Going for broke in the open road

Hip-hop legend Pete Rock reminisces over absolutely nothing

Pete Rock

with DJ Ynot
9 p.m. Saturday, May 14
The Social, 407-246-1419

Of all the "G.O.O.D Friday" MP3s that preceded Kanye West's 2010 album My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy, "The Joy" stood out among many gems. It's the song's production that forever attaches itself to the soul and stays with the listener, even more than West's pro-life/pro-funny punchlines or Jay-Z at his nostalgic best. A warm bassline, a crooning Curtis Mayfield, the "joy of children laughing around you," the warm hug of loving drums - it all melds together for something that would be futuristic were it not so damn contemporary. Pete Rock made that. And he made it a few years before Justin Bieber was born.

People as consistently important as Pete Rock - a man with two-plus decades of influence and relevancy - aren't supposed to be ahead of their time. Not in hip-hop. And especially not as a producer, where beatmakers fall off quicker than the flash-in-a-pan trends they start. And yet, Pete Rock continues to have those moments.

"I didn't even realize that people would react to it like that in this day, being that all you hear on the radio is a certain kind of hip-hop," says Pete Rock. "It's surprising, but it's really dope that this type of old, old beat works like this."

In a year that saw the producer, rapper and DJ from Mt. Vernon, New York, turn 41, Pete Rock has plans to release four albums, with a couple more following immediately in 2012. While his long-rumored (and 15-years-overdue) fourth album with CL Smooth isn't on his 2011 slate, he has enough collaborations on deck to bring a crate-dusted tear to the eye of rap purists. Albums with Boot Camp Clik's Tek and Steele (Monumental, out June 28) and Camp Lo (80 Blocks from Tiffany's, release date to be determined) will drop first, but chief among the hype is his once hush-hush project with fellow producing legend, DJ Premier.

"It's not secretive if everyone is asking me about it," Rock says. "I think it's going to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums that ever happened. People don't realize that back in the '60s and '70s, you had jazz artists working together. Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis were on the same album and the band members overlapped and people played on the same songs, and this is just a hip-hop version of those collaborations. We're making the album together, but he's doing half and I'm doing half."

Among the confirmed MCs on the 10-track DJ Premier vs. Pete Rock are workmanlike rappers GZA and Big Pooh - two lyricists who know when to pack on the syllables or lay low to let the beat glow. Also committed to the project is CL Smooth, and while it's not the album everyone wants, it is a start.

Rock and CL Smooth hit the ground running in 1991 with their debut EP All Souled Out and released two hallowed classics during the next three years: Mecca and the Soul Brother and The Main Ingredient. CL Smooth's understated and often philosophical rhymes are an intimate match for Pete Rock's patented horn samples, but it's been 17 years since their last album together. It's a rift that frustrates fans and recalls the tragic end to another famous hip-hop duo, Gang Starr. That duo's members, DJ Premier and Guru, recorded some of the most coveted tracks during their 15 years together, but nothing since 2003's The Ownerz. And they won't ever again: Guru passed away from a heart attack last year.

"It's unfortunate that things in life happen the way they 
happen. I can't really speak on what happened between Guru and Premier," Rock says of their falling out. "I just know that they made great music and I have respect for the both of them. It's unfortunate that these things happen in music. Some people get along and make great music for a certain amount of time, and then people change. It's part of the game that's ugly, along with a lot of 
other things."

After Guru's death and a reunion tour from Pete Rock and CL Smooth, it seemed as if they were going to be able to put their differences aside for a fourth album. The goodwill, however, has worn off for now.

"We haven't gotten into the studio yet, but if it does [happen], then [journalists] will be the first to know," he says. "A lot of [the talk about a reunion album] was because I was with him on tour and it seemed like - we talked about it. We had a conversation about it. It seemed like we were going to do it, but I guess we're not doing it now."

That's all Pete Rock has to say about that, even as his biggest hit with CL Smooth, "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)," was name-dropped by First Lady Michelle Obama. (Pete Rock tweeted recently that someone who works with her told him Mrs. Obama works out to the song.) He says that a trip to the White House is in the works, especially now that "there's soul in the White House." But even as his legendary career is being celebrated 
in new arenas, Pete Rock is still looking ahead to the next project, to the next piece of music, to the next perfect sample.

"I just feel like you have to push it forward as hard as you can with whatever you do, whenever you do it. There's no excuse. You just have to show what the people love about you. Whether it's DJing or rapping or making beats, you have to go full throttle like you're on a motorcycle, going for broke in 
the open road."


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