PF Cuttin Interview
It’s not every day you get to read an in-depth interview with one of the dopest producers/DJs/engineers in the game. PF Cuttin gives rare insight into recording and touring with Sean Price, shopping Action Bronson before anyone knew him, what he’s learned from his 25+ years in the game, and much more.
You’re one of the hardest working dudes in hip-hop, from producing to engineering to molding new artists. What’s an average day like for PF Cuttin?
An average day for me is getting up at 7 in the morning. I go to the gym and work out for an hour. I pick up my son at 8:00 in the morning, take him to school by 8:30. 9 am I’m in the studio working on an album or a mixtape or some tracks and I stay there until 5 pm. Then I pick up my son from after-school at 5:30, take him to his mom at 6, then it’s back in the studio and at 12 am I call it a night. If I’m not spinning at a club, I’ll call it a night. If not, I’ll go to the club and spin. That’s what my day is like.
That’ll keep you busy. You just got back from touring with Sean Price overseas. What was that like?
Thank God it was a pretty smooth tour. It was 18 shows in 20 days. We had one off day and we took one main flight. Where did we go? We took one flight to Switzerland and then we drove everywhere else. We drove to Germany, Paris, Italy…We drove to Copenhagen. We drove to Amsterdam. Yeah, it was a pretty lengthy tour but it was worth it. The shows were packed. I brought 500 mixtapes out there and I came back with a hundred. It was a dope tour out there. I have no complaints.
What’s it like being with Sean P for all that time?
I’m fortunate to know Sean very well, so for me it’s pretty easy. But I can see if it was somebody else, they probably would have went home after the second day! Sean P is his own man. He fucking listens to no one and it’s either his way or the highway, straight up, but that’s my man and I enjoy every minute of touring and being with him. It’s a win-win situation for me. It’s an easy tour.
How does coming back from being overseas change your perspective on music?
It just opens my eyes about how fucked up the music is in New York. You go to Europe, the tours are packed and everybody knows Sean P’s lyrics. You go to the States, and it’s the opposite. It’s so strange. When I come back from off tour, I’m like, ‘Damn man, I shoulda stayed out there more.’ It’s just the game we’re in right now. Hip-hop stays popping in Europe and overseas compared to the States.
You worked close with Sean Price on his last album, Mic Tyson. What was it like working on that album?
It was dope, man. It was a dope experience. The majority of the songs were recorded by me. I only produced one joint and it was on the deluxe version on iTunes. It took awhile, I guess with Sean creating the project it took a little longer. He just had a daughter and once the ball got rolling, he knocked it out pretty fast. Sometimes he did songs in L.A. and over here and we had to get the vocals sent. But other than that, it was pretty smooth, man. And Sean is the type of rapper where he knows what he wants and he knows what he wants to do and that made it even easier.
You produced and recorded Masta Killa on Sellin’ My Soul. What’s a session with Masta Killa like?
Masta Killa sessions are serious. There are no games being played. He comes in, he writes his song, and he lays it. Sometimes we’ll do a whole song and come back the next week and throw it in the garbage and re-record it again. That’s the way Killa works. Shout out to the god. He’s also from my neighborhood and grew up with Blahzay. We’ve been childhood friends since 1993. Masta Killa, he’s another one who is a rapper who knows what he wants. He comes in the studio and he just has the whole structure of the song in his head. Sometimes he’ll sit here and write for three hours and lay the song in a half an hour, come back the next week and trash it, do the song over, do something else, and a month will pass and we’ll go back to the song and do the ad-libs. But I gotta say, his new album, Loyalty is Royalty, which was record before Sellin’ My Soul, this album is incredible. It features Cappadonna, Red and Meth, Sean P, the RZA and the GZA. I did three tracks on that album and I’m excited about that album for it to come.
And that’s the Masta Killa album we’re all waiting for.
At the last minute, Killa decided to do what he was going to and he wanted to do Sellin’ My Soul first. There’s no features on it and Kurupt gave him a call and he was going to put him on it and that’s that. He does what he does and that’s what the plan was. But it’s kind of like the set-up for the Loyalty is Royalty album.
How close do you work with with Thirstin Howl the III and Rack Lo today?
Thirstin Howl, he moved to Florida. We speak all the time but we haven’t recorded a song together in five years. We’re definitely in the process of working on something new. I got some ideas. And as for Rack Lo, I haven’t spoken to the brother in awhile but whatever he needs, I got him.
Is Rack Lo still in the game?
Yeah. Not only is he still doing raps and writing songs, but also, if I’m not mistaken, he’s promoting clubs and does a Lo-Life party in the City. Yeah, Rack Lo is still around, man.
What’s been going on with your dude Blahzay?
Blahz is a very good friend of mine. We’re godfathers for each other’s kids. We were best friends before the album we recorded together. Blahzay has a film company and a record company called 25/8. He’s grinding. He’s got new songs with Uncle Murder and French Montana and Red Cafe. We were always in that fine line of being underground or commercial. People didn’t know. He rides that fine line. We’re working on a new project. We got ten unreleased Blahzay songs and we’re working on ten new songs and we’re going to put out an album, hopefully by the end of this year.
You’re typically thought of as an underground producer and DJ as well. Does Blahzay push you out of your comfort zone sometimes?
Yeah. He always pushes me. He’ll tell me I should change something up. He always tries to push me and that’s why I love and respect the brother. He always tries to push me to another level. I need that. Otherwise I get stuck in a hole and do the same thing over and over. He gets me to branch out and to try different things as a producer and to incorporate more sounds. He was also one of the first people to say, “Yo, PF, these samples are costing us a lot of money. Try to get some original music!” (laughs) I’m a drummer. I learned for five years and that taught me how to structure music. I’m on the keyboard a little bit here and there, but sampling is what I do and that will never leave me.
How does a PF Cuttin beat come together?
It starts from a record that I find or a loop or a sample. I find this sound that’s incredible. I basically can tell if I’m going to use a sample within the first four seconds. Four or five seconds. If it grabs my ear, then that’s what I’m using. I throw it in the S-950 Akai, which I still use and trigger it with the MP. And then I dump it into Logic and I mix it. That’s how it’s done, man.
How much attention do you pay to your drums, especially given your history?
95%. (laughs) I pay 95% attention to my drums! (laughs) I think drums is the key to New York sounding boom-bap. It’s gotta pop. The speakers gotta pop. It can’t be thin. It’s gotta be big. Drums is a big part of my production.
How do you feel like drums have been treated over the past few years in mainstream production?
I think a lot of these young producers, they just don’t know. They just don’t know, man. They just use whatever drums are in their module. They don’t take time out to maybe even layer their drums and add two or three kicks and four or five snares and two or three hi-hats and some low end, some bottom. Drums change. The sound has changed. I mean, some of the stuff out there is good, but some of the stuff is very bad. Some of it is real bad. To say a lot of these new producers, they need to go back in time and listen to the way that records were done before and grab some of that and incorporate it with the new sound.
What producers do you enjoy listening to?
There’s real few, man. There’s still the top cats, man. Premier, Alchemist, Large Professor, and Domingo. I like new producers like Marco Polo. Who else? I even like Tommy Mas’s productions, Action Bronson’s producer. J-Love. These are all cats that I feel are still true to the game.
You’ve been working with Labba lately, who’s enjoying a second run in the game. He told me he linked up with you through a bootlegger telling him he needed to go to you to see if he was really official.
(laughs) That’s the way the story was told to me! I was in a studio session with Flood. DJ SMS walked in with him and said, “Yo, PF, this is Labba from Flipmode!” Unfortunately it didn’t hit me because those records Labba had out on Jive weren’t Labba records. The records they were servicing weren’t great but I knew Labba’s voice was incredible. We started building and Labba booked a session and from then on, we’ve been friends. He’s been a steady client with me and he’s a loyal dude. He loves this music and he’s dedicated to the music and that’s all I ask of my artists. Don’t half-ass it and don’t make this your second hobby. Take this shit serious and try to compete with any rapper out there. Labba goes in and he takes it serious and I respect that.
You even produced an entire project with him, Blunts, Bongs, and Bitches. Are you happy with that?
Well, actually, I’m never happy. That’s a little secret about me. I’m never happy with my own stuff. I wasn’t happy with my stuff with Blahzay, Danger. We did one track, we did another, we let time pass, and then we decided to do an EP and then we started going in and calling friends like Action, Meyhem, Sean, and Ike [Eyes]. That’s how it was and Blunts, Bongs, and Bitches was made.
Do you guys have plans to do more music together?
Yeah. That’s definitely in the works now. We’re getting ideas and directions first. And then we’re going to gather some samples and beats and get working. You know I got a few projects in the works as well. We’re definitely going to do some more records.
How’s your project Past and Present Volume 2 coming?
Volume One is up on iTunes now. This is some old songs mixed in D&D Studios and some new songs. There’s some songs from the past and also from 88/78, which was also in Queens, New York, and also some new stuff. I’m about three songs deep and I’ll probably do another twelve and put that out as an album.
How do you want that to come out?
The overall goals for it is I’m honestly trying to get a major record label and I’m trying to get there. I know how things have changed. Another goal is to try to shoot four videos for it. The first album had no videos. This album, I’m going to try and shoot videos, three or four for the project. We’re also going to try to do some better marketing for it and hopefully it will generate more sales.
You’re also doing an EP with Sean Price, Donkey Sean 2. What kind of beats are you trying to give Sean for that project?
I’m just trying to give him beats that he’ll like. I hate when somebody says everything is dope. Sometimes I like hearing, ‘It’s all right, go back in the lab and work.’ I’m just trying to give Sean my best because that’s what he gives me when he hits the lab on my beats. I’m trying to give him eight of my strongest tracks for 2013.
You stay working with up-and-coming artists like Flood and Truth. How do you decide who you’re going to work with and who you’re going to pass on? With 25 years in the game, you have a lot of knowledge and wisdom and know who you want to work with at this point.
(laughs) The first thing I do is ask them to play me something that they had done. I can tell off the bat if it’s a bad studio and they’re dope or if it was a good studio but they’re wack and have no direction. I can tell on the spot. It also depends where their mind is at or if they just want to do what’s on the radio all day. This kid Truth, he’s 25 and this kid has extensive knowledge of loops and records and the history of rap. He likes all the old rappers that I like like Public Enemy, Ice Cube, and NWA. All the hot shit, this kid knows about it and you can tell in his music and his beat selection.
How do those conversations usually go when you have to let someone down?
I mean, me, personally, before I even open my mouth, I tell the person that if they’re the type of person that doesn’t like to be told the truth or an opinion that they might not want to hear, then you don’t want to hear from me. If your shit is wack, I’m going to tell you that you need to go back in the lab, but I’m also the first guy to tell you that that shit is incredible and that shit is dope. If you ask me for my opinion, I’m going to tell you honestly. I think that honesty is the best way to go about it because if you don’t, they’ll never grow and you’ll never get better.
From my experience, some artists really take that advice and improve and others get defensive and never change.
Yup. And those are the people that I stay away from! (laughs)
You worked with Action Bronson five, six years ago, before people knew anything about him. What were those sessions like? Did you see him turning into the MC that he is today?
Let me tell you something about Action Bronson. Action Bronson was brought to my studio in 2007 from Meyhem Lauren, who I met through Thirstin Howl. He wants to start recording a project and wants to record it here. The minute this boy opened his mouth and kicked lyrics in the booth, I had to stop and tell him he was the best white rapper I had ever met in my life, and I have met them all. I never met somebody with his attack on that mic like Action. And we always joke about it like why does he have to be the best white rapper. The kid is dope. There’s nothing negative I can say about that boy and I knew he was going to be a sensation the minute I knew him. I tried shopping him to a few labels but nobody believed me. They probably feel bad right now. But nobody believed me, Brian.
And look at him now. I got nothing but good things I can say about that boy. Recording him was incredible. We got three songs together, “Bronson Mania Deluxe,” we did “Sick with the Flow,” that’s on Past and Present, and the verse on Labba’s “1000 Pounds” was originally supposed to be an Action Bronson song and he never came and finished it so I gave it to Labba. He’s one of the best rappers I ever met, straight up. And Action always says, “No ad-libs, PF. I don’t do ad-libs!” I’m like, ‘We gotta do ad-libs, Action, we’ll just keep them low in the mix!’ ‘No, I don’t want to do ad-libs!’ He’s fucking crazy!
You also do East New York Radio on Ustream every Tuesday night with Sean Price. What have been your favorite memories from that?
We interview artists and we’ve had O.C. on there. We’ve had The Artifacts. We’ve had Meyhem Lauren, Truth, Timeless Truth, of course Sean P is my host. Labba. Ike Eyes. I mean, it’s a current hip-hop show. It comes on every Tuesday on Ustream. I play everything that’s current, all the hot new shit. Tune in.
Being in the game for over 25 years, consistently, too, what are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned seeing everything that you have?
Take advantage of your moment when it’s your time, when it’s given. I feel like I fumbled the ball. When I was at my peak with the Blahzay album, I was young and I had money and I wasn’t focused. I was on my own dick too hard. I should have appreciated what I had and learned from it and made something better. That’s what I feel. I mean, I’m still in the game and I’m still doing what I do, but if I were to make better decisions in that time I would probably be in a better place,but you live and you learn. Appreciate what’s in front of you. Don’t think it’s going to be there forever because it’s not. Take advantage of your time when you’re hot. Do tons of projects and get your music out. Don’t wait on the fucking label. All that shit happened to me. I waited, I chilled, I spent my money, me and Blahzay ran up $50,000 bills on credit cards. It was crazy. The main lesson is to be humble and when you get the major record deal, to love those people that loved you when you weren’t hot.