Psycho Les Interview
“Beatnuts’ll let off rounds forever,” Psycho Les and Juju spit on “Beatnuts Forever.” Lucky for their numerous fans spanning every continent, the duo from Queens is staying true to their word. Besides working on THC, Psycho Les’s long-awaited compilation, there’s plans for him and Junkyard Ju to finally finish the Planet of the Crates album. Oh yeah, don’t forget the Alkaholiks-collab Liknuts that should also be dropping in 2014.
HipHopGame catches up with Psycho Les to talk about all these projects and more, from his days coming up and hanging with Q-Tip to his creative process putting music together.
You just dropped a new song, “Fuck ‘Em if they Listening’.” It’s great to have some new music from you.
Yeah. That’s from a compilation that I’ve been putting together for a couple of years. Now it’s time to drop that shit. I got crazy songs on that shit with Vinnie Paz, Alchemist, Royal Flush and Tragedy, and a couple other new artists coming out. It’s just me killing shit.
We’ve been hearing about the THC compilation for a while, so it’s great to hear it’s coming. How overdue is some new Psycho Les and Beatnuts music?
Oh, I mean, it’s that time, man. Everybody’s been waiting on some shit. We’re the only ones that can deliver that kind of shit. It’s only right. Right now, I got this compilation and that’s the first single I threw out there. Juju and Jeru the Damaja are doing an album too called The Bully Brothers. So listen out for that one. I’m trying to see what’s up with this Beatnuts deal. We’re going to slap ten joints together real quick, throw some interludes in between, and throw that out there.
Will that still be Planet of the Crates?
Yeah. That’s the one. That’s the only title we got.
You’ve been talking about that album for a few years. Have you started recording?
We stay recording. We got a lot of old stuff. And also the Liknuts project, we got a lot of songs. There’s a lot of songs that have never been mixed and everybody’s all over the place. It’s just hard getting everybody on one page and shit.
The UFO Files showcased your unreleased music, but it sounds like there’s more in the stash.
Yeah, but not ‘90s old. We got shit that’s maybe three years old and shit, that’s just been locked in the vault.
Will you revisit those songs for Planet of the Crates, or at this point will that music stay in the vault?
I mean, it depends. A lot of shit we have is hot, but we recorded shit in real late sessions. I’m talking, like, 7 in the morning and motherfuckers is drunk and high and shit, so we might have to go back in there and respect the shit. That’s what we do sometimes. We lay shit just to have it there as reference and then when it’s time to go in there with a clear mind, we just go in and rip it down. It’s little things like that.
Yeah. Most of the time when we’re hanging out, if we hear something, we run right to the studio and everybody just starts writing on the spot. That’s how it comes out.
You also worked on “Bally Shoe” with Evidence and Alchemist. How did that come about?
Well, I was living out in Cali for six months. I was with Vargo. He’s also on the record. They put “Fargo” but they fucked his name up. It’s really Vargo. Anyway, I was out there fuckign with the Liknuts because that’s how we got the whole project started. I was fucking around with E-Swift and all of that. Come to find out, Alchemist don’t live too far from Venice Beach. I ended up going to his crib and just chilling. Evidence was over there all the time and we ended up banging out a couple of joints.
I would imagine that as he was coming up with The Whooliganz that he definitely drew inspiration from your sound.
We all just vibe off each other. We did a record called “Hear No Evil” or something like that, some shit. I don’t know if it made it to the album, but it’s on the internet. It’s called “Hear No Evil” or some shit. But that joint right there, it was just me, Alchemist, and Evidence. Evidence said he was gonna rhyme Psycho Les style on there. I said, “Whatever works. Let’s just do it.”
You’ve got a unique way of putting your rhymes together, especially with the voice and delivery, that makes it one of the iconic voices in hip-hop.
Right now, I just wrote two 16s. I was writing to this one beat and it’s this new Royal Flush and Trag song. It’s crazy, crazy bars. I said some crazy shit. I be cracking myself up sometimes. (laughs). Like you said, man. I was thinking about that the other day. Motherfuckers, like, Psycho Les and Juju, we’re getting old now, but yo, it don’t matter how old we get, man. There’s only one Psycho Les and Juju that can deliver what we can deliver. In that case, we’re never too old. We’re just going to keep rocking forever.
It’s hard to believe that you guys have put in more than 25 years.
I mean, if there’s another Psycho Les out there that can do what I do, then I can retire. But there ain’t nobody that can do what I can do, so that means I gotta keep banging them in the head.
The Liknuts’ official Facebook page is promising the album in 2014. Can you guys deliver?
Aw, man. The shit is there. We can throw it out. But really, honestly, like, me, personally, there’s a couple of songs that really need to get touched up. I don’t like to just throw out some bullshit because we did it. I like to feel good about shit I throw out.
Does the technical side of your craft ever catch people off-guard when they think it’s a Beatnuts party all the time?
Yeah. I mean, I don’t like to let people down and I don’t like to let myself down and I don’t like to hear no wack shit. I’m also working on another joint, The Beatnuts with Q-Tip, and one of the good things Q-Tip told me, because I got a couple of different verses for this shit, one of the things he told me was that if the beat was hot, just let that shit go. Don’t even think about it. Just let that shit go. So I was like, ‘Fuck it.’ That’s been my mentality, left and right, just smashing shit and keeping it moving.
Q-Tip was one of your early supporters. Do you remember your first meeting?
Oh, hell yeah. I met Q-Tip through Jungle Brothers, and not only that, but just being in New York and digging at an early age, I used to run into him everywhere. Conventions and little basements and shit, record store basements, all the time. I’d be digging for a record and the next thing I know, some dude is tapping me on the shoulder and I turn around and it’s Q-Tip. That’s where we come from, B.
I’ve also been impressed with the way you and Juju constantly put new artists on your records and look out for up-and-coming artists. How important is that to you?
Well, I’m a hard dude to please. I meet a lot of MCs and they can spit and spit forever, but sometimes, that shit doesn’t mean shit to me. You can spit and spit but that doesn’t mean shit. You’re not really saying nothing. It’ll take me a minute before I can be convinced. A lot of rappers that I would go to the studio with, a lot of these young rappers coming up, it still takes a lot for me to think it’s dope. I’m hard on them, but you gotta be.
I’ve had to do the same thing with posting new music to the site, and sometimes new guys get feedback they don’t want.
Yeah, but that negative feedback just makes you a better person, man. In the beginning,I remember shopping deals all over. Tommy Boy, Priority Records, these niggas used to diss me. I used to walk out of the office with all of my demos and tapes and would hear, “Nah, your shit ain’t’ good enough. Your shit ain’t good enough.” So what that made me do? I went back to the studio and kept doing it.
Once artists get that feedback, you really hear what they’re made of if they can come back with better music or you never hear from them again.
Who’s impressing you today?
Sean Price works a lot at our studio. He has a lot of fire. Illa Ghee, he’s got an album coming that’s crazy. And Tragedy from back in the days, he’s spitting incredible science. He’s got an album also in the works. There’s a couple of new cats. But artists that are out right now, I can’t even think of a name. There’s a couple of cats out there. Some of the young cats, they spit kind of nice, but the music doesn’t always make me a believer. Sometimes you need hard music to get your point across. How can I get my point across if the beat sounds like a fucking club record? It’s gotta be a hard beat of some shit.
You and Juju have always had your sound, from the obscure samples to the crazy drums. How have you grown as a producer over the past few years?
Aw, man. I feel like right now, The Beatnuts are monsters of music. It’s almost impossible to make a wack beat. I don’t even know how to make a wack beat. I’ll sit down at night and bang out four bangers and all four will be crazy. I don’t know, man. Maybe it’s just the records I fuck with or some dumb shit, but definitely, you gotta be like that, man. After all these years of rocking, we’ve got our sound down pat already. We know what the people want and I know what I want and we just know what to do.
You started out as a DJ. How do you think being a DJ and getting that kind of experience helped you become a better producer?
Oh, man, that shit to me, let me put you up on some shit, man. Being a DJ was the best shit ever, being a DJ and then going into producing. When I make my records, I think like a DJ. When the DJs playing me, he’s going to enjoy cutting up my record. If you notice, every record we make, the DJs love to cut that shit up. We leave little breaks in the beginning and the new music will come in and we’ll leave a little word. We make music for DJs. That’s key number one. Make music for DJs. The DJs are going to enjoy rocking your music and cutting your music up so it’s a no-brainer right there. To me, when I make beats, I think about what would a DJ like to cut. You gotta hook it up and make it so that the DJ can have his little playtime with the records.
Do you think that’s what a lot of producers coming up now are missing, knowing how to rock a party and the art of DJing?
Of course, man. Of course. Just being a DJ, your sound, your hearing, how you hear sound, your library is so much bigger. If you’re not a DJ, you just know what you know. Just knowing all of this different kind of music is going to make your production a little bit crazier.
Some of the newer producers I’ve talked to have mentioned how they get their samples online and don’t use vinyl. What gets lost when that happens?
A lot gets lost in that. The quality, period. A lot of that shit, I ain’t gonna say no names, but I know a couple of producers that do that shit, sample off the internet, and the other day, I was listening to that shit and they’re banging their shit and once I get on and play my shit, these niggas mouths just open like, ‘What are you using? What are you using?’ I’m using real records. Real analog shit, yo. It makes a big difference.
I’m assuming you’re always digging for new records.
Yeah. Nowadays, when I’m home, I don’t really go digging so much. But since we’re on tour so much and we travel the world, everywhere we go, we go to the closest record store and go get it. We just look up the closest record store and get some 45s. We was just out in London and I came home with some crazy records. We were out in Japan. I come home with some crazy foreign shit, no American shit.
What do you look for when you’re digging for records?
The key to my shit is really sounds, man. Sounds that the human ear hasn’t heard yet. Your ear is crazy. It gets comfortable when you keep hearing the same shit, but once you throw a different sound at your ear, now your ear’s interested in that sound. So it’s really sounds and anything that sounds crazy. That’s why we kill anything. We’ll flip little kids records. It don’t matter. There’s no rules anymore. Like when we came in the game, Tribe and everybody was doing the jazzy shit. De La Soul was doing the crazy shit. And me and Juju were shitting in the back and asking each other, ‘Why don’t these niggas do hard shit?’ Ju would always tell me to chill and don’t say nothing, to let them do what they do and we’ll do us when it’s our time. That’s what it is.
What are some of the crazier samples you’ve flipped that we haven’t heard from you?
Close to every record that I’ve made. It’ll be some cheap record, like a 50 cent record, and now I walk into these record stores and these records are up on the wall for $50.
Do you worry about sample clearances today?
Now it’s to the point where we’re trying to chop everything up. We’re not just trying to give you the straight loop with how it goes. You gotta get a little more creative than just looping shit, you know?
Should loops be done?
The sampling game made it happen. They got hip to us so we got hip to them, like, ‘Fuck it, that’s how you’re playing? I’m going to chop these beats and make it crazier than the original dude and you ain’t gonna know what the fuck I used.’
There’s still nothing better than a chopped sample with some hard drums.
Yeah. Some nice chops and take the illest parts and just chop them shits.
The Beatnuts get a ton of dates overseas. Do you feel like you get more love overseas than in America?
I think we get more love out there because people never see us out there. Out here, we’re regular. You could see me every day at a club or over there or wherever. But we still get love back home. We go to clubs and people still want to say what’s up and take pictures with you or tell you a story about an album that they love.
Do you see more graffiti, digging, breaking, and overall just more appreciation for all elements of hip-hop overseas?
Oh, hell yeah! I definitely see it more over there. And what’s crazy is that it’s the young kids. They’re 19 and 20 years-old and all they want to hear is the real shit.
I was talking with A-Plus from the Hieroglyphics about this a couple of weeks ago about how trippy it can be having fans that weren’t even born when your music first came out.
It’s always like that. A lot of these fans even tell me that my shit was their shit in high school and now they’re grown and they’re at our concerts bugging out, looking at us to perform those songs that take them back to their high school days. It’s all good, though, man. This whole shit works in cycles, man. I used to be that young kid myself, looking up to Big Daddy Kane and Rakim and all these cats and now I’m that cat. It all works in cycles, man. And it’s funny meeting Big Daddy Kane and him telling me that he’s my biggest fan and I’m looking at this nigga like, ‘You’re fucking crazy, B. If you only knew.’
You talked about fans giving you props and saying what’s up. What’s that fine line between saying what’s up and overstaying your welcome?
Sometimes we’re out somewhere and we’re trying to chill and I’m talking to a girl and I’m having some drinks. Just say what’s up and keep it moving. We know what it is. I’m not trying to get into talking and shit.
You’ve got your own site, PitFightMusic.com, where you have a lot of dope beats for sale. How important is it to you right now to produce for other artists and to keep selling beats?
To me, that’s the most important shit, man, keeping the name alive and keeping the beats out there. People need my beats and shit on their album. Shit be making a big difference. To me, I stay working on beats. I stay sharpening the blades, man. You got to.
How has your equipment changed over the years?
I’ve learned a lot of new software. Sometimes you’re on the road and you can’t just carry everything. I got software beats. I got all kinds of shit. I’m fucking with Ableton. I’m fucking with Reason. Besides that, it’s MPCs all the time. I got the 950. That’s the monster. I call that The Monster when it’s time to make monster music. Besides that, man, it’s really just records. It’s having the right records and having the right sounds and shit.
Do you and Juju make beats together or do you work separately and then bring it all together?
We always had our own separate setups in our cribs and whenever we’re in the studio, we’ll play each other beats. Once we’re on the road, we’re in the van or the tour bus and we’ll play beats for each other. We kind of know already what we like. I’ll make something and play it for my peoples and they’ll let me know if it sounds like some Beatnuts shit or if it should go to someone else like Sadat X.
One of my favorite projects you worked on was Kurious’s A Constipated Monkey. How do you feel looking back on that today?
Oh, I laugh all the time. That was mad funny. That Kurious Jorge shit is hot, and it’s funny at the same time.
A couple years ago he dropped his second album, II. Is there a reason you weren’t on it?
I lost contact with Jorge for a minute. And then recently, I got back in touch with him. He’s been doing his own thing. Everyone’s been doing their own shit. But the day that he ever gets serious…matter of fact, I got a Kurious song on my compilation. Little things like that. And he’s probably got some beats of mine that he wrote some shit to. I got so many beats floating around that motherfuckers just make records and I haven’t even heard the shits yet. I got a Jean Grae record. She just sent me the vocals to it. There’s so much shit.
You came together with Al Tariq and Problemz for Big City. Do you have any plans for another Big City album, or was that a one-time deal?
It was like a one-time deal with Nature Sounds. And really, I did it because Al Tariq and Problemz wanted to put out some new shit. I produced those ten joints and we just put it out. It was easy. I got ten beats laying around.
You just posted an old interview you guys did for Intoxicated Demons on Twitter. What did you think watching that so many years later?
Ah, man, shit, I still feel the same way. We’re on that interview and just talking shit, whatever. I mean, we didn’t know we was gonna go this far. But, man, the love and the dedication that we had all the time with this music, I’m not impressed that this is where we’re at and this is how people feel ‘cause we never really did it for the money or nothing. We just loved the music and shit and loved to bang out hard shit.
There was one point in the interview where the interviewer started talking about using humor and you looked like you got frustrated and were talking about how it’s gonna stay underground. Were you more against using humor or was that a statement about the industry?
Being on a label back then, I think anytime you’re on a label, they always want that radio shit, that commercial success. They used to send A&Rs to sit in our sessions to watch what we’re doing and we used to kick them out of the fucking studio, like, ‘Get the fuck out of here!’ We know what we’re doing. We don’t need A&Rs coaching us. This is what we do. We used to send those fucking little A&Rs back to their office with their notes. This is what we do and we’re going to do it our way.
Do you have any regrets with the way you and Juju have done things?
Nah. I don’t have any regrets at all. Anything that we ever did just made us a bigger brand to the game. It’s all good. Now it’s that time to get a new deal and get new records out because the fanbase is there. It’s time to feed the fanbase. I can only do what I can do by myself, but when me and Juju get together, that’s when we’re going to do Beatnuts.
This has always been a struggle with groups, especially established groups, is being on the same page and making music together. Is it more of a challenge to get together now, because it’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since your last album?
Yeah, it’s crazy, man. I just think not being on a label also affected a group a little bit because niggas is so used to being on labels and getting budgets. All that shit stopped. Now we gotta put ourselves in the studio and we gotta be dedicated to the shit on our own. And sometimes motherfuckers aren’t in that mindstate yet. We’re all in our different mind states. One day this guy is into it and the next day the other guy is in to it.
Do you also find that because you’ve done so much recording in groups that it’s harder to write two or three verses to the same beat?
It is easier to make a song with somebody. You just gotta worry about a verse and a chorus, but there’s nothing to it. I’m always around rhymers and ill niggas that spit, so it’s nothing. Even if it’s a new Psycho Les record with John Doe, that John Doe cat is going to be spitting some fire.
Looking at everything you’ve accomplished, from the beats, the albums, the shows, and on, what do you want your legacy in the game to be?
Ah, man, just know that we’re one of the illest when it comes to this hip-hop shit. That’s what we do. We’re hip-hop to the fullest.