Pete Rock's Soul Machine

Pete Rock's Soul Machine
"When it comes to real hip-hop, royalty hip-hop, I think I fit in just perfect." Arrogant comments from anyone who is not named Pete Rock, but coming from one of the most influential hip-hop producers of all time, it's just a statement of fact. After all, Pete Rock's track record speaks for itself.

His big break came in 1988 when his cousin Heavy D put in a word with legendary hip-hop producer Marley Marl, who was seeking a new DJ for his radio show. While spinning records on the air, Pete Rock began making pause tapes with high school pal CL Smooth; together they were one of the most revered hip-hop duos of the ‘90s, releasing two magnificent records, before their unexpected break-up in 1994. Pete Rock's work with other artists solidified his rep to the point that Run DMC commissioned the Chocolate Boy Wonder to produce their comeback single, "Down With The King."

While the onset of the bling era ushered him out of the spotlight, Pete Rock's sonic legacy remains intact. His influence can be heard in up-and-comers (9th Wonder, Kev Brown) and established beat fiends (Jay Dee) alike. He's also one of the best purveyors of the remix around. Indeed, the irreverent yet authoritative tome the Ego Trip Book of Rap Lists deemed his remix of Public Enemy's "Shut ‘Em Down," replete with cascading, urgent horns, hip-hop's greatest remix.

But this wizard isn't content to simply ride his legacy's coattails, as Soul Survivor 2, his latest album attests. With guests like Talib Kweli, Dead Prez, Toronto's own Kardinal Offishall and CL Smooth — with whom he has reunited — what stands out is Pete Rock's versatility in negotiating rough and smooth terrain, with nary a horn — his sonic watermark — to be heard.

"It's been touched on a tiny, tiny bit but not really to the point where people can say when they hear a Pete Rock beat, they're gonna hear horns," he says. "I kinda stressed [the horns] and took it to another level." Given the fact he has over 40,000 records to cull from, exploration is understandable and apparently insatiable. "There's always stuff I can be adding. I still have a want list," he says. "But I have a lot. Not to be bragging but I think I have the most records now that I have my father's collection."

Indeed his late father, who was a DJ in Jamaica and in the Bronx, has passed down a collection of reggae and soul that, at around 50,000, is even larger than his. It was from his father that Pete Rock learned how to clean a record, look out for labels and nurture his passion. "Right now I feel like the thing that is missing is the original way it was done. I feel like there's no soul. Like none. We strive for that good feeling, we want you to feel good when you hear the music. People aren't putting their heart into it."

Obviously the self-dubbed Soul Brother has brought intangibles like intensity and passion when stepping to the comparative cold logic of the SP-1200, the machine he's literally built his career on. So what does he see as the remedy to wackness? "It's all on you on how you make your beats," he surmises. "There's no rule to that. It's only your own rule — you're the one behind the boards, you're the one creating. That's what's important. Cats always wanna know how you do it. It's just what you bring to the table that's all. You're the machine behind the machine."