Published Oct 01, 2008DJ 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, theyve also collaborated with influential artists like Ghostface Killah, Dilated Peoples, Tricky, Eminem, Ice Cube, KRS-One, and GZA/The Genius among many others. Theyve 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 musics 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, yknow. 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 leftreal 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 energys great; we just a made a real, real, hardcore, underground, dark record.
How did working with Asia compare to the other Vs. records youve done?
You know every artist brings his own approach to the music and they all bring their own energy into the studio. Asias got a lot of energy and we just needed to corral some of that energy and focus it. Thats where I come in. My objective was looking at Asia as an artist, seeing what I like and didnt 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 dont gel and bring a cohesive album project together. Me stepping in yknow, I brought some of the key guest appearancesnot 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 wasnt even a "figuring out" process; we didnt have to have a think tank, it was just who was here, who was around, and whos been working with us. That was pretty much the easy part.
Its a stunning list with B-Real, Killah Priest, Cynic & Scratch, GZA, and more. Its 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 Ive 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 dont 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, thats 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 wasnt like me saying, "Hey youre really gonna sound good like this" and him being "Nah, nah, nah, I want this." It wasnt none of that; it was like "Aight, lets roll."
He trusted you as a producer.
Yeah, thats what I do, is produce. I dont 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, yknow 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. Thats pretty much what Ive been listening a lot too and thats 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, thats 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 aint perfectly timed, know what I mean? Its really loose, yknow. It could be "off," as some people say. Its a little awkward and things are in and out of key here and there but it doesnt matter because you go for vibe.
Yeah, and its a completely dark vibe; its not a happy psychedelic sound.
Yeah it aint like pulling flowers out and stuff.
For sure, right. Well, I wanna get off-topic here because Ive 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?
Ive been trying to figure that out for the past 30 years man. I still cant figure it out. But yeah, theyre trying to get a new look up in there, know what I mean? Get some fresh ideas, fresh views. Its been the same two families running this country since before the Reagan erathe same families and power brokers for the past 40 years, yknow? Theres 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 dont necessarily do the job, yknow 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, yknow what Im 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 havent seen or heard since JFK, Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, or Martin Luther King. I dont think theres 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 thats 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, yknow, economically it was really good over here when Clinton was in office. The last eight years, Ive just seen everything taking fucking shit. Ive never seen it, in my life; so many people doing bad. Ive 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 aint deeply frustrating, know what I mean? Nothins gonna get to me like that. The fact is though, you work harder for less and youre paying more. That part right there is fucked. Me though, I just work harder. I aint 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 dont 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, yknow what I mean? Thats just the way it is man. We just wanna see some of the power restored back to the people. Thatd be great. The power is supposed to be in the people but the people have no say at the moment, and theyve 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, theyre anti-patriotic. Its like no, theres gotta be checks and balances man and its up to the people to keep the government in check. Out here, Ive seen the voice of the people diminish.
What do you make of this Sarah Palin thing with John McCain?
I dont know no 72-year-olds that are in tune with what Im going through, thats 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 wasnt privilegedto me thats an American. Thats 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 aint fucking with it because of race still though. Im at a point where Im just about someone doing the right thing, know what I mean?
Yeah I do, and I appreciate you fielding the question. Finally Muggs, Im 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, were gonna dedicate the next bit of time to this project, pushing it out there. Weve started doing some shows already.
Any plans to come to Canada?
Not at the moment, no, but once the album comes out, Im sure well 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.