Lewis Parker and John Robinson Interview

Press play on the Best of Compilation, sit back and read up on the words from the Man with the Golden Sound, Lewis Parker.

With International Summers still fresh from it’s vinyl pressing, the world tour continued with vitality and panache in the intimate Bar Mau Mau of London’s vibing hip hop hotspot, Ladbroke Grove. Stepping into the venue I caught up with Lewis Parker for an interview, he was in full flow about the ups and downs of New York life, the latest rare and unexpected releases, high profile collaborations with Wu Tang members, his production techniques and how many of his key projects have developed.

JB: So Lewis, for the people who aren’t up to speed can you give us the low-down on Mr Parker’s moves in 2010?
LP: 2010 has been a year of more expansion for the World of Dusty vinyl, and we’re still on a positive road. I’m still based in New York, we’ve just recorded the beginning of the album and we’ve had a 10” come out called The Unseen Trap which is the leading record from the album The Glass Ceiling, which is in the works, although I can’t give you any kind of date as to when that’s going to be available to the public. In the meantime the label I’m working with on that record and the record before with John Robinson, they kind of put toward the idea of me and JR doing a quick album. So me and John got together and come up with a couple of ideas about doing a quick joint called International Summers, and pretty much did the album in two months from start to finish, recording, mixing, everything. It was an album which was a fast piece of concentration because it wasn’t like we really took ages recording a whole bunch of records, which is how I usually go about making an album. I’ll record far too many records that I need for a project and either narrow it down to choose the best ones or put them all out together and have a long LP like All Happening Now.

JB: International Summers is a great inspiration for Hip Hoppers to have some positive reflection on life, which seems to be a theme of yours.
LP: That was one definite thing about this album, you know John Robinson is a very conscious rapper and he really brought me back on to the idea of ‘Yo, let’s do a record that’s real, a feel good record’ and for me I haven’t done a record like that for a while, maybe not ever, that really covers the scope of dope, straight up, feel good hip hop. It’s not really contrived because I wasn’t trying, a lot of those beats I had from a minute, and the selection process was like ‘OK that works, let’s rock to that, that’s nice, it feels good and is a nice jam’. There’s no pretentions and we’re not trying to overprove anything, we’re two dudes just doing what we do making the Hip Hop we grew up with. So I’m not trying to change my style, or do anything different just updating it with the updation.

JB: After making music for twenty years what keeps you making fresh music?
LP: Breaks, the love for Hip Hop and the love of all music. The breaks is what makes me wanna make more music. I listen to dope breaks and listen to dope records and that shit makes me make beats. If I hear a hip hop artist or a dope producer from all kinds of genres these days, it could be all kinds of music, that makes you want to make music, cos you heard how someone wanted to create and express themselves, that might inspire you in some way and make you want to think. Life in general is music, I live my life as music, and every little thing affects me in how I do this and the music. The basic elements for me? It’s about the breaks, I’m here in Ladbroke Grove, standing outside Mau Mau and a Dread come up to me and he had pure dubs, pure version 45’s in his hand and he gets good vibes from me and he’ll do them for £2, I’m taking the records, y’na what I’m saying? Breaks are coming to me and I know I got dope shit on here, and that’s what it’s about to me, going with that vibe getting the breaks and hooking them up.

JB: What are the Sources of inspiration behind the Dusty Vinyl sound?
LP: The classic hip hop producers, such as Marley Marl to Lord Finesse, Pete Rock, Large Professor-
JB: Breaking Atoms is classic
LP: Yeah all the classic dudes and still new school dudes, even I’m gonna go out there and say Pharell, he’s an inspirational producer and I’ve listened to certain things of his, and that shit will edge you up. Dope musicians from all over the scope, when you hear dope music, that’s gonna inspire you. For me though, I definitely have a style so it’s the SP producers.

JB: For the beat makers out there what’s your current studio set-up?
LP: My studio set-up is either/or SP on a particular day, I’ve run with the 950 and 900 Akai machines for years and years for the standard to the Lewis Parker sound. The last couple of albums you’ve been hearing have been on some all out E-MU flex, which has been SP and E-MU combinations with some higher grade E-MU samplers like the Ultra and other such machines. So we’ve been taking it out there with the sound we’re using, but we keep it analogue, designed on making the breaks as big and as dope as they can possibly be, and that’s what it’s really about. The constant sound is the SP and matching my sound to that, it’s like expanding on what you can do from there. With just a simple 10 second SP machine, to being able to do the maximum you can do and still maintain that hit you can get from just a 10 second beat. The Unseen Trap and all my music these days, for the last ten years or more, has been programmed straight on SP’s, the SP 12 or SP 1200.

JB: The Deadliest Man on Two SP’s for sure. At what part in your career do you consider yourself to be? Have you achieved everything you set out to, are there aspects of Hip Hop/ Creativity you haven’t done yet?
LP: For me, my releases don’t even cover the scope of music that I’ve done over the years. I’ve got good releases that I’m happy with, and some classics under my belt, but I listen back to certain things and listen to things that haven’t even come out, that I may have done years ago and I think ‘You know what this record covers a whole different scope of the Lewis Parker feel, which is still to me accomplished for the stuff that has come out’. I was listening to shit I did before B-Boy Antiks, way back when, the demo I did before that and that shit was mad different to B-Boy Antiks in it’s own way, I was still calling myself Kid Soul back then and it was a different flex from what I was doing.
JB: So do you think you’ll remix the unreleased archives at some point?
LP: I’m going through phases of releasing periods of the older archives, stuff I had from throughout the 90’s, right now I have The Rise Special Edition where I put on there a good five or six cuts and demos and unreleased material from around my the early 90’s era. I want the fans to get into that and I’ve got some more stuff. I’ve been playing with the idea of doing an updated version of certain records, literally revisiting certain records, even of Masquerades and Silhouettes, doing the beats over and revisiting rhymes. There’s records that I’ve kept that haven’t come out, one was recently released on the Rise Special Edition, called Painted Skies. This record here should have been on All Happening Now, it was a record I was working on after Masquerades and was a straight follow on and it was a real Lewis Parker all out classic and I never really finished it. The version that I put on iTunes recently is the happiest demo I could find of that version of the track. A lot of times when make music I might remake a beat ten times, certain records have been like that. The cut The Big Game from The Puzzle, I made that beat so many times, I even made it during the All Happening Now era, I already had the idea for The Puzzle, I had already written the rhymes around that time, it was mad faster so I did another version and another version and I changed and I just sort of put it to the side and was like ‘When I decide to do my next album I’ll use this and it’ll be The Puzzle and I’ll base the album around the sound of this record’. For years in my head I had ideas and I was collecting records and breaks that I was thinking would work with the sound of The Big Game record and that’s what I wanted to use. It was all pieces of The Puzzle, from title track to the huge cut at the end The Deadly Game.

JB: Your music has a definite cinematic feel, have you considered working on move soundtracks?
LP: I really want to, it’s just getting the right people to work at getting you on the soundtrack, that’s really it. I’ve been on a few things and seen my music appear here and there, though I’ve never scored a movie or anything like that.
JB: Which directors would you like to work with?
LP: Scorsese, cats like that, what’s the man who did Kill Bill…Tarantino, now he would be ideal for what I do, a Guy Ritchie film or a Spike Lee joint, if I could get to score a film like that, it would be where I see myself ideally. I would like to work with young directors and filmmakers in general to make music and visuals come together. To me that’s what I try and do anyway with my music, I always try and make it a very visual thing even if you’re only listening to it, it’s like cinema on wax, putting images to the music regardless. I listen to and love musical changes, the dramatic change and build up of the people.
JB: The video for The Rise and Fall of River Nelson is like that, with camera shots adding a layer of visual narrative of the cityscape, genius, who’s idea was that?
LP: That was River’s boy, he heard the joint and was like 'I wanna flip something and put that together', and biggup to River doing his thing.

JB: It’s been written by Discog.com that you make “the most musical hip hop in the world” and Doctors orders recently credited you as “The UK’s most prolific producer”, how does this status make you feel?
LP: To me the status is beautiful and I’m happy with the recognition, but I’m way far from a super star. I got super regular problems like real people, big bills, land lord’s threatening to kick me out every other month and that’s the real shit. I think that keeps me grounded more than anything, the fact that I’m not rich and I’ll be living an international lifestyle on broke pockets for real, sometimes that shit is hard to accept but that’s the truth. I’ll be in New York doing my thing and I could be as broke as I’d be in the UK, and it’s about balancing the balance and still making the shit pop.

JB: How did the Ghostface Killah collaboration come about?
LP: The original concept was in London city at Deal Real Records, I hit him with a beat CD, didn’t think nothing of it cos at that point around 2004-5 when I gave him the CD I was giving mad cats CDs, at that point that’s all I was on. I actually put doing solo material to one side and I was more concerned with getting beats to artists and the majority of beats I was making at that point, I was trying to cater more for other MC’s than even for my personal style. I gave Ghost the beat CD and a year later I was in Barbados, Bridgetown with my Ma and little brother, next thing you know the phone is ringing and it’s Ghost’s manager and then I’m talking to Ghostface and he’s telling me he loves the psychedelic soundtrack beats I’m rocking. Then I went to New York to hook up with the mans and we recorded 6-7 tracks that Ghost had chosen and spit verses to here and there, and towards the end of the Fishscale project I was losing tracks every month for different reasons, there was two tracks that were from this John Wayne album, we lost them because we couldn’t get sample clearance. I was losing tracks cos other producers wanted to get on the project, but they new my shit was fire so I still got ‘Outta Town Shit’ on More Fish and the lead track on Fishscale; ‘Shakey Dog’.
I still wanna do some more material with Ghost and was talking to Raekwon the other day when we were in Germany, mad respect to that, that was a good look. I’m not sending anything old, I’m sending Rae some fresh batch of beats specially for him, fresh for the Chef.

JB: We’re gonna skip why did you move to the US cos it’s obvious, but how does the US compare to the UK scene in Hip Hop terms?
LP: In those terms it’s the real deal, everyone we’re talking about is actually there, and in the same way you’re going to bump into certain dudes here you’re going to bump into certain dudes there. That is where Hip Hop is, and New York city is the Mecca of Hip Hop. So anyone thinking why are you moving, it’s obvious, I love Hip Hop and I’m a B-Boy and for a true school head New York city is the heart of Hip Hop. I’m not saying that shit hasn’t been watered down, Hip Hop is unbalanced right now but on a general level I feel Hip Hop in New York. Moving and staying there was a revival and it put the stamp on the thing I loved as a kid for me. It was the verification of all that shit you thought you should have been doing. When I went over there and started connecting with heads it reminded me of when I went there in ’98, Masquerades and Silhouettes came out on Astral Works, the same label as the Black Star album. When I was over there the people at the label and journalists were saying I should be in NY regularly working with feature artists, and not that I ignored it, I just wasn’t as business minded back then, I just wanted to make my music and if the label wanted to work that out, I’d let them.

JB: With your involvement in Champions of Nature you created one of the UK’s most ardent and legendary Hip Hop crews, do you see yourself working with those guys again?
LP: The name Champions of Nature was an idea I had when I watched David Attenborough, and I got an idea to do a new project called Champions of the Future.
JB: Do you think you could orchestrate a US-UK collaboration called Champions of the Future, cos people would be vibing off the style you got alongside some UK rappers, bringing it all together across the Atlantic?
LP: I’ve been wanting to do it and I think it could work.

JB: Are there any releases/venues/artists you want to biggup right now?
LP: My man Tah Borne is coming out with a new album Black Caeser, produced by me hopefully by the end of this year. Definitely my sister Acacia Parker has a lot of fresh material. My man East Coast, we about to do some ill material on him, which might actually be the next release you see from me, I’m weighing it up right now, doing a flip with the two deadliest hit men I work with. There’s a whole lot of venues in the UK from Brighton to Bristol, Nottingham to Manchester that we haven’t been on and we wanna come back and tour them with me and John Robinson’s new album International Summers. We trying to bring Hip Hop back with the best vibe it can possibly be. And there’s a whole lot more in store.

After an in-depth chat with the Man with the Golden Sound, I managed to briefly catch up with his associate and collaborator on the International Summers album, the effervescent and considered John Robinson.

JB: Mr Robinson how are you feeling about London?
JR: London is always great, good vibes and it’s a soulful place, to me it’s a musical place for many many years.
JB: What venues have you enjoyed playing in?
JR: I’ve played Jazz CafĂ© and at Mau Mau with the White Triple, I’ve played Cargo. Another few smaller venues and honestly I’ve always enjoyed the vibe, my peeps like the Morpheus Soul Show get a lot of love. The peeps that I know here outside of physically doing the music, with cats I’ve connected with online and when I’ve visited, it’s not a second or third home but it’s definitely a place I feel home at when I come through.

JB: You seem to be an artist that works and collaborates with a range of different people, from MF DOOM to the many projects you’ve done over the years, who would you be ideally working with in the future?
JR: In the near future I’m gonna switch it up a bit and bring out some brilliance from unknown names and faces. I started to get a little frustrated cos I’ve done a lot of different records over the last few years and it’s like technology sped the music up to where you can do two or three albums a year sometimes, and people are still asking you when’s the new joint dropping? And I’m like 'Come on you gotta be kidding me!'

JB: With the success of International Summers, it’s such a upbeat positive Hip Hop album, against the grain of the mainstream but firmly a classic, what brought that about?
JR: We went through a lot of names before we came with that title, and I felt like the title needed to be something that was simple, easy, meaningful, limitless, boundless in a sense and universal, where it can fit the description of a Jazz or Soul or Blues record, any kind of record, it was universal and had no physical attachment to a certain genre. I wanted to figure out a title that described an attachment with me and Lewis doing music together as well as wheat the sound would be like. The technique International Summers was done in took a lot of tedious work, you’re talking SP 1200 productions, S9-50, the E-MU sampler, going into the board then going onto tape and then back into ProTools to really preserve that warm feeling that many classic Hip Hop records that we know and love are made with. International Summers has many meanings but one of them is the descriptions of the vibe and the sound that the music is done in and it doesn’t really limit itself to a particular subject.

JB: One of the things I vibe off is the real skill in lyricism, and obviously you and Lewis have that ethereal style, you’re above the bullshit and into the stuff that is really about life, what inspires you to write like that?
JR: Two things; Young people, and me being blessed enough to be raised by this devine culture called Hip Hop, literally having distant mentors who raised me up, listening to KRS-One records, Boogie Down Productions style, raised me up. Listening to Slick Rick, explicit as it was it had it’s eloquence, it had a taste to it and was done on a level where it was witty, funny, creative and it wasn’t as severe as and direct as a lot of the explicit music of today. That’s my inspiration, giving back all that was given to me to the younger people, so they can come close to what I was able to be blessed with. Trying to share that experience because honestly I don’t think there’s another experience that can repeat that, it’s an era that happened and I don’t know if that era can be encompassed or packed into another era.

Interview by J-Bodes

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