Five-time Grammy Award winners with over 160 million records sold, 23 No. 1 singles and 13 No. 1 albums atop the Billboard charts, the Trackmasters have definitely laid down plenty of groundwork in hip-hop. The Brooklyn-raised production duo of Tone (Samuel Barnes) & Poke (Jean-Claude Olivier) are responsible for hits such as the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy,” Nas’ “If I Ruled The World” and “Hate Me Now,” LL Cool J’s “Loungin’ (remix)” and Jay-Z and R. Kelly’s “Fiesta (remix).”
After 20 years of delivering hits, the Trackmasters are preparing to add another notch to their collective belt: college professors. The production duo is currently prepping their Track Master Music University “Platinum Status Course,” in which they’ll break down every facet of the music industry from artist development and artist management to music production, publicity and retail in a curriculum tentatively scheduled to hit New York University this winter.
Here, XXL catches up with Tone & Poke as they dish on what they were able to bring to the table in the 90’s, the current state of hip-hop and share one memorable story about Biggie Smalls. — Mark Lelinwalla
XXL: How excited are you guys to now teach the music industry to young men and women in college?
Poke: Oh my God, we’re so excited. From start to finish, they’re going to know everything they ever could have wanted to about the music industry.
What did the Trackmasters bring to the table at the peak of your production in the 90′s?
Tone: A lot of our peers at the time were doing a muffled, dark sound. We brought a clear sound. Clarity. We also brought that Spanish sound to hip-hop that they’ve never heard before.
Poke: We also brought that whole feel of the block party back to the music. When DJ’s used to play music in the park and MCs would rhyme to it, that’s what we delivered. Those feel-good records. These days you don’t get that. These days you don’t get that . . . no records do that.
Do you think hip-hop can ever return to the Golden Era in the 90′s?
Poke: Yes, definitely. Music runs in 20-year cycles. It will get back to that in another eight years or so (laughing). Look at the history. Music changes a little bit from the last time. Music runs in 20-year cycles, kind of like fashion. Afros and bell-bottoms came back in the 90′s and they were from the 70′s. Pop was big and big now. Hip-hop is so young. It just started in the early 80′s. It’s still just evolving.
What’s the biggest difference or problem you have with hip-hop these days?
Poke: The only problem with today’s music is the creativity is bullshit. There’s no real musicians. When we were producing we used real musicians, better melodies. Now there’s these half-ass melodies, no feel of change. When the musicians get back to it, it will be better. Now, there’s a bunch of beatmakers and they don’t have full on knowledge and range in music. Then fans, people are looking for a bargain on how to get the music and that cheapens it – The quality. It’s like they’re Ok getting a Honda-type record, when they could have a Rolls Royce-type record.
You guys had produced several joints that made the cut in XXL’s 250 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of the 90’s book. B.I.G.’s “Juicy” came in the highest at No. 13 and LL Cool J’s “I Shot Ya (Remix),” Nas’ “Hate Me Now” and Foxy Brown’s “Get Me Home” all followed.
Poke: Really? We’ve had bigger records than (Juicy?)
What do you remember about making that record?
Tone: It was that feel-good vibe, that block-party vibe, you know. B.I.G. was cool to work with.
Poke: It was the same era as what we were trying to do with bringing the block-party feel back to music. Puff wanted to do that whole feel as well, so it worked because we were in sync. What stood out to me about that record is I never knew how B.I.G. used to write his lyrics until then. I remember playing him the record and he was just sitting there doing nothing. I was like, Nigga you doing nothing, you gonna pick up a pen and write? He was like, “Man, that’s not how I do records. Man, I am writing.” (Laughing) So that’s what stood out about making “Juicy.”