Pete Rock is in a hurry. After chatting up two interviewers before our sit down and two more scheduled for immediately after, he’s in a rush to talk all things 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s 2—the forthcoming mixtape he’s putting out with Bronx duo Camp Lo, the second in the series—and quickly escape. But, sitting in the spacious lobby of a luxury building in the westside of Manhattan, the legendary DJ/producer exhales and takes a second to zoom out of the press cycle for long enough to chop it up about New York hip-hop, one thing he’s still visibly excited about.
When up-and-coming Brooklyn-bred acts like Joey Bada$$ and the Flatbush Zombies are mentioned, he perks up. “I’m feeling all that,” he says. “I’m a hip-hop connoisseur, and I keep my ears to the street. I know all the new artists that’s coming out.” Not only does he know of them, but Rock actually wants to make music with some of the young artists. “The next step is getting to work with them,” he admits. “I think to mend the bridge of the generations, cats that are still active in the music business can make a big difference.”
It’s not the attitude you’d expect from a guy who came up in the late ’80s; most of his contemporaries are quick to dismiss the validity of modern hip-hop. But Rock isn’t really that guy. He’s an open-minded legend who has found ways to embrace the new while keeping his classic ear in tune.
Maybe that’s part of the reason Rock found a kindred spirit in Mac Miller, who came up rapping on Lord Finesse beats and is featured prominently on the new installment of 80 Blocks, including its lead single “Meagan Good.” “Mac is very talented, and he reached out to me just to let me know that he appreciated me,” Rock explains. “That was cool. Then he actually bought a beat from me.” The initially expensive friendship continued on fruitfully when Rock thought of Mac for the new project. “I reached out to him and he was there front and center,” he says. “Without even a blink, he was present. Some egos [in this game], I can’t get over, but there’s some people that have that respect.”
The project, which drops on July 30, finds Pete Rock and longtime collaborators Camp Lo—”They still got it, they haven’t lost a step,” he says—revisiting the 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s theme, one that was originally inspired by a 1979 documentary of the same name which told the stories of gangs in the Bronx. “We’re all from the Bronx, and [Camp Lo's] Cheeba and Suede grew up in the same area where those gangs were from,” Rock says regarding the artists’ connection to the film. “One of the reasons we wanted to talk about this is because at that point in time, hip-hop was just starting.”
He remembers firsthand when hip-hop went from a trendy pastime to a positive artistic outlet for the ghetto youth. “No one had anything positive to do before hip-hop, it was all about being in a gang,” he recalls. “When hip-hop started, it just turned from negative to positive because a lot of the gang members were doing hip-hop… But people were very musical and very talented, and I’m glad that everyone figured that out and created this [art] form, thanks to Kool Herc and Bambaataa and those people who brought the culture to life.” His goal with the project? “Giving back with something that people could learn from. I feel like with 80 Blocks, I put that whole message in an audio form. It’s also like an audio movie, because I took excerpts from the movie and made them into skits and things like that.”
While 80 Blocks is a free mixtape, the project still has some self-serving elements to it, namely getting Rock’s production back out there. “Not a lot of people get a chance to hear the real vintage sound of hip-hop anymore,” he says. “You have your fans that want to hear the older stuff again, but then you have people who would still like to hear Pete Rock, updated.”
Hip-hop heads would be happy to hear some classic material from the self-proclaimed Soul Survivor, but Rock remembers a time not too long ago when his style wasn’t so in-demand.
“There was a while there when New York hip-hop fell off,” he says. “It did. Not even to the South, but when The Chronic came out, we were battling with the West Coast. But then music goes through all kinds of transitions. You have a time when the East Coast is strong, then you have a time when the West Coast is strong, then you have a time when the South is strong. Everyone gets a turn.”
Still, he feels it his duty (and the duty of his peers) to keep pushing for a return to that classic New York hip-hop sound. “[Hip-hop] started in New York, and people know that,” he says simply. “So if anyone could put hip-hop back to where it needs to be, it’s people from New York.”