(BAM: Bay Area Music Magazine)
by: Nancy Whalen
The Dust Brothers Wrote The Book On A New Type Of Hip-Hop Production, And They're Adding To The Library
The Dust Brothers--Michael Simpson and John King--met in 1982 while attending a Southern California college, where they created California's very first rap show at KSPC in Pomona. Back then, known as EZ Mike and King Gizmo, they rapped and scratched their way through college, performing at local clubs and parties, and hosting the weekly radio show.
''The only interesting hip-hop records at the time were coming out of New York, until [Pomona street kid] Orlando Aguillar walked into the station one day in 1987, with a record about smokin' weed [''Cheeba, Cheeba''], performed by a guy with a voice like Barry White,'' recalls John. ''We flipped when we heard it, and invited [the artist] Tone Loc to come down the next week to perform live on the show. [Loc] walked in, sparked up a big joint, and started kicking rhymes over some tracks that we had hooked up as promo spots for the show. Coincidentally, the next day, we got a call from Matt Dyke, who told us that he was starting a new record label [Delicious Vinyl] and that he was looking for material. We met him and his partner at the time, Mike Ross, the day after that, and played them the promo spots we had produced, using a Tascam 234 cassette four-track and a Roland S-10 sampler. They hired us on the spot to begin writing and producing tracks for them.
''From that day, we spent the next two-and-a-half years in the studio, cranking out songs.'' Ironically, the Dust Brothers' four-track radio show promos ended up being the songs on Tone Loc's multi-platinum debut album, 'Loc'ed After Dark,' not to mention Young MC's multi-platinum album, 'Stone Cold Rhymin',' and the Beastie Boys' critically-acclaimed sophomore effort, 'Paul's Boutique.'
One night in February 1988, the Beastie Boys were in LA, which would soon become their home base. At the time, the Beasties were still signed to Def Jam, but a falling out between the band and the label's Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin had left the Boys less than motivated to record a follow-up album to their multi-platinum debut 'Licensed To Ill.' Adam Horovitz [Adrock] was working on a film at the time and the other guys were just hanging out. They happened to walk into the Delicious Vinyl studio one night, and heard the songs that the Dust Brothers were planning to release as their own album with Matt Dyke. (The trio had also heard some of the tracks previously at a party that Dyke was DJing.) The Beasties asked if they could do rhymes for some of the songs.
''We were excited to work with them,'' recalls Mike. ''We had been fans for a while, and had played their earlier singles and subsequent album ['Licensed To Ill'] on our show.
''We Fed-Ex'ed a tape to them in NYC, and waited anxiously for a response. Two weeks later, they called and said, 'We're getting out of our deal at Def Jam, and we want to do a record with you guys for Capitol. Book studio time for tomorrow, we want to start working.''' Despite the fact that some of the music had already been recorded, the Dust Brothers spent 16 months recording and mixing 'Paul's Boutique' because the Beastie Boys wanted to take the vocals in a different direction from 'Licensed To Ill,' and spent a good deal of the time writing and recording the lyrics.
The end results: '''Paul's Boutique' is one of the top 10 most influential records ever made,'' exclaimed Q magazine. ''Every subsequent hip-hop album owes a nod to this one.'' Vibe recently raved that ''The brilliant, headspinning 'Paul's Boutique' is still probably the most underrated hip-hop album of all time.'' Rolling Stone called it ''the 'Sgt. Pepper's' of rap.'' And shortly before his death, no less than Miles Davis said he never got tired of listening to it.
Despite the fact that the album received very little promotion, 'Paul's Boutique' laid the groundwork for the more recent wave of pot-induced hip-hop a la Cypress Hill. The Dust Brothers' eclectic and textural use of samples, loops, and scratches also foreshadowed now-standard production techniques. And they were the first to layer multiple samples across genres to create a near hallucinogenic experience. ''We were mixing shit like Black Oak Arkansas with Sly & The Family Stone, or Alice Cooper with the Crash Crew,'' Mike recalls. ''At that time, the production on hip-hop records was quite minimal. We were looking to produce edgier, more emotional records that would sound a little different each time you heard them.''
The Dust Brothers have always been ahead of their time. Even now, songs they wrote several years ago are just beginning to be recognized by people in the industry. Anthrax recently covered ''Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun'' from 'Paul's Boutique' for Geffen's 'Beavis and Butt-head' album. Additionally, the Dust Brothers' own music has been sampled by the likes of Janet Jackson, Faith No More, Terminator X, En Vogue, and Bobby Brown.
The duo remain ''hands-on'' producers, who take an active role in every aspect of the recording process. ''Working so well as partners,'' says John, ''we can completely appreciate the value of collaboration. So, we like to work closely with the artists and musicians from pre-production straight through to the final mix.''
Most of the music on 'Paul's Boutique' was recorded by the Dust Brothers one sample at a time, using their friend Ted's Emax (a primitive sampler with 12 seconds of sampling time) and an old IBM 286 computer with ''Texture'' sequencing software. ''We filled 24-track tapes with loops and scratches running all the way through, and arranged the songs using Neve and GML automation in the finest studios in LA.
''The people who worked at the studios thought we were crazy at the time, 'cause they had never seen anybody make songs that way,'' explains Mike. In addition to the above mentioned equipment, he adds that ''to get just the right sound, we used a blue bong, high quality indica buds, hash, hash oil, freebase, red wine, cigarettes, LSD, coffee, and whippets.''
Presently, in their own Silverlake home studio, the Dust Brothers use an ADAT and a Macintosh computer, rigged with Sample Cell Cards, Sound Tools, and Studio Vision. To warm up digital tracks, they use a summit tube compressor and lots of vintage analog gear.
''Our good friend and collaborator, Mark Ramos Nishita [keyboardist and a songwriter for the Beasties' 'Check Your Head' and 'Ill Communication'] maintains his museum of vintage keyboards at our studio,'' says John. ''We use Mark and his keyboards on many of our new tracks to create the rich sound that you just can't fuck with. We're also involved in a dynamic musical community in LA, and we end up working with many talented people with varying musical backgrounds as a result.''
Although the Dust Brothers are best known for their rap production, their musical vision encompasses many genres. For example, recent projects include artists as diverse as the Japanese all-girl punk band Shonen Knife, the superdope O.G., the master of rhythmic linguistic knowledge Jalal Nuriddin (of the Last Poets), and a deep, hypnotic score for the indie feature film, 'Low.' Explains their manager, Jorge Hinojosa (who also handles Ice-T), ''The 'Dusties' have an incredible aesthetic sense which enables them to create timeless music in almost any genre. It keeps them busy, as they're always onto some new shit.''
Currently, the Dust Brothers say they're involved in a plan to overthrow the U.S. Government, increase sexual awareness, and give people something to think about.