To truly understand Pete Rock’s love for music, one need not look further than his longevity in the game. In 1991, he and C.L. Smooth dropped their first EP All Souled Out, and then followed up with Mecca and the Soul Brother (1992) and The Main Ingredient (1994) before amicably parting ways in pursuit of solo endeavors. Since then, Pete has established an extensive catalog working with other artists and on the solo tip with equal frequency.
Currently on a national tour with Slum Village, the Soul Brother #1 took time out of his busy schedule to catch up with HipHopDX. Pete is always making music, but at the moment, he’s benefiting from some second-hand attention after appearing on Kendrick Lamar’s buzzworthy To Pimp A Butterfly. “If you listen to Kendrick Lamar, he tells you what he’s been through and the direction he’s taken to stay positive,” says Pete. “That’s what we all want for every young kid that’s listening to Hip Hop. To follow that instead of anything negative.”
Between the tour and the attention surrounding To Pimp A Butterfly, Pete is enjoying his moment in the sun. Most importantly, though, the pleasure derived from his accomplishments is strictly for Hip Hop. According to Pete, “Every business has its ups and downs, but as long as you stay focused on what you want to do and make it about what it’s really about, and it’s the music, that’s what’s important over all of this, is the music.”
Pete Rock Explains Balancing Work With Fatherhood
HipHopDX: Pete Rock and Slum Village is a great one-two punch. When did ya’ll start kicking around the idea for this tour?
Pete Rock: Well actually, it was an idea me and my manager actually came up with, and when he mentioned it to me, I was immediately intrigued to do it ‘cause we have a relationship already as is for years, so it was an honor to want to tour with these guys and I’m having the most fun I’ve had in my life.
DX: Last we heard from you was the 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s Pt. 2 mixtape. Why haven’t we seen much in the way of studio LPs?
Pete Rock: Well you’ll be seeing much more of me now. Sometimes you kinda have to evaluate your life and things that go off and on the scene, and right now I’m on the scene, I’m back and I’m ready to do what’s needed to be done for Hip Hop.
DX: When you talk about being off the scene, is that familial stuff? Being a father?
Pete Rock: Being a dad, of course. I have two children, a daughter who’s 15 and a son who’s nine, and they look up to me very much and I basically want to be able to provide for them and do the music that I love doing, which is Hip Hop.
DX: So you mentioned the kids, and you took some time off like you said, but when you’re not taking time off and it’s just Pete being Pete, how do you balance work with fatherhood?
Pete Rock: At first, in the beginning it’s challenging, but then once your kids grow and they understand what you do, then it’s easier ‘cause they know what it requires. Sometimes I’m not around, but when I am around I’m with them constantly or try to be, and spend as much time with them as possible.
DX: Are they fans of your music? Do they bump you in the car?
Pete Rock: Yeah, of course!
DX: We don’t usually see you on the mixtape circuit. What’s that grind like compared to the studio grind?
Pete Rock: It’s different. The language of the music business changed from — now people are calling albums mixtapes, which to me when you listen to the mixtape it sounds like an album ‘cause you’re listening to all kinds of different songs; people just expressing themselves. I think it’s a great idea because that’s all we’re about, is wanting to express what’s within us. With me it’s music and with other people it’s different things, like lyrically, things they go through in they life, they express it on wax, and I think that’s a great way to vent when doing music.
DX: So you don’t go into a project thinking, “This is gonna be a mixtape”?
Pete Rock: I just do what I feel on the inside. I love making music, and there’s ideas that I have and sometimes I just go right to it ‘cause I want to do it. And the results are astonishing.
DX: Are you at a point now where money is — obviously it’s important, but is that not forefront on your mind when you’re making music?
Pete Rock: Money is on everyone’s mind [laughs], but making music is a passionate hobby I’ve had for so long and it just happened to turn into my career. So now that money is involved, I have children that I need to provide for, so I do this for them and for my own love of the music.
Pete Rock Discusses To Pimp A Butterfly
DX: Recently you showed up on To Pimp A Butterfly, the track “Complexion (A Zulu Love).” What’s it like just being a fan of Hip Hop, sitting back watching the reception it’s getting, knowing you were a part of that?
Pete Rock: Oh man, it’s great and it’s good to see the work I did was inspiring to the younger generation that know what certain artists did for the game before they came in it. Being on that project was a plus for me, of course, but I’m a big fan of Kendrick Lamar and the whole TDE clique. Everyone. I’ve worked with Ab-Soul, and Schoolboy Q rhymed on something I did, and I’ve had fun working with the younger guys right now.
It’s important that the younger generation follow what was good in Hip Hop, and it’s a big change, lyrically, Hip Hop has changed. But you still have some positive minds that stay on the same track of wanting to get a message out there to the world instead of worrying about strip clubs, or the biggest cars and the biggest jewelry, and how much money you got.
DX: That right there, when you say lyricism has changed, is that case and point what you’re talking about? The content?
Pete Rock: Yeah ‘cause you have younger kids that look up to certain rappers that love Hip Hop. I have a son who listens to Hip Hop. And the younger kids look up to us, so it’s important to know what we’re saying that can teach another young kid about the direction in life. If you listen to Kendrick Lamar, he tells you what he’s been through and the direction he’s taken to stay positive, and that’s what we all want for every young kid that’s listening to Hip Hop. To follow that instead of anything negative.
DX: Obviously the music is dope, but is this more than just a really dope album?
Pete Rock: I think so. I think To Pimp A Butterfly is a breath of fresh air. There’s nothing really like that out there. It’s different, but you have people who opinionate and say certain things about — I love the album and the diversity he’s taken, and then still being able to grasp onto the real Hip Hop music, and just real music in general, ‘cause the musicians he picked for this album means his ear is incredible to me, in my eyes. The album sounds great. There’s nothing really like that out there.
DX: Being that you’re both an elder statesman of Hip Hop, as well as a father, what does this album mean from that standpoint? You’ve got kids and they grow up listening to Hip Hop, is this like your experience growing up?
Pete Rock: Yeah, definitely. It’s a cycle in Hip Hop music and in the music business: when one generation get’s older and a younger comes in, they’re learning the same things that we did before they came. So it’s important that every young kid learns that, that wants to be in the game. Every business has its ups and downs, but as long as you stay focused on what you want to do and make it about what it’s really about, and it’s the music, that’s what’s important over all of this, is the music. No one cares about anything else but to make sure that the music is good and you’re dedicated and loyal to your fans and your core audience. The mindset is you’re going to the studio and what you’re thinking about and what your audience is gonna want to hear from you.
DX: Speaking of you working with young artists, a couple months ago I spoke with Black Milk and he mentioned that you two have developed a little bit of a bond. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Pete Rock: Oh man, Black Milk is one of the greatest, talented Detroit producers that I’ve met after [J] Dilla. And Young RJ, who I’m on tour with now, he’s another one who I like. Some of my favorite producers are, well, J Dilla for one, Young RJ, I like Black Milk, I like Madlib, and Alchemist, and Nottz. Those are some the guys I listen to sharply.
DX: Those six that you mentioned, those are the ones you’re fuckin’ with most?
DX: Right now, in Hip Hop, yeah.
Pete Rock Shares His Thoughts on Contemporary Production
DX: On a side note, you’ve worked with guys like Kanye and Kendrick. Are you a fan of today’s production trends?
Pete Rock: Yeah, I think today’s production trends are changing back to building legs with the song. With Hip Hop songs, it’s important to build some type of legs on the music, meaning something that will stand forever, and live through you forever when you hear the music. It’s something you cannot deny, something you’re just gonna love. That’s what I mean about production has changed, new equipment has arrived, a lot of new things people are messing with, producers are playing with to make their music sound more live and more potent. It’s important that we stay on what real Hip Hop music really is.
DX: So you mentioned a couple things, Kanye and Kendrick, yeah, and then you mentioned that production’s got legs nowadays…
Pete Rock: It’s beginning to have legs. You have different kinds of production that people choose to listen to: you’ve got Trap music, which is that Southern type of Hip Hop. You have real Hip Hop, which is that type of Boom-Bap-ish. You have R&B Hip Hop, which is when they mix the Boom-Bap with R&B, which I think is dope. When I say Trap beats, I like to hear them done more creatively. I can tolerate it when it’s done like that. But any other way, I guess you can pick-and-choose your weapons of what you like and what you don’t, but this is just my own opinion My word is the law, but it’ll make someone want to know what I’m talking about and take a listen. But that’s really it with how I feel music should be: solid.
DX: So compared with the Pete Rock stuff from the early ‘90s, and then say like any typical Kanye record or even Mike WiLL Made It, any of these young producers that are hot right now, what trends from your era do you see carried over that have just been updated? What’s the same?
Pete Rock: Just the use of samples, maybe. Just the use of Jazz samples or Soul samples. We did a lot of that in the ‘90s, and now people are realizing certain dope samples that they loved or heard. Or people that dig for records find stuff and like, “Oh, but they didn’t use this!” Things like that. Or even use the same sample over again. Re-do it. Today the “remix” is taking the same beat and just changing the lyrics, but in the ‘90s we used to change the beat and use the same lyrics. It’s transcendent. It’s mixed right in with the new.
If you listen to a song I did called, “The Joy” with Jay Z and Kanye, you’ll see that the Soul sample I used was Curtis Mayfield, and how it all sounded to me, they nailed it.
I was supposed to rhyme on that song…
DX: Why didn’t you?
Pete Rock: I don’t know, I felt I wasn’t ready yet. But I mean, you know, you’re never ready. I don’t know what made me not want to do it. But hopefully one day me and Kanye will get to spit on a joint together.
DX: Were you with Jay for that one?
Pete Rock: Nah, Jay Z just — I think Kanye hooked that one up.
DX: Okay. We’ve got the stuff you’re familiar with, the Boom-Bap, the East Coast. Then you mentioned some the Trap you fuck with also. What are your thoughts on the G-Funk and the West Coast scene?
Pete Rock: Man, that’s next to my heart. I love George Clinton, I’m a fan of Parliament Funkadelic and the way Dr. Dre and those guys did that music. They brought it to the forefront. It’s almost like they resurrected George Clinton. I always was a fan of that. There’s great producers on the West Coast that I love, like Battlecat, DJ Khalil, Madlib, Dam-Funk that I’ve been a fan of for years. So G-Funk is right next to my heart, but me coming from New York, we come from that grimy gutter sounds. That grimey Funk that’s out there that people will never understand. But when you rhyming to it, it’ll help people understand what we hear.
DX: Just a side note, have you ever worked with George?
Pete Rock: No, but I’ve been to his concert. In Long Beach one time. It was great.
Pete Rock Explains The Importance of Golden Era Hip Hop
DX: Switching gears a little bit, in May, it will have been 19 years since “Fakin’ Jax” was first released as a single. Looking back on it, what do you remember most about the Inl run?
Pete Rock: It was a great run. Elektra signed them and put out “Fakin’ Jax” as the first single, and we did a video. It was beautiful, but it didn’t work out with the major labels ‘cause new things were happening. And that was it. We just parted ways and went independently. The album got bootlegged, but it was a great album regardless. But hopefully we can plan on re-releasing it the right way.
DX: So you said there were issues with Elektra, was that just they had other priorities?
Pete Rock: Yeah, they just had other priorities, they wanted to take a different direction in Hip Hop music in that department. It happens.
DX: What’s your favorite track off that album?
DX: Last year, your brother Grap Luva and Edo G, and Rob-O — out of the retirement — dropped the “Living Legend” (Pete Rock Tribute) track. What was it like hearing that?
Pete Rock: It’s always flattering, man, to hear that ‘cause I just love what I do, I make beats and people like to hear my beats. Not everybody’s gonna like my beats, but I like my beats [laughs]. And whoever likes mine, it’s fine. I do it for them.
DX: Are you in touch with Rob-O a decent amount?
Pete Rock: Yeah, yeah, a decent amount.
DX: So how was that seeing him step out of retirement?
Pete Rock: We talk. We haven’t done anything yet, but we’re talking about it. I’ve sent him some music before and he wants to do some stuff again. So we’ll see.
DX: Another InI album?
Pete Rock: Not sure.
DX: Petestrumentals 2 is on the way. What can fans expect from that one?
Pete Rock: Same thing as Petestrumentals, but different, a little different. It’s just beats that I had laying around that I’m enhancing and making sound like something.
DX: Are you still digging as much as you were earlier in your career?
Pete Rock: I never stopped. That doesn’t ever stop. Even if you don’t see me on the scene making music, I’m still probably buying records [laughs].
DX: Going back a little bit, did you and Slum [Village] sell out a show in New Mexico recently?
Pete Rock: Yeah.
DX: So you’re from New York, they’re from Detroit. What’s it like going into Albuquerque of all places and you’ve got a sold-out venue?
Pete Rock: It’s crazy ‘cause you never know where your music [goes] and who it’s reaching. That’s when you find out, “Wow, this is bigger than us.” This music that we’re doing is not about us, it’s way bigger, and so we keep that in mind and just stay focused on doing what we love. Slum Village, you can easily hear it in their music that they have fun with what they do. Right now, being away from my equipment, I just wanna go home and make beats [laughs]. I just wanna bless the world with things that I find.
DX: So with this Kendrick album and all these other young guys making music, do you still feel the love for your era of music? The show in Albuquerque for example, do you still feel strong about the ‘90s Hip Hop?
Pete Rock: Of course, but we in a new day today, we’re not in the ‘90s anymore. So I believe in loving the ‘90s music and being true and passionate with what you love, but you can still do ‘90s music updated. Just do it new, because you don’t want to pigeonhole yourself to one sound. That one sound was glorious and everything like that, but it’s over. Now do something new. But you can still have those elements from the ‘90s in your sound, and that’s what I do now. I still have old beats from the ‘90s that I plan on putting out on the Petestrumentals 2.
DX: You’ve got the rest of this tour wrapping up, and then Petestrumentals 2 is on the way. What else can fans expect from you?
Pete Rock: Soul Survivor 3 album I’m working on. Petestrumentals 2, working with a couple of artists; some big, some regular. Just keeping on with the music. Just keeping on doing it.
DX: Anything I didn’t ask about that you want to mention?
Pete Rock: I’m working with Smoke DZA, we’ve been talking about doing a project, we’re doing something. And Inspectah Deck hopefully, me and him are gonna be doing a project together. Just doing Hip Hop.