Adrian Younge sticks to his guns, they just happen to be made out of tape and not terabytes. The young impresario is becoming a towering figure amongst the old masters concerned more with feel than the flexibility of sound. It is the great debate: does digital dull the art? In Younge’s eyes, the answer is clear as day: yes, yes, a resounding yes. In the RZA’s eyes, the answer is of course. Then there are old-soul artists like Raphael Saadiq and Bilal who resonate with the “dirty” feel that analog gives as bits of sound bounce around a room before settling down on that brash magnetic strip. But something else is happening, as well. There’s beginning to be a chasm between the suited masters huddled up in studios surrounded by pianos, bass, saxophones and horns and the digital users peering over laptops or in booming spaceship like recording spaces surrounded by knobs, lights and bleeps. It’s another generational showdown: Another case of old versus new.
That battle being fought out there is one that Adrian Younge may inadvertently have started. And like all other things, necessity was the mother of discontent.
“This movement that you’re speaking of is really based on the fact that people are realizing that they’ve been making music that doesn’t sound full,” said Younge. “There’s certain frequencies that digital just cannot capture. Analog is full resolution so you’re getting everything. Analog is just the format that digital has always been trying to emulate but has not figured it out yet.”
*Twelve Reasons To Die Is Streaming at the NY Times Press Play*
Analog Soul In a Digital World
DX:. Can you describe the Linear Labs compilation?
Adrian Younge: Yeah man, we just dropped that compilation and that’s my label. My label basically represents the kind of music I believe in. Music that is based on the notion of craftsmanship like it was handcrafted, handmade, it was bespoke, tailored. That goes in with the analog, with all the hardware that I have, with live instruments. It something that’s like handmade, tailored up that the average person couldn’t do and that’s what my label Linear Labs is based on.
DX: Constantly, sort of being ahead of the curve in that way. Is it a detriment or do you think it makes you more creative?
Adrian Younge: Well to me it’s definitely not a detriment because I’ve always been doing this kind of music. I was going to do it regardless of whether or not I became this popular or not. It just so happens that I started making a name for the kind of stuff I do. It is something I’ll always do, and something I love and something that I feel is going to have a bigger place in popular music in a good way.
DX: Where do you think Hip Hop is going right now?
Adrian Younge: I mean there’s always dope ass underground Hip Hop. As far as mainstream stuff man I just can’t deal with it. To me, it sounds so un-rapturous and so much of the same. It’s like the same shit, the same rolling hi-hats, trap beat, the same kind of flow. Like Hip Hop is based on being original and it seems like there are so many people biting each other. The pop element to the Hip Hop culture is kind of making it pernicious like it just it’s dying. I don’t know man It just has a pallet faintness to it that is not resonating with me. That whole world doesn’t exist to me. The culture exist to me, the under culture exist to me, but the music that people are making right now doesn’t even exist to me because, I skip the whole record so it doesn’t even bother me.
DX: Nina Simone had a great quote about calling R&B, Jazz, and the Blues black classical music. Would you say that you’re trying to make that type of stuff again?
Adrian Younge: Oh, hell yeah. I mean basically I want people to hear the kind of music I’m making and view it as something that is scholarly. I work hard to really try to pay attention to all these details. I feel as though when you make art, you’ll pay attention to every single detail; an artist that understands what you’re doing feels as though you’ve made that for them specifically. That’s the audience I want to cultivate. That’s what classical music does for a lot of people that still listens to it. I want my music to be viewed that way.
Adrian Younge Talks The Analog Revolution
HipHopDX: This is part two of the kind of epic that you created in 2013 with Ghost. Did you expect it to have the kind of reach that it did with people beginning to go analog more?
Adrian Younge: Yes. So I’m an analog head and that’s just a lifestyle thing with me. It’s a lifestyle choice. With the kind of music I create the only way it can be made is by using that equipment. To answer your question: did I feel it would help people convert? To me, it’s bigger than that. I like just hearing analog recordings. Analog is just more raw and sweet. It’s just raw and sweet so I can’t really take all that credit. It just basically sounds good and maybe I’ve illuminated that for some people but everybody knows analog sounds good. I mean everyone that’s trying to make something that’s kind of raw.
DX: It’s been driven by the West Coast for sure, but there’s this movement back to sumptuous sounds. Sounds that are full and inhabit like moods and feelings as opposed to just straight beats and straight up digitally rendering things?
Adrian Younge: This movement that you’re speaking of is really based on the fact that people are realizing that they’ve been making music that doesn’t sound as full. Even with digital, people still try to make it sound full but the thing is based on the limitations via that recording medium there’s certain soundscapes that are just not as pleasant to the ear. So people are realizing that and just going back to what the people were doing before. It’s one of those things where analog is king, but in order to use analog, you have to have patience and you have to an engineer who understands how to use analog.
A lot of people don’t have both of those components when they’re recording. It’s production value and it’s just people trying to really get that sound into their head and for most people that sound that’s in their head is something that’s analog based. When they hear something that is really getting that sound and they find that it was actually recorded to analog it is something that helps to stimulate their desire to go back. By hearing Twelve Reasons To Die, I have been given credit for inspiring people to go back. I don’t want to be all like ‘people are doing it because of me’ but I think I served as a reminder. Like, yo this sound is still here. You can use it if you want this sound instead of cutting corners and using plug-ins just go to the real thing.
People know there’s warmth that is lost and a lot of people easily make the excuse that, well that was that time so you can’t do that anymore. But that’s simply not what the case is. There are certain variables that come into place when recording and creating sounds, and analog is the nucleus of that when trying to get a full sound. Digital recording happens using a number system like 0’s and 1’s. There are certain frequencies that digital just cannot capture. Analog is full resolution so you’re getting everything. Analog is just the format that digital has always been trying to emulate but has not figured it out yet. Now people are starting to realize the facts that digital recording is a modern emulation of analog recording and it’s not doing it good enough. That’s why people are trying to go back.
“Twelve Reasons To Die II” Featuring Both Ghost & Rae
DX: In listening to this new one, that similar spaghetti western soundscape is there. How did you create those sounds for this album?
Adrian Younge: Basically I just wanted to make a darker version of part one. In creating this album I wanted to have a little more density. I wanted to ensure that these beats, these compositions also fit Raekwon because Raekwon is on like half the album. I wanted to ensure it was not just Ghost, but it was made for both of them. So I had to think from a composer’s perspective as far as trying to make a new fit for this new album. I mean everytime I try to make music I always try to make my latest release better than my prior release. I mean that’s just what I try to do. Whether I do it or not I don’t know but I definitely sought to do that.
DX: Were you in on those sessions or any of those sessions?
Adrian Younge: No, I wasn’t in on those sessions. Basically I wrote them notes. I would play this song and say, Make sure you talk about this, make sure you talk about that because they’re in New York and I’m in LA. For them there’s only one-way to do it and that’s the way to do it. With other people I don’t do that, but this album wouldn’t have been done if we didn’t do this. I gave them a line of direction and then they took that direction and took it to the next level. So I basically just planted the seed for the boundaries and they really elaborated and added to the story. Sometimes you forget how dope Ghost and Rae are together.
Adrian Younge: How do you think it was for me to hear them on my music? It was crazy because I’m a fan like you are. And to be able to create a template for them to create more history together it was special for me dude. I hope people dig it we’ll see what happens.
DX: Absolutely, so how does it feel to go from doing your own sampling to people sampling you?
Adrian Younge: It’s flattering, man, because it was something that was always a dream of mine. I always hoped one day that people actually would want to sample my music because that means that my music must’ve hit a point where it’s intriguing to a Hip Hop producer. Hip Hop producers, when they’re looking for samples, are trying to find the sweet spots within music. So that means that there are composers and producers out there that are finding sweet spots in my music and want to make a derivative version of my song. It’s like somebody covering your song. It’s flattering. Also, it then turns my music into the break, which is also special because it makes me listen to my own music in a different way and in essence it makes my music better. It’s something that is flattering and it seems perpetual because it keeps happening. It’s something I’m very happy about.
The Beginning Of Adrian Younge’s Quest For A 60s Sound
DX: What inspired you to get into music to begin with?
Adrian Younge: I used to always love music man. I saw a journal of myself that I wrote in sixth grade. The question was what do you want to be when you grow up? In my journal entry was I want to be a music producer and there was a whole explanation. I don’t know what made me want to do it. I just love music.
DX: I want to talk about you and kind of how you got to this point. I am not sure if people just realize the breadth of your musical knowledge.
Adrian Younge: Essentially, I started off around 96 as a Hip Hop producer. I had a MPC 2000 and an attach cam 8-track recording studio tape player. I was making Hip Hop beats, sampling. I realized at that time that the source-material that I was sampling were these records from around the world. It was actually the kind of music that really stimulated me it wasn’t just the Hip Hop stuff.
So that being said, I was open to hearing the full Curtis Mayfield album as opposed to just the breaks. I was hearing psyche albums like King Crimson and soundtrack albums like Ennio Morricone and the depth of that music pulled me in. I realized [that] if I wanted to be the best artist, I had to learn how to play live instruments. So I put the sampler down and literally every single day I would just play a different instrument. I would play it until I was competent enough to record with them, and I released my first album called Venice Dawn 2000 in 2009…
DX: I am sorry to interrupt but you’re self-taught?
Adrian Younge: Yes, self-taught. So I wanted to put myself in a position where I didn’t have to rely on anybody. I could still make a beats like a producer, but I can be in control of every instrument, every aspect and all the engineering components that are necessary to create that sound. I don’t only want to compose music like my source materials; I also wanted to learn the engineering aspects to create that kind of sound. So I just went in, dude, and started studying.
DX: Man, this sounds like it’s fifteen years in the making?
Adrian Younge: Yeah. So I just started studying and I was able to create my own sound. My sound is based on the nostalgia of records that came out between 68’ to 73’, but viewed through the scope of a Hip Hop producer during the Golden era. It’s like a RZA or Primo or Ali Shaheed looking at those old records from back in the day and telling those producers to make your drums a little firmer and dirtier. Bring down the bottom end a little more and make sure the mid-raiser is spiking like hot. That’s how I approach my music now. So instead of sampling a record I make a sample from my head and make music with it. So that’s it.
DX: So what was the first instrument you decided to pick up when you decided you wanted to learn all these things yourself?
Adrian Younge: It was all kind of simultaneous, but the first one I actually bought was a piano. After the piano I bought an acoustic, then I bought a bass, an electric guitar, then drums, then violins.
DX: What year were these bought?
Adrian Younge: Like 1998, 1999.
DX: Okay, wow and at the time I am sure you were seeing music move in a certain direction that probably was uncomfortable.
Adrian Younge: Yeah, I always tell people I stopped listening to Hip Hop in 97. That’s when I stopped listening Hip Hop. So it’s like I stopped listening to Hip Hop when I really got into records. Records were inspiring my music. It wasn’t Hip Hop anymore. It was the source material that Hip Hop was based on: the break. I got heavily involved in that and then I just stopped listening to modern music and to this day I still don’t listen to modern music. I have a record store called The Artform Studio in Los Angeles and it’s predominantly just classics. That’s what I’m trying to keep it going.
Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant that has contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Features Editor for HipHopDX. He’s also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter @drejones.