Pete Rock Reminicses on Mecca and the Soul Brother 20 Years Later
Matching the critical success of their debut EP, All Souled Out, seemed almost impossible, but Mount Vernon, NY natives, Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth, did just that and more on 1992's Mecca and the Soul Brother. Constructed with Pete's smooth-rolling, soul-tight production along with C.L.'s laid-back, smooth n' sequential delivery, the full-length debut would be widely acclaimed and deemed as an attested rap classic.
As Mecca reaches its 20th anniversary tomorrow (June 9), XXL reached out to the album’s sound architect, Pete Rock, and took a stroll down memory lane to revisit the process of creating one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. Make way for the Mecca… —Ralph Bristout (@RalphieBlackmon)
XXLMag.com: Can you believe that it’s actually been 20 years since Mecca and the Soul Brother’s release? How does it feel?
Pete Rock: Oh, man, it’s unbelievable, bro. [I remember] when Heavy D was here, he used to brag about me, and he was the one who gave me the inspiration. [He used to] say, “Hey, I see somethin' in you. We got to bring that out.” So now, it’s like a proud father lookin' at his son.
Does it still sort of feel like the album was released yesterday?
Yeah, because people still go back to it. I’m talkin' about rap artists and producers [and they] still go back to it and listen to it for ideas. It’s an inspirational album and I’m happy. It flatters me to even see how people can even do somethin' with that work. I remember when [me and C.L. Smooth] finished the album, it was snowin' outside and we filmed it. I can’t find the tape right now, but I was puttin' my equipment in my car trunk and was sayin', "We finished it!" We were so happy to let the world know that this is somethin' new and fresh and it’s just goin' to hit people in all kinds of ways, [and] the music is good. I was very confident at that point.
What was the initial thought process going into Mecca and the Soul Brother?
Just to make a break on the industry. You know, we were a new group comin' under Heavy D and we wanted people to feel us. If you listen to C.L.’s lyrics to “Straighten It Out,” he was talkin' about the bootleg situation and how strong that was in the ’90s. [Back then on] 125th St, every block you crossed there was a stream of bootleggers out there sellin' hip-hop music on cassette. We figured, "Hey, let’s do a concept about that and call it 'Straighten it Out.'" We ended up doin' the video on 125th, it was crazy. I’m sayin' that to say that this was our learning process on comin' up in the game, and the issues we wanted to address from the streets to listenin' to music and feelin' inspired.
You guys obviously had a strong feeling and message behind the record, eventually putting it out as the album’s second single.
“Straighten It Out” was one of the songs that we felt that we had to put up in the forefront and make it a single, so people could learn about bootleggin'. The thought process behind it was [just] findin' that loop and hearin' the full song, and listenin' to it and sayin', "Wow." The lyrics to the original record that I sampled it from was deep, so [it was a matter of], "Alright, how can we do this in hip-hop form, and make it deep and make people pay attention to it." We do our homework over here.
What would you say was your strongest record on the album, production-wise?
“Reminisce” is my strongest record ever. [It was] my best production I believe because of obvious reasons. I [just] lost my cousin Heavy D, and I lost my best friend Trouble T-Roy, so that speaks volumes. I’m emotionally attached to “T.R.O.Y.”
What were some of your fondest memories during the creation process of this LP?
“Straighten It Out” with the video concept of bailin' C.L. out of jail. I thought we would send a good message [by] beatin' up a bootlegger and gettin' arrested. [Laughs.] Because the bootleggers were makin' money, and takin' food off of our plate. We work hard. We were workin' really hard on music and puttin' stuff out and bein' consistent with makin' music, creatin' the best things we could possibly create.
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Another notable joint on there was “Anger in the Nation,” which focuses on being a minority in this world.
Can’t we all relate to that? After 9/11 happened it just seemed like people's attitudes had just changed and people got more sensitive, which is normal because it woke us all up to reality to see that these things can happen. With music you just want to let people know your expression. Music is a good way to express yourself so we talk about issues like that, that will move people [with] somethin' that means somethin'. We make fun records, too. Where we’re just rhymin' and spittin' and makin' beats, but you got to hit people with some seriousness somewhere, without being a preacher.
Listening to a record like “For Pete’s Sake,” you and C.L. sound like you were both just having fun on the mic.
Yeah. “For Pete’s Sake” [was] just a regular, hip-hop, fun record. We didn’t even care what we said lyrically, we was just happy about the beat and music. We knew that people would get excited to hear somethin' different like this so, we just jumped on it. However it came out, it came out and we just put it on the album. We didn’t really have a concept for it. I jumped on a verse, C.L. finished it and we just called it “For Pete’s Sake.” I actually think C.L. Smooth named that song.
On “Ghettos of the Mind” that record pretty much—
That speaks to our urban youth as well as the street guys that can relate to things that happen in the ’hood. C.L. is a pretty deep person when it comes to that, he’s an experienced guy that’s been in the streets, has done certain things and learned from its experiences, so he put that on paper and it turned out to be “Ghettos of the Mind.”
Now working on a project so closely together, I’m sure there were many disagreements here and there in the studio.
Hell yeah. [Laughs.] I mean that comes with the territory. You know at some point and time when you’re on to somethin' and you’re kind of confident in yourself, a little bit of the ego tends to creep in and take place. We were young and when you’re young, you do things without thinkin'. Sometimes we come to disagreements, sometimes we come to blows, you know what I’m sayin'? [Laughs.] It’s just like that, we’re not the only group that, that’s happened with. I’m pretty sure everyone has those stories, but when you respect one another you work through it for the betterment of what you’re doin'.
What was the process like when choosing what beats would make the album?
I made all the beats at home and would just [bring] my floppy disc bag in the studio and [we’d] go through hundreds of beats and picked the album out. That’s how we did it. It wasn’t like okay, "We get to the studio at 4, I’m in my basement at 3, I got to finish this beat and get out of here." That’s the story about “Shut Em Down,” that’s how “Shut Em Down” [was created]. 4 o’clock, I had a studio session. I’m home workin' on the beat, but I was doin' so much when that opportunity came time, I was just like, "Man, fuck that. Let me get in there and do somethin' and see what it turns out to be." I actually liked the outcome of what I did in the basement and at 4 o’clock, I was pretty late to the studio, maybe about 45 minutes, but I got there and did an incredible piece of work.
Listening to the album, you sort of stylized the whole, placing brief instrumental interludes before and after tracks. Was this something you planned on doing beforehand? How did it come about?
It came about because I felt like what I was doin' at the time, I wanted everything to kind of be heard. I thought it would be a great idea to use snippets between songs to get people to say, “Wow, what kind of album is this? This is so amazin', I never heard nothin' like this.” People were [already] kind of doin' [the instrumental snippets], but I did it at levels, like more than it should’ve been done. I went there to get people to pay attention. Those snippets, everybody used to get on me like, “Why didn’t you get someone to rhyme on that,” or “Yo, can I have that beat?” Quick story, one day The Notorious B.I.G. [came to me] like, “That interlude on The Main Ingredient, yo I want to use that for a joint.” So the interludes made an impact [and] so I kept doing it.
So listening to those snippets now, do you sometimes find little things you think that could’ve been tweaked?
I listen back and [sometimes] be like, "Damn, I could’ve did that a little better." [Laughs.] It’s cool, but now I got it perfected.
As you mentioned “T.R.O.Y.” is one of your strongest records, how long did it take for you to craft it?
It took me maybe like two, three hours at home and at the time, I was tryin' to figure out how to sample more on the song and I ended up savin' the bassline and drums only then realizin' if I save this, then erase it and re-sample—like erase the bassline, keep the drums, re-sample more sounds to the same tempo it was like puttin' a puzzle together. So makin' that beat was like piecin' together music, one piece at a time. Whatever I couldn’t fit I would just save what I have, erase what I needed to erase and add more. That’s how “T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce Over You)” was made.
What does it feel like having your album released during a time that people refer to now as the "Golden Age of hip-hop"?
You want to talk about people bein' on cloud nine, we were ridin' high because we were on to somethin', we hit it and people accepted it. That is what made us feel great. We all started feelin' ourselves at that point, which is normal. Once we seen how the people responded to the music, we knew we had somethin'. So, we just kept the formula and continued to make more music like that.