Pete Rock, hip-hop producer

One of the first things that strikes you after you increase your hip-hop exposure is the re-appearance of certain names - often over decades - and the key role of communities (linked to labels and producers).

For argument's sake, let's say this is something distinctive and even definitive of the genre as a whole.

Sure, you could talk of a punk scene, or a series of rock groups associated with a city, but each are defined by the fact that they don't last. Rock music, moreover, is driven by the Romantic myth of the genius, battling his/her personal demons. 

This showing respect, acknowledging others and emphasis on collaboration you find in hip-hop reminds me of sampling where the act of musical creation is essentially about mapping points of connection; thinking about how sounds, textures or moods work together. Sampling has a dual effect - at once, marking the value of the original while re-imagining it. It re-aligns the source to put it into a new space: to recreate it.  

Producers then are crucial to understanding this re-imagined space. Pete Rock is considered to be one of the holy Trinity of hip-hop producers, with J Dilla and DJ Premier and still today remains key to understanding hip-hop past and present.

Associated with a bevy of different 'movements' since starting out in the 1990s: alternative hip-hop; experimental hip-hop; East Coast hip-hop; jazz rap; turntablism (thanks W-pedia) but always with a distinctive sound; a wry, lyrical take and/or exaggerated, emphatic beat.

Starting out with that beat, the MC's voice either bounces off it or operates as its echo, so that the other samples are part of the general wall of sound. It's difficult to make a generalised statement about Pete Rock's production aesthetic: at times his music is flat, almost monochromatic, while remaining extremely powerful. This intensity acts as his signature. Elsewhere, his music is all about the detail and lyrical mood; see for example, this very beautiful instrumental that carries within it a very distinctive atmosphere; total control, 'Midnight and you'.

In many respects Pete Rock's work over the decades embodies the facets of hip-hop production that interest me most: the use of contrast (between various elements, the samples used, the mood) and echo (the repetition of certain sounds, or words for comic and dramatic effect) and also the stop-start beat.

I keep asking myself why, at certain points in a hip-hop track, the beat just stops - it's an interesting stylistic device not found in other music, aside from perhaps in a highly theatrical instrumental solo. The beat stops, hovers there (building anticipation) to resume again. To me there is something touching, deeply affecting about this moment of silence where you become aware that the producer is playing a game of sorts, playing with your expectations.     

Check out how Pete Rock flattens and deepens the sound of Public Enemy, for example, while reinforcing the extraordinary king-hit of Shut 'em Down. Note too all these magical details, the stop-start and subtexts; the point where Pete Rock, himself, comes in and offers a smooth counterpoint to the delivery of Chuck D.   

Others have noticed Pete Rock's tendency to put interludes between tracks, as a kind of unfinished coda that goes nowhere in particular, other to create the mood; or the way he builds a track from different elements, flattening them so they become a united force.  

Pete Rock's album, PeteStrumentals (BB3 Records, 2001) is an extremely strong, confident musical statement: with the tracks being driven by the hard beat, but with an overlay of repetitive jazz elements. See here, for instance, A little soul.

In this 2015 interview Pete Rock talks his most recent projects; preferred technology and appreciation of the '80s retro' bands like the Thompson Twins, Talking Heads and the Police. 

Have a look at this amazing video, uploaded in 2006, where Pete Rock talks about his technique .... and samples Pat Benatar just to show off his genius really.