Pete Rock is just a man from money earnin' Mount Vernon, New York who loved his SP12000. He's also one of Hip-Hop's most important, respected producers for 20 years strong. It's already difficult to make a career from producing. Just imagine ushering rap into a new era with fresh sounds making peers think twice about sampling James Brown or George Clinton.
Moreover, PR helped revolutionized the idea of the producer having a public identity. He, via rapping and/or ad-libs, assisted in bringing producers out of the shadows and into the spotlight without being invasive. The latter point is key since DJ/rapper/producer hybrids currently struggle with letting beats and rappers breathe *cough*SwizzBeats.*cough*
Let's not forget his sound influenced some the genre's biggest names long after the "golden era" ended. J Dilla was an unabashed Pete Rock fanatic and oftentimes made his records with a "what would Pete Rock do?" angle. Shades of Pete appear throughout 9th Wonder's discography. Kanye has his funny ways of showing appreciation for Pete's work. Plus, odds are some of your favorite producers draw inspiration from him in some form or fashion.
We're overdue for a walk through on some of Pete's best productions. Let's get this edition of the Primer going just in time for his birthday. Get your speakers or headphones ready and don't forget to thank Pete while the beats invade your system.
1. Pete Rock & CL Smooth - "Straighten It Out"
Intros, outros, breaks and everything in between are all far game for the Chocolate Boy Wonder. "Straighten It Out" houses one of Pete's earliest examples of weaving said aspects together in a tight blend. Also the horns on the hook beat Red Bull to the punch in giving you wings.
There's a joke in here about the song title coinciding with Pete Rock & CL Smooth's future project. Now's not the time for it, though.
2. Notorious B.I.G. - "Juicy"
The tale behind "Juicy" from Pete's perspective goes as follows. You're listening to Pete Rock's take on the Juicy which was supposed to go down in history as Biggie's grand debut. Then Puffy and Trackmasters rearranged Pete's version on the Mtume sample without giving P credit...which sounds eerily similar Dre Dog's "The Ave." The sequencing on Dre Dog's soung predated all instances of Biggie's "Juicy" by two years. Rap history is full of thick plots like this. All we ask is for you to #staywokedog.
3. INI - "Fakin' Jax"
INI had to wait their turn thanks to Industry #4080. Yet the people got around to hearing the lost gem from the '90s long before it dropped on Lost & Found: Hip Hop Underground and Soul Classics in 2003. The Soul Brother #1 doesn't disappoint here or on said album which is FULL of impressive beats. We can't sit here and wax poetic about each one though so "Fakin' Jax" gets the spotlight.
4. Pete Rock - "Pete's Jazz"
Sequencing is another one of Rock's fortes and you'll hear the convincing truth on "Pete's Jazz." The samples maintain a tight balancing act and come together like they originated on one record. Instrumentals often beg for rappers and singers to make them complete. "Pete's Jazz" bunks the trend since vocals may overshadow the song's great subtleties.
5. Public Enemy - "Shut 'Em Down" (Remix)
Remixes these days usually use the same beat with different guest artists to get a boost on BDS reports...HOW BORING. Remixes called for producers re-envision tracks and, in Pete's heyday, he was one of the best at it. Listen to PE's first take then pay attention to all the differences you're about to here in the player. Only Pete Rock can configure a track so belligerent into something much more soulful. The change in presentation didn't take away from the original's bite either.
6. A Tribe Called Quest - "Jazz (We've Got)"
You know Pete's good at his job when he has a top beat on one of rap's most prized albums. The beat is one of the best examples of the Low End Theory's emphasis on cohesion and dynamics. All the track's samples fit perfectly and leave space for the Tip and Phife to shine. Low End Theory's engineering, headed by Bob Power, necessitates your recognition on the finished product. The vision, however, still starts with the producer.*
*Q-Tip made "Jazz (We've Got)" based on a beat Pete played at his house with Tip present. Pete said Tip drew from his original work very closely which explained Tip's shout out at the end of the record.
7. Big L - "Holdin' It Down"
Big L fathered flows much like Pete Rock fathered production techniques. Therefore, hearing visionaries combine forces for a monumental sound shouldn't surprise folks. Additionally, woodwinds have a reputation of being whispy instruments but they sound HARD AS F*CK on this joint.
Big L unfortunately met his untimely demise before "Holdin It Down" hit the masses. He's survived by his everlasting recording and one of Pete's most memorable works.
8. Common - "The Bitch In Yoo"
Pete Rock provided the soundtrack for Common's KO over Ice Cube. The two eventually hashed things out but O'Shea's career remains scarred from their confrontation. Meanwhile, P rarely gets recognition for creating the smoothest diss record ever. Who knew unbridled, lyrical haymakers could sound so classy?
9. Nas - "The World Is Yours"
Pete Rock hooked up young Nasir Jones with something serious here. The production on "The World Is Yours" and Nas' smooth flow invited you to remember every word. The song's far from some nursery rhyme, mind you. Therefore, hearing bars recited so effortlessly with the beat made the record play like fate over a beautifully-layered arrangement.
10. Pete Rock & CL Smooth - "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)"
You can't talk about Pete Rock without mentioning his magnum opus, "They Reminisce Over You." His production along with CL's words compelled listeners to mourn like they too lost a friend in Trouble T-Roy Dixon. "T.R.O.Y." succeeds not only for how it incorporates the Tom Scott and The Dreamers sample or its catchy drum patterns.
The entire project strikes chords because it's you can feel rather than simply hear. Pete Rock's catalog brims with quality material and this post only covers a fraction of his output. Nevertheless, (T.R.O.Y.) stands as Pete's best creation to date.