Check out our hometown boy Nick Kroll’s latest sit-down with Jimmy Kimmel.
Donnie Baseball rips open some old packs.
As mentioned in the video above, check out Mattingly on the cover of the January 2019 edition of Beckett Baseball, where they break down the Top 80 baseball cards of the ’80s. For a preview of the list, click HERE.
Twenty-five years ago this month, legendary Oakland MC Del the Funky Homosapien released his classic sophomore album No Need For Alarm. It was the follow-up to his debut I Wish My Brother George Was Here—which was produced mainly by his cousin Ice Cube and collaborator DJ Pooh—and it represented a shift in Del’s sound from P-Funk samples to a more jazzy, boom bap approach, putting his superior microphone (and production) techniques on center stage.
No Need For Alarm also helped showcase his Hieroglyphics crew, who were simultaneously putting themselves on the map in 1993 with stellar releases like Casual’s Fear Itself and Souls of Mischief’s 93 ‘til Infinity. It was a darker, harder, jazzier, and more lyric-based effort that represented the Hieroglyphics sound to the fullest, and it quickly became an album that true hip-hop heads in the ‘90s held near and dear to their hearts in the Bay Area and beyond.
To help celebrate the 25th anniversary of Del’s sophomore masterpiece, I dug up my 2013 NahRight interview with him, where we discussed No Need For Alarm in depth. Del took us back to the time of the album’s creation to talk about the shift in sound between the first and second LPs, his stint living in New York and hanging out with Q-Tip, the Beastie Boys, Kurious Jorge, and Dante Ross, collaborating with his Hiero homies, and much more, including a track-by-track breakdown of the entire album, his involvement in the cover art, and an apology to a now well-known music journalist who he dissed hard on one of the album’s final cuts. This is The Making of No Need For Alarm with Del the Funky Homosapien.
The Shift in Sound from I Wish My Brother George Was Here to No Need For Alarm
Del The Funky Homosapien: “It definitely was a conscious decision. It’s a trip, because part of it was because my peer group at school. When I came out with my first album, they were kind of dissing me, because that’s not really what I was doing before then. So that affected me. I didn’t figure this out until years later down the line. I was all depressed and shit, and then it came to me, like, ‘Oh, that’s why I was trippin’? Why was I trippin’ off them motherfuckers?’
“The were clowning me because of the P-Funk, and from their point of view, only gangsters used that. It was stupid, but since it was my peer group, I wanted them fools to be proud of me—but they were dissing me. So that made me be like, ‘Okay, I’m about to get on this shit, and do it like this. I’ma show y’all.’ Even though the first album is probably the most fun I had doing anything. I had hella fun with Pooh, and learned hella stuff from Pooh. And a lot of the stuff on that album was stuff that I made. ‘Mistadobilina’ I made, ‘Pissin’ On Ya Steps’ I made, ‘Sunny Meadowz’ I made. It wasn’t like I didn’t get my say, but it was definitely directed by Cube.
“He wanted to make sure that the average motherfucker could take my shit in. Because my shit was super duper bugged out. Like, crazy. I had this song called ‘Concrete Trampoline’ before it came out. It was basically like, ‘You don’t bounce off it, you dead.’ He was like, ‘That shit ain’t gonna fly. You’re gonna have to talk a little bit different or something.’ [Laughs.] But I’m glad he did that. But for this album, I wanted to separate myself from that and just get on some MC shit.
“And I think Cube even felt bad about it, because in the press I said some shit. He was like, ‘Man, I thought you liked what we did.’ So I had it to explain to him over the years. But he’s proud though, that I stuck to what I do. He’s hella proud of that.
“I think I probably presented some songs to him at first and he was like, ‘Nah, man.’ So I was like, ‘Fuck it.’ I wasn’t trying to diss or nothing, but I was like, ‘I’m just gonna go to the head with this one.’
“You know who really supported me with that album? Sophia Chang. She actually signed Souls of Mischief and Casual to Jive Records. She liked the sound from them, but also, she did a lot of work in the industry, especially at that time. And she knew what was up with the real shit. I think she was trying to sign Das EFX, and when Redman’s album was out, she had that. She was hyper over Wu before they came out. She was up on her shit. So she heard what I had, and was like, ‘This is really good, Del. You should go forth with this.’ When other people were like, ‘I don’t know,’ she was like, ‘Nah, fuck that. This shit is hot.’
“A Tribe Called Quest was at Jive. I actually knew Q-Tip at the time, and Jungle Brothers, too. They were definitely an influence. And De La too. But lyrically, I was probably drawing more from Kool G Rap, you know what I’m saying? Some exterminators, on the lyrical tip. The first album was more of my personality, whereas the second album was more technical.”
In The Lab
“It was fun making the album, but I think I was depressed most of the time. I don’t know, I guess I’m just a dark person in general. I’m still like that to this day. But the way it was produced is kind of like how we would do our demos. We had shit done on 4-tracks before we went to the studio. There’s a few joints where Casual came to the studio with a beat, like ‘Catch a Bad One,’ and I just wrote the shit right there. I think Domino might have came with a few like that, too. But it was mainly me and my engineer Matt Kelley in the studio most of the time. I learned a lot from him, too. We’d been head to head for so many years that I started picking up how to engineer from him.
“I don’t think I was sober very much. I used to get kind of fucked up, whatever it was. I fucked with a lot of shit, to a certain extent. I wasn’t all heroined out. But definitely mushrooms, tabs, whatever. I was on some shit. I was on my little rock and roll psychedelic shit. But I don’t feel like any of that had anything to do with what I was doing with my music, because my music always comes first.
“The way I do my shit is I’m usually by myself. I was probably at my mom’s house or whatever. What I normally do to this day is I’m always making shit. I think I ran stuff by Sophia, and she said she liked the songs, so I was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna go with them,’ then just went to the studio and dropped them. When Hiero cats came in, whatever they wanted to do, I would let them do.
“My setup was real basic. The SP-1200 and a 4-track, and me writing my shit. Back then, I didn’t know music theory or nothing. It was pretty much all by ear, and sampling whatever records I happened to have. The jazz shit was less of a style, and more of a practicality thing. The jazz records were mostly instrumental, so it was just easier to sample shit from those records.
“My father was really into music, so he had a lot of stuff. But I really started getting into digging more when I started hanging out with Dante Ross and with Domino. That, and with the Beastie Boys. When I hung out with the Beastie Boys a couple times, and I saw the crazy funk records they were playing, I was like, ‘Man, these whiteboys got all this!’ It tripped me out, like, ‘Man, I gotta explore.’ This was like right before I started doing No Need For Alarm.
“I was with Q-Tip when I went to the Beastie Boys’ studio. Matter of fact, I did shrooms with Q-Tip, and it was the first time I did shrooms. I was high as hell in the studio, and I had to go to the bathroom, and I thought there was a monster in the bathroom. Then Mike D came down and was like, ‘What’s wrong?’ I was like, ‘Man, I went to the bathroom, and I was trippin’.’ He was like, ‘Man, you need to get you something to eat. Let’s go to the store.’ So he took me to 7-11 or some shit, and bought me some Fruit Loops and some milk, and was like, ‘Here, just eat this. You’ve just gotta get something in your stomach.’ That’s how I met them fools.”
1. “You’re in Shambles” (Produced by Snupe)
“Snupe added ‘You’re in Shambles’ last. He came with the beat for ‘You’re in Shambles,’ and was like, ‘Man, I’ve got this perfect beat for you.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, yeah, that’s the shit.’ That was the last song I did.
“I put it first because it just set the mood off to me. And plus with the Ice Cube sample in there, it pretty much was reintroducing you, and bridging it between the first and the second album, too. So that was probably why we used it as the first song, too.”
2. “Catch a Bad One” (Produced by Casual)
“Casual is one of my better friends. When I used to do shit in high school, I used to buddy up with him quite a bit. And he was a solo artist like I was, so we had a like a friendly competition. We kept each other on our toes. I think we just got along real well, and understood each other. And I think that just translated with the beat. I think he was going for something kind of wild too, like, ‘I bet you Del’s gonna like this.’ We used to always listen to each other’s stuff. We listened to each other’s stuff more than we listened to other people’s stuff. We just thought that we were the tightest.
“I think the singles were kind of left up to the crew and to Dante to choose. I think ultimately I let Dante make the call on that, because I don’t think I was too sure. I think he just felt like that was one of the sicker ones.”
3. Wack MC’s (Produced by Del)
“That’s more of my typical, default type of song I would do, where I’m just screaming on people. I was living with A-Plus at the time, we were roommates. And we both had a little music station in different parts of the house. He’d be making heat over here, and I’d be somewhere else making some heat. And I remember I was over there in the corner or whatever making that shit, and that was one of the beats I hella liked and wanted to use.
“A-Plus is one of my best friends. I’ve known him since like second or third grade. So us living together was a real creative thing. We were always coming up with some hot shit.”
4. “No Need For Alarm” (Produced by Domino)
“Domino was our secret weapon. His knowledge of the funk was so extensive. He used to stay out here near Groove Merchant, one of the bigger digger spots, even before digging was digging. So, he knows his shit. He was making our hits. I think he just picked what he thought I would sound good over, and I’m not too picky. I roll with whatever as long as it sounds good. So I was like, ‘Okay, let’s go.’ To this day, I’m eager to do whatever.
“There probably was a deeper meaning for naming the album No Need For Alarm. To tell you the truth, I don’t know why I named it that. It might’ve been because that was the title of the song on the album, and I felt like the album title had to be named after a song on the album, so maybe that’s why I did it. Maybe it had a deeper meaning like, ‘It sounds hella different, but it’s still me.’ So maybe it meant that, too.”
5. “Boo Boo Heads” (Produced by SD50’s)
“A boo boo head is like a nicer word for bitch, basically. So that’s what that song is about. Most of the girls that I had been out with—to this day really, except very recently—have been hoodrats. And that’s just how it is. Hoodrats are some bitches. A lot of times, they want their way, and if they don’t get their way, they’re gonna throw a fucking fit. So that was just my way of letting off some steam about it.
“Kurious Jorge, that’s my dude. I used to hang with him a lot. I used to be Uptown with Jorge a lot of the time. And Doom and Subroc from KMD, they used to be around a lot, too. The whole Constipated Monkeys crew. Jorge was with us around that time, and I was like, ‘Man, you gotta do something on here.’ So that’s how he get on it.
“To this day, I get along with Dante Ross very well. He gave me the keys to his crib, and let me stay there. It just came together hella good. I was living in New York for a minute, for a few months. So I was really getting my MC vibe on, feeling like I’m really doing this shit. And he came with some heat, and that’s how it happened. We did it at Dante’s crib.”
6. “Treats For The Kiddies” (Produced by SD50’s)
“The beat just had that vibe to it. It didn’t strike me with a particular emotion, it just seemed like a battle tune, so that’s how I came with it on that. I think I was trying to impress Dante, too, because I looked up to Dante.”
7. “Worldwide” ft. Unicorn (Produced by Casual)
“Unicron was me. It was a joke, like, ‘I got this kid, he’s a badass. I’m just trying to help him out before he gets thrown in jail.’ So the story I came up with when people would ask me about him is, ‘Oh, he got jumped, he went to jail. He’s on lockdown. He ain’t gonna be out for a while.’ [Laughs.] Then after a while I started just telling people, ‘That’s me, dude.’ And they’d be like, ‘What?!’ They couldn’t believe it. I did it just to be able to say the shit I couldn’t really say as Del, and get away with it. You know, talking about hoes and shit. More crime-related shit. Shit I wanted to say, but I couldn’t say as Del.
“I did have one more appearance from Unicron, on a joint I did with Swollen Members, ‘Left Field.’ That was the last time he got his shine.”
8. “No More Worries” ft. A-Plus, Casual and Snupe (Produced by Domino)
“That was basically like one of them joints where everyone gets a chance to spit. A lot of times, we’d be making shit, and there’d be hella heads there, and everybody would want to get on it. So we’d make room for everyone to rap on there.
“Anything we were doing on the album was just a translation of what we were really doing, outside of making records. That was just a representation of what we did. We made hella posse cuts, but that was just one that got out to the public. The job of recording shit is to capture what’s really there. So that’s really what we would be doing. And that wasn’t something we had before. We made that in the studio, even though we made it like we weren’t in the studio. It just happened to be that we were making a record at that time.
I don’t think that much thought went into it. We were happy that we were making records, but we did it the same way as when we were making demos. We knew it was going to be for the album, but so what? We treated it the same way as if we were making a demo. But it was great that we were getting paid for it now. ‘For doing this shit? We do this all the time.’
9. “Wrong Place” (Produced by Del)
“I won’t say those stories are necessarily true, but those are the type of things that be happening. I took from all types of experiences from where I stay at, and what I’ve been through, and made up a couple of little things for each verse that represented ‘being in the wrong place at the wrong time.’ It’s kind of a cautionary tale, but I didn’t really put it out there like that.
It was only two verses at first. Then, we decided to put it out as a single, and Dante was like, ‘Damn, this is a dope song, I want to do it as a single, but you only got two verses. It needs to be longer.’ Which was a trip, because usually motherfuckers be like, ‘You need to make it shorter.’ But he was like, ‘Nah, this is dope. It needs to be longer. Add another verse.’
So the third verse was about when I got in trouble coming back from Amsterdam, and how I felt about it. Me and my boy Kwame, who used to manage me at the time, were coming back from Amsterdam. He had dreadlocks, right? So right off the bat, they strip search us in the airport. So they take my wallet and look at my I.D., and a little crumb of hash comes rolling out. I guess I forgot about it. So they’re like, ‘Aha!’
“So I’m like 21, laughing at them like, ‘Come on, dude. I can’t even smoke that if I wanted to smoke it. You know, dude. Just throw it away.’ So he’s like, ‘You think this is a joking matter? Trafficking drugs is a serious matter.’
“So they detained me in the airport, and I couldn’t leave until I paid a $500 fine. Then I had to fly back to go to court. And the judge was pissed off, like, ‘Why are you wasting my time for this fucking bullshit?’ So he gave me probation, and said, ‘If you finish probation and this little drug class, we’ll wipe it off your record.’ But it was a big ass deal in my mind, like, ‘I’m gonna go to jail for this little ass crumb.”
10. “In and Out” (Produced by Del)
“That definitely was a song from the original demo that I had for No Need For Alarm. Actually, the album was called Problem Child at first, and I changed it to No Need For Alarm later. So when it was still Problem Child, ‘In and Out’ was one of the songs that was on there. And that one stayed. That’s one of the joints that was organically made at the house. Nothing was changed about it. Same shit that was on the demo, that’s what it was. It was just one of those songs I would make, just having fun.
“That was Matt Kelley who made the chorus pan from one ear to the other. I learned a lot of little stuff like that from him.”
11. “Don’t Forget” (Produced by Domino)
“That was pretty self-explanatory, really. But it was basically about cats getting large, and their heads getting swole, forgetting their origins. Which you know, with no foundation, your whole structure will collapse. People don’t seem to get this, so that was my two cents at the time.
“Dante actually introduced Domino to me, knowing he was in the Bay Area. So indirectly, Dante helped Hiero survive, because Dom is the main dude behind preserving this thing really, as far as actual work, business-wise. That’s aside from the music, but it’s important to state. He should get that proper. So the No Need LP was the beginning of the working relationship going on with Hiero in general and Dom.”
12. “Miles To Go” (Produced by Jay-Biz)
“Jay-Biz to me was like a musical genius. That was a track he had submitted for my shit that he did on the SP. But for some reason, I felt that he was getting hella more out the SP then I was getting. I was like, ‘Damn, this beat is so tight. I gotta do something with this.’ I don’t even think he appreciated it like I did. But I was like, ‘I’m using this shit.’ It was another one of those songs where I just went in. I could do those type of songs in my sleep. Those are the most fun for me to do, because I can just say anything, and not be stuck to one thing. And he did the cuts on there, too. He’s an incredible DJ, too.
13. “Check it Ouuut” (Produced by Del)
“The writer I was dissing was Danyel Smith. And I want to apologize for that now, because I was young and immature. And I really was hurt by what she did. Basically, she did a review of a Hieroglyphics show, and this was the early days of Hieroglyphics. And she was kind of downplaying everything we were doing, like, ‘I don’t see the big deal. They’re just using these big thesaurus words. They call people ‘fool’ a lot.’ And I’m like, ‘Why is she trying to make it like we’re calling people foolish? That’s just the slang.’ She was trying to make seem like we were thinking we were better than people. And I’m like, ‘It’s not even like that at all.’ And she was like, ‘What about the old days, when the Too $horts and…’ She was on that tip. It was like, ‘Oh, she’s trying to play us.’
“So ‘Check it Out’ was the last song I did for the album. And I did it specifically to diss her. That was my focus. So I went in on her. But I was saying some rude shit. I don’t even know what I was saying, but she didn’t deserve all that. So I apologize for that shit, for real. I was immature. But honestly, I was really hurt by what she wrote about us.
“I didn’t say her name or nothing. I wasn’t gonna be like that. I don’t know if she knew or not, but I was putting it out there to where if she heard it, and she felt any kind of way about it, she would know I was talking about her. Nobody else would know. And that second verse was about her, too. I was really trying to put her on, like, ‘This is the way you should be listening to it. Apparently, you’re not listening to us like this, or else you wouldn’t be saying this shit.’ I was trying to educate her. But again, not saying her name, so anybody could get what they were going to get out of it, too. But it was specifically for her. I think the whole shit was about her.
I think I needed like one song to finish the album, and I was hella pissed, so I was like, ‘Fuck this shit.’ I still do that to this day. I got different chicks or whatever that try to fuck my life up, and I’ll go in on them on a song.
14. “Thank Youse” (Produced by A-Plus)
“The concept behind it really helped me as far as growing as a musician. That was really important. I just wanted to thank the public for listening to me, and supporting me, and digging Hiero and our music as a whole. I wanted to put it out there, like, ‘This ain’t for us to be syphoning money from y’all. We need y’all to do this.’ And I guess it’s vice versa, because if they want to hear some dope shit, they need us too.
“But a lot of artists, I feel like they start getting gassed, and they think it’s all about them. But it’s not like that. If anything, it’s all about the public. Without them, we can’t exist. Period. So I feel like as a musician, you should be sympathic to the listener and what they can tolerate. I don’t think you should let them dictate what you do, because you’ll never get a rest. You can’t please everybody, and they’ll be telling you to bend over backwards. But you should be sympathetic to what they can tolerate. That was the early stages of me understanding.
“That was one of the joints from when we were living together. I wanted to make sure he got on there. And the vibe of that, that’s something that me and A-Plus share. We’re really are like people people. We feel people, and we appreciate that we can do this shit to the level we do it. We were there from the early days, in the early ‘80s, when it wasn’t even a possibility to be coming out with shit. We were just fans of the culture. So to be able to do it this far, we really appreciate it. So I think he was co-signing that idea, too.
“The Undisputed Champs” ft. Pep Love and Q-Tip (Produced by Del)
“We did ‘Undisputed Champs’ around the time they did Midnight Marauders. I think they had just finished it. They were taking photographs for the album cover, which I’m on. It might’ve been before that. Q-Tip had a big party, and something was going on. I just remember I was drunk as fuck. I drank like two 40s. We would drink half the 40, and pour gin in the 40 with some orange juice. So I had like two of them. So I was like, gone. And that’s when we did that shit. Busta Rhymes was at the studio, and Ricky Powell was at the studio, too. He took pictures of us. And Busta really got to see how hard I went with the production that night. He saw my disc box and was like, ‘Damn son, okay.’ He thought the ‘Undisputed Champs’ beat was nice, too.”
“Pretty much, I did do the design. I just didn’t know how to use the equipment to make it. So I just had to relay it to the art department. And Elektra was always really good with helping me do whatever I needed to do to get my ideas out. I’d go to the art department, and they’d make it real, like the way I had it in my head.
“I think I might’ve even brought in some comic books to give them some examples of how I wanted it to look, with the panels and shit to make it look like a cover. And for the photos, I took the photographer out to some spot that I surveyed out in Oakland, in Chinatown around where I used to stay at.
“Whoever peeped that out and thought it was tight, that’s why I did it. That was that little pop culture, where I was trying to put it out there like, ‘If you can relate to comic books, I’m one of y’all.’”
Two Decades Later…
“I don’t listen to it very often, though at the time I did, but that’s because to me, there’s a lot of imperfections. Lyrically, I feel like I could have pushed a little bit harder. I think it’s sort of scatterbrained. But I was a kid.
“I think a lot of the animosity I had, I let it leak out in the wrong way. Like, I was saying some crazy shit on there. If it came out today, I’d probably be under way more scrutiny. So a lot of things I wasn’t proud of saying, but it is what it is.
“I’m mostly proud of that first album, because it really captured everything. But I do appreciate the second album for being that first raw energy, and letting motherfuckers now that, ‘We ill out here in the Bay Area. Iller than you might have thought. We got our own shit, too.’ And for that reason, a lot of people be like, ‘Man, that’s the fucking shit!’ And I think it’s more that aggressive energy that they were picking up on, more than any particular thing that I was saying, because that might have went under the radar.
“One thing that annoys me—and I try not to let it annoy me but I’ll be honest it does—is the fact that a lot of people can’t get past that album. And I’m a futuristic dude. Like, even new cats that come out today, I enjoy them. But a lot of fans of that album, they’re not leaving that album. I’m like, ‘Okay, that’s cool, but check out some of this other shit I got. I feel like it’s way iller than that.’ And they’ll be like, ‘Oh, okay, but man, that’s the shit, though!’ They can’t get off it. But I feel like if they really listened to some of my newer shit, they’d probably be like, ‘Oh my fucking God! Dude is off the hook! He kept going!’
“But it is what it is though. I really appreciate people having that love for it. And I never let on to people like, ‘Okay, that’s kind of annoying me that you’re saying that.’ Because that’s not what they’re trying to tell me. And to myself, I’ve had to say, ‘You know, that’s not what they mean.’ But I do try to tell people to listen to some of my newer shit. And I’m sure some of them listen eventually.”
Special thanks to the OG Dante Ross for making this interview happen! Photos courtesy of UpNorthTrips.com.
Roc takes a ride with Elliott Wilson for a first listen to Behold a Dark Horse.
Borat comes through with some exclusive pre-election coverage on Jimmy Kimmel Live!
I had the honor of interviewing Slick Rick, Lyor Cohen and Bill Adler for Urban Legends’ 30th anniversary celebration of The Great Adventures of Slick Rick. Read HERE.
Also, pre-order the Urban Legends re-release of the album HERE, and stream his new unreleased track “Snakes of The World Today” below.
This Red Bull Music Academy session with Q-Tip is over two hours long and about five years old, but it’s fucking incredible. Watch the interview above (or peep the abridged podcast version HERE), then listen to the playlist I made below that was inspired by it, featuring my favorite Q-Tip ATCQ songs, solo joints, features, collabos and outside productions.
Not exactly related, but here’s a dope RBMA article by the great Philip Mlynar on the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, a place where I did one of my first open mic performances ever. Read HERE.
Beastie Boys legends Ad-Rock and Mike D are today’s guests on Stretch and Bobbito’s NPR podcast What’s Good, and if you’re a Beastie Boys lifer like me, it’s a must listen. They talk about their early days coming up in the New York punk scene, the golden era of Def Jam Records, mourning MCA, and their new Beastie Boys book. Listen and read excerpts form the interview HERE.
During the “Impression Session” of the podcast, Bobbito plays this 2017 Tanika Charles record “Soul Run”—pretty dope…
Back in 2013, I had the honor of interviewing Mac Miller for NahRight’s In The Lab series. I remember sitting on the steps outside the Rostrum office in SoHo with him on a weekday morning, asking him questions about his creative process while he smoked cigarettes. He was engaged and interesting and fun, and it turned out to be one of the defining interviews of the series.
I remember about halfway through the interview, two kids walking by on the opposite side of the street spotted Mac. They were instantly starstruck, and ran across the street to say what’s up. I can’t remember if they took a pic or not (probably did), but it was the same excitement level I would’ve had if I saw my favorite rapper on the street as a teenager. And Mac was cool, showing genuine love back to them with the sincerity and charm that only he had.
As we walked back inside the office to wrap up our session together, I handed Mac a Boys & Girls Club of Northern Westchester t-shirt, autographed by some of the kids I worked with at my full-time job who were huge Mac Miller fans. He loved it, and even filmed a “thank you” video I could share with them upon my return back to the club. He also signed a few pics to give to the kids.
Mac’s passing has been a huge blow to the hip-hop community. He was the glue that connected different crews and generations of artists—a guy that was respected for not only his MC skills, but for his talent as a songwriter, producer and musician. It’s so sad that his life had to end at a time when it felt like he was about to experience a new beginning.
In light of NahRight’s now defunct status, I’d like to share a re-published version of Mac’s In The Lab feature. There are some great insights into the making of Watching Movies With the Sound Off, and plenty of gems about his creative process and studio lifestyle.
RIP Mac, we’re all gonna miss you…
In The Lab with Mac Miller (NahRight, 2013)
Mac Miller is an artist in the truest sense of the word. He likes to create, from scratch. It’s abundantly clear after listening to his new album Watching Movies With the Sound Off that this rap shit isn’t just some breezy hobby that he turned into a career. No, Mac cares about his craft, and he’s not afraid to try new things and experiment. Don’t get it twisted. Just because dude has a reality show on MTV doesn’t mean he hasn’t been putting in heavy work. This young man is becoming one of the most fearless songwriters and innovative hip-hop producers right before our eyes. Real talk.
To find out more about how Mac created the music for his impressive new LP—which drops this Tuesday—we linked up with him yesterday afternoon at the Rostrum Records office in lower Manhattan to talk about the home studio ambience at his California crib, how he constructs his beats and rhymes, and his favorite movies to watch with the sound off for inspiration. Plus, we found out what it was like for him working with Pharrell on their upcoming collaborative EP Pink Slime, and how in the hell he got a verse on his album from the magician himself, Jay Electronica.
Step inside the lab with Mac Miller aka Larry Fisherman, the now generation of rap’s new spiritual leader.
Recording Watching Movies With the Sound Off at Home
Mac Miller: “I recorded the whole thing at the crib. One song was recorded at Alchemist’s, and one song was recorded at ID Labs [in Pittsburgh]. And then, two songs were recorded on tour. But all the work was done at the house.
“My home studio used to be the pool house. Now, it’s like a dungeon. No windows, very secluded, and very separated from the world. Real vibey. It looks like a sanctuary. We call it ‘The Sanctuary.’ Very religious. We got a dope set-up. Bean bags to sit on, candles everywhere. Dope carpets. Weird statues. Red lights. And all the equipment necessary.
“I make my beats on Logic. And sometimes Pro Tools. And I’m trying to get into Ableton. First beat I ever made was on an MP. I used to make beats on an MP all the time. Then I got the new MP, and I didn’t like it, because it felt like a computer program. It wasn’t like a stand-alone thing. I wanted to get an MP to like, play on. So I stopped using it.
“Recording for me is a real night-time thing. I do a lot during the delirious hours, where you can’t really formulate sentences properly. But I like how my mind works. But then, sometimes I switch it up and do the daytime. And the set-up during the day is crazy because you open the door, and the whole room is different. The sunlight hits, and it becomes a completely different vibe. But I barely swim in my pool. I thought I would use it so much. I just started to use it more.
“Sometimes, the homies are chilling. Sometimes, when it gets to the crazy hours, it’s just me. But most of the time, it’s just me and Josh, though. Josh is like my engineer. I met him when I went out to L.A., and he recorded all of Macadelic. And then, he recorded all of this project, and a whole bunch of other stuff I’ve been doing. He basically lives in my house, because we record so much.”
“I don’t like to eat in the studio. If I do eat while I’m working, I go upstairs and eat in the kitchen. But drugs, alcohol, weed in there, for sure. It’s gotta be a blunt. I like that more than anything else.”
Girls in the Studio
“Every now and then. But girls always think they want to go to the studio, and then, the music making process is way more boring than they thought. So they just end up dippin’. They think it’s gonna be fun and exciting, but it’s really just a beat being made, which is like, not fun. Unless you’re really interested in that type of stuff. But they’re usually just trying to party, so Jimmy takes them upstairs. [Laughs.] But I did have sex in the studio before. That’s tight. [Laughs.]”
Recording On Tour
“If you want to spend the money, you can get the full studio bus, which we did before. It’s pretty sick. You have a real studio in the back of your bus. At other times, it’s more a set-up like, bring out a keyboard and some little speakers. And sometimes I like to just record straight to the laptop, and use the laptop microphone. It has it’s own little vibe to it.”
Favorite Movies to Watch with the Sound Off
“Beetlejuice, because the claymation is really sick. Zombies Vs. Strippers, when I don’t want to think too deeply. It’s a movie about a bunch of strippers who take guns and kill a bunch of zombies. But it’s dope. It’s something light.
“Birds From The Gods is a good one, because it’s just like, majestic flight. And The Secret Life of Plants, that’s another good one. And underwater documentaries. At times, I’ll throw some action movie on if I want to get crazy. Or a horror movie. But usually it’s more vibey. I’m more into the spiritual stuff.”
“For real, I listen to a bunch of different music all the time. But I try not to listen and then work. I try to create something right out of my mind. I try not to listen to a song first, because then you end up making a song that sounds like what you were just listening to. And then you feel less proud or accomplished because you feel like you just did somebody else’s shit.
“A lot of it comes from life. Like, from having really crazy conversations with people, and taking that as inspiration. Things that you talk about. And a lot of times it’s from trying to conjure things up in my mind, and come up with something. I like to create things from nothing, rather than take things from something.
“Inspiration is always gonna come, but I just like it to come naturally and organically. Inspiration might come from walking down the street and hearing a song playing at a bar, and you just like it. You didn’t plan on hearing it. Then it’s like the universe sent me [that inspiration] rather than me trying to find it.”
“Pretty much every time, I hear the beat first. But the writing process differs though. Sometimes, I go in the studio and I don’t write. Sometimes I write on my phone, my laptop, sometimes with a pad and pen when I want to go vintage with it. [Laughs.] But usually, I like to zone out. That’s the thing with the room. You remove yourself from reality, and then just try to live and exist in that song. Then I usually let the music be the guidance.
“I used to just go, go, go, and then I would be done. And now it’s like, I take my time. But sometimes the shit just comes. If something’s flowing, I don’t try to fight it and be like, ‘This is too easy.’ I feel like there’s a reason for everything. Sometimes it’s a lot of work overthinking things, and driving yourself crazy thinking about every word. And just being really meticulous about what words you’re using, and what you’re saying. And other times, it’s like free-thought talking. Then I just go, and I’m not putting too much stress on each word.
“Sometimes I’ll think of a song at a random time, and then I’ll just kind of store it in my head, and then let it out when I hear the right beat. But most of the time, it’s all right there, and on the spot. The song about my homie was because I had just got back from his funeral, so I had no choice but to do that. It was the first thing I did when I got home. Same thing on K.I.D.S., when I wrote ‘Poppy,’ it was the night my grandpa died. If you’re gonna do it, you gotta do it right there. If it’s that type of song, I’d rather do it right there in the moment, than have it be a retrospective thing.”
“Sometimes, I want to say a lot in the hook. But a lot of times, I’d rather say less and have each word mean more. For instance, a hook like, ‘Suck my dick before I slap you with it.’ That’s all it needs. [Laughs.] You don’t need to overdo it. Simplicity. Sometimes, the genius of everything is figuring out how to say exactly what you want to say and not cover it with all this other stuff that is just masking what is being said.”
“I try not to do too many takes, because the more times we do it, the less we like it. It’s like, you record and record it, and after a while, the words kind of lose their meaning to you. So I like to try and get as much in as possible, if not one take the whole thing. But I’m not against punching in. If I gotta punch, I gotta punch.
“I try not to have a routine. Sometimes I like memorizing, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes it sounds like I’m reading on purpose. I want it sound like that. I look at it like, it just comes from above, goes through me, goes onto the page, and I’m just presenting it to the world.
“I try and keep myself guessing and challenging myself. I don’t want to ever get comfortable in one zone. Sometimes I record one song all day. Sometimes I record for two hours in the morning or at night, and that’s all the music I do in one day. Sometimes I do hella songs in one day and I’m just on a roll. Whatever’s laid out, I just go to the flow.”
Favorite Verses on Watching Movies With the Sound Off
“‘Aquarium.’ I’m not the one to say I’m the tightest or anything, but those verses are genius. Those, and the ‘I Am Who Am (Killin’ Time)’ verses. And ‘Avian.’ But what I’m really proud of is you’d be hard-pressed to find a weak verse on the album. I made sure every verse is purposeful and something special. Nothing is wasted like, ‘Yo this hook is tight, who cares?’ Everything is supposed to be there.”
Using Different Flows
“I just recently started thinking about flows. Maybe even after the album. Not even for the whole album. I never even used to think about the flow, which is kind of crazy. I’ve always just kind of done what’s come to mind. It’s just what feels natural. Like, if I were to freestyle on a beat, this is what I would do.
“But that’s kind of my new shit, is to really pick your flow. That’s my next evolution. That’s one thing about Drake. People say what they want about Drake, but as far as picking his flow, and dissecting a beat properly, that man is in the pocket. So, trying to find that pocket is a new adventure for me.”
Jay Electronica’s Guest Verse on “Suplexes Inside of Complexes and Duplexes”
“Jay Electronica may or may not be a real person. He might be just an energy. He might be invisible. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s just a spirit. We all have a little Jay Electronica.
“He sent me the verse two hours before I went in to master it. The album was done, and I was like, ‘Bro, the album is done. Tell me now if you’re gonna do this. No hard feelings if you can’t, I completely understand.’ He was like, ‘I promise you.’ And he would be sending me texts just randomly throughout the whole album process, like, ‘Don’t turn your album in without me.’ The whole time, we’d been talking about doing this record.
“It was dope because, I sent him a couple options. Three tracks. And the one that I produced, he picked that one, which is just a simple canvas. But it’s crazy. He was like, ‘I got you, I promise.’ Then, he sent me an email, with the lyrics he was about to spit. I was like, ‘This verse is about to be insane!’ It was very interesting, and artistically punctuated. The punctuation in the email was crazy. Next level. Then, he sent the verse [as I was] basically on my way to mastering. I got it just in time.
“I knew he would, though. I’ve waited on verses from people that didn’t send them, and I always had that feeling like, ‘He’s not gonna send it.’ But I always had that feeling with him like, ‘He’s gonna send it.’ And he did. It was the same thing with Wayne on Macadelic, because Wayne fit the vibe of that project perfectly. And that’s kind of like Jay Electronica with this project.”
Collaborating with Rapper Friends Action Bronson, ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and More
“The idea is that we’re all friends, so it’s not like, ‘This is for my album.’ We just make songs to make songs, and they end up on the album or not. But the most important thing is that we all have our different worlds that we live in as artists. The key is to not bring someone to your world, and not go to their world, but to combine both worlds and make something that doesn’t exist yet. That’s what a true collaboration is. Every record that we did for this album was done with that formula. We all sat down and made the records together.
“Soul writes all in his head. He doesn’t use paper. He’s just sitting there. Everyone zones out, and you take off, and go inside the song. It’s dope when it’s your album, and you have your homies in there, and everyone’s trying to go in on their verses. Like, ‘I wanna do something dope. I’m not just gonna find a verse I had laying around.’ We’re gonna create songs. It’s fun like that.”
“I try not to have a process. That’s one thing I was talking to Lotus about. He was like, ‘Man, these are gonna be your favorite times making instrumentals and shit, because no one expects anything from you. You don’t have a sound. This is when you can do whatever you want.’ I’m trying to stick with that. Maybe there will be some little things in there that you will always do. Like, ‘Mac made that shit. I can tell because he always does his strings like that. Or his melodies kind of have that vibe.’
“I try to just go. The main thing that I’ve noticed about myself, is that a lot of my homies that produce very well, extraordinarily, they’re very meticulous about their shit. But I like to just jump in and go. I think I’ll get meticulous down the line. It’s the same way I am with lyrics. At first I would just go, and now I’m more meticulous. But for now, I just play some chords, and I’m like, ‘Okay, cool.’ Then I build off them, rather than analyze them. Sometimes I do, but I’m at the point where I don’t have any type of routine. I do it differently every single time, depending on who I make a beat for, or what type of song I’m working on. But making beats is my favorite thing. I miss making beats right now. I’m itchin’.
“I watched Big Jerm and E.Dan make beats for years and years, and I quietly would pick up on things. You just see people map out beats, and you’re influenced by it. And every now and then, you come in like, ‘What’s that sound?’ And they’ll be like, ‘Oh, that’s that.’ And sometimes they’re like, ‘Uhhh, I don’t wanna tell you.’ [Laughs.]”
Favorite Self-Produced Track on Watching Movies With the Sound Off
‘Avian’ is my favorite beat I made on the album, for sure. ‘Avian,’ and ‘REMember.’ ‘Avian’ to me is what made the project. It’s the heart of the project. And ‘REMember,’ I got the guitar solo on there. Both of those.”
Doing Production For Other Artists
“It’s tight now, people are coming to me for beats. But I like to make beats with people in the studio, I’m not an emailer guy. I did some shit with Soul for his album that’s crazy. The Vince Staples project is crazy. I did some shit for Dash. I made some shit with Alchemist that was awesome. Lotta production shit is rolling out. I’m excited to be a real producer.”
Recording with Pharrell for Pink Slime
“We did Pink Slime in Miami. We’re not done yet. I kind of want to redo the whole thing. We’re both probably looking at the project differently now. He probably looks at me differently after this album.
“I have songs like ‘Objects in the Mirror,’ which is the one from my album that I’m singing on, and ‘Onaroll,’ which was the real crazy turnt up one that got released from Pink Slime. That’s the scope. One’s a very emotional record with me singing, and the other is like a disgusting song. It’s nasty. The imagery is things that you don’t want your mom to hear. I think he told me he played ‘Onaroll’ for Jay, which is crazy. And Jay was like, ‘That’s Mac Miller?!’ But there’s the crazy anarchy shit, and then there’s beautiful music.
“We did a lot of records, but I think we’re gonna start from scratch. We did a lot of records on the spot. But I’d also be like, ‘Hey, what you got in the Jay folder? What did Jay pass on?’ Like, ‘What’s in Pusha’s folder?’ And he told me everyone does that. He was like, ‘Jay be saying that too.’ So it depends. Sometimes you want to make that shit from scratch, which is my personal favorite. But we did a couple that Jay passed on, which was tight, because Jay’s gonna hear it, and be like, ‘Fuck, I should’ve used that.’”
Recording For the Larry Fisherman Soundcloud Page
“Those are my favorite. To me, that’s just liberating. The music business is so serious sometimes. Like, ‘Oh shit, this song leaked. You don’t want to fuck up sales.’ But Soundcloud is like, ‘Who cares?’ I literally make shit and just put it up. Sometimes to a fault. Like, I’ll put it up quick, and then be like, ‘Fuck, that could’ve been on the album. If only I didn’t put it out.’
“But I love it. Soundcloud’s my favorite shit in the world. They were at my listening party, the Soundcloud dudes. I was like, ‘I love y’all. Y’all are awesome.’ It’s my favorite thing. I tell people, ‘If you really want to know about me, go to my Soundcloud. That’s when you’ll find out who I am.’
“I always liked the name Fisherman. It sounds like a grimey dude who is always in the studio. ‘He Who Ate All The Caviar,’ I played that guitar lick myself. And that Richard Pryor sample, we had a turntable in there, and that’s me actually scratching. That’s the shit. Even if you’re not even good at something, just do it. I don’t know how to scratch and shit, but I just put it on there like, ‘Fuck yeah.’ Mitch Hedberg once said that if you spend your whole life preparing, then you’re never going to do anything. Just jump in and do it. That’s the best way to get better at something. Do it while you suck at it.”
Thank you to Q and Arthur Pitt for helping to make this interview happen. More on Mac’s passing HERE, including a playlist of Westcheddar’s favorite Mac Miller songs.