K-Def talks shop, various equipment used through the years. Mentions experiences from Marley’s House Of Hits
As told to JNOTA of Redefinition Records
On the SSL mix board, on getting started, and the equipment he used prior to making the switch to computers:
At the House Of Hits; Marley would stick me in there on the SSL. Mind you, he was the only cat that had one at the time… Well, Dre had one, Diddy had one in his house, but Marley was the first to have the SSL in his house. So, there was a lot of stuff in there, on the SSL, that you usually went to school for. I never went to school for it, so there was, like… pressure. The Lords were there, all these different artists. I remember Keith Murray was there and we were doing a song, the “What I’m After” remix. Keith Murray was rhyming real real LOUD, and I’m like, ‘yo, Keith, why you so loud?” and he said, “cause I wanna be heard, Def! I wanna be heard.” Now, you’re not supposed to be able to record with all this distortion, so I had to find another compressor to limit him down with his yelling an all that stuff, so there was a lot of pressure.
And sometimes the engineer wouldn’t engineer no more… Marley, he’d be like ‘ah, Frank, go take a break’ and leave me in there, and I had to learn it. It was a good thing with me being on the SSL, and the Neves and all that. I don’t even need that anymore to make a record because I learned that whatever sound that big old console was giving me, once your ears adapt to the sound, for each and every instrument you’re doing, and with the samples, you get an understanding of what you need to do from here on out. And as technology grows, you can start to use simpler things that can give you the same result.
I started off with a 4 track cassette recorder, and a Casio SK5 keyboard, after that I got my hands on an SP12, not the 1200, but the SP12! That had like 5 seconds of sampling but in real terms, it had like 2! (laughs) You had to speed it up on 78 to get a one bar loop and then hope it wasn’t too fast. Thats actually why i think hip-hop was so fast then, cause I didn’t think they could tune em down enough (laughs). I was using the SP12, and then, I think in 1988, I got a 1200. We went down to Rutgers University and they stole it outta my mans car the day after I got it! 1989 came and I got an MPC60. Somebody gave it to me. No manual. Custom made case. It weighed about 80 pounds, hahaha. I just had to learn it.
I was so intrigued that it had more sample time than the SP12. I think it had 11 seconds or something like that, so you know, each bar wasn’t even a second. You could get like 5 James Brown samples, 1 who knows, uh, 1 Parliament sample and a couple of samples from records, with rappers voices on it, and you know, you were good! You had a whole slew of samples in one beat. But I was pissed off, because with the SP1200, from what I remember, it had cutoffs that the 60 didnt have. [With the MPC 60] It was tedious to actually get something chopped up in pieces and make it do a pattern. But then the other rack mount samplers came in; the S950 and the 900 was there… then I got my hands on the S1000.
It was the MPC and the S1000 and thats when stereo sampling came into effect. It was like, now you could… you know, “Chief Rocka” was done on anMPC and an S1000. “Funky Child” was done on a straight MPC60. “Here Come The Lords” was the MPC60. Uh, “From Da Bricks” was the MPC60. But yeah, “Chief Rocka,” “Lords Prayer,” “Lord Jazz Hit Me One Time,” those were the MP and S1000. The Youngstas, World Renown; those were MPC and S1000. By the time Real Live came into play, thats when I went to the MPC3000. When the 3000 dropped, the week it dropped, me and Marley copped it.
Everyone else was going to buy cars, ice, a lot of that stuff, tricking their money. Nah, I went right there and got the MPC3000 and the S3000. I got the S3000 blown out, because at the time, the MPC was so new there was nothing to blow it out yet. I think RAM, at the time, was like $500! Something like that. It was a lot. But for the most part, the S3000 was actually the key to a lot of the great soulful stuff I did at the time. The S3000 was the monster of monsters! All the sample time in the world, time stretch, pitch shift, it was doing things that computers couldn’t do at the time… And you could make your own sounds!
When Dr. Dre came out with “Been There, Done That” I was learning sound synthesis at that time, midi specs and all of that. At that time in the mid 90s, I was trying to CREATE sound. I was tired of sampling it, like ‘how could i get this guitar sound to echo like that,” so, I started sampling mad, mad, mad, sounds and doing modulations with em and before long, I had a whole library. Eventually, 2 of the presets I made were actually shipped to Akai for the S5000 and S6000 series, for their library. They didn’t last long, because then kurzweil came out with their big module and then the Triton was making its way onto the scene.
And then, of course, Roger Linn had left Akai, and then you had the 2000, the 2500 and all this new stuff. When Linn left Akai, I left Akai alone. Only because, lets just say, Roger Linn had … feeling. He knew how to add human feeling into his sequencer, which none of the MPCs ever did again. The 4000 is a great piece, has a great sequencer. I’m not too savy on it, although a lot of cats use it and it is a great sequencer, but you know, I got glasses now (laughs) from looking at the little screen. And you know I couldn’t do vocals in there. I was a producer. A programmer/beat maker could use a machine like that and be suffice with it and worry about doing the other stuff in a big studio, but a real producer tries to do it all in one place, at one time.
On the Real Live LP, his use of the MPC3000 and S3000 for that album, and his eventual decision to switch to a computer based production environment:
The Real Live album is a plain example of what I could do with the SSL, the S3000 and an MPC. I could really say that using 2 machines only with no extra hardware, no nothing but an SSL, S3000 and MPC3000… I did the whole album on those. The sequencing was, by far, superior to anything anyone was doing at the time in ’96. If you listen to any of the samples [I used], and you know that those samples are now familiar… if you listen to how they [other producers] used em, they got drums in the samples. LISTEN to my tracks! See if you can hear those drums in my samples. That’s how you can tell that I mastered those machines.
A lot of new producers were saying I was a sucker for using Akai and the 1200 was the shit… all of those producers are using Akai now. But yeah, after Roger Linn left, I left them alone. I jumped onto the computer in ’97, no, it was ’96! From ’96 till now I’ve been on Logic and Cubase. I’ve been rocking Logic since 2.5.