Rick, am I supposed to open with an obligatory joke referencing Rick Ross the rapper? I’m sure you’ve gotten them all.
Rick Ross: Bring on the Rick Ross jokes! I’m the West Coast boss! (laughs)
Now’s your chance to disclose if you’ve ever been a corrections officer.
Rick: Nah. I’m finding a lot of increased love on the street though!
That’s great to hear. Delicious Vinyl has been in the game for over 20 years. Are you ever surprised that you’re still in the game and making moves?
Rick Ross: Yeah. I mean, Delicious Vinyl has really been a family run business between me and my brother Mike Ross. We were always just looking for fresh beats and fresh artists and cool music to put out that we were into. And some years we couldn’t really find things that we loved but luckily we were able to keep control of the label and all the records. There’s kind of been this great passage of time where you can look back and say, ‘Wow, all these records.’ It’s a pretty amazing catalogue. It’s something that we’re really proud of. I call my brother “The Hip-Hop Patron” because he took care of many artists over the years because he just believed in really dope beat-makers and rhyme-throwers. I mean, Fatlip spent about 10 years making The Loneliest Punk, his solo record. We didn’t sell a lot of records but it’s a really impressive record. We think he’s one of hip-hop’s great lyricists.
There are so many classic records that came out on Delicious Vinyl. How do you look back on all those records?
Rick Ross: It’s really fun. That’s why I started this RMXOLOGY project. I went to France and I was meeting DJs who were cratediggers and they loved Fatlip and they loved The Pharcyde. These guys were turntablists and they would come across unreleased tracks of ours. I thought it was time to reintroduce this music to a new generation of DJs. A lot of people love it and I thought it would be great to give the music a second look because sometimes you get overshadowed the first time around. Even The Pharcyde record was overshadowed when it came out by other hip-hop groups in the mid-’90s that were more dominant. There were other groups on MTV like Onyx and people weren’t always checking for them. But the Pharcyde is still really beloved. It’s great to see the remix for “Runnin’” on iTunes as the No. 1 track in Japan. We’re also getting a shot with some of the more obscure tracks like “What’s Up Fatlip” or Young MC’s tracks. They might not have been as big as “Wild Thing” or “Funky Cold Medina” but, you know, it’s still great hip-hop.
Is there still a market for classics like “Wild Thing” and “Funky Cold Medina”?
Rick Ross: Well, I mean, for us, when you’ve seen it, you see that it doesn’t really go away for the big stuff. “Wild Thing”, “Funky Cold Medina” and “Bust A Move” are songs that pop fans and DJs are still looking for. But tracks from The Pharcyde, fans of hip-hop have to own those albums. If you’re a fan you have to own those like you have to own a Public Enemy record or Beastie Boys. We also have Masta Ace’s Sittin’ on Chrome and the first Brand New Heavies record. Those are all essential hip-hop moments.
What does it mean to you to know that you were a part of those records in a way?
Rick Ross: I didn’t make the records but I managed the label. I took all of the artists to Europe when we first signed to Island Records back in 1988. It was always really nice to bring West Coast hip-hop to the world initially because before that, West Coast hip-hop, there really wasn’t a scene out here. It was just starting. All of the hip-hop was more like N.W.A. and more of the gangsta rap. It was good to bring some crossover hip-hop to the world with a sense of humor.
How important is humor to making a good hip-hop record because that’s an element that is often overlooked today?
Rick Ross: Yeah. For us, the records that we grew up on was Schooly D and Biz Markie. They were really gifted. Even in “Rapper’s Delight”, there’s a level of playfulness at its core. You have to be able to laugh at yourself. You’re rhyming. That was a part that we always related to. When we first came out with The Pharcyde, they had such incredible wit. It was just a match made in heaven for us because that’s the kind of stuff that we always wanted to bring. Even Tone Loc had a good sense of humor. “Funky Cold Medina” and “Wild Thing” are big anthems on that level. They’re theme-based tracks.
The Wascals released their Greatest Hits last summer, which was a great record. Why did it take so long for that project to come out?
Rick Ross: I know! The Wascals was J Swift’s follow up to Bizarre Ride. I don’t really know why it didn’t come out. We put out a couple of singles but then the group broke up and then when they broke up we just kind of shelved the album. And then J Swift started working with Bucwheed on a side project called The Black Pack and another project with Fatlip. I think The Black Pack was J Swift, Fatlip and Bucwheed. There were a couple of side projects right after Fatlip got thrown out of the Pharcyde. J Swift was still making beats, he just wasn’t making them for The Pharcyde anymore. The group had broken up and we decided last year to bring it out. It’s a great record.
(continues) It’s like a time capsule for 1994 hip-hop. It’s kind of a really lighter record. We have this great deal with Traffic. They reissue a lot of our classic vinyl and stuff. It’s just good to be able to put out records that’s maybe not for the mass audience but for the hip-hop heads, that’s a golden record.
How important is it to be able to release material from the ‘90s that never came out for one reason or another?
Rick Ross: I think it’s great as long as the music’s good, you know? There are certain things that you don’t have to release. But there are big Bucwheed fans and they want to hear that Wascals record. It’s a cool piece of history, no doubt. There’s a lot of people that are fans of The Pharcyde. We try to get everything out that we haven’t released. I don’t think we’ve gotten it all out. Right now my brother is preparing a new project with Illa J, J Dilla’s brother. J Dilla did a ton of beats for us back in the day when he was Jay Dee. This is going to be those beats, back when he did “Runnin’” and he dropped it on Labcabincalifornia. The album is going to be called The Yancey Boys. This is a perfect legacy project. The world will always want to hear this. These are beats that J Dilla did for us back in ’95 to ’98. They basically sat in a drawer for years and then Illa J popped up. Illa J was raised in the house in Detroit when Jay Dee was making those beats. It’s a beautiful circle that the records came back to someone in J Dilla’s family and that it was someone who was brought up on J Dilla’s beats. That’s going to be a big project for us in the fall and we’re really excited about that. We put out a lot of J Dilla’s tracks as remix tracks. He did a lot of tracks for us back in ’95 to ’98. That’s kind of where he got his start and it’s important to pay tribute to his legacy. Delicious Vinyl was always working with cool producers and MCs and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.
What was it like working with Jay Dee back in ’95?
Rick Ross: You’d have to talk to my brother about that. (calls Mike Ross)
Mike Ross: Well, for me, Jay was at a point where he was really young and he was really quiet. He had just come out for the first time. He was a really quiet, super-cool kid who just had incredible beats coming off his drum machine. There was a lot of chaos going on around him with The Pharcyde and Labcabincalifornia. There was a lot going on at that time. I think he was just kind of taking it all in in the corner of the studio, making his beats. He was really good at it. He just wanted to put it down and he knew that this was a good opportunity for him. We were really liking his beats and I was definitely going to try to utilize him as much as possible. I think he was learning a lot at the time and I think he was learning a lot at the time. I was really excited to have a producer and a beat-maker that was on the jazz and funk tip. Swift was coming with more of a psychedelic and hip-hop beats on Bizarre Ride. It was really at that point in time a young Jay Dee, just kind of getting settled as a producer. It was literally like that more than anything else.
How did the Illa J project come about?
Mike Ross: Well, I had these beats. From the very first time when I started working with Jay Dee and he started making beats for me and for the label, it started with The Pharcyde. He would be sending me beats all the time for remixes for Labcabincalifornia and remixes for The Brand New Heavies. He did a lot of Pharcyde remixes. We just started doing stuff. So I had all these beats that he made for me during this period and I was just sitting on them. We planned on using them and we never did. I had been listening to his beats off and on for awhile but we could never do anything.
(continues) I met John, his brother, and I was kind of going to put together a tribute record with all the MCs that worked with Dilla and have them rap or sing over those beats. But then I thought it would be cool to do with his brother. Then I played the beats for John and he flipped out because he remembers his brother making this style of beats. He was 10 at the time. He was already working on a record but he felt a connection to these beats and I was like, ‘This is in your DNA. You should start writing over these beats for your first record.’ The ideas started following and we were feeling the same way and just one thing led to another. We just started working on the record. These beats were for him, really.
Will we see more new projects from Delicious Vinyl in the future?
Mike Ross: It just depends on how many projects I feel excited about and inspired by. This is just something that I was really feeling. I was really inspired to put my all behind getting this record out with Illa J. It takes time. Stuff is coming. We have different remix projects going out that I’m working on. There’s stuff coming. There will be stuff coming out. It just has to be something that’s cool, you know?
I was talking to Rick about this earlier in the interview, but one thing that remains consistent with the music put out on Delicious Vinyl is humor and an overall good vibe. Are you still looking for music that embodies that spirit?
Mike Ross: Especially in the beginning, we were always into funny stuff and clever stuff and stuff that made you think. We were always about the good times. If the MCs were coming with interesting wordplay and clever wordplay and we could work out the themes that were funny, that would never be something that we wouldn’t want to do. It was always like that with Biz Mark, Dana Dane and Slick Rick. They were clever MCs. These guys were saying something that would make you think or something that would make you laugh. Young MC was super-clever. We had these concepts that obviously kind of took off. They were tongue in cheek kind of stuff. They were good records that can always make you smile. Records like that can always get over. I think it was more about having a sense of humor about things. That’s why I never got huge into gangsta rap. I was never just a big fan of the messages in that rap. I could never get behind it too much even though there was a lot of money made in that music.
Are you glad you stuck to your principle on that and never put out a record purely for monetary reasons?
Mike Ross: Yeah, because a label, to me, is very personal. A label is a representation of what I think is cool and what I’ve been into. I look at it on that level and that’s probably why it hasn’t become something unmanageable or become something that’s super-industry. It was always about making cool records and that’s always been my kind of philosophy. So that’s why it’s always been kind of like that.
Do you think that philosophy is why Delicious Vinyl is looked at as one of those timeless record labels?
Mike Ross: To me, if you start a label, I think you can expect a certain type of music and hopefully it’s something that you think is cool or something funny or something that’s just funky that can move you. It will make you feel something. That’s what music’s about at the end of the day, making people feel something. I’m not ever going to be a high-volume thing. We’re not trying to put out projects all the time. I think the label, on that level, has a pretty good history if you look at the catalogues and the history that has come out on Delicious. I think we’re pretty much, for the most part, we hold that now and we’ll always hold that. The music is quality. It’s not just in the moment.
(continues) It’s just a different game. I don’t know. Music can be more disposable now. You can take a big record now and in five years it might be something that you kind of cringe at. I never thought that would be possible. You can play a record that we put out in ’90 or ’91 and all those records, if you listen to them now, there’s something about them. They have a cool quality to them. I can’t think of any record that I’m really that embarrassed about that I put out on Delicious. And I always want people to be able to depend on us. I want them to say, “If they put out a record, I gotta listen to it because they’re always going to put out something that’s cool and interesting.” That’s always been important to me. A lot of people are upset with me because I don’t give a lot of leeway for people to put out stuff. I just don’t want it to be wack. But at the same time, maybe that hasn’t been the best business model because sometimes there’s not a lot of output.
(continues) But good records stand the test of time and now we’re trying to do that. There’s been a lot of record that were put out in the last few years and a lot of people didn’t hear it. That’s kind of disappointing. I don’t have the promotion teams to pound it. Like the Fatlip record, I don’t know how many people really heard that record but that record was an important record for me to put out. That was anticipated and then it took a long time to come out. I don’t think a lot of people heard that record and I don’t think a lot of people heard the last Brand New Heavies record. But you can get something out of those records because they’re interesting. The Illa J project should be interesting because he’s 21 years-old and the music is heavy. It’s soulful and it’s not necessarily what young hip-hop heads are listening to but it’s got Jay Dee beats and it’s hard not to be feeling that music. And his younger brother laces them. I think people are really going to think this record is very soulful and very cool.
How much unreleased material might we see from Delicious in the future?
Mike Ross: Um, there’s not a lot. The Wascals record was something that I had obviously been sitting on for awhile because it kind of imploded right after we got the first single. The album was finished and the group kind of tore apart. I was sitting on that record for over 10 years. The record was finished in 1995. Then we were like, ‘We gotta put this out.’ I think there were a lot of heads and beat junkies wondering what was going on in that period. This was right after J Swift finished Bizarre Ride and there was a lot of cool stuff on there and people were really excited about The Wascals. I think it’s a cool record to listen to so we just decided to put it out there.
(continues) But to answer your question, there’s not a lot of stuff. The stuff that I really want to get out there that’s still in the vault, there’s still some stuff but not a ton of things. Like the Bucwheed solo record, he had done a solo record with J Swift. That’s another record that came out a few years ago. That’s a really good record but I don’t think a lot of people have heard that. If you’re a Pharcyde fan, you’ll love those records. It’s real psychedelic, funkdafied hip-hop. Bucwheed is crazy and of course Fatlip is. He killed it on that record. Fatlip’s solo record is more like a hip-hop blues record. It’s real autobiographical. It’s talking about what he was going through. It came out a little late but it doesn’t diminish what that record is. It’s just no one heard it.
How did you and your brother decide who to work with on your latest project RMXOLOGY which remixes a lot of Delicious classics?
Mike Ross: RMXOLOGY is like another trip. My brother really worked on that project with a lot of DJs reinterpreting those records. There’s some cool shit on there for sure. He had been going back and forth to Europe a lot and he met Peaches. She was feeling “Wild Thing” and she wanted to do a remix to “Wild Thing”. She’s kind of dialed into the electronic scene which is really jumping off. There are a lot of talented producers there. Doing hip-hop remixes isn’t that interesting. It’s been done. We reached out to these new cats and cut across genres. We took a shot at it.
(continues) With that in mind, Peaches and Rick started finding a lot of people in Europe and whoever did the dopest mix would win. There are a lot of different versions of those songs. I love the mix to “What’s Up Fatlip”. This kid from L.A. is a super-dope programmer. He did a super-dope jazz and electro to “Runnin’”. I didn’t even know who some of these guys were but I know who they are now. They just kind of went crazy with these accapellas and they’re cool interpretations of some of our biggest records. And we’re opening it up to another audience as well and other people are able to get down on these records.
Are hip-hop fans responding positively to RMXOLOGY?
Mike Ross: It seems like people are diggin’ it. The “Sitting On Chrome” remix by Mr. Flash really blew my mind. That was cinematic and the way he did the hook on that, that was a really cool choice. I think the people are digging it. I’m not even thinking it’s going to be a big hip-hop thing as much as it’s going to be a big dance thing. A lot of our hip-hop records that have come out on Delicious have been left field anyways. I feel like this record appeals to a dance crowd anyway, which is cool because a lot of these tracks have already had its run and they’re already known within the genre. If you’re into hip-hop and you have an open mind, you should dig this. The “What’s Up Fatlip” remix I think is really dope. The Masta Ace remix is really dope and so is the “Runnin’” remix. The “Wild Thing” remix is more electronic. But if hip-hop fans want to hear different interpretations, I think they can find something that they’re feeling. But I don’t consider this something for the hip-hop heads in general. That’s all. Now Illa J, that’s a whole ‘nother story.
Hey, Mike, can I call you right back? My dog just pooped all over the place.
Mike Ross: When they have to go, they have to go.
(after a brief pause)
Mike Ross: No problem. Dogs are mini-tragedies waiting to happen. It’s good when you have them. Trust me. I had my dog for 10 years and it was not pretty at the end. But this Illa J project is going to just be crazy, man. If you liked the sound of The Pharcyde and Jay Dee, you’re going to like this shit. It’s going to be cool. I’m very excited about it. Jay Dee was just the man. That’s my man right there. It’s funny. I worked with him when he was Jay Dee, before he became Dilla and got busy doing all that other stuff. “Runnin’” really put him down. From ’95 to ’98 is when I did the majority of my work with him and his beatmaking is a little more different then that it was at the end. It was a little more jazzed out and you can just kind of see the progression of his beatmaking. His beats are just so soulful and they’re just so ill.
I think a lot of fans didn’t appreciate him until he was gone.
Mike Ross: A lot of times you don’t always realize the great ones. It doesn’t happen right away. Some people aren’t ready and more people catch up later. That’s like a lot of stuff we put out. It’s going to be the same way. It’s not super-in that moment but then four or five years later people are looking at that more, which is great because at least it gets played.
(continues) You gotta put out good shit. Why do it if it’s not going to make people feel something? Technology has made it a disposable culture. They want candy, in one ear and out the other. People don’t even listen to albums anymore. It’s just a bunch of singles. Any record that I’ve ever done, the whole record has meaning. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s kind of coming from one place. It’s a bunch of songs that are telling a story and they move you from one place to the next. Nobody listens to music like that anymore. If you think about your favorite albums, it’s not just one track. You can play it from beginning to the end. Records seem to be over. You can’t really make an album. It ain’t that over here. It’s really a shame. The quality too now is not even an issue for most people. They don’t even care how they hear it. They’ll listen to it on their computers with really bad speakers. It’s interesting. I think music production is kind of shifting with that in mind. People are making super-pop, quick commercial music. Not all of it, but some of it. There’s still some good shit but music is not made today for people to think too much. It’s all this common denominator-type shit.
Has the digital revolution in hip-hop affected Delicious Vinyl?
Mike Ross: It changes the way you do things. There’s no changes from our priority standpoint. I think the music has been dumbed down to some extent and a lot of good artists aren’t making music because they can’t really eat. They can go on tour and make a lot of money but it’s hard for people to really be making music. It’s a tough game to be in right now unless you can go on the road and play your music, which is still the most important thing anyway. It’s good to go on the road and take it to the people and get the live thing going and make your money that way and sell the music that way because you have a captive audience at your shows. On one level I think it’s a good thing. It’s more about performing than making a record. A lot of people can make records but they can’t really do it live. Now if you can do the whole package I think you should be rewarded for that.