Prince Paul is happy. Happy to be back in New York, happy De La Soul is finally on streaming services, and happy to chat about the difference between the E-mu SP-12 and SP-1200 samplers. At 56 years young, he bursts into the room with a big smile, wearing a coordinated blue hat, windbreaker, and New Balance sneakers. Born Paul Edward Huston in Amityville, New York, on the South Shore of Long Island, he leaned into his outsider status and his parents' record collection to create a playful and colorful production style all his own. Through a trio of classic albums for De La Soul, the horrorcore of Gravediggaz' 6 Feet Deep, and his conceptual solo album, A Prince Among Thieves, Paul cemented his status as an iconoclastic genius behind the curtain. Fresh off a taping connected to the Biz Markie documentary he'd scored [All Up in the Biz], we sat down in New York City's Hell's Kitchen to talk about his fascinating journey… and the SP-1200.

You really started collecting records at age five?

My siblings were already teenagers. My folks were trying to get these kids out of the house and then here comes Paul. I wanted to be like my older brothers, and they collected music. My dad loved music and was a jazz guy. I'd look at his collection and think, "He has a bunch of records!" But now I realize it was just [gestures to show a 2-foot stack].

It all depends on what's in the stack, right?

His was hardcore jazz. [John] Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. For a kid's ear, it's not like a melody you catch on TV. It was more [mimics Monk's percussive piano chords]. Listening to that with him and my mom's records… everything was focused on records. Back in those days, department stores had record sections, and I told my mom I wanted the 45 of James Brown's "Hot Pants [(She Got to Use What She Got to Get What She Wants)]" and King Floyd's "Groove Me." They were 99 cents each. Those two records were the beginning of my collection.

This is just a Long Island suburban department store. Not digging in crates at A-1 [Record Shop (legendary East Village record store)]?

[laughs] A-1 didn't exist. I don't think the owners were even born yet! Just regular department stores, like Korvettes or TSS (Time Square Stores) all had record sections that also stocked cassettes and 8-tracks.

You developed into a DJ before joining Stetsasonic. How did you move from collecting to learning the craft of DJ-ing?

I started DJ-ing when I was 10, and that was prompted, again, from having older siblings. They'd talk about getting a Pioneer turntable or a new needle, so my focus was on what they had. In those days, I'd ride my bike to the park, and they'd have these big speakers set up. In Long Island, I'd hear "thump thump thump" and know somebody's having a party. As I'd ride closer, I'd see all these people outside, speakers blasting, and the turntables. I would sit in front of the DJ on my bike thinking, "That's what I want to do!" We had one of those component sets that had a turntable and maybe an 8-track attached to it. I got another cheap BSR turntable, and I put it on top of the console. I ran the two turntables left and right side into the console and channeled it out to mono. I could mix from one turntable to the next with the balance knob. After a while the knob got pretty loose!

The one knob you needed.

This was before scratching, so from there it was really about trying to get money. At that point my dad had passed away and we were a single parent household. "How do I get this money to buy records?" Equipment was just way out of pocket. Slowly but surely, I got a better setup, but I think learning how to DJ on something rickety made it easier by the time I got something legit.

It's like finally driving a nice car.

It's just like driving a car. I had this one-wheeled car and I balanced it out. Now I've got four wheels. I could turn corners without a problem. It made me that much more skillful and even more mindful of every little thing about a turntable. It's like when you see Terminator X [Norman Rogers] and he takes something and breaks it down. You had to figure out how things worked and why it worked. You opened it up. You took it apart. Let's tighten the clamps. Let's oil it, let's clean it. It's like going to Cuba and they got all these old cars. Where are the parts? They're making them themselves because they can't get parts and they are trying to keep these cars from the '50s and '60s working. That's how I analyze music as well: From the technical side of the equipment, to looking at music and doing the Terminator X thing, to dissecting every little part, every tone.

That's the same way you approach conceptual albums like A Prince Among Thieves.

Everything is a picture in my head. When I first saw Pro Tools in the '90s, I wished I was able to afford it, and I wish I'd used it for A Prince Among Thieves. I did that all manually with MIDI and samplers, but I already visualized music like that in waves and layers. By the time Pro Tools came around it made it easier for me, because I'd already been visualizing music.

Going back to your formative DJ years, who inspired you beyond local parties?

It started with Afrika Bambaataa's [Lance Taylor] mixtapes and the way he selected music. Jazzy Jay [John Byas] was one of his DJs with [Universal] Zulu Nation, and he was a big inspiration for me – his scratching was way beyond everybody else. All I had was a tape and my imagination; playing it over and over again and hearing how good he was. That got me into the skillful part of it. Bambaataa's record collection was so deep that even with Shazam [app] some of it is impossible to find. I think that helped with sampling too. Having a diverse palette – and listening to what he did – made me look for different music than I would normally play.

How did you connect with Stetsasonic?

I can remember the day clearly. I was on my Schwinn [bike] with some green Nikes I got off the clearance rack. My friends next door said, "Yo, we're going to Brooklyn to DJ this block party. You want to come?" We all squished in a van, and when we got there it was a battle with two or three other DJs. They'd stack up the speaker towers with bass bins, mids, and horns. I had practiced so much in my room that by that time I was doing tricks, like back and forth really fast, behind the back, and so on. If you would've caught me back then, I would've said, "I'm the best DJ I know!" [laughs] I felt that way, because I was ridiculed for starting with so little. Being a DJ was about going to the park and having power, and I didn't have the power. It was just practice, practice, practice. I had the skillset, but nobody could hear it if you didn't have the power.

Hearing you through the outdoor speaker towers.

At this battle I was showing off, and it took the crowd from all the other DJs to come watch me. One of those groups of people watching me was Stetsasonic. This was back in the days of hip-hop guys wearing spikes around the neck, leather, and drapes of fur. They were real showboat-y, and I thought they were a gang or something. They were looking for a DJ and asked me to join the group. That's how it started. We were doing parties, shows, and the next thing you know we were making a demo. I was a kid. I didn't know what a demo was. I'm like, "Okay, just put some scratches on it." Next thing you know, I'm at Tom Silverman's Tommy Boy Records. It wasn't in my plans. Some people have an 8x10 glossy, "I'm going to be this and be that." I was just there. I loved music and I loved DJing. Making records was way beyond my scope of imagination. That's for The Fat Boys and Run-DMC, but I was from a small town, Amityville, Long Island… who does that?

What was the studio experience like making Stetsasonic’s In Full Gear?

It was a studio called Calliope [Studios] on 37th Street and 8th Avenue. Acoustically, it was a horrible place, but it was comfortable because it was a big loft. It was open, it had nice big speakers, you could walk around. Bob Power [Tape Op #60] was one of the engineers, and I had just started college for audio engineering. I didn't see a future in being an artist but I could see one in becoming an engineer and shaping sound. Bob probably doesn't remember, but one day he turns and says, "You'll never learn this by looking at me," which was pretty disheartening! I don't know if you've seen the meme of Homer Simpson slowly backing into the bushes?

You sunk back into the racks of compressors. But you were scratching on the record, and maybe using drum machines, like the Roland TR-808?

We had a Technics 1200 turntable and a cheaper Numark mixer that I still have. It's all faded out on top. It had two short faders, a crossfader, and a cue system. No EQ, and Numarks didn't have VU meters, just two lights for left and right. If it hit 0 dB it would pop on, and that was about it. My friend, Don Newkirk, who passed away last year, his brother had bought an 808 in the early '80s. I saw this thing in junior high school, and thought, "What kind of beatbox is that?" I learned how to program it, and then someone down the street had an Oberheim DX. By the end of high school, I bought a Sequential Circuits TOM drum machine, which I still have. I programmed the title track for Stetsasonic On Fire with the 808 and tripled up hi hats doing that "tszz tszz tszzz" thing before drum and bass music came along. Before I got to the studio, the first sampler I used was the Casio SK-1, which taught me so much about speeding up and slowing sounds down. When we got to Calliope it was the AKAI S900 and the E-mu SP-12. During that time for home projects, I used a Digitech guitar pedal that sampled and looped up to 8 seconds, and that was everything. I figured out how to take the Sequential TOM's trigger button and use it to trigger the sampler. Oh, man; that was the next phase! The guitar pedal wasn't designed to sample records, but necessity is the mother of invention.

I learned on an AKAI S1000 but didn't know how these sliders functioned on the E-mu.

There were a few different things to do with the sliders. Mainly adjusting the levels but also the tuning. Or the slider could determine how long the decay would go. It was multi-functional. Nowadays it may seem archaic, but you used these sliders for sample truncation based on little movement increments. There's nothing that feels quite like it.

Have you seen what they're selling for used these days?

I have no idea. Man, forget the stock market. I should've invested in buying ten of those!

Would you be able to sequence full songs within the E-mu?

Well, it depends on the era. If we're talking about Stetsasonic, I used it for "Bust That Groove" because they had it in the studio, and the whole song was just drums, other than that little "duh duh duh duh" sample. Because the sampling time is so limited, like two point whatever seconds, some producers would speed up the sample [when] recording in, and then pitch it down. You could hear it in a lot of the early Ice Cube albums; everything has that digital processed sound.

De La Soul was part of the Native Tongues scene that formed at Calliope. Was there a camaraderie among the producers working there?

De La Soul had started a friendship with the Jungle Brothers probably right after De La's "Plug Tunin' (Last Chance to Comprehend)" single. That was our first single in '87, before "Potholes in My Lawn." We're in the studio, and Pos [Kelvin "Posdnuos" Mercer] was talking about looping. The Jungle Brothers asked, "What's that?" It turns out that on the Jungle Brothers' record, they did everything manually. Those aren't loops. It's cuts and repetitive punches. I had an edge because I'd worked with Stetsasonic in the studio before that era. I knew the technology a little better, and going to college helped a little too. Bringing them to the studio to watch us work later led to A Tribe Called Quest, which led to Tommy Boy signing Queen Latifa [Dana Owens] and then Monie Love [Simone Johnson]. We all just got along, and the studio was so huge. You would find all of us in the same place, hanging. [Kool DJ] Red Alert [Frederick Crute] was there one time: he's on one of the records. If you were hanging out, we'd grab you for the vocal booth. It was before lawyers and, "I need a clearance," and…

Points on the record…

Exactly. "What am I getting for this?" It was about the vibe of the music.

Making De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising honed in on your use of the AKAI S950 and E-mu SP-1200 samplers and became your breakthrough production credit.

E-mu SP-1200
E-mu SP-1200 (courtesy of Rogue Music NYC)

Stetsasonic was an introduction to the technology. De La Soul was pushing the technology into realms of where our imagination took place. People really don't understand how we did it without computers. It's sitting down, hearing something in your head, and going, "How can I make that? What will it take to make it?" Also, pushing the engineer to help us figure it out. How do we make Maseo [Vincent Mason Jr.] sound like he's underwater? How do we layer these samples so they're in key? "I hear this horn and it goes well over this bassline, but it just hurts when I hear it because it's out of key. How do we do that?" We had something called a pitch shifter. This Yamaha SPX90 could pitch shift it, but then it was delayed. How do we push it back a bit? Well, we'd stripe the 2-inch tape with time code and… [laughs]... this is gonna get technical! We'd feed the time code to a delay. If we hooked the sampler up and there was a delay, we'd be able to delay the time code and push the sample front or back.

Wow.

To make it read differently. Sometimes we'd have a sample falling on the one, but the snares are off. So now we're playing with samples, via pushing the clock of the computer back and forth to make the sample go back and forth. Not now, where you can look at a computer and go [click]. It took a lot of thought. It took the imagination and then figuring out technically how to get there. That's where 3 Feet High and Rising propelled us farther. It's listening and being inspired by It Takes a Nation of Millions… and how they [Public Enemy and The Bomb Squad] used a lot of samples. They used a lot of blips and sounds, and we wanted to do that with loops.

Were you making these instrumentals out in Amityville or at Calliope?

It was both, but our ideas would always be generated at the house. One thing I learned early on was that the studio was very expensive. A 2-inch tape reel was between $100 to $125, which was 15 minutes at 30 ips – the speed to get a decent quality. So, that's expensive. Back then, songs were 4 to 5 minutes each, so we'd only get a small amount of songs on there. We needed a little 4-track cassette recorder at the house. I had a Vesta Fire MR-10 4-track. I couldn't afford a Tascam back then! We sketched out the ideas and then took them to Calliope.

But the genesis of the songs happened in Long Island at home. Did you have a name for that studio?

It still holds to this day, even though it's moved around a few times: Paul's Coffee Shop. Going to school in the morning, we used to pass this place called Paul's Coffee Shop and nobody was ever in there. I think it eventually closed down.

Where did you go to look for records? I assume Maseo, Pos, and Trugoy [David "Trugoy the Dove" Jolicoeur] also brought in samples?

Oh, yeah; they found a ton. Back then, it started out with your parents' records, or your siblings' collection. 3 Feet High and Rising was mostly music we grew up with and were familiar with. Later on it was about going to other people's houses – people on the street with a stack of records – anywhere you could find them. Record shops came later. Once I started going to record shops, and I saw sections labeled "Drums," "Horns," etc., I was like, "Okay, it's already been dug." It probably wasn't until the late-'80s, '90s, when people started to really dig [in the crates]. De La Soul blames me for this! They said, "Yo, nobody was looking for stuff until you went on MTV!" There's a clip where I'm holding the Sequential TOM and saying, "You can find anything!" and I played a Mickey Mouse record. Then it permeated. I don't want to say I was the one that started digging, but I think it was a catalyst.

You've spoken about making the Gravediggaz album [6 Feet Deep] in a dark basement. Were you pulling samples from new sources? I love the guitar sample on "Defective Trip (Trippin')."

I don't remember the artist, but I can picture the record.

It's listed on <whosampled.com> as John Ussery "Listen to the Melody."

Yeah. That was very random. I was making dark stuff because I was depressed, you know?

But hadn't you just had major success with De La Soul?

Success is short-lived, you know; it's always the next thing. The follow up, De La Soul is Dead, didn't sell as much. People said, "He's falling off." I had this record label [Dew Doo Man] with Russell Simmons [Def Jam]. They sang my praises, and then within a year I handed something in and they're like, "Eh, it's alright." Now they wanted to put me on the back burner. All the accolades were maybe a year or two ago, and I didn't know how to deal with that. I always turned to music, and what was coming out was just, "Ugh, they hate me. I'm going to show them!" Everything I was making was dark and representing the feelings I was going through.

Despite that, the album is such a fun, empowering listen.

Because I still have my silly sense of humor. I can't escape myself, so it was a little bit of both. It was a lot of heavy sarcasm. Prince Rakeem [Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, aka RZA] had just gotten out of jail and was going through some stuff. Frukwan [Arnold Hamilton] had gotten kicked out of Stetsasonic. [Too] Poetic [Anthony Ian Berkeley] had done a record ["Poetical Terror"] for Tommy Boy and found out the label had dropped him without telling him. I got everybody who was just fed up and hurt, and that's what that record was. I made the demo at the house with two AKAI S950s and the [GVOX] Master Tracks sequencer [software]. I had a Tascam 8-track cassette, a little bit of outboard gear, and a Shure SM58 microphone. I was thinking it was the best thing ever and I shopped it around. Nobody wanted to touch it. I eventually got a call from Eazy-E [Eric Lynn Wright] from Ruthless Records, but what [manager] Jerry Heller was offering us was really bad. It was almost like, give us $100,000 and we'll put your record out. It wasn't THAT bad, but it was one of those deals….

It's not a deal. You alluded to "a little bit of outboard gear" in your home studio. Were you running records through anything before they hit the sampler?

No, everything was going straight into whatever mixer I had back then. Probably some cheap Gemini or Numark; never a top-notch quality mixer. Not really EQ-ing, just getting from A to B. Later I learned filtering, stumbling over the filter mode on the AKAI S900/950 to put on basslines. I spoke to Pete Rock [Peter O. Phillips] some years back, and he said he learned filtering from me. The E-mu SP-12/1200 was very basic for me. I was just on some boom/smack/hi hats, samples here and there, but I've never taken it beyond that. I see guys like Easy Mo Bee [Osten S. Harvey Jr.] and Lord Finesse [Robert Hall Jr.] do things with it that are way beyond. For drums and thickness of drums, it's perfect for me. Putting a drum through there just makes it feel like something else, like no other drum machine. I guess the algorithms are just different.

Your drums always sound great. How much are you using loops versus one-shots? Do you have the Paul's Coffee Shop folder of snares collected at your disposal?

Everything for me is just nasty. I don't have any rhyme or reason. I don't have any specific format. I don't have a dedicated list of drums in a file or folder. It's just, "Oh, word. That sounds good." There are people with incredible drums, like The Beatnuts or A Tribe Called Quest. For me, it was learning new techniques which helped me. I was starting to realize if I increased the sustain of the kick drum it would go into the upcoming hi-hat. If I clipped it right before the next hit, I'd get the full drum and the reverb of snare. Now it's sounding more like the record, and less like the short mechanical bursts of earlier hip-hop productions. The Gravediggaz album is a good example of that.

You went to California to make the first Handsome Boy Modeling School album, So… How's Your Girl?, with Dan the Automator [Daniel M. Nakamura].

That was different for me. When I met Dan, he was excited about working with this new drum machine, the AKAI MPC2000. I went to his house and thought, "This is cool. We should get two of them and do this album." Prior to that, Dan was using a black drum machine – that Mantronix had used – that wasn't really popular [Likely a Sequential Circuits Studio 440. -ed.]. Between that and my SP-12 we weren't really matching up, so we dedicated our time to working with the MPC. It was new, it had stereo sampling, and it still had the swing of using a tactile drum machine. I spent probably a month at his house, sitting in his living room with headphones and two MPCs on his coffee table with the TV on. We're like, "Yo, what do you think of THIS?" "Oh yeah, hand me the disc!"

Boss DR-55
Boss DR-55 (courtesy of Rogue Music NYC)

That sounds great.

We would go back and forth, compile things, and listen back. "That's 'handsome'… oh no, that's not 'handsome!’" We were trying to think of a vibe and how the music would look: What would look good? We whittled it down to a "handsome" pile, and there are a ton of things that just didn't make it. I listened to those maybe a year or two ago when I moved; it was pretty cool, but it wasn't handsome.

Are you and Dan making new music together?

Yeah, we did an EP [Music To Drink Martinis To] that came out through a company called Fords Gin [London Dry Records]. We were hoping to open the "School" back up. Although it's fun, I think certain things for me are better left in the time that they happened. I never want to shortchange people for a check. If I can't do anything as good or better, I don't think I'd want to do it. Part of the reason why I never made a De la Soul record in all this time – or us really trying to get the guys together – is because I just want to do good. I wouldn't say it's a fear, but we all change too. Everybody's individual experiences and coming back together could either be great or it could be a train wreck. Turning 56 this year, I like where everything is at. It's peaceful and it's nice. The fans can listen to all the records and be nostalgic, but I don't want to prove everybody right by putting out something crappy!

Are you getting the same type of excitement from scoring that you do from producing records?

Scoring is tapping into a different side of the brain. It depends on what the score is and what it's for. There's some scoring that allows you to "do you" and just think, "How do I see this?" Then there’re some scores that involve, "At 0.02 seconds a hi-hat must come in when this drops."

And it's never the right hi-hat.

[laughs] Yeah. Everybody in the room goes, "No, not that one. I need that 'zoop zoop' sound." It's really not me; it's almost like a work for hire. Who Killed Malcolm X? [Netflix] that I did with my friend, Don Newkirk, was a little more lenient, and we were able to mostly "do us" with some of that technical stuff. This Biz Markie documentary that I just scored was like that too. "I know Biz. What would he have used here?" I like it, in a sense, but I don't think it's my full creative outlet. It's not unchained; there are some restrictions.

Scoring films is great, but it's hard when the hi-hat gets rejected by committee.

[laughs] See, you know my pain. It's frustrating because I'll know I nailed something. "Oh, this is perfect." Looking at the scene, the bass drops exactly when he drops the knife. I'll have spent two hours on this one piece, and it gets tossed. That part of it is tough. I don't ever claim to have an ego, but my ego still lies. I made some really cool records; I made them at my own discretion, and now I'm being restrained. I do enjoy working in scoring overall, and what's cool about those things is that they're ageless.

How is working in film more ageless than music?

It's hard being the face of an artist, even producing younger artists. When Rick Rubin worked with Jay-Z on ">99 Problems," it was a great record. But [the feedback was], "Oh, it's an old man beat." [both laugh] My son [DJ PForReal, Paul Huston, Jr.] DJs for Lil Uzi Vert [Symere Bysil Woods] now. Let's say Da Beatminerz did a beat for Little Uzi; there would be an automatic connotation: Old man beat/young rapper. The beat could be great, no disrespect to them at all, but people put a picture and perception on it. In scoring, it could be Maceo Parker [80-year old saxophonist] and it would be dope!

Has your studio setup changed since you relocated?

My studio has moved maybe four times. My setup is very intricate; it's all hardwired with patch bays. Initially a tech guy set it up, but every time I moved I had to make a schematic of everything. There are a thousand wires; just snakes of wire that seem like a couple hundred pounds. It's antiquated, and I could probably do it all on a laptop, but it all travels with me. Gear is the same exact thing. I still have my outboard gear. Do I use it all the time? No, but there are certain things I just hang onto.

Is there an outboard piece you really love, like the Teletronix LA-2A?

Oh, no. All of my outboard gear is from back in the days where I'd go to Sam Ash or Manny's and there was the clearance rack. "Oh, BOSS made a flanger and it's a rackmount? Furman made these compressors, and nobody wants 'em?" All of these bad things. I go over to Dan the Automator's place, and everything's quality. My rack is just garbage, but it has its own unique character and sound, and I like it. I know it now.

What about drum machines?

I have a bunch of drum machines, and I can't part with them. Obviously the AKAI MPC2000, MPC5000, an E-mu SP-1200, Roland TR-808 and TR-909, Casio RZ-1, and Korg DDD-1. I had to sell my Sequential TOM. I've got the little BOSS Dr. Rhythm DR-55 with the two buttons and the big dial. I have a Vox drum machine, the one that flashed to the beat in the early '80s. That's the same one you hear on some of the Kraftwerk records. I can't name them all, but I love drum machines. I did auction off a few, but the rest I've kept. I still have my old ADATs, and a computer, obviously. It's an old computer, but it works.

I assume you're not sequencing with Master Tracks anymore?

Nah, I tried but it doesn't work on anything! I was flipping Master Tracks hard once I got it and everybody was always amazed. "That computer is controlling the drums?!" It was like magic to everyone. I did A Prince Among Thieves on Master Tracks, as well with a bunch of outboard samplers. These days I work in Pro Tools, dumping in bits I've made in Ableton or Serato Studio 2.0. I can flex more on Pro Tools after working with it for so long, but it's a learning curve and all about spending time with it. I'm trying to get from here to there as quickly as I can.

The Turtles successfully sued De La Soul for sampling their version of the song "You Showed Me" on "Transmitting Live from Mars" on 3 Feet High and Rising. Did that change the way you approached producing music? Your album, Politics of the Business, was less sample based.

It was a sarcastic album. I was trying to poke fun, but the joke got lost. [laughs] As far as The Turtles' thing, it's so strange. When you're that young and the label is talking about clearing samples, you say, "What's that?" "Oh, don't worry about it." I didn't realize that just meant they didn't think anyone would recognize the sample. There's no clause in the contract that says, "Don't worry about it." We learned the hard way. We took the brunt of the suit and that reflects on our publishing and royalties. I wasn't making anything then either. It was just all about the music and looking forward; I didn't change anything. Now I know not to listen to the label but to listen to a lawyer or a clearance house. "Who do we go to to clear this and what percentage do they want? Is it a buyout?" I didn't know those terms. Now I know there are certain people you don't touch, like Paul McCartney or Wings. I've got to put it away; I don't look at it.

You didn't change your style.

No, because to me it was always music first. I can't do De La Soul's "Me Myself and I" without Funkadelic's "(Not Just) Knee Deep." I just couldn't. Sometimes I've got to realize if it's demo love versus me not hearing it another way. I might need another set of ears. If you play something over and over and get it in your head and then it deviates I might overreact and say it just ruined my soul. [laughs] I go by feel. Harking back to going to college for engineering, I learned all the technical stuff, but I never use it. I just turn the knob until it's right.

Tell me about your association with Tracklib.

I started with them from the beginning. I think Tracklib is brilliant, because if you want a sample you can do it in house and save yourself the headache of clearances. That makes life so much easier, and the library is always growing. You have the ability to chop it up inside the program, and now people are making great sounding sample packs too. It's very advanced, and it's royalty free. Nothing beats the vinyl and sitting down to find stuff, but there are options now. I'm trying to not get lazy, but why am I going to work 1000 times as hard to get something that's not even better than this? As long as it has my feel to it.

It's ironic that in the '90s there were these widely distributed sample CDs like the X-Static Goldmine series that were full of loops containing uncleared samples.

Look, there's a module I have – I think it's by Ensoniq – and I'm listening to a preset loop… "Oh, that's 'It's A New Day' by Skull Snaps. Oh, that's The Honey Drippers' 'Impeach The President' kick and snare. Can I really use this, technically?" Again, with sampling and the repercussions, I wouldn't change a thing. It's beautiful and I like it the way it is. I could manipulate samples back then, but I didn't know recording as well as I do now. I couldn't imagine, say, booking a session bass player to come in. There's something about using samples that's irreplaceable; they have their own soul.

Is there anything on the horizon you'd like to mention?

Right now, I'm just really enjoying this re-release of the De La Soul catalog. I had tried to accept that it might never come out in my lifetime. It's nice to see people enjoy it, and it's taken on a bigger life than I thought it would have. When I was younger, I felt I had to prove myself, not just to other people, but to myself. "I'm not whack. I'm not corny." Now, I'm just appreciating and really acknowledging what I've done. Like when Pete Rock was inspired by my use of filtering, or when I get noticed for introducing skits on hip-hop records. I was doing an interview yesterday for a podcast and had completely forgotten I was on Ego Trip's The (White) Rapper Show on VH1. So, as boring and corny as I sometimes think my career has been, it seems a little more fulfilling through other people's eyes. I'm like, "Wow. I guess I'm okay."

What was the process like re-uniting with the guys in De La Soul to prepare the albums for re-release?

It was a whole lot of work in a short amount of time. We're talking about records that if you've heard them, you've heard them a thousand times. Any wrong thing will make you cringe and go back to the original. Me, having such love for those De La albums, it was brutal. I'm trying to go through all the same equipment and working with Scotty Hard, who's been my engineer since the '90s. He worked on De La Soul is Dead, so he understands what we used and how we did things. The label was very particular about details, which I can appreciate because it really made it super flawless. It was a lot of work, but it was done well and I'm very proud of it. Making the album originally was just fun and nowhere as hard as re-making it! It's like a diary, because I'm looking back at track sheets and remembering things that didn't make it. I might have thought of myself as a dumb kid, but listening back I was like, "That was brilliant!" I wish I could've gone back and given young Paul a hug, you know?

Sounds like he could've used one. Did the original scratches remain?

Some scratches were redone, but the majority of them stayed. For me, the sound of the scratches was just texture. How do I use new technology to make it sound old? Do I record it on 1/4-inch tape? Do I use dbx noise reduction, or do I do it straight? Do I hit a tube compressor? It took a lot of thought to get a texture, and then I don't want that lost in mastering. It's little things that the listener really doesn't think about, but it's very sensitive. I'm just glad that I'm still here and I didn't have a heart attack.

It's great to have those albums available. My daughter is 15, and she and her friends listen to De La Soul, but what really got her attention was hearing that Tyler, the Creator had sampled Gravediggaz.

Oh, yeah that updated me a bit! He had kind of dissed Gravediggaz originally, but then I got a call from RZA saying Tyler wanted the multitracks for "2 Cups of Blood." Ah ha! They always come back! [clasps hands maniacally] I was flattered because I like Tyler and would love to work with him. I've also been in touch with Earl Sweatshirt's people, and we've been trying to connect to work together.

That would be a great pairing.

I thought it'd be amazing, but like I said… old producer, young rapper. [laughs] I think I'm innovative enough to make something out of it.

Prince Paul and Godfrey
Prince Paul and Godfrey

As we exit onto 53rd and 10th Ave, we find a painted brick wall to take a photo. I ask if Paul gets noticed on the street in the city and he shrugs it off. Half a block later he spots comedian and friend Godfrey [Godfrey C. Danchimah Jr.] who shouts to the bustling block "Prince Paul! In New York City!" They take selfies and chat about a potential collaboration on a De La Soul skit. Paul heads north to meet friends; the texts have been pouring in since he got back. I wander down to the Q train and send a few texts too, "Prince Paul! In New York City!"

 

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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