DJ Muggs

DJ Muggs
DJ Muggs hails from Los Angeles, CA and has recently teamed up with Planet Asia to form an incredibly strong hip-hop duo. Legends in their own right, these two artists have been members of groups like Cypress Hill, Cali Agents, House of Pain, Skhool Yard, and the Soul Assassins. On their own, they’ve also collaborated with influential artists like Ghostface Killah, Dilated Peoples, Tricky, Eminem, Ice Cube, KRS-One, and GZA/The Genius among many others. They’ve teamed up to form an explosive duo and their recently released debut album, Pain Language is a stellar example of contemporary hip-hop with the gritty flavour of the music’s soundtrack-soaked heyday. In a revealing interview, DJ Muggs brings the pain.

I want to start by asking about this partnership because it seems to be such a perfect fit, having you join forces with Planet Asia. How did this come about and why do you suppose it works so well?
A few years ago I started working on a Vs. series. I wanted to do something a little bit different instead of just passing around a buncha beats to artists, so I started doing complete albums with artists. My first in the series was with GZA from Wu-Tang; we did an album together called Grandmasters. Last year I did an album with an artist named Sick Jacken from a group called Psycho Realm, which is a big underground group in L.A. This is the third installment of the Vs. series man, y’know. Asia was around, kind of at the end when I was finishing up the last project, and we recorded a couple of songs. The timing was there, he was working hard, and he has a lot of the same musical sensibilities as me. He was looking for the same thing; we just wanted to make a real record to the left—real underground, real basement sound. So we started recording music and it took about 45 days in the studio, but about a year to finish just because of prior arrangements. But we got together and the energy’s great; we just a made a real, real, hardcore, underground, dark record.

How did working with Asia compare to the other Vs. records you’ve done?
You know every artist brings his own approach to the music and they all bring their own energy into the studio. Asia’s got a lot of energy and we just needed to corral some of that energy and focus it. That’s where I come in. My objective was looking at Asia as an artist, seeing what I like and didn’t like about him, where I thought a couple of holes in his game was. I thought he needed a musical identity. He picks a lot of different music for his albums that kinda just don’t gel and bring a cohesive album project together. Me stepping in y’know, I brought some of the key guest appearances—not too many, some of the key brothers in to break up the monotony that can build hearing one MC on 16 songs — and a musical identity and kept it pretty constant throughout the record.

Right, well, speaking of that, how did you figure out who else would fit with Asia?
It wasn’t even a "figuring out" process; we didn’t have to have a think tank, it was just who was here, who was around, and who’s been working with us. That was pretty much the easy part.

It’s a stunning list with B-Real, Killah Priest, Cynic & Scratch, GZA, and more. It’s great.
Yeah, those are just friends who are at the studio all the time. They were all into the project as it was going down and everyone wanted to be part of it so they just jumped on whatever we were working on at the time and we made it happen.

Pain Language is one of the best hip-hop records I’ve heard in years.
Thanks man, I appreciate that.

No problem. It reminds me of a pretty golden era in music, possibly exemplified by East coast hip-hop in the mid-'90s like Liquid Swords. I don’t mean that it sounds like anything else really but it has that same kind of powerful and adventurous mix of beats, film dialogue, and strong rhymes. How did you both come up with the sound of Pain Language?
Well, I pretty much came up with the sound, know what I mean? Like I said, that’s what I bring to the table — to give Asia a sound. What was good about it was, ideas I had and the direction I wanted to take…like I say Asia has pretty much the same musical sensibility and was in tune with me when it came to that. It wasn’t like me saying, "Hey you’re really gonna sound good like this" and him being "Nah, nah, nah, I want this." It wasn’t none of that; it was like "Aight, let’s roll."

He trusted you as a producer.
Yeah, that’s what I do, is produce. I don’t make beats and send them out and have people rap on them. I actually take control of the songs from beginning to end — rhymes, hooks, arrangements, y’know what I mean?

Could you cite any specific influences on this record?
My influences on this record would probably be Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and psychedelic rock records. That’s pretty much what I’ve been listening a lot too and that’s the sound and tone I was looking for man, in the overriding theme of the record and giving it that kind of a feel.

Wow, that’s interesting. So like a heavy rock feel?
No, not heavy rock; more like psychedelic.

So dreamy, hazy…
Yeah dreamy, hazy, a little tripped out. Things ain’t perfectly timed, know what I mean? It’s really loose, y’know. It could be "off," as some people say. It’s a little awkward and things are in and out of key here and there but it doesn’t matter because you go for vibe.

Yeah, and it’s a completely dark vibe; it’s not a happy psychedelic sound.
Yeah it ain’t like pulling flowers out and stuff.

For sure, right. Well, I wanna get off-topic here because I’ve been watching the news and apparently your country is having an election. As an American, can you tell us what the hell is going on from your perspective?
I’ve been trying to figure that out for the past 30 years man. I still can’t figure it out. But yeah, they’re trying to get a new look up in there, know what I mean? Get some fresh ideas, fresh views. It’s been the same two families running this country since before the Reagan era—the same families and power brokers for the past 40 years, y’know? There’s a lot of interesting things going on. I think we have a really good motivator here, somebody that knows how to lead. People can say things about experience and stuff but good leaders don’t necessarily do the job, y’know what I mean? The thing is, you have to motivate the people who do the jobs and give them the tools they need to actually go out and do the job, y’know what I’m sayin’? Then you gotta be able to pick good leaders to lead with you and head certain positions. I think Barack definitely inspires people in this country in ways that I haven’t seen or heard since JFK, Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, or Martin Luther King. I don’t think there’s been any really powerful leaders that moved you and see eye-to-eye with people but came from where real people come from, know what I mean? So, I think that’s something we got goin’ on over here at the moment.

Have you yourself been frustrated over the last eight years?
I never even clicked.... I mean, y’know, economically it was really good over here when Clinton was in office. The last eight years, I’ve just seen everything taking fucking shit. I’ve never seen it, in my life; so many people doing bad. I’ve always had one or two friends going through it but it seems like everybody I know is going through it right now.

So, has it been deeply frustrating to see this happen?
It ain’t deeply frustrating, know what I mean? Nothin’s gonna get to me like that. The fact is though, you work harder for less and you’re paying more. That part right there is fucked. Me though, I just work harder. I ain’t gonna sit back and bitch about it and complain; it just is what it is. You gotta tread water ‘til it gets better, know what I mean? My job is globally so I just roll out to Europe when I need to roll out there and work. But 95 percent of my fuckers don’t have that luxury to be able to do that.

Judging by what you said earlier, it does seem like you think Barack Obama might be the best alternative for your country. What would you ultimately like to see happen with this whole election process?
Well, I still think race is gonna play a big part in this election, y’know what I mean? That’s just the way it is man. We just wanna see some of the power restored back to the people. That’d be great. The power is supposed to be in the people but the people have no say at the moment, and they’ve lost their voice. They try to protest, they all get shot up by some fucking water guns and fucking thrown in jail, know what I mean? They try to say something and all of a sudden, they’re anti-patriotic. It’s like no, there’s gotta be checks and balances man and it’s up to the people to keep the government in check. Out here, I’ve seen the voice of the people diminish.

What do you make of this Sarah Palin thing with John McCain?
I don’t know no 72-year-olds that are in tune with what I’m going through, that’s for damn sure, and what this country is really going through and is supposed to stand for. When I see somebody like Barack who comes from a single mother, they sent him to school, he worked hard, and he wasn’t privileged—to me that’s an American. That’s like 90 percent of the people, but the one percent that control the wealth is the one percent that control this country is the way it still is. And like I said race, I know a lotta people who ain’t fucking with it because of race still though. I’m at a point where I’m just about someone doing the right thing, know what I mean?

Yeah I do, and I appreciate you fielding the question. Finally Muggs, I’m wondering about your plans beyond this album; how extensive will you and Planet Asia work and tour together in the near future?
At the moment, we’re gonna dedicate the next bit of time to this project, pushing it out there. We’ve started doing some shows already.

Any plans to come to Canada?
Not at the moment, no, but once the album comes out, I’m sure we’ll be up there. We also got a Soul Assassins 12-song EP coming out in January and the real album will be out in August or September, so be on the look out for that man. For your day-to-day update, check us out at soulassassins.com.