When it comes to producing, New York-raised music man Baby Paul knows a thing or two about putting together top quality beats. Initially making his entrance into the Hip-Hop biz in the early-90s as a member of the Beatminerz camp, Paul had a hand in helping shape the sound of golden-era Rotten Apple rap through his contributions to albums from Black Moon, Smif-N-Wessun and Heltah Skeltah.
After leaving Da Beatminerz shortly after the completion of their 2001 Rawkus album Brace 4 Impak, the down-to-earth crate-digger hit the ground running, crafting cuts for a long line of heavyweight artists, including Nas (Destroy & Rebuild), Fat Joe (My World) and Pharoahe Monch (Livin’ It Up). Paul has also worked closely with Brooklyn favorite AZ in recent years, producing the 2003 Grammy nominated AZ / Nas collaboration The Essence.
Having now established his own company, Divine Order Entertainment, the individual also known as ‘BpZy’ looks set to stay busy in 2008 and beyond. Aside from once again teaming up with AZ on the rapper’s new album Undeniable, Paul has also signed former Roc-A-Fella vixen Amil to his label, with the pair currently working on her full-length comeback project. But if you can’t wait any longer for your fix of Baby Paul’s trademark sound, the Queens native recently dropped an online-only release entitled Throwback City, an instrumental album that seeks to reintroduce the producer’s gritty-but-musical style to the masses (a CD version is due to be released early in March via Redline Distribution).
Taking a break from scoring upcoming indie flick Ex$pendable (in which he will also be seen acting), Baby Paul jumped on the phone with Sixshot.com to talk about his history, his new label, and the secret to staying relevant in an increasingly fickle music business.
Explain briefly how you got involved in the production game.
I started my career with Da Beatminerz – shoutout to Evil Dee and Mr. Walt. I got my official start in the game in the early-90s when Black Moon came out with their Enta Da Stage album. Even though both Walt and Evil Dee are from Bushwick, Brooklyn, Walt was working in the Music Factory record store in Jamaica, Queens. He was always up on new music and we built a friendship based on the fact that I was just a hungry kid, an aspiring DJ and beat maker, and I was always up on new music before it came out as well.
I used to intern at Power Play Studios in Long Island City and this was when Large Professor was working on Kool G. Rap’s Wanted: Dead Or Alive album, Eric B. & Rakim were making Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em, and KRS-One was recording Ghetto Music: The Blueprint Of Hip-Hop. I was going to college and working part-time at UPS, but I was taking every last dime I had to buy records and a drum machine, and I just learnt the ropes being around the greats and soaking up some of that energy.
So did you teach yourself how to make beats or did someone take you under their wing and show you?
It was a combination of both, but no-one actually sat me down and said, ‘Okay, this is what you do.’ Large Professor was really my inspiration to be a producer and I watched the work he was doing with Eric B. & Rakim and Kool G. Rap. Large Pro is my hero, man. He was working the SP-1200 like magic back then. Watching him do what he was doing, it definitely motivated me to want to do something like it.
There were many legendary producers making music in the New York rap scene in the early-90s, such as DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and Lord Finesse etc. Was there a high level of competition between you all?
Man, it was beautiful. We were all digging for records, looking for that perfect beat and trying to be the one to flip it first. We were all competing with each other, but we were also fans of each other. I always compare that era in Hip-Hop to what the great jazz musicians and soul musicians went through in their eras. Everybody was acquainted with each other and respected each other’s work. I mean, you’d hear somebody’s record and that’d make you want to beat them creatively.
It wasn’t even about the money back then. The money was the second thing on your mind; the first thing was the integrity of what you were doing. It was like, ‘I wanna make something hot to impress my peers.’ That was the motivation before anything else. Whatever you made financially off the music it was like, ‘Okay cool, I can pay my bills with that, get some fresh gear and get at some chicks’ but I really just wanted to make sure that any beat I made was so crazy that when I ran into someone like a Pete Rock or a Q-Tip, they’d be like ‘Yo! That shit you did was hot, man.’
I think the commercialization of the game has forced people to suppress their integrity and focus more on just getting the job done, so to speak. There are still a few exceptions to the rule though, and those are the cats that still maintain a level of respect in today’s market. I mean, there are plenty of producers making money today, but they’re not respected. Personally, I refuse to have a career where I’m rich but when people hear my music they’re like ‘Ah, this guy’s corny.’ I want people to experience that natural high when they hear my material because that’s what music is supposed to do. It should take you into another world, make you forget about everything else and it should give you that same feeling every time you hear that particular record.
The Fab 5 (Heltah Skeltah & OGC) – “Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka” (Duck Down / 1995)
What did you learn from your experience as a member of Da Beatminerz?
I would say a combination of integrity, respect, and not forgetting where you’re from. One thing I always got from being around E and Walt was that they always acknowledged what came before them and made a conscious effort to integrate that into what they did. There were always subtle tones in their music that showed their influences. That’s why in my music I always try to include tones of my foundation with Da Beatminerz, but then I build on that and take it a little further so that it’s accessible for today’s market and younger listeners. It’s almost a Catch-22 situation because you have to try to make the old new. If you focus too much on the old then that’s what you’ll become, but if you focus too much on the new you can alienate older fans. So you really have to try and find that balance between respecting the past and creating a new future.
Do you prefer to work together with an artist to put a track together or just shop beats you’ve already made?
I like to do it from the ground up, but there are instances where you’ll build a rapport with an artist and you’ll bounce ideas off each other and it gets to the point where you know the type of beats that artist looks for anyway. But I like to work with new artists and I like to develop artists. I’d rather do that than worry about selling another hot beat to that hot artist who’s working on a new album. Don’t get it twisted, I love to work with artists who want to work with me, but it means more to me to build something from the bottom up.
Given the economic state of the music industry right now, how does that affect you as a producer in terms of placing beats on major label releases? Has there been a loss of opportunity since the business started to suffer financially due to declining sales etc?
Right now, I think it’s deep-rooted competition. Meaning that, if you don’t have a relationship with an artist, or someone within that artist’s circle, it’s so saturated that you’re not going to get any work. If you don’t have those relationships then your music has to be so strong that you can shop your stuff randomly and people will say ‘Yo! I’ve got to have this record.’ But right now, the music game is a completely relationship-driven business. That’s why I decided to delve a bit deeper in terms of getting involved behind the scenes of the industry because I figured that building relationships that way would allow me to maneuver a little better as a working producer. So I started doing A&R consulting for a couple of indie labels and brokering deals for artists on different projects.
Multi-tasking has allowed me more options as a producer. Now I can take an artist under my wing, bring them to a label, get them a deal, then oversee the project and produce on it as well, instead of making thirty beats and trying to shop them to all the artists putting albums together at a particular moment.
AZ ft. Nas – “The Essence” (Motown / 2002)
Nowadays if you go on sites like MySpace it seems like everybody’s making beats. Do you think increased access to technology has been a blessing or a curse for the production game?
That’s a good question. I don’t really like to knock anybody who loves the music and wants to be involved in it, but I think access to technology has made it a little bit too easy. For me, I had to work hard to make a name for myself. Before anybody even knew who I was I had to pay a lot of dues, and what I mean by that is that I had to do my homework in terms of beat-digging, learning how to use equipment, networking, and getting beats placed. Nowadays, you can get on a computer and download music to sample instead of going to record stores to search for it and learning your music history.
Digging in the crates for me was like going to music school. There’s a technique to it and you have to know what you’re doing. You couldn’t just go into a record store and buy any record that would then inspire you to be creative. There’s a science to digging which involves understanding the musicians on certain records, the timeframe of certain music, the labels, the artists. I guarantee that any producer who comes from the 90s era of Hip-Hop especially will agree with what I’m saying right now and know exactly what I’m talking about.
Now with technology as it is, you can just go to a software-sharing site, type an artist’s name and download all types of stuff, which definitely makes it easier. I mean, there are definitely songs out today that sound like they only took five minutes to produce. I’m not hating, because a lot of that stuff is for the kids. But what moves and motivates me is more intricate than that.
What’s the concept behind your new album Throwback City and why did you decide to put out an instrumental project as opposed to a producer-based joint with artist features?
I actually had an album that I was working on called The Making with guest artists but I kinda stalled it because I just felt the timing wasn’t right. That’s when I decided to dig deep into the industry side of the business so that when I do put out a record I know what I’m doing in terms of really making my presence felt. So I decided to hold back on my full-blown producer album, but keep putting out more material to build on my brand so that when I do put The Making out it has a little more importance. I decided to do an instrumental album because I was so inspired by what J Dilla did with Donuts.
I named the album Throwback City because conceptually it’s taking the past and making it the present and the future. It’s my interpretation of Hip-Hop music. Beings that I come from the 90s era you’re going to get hints of that in the sound, but then it’s still somewhat progressive so that some of the young kids listening to music today can get into it. I’m also planning to do a promotional mix CD in support of the album and have selected artists dropping freestyles over some of the beats on there. I’m hoping to have AZ, Amil, Large Pro and Monie Love on there, plus John Doe who’s signed to Timbaland’s label and is a good friend of mine from Queens.
What can people expect from the DJ tour you’re doing to support the album?
The idea just came to me. I was thinking of ways to promote the album and trying to find a unique approach to making people aware of the project. I started thinking about the name of the album and it took me back to the idea of throwing parties where all you would hear is that hot Hip-Hop that we love. So you’re going to hear a lot of classic tracks, a lot of 90s music, plus some of today’s current stuff. I’m going to have a segment where you’ll hear a lot of breaks, and then there’ll be a turntablist segment to represent the DJs. To me, all of that combined is a dope party.
You recently wrote quite a lengthy blog on MySpace to introduce your new Digital BpZy logo – for those people who didn’t catch that explain the meaning behind the image?
That’s like my official mascot. That’s BpZy and he’s real hood (laughs). He’s like ‘Yo, I gots to get it.’ He’s a tough guy (laughs). My whole goal has always been to balance my art with being able to make money and that’s part of what the BpZy logo represents. It’s almost like a subliminal statement because I used the American flag scarf in the logo to signify the capitalist society we live in. Hopefully it’s an image that will catch people’s attention.
You’ve signed former Roc-A-Fella artist Amil to your Divine Order Entertainment imprint. What can people expect from her forthcoming album?
I’m so excited and I can’t wait for people to hear Amil’s new music. She’s grown as a writer and as a woman since she dropped her All Money Is Legal album in 2000. Creatively, her subject matter is very diverse and that’s something people might not expect because of the perception they may have of her from the singles that were put out first time around.
Amil has a lot of depth as an artist, which is something people really didn’t get to see before because of the way she was marketed and her label really only focused on pushing joints like I Got That with Beyonce. But on the actual album she had songs like Smile 4 Me, which got into her spirituality, and also Quarrels, which dealt with some of Amil’s personal conflictions about trying to make it in the business. It was tracks like those that made me a fan of hers, so when we met and started talking about working together I let Amil know that it was that side of her I wanted to take further in any new music we made. Of course, we’re going to have to balance that out with a little of what people expect for the project to sell, but I really want there to be some substance in the music as well.
There’s going to be some fun records on the album which are entertaining, but then there’ll be others that substantiate Amil’s value as an artist. It’s hard for female MCs in the game right now, so regardless of sales, I want people to walk away from the project saying ‘That was a good album.’
Who else are you working with on the label?
I’m working with a pop artist called Dani Davis out of California who is a great writer and performer. I also have another artist out of Florida called Mikey Bloodshot who’s West Indian, so his sound is like reggae-meets-Southern Hip-Hop.
If you were to step away from the music game tomorrow, how would you want your contribution to be remembered?
I’d just want people to say my music represented quality and integrity and that it was considered classic material you could always go back to.