Bronx-based studio maestro Ray West is what you would call a real music man. A producer’s producer. Someone who is totally invested in their craft and fully immersed in their love of Hip-Hop, yet with a genuine appreciation for the musical genres that were used as the sonic building blocks of the culture.
First introduced to most via the release of 2010’s “Everything’s Berri” album with Diggin’ In The Crates legend AG, it was last year’s “LUV NY” project with the likes of Kool Keith and Roc Marciano which fully caught people’s attention, allowing Ray to showcase his unique, melodic lo-fi style of production to a wider audience.
Having remained busy throughout 2013 working with the likes of Left Coast artist Blu and dropping another volume of his “Pianos In The Projects” vinyl series, West is looking to kick-start the new year with the release of “Ray’s Cafe”, a collaborative project with New York mic icon OC that further builds on the BX producer’s reputation for challenging himself and taking his music in new directions.
If you need to get familiar with Ray West’s history then check the interview we did last year here – but otherwise, read on as the man behind the boards discusses the success of the “LUV NY” album, working with OC and his mission to always be original.
Overall, were you pleased with the response the LUV NY album received last year?
“I was real happy, man. I mean, I didn’t expect that album to get the attention it did at all. A lot of my stuff goes under the radar because of how we market the music on Red Apples. We don’t do big videos, we’re not up on YouTube all the time, we just try to put out quality and let the music speak for itself. So the LUV NY album was bigger that I expected it to be. I mean, there are always people who have negative comments, but for the most part the album was received very well. But, I also think there was a perfect storm that occurred around the album at the time we put it out. I mean, Roc Marciano was putting out his “Reloaded” album, Kool Keith dropped “Love And Danger” around that time, OC had the “Trophies” album with Apollo Brown still working for him. AG was promoting the “Mugshot Music” project and Kurious had just come off of the Bamboo Bros album. So “LUV NY” really benefited from what everyone else had already been working on. What was ill for me was that I’d also had some involvement in most of those other projects behind the scenes, whether it was having a production credit on Marc’s “Reloaded” or having conversations with OC and AG about their projects whilst they were working on them. So there was just a lot of activity among all the artists who were involved in “LUV NY” that I think really contributed towards the success of the album”
Plus, the LUV NY album sounded completely different to what any of the artists involved were doing on their own projects…
“Absolutely. That was something I was definitely conscious of because, given that all those artists are my friends and we’re around each other all the time, sometimes it can feel like you’re doing the same thing over because you treat their s**t like yours, and they treat your s**t like their own. So it’s easy to kind of get blinded by what everyone is doing and for one project to merge into another. But then when the LUV NY album was out there, I was listening to it alongside all those other albums and it hit me like, ‘This is really different.’ It just had a really unique feeling to it and that’s exactly what I was hoping for. With Red Apples as a label, I try to keep things based around concepts so each release can stand on its own. Like, all the “Pianos In The Projects” records fall under the same theme, and LUV NY is like the same thing. I mean, I feel like we could have any artist from New York on a LUV NY project and it would still work. The original idea behind LUV NY wasn’t so much about it being a super-group like it was picked up on in the media, it was more about it being an idea and a concept that could change and evolve moving forward.”
On the subject of concepts, you have the new project with OC coming out in January entitled “Ray’s Cafe”. What’s the idea behind the release and how did you come up with that particular theme?
“That “Ray’s Cafe” title track that we put out online recently is actually the first song that me and OC ever made together, which was even before the LUV NY project. It was his first time being at my home studio in the basement. He came over, we hung out upstairs, had dinner with my family, then he came downstairs and that was his first time seeing the basement (laughs). Now, I’ve been down there for about the last twenty years, so it’s full of records, memorabilia and equipment. There’s definitely a lot of history down there and it has a certain feel to it. That first time OC came down there he made a joke about it being like Ray’s Cafe because he’d come and ate with the family and then came down to the basement with the walls all covered in graffiti with multiple rooms full of records. So we recorded what became the track “Ray’s Cafe” and I just thought that was a really great idea for a project. It just gave me the idea to do a bunch of joints that all had that same feel to them and we came up with the concept of us being in this old 70s-style jazz club. So we started working, getting together once a week, and boom! It was during those same sessions that we actually got some other joints that ended up on “LUV NY”, like “Legacy” and the “Acid” joint. They were both recorded during the “Ray’s Cafe” sessions and were beats that O was really feeling. I mean, the “Oasis” album that OC and AG did together had just dropped around the same time we started recording, so that’s how long we’ve been working on this “Ray’s Cafe” project.” But all of the production for the album was done with the jazz cafe concept in mind and OC really put his heart into it as well. The whole process was just amazing.”
So you were looking to create a very specific sound with your production for the project?
“Once the idea was clear in my head, I had different beats that were already in my stash that I thought would fit the concept, so I let OC hear those. Then I was also working on beats that were in tune with the foundation of the project that had been created already. I was going to certain types of records for samples that I knew would match the cocktail lounge vibe that we were aiming for.”
Did the whole old-school jazz concept behind “Ray’s Cafe” also have an impact on what OC was bringing to the table in terms of his rhymes?
“Absolutely. O was always doing the songs right there in the basement. He never came to the house with pre-written rhymes except for “Legacy” which was the only track that was done like that. Every song for “Ray’s Cafe”, O would come over, we’d listen to the tracks we’d recorded already, we’d listen to some beats that I had in mind, then whatever beat OC wanted he’d sit there, write the rhyme and then we’d record it. Every song was done that way. I mean, we weren’t documenting it along the way, we weren’t taking pictures, we weren’t shooting videos, there wasn’t a hundred people over while we were recording, it was really just a private thing with me and OC just doing it for the love of the music. I mean, I don’t want to speak for O, but I really think he enjoyed that part of the process, coming over and not knowing exactly what we were going to do. We didn’t sit down and say that we needed songs about certain topics, O was able to write exactly what he wanted once he’d heard a beat that he liked. O could have done anything on the project and I think that sense of freedom brings out a really different creative energy. I really love the music we made together.”
The fact that OC was happy to work in such a spontaneous manner also says a lot about how comfortable he was with you as a producer and your creative process…
“It’s humbling, man. I mean OC is one of the greatest to ever do this. It’s just crazy to me and I appreciate the fact that I’ve been able to share the experience of working on this project with him. I mean, O also gave me ideas about how he wanted certain tracks to feel, like he’d pull out a song by a group like Heatwave which would then give me ideas about the type of samples to use. So we were really building the whole thing together and just helping each other out throughout the creative process. It wasn’t like we were just sat there sampling Blue Note records, there was all kinds of s**t going on (laughs). I mean, I’m a sample-based producer. I can create from scratch, but my whole process starts with vinyl. I’m really just a deejay with a sampler (laughs). I mean, I’ve gone further than just using a sampler in my music, but I’m definitely a deejay first and everything else comes from that. The process of making music for me started from records. That’s the soul in everything I do.”
The cover art for “Ray’s Cafe” states ‘Dedicated To The Preservation Of Jazz, Soul And Blues’. For me, Hip-Hop has always added to that preservation of other musical genres through sampling, with heads finding out where certain samples came from and then checking those original artists and being able to join the dots between the new and the old. Do you feel the connection to that musical foundation has been lost in Hip-Hop in recent times?
“Y’know, it’s deep what you’re saying and I guess that’s just like my life theory as well. I’m always preserving and sharing and that’s always been a part of Hip-Hop culture in our era, plus before us and a little after us as well. It was all about preserving the culture and sharing with others within the culture, whether that was about hearing some new s**t that you wanted everyone else to hear or finding some old Bambaataa flyer and putting it in some plastic to keep it safe. Nowadays, it seems that people aren’t doing that so much for some reason. But I don’t make my records with any kind of malice about that behind them, I’m kinda in my own world. I’m in my own world where I’m kinda like, this is what I do, if you’re not doing it like this that’s okay, but we’re about preserving the culture through making good music and contributing to the culture. I mean, the music that we make doesn’t always have to be talking about preserving the culture, it just has to contain that feeling that lets you know that’s what we’re about. I don’t want the music on Red Apples to be talking about saving Hip-Hop in every song, I just want our music to be considered good Hip-Hop.”
When we did our interview last year, you spoke about how your 2010 “Everything’s Berri” project with AG confused a lot of people due to your minimalist production style. After the success of “LUV NY” do you think people understand now where you’re coming from musically?
“I think so, bro. Whether people like it or not, I think they do at least know where I’m coming from now. They’ve got it now. I mean, it is what it is. I’m happy to be original in what I’m doing and to know that people know that what I’m doing is going to be a little different to everything else they’re hearing. If you don’t like that kind of different stuff then you don’t have to listen to it, it’s okay. I know I have a certain sort of niche that not everyone’s going to feel and I’m comfortable with that, y’know. I’ve just always wanted to be myself with my music and that’s something I’m only going to do more moving forward. I think it works because there’s a lot of detail in the music and to an introspective listener I think they can really understand where I’m coming from. I try to make music that’s created by using a different palette. It’s crazy though, because since the “LUV NY” project I’ve been getting a lot of emails and messages on Facebook from people who have gone back to listen to “Everything’s Berri” or who’re asking where they can get it from, but we don’t have many copies left (laughs).”
You mentioned listeners being introspective, does that also tie-in with how you view yourself as you always seem happy to take a very low-key approach to promoting your music etc. You’re not on Twitter everyday shouting about your own material…
“That’s totally where I’m at both as far as social media is concerned and also in real life. I’m a family guy with a wife and a son who just stays on the low. I don’t go out to deejay, I don’t really go to shows, I don’t do none of that stuff (laughs). I just wanna be in my basement, make music, share it with the world and then chill with my family and just have a peaceful life. I mean, I know I have to use social media to make sure people know the music is out there, but I try to keep it light and have fun with it. To be honest, I feel a little guilty when I’m posting my own stuff because I don’t want to blow-up people’s timelines, but I do have to do it a little bit (laughs). I just try to stay away from all the nonsense on there. It’s just crazy, man.”
In terms of other producers, who’s out right now that really inspires you to take it to that next level when you get in the studio?
“I have to say Madlib, for sure. I really respect the experimental styles that he comes with. I listen to Blu and think that’s he’s got a really nice raw sound. Ka as well and also Roc Marciano. Those are two brothers that are really making stuff that I love. Any new Dilla stuff that gets released I always try to check. Of course, the times that I get around Showbiz and he plays me some beats, I’m always like ‘Damn!’ His samples are always crazy and his drums are always knockin’. That brother has been blessed with a talent to just be able to create the perfect drums, man.”
I could definitely see you creating something special with Ka if you were ever to work together on a project as you both have that dope, stripped-down style to your production but you each have your own musical vibe…
“I would love to work with Ka, I really would. But as Roc Marc always says to me, Ka is like a Rakim as far as him being someone that is like a secret weapon, just sat in his lab working on his stuff, not really being seen by that many people (laughs). You don’t see Ka on features or doing a lot of stuff outside of his own material. But if the stars ever aligned I would love to do a couple of songs or a small project with Ka. He really does write profound, poetic stuff. I mean, I was lucky that he spat on “Nine Spray” off of Roc Marc’s “Reloaded” project because I produced that beat. But it would be dope to do more work with him because he’s a good dude and he’s doing his own thing and I respect it. That’s why I mentioned him when you asked about people making beats because you can tell from listening to his music that he really cares about what he does and is also very original. But Ka knows that I want do more music with him, he knows (laughs).”
What’s the status of the album you’ve been working on with John Robinson?
“We’ve got a full LP done with John Robinson and AG which is really crazy. John used a lot of his resources to get a bunch of jazz players to come through and play some horns, we had people coming through to sing and we were just able to incorporate a bunch of elements that we don’t usually have. So that really made it special. But then I also have another project with just me and John Robinson which is actually going to come out first. I did all the beats on the SP-12 and it’s kinda dedicated to the SP in a way. The project is called “Samples & Percussion” and we’ve got J-Zone on there doing the intro, then there’s about four vocal tracks with John and a couple of instrumentals. That came out really dope and we’re hoping to put that out in the summer next year. John Robinson is such an incredibly talented guy and he really gets what I’m trying to do with the Red Apples label. So I’ve got the “Ray’s Cafe” project coming out in January, then we have the LUV NY cassette project coming in March, “Samples & Percussion” will drop in the summer and then in the fall of next year I’m hoping we’ll be able to drop the John Robinson / AG album. So I’m really looking to keep some sort of consistency for the next year.”
Is the forthcoming LUV NY project a cassette-only re-release of the album?
“So the forthcoming LUV NY release has Lord Tariq on it, El-Fudge, Kurious, Kool Keith, AG and Dave Dar, plus a couple of remixes from people like King Of Chill on the B-side. It’s like an EP, so on the A-side there’s new material and then on the B-side you have remixes. That’s what I meant earlier when I talked about LUV NY being like a theme that can be used to incorporate different artists. This next one is actually a little harder in terms of how it sounds and also has a little Latin vibe to it because of Fudge, Kurious and Dave Dar and the concepts behind their songs. Then Tariq is on there and of course he brings a certain amount of mystique to anything he does. But it all came together really well.”
So with all this new music planned for 2014, is it possible we might see a Red Apples or LUV NY tour in 2014?
“There were plans for us to tour but it never worked out. Considering how many people were on that LUV NY project there were a lot of different schedules to work around and we decided that we just couldn’t do it without certain people being involved. So I was trying to work something out that just never came together. But again, I’m not big on being away from my family so it has to be the right situation. I would love to come out there if the situation was right, but travelling isn’t a part of the game that I get really excited about. I’m addicted to the studio and my wife’s chocolate chip cookies too much, y’know (laughs).”
Follow Ray West on Twitter – @RedApples45
“Ray’s Cafe” Album Trailer