Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Adrian Younge

Having seemingly appeared from nowhere, and despite his career being in its infancy, LA's Adrian Younge has quickly stamped his indelible mark - and style - on the music industry. The 35 year-old multi-instrumentalist, producer and songwriter had already written and produced a Ghostface Killah album, produced an album by the classic soul band Delfonics, soundtracked (and edited) the modern blaxploitation masterpiece Black Dynamite and made his own solo album before the call came to produce the forthcoming album by legendary Oakland hip-hop collective Souls of Mischief. We're stoked a guy as busy as him found time to sit down and talk to us.

You seem to have come up from nowhere. How did things change from you being an enthusiastic kid to you producing records by artists that I presume are your heroes?
Yeah. My first release that I guess everybody heard was Black Dynamite. I did a score for this movie called Black Dynamite. A soundtrack. That kind of showed everybody my sound, my kinda seventies sound, and from there I did an album called Something About April, in 2011. A couple of songs on there were sampled by Jay-Z on Magna Carta, and that gave a lot of awareness to what I was doing. As far as playing live instruments to recreate an old sound, to make it modern. If that makes any sense. This Souls of Mischief album is one that's just crazy because as you said, I'm working with my heroes. Working with Ghostface, having Jay-Z sample my stuff, doing a Souls of Mischief album; it's crazy. It's a very humbling experience, and in working with these legendary artists it pushes me to be on top of my game and be the best I can be. I think the Souls of Mischief album is my personal best work.

These artists already each have very established identities, and now you're writing their music and producing them. Is it hard to walk a line between making a record for yourself and a record for them?
As a producer, you have to meet halfway. You and the artist have to figure out where that line is. There are certain things I won't do. Everything I do is analogue, so if an artist didn't want me to record on tape I wouldn't record with them, regardless of who it is. That's just part of me. So we meet each other in the middle, and I say "What do you want? This is what I can produce for you, this is what I think will work for you, how do you feel about that?" And we'll agree or disagree. We'll get to the position where we can make things work, and make the best music we can. That's been the plan for all the music I've done. 

I know you learned to play drums through listening to hip-hop. What's the difference between playing along to sampled, looped drums and playing along to real soul drums? Explain to people.
Hip-hop culture is based on vinyl culture, and vinyl culture is based on people loving records. Music that was made on records. To me, the golden era for vinyl was '68 to '73, as far as recording is concerned. Hip-hop is based on a lot of the music that was made at that time. A lot of hip-hop producers took the drum break and they made new music out of that. I'd study those drum breaks - I'd study what they did back then - and I try to record in that fashion now. I try to make my drums sound like I got them from an old record. Hip-hop drums, for the most part, are basically funk drums. But then also, there's classic rock grooves that have drum breaks. They can have a funky beat to them too, so you would take it. A hip-hop producer should listen to all drums, whether it's classic rock, country or whatever, to determine if they can find soul in those drums. If they can, they'll create a song around it. That's what I did. 

I read somewhere that you stopped listening to hip-hop in '97. Was that a reflection on your tastes at the time, or a reflection on the way hip-hop started going?
That's a very good question, and there were multiple reasons. First of all, I was getting really into records, and I was getting really into DJing at the time. I was listening to records that were just blowing my mind, and were actually better than the hip-hop getting made at that time. Beastie Boys sampled Superfly, Ice-T sampled Superfly, but when you listen to Curtis Mayfield's Superfly, you realise how good - how much better - that soundtrack is compared to the other versions. No offence to the Beasties or to Ice-T, but that's how good the original music is. The original music to me is better than the hip-hop, so I started studying the original music to try to become even more inspired by what they did, with the source material. Hip-hop was changing a lot at that time, it was getting a lot more mainstream, a lot more pop. Hip-hop wasn't being made as much for the subculture as it was prior. It was made for radio, and television, and it just did not have the same underground vibe to me, so I wanted to get away from that and find music that still catered for the underground vibe, and to me that was all the old records I was finding. That was when I stopped listening to hip-hop.

A lot of these 'classic' artists just put out the same album again and again, based on their one banger - their Superfly, or their Paul's Boutique or whatever. Do you think artists have any obligation to evolve?
My thinking is that artists should do what they feel is their best music. Artists should never chase money, artists should never try to be trendy and artists should never try to appeal to younger audiences. Artists should just make what they feel is good. If an artist is making music in the seventies, then thirty years later is still making the same music, then more power to you if that's what you feel is good. I don't like when 'legends' try to adjust to a younger audience to make money. It saddens me when producers, artists and composers do that. We saw a lot of artists do that when disco came. Nobody was doing disco before that time, and when disco came in, soul groups and soul performers weren't making as much money because disco was making all the money, so they just started making disco songs. Singles, or even full albums, when these artists had never recorded disco music prior. Everything, for me, is looking back to move forward. Hip-hop is still great, but I just don't look for it because the records I listen to inspire me more than what's going on today. 

How much input did you have to the Ghostface record? It sounds to me like you pretty much made the whole thing.
He wrote all his vocals, but as far as the music is concerned, I wrote all the music.

Did he write the vocals...
...after he heard the music. Exactly. 

What did you think of the Apollo Brown remix of that album?
Oh, he did a great job man. I love Apollo Brown. It's funny man, a lot of people compare them, like is mine better or is his better... It's one of these things where I'm just proud of what he did, and I never really tried to figure out which is better, I just know that he killed it. I hope that on my next one he'll be involved. 

Like everything you do, the Souls of Mischief album has a concept behind it, and the concept is that it's set in 1994. Does that dismiss everything they've done since 93 'til Infinity? They'll forever be known for that record, so could you see how people might see this as the 'follow up' to that first album?
That's a good question, and to me, it kind of is. To me, 93 is the best album they've done, so I wanted to take it back to that time and feel like young soldiers again. I wanted them to feel that hunger. I wanted to take it back to 93 'til Infinity and make an album that is based on that time frame. I guess you could kinda say that it is a follow up, in a way. But that's just me saying that, not necessarily them. It's amazing to me that after 21 years in the game, they can still come so hard. I'm really proud of them, really proud of what they've done, and I hope people enjoy it.

They did kind of falter after 93 'til Infinity, do you think they see it as the follow up?
None of us have ever said that this is a follow up, but it does have that feeling. You know what I'm saying? It feels like a follow up because 93 'til Infinity is their best work, and now we have this album, and - at least for myself - I know it's my best work. I think it's their best work. But we've never said it. 

It's like they've finally made a proper second album.
It feels like that, man. It just feels really good. We're really proud of it. A lot of what went into the making of this goes back to when they were making 93 'til Infinity, when they were a team, in the studio together.

Do you think they could ever be a collective like Hieroglyphics again?
All of them are really, really talented, you know? As long as they keep the fire, as long as they have the passion, they could do whatever they want to. They have the ability to. On this Souls of Mischief album now, I believe it's the best they've ever been lyrically in their lives. That's how much I believe in this album. 

Is it right that you worked in music law in the past?
Oh, yeah. I have a law degree so I served as an entertainment law professor. For me, it really helps me out with business, because I know all the legal documents and how they apply to music and all that stuff. It's really helped me out. It's not a big deal to me.

I kinda wondered if that was why you learned to play instruments, like, maybe you were worried about the legality of sampling.
No, that was a creative thing. I love music that samples also, but for me, creatively, live instruments were where I was at. Where I'm at. 

What have you got lined up for the rest of the year?
I'll be doing another Ghostface album. I have an album I'm doing with Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest. There's another few things I've got in the works. I'm doing another Something About April album. But more importantly just my Linear Labs label, trying to make that big. I want people to look at it like a lifestyle brand that people feel speaks to them musically. We're not chasing money, we just want to make good music.

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