Sampleface: When did you start making beats?
12 Original Players: In my early teens I was messing about with a program called Microrhythm Plus on the Commodore 64. I’d concoct really bad pause loops using my Dad’s records and program a beat to try and match it. At age 16 I linked up with a local producer (as I was MC’ing at the time), who had an Akai S950 and an Atari ST based sequencer. I’d bring round records from my Dad’s collection or stuff I’d just dug up and we’d make demos on the Tascam 4 track. I’ve been using those wonderful Akai boxes ever since!
I purchased a S2000 when this arrangement came to an end and released a cassette-only EP in 1997 called “Tangents”. I used to produce under the moniker Joe Maximus then: I ditched the name not long after the Gladiator movie came out, for fear of association! After I moved to Edinburgh eleven years ago, my Atari ST became more temperamental than usual and I decided to switch to the all in one magic box. My MPC 2000XL; one of the best purchases of my life.
S: What sort of music did you listen to growing up?
12 Original Players: My Dad was a fiend for records (now you know where I get it from!). One of my earliest memories is going to The Diskery (renowned Birmingham vinyl emporium) and marvelling at the amount of records they had. Thirty years on, I still do! My Dad’s tastes varied from Hall & Oates to Prince Buster through to Al Green. So I absorbed all of that plus what I heard on pirate and mainstream radio: the 80s was a great time for music, with a lot of the music in the mainstream being highly innovative.
S: What was the first hip hop track that caught your attention?
12 Original Players: The Real Roxanne- “Bang Zoom Let’s Go Go!” was the first record I ever bought and I played it whenever I could. UNTIL the game changer that is “Follow The Leader” by Eric B & Rakim. I remember seeing about 30 seconds of the video on Top Of The Pops and I pestered my Mom for an advance on my pocket money so I could buy it on the weekend. 26 years later, I still listen to that 45 at least once a month. Rakim was introducing poetry into a lot of lives on a subliminal level. Absolute genius. Plus, that was the first time I heard “Nautilus” flipped and it’s rarely being bettered.
S: Who influences your style?
12 Original Players: Incredible, visionary producers and songwriters. David Axelrod’s music was so epic, I often listen to his albums to absorb the emotion he’d achieve with his arrangements and instrument selection. Isaac Hayes, Norman Whitfield, Dexter Wansel, Todd Rundgren and Keith Mansfield are other big influences upon my own music.
In the field of hip-hop, The Underdog’s production on The Brotherhood’s LP, “Elementalz” was a major influence in terms of broadening the range of music that I was buying and listening to. Otherwise, I’d have to go with the perennial favourites: Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Showbiz, Q-Tip, Dilla. I also have to include my Louis Den affiliated soldiers: Kosyne, Kelakovski, Apatight, Beat Butcha, Metabeats, Jaisu and Myke Forte.
S: Do you think it is important to have a musical background, whether it be classically trained or just learning an instruments?
12 Original Players: It definitely helps, from getting samples in key to programming your own basslines. I did a small amount of music theory at school and wish that I’d carried on with it. I’m aiming to learn the piano in the next year or two, as I know it’ll enhance my music and help me realise my ideas. You can hear how being able to play pushes the beats of Apatight to that next level alongside the samples.
S: Describe how you approach the making of a track.
12 Original Players: Right, I can’t give away too many jewels right here! It all starts with the vinyl. I try to listen to music whenever I can when I’m at home and sometimes a break or a sound will jump out at me. And if not me, then my two year old son, Dillan, sometimes hears something that catches his ear and gets him grooving. He’s very much attuned to the music and I run all my tracks past him before releasing them into the public domain.
I’ll put that record to one side and after the wife and kids are asleep, I’ll chop it up in the MPC. I’m usually aiming to work the samples in a more musical fashion, so the finished product is more of my creation. I won’t knock an ill unused loop when it crops up though!
Another method I’ve been using lately is to blindly select a record out of the stacks and see what transpires from there. I usually work at night just by the glow of the MPC screen: bad for my eyes, good for your ears when I’m done!
S: What equipment and/or instruments do you use?
12 Original Players: Primarily the Akai MPC 2000XL is the genesis for everything I do. No memory upgrades or effects in the box, just rawness like a semi-advanced SP1200. 21.7 seconds of mono memory and a gang of records is all I need son! The challenge of creating something from such limitations always remains fresh to me.
I’ve recently invested in a Microkorg XL, as I’d like to learn to play keys on some of my tracks and it’s useful for layering sounds to beef up the beats. The only other studio essentials I have are my turntable and my Roclab mixer. This enables me to EQ the sounds from the records before they enter the MPC. It’s very useful for panning between channels too (lessons learned from Paul C- Rest In Power)!
For recording, I’ve got an archaic laptop that takes 45 minutes to boot up properly and the free program Audacity. I need more rappers to buy beats so that I can buy a new laptop and Ableton!
S: What are your fondest musical memories?
12 Original Players: Participating in the second King Of The Beats DVD was a fantastic experience and made me step my game up after I watched the finished product. I was still recording beats onto TDK D90 cassettes at that stage!
The two Louis Den beat battles I’ve participated in a couple of years ago were a great experience. Hearing my creations banging out LOUD and seeing mass enjoyment just spurred me on to make bigger and better music.
A lot of my musical knowledge was formed in a record shop that used to be the Mecca back in the day. Same Beat Records was the place where I made a lot of connections and spent many hours just hanging out and listening to great music. Damian Wilkes, one of the owners, was a great record dealer and put me on to so many names. This was before sample snitching on the internet was the norm. You’d rely on word of mouth, or what you read in magazines like Record Collector and Big Daddy. Snippets of titles and faded memories of sleeves stay with me to this day, resurrected whenever I go digging in the crates.
S: Favourite label?
12 Original Players: Associated Minds, Eat Good Records, Mello Music Group and High Focus are doing it for me right now. They’re all consistent, have strong rosters, and also a memorable brand image that help them stay above the competition.
S: Favourite producer and MC?
12 Original Players: I definitely have to say Dilla for his talent, range and work ethic in the production field. On the mic, I’ll always say Juice Aleem or Pharoahe Monch as they’re always consistent with the style and content in equal measures. Truly phenomenal MCs that just seem to get better with time.
S: Who would you most like to work with and why?
12 Original Players: I’m quite content with the cats that have recorded to my beats or are currently writing to my tracks. You shall hopefully hear the fruits soon. I’m still planning to construct my producer LP for 2013, so I don’t want to jinx this wish list I’ve had in my mind for a while!
S: What are your thoughts on UK Hip Hop and is there anyone in the UK you’d like to work with?
12 Original Players: I’d like to do more work with Lunar C (I produced the introduction for his most recent mixtape Sewer Side Sex) and actually get him to lace one of my beats with some of those insane punchlines of his. As I previously mentioned I don’t want to ruin my wish list for my producer LP, so I’ll keep the rest of that answer close to my chest for now.
S: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
12 Original Players: No-one’s going to hear your beats in your bedroom. Big up Jay Large for that and many other jewels that have helped me to streamline my efforts and promote my music and image.
S: What advice would you give to beginners starting out?
12 Original Players: Develop your craft before flooding the market even further. There’s a lot of competition out there now, especially with the relatively low cost of recording so make sure every musical statement is a strong one and represents who you are. Don’t make a trap beat just because it’s the sound of now: if you can make one that allows your personality to shine through then go for it. Oh, and buy records. They’re good for you.