Incendiary Interview Adrian Younge - "I WANT to be pigeonholed."

The bullet just missed Domino, but he had gunpowder burning his eyes, so he thought he was a dead man. The Souls thought so too:  this dude was trying to kill off all the Souls Of Mischief!

 

Ever since jettisoning hip hop-sampling in '97 to become an analog recording aficionado, Adrian Younge has diligently moved against the currents of modern music consumption, embracing and reigniting its old ideals. Best known for scoring Blaxploitation spoof Black Dynamite, Younge immersively discovers and recreates sounds that made the golden-era of hip hop essentially a fucking ginormous Stargate-portal to all musical realms of the 20th century.

Recently ,Younge has found a way to rekindle both his hip hop genesis with his love for the obscure and hidden. He helmed Ghostface Killah's LP Twelve Reasons To Die and created a rap opera with the mighty Souls Of Mischief, whom Younge idolized growing up. Yep, you heard me correctly: a friggin' RAP OPERA. As Incendiary stops by Amsterdam to meet with Younge, it becomes apparent this musical tour de force has plenty of ambition left.

IN: Do you still remember where you were the first time you heard Souls Of Mischief's 93 'Til Infinity?

AY: I was at high school in '93. I remember watching the 93 'Til Infinity video, I was just trippin' out on it. The thing about that time is, I look at '93 as the pinnacle year for hip hop. 36 Chambers came out that year too, so I was a big time Wu-Tang fan. By the same token, Doggystyle  became a big thing too, so I was a big Snoop fan as well. But the difference between those two albums and 93 'Til Infinity is that - as much as I love the music - I couldn't personally connect to Wu-Tang and/or Snoop, because I wasn't a gang banger. I didn't sell cocaine, you know, that wasn't who I was. But when I saw that Souls Of Mischief video, it really struck me. Because they represented my lifestyle, which was basically a hip hop kid coming from the suburbs. It really spoke to me. I was really into clothes and talking to fly chicks. Lyrically, they were just phenomenal. It was insane. I've listened to 93 'Til Infinity so much, I know every word on the album.

IN: No easy task.

AY: Yeah, it was a dream come true even get into contact with them to maybe do an album.

IN: How did this collaboration materialize exactly?

AY: Basically, it happened on the heels of producing Ghostface Killah's Twelve Reasons To Die album. A-Plus hit me up and said Souls Of Mischief would be interested in me producing an album. I was like "holy shit!". Producing Twelve Reasons To Die, I focussed more on Ennio Morricone, vintage Dario Argento horror scores and RZA-type stuff. This was a new plain for me, a new pathway of sound for me to engage in. If I wanted to make an album with Souls Of Mischief, I wanted something that channelled golden-era hip hop, which is from '88 to around '93. At least how I look at it: A Tribe Called Quest', Native Tongues, De La Soul, Black Sheep and Souls Of Mischief. Then we go back to their source material, the stuff they sampled, it's the music between '68 en '73. Jazz, funk, psychedelic dark soul. I wanted to create kind of a hybrid between that 90's golden era Native Tongues-hip hop sound back to late 60's, early 70's psych soul and jazz…and bring it forward to today. That was all the stuff I was meditating on when the Souls hit me up. I obliged and the five of us started talking. And a few days later we started working on There Is Only Now, it's history now.

IN: When I listen to There Is Only Now it, it feels like this rap opera. And to me, that's kind of unchartered territory. I read some interview with the Souls where they said something in the vein of the album being loosely based on their own career trajectory. Is There Is Only Now like a dramatization of that or entirely new fictional story?

AY: Well the story is based on a true incident that happened to them. On the first track Time Stopped, the Souls were at a parking lot in the middle of the night. Around 4 AM, some dude jumped out of a black truck and went up to (Hieroglyphics -producer) Domino told him to "get the fuck on the ground!". Domino looked at him like, "what!?" and the guy shot him in the face. The bullet just missed Domino, but he had gunpowder burning his eyes, so he thought he was a dead man. The Souls thought so too:  this dude was trying to kill off all the Souls Of Mischief!

IN: So Time Stopped is an exact reconstruction of that incident?

AY: Exactly. That shit was not a joke. It really happened. A-Plus is running, he wanted to get into a car. But they wouldn't let him in, so he got into someone else's car. Opio talks about running while looking back and see the gun cocking back, aiming to kill him. Oakland was fucking crazy at the time. So when they told me this story, I was like: "we should do an entire album about this".  Because the thing is - as hip hop as I am, as soulful as I am - I'm a film composer at heart. I love composition. So when I feel I have a reason outside of making music, to produce music- meaning I get an audio/visual perspective in creating it - It helps to deliver the direction for both parties. For both the vocalists and myself. So when the Souls told me that story, I felt like that should be the basic concept we should move into. So I catered all my music around their story. That part of the story is entirely true, but all the other material after that is pure fictional stuff. But the initial song, that's entirely true. That's how it became a hip hop-opera type of thing

IN: The love triangle and all those fictional elements…whose idea was it to stray from reality to a more fictional narrative?

AY: It was a group effort. The shooting incident that happened was never really resolved. It was one crazy night. They never really found out who it was or why he did it.  That incident was so crazy that we had to make a story around it. For a full album, it's just not sustainable. That one incident should lead something else, even though in reality, it really didn't.  So that's how we added the rest of the story.

IN: So was the rest of the story an all-eggs-in-one basket kind of thing? From the shooting on down, it's essentially scripted.

AY: It's absolutely scripted! We all threw around ideas, but at the end of the day it's a Souls Of Mischief record. They really verbalized the content. They came up with all that stuff. It's fucking amazing.

IN: Trying to keep up with their raps , I feel like the Heat D scrambling to defend the Spurs. This album gets more confusing with each listen.

AY: That's what we intended to do. We wanted to give the listener enough information. But I always feel that when a consumer of art can learn things on their own, the art becomes more valuable. So when Ali Shaheed (Mohammad, A Tribe Called Quest) is talking you through the album, he's saying exactly what's happening. He's visceral, he's saying this is - kind of - happening, - kind of - be careful, - kind of - watch yourself. I found that really amusing.

IN: It's very interesting to see the Souls and other hip hop luminaries like Ali Shaheed Mohammad, Busta Rhymes and Snoop Dogg assimilate themselves into these roles. It reminds me a little bit of Prince Paul's skits on his Prince Among Thieves LP (1997).

AY: You know, it's crazy, I've never heard that album.  Everyone tells me how great that album is. But also, another reason why Ali appears on There Is Only Now is because I wanted to harken back to the time when A Tribe Called Quest were the Godfathers of that Native Tongues movement. In '93 they already had The Low End Theory, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. And De La Soul was already established before them. But Souls Of Mischief's first tour after they first signed to Jive was with A Tribe and De La. So Ali coming in is kind of like bringing the mentor back, which makes a lot of sense.

IN: Did you draw  inspiration from the source material Souls Of Mischief sampled for 93 'Til Infinity? You know, stuff like, Billy Cobham and The Rotary Connection?

AY: Hell yeah, I was listening to that kind of stuff. I was listening to Doug Carn, Herbie Hancock, Bob James, Idris Mohammad. All that old jazz, funk type of stuff. Obscure psychedelic jazz. Art Blakey. (!!!! - ed) I'm a record collector and DJ, so a lot of this stuff is kind of catalogued in my head anyway. That really helped serving my compositional sonic palette for creating the sound for this album. In my personal catalogue, I've have never really done an album that what "that" jazzy. Not really jazz, but capturing that feel. I've never done that before and I always wanted to do that. But I needed a reason to do it. This album gave me that reason.

IN: It kind of aligns with the Souls' MO of never using samples obviously as the crux of a song, rather intertwining them like a jigsaw puzzle.

AY: Yeah, and A-Plus, Domino, all them fools man. And Casual too. I studied what they did and was trying to determine how to synthesize some of their arrangements and stylings.

IN: That's kind of what you've been known for as a producer, mediating both sampling arrangements and their source material, molding them into something fresh and contemporary. Is it a priority for you to maintain that patented 'Adrian Younge-sound' or is it something elemental you wish to expand upon further?

AY: You know, it's funny man. I've been asked the question: are you afraid of being pigeonholed, are you afraid you'll be known for doing just one thing? What I do - as far as making new records - is based on the fact that I study old vinyl (pauses deliberately) Yeah, I'm fucking cool with that! That's the point. I stopped listening to hip hop in '97, when it started to change. That's when I really got into records, into collecting them and DJing. From here on out, I've never looked back. The thing is, I don't want people to think of what I do as something akin to what other people are doing with laptops and all that shit. Everything I do is live music, with two-inch tape and analog hardware. No plug-ins or nothing. I want to be pigeonholed like that. When they hear me, I want them to look at me as someone making handcrafted music. Another thing is, that There Is Only Now will be the first release on my new label Linear Labs. Linear Labs is something I'm purveying as an "artisan label", a handcrafted label that sells organic music. It's trying to make a statement without making the actual statement. Even though I'm making it to you now! *laughs* What the music is supposed to tell people is that it's analogous to eating at a gourmet restaurant. When you go to a gourmet restaurant, they're not using progressed ingredients. Nor are there any injected hormones. It's the same with the music I make: it capitalizes on the notion of encompassing human error. It's not made by some robot. So when I'm playing drums and it's a little off…or the singer being a little bit behind the drums, or the bass bouncing kind of back and fourth…

IN:…the human element*.

AY: Exactly. And to me that's what makes music timeless, instilling it with a specific sound. So that's why I don't mind being pigeonholed as that. To be 'that dude' who does that shit, to be 'that dude' who cares about the consumer. 'That dude' who makes music for people that pay attention to detail.

*Nicked the term from Mr. Richard James Foster, so I figured I owed him this publication. (No probs - ed)

IN: I hope I can speak for myself. Like I said before this interview, as I was doing research for you, I felt enriched looking up the source material golden era hip hop drew from. I discovered like twelve, thirteen artists in just a day's work.

AY: Wow, that's dope man. Thank you! You know, I feel like I speak for a silent majority, because there are so many people out there who want that old thrill back. You and I are not old enough to have been around when Pink Floyd was dropping crazy shit. But we are old enough to have had those times when The Low End Theory dropped.

IN: Well, we're the last generation to differentiate pre-internet and post-internet music consumption, for one.

AY: I don't know about you, but for me - because I don't listen to modern music anymore - I never really get there. I own a record store in LA  called  The Artform Studio and to me, 'new music' is nothing more than records I haven't heard before. I want to make people happy…like, I'm happy once I find a record that has a fucking bangin'-ass tune on it, that sounds like my kind of shit! That's the feeling I hope to convey to other people.

IN: A lot of music you accumulate is off-the-map stuff, music released on small obscure labels, rarities. Stuff that isn't found on Spotify or any other music streaming platform. To own a store to collect all that singular music, I reckon there's a huge demand.

AY: There is more music out there not found on Spotify. (too right! - ed) Out of my personal collection alone , fifteen, maybe twenty percent can be found on Spotify. You just can't find that shit. If a major label didn't buy out their rights for the record, that means it's gone. So there's a multitude of reasons. I'm just glad there is an audience out there that appreciates what I'm trying to do. It's not like I'm saying "I'm the shit" or anything! I just enjoy the fact that it draws people from all over that appreciate the same things about music I do.

IN: The Artform Studio, Linear Labs and your own body of work as a producer, do you like to keep these things as separate entities. Or are you more a philanthropist in that sense, overlapping them?

AY: I do overlap them a little bit. To me, it's all part of my brand, as far as Adrian Younge is concerned. Everything music-related I do has to mutually represent my philosophies. My record store has rare soul, rare hip-hop, rare classic rock. All the kinds of stuff I would want to sample if I actually sampled music. That represents me. Everything on my label, I produce myself. Essentially...or I'll have my hand in it somehow. Everything that comes out kind of has my stamp of approval. I want them to buy stuff from my label because they trust my judgement. There are many reasons to do it. The store, the label and the catalogue, it's all in unison because it's synonymously conveys what I believe in, as far as music's concerned.

IN: NEventually once the vinyl sharks smell a drop of blood, they start collecting and trading on the spot. Has The Artform Studio taken a life of its own in that retrospect?

AY: For sure, the concept of the music store is very different these days from what it was maybe ten, twenty years ago. It has become a place where people share and learn. When the economy fell, a lot of record stores vanished. So people weren't able to share music as much like the way they used to. With The Artform Studio and other record stores like mine, these people have a venue to do those things again.

IN: I've always wondered whether there is music out there that's like the ultimate zenith to you, music you feel like…fuck it, trying to recapture the aesthetics of this would be folly!

AY: (long pause) I would say no…and the reason why I'm saying that is, I can understand and recreate the science, the chemistry of sound. Whether its recording in the 20's, the 30's, I know the difference between the according technique from 1968 versus 1970's. And from '70 to '72, from '72 to '74. Because every two years things changed, especially in that era of music. Performance styles changed, compositions changed. I've been studying it for so long, that if you wanted me to record something that sounds like Miles Davis, I could. Obviously I can't play trumpet like Miles, but the point is, if I had someone who could play trumpet I could record something exactly like what they did back then. I've been studying it for so fucking long, because my sound is based on my love for samples. So I want to recreate the notion of (pauses) …finding samples, by creating new samples for other people to find. In order to accomplish that, I had to inherently understand sound. I spent so many years doing trial and error to get certain things just right. To a point where I just 'got' it. You understand what I mean? So I'm going to say no. I don't say that because I think I can do anything. I say that because I've been challenged. I made the Black Dynamite score to sound exactly like '74. When I do music, I want to make my guitar sound as if it was sampled from '67. Or record my drums to sound like '73. I do that shit all the time. So it's because I practice it so much, I'm pretty confident I could do it.

IN: I'm not just talking about the cerebral part of it but simply enjoying the sentiment of it. Just listen to music because it moves you, disregarding this apparent Pavlovian impulse to recreate its aesthetics.

AY: You have to understand man, this is a life perspective for me. If you ask me: do I think I could run from Amsterdam to Paris non-stop? I'm going to say yes. Even though there is no fucking way I can do it. The way I look at things, I believe in myself so much that it makes no fucking sense. You understand where I'm getting at? It gets to a point where it's illogical, because I'm always challenging myself. When I make music, I make music for this fake audience in my head, an audience whom I'm always trying to impress. So that's why I hope other people like it. I'm always challenging myself to do these things. It's more a perspective versus the reality. So if you ask me whether there's music that moves me to the extent where I don't think I can make…

IN: ...I'm not even saying that. I'm just saying, I tend to bawl uncontrollably listening to Nina Simone's version of Just Like A Woman. You must have these moments too, I reckon.

AY: I guess I could answer the question in a better way. You, know the music that really moves me…I would say Marvin Gaye's I Want You, that's one of my favorite albums ever. All the way to Superfly you know. Those are absolutely amazing records. You know what's crazy, man? With me, I can listen to a song twenty times and never listen to the lyrics. I have to turn on this switch in my head to actually pay attention to them. I have to think about it, because I studied composition so much. I'm moved by chord structures and once I'm hear the lyrics I'm like "oh shit! that's dope too!" The only time I pay attention to lyrics initially is when they're fucking garbage! (laughs) Yeah, man…with everything about music, I feel like I can do it, whether it's true or not!

IN:It definitely paid its dividends. Maybe it simply implies the joy of creating outweighs the joy of listening, there's absolutely nothing wrong that.

AY: I've been out here in Europe for two weeks. In a full week I haven't been able to write or record anything. I'm going fucking crazy! It's hard, dude. Even when I'm on tour, if I can't write for a week, I feel like (pauses) ...musically losing something. Like I said, I do it for this audience in my head, so I feel like this audience loses out on the songs.

IN: Perhaps this 'audience' is simply your image of yourself looking in the mirror.

AY: No, it's true. I always believe that in order to stay fresh, an artist has to try and impress himself. If you try to impress other people you start losing the ability to actually understand what it is you're trying to create. I want to create something with foresight, that's trailblazing, you know…so I can't turn off my switch when it comes to making music. I'm constantly on-the-go! *snaps his fingers*

IN: One more question before we wrap this thing up: as someone who acquires skills by vigorously setting his mind to it, what is it you're striving to become better at today?

AY: My thing is, I want to own an enterprise for the kind of music I love. With everything I do, I want to assemble a group of people who feel exactly the same way. And take it around the world, kind of like my own Motown. That's my goal, that's what I'm working towards. I've had people ask me like, what's it like to do have Jay-Z sample your music? What's it like to do this, to do that…even 'what's it like to hang out with Busta or Nas?' Like whomever. All that shit's cool, but it's just a step you know? Meeting my idols is great, no less working with them. Come on, it's fucking ridiculous! But there is so much more to everything. A lot of people would be satisfied to be done at this point. But I'm not even close. I want to revolve this enterprise around my beliefs on music and I won't be done until that's accomplished!


© Jasper Willems