2004’s Music To Slit Writs By showed a capable producer with nice sample selections, sequencing know-how, and solid overall song construction. The project (filled with touches of old-school rap) easily held up against other ballyhooed beat-tapes of ’04, but somehow slipped under the radar. Four years later, and with a new project, The Ugly Truth, having been out a while, NERDTORIOUS spoke to Reanimator about beatmaking, his history, and current well-kept career.
You sound has a lot of old school rap influences. Who are some of your all time favorite producers?
In no particular order…Marley Marl – I cringe at some of his scratching, but the production was always great. Bomb Squad – The true masters of piecing together lots of samples in an innovative way. Dr. Dre – Some people are surprised that I cite Dre as an influence, but his studio mixing skills and attention to getting timing right always seemed a step ahead of everyone else.
Give our readers some background on Music To Slit Wrists By. How long did it take to complete? What are you most proud of regarding that record?
Music To Slit Wrists By is a record that I originally released in 2002. I had about 2 years worth of songs that, over the course of a year, I pieced together to create this 80-minute mix of music. The thing that I’m probably most proud of is the fact that people enjoy it. I get comments from people who aren’t necessarily into hip-hop say how much they enjoy listening to it, which is nice.
What do you think when you listen to it now?
When I listen to it know, I’m surprised by how much effort I put into the small details, like the effects, timing, and overall mix. Now that I’m working on more songs with lyricists, I often times don’t spend as much time on the small details because I know that there are going to be vocals over the top to serve as a focal point in the music. With an instrumental record, it has to stand on it’s own, so the small nuances really matter. My main focus was not letting certain repetitive phrases go on too long without changes – which has always been my complaint with a lot of instrumental albums. You can get away with that more so when working with vocals, but my vision for this particular album was to have it constantly be changing.
We get a lot of readers who are vinyl junkies. Will you ever press it on vinyl?
I’ve toyed with the idea. It’s doubtful at this time, unless a demand grew for it. This album, since it’s original 2002 release (which consisted of me having 100 copies with me that I would give away, some of which are still sitting on shelves in my basement) has had a few intermittent marketing pushes from various sources. Probably the most successful one is the current push that Sage has been giving it since people recognize some of my work with Sage and my new album with Prolyphic. I would almost prefer to put out 45s with standalone versions of certain songs.
What equipment do you normally use?
These days, the bulk of the work is done on the PC – like the chopping and piecing together of samples – I normally use Sound Forge and Acid. I used to use an Ensoniq ASR-10, but it became too limiting, too quick. I don’t use any MIDI devices (I never really liked trying to configure that stuff) – but, I use a Fender Rhodes Electric Piano, a Wurlitzer EP-200a Electric Piano, and a Korg MS-10 Synthesizer. The sound of older equipment blends well with sample based music and the nice thing about the Rhodes and Wurlitzer is that they have such a nice sound on their own that I don’t have to even play it that well for it to sound good. Sometimes I’ll just hit one chord and it will warm up a song.
How long does it normally take for you to make a beat?
That varies heavily. The problem with sample-based music is that your songs are only as good as the records you come up on. If I haven’t come up on any good records, then I’m not making any good songs, so there can be some droughts. Luckily right now, I’m in a decent state because I bought a collection of records off of someone a few years ago and I still haven’t gone through all of the records, so I have a bomb shelter of possible material. This is what a lot of the Prolyphic & Reanimator, The Ugly Truth, came out of. Also, another issue is that there is a certain amount of trial and error when piecing together samples. Like, I can have a good song going that has 1 nice sample, but it could be years before I come up with a nice complementary sample to put with it. I don’t like to do songs that just have a single sample looping for 4-minutes and some seconds, so the process can take a while. A lot of it is also luck that you even try to match a couple samples that go together well, but I’m sure that there are similar cases with all types of music composition.
What’s the process like? Do you start with the drums, or a main sample, or loop or what?
I usually start with some main samples, like a catchy loop for instance, and just put any random break with it to get a groove going. Then I figure out what key the music is in and start thinking about what I can transition in/out of it and what sounds I’m “hearing” – like if I think that a trumpet would sound good over it. For stuff like one-shot samples like stabs and stuff, they can always be re-pitched pretty easily to add some flavor. Then I start auditioning pieces over it and chop up other samples to create counter-melodies.
How did your collaborations with Sage Francis and his record label begin?
I met Sage in 2001 I believe. He played a show in Milwaukee with Slug, DJ Abilities, and Sixtoo that my friend was promoting. I recorded the show and saw Sage the next day with Sixtoo and went to a record sale. I gave him and Sixtoo a copy of the show, so that’s when we initially met. Then, when he was starting work on A Healthy Distrust, I had showed him an idea and he liked it. The working back and forth worked out well too. I would give him a rough song idea, he would record some rough vocals over it and send me the acapella and then we would develop the song, e-mailing it back and forth with ideas and comments. Then, he introduced me to Prolyphic via a couple acapellas that he wanted me to play around with and that was the beginning of The Ugly Truth.
As a producer, what subtleties do you listen for when you hear a beat?
I don’t necessarily listen for it, but I get annoyed when a sample isn’t sync’d up well with a drum machine. I always listen for new/clever ways of transitioning in and out of samples. I listen closely for how people are mixing there instrumentals down. Sometimes when layering samples, the sound can get really dense, so I always appreciate when someone can create good separation and depth with their mixes – RJD2 has always impressed me with his mixing with how he can go between a big full sound and a breakdown without feeling like the song’s main sample just fell out of the mix.
What do you want people to get out of your new project with Prolyphic?
I just want people to appreciate the combination of good lyrics andgood music. We tried a few things that are atypical of hip-hop records, like long outros, a song in 3/4 time, etc. to try to create something interesting that most listeners might not have been exposed to before.
What’s next for you as a producer?
I’ve been showing some beats to Sage lately – I’ve been on some weird synthesizer thing recently with a lot of those. I was hoping to create another instrumental record, but I’m not sure what I want to do with that yet. I’ve been trying some live performance concepts in my basement that my dogs seem to enjoy, but I’m not sure that it’s ready for a real audience yet.
**Here’s a taste from Reanimator’s Music To Slit Wrists By, “Socially Positive (Reprise) “, an extended track full of signature change-ups and solid sequencing.
***To purchase The Ugly Truth, or learn more about Strange Famous Records, please visit www.strangefamousrecords.com.