Multi-instrumentalist and composer Will ‘Quantic’ Holland stopped by The Chapel in San Francisco last week, showing off chops that made him known throughout the States, Europe, and South America. His style’s pretty accessible, considering he incorporates different genres into his work over a 9 album course starting in 2001. We spoke a while back, touching on his upbringing, the groundswell of support he’s received, and his work with a personal favorite of mine, Alice Russell. Below is a quick Q&A. – DM
**Here’s a ‘Best Of Quantic’ mix from a few years back by none other than J-Rocc of the Beat Junkies.
Talk a bit about your musical background and history a bit. What instruments do you play? What was the first instrument you picked up? Which would you say is your main one?
My Mum and Dad were into alot of music before I was born, my father played Guitar on Welsh Television regurarly in his teens and my mother played fiddle and sang, they were quite a musical couple interested in Folk music in general, Bluegrass, English Folk, Irish. By the time I was born, my father had taken up banjo and both him and my mother had a house full of instruments, dulcimers, ukeleles, a piano and various british made banjos. My sisters had a ukeleles each and I was taught to play guitar by my dad as well as reluctantly taking piano lessons with my mothers friend. It turned out I was pretty hopeless at it all and rarely enjoyed singing in the family car like my twin sisters did.
Your father was pretty influential then.
Yeah, he was a lecturer and part time computer programmer, so as the 80s progressed, our music room was gradually filled with computer equipment, first a BBC Micro and then various Archimedes machines. My father showed me how to program bits of code and eventually, once computers progressed, how to sample and record. He also bought me a cheap electric guitar once I had gotten into my Iron Maiden ‘Powerslave’ period and out the other side into Nirvana. At 16 my mother leant me money to buy a simpe yamaha sampler and that got me interested in looping, especially using the onboard mic to loop up piano chords and use instruments from the house. Around that time I had inherited a Uher portable reel to reel tape recorder from an uncle on my mothers side who had a sound recording business and I had an uncle on my fathers side who was a DJ and record producer. I remember him bringing us a 45 to house, one each for me and my sisters, he was into managing pop groups and seemed a world away from my household’s folky outlook. But gradually the idea of producing records and stylizing sound in a recorded fashion dawned on me.
Which albums have most profoundly affected you?
There are a few landmark records for me, when I first heard Sly Stone’s ‘If You Want Me to Stay’ that blew me away, so did Carla Bley’s ‘Escalater Over the Hill’. I also remember loving Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath at a young age, their Drums and Guitars seemed so powerful and expressive. As I got further into music and it became more accessible with the internet, I discovered more by Moondog, Richie Ray, Fela Kuti, Arthur Verocai. More recently, hearing ‘Krishnanda’ by Pedro Santos from Brasil changed my ears forever. From getting into 45s at a young age, I had the luck of coming across some really good Northern Soul and Jazz. I managed to pick records cheap like Pearly Queen’s ‘Quit Jivin’ and Russell Gorden’s ‘Double Booty Bump’ and started playing at house partys with my friend Russ Porter. I was lucky, because the Midlands and Northern England has a strong appreciation of American Black Soul, Ballads and Dance music. I was growing up in a period where I could find Chicago and Miami 45s in my local store for cheap but also there was good Dum and Bass being produced, great and exciting UK urban music being made, it was a good time. The Midlands is not the most picturesque of places, but it had alot of Soul.
When you write a composition, do you purposely try to incorporate different stylistic elements or does it occur naturally as it’s being written?
Admittedly, I wasn’t big into Blu before writing about him for the current issue of Wax Poetics– although I always dug the production on his early work with Exile. He has a sizable and seemingly rabid fan base so here’s the full transcript of our recent talk. His new release, Good To Be Home, is a testament to his hometown of LA and finds him on the ascendant in terms of comfortability on the mic and overall more fully realized subject matter. Says Blu: “First off, I have to say this a huge honor, I have been waiting for this opportunity to meet for a long time and preparing for the day I sit down with the magnificent Wax Po!”. – DM
Tell folks a bit about your history with Exile. Your first release was in 2007. How sure were you at that point that music would be your career?
I actually wasn’t sure at all. I started working on the record in 2005 at the age of 21, and I knew I wanted to make a strong debut like all the greats I admire like Nas, Ice Cube, Krs, Snoop, and others. It was a huge blessing to get Exile to produce the entire record. I had other producers in mind when we first started crafting the album but after exile and I did one song, I knew he was the perfect person to man the production on the entire record. I always looked up to Premier, Dilla, and Hi-Tek and I finally met someone from California who was on that level of production mastery. He had all the jewels for me to create and get out everything I needed to express for my debut.
You started as a hypeman? How was that experience as an aspiring rapper?
Well, my cousin wrote my first raps for me when I was thirteen but because I was raised in the church, hip-hop was restricted in my household growing up. It wasn’t until I moved back into LA county with my father that I began to buy rap music. It was right after I listened to DMX’s “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot” that I started writing my own raps. I was a great freestyle emcee for years, it wasn’t until my good friend who worked at wake up show convinced me to start writing and recording songs instead of battling every emcee for my recognition.I thank him to this day. I remember he always said, “Aint no money in free styling bro, its free”. Then he hipped me to Aquemini. I would eventually hype man for many california groups and bands before my crew and i would get to the point of gracing the stage on our own. Continue reading
What an honor it was to finally speak with Preemo, especially since his work has underscored so many favorite songs of mine. Here, he gets to discuss records that changed his life. Take a look/listen over at Ego Trip. Shouts to my dude O-Dub for the ill assist and peep Soul-Sides which is currently filled with plenty of awesomeness to round out an all-too-short summer (aren’t they all though?).
I recently wrote the cover story on Dr. Dre for Wax Poetics Japan. I was hoping to get Dre on the phone but dude’s probably busy swan diving into piles of cash after his recent 3 billion dollar headphone deal. If you collect issues of Wax Po Japan or read Japanese, the piece explores Dre’s history and influence on commercial music’s landscape through these last three decades. Pick it up HERE.
I spoke with DJ Jazzy Jeff recently for a local story and our conversation ran a bit long– after all, dude has been in the game very long and remains remarkably personable to boot. With the Bay Area as a frequent tour stop (he calls it a ‘second home’) we conversed a bit on some history and his career as a DJ/producer. Below are snippets from our talk on some of the more poignant moments of his ongoing DJ career. -DM
On Meeting Will Smith: “He was in a crew and I was in a crew too and we knew of eachother. We never officially met. I got a last minute DJ gig and had to go without an MC, which is fine. I was gonna rock the spot anyways, but it just so happened to be on Will’s block. He came down and we gave each other daps and just formally met. He was like ‘Where’s Ice’, which was the name of my MC. I told him Ice couldn’t make it and Will was like ‘Mind if I rock with you?’. So then I gave him the mic and it was magic. We were in sync right away from a musical perspective. As dudes, we hit it off too, just laughing and joking all night. I picked up the phone the next night and asked if he wanted to do another gig with me and that was that. It wasn’t too cool for MC Ice who essentially became unemployed [laughs]. But man, it worked out great.”
Why He Started DJing: “More than anything, I loved being the guy who was in charge of playing music at the local parties. You did it because it made you feel good and I liked being the guy responsible for making people dance. So you go from playing a party on your street, to a party on the block, then you’re playing clubs in Philly. That’s pretty much how it started.”
On His First Time in the Studio: “When you make records, especially rap records back then, you never think they’ll hit iconic status one day. You sort of just go in, have a good time in the studio, and try to be as creative as you can. You have to think it’s just for five people rather than 5 million. I feel that outlook keeps it fun. There’s no pressure. You just wanna make good songs for your friends. It was literally just going into the studio or even my mom’s basement, and Will’s rapping and I’m playing my beats and adding cuts, and it’s all cool by the time we hit the studio.”
On Record Collecting: “I will never stop digging. Its one of those things where I laugh and say thank I have so many records already. I have so much music, man. On my computer, in my garage, everywhere. But you know, you can’t walk pass a record store without going in and buying just one, or two, or ten. And it’s like that everywhere in the world I go to ‘til this day.”
Bay Area DJs and What He Does When He’s Here: “Q-Bert is like the Jimi Hendrix of the turntable. I joke with Shortkut and call him a Swiss Army Knife because whatever you want, he’ll provide. I mean, when I’m in the Bay, I’ll go to Thud Rumble Headquarters or I’ll go to Q-Bert’s house. Me and Shortkut will go get Dungeness crab at a local spot. I have my ritual of where I go to eat, who I go to see and all that. I love the Bay and can’t wait to be there again. It really feels like a second home to me there.”
On Sudden Stardom: “It’s crazy because literally ten months after we cut the first record, we’re on the stage at the Grammys. And all of it came from us just having fun. We went thru a period where it was too serious, which I’m sure most artists go thru. I compare my music and art to basketball; you go out to play ball after school to have fun. And if yo’re good at it, you’l play for your school, then maybe your highschool, then maybe college, then if you’re really good, you go pro. But the day it became no longer fun, your game changes.”
DJing Versus Producing: “To me, DJing is producing on the fly. It’s my job to produce the night. As a producer, you have more time to put things together. It’s piecing things together, which is taking nothing and making something out of it. I can just start playing and programming stuff and piece together a puzzle and it’s one of the moist gratifying things you can do.”
For Fans Who’ve Been Listening Since the ’80s: “I just have a huge, high level of love and appreciation. I love what I do so much and am blessed to still do what I do. There so much drama and I’ve always been lucky to still have all this joy. I’m not young anymore but still travel and do what I love. I’ve covered almost every base one would cover in the music industry and to come full circle and still do what I started out doing as a kid is incomparable. I will always DJ and do music. I might not always be involved in the industry side of things, but I get to cut the middleman and just give music directly to the people now. Then I’m off to the next venue. Not much I can ask for.”
Filed under: Interviews | Tags: Big Daddy Kane, biz markie, juice crew, Kool G Rap, wax poetics
* Published concurrently on www.waxpoetics.com
* ‘G Rap’ Image By Kori Thompson
G Rap’s early career was a minefield of shifty fictions anchored in large by a dizzying cadence and attention to detail. And while these early years were fleeting, they, like any true pioneers’ work, set the framework for younger cats to explore. Wu-Tang, Jay-Z, Nas, and Biggie were all spawned from G Rap, later citing his delivery and Mafioso street narratives as immensely impactful and of influence.
I spoke in depth with G Rap for Wax Poetics issue 58, touching on ballyhooed history and other watershed moments during his immensely rich upstart. But there’s so much more to his story, so many colorful characters that came and went in an era where Biz Markie had entirely long beatboxing routines and Big Daddy Kane rapped while doing vigorous dance numbers— all of it under the guidance of rap’s first super producer, the venerable Marley Marl. It was a showcase of fun and well roundedness that underscored the Juice Crew’s heyday.
To this day, the trajectory of his career and its catalogue has been a point of reference for so many, and here’s the rest of our interview, bookended by opulent moments of his storied rise. Says G rap: “I just had crazy confidence in myself. I knew that skill-wise, especially back then, I was an elite. I was untouchable.”
Even though most fixate on those first early records of yours, you’ve had a lot of artistic output since. What are you up to these days?
I’m working on a screenplay. I’m transitioning from rapper back to just writer and am working on concepts for short films. Some of the themes are taken from my old albums. I’m gonna start shooting short films of all these song concepts I’ve had through the years. I can’t wait to get in the field and just put art out there again.
Perhaps one of your well known is “Road To The Riches”. The video itself is remarkable. Talk about working with director Fab Five Freddy.
I was no older than twenty at that point even though I looked thirteen [laughs]. It was directed by [Fab Five] Freddy who I think did an excellent job. He’s from that element, he’s from the streets. He’s definitely a fan of hip-hop and captured what we were going for.
That song was taken from my real life experiences. I wasn’t literally sweeping floors for dimes but if you consider the minimum wage then, I was basically working for dimes [laughs]. It was just my life and things that were going on around me. I mentioned John Gotti because it was the topic of the times. Any part of the violence that I wrote about were things I saw, even if I didn’t directly participate in all of it. I mean, right before the video shoot, this Jamaican cat I knew shot this dude in my neighborhood. Later, the dude ended up killing the Jamaican cat. These were real life things and experiences that I took in.
Let’s talk about the Juice Crew explore that history a bit. How was it working with Marley Marl? He was already known and you were actually the newcomer to the crew.
He’s that dude! Needless to say, he’s one of the first, most innovative producers in the game. Marley was the first one where people knew him equally as much as the vocalist. His name stood out as much as Kane or Biz. It was like he set the format without rapping on anything. Everything he did was behind the scenes. He was in a skit and a video, which was cool since he was already so big and should’ve made himself more identifiable. Then (Dr.) Dre and RZA kind of became what Marley laid out— the dude in the studio that made everything happen and known to the listener.
How close were you guys as a unit? Did Marley keep things tight or were you really more or less affiliates? Continue reading
For this year’s Record Store Day, Fat Beats reissued UN or U OUT, a gritty NY rap joint that came and went but also happened to be Roc Marciano’s first official release. I wrote the liner notes and as a big fan of Roc’s solo joint, Marcberg, I was happy to research a bit about his history. Available on LP, CD AND cassette!
*Take a listen to the re-issue in full via Spin Magazine featuring production from Pete Rock and Large Professor HERE.
*You can also read portions of the liner notes and peep an exclusive, recently unearthed track HERE via our buds at Ego Trip.