With his debut
solo album Virtuosity (Vocab/GoodVibe), the Philly titan of
tracks throws the producer-as-artist LP concept onto the chopping block and
carves up a masterpiece. Taking a cue from rap legends like Pete Rock and Marley
Marl, Chops collaborates with an impressive group of some of today’s most
captivating microphone personalities (Talib Kweli, Raekwon, Ras Kass, Mystic,
Planet Asia, Phil The Agony, Grand Agent, Bahamadia), and exposes some fresh
new voices (L Dorado, Kev Turner, CMNR, Dave Ghetto.)
Chops has already made hip-hop history, on the low, with his group the Mountain
Brothers (also including Peril-L and Styles), when the trio became the first
Asian-American hip-hop group ever signed to a major label, though they eventually
released their album independently. And with hip-hop culture about to catch
a serious case of Yellow Fever — word to Yao Ming — Chops is unintentionally
at the forefront of a movement.
can you talk about how you got your start in production?
CHOPS: In grade
school my boy brought in this little drum machine, a Boss DR-110. Kids had started
getting into like Casio keyboards and stuff, and I was fascinated with that
shit. Borrowed it from him and kept it for mad long, like half a year. I'd sit
and try to copy drum patterns - Run-DMC beats, Planet Rock, stuff like that.
You can peep the DR-110 here: http://www.keyboardmuseum.org/d_machines/dr110.html
It lets you even click on the buttons, so you can do like you're playing it,
and pretend you're little Chops. That's what I spent all my time doing back
then. That piece is extra butt now, but at the time it was the greatest thing
in the whole world to me.
did you use at first?
CHOPS: When I was
real little I made pause tapes on the stereo, and tried to catch the timing
so the beats would match, with the button. And I had a little keyboard that
had like Hava Nagila and Greensleeves and Beatles songs in it. But my first
actual equipment was a CZ-3000 synthesizer, and an RZ-1 drum machine. First
real sampler was an EPS. For recording, I started on a reel-to-reel 4-track.
Some Mountain Brothers stuff was done on that 4-track, even. I was the expert
in getting some old equipment cheap and freakin it.
CHOPS: I've bought
and sold tons of gear since then, like tens of thousands worth, but my main
piece now is a computer I built myself, with different software and special
audio cards and things in it. It's a little bit on some mad scientist type shit.
I can guarantee you nobody has the exact same setup I got, because I had to
do some shit with metal cutters and pliers, and hooking up wires that could
electrocute you if you mess up. That one's for beats, and I mix down to another
computer, and then I got like 3 other computers in the studio for various other
tasks, making CDs and mastering and stuff. Built all them shits.
about your production techniques, when you sit down to start a beat, what's
the first thing you do?
CHOPS: I have a
long series of stretches, meditations, things of that nature. Incense, candles,
and I chant and hit this little gong over and over, like Tina Turner in "What's
Love Got To Do With It". Then when I am at peace and harmony with the universe,
I fire up the machine and proceed to knock out a banger.
talk about how you look for samples and how you chop them?
I really don't sample. I play all the shit myself, it's more fun to me that
way. I got some music training and stuff, since I was little, and I've been
into funk and soul music and different oldies since then too. So like instead
of sampling Booker T. and the MGs, I'll just soak it in mentally and it comes
out in what I do. It works out good business-wise too, because 1) you don't
end up with the same beat as somebody else, and 2) you and the artist you're
working with get to make more money in the long run.
you know when a beat is finished?
CHOPS: That's a
good one. I think you learn that with time. When I first started out, I'd mix
a drum loop with like one little sound and then make demo tapes, thinking I
was good to go. Now I'll make beats and then go back like a week later and beef
them up, change tempo, take shit out before I play them for anybody. Eventually
you have high enough standards that you know by feel. Like say if you're cooking,
anybody can taste food and know if it's generally straight. But experience,
knowing what people dig, what to add to the mix, what not to add, when to stop,
is what makes you a cook.
are you the most proud of?
CHOPS: The ones
nobody's heard yet! I'm in a whole new league from before. But out of beats
from before, maybe "Paperchase" by MB's, the Raekwon joint off my
LP, the "All Night" remix I did for Daz, and "Fatherless Child"
on Mystic's LP. I remember I felt real depressed one day, so I wrote that track
and I felt cool after that. That beat is sad as fuck. I was real glad she thought
it suited her song. Not real happy about the mix on that one though.
good with the Mountain Brothers now?
everybody's doing their own thing right now, just as far as life. We get together
now and then and everything's good with us, but with the fellas the focus is
mainly on things other than music at this point. You never know, but not much
jumpin right this second.
was a sick album, how did you go about putting that together?
CHOPS: Thanks man.
I linked with this label Vocab through some work I had done for Goodvibe. I
had a list of people from around Philly who I wanted for the album. I didn't
get everybody I wanted but the label looked out, especially being Cali based.
Then there was folks from Goodvibe, and some folks we were able to get at thru
business channels. You'd be surprised though, for a new label and a producer
who's really not known like that, there were some serious lookouts.
the collaboration with Kanye come about?
CHOPS: That one
happened without me, Kanye had connected with Big E at the label. While they
were building and stuff, E played him some of my tracks and told him about the
album project, and he basically picked a beat and jumped in the booth. Which
was crazy. I didn't even meet him until after. But I heard he knew about Mountain
Brothers and other underground shit I had done.
CHOPS: Rae heard
some tracks and was feeling them. I got to do that one in the studio with him,
I like working in person better. It adds to the creative process. The budget
for the album didn't allow for being in person for all the songs. But we did
what we could. I did some other work with him too, since my album. And we talked
about getting down on some more stuff, coming up.
do you love working with?
CHOPS: Ones with
a budget! Haha. Ones with a work ethic, who are cool and yet serious about their
shit on a professional level. And ones who know what a producer brings to the
table, and respect that.
could work with anyone in the world now, who would it be and why?
a ton of people I'd like to work with but I don't really spend too much time
thinking about imaginary stuff like that. Gimme a little time, keep an eye on
me and then you'll see as dots start connecting. But if I had to give an answer,
I'd say somebody like Quincy Jones, because there's so much to learn there.
Over his career he's done the whole range of music from real artistic stuff,
to harder stuff, gritty funky stuff, pop stuff, r&b, movie scores, TV show
themes... all kinds.
coming up for you?
CHOPS: I'm mainly
doing tracks for other people's projects, which I like a lot. I'm not writing
for one specific album right now so that lets me just create, in different styles.
There's a Raekwon mixtape with Lt. Dan coming out that I've been working on
for a while now, all original production, my beats. Working on a new one now,
plus doing spec remixes for labels, stuff for mixtape DJs, different things
to build the rep in the street and in the business more. Also some TV/film/DVD
soundtrack stuff, and I'm supposed to start scoring a little film soon, a Philly
street joint called "Triple Cross". Keep them eyes and ears peeled!
Outs: Anybody who looks out. MBE, Lt. Dan, Vocab, Hiphopgame, my family
and everybody who checks for my shit! And big shout to everybody who doesn't
have any idea who the fuck I am but decided to peep this interview anyway. Check
out some audio on my site www.chopsmusic.com