] to be able to do music, which is what I’ve always loved to do … it was really a miracle, for me. So the amount of money that it was, it was right up my alley.
DX: I was just curious, since you said you were so busy bangin’ out them beats, if the business was getting handled to the point where you got points off the album, [and] you still get some nice checks from that album.
Bud’da: Yeah, it was. There was a little bit of weirdness that happened, but all of that got settled once the time of the disbursement for the checks was about to go down. All of that got situated. But it did get funny for a minute, just ‘cause I was wet behind the ears and didn’t know any better. But it all got straightened out.
DX: So how did you go from rollin’ with the Lench Mob to settin’ off Dr. Dre’s Aftermath?
Bud’da: [In] the building that [Sam and I] stayed in there was a artist named J-Flexx that used to write for Dre. [And] he’d always get beats of mine to write to, so that he would be prepared for when Dre wanted him to spit something. He felt the beats pumped him up enough to where he felt he would write some dope lyrics to ‘em. So, he was in the studio one day - and this is around the time before [2Pac and Dr. Dre's] “California Love” – and he was in Dre’s studio at his house, when he lived in Calabasas, and he was playing one of my beats. Now, I had met Dre through Sam prior to [that], but we was just – [Dre would just be] like, “Hey, what’s up Bud’da?” We’d go to cookouts, and occasionally go to the studio when Sam would go, but he didn’t know what I did or nothin’. He just thought I was one of Sam’s homeboys. So Flexx was playing a beat one day, and Dre came in and was like, “Who did that?” And he said, “It was Bud’da.” He was like, “Bud’da?!” So, next time I seen [Dre] he was like, “Man, why ain’t you tell me you did beats?” I’m like, “I dunno.” He was like, “There’s a beat I wanna use for this ‘California Love’ video.” I’m like, “Okay, word, what one is it?” So he played it for me, and it was the joint that came on in the beginning and the end of the “California Love” video [when 2Pac wakes up startled]. And that was my introduction into working with him. A couple of months started passing, and once he was gonna make that transition [away from Death Row Records] he asked if I wanted to be down with the transition.
For anybody up and coming doing music or getting into the business, you gotta know your self wealth …. I’m saying that to say, at that time, when I signed to Aftermath [Entertainment], “Bow Down” was already like crackin’. So somebody else, if they had known certain things, they might not even sign [on to work in-house at a label]. But my whole thing, and my perspective with it was, man, Dr. Dre is the best. And if anything, I wanna be down with the best. As much as my ego would say, I could run with this, and I done already did beats on this, that and the other, I wanted to be down with a movement. Especially [considering] it was history happening, with him leaving Death Row [and] starting his own label.
DX: Once and forever, who really produced “Been There Done That,” you or Dre?
Bud’da: I produced “Been There Done That.” I did the beat. Actually, me and Mel-Man wrote the hook, ‘cause it was gonna be a song of mine. So we wrote the hook at the crib, went into the studio, laid the beat down, I recorded the hook, Dre came in [and] was like, “Man! That’s it!” And I’m like, “That’s what; what’chu talking about?” He’s like, “That’s the single, for the [Dr. Dre Presents The Aftermath] album.” There’s no way I could deny Dr. Dre for … whatever. So I’m like, “Yeah, okay, let’s do it.” We laid it down, J-Flexx came in [and] wrote [Dre’s] verses, [Dre recorded them and then] he added a couple of things like the roto toms [timpani drums] and a couple of other little things. So, I guess, in production, we both did it together, but the initial idea came from me. But Dr. Dre is the best at being able to take something and take it to the next level. I definitely learned that from him: being able to take something that was a good idea and make it a great idea.
DX: Let me just ask you this bluntly, is Dr. Dre Hip Hop’s greatest producer ever or Hip Hop’s greatest mixer ever?
Bud’da: It’s funny you say that, ‘cause I was thinking about that. It’s a combination of both. Because, as much as he’ll have an engineer present to do certain things, Dre touches everything. I learned everything that I know from him. I think that those years that I was at Aftermath if anything, to me, I consider it like I went to college. ‘Cause the knowledge I got during that time, it’s priceless. I learned how to work the SSL board and mix on the SSL board, and utilize musicians, and just certain theory in regards to how to make something feel a certain way without copyright infringement. So, yeah, I gotta say Dr. Dre, he definitely wears both of those hats, in regards to the producer and the mixing hat. And anybody that truly knows him couldn’t deny that … as much as they could say certain other things. Dre, he makes it happen. He knows what he’s doing.
Stay tuned to HipHopDX for the revealing conclusion to our conversation with Bud’da, in which he reveals why Dr. Dre didn’t bring Sam Sneed along with Bud’da during the doctor’s escape from Death Row, why Bud’da subsequently made the “transition” away from Aftermath after just one project (and if he still submits tracks to Dre), and maybe most notably, if Ice Cube is still interested in working with the man responsible for “Bow Down” and if Bud’da still has a line to Xzibit to reestablish their “Deeper” chemistry.