Nate Patrin - Interview - 5-4-20Written by Chi Chi Thalken on May 27, 2020
Nate Patrin is a music critic that has written in publications such as Spin, Bandcamp Daily, and his hometown Twin Cities’ alt-weekly City Pages. For his first book, Bring That Beat Back: How Sampling Built Hip-Hop, he has taken a look at how a specific element of hip hop, the sample, has developed and shaped the music and culture over the course of its history. He recently took the time to talk to us about his book and how sampling has developed over the years.
Photo by Craig VanDerSchaegen
Scratched Vinyl: Let’s start with some background. How did you first get into hip hop as you were growing up?
Nate Patrin: Oh, man. That goes back a while. I was born in the late ‘70s, so hip hop was kind of more or less always around… “Rapper’s Delight” came out when I was two. I would have experienced it for the first time as an already existing thing…I lived, well I still live, in the Twin Cities. It was not quite the epicenter, but by the mid-‘80s, [hip hop] had come around to a certain national profile…The movie Beat Street was an early thing that my folks took my brother and I to that was kind of my crash course in hip hop.
SV: Your parents were cool with it, like “Yeah, we can see this hip hop movie?”
Nate Patrin: Yeah, well this was like ‘84, so it hadn’t quite gotten the “Oh, this is scary urban music” that it got a few years later with gangsta rap and the such. Then Run DMC became pretty big, and that pretty much sealed it. I grew up in a house with all kinds of music, literally. My folks, my stepdad really liked jazz and all kinds of international music, and my mom likes rock and folk and blues. My brother, who’s like four years older than me, is kind of the archetypical cooler older brother who was into hardcore punk and metal, and he got into hip hop, too, in the mid-‘80s. He’s the guy I dedicated [the book] to in the beginning. I think there’s a sense, when I grew up, that music was the most interesting thing, and that it constantly surrounded me. It sparked my curiosity. I’ve been a generalist music fan for most of my life, but hip hop became a priority at the forefront of my interests, early on in high school. I think my route through that was…I tended to gravitate toward the stuff that was political, like KRS-ONE, but I also like the stuff that had a comedic bent to it, like De La Soul, or…I wouldn’t necessarily call the other members of Native Tongues comedic, but they had…great punchlines.
SV: Phife had a great sense of humor.
Nate Patrin: Yeah, yeah…3 Feet High and Rising and De La Soul is Dead, those were right up my alley. It was the funniest shit. From there, I kept going deeper and picking up things that my friends were listening to, catching stuff physically in the general pop culture air, and by the time I was in college, I was…full head long into it. In the late ‘90s, at the tail end of the “Golden Age,” so to speak, I was sort of in the process of both playing catch up to the stuff that was going on, in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and then at the same time, the mainstream hip hop of the late ‘90s, I was starting to drift away from that, and I started getting into the underground and indie stuff, like Rawkus Records. Company Flow, Black Star…I really started getting into Pharohe Monch and Organized Konfusion – those are my favorites.
SV: The book is Bring That Beat Back: How Sampling Built Hip-Hop. There have been a lot of books written about hip hop. How did you come to think of sampling as a way in, that it hadn’t been discussed in this way?
Nate Patrin: Well, hip hop, in its origins, and I’m talking in terms of the overarching musical side, not just rapping – like that KRS quote, “Rap is something you do, hip hop is something you live.” Hip hop is kind of the holistic description of the music and the culture, but it’s also, I believe, a music style that originated in deejaying. And deejaying in a particular style that eventually expanded over time, with shifting tastes and new technology. Because when you think about the first Kool Herc deejay set, that people like to bring up, the August ‘73 rec room set, where he pulls out James Brown and The Incredible Bongo Band…some of these other fundamental beats, and he extends the breaks – he spins records so that the drum breakdown or the other percussive moments keep going, so the kids that were there to dance had a lot of time to dance to it. Get down and show off, develop b-boying and b-girling, and all that. That is the style that I believe really…going from spinning breaks on decks, going from one turntable to another and extending the breaks, to doing loops, which was a thing that really started to take off when tape decks became accessible – people would put together beat tapes. The way they would do that is that they would take a recorded song and they’d take the break and isolate it and loop it over and over. So it’s not just the advent of the sampler – as in, “Oh, the SP1200 comes on the marked in the early/mid-‘80s,” that’s not quite it. Sampling, in this sense, is more of a shorthand for lifting a piece of a track and reinterpreting it and building something new from that. I’d take it back to the origins, where it’s already taking apart a piece of music and doing something new with it.
Now hip hop in the early ‘70s was running parallel to other forms of deejay culture like disco, where you have remixers like Tom Moulton or Larry Levan who would take a dance track and really manipulate and rearrange and mess with the groove of things so that it would be longer and deeper and more intense. I think when hip hop really began to branch out into its own thing, was the idea of juxtaposition and reinterpretation and turning the elements of a longer deejay set into these self-contained moments. I like to think…“Rapper’s Delight” is commonly referred to as the first hip hop song, because it’s rapping over (albeit a live-played version) of a previously existing track, Chic’s “Good Times.” Although, there’s a prototype for that, in the early ‘70s, with…Hustlers Convention, where you had Lightning Rod, [Jalal Mansur Nuriddin] from The Last Poets, who had a very rapper-style delivery over a live band, which at one point plays Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes.” Once you finally got Grandmaster Flash, “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel,” recording for commercial release, a condensed deejay set, witch scratching and mixing and all that…it’s an early turntable-driven equivalent to how producers would piece together tracks with drum machines and samplers later on. And so from then on out, you have a few different phases of things, particularly when…using direct samples and loops wasn’t much of a thing before the mid-‘80s. Before then, you had deejays who would often appear on tracks to cut records, but more than half the time, it was more of a situation where you would get a live band in and they’d replay stuff.
I think one of the interesting turning points was Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force’s “Planet Rock,” which you had co-produced by Arthur Baker. You had at the same time direct replays and elements of songs by Kraftwerk and the solo from Babe Ruth’s “The Mexican,” replayed on a synthesizer. Having that dovetail with the introduction of the 808, kind of put hip hop production at a crossroads for a bit, because shortly after that you had early Def Jam tracks with Rick Rubin producing, you had the earliest Run DMC records, which just had those big, heavy drum machine and 808 beats. For a bit of time, the actual production side of it, the traditional elements were largely left to the deejays, and sometimes you’d have recognizable pieces of music coming through on the deejay bits, with the deejay scratch routines. But often it was just a different percussive element that let the rappers and the 808s take precedent. You had a bunch of developments circa ‘85, like Marley Marl hitting on the idea that a programmable drum machine where you could record over the pre-existing drum loops in the machine and introduce your own. And he goes, “Oh yeah, I have all these…records, holy shit!” So he could basically use individual pieces of drum breaks or drum patterns to build his own and reproduce in a lo-fi manual way, some of these extended bits.
And then, in a completely different sense, you had what Double Dee and Steinski did for the “Lessons” tracks. Where these very madcap…real collisions of breaks and soundbites and clips from movies and cartoons and such that really made the idea of a megamix…You could have a dozen different tracks going on and go back and forth between all of these different ideas and condense it into this rapid-fire barrage of ideas. When you factor that into some of the ideas that had been percolating for a few years…where you have radio shows like the Zulu Beats Show, where they would play a few tracks and then have soundbites and drops, and cut back and forth. I think once the technology becomes readily available, people realized “I can put all of these ideas into a three or four minute track.” That’s kind of how you had this big creative flourishing in ‘85 and ‘86, and then on to the early Bomb Squad tracks in late ‘86 and early ‘87, where you could have so many different elements layered on top of each other, with the sampling technology. Also, ‘86 is the year that both the James Brown In the Jungle Groove and the first Ultimate Breaks and Beats records started coming out. So all of a sudden, you have all of these resources, kind of converging at the same time. And when the biggest hip hop album in the world is Run DMC’s Raising Hell, and it crosses over big, on the backbone of literally an Aerosmith cover, that takes a break that had been used for ten years – the “Walk This Way” break – and people are like, “Oh, you can go real far with this!”
SV: Structuring the book, you take four case studies as your pillars to examine the different eras and different styles – Grandmaster Flash, Prince Paul, Dr. Dre, and Madlib. How did you come to pick those four as the people you wanted to examine?
Nate Patrin: I picked them largely based on – ‘cause I wanted to start out by writing about a dozen or so different breaks and talk about them in the context of who used them and how they were developed over time into certain signature sounds. But then I talked with my agent, who said it would make a bit more sense to have some central personalities in the book, to bring in a more human element, and bring personalities to the thing. I wanted to have an old school originator, a “Golden Age” artist, a West Coast representative who also represented hip hop as a blockbuster genre, and then I wanted to choose an artist who took sampling to a more…like a producer who grew up knowing what hip hop was and what sampling was.
So first, Flash seemed liked a pretty solid choice, because unlike Herc, he put out records, and he was also an important innovator…Herc had the amazing soundsystem and was the originator, Bambaataa was the guy who took things and really expanded them to fearlessly explore other genres like synth pop, new wave, and krautrock, and Flash was the guy who didn’t necessarily invent scratching – give Grand Wizard Theodore a lot of credit for that, too – but Flash was the guy who mainstreamed scratching and he was the high profile face of one of the most famous groups of the pre-Run DMC old school era – Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. And I thought his story was interesting because he was such an early star who still doesn’t necessarily get his due. He basically really had to get into Sylvia Robinson’’s ear at Sugar Hill Records and almost pester her to get “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash” recorded, because it wasn’t considered a big commercial prospect to have a scratch routine put out as a record. Then he was also central to so many different scenes. He was an originator who got adopted by the Downtown new wave/punk set. Although, I think The Clash took more to him than The Clash’s audience did. He was also front and center with the collision of the South Bronx hip hop scene and the Manhattan Soho art scene. ‘Cause he was in Wild Style, he was adjacent to the whole graffiti art/Basquiat movement…there was that phase of things. He was also an example of a pioneer who got kind of screwed. Because his deal with Sugar Hill wasn’t great, and also he had a period of time where he was dealing with substance addiction. Between that and the legal battles of trying to get free from this label that was doing him dirty and releasing tracks that had his name but didn’t have him on the record. He lost a couple years of his life and his music career, so that by the time he got back into things, he was just a half step behind. That was all he needed to get lapped by the next thing. But he’s also still a legend and an ambassador, and people of a certain age – oh yeah, he was one of the first superstar deejays, and he still is. All respect to him…He doesn’t have the tastemaker/Funkmaster Flex reputation, but he had the technique and he was there at the origins, and you can’t take that away from him.
Then Prince Paul – he’s widely recognized as one of the guys who pushed sampling to its limits. There are also other “Golden Era” producers who also earned their due…
SV: And you touch on them as well.
Nate Patrin: Right, like Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Bomb Squad…so many others. Q-Tip! People consider A Tribe Called Quest one of the greatest hip hop groups there is, but it’s underrated, almost – Q-Tip is just as good a producer as he is an emcee! He was a real double threat there. But Prince Paul had so many different weird connections – in terms of these different eras in hip hop, because he was ahead of his time. He was a few years younger than Flash and the first generation deejays, but he was kind of a prodigy and a real nerdy sense of humor that clicked with the sort of Native Tongues/A Tribe Called Quest/Biz Markie corner of hip hop. Man! I wish I had written more about Biz Markie, because he is a secret weapon of hip hop back then, because people consider him “Oh, he’s the ‘Pickin’ Boogers’/‘Just a Friend’ guy who writes about bad breath and going to the mall.” He is an astounding record collector…But Prince Paul was part of the Native Tongues/De La Soul circle, and kind of in the same ballpark, but not necessarily the same style as when in the turn of the ‘90s, jazz-rap became a big thing. He was in that circle, but also very ahead of the curve when it came to underground hip hop.
By underground hip hop, I mean a couple of different things. When you think of Wu Tang Clan, Prince Paul and RZA knew each other from before the first Wu Tang record, they were labelmates on Tommy Boy. They were also both getting disillusioned with Tommy Boy, and then a year or two after he was putting out this renowned, critically acclaimed records with De La Soul and Big Daddy Kane, he was basically…five years into his career and label guys are like, “Prince Paul is washed up! He’s whack! He’s yesterday’s news!”
And so he got really so disillusioned with how hard it was…He started making these grimy, upset beats that touched on his…the way he put it sounded like he was straight up depressed. He then found some friends from previous projects that he had worked on, including Frukwan from Stetsasonic, Too Poetic…and The RZA, who put out this goofy record as Prince Rakeem…they all came together and shopped around this supergroup of people who had been jerked around by Tommy Boy, and that became Gravediggaz. You had Prince Paul and RZA, steel sharpening steel there, because RZA was still coming up and learning how to do things and putting together this raw sound, and Prince Paul – he was like, “I was in a rut, and then this young producer is doing things in a seat-of-the-pants kind of way, and that’s reminding me of back when I did things raw, so we’re going to converge here and co-father this new sound,” which became not just Wu Tang, but a very popular lo-fi way of doing things. That was abetted by taking advantage of sample technology and its limitations to create these longer loops that are more intricate complex beats that sounded grimy because you have these machines with limited memory. That sort of grimy, hardcore East Coast sound resonated and carried through to – Fuck! I didn’t even mention Ultramagnetic MCs! Because Ced Gee, that guy was a major player. He was one of the only guys in the Bronx who even owned an SP-12…Getting back to the mid-‘90s underground post-Wu Tang, you had Company Flow and Kool Keith – Doctor Octagon…Mobb Deep, and sort of this sense of New York shifting from James Brown and jazz breaks to something minor key and sinister, film noir-ish. Crime rap breaks.
By the end of the ‘90s, Prince Paul has parlayed his things into very odd, very artsy indie-crossover stuff. He does Psychoanalysis, which is like bleak morbid comedy, and by the end of the decade he’s doing the Prince Among Thieves album which is the absolute culmination of doing a hip hop record with skits. He’s like, “Why don’t I just do a straight up hip hop rock opera situation?” Just create this cinematic narrative, beginning to end sort of record. Then he did the Handsome Boy Modeling School, working with Dan The Automator, who’s out west, building off the combined vibes of Psychoanalysis meets Doctor Octagon, “Let’s see what we can do together!” So they put out this record where you have everyone from Miho Hatori from Cibo Matto to noise-techno dude Alec Empire…they were like Gorillaz two years early. So a lot of stuff circulated from Prince Paul.
Dr. Dre, obviously, there are a lot of great West Coast producers, and I talk about a lot of them, like 187um, DJ Muggs, and DJ Quick – those are all fundamental. And I had to go into early electro foundation, like Uncle Jamm’s Army and Egyptian Lover and all those dudes. Dre was an interesting case, though, in that he’s the first producer who’s - I mean he’s famous as a rapper, but when a producer becomes one of the most famous hip hop artists in the world, even if it’s more as an auteur than as a beatmaker, you gotta talk about him. And I think the interesting thing about him is he’s one of the few producers who really popularized what the West sounded like, because you had this early foundation of artists that were in other regions. What are they doing on the East Coast? Let’s try figure that out but also do it but also do it in a way that has the DNA of our own scenes interwoven into it. So you have this culture and this scene where - even more than out East, where everybody’s down with James Brown, out West everybody’s down with P-Funk and Zapp. That really Moog-heavy, synth-heavy take on funk, that’s got a bit more bounce to it. It’s the difference between music you listen to on a boombox or headphones on a subway vs. music you listen to with the top down in a car, when its constantly sunny out. That’s the divide there. And Dre is central to so many records from the ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s…Something that came through in the research was that Dr. Dre was kind of a cautionary tale, in that he was always a studio guy, getting the best sonic quality, the best sound, the best engineers. The further he got away from – the more options he got, instead of just punching things up in an 808 and an SP1200 - when the money comes in and with the money comes all the limitless studio equipment and time, the more options that were available, the less it seems he was able to center himself and come out with something definitive as he had done on something like Straight Outta Compton and The Chronic and Doggystyle. I think it was a combination of that and some personal stuff that led him adrift. In the meantime, when he was at his peak, he was a really good synthesis. He didn’t necessarily invent G-Funk, but he was trying to help build it and pretty much mastered it…when you have an artist and a producer who’s a major contributor and the public face of the entire region’s sound, then yeah, that’s the guy you want to look into and see how that came about.
And then Madlib, I think for me, that was a personal choice, because I know there are more famous sample-based producers that are his contemporary. Kanye West is a bit more of a mainstream choice, in that he’s the most famous sample-based producer of his era, but I think Kanye is a bit more of a synthesis, in that he took other producers’ ideas and did them a bit more accessibly. By that, I don’t mean he watered things down – I think he was able to take some deep crates and think, “What will sound innovative while still sounding familiar?” But Madlib? He really struck me as the kind of guy who I wanted to write about as the example of the producer-as-record-collector-curator-archivist-die-hard-music-geek, where if hip hop hadn’t happened, you can still imagine him just spending all of his time in record stores, finding stuff, and then putting it out like a re-issue guy or something. Hip hop is his filter through which he experiences music, and he really discovers new music. Most producers have their wheelhouse, their influences, and they have their interests in other genres where they can weave things in unexpectedly - odd moments of inspiration where they’re like, “Oh, I listen to all kinds of things!” Madlib seems like the kind of guy who gets the deepest into really pushing the limits of what the sources of hip hop can be. Like he went to Brazil around the same time he was starting to work on Madvillainy. And all of his friends are like going out to clubs, and he’d just be going to record stores and making beats in his hotel room. So he’d be like “What can I find in this country or this region or from this region that I can get new ideas from?” So he’d be creating an entire album that’s “Here’s my take on what comes from Brazil, here’s my take on what comes out of India and Bollywood soundtracks. What if I picked up all of this crazy psychedelic rock?” So he picked up on the underground West Coast sensibility that started with Good Life Café and Freestyle Fellowship, artists like that. He came from that indie perspective and that cratedigger perspective with Lootpack. And he just went nova with it, which is funny, because for a bit, he was like, “I don’t know, I’m getting kind of jaded with making hip hop beats, I’m going to try and be this one-man jazz artist.” So he’d do these multi-track recording and kind of reverse-engineering all of these records he was sampling. Like, “OK, what does it mean to play the drums like Billy Cobham [or] do a keyboard like Lonnie Liston Smith?” He was semi self-taught, I think, but he grew up in a major musical household, so it’s impossible to think that he wouldn’t pick up a few instrumental ideas here and there. But he really did a fantastic job, along with J Dilla, who was one of his mutual influences and favorites and eventual collaborator.
The idea of sampling as its own musical – which I touched on earlier, in the jazz rap era, where you have Guru’s Jazzmatazz record, or Ron Carter appearing on The Low End Theory, where you have artists who really weave together sample-based music and live music, or eventually – you have The Roots, they’re the most famous example of that. And all of these guys wound up contributing to each other’s music. Where it’s almost like a continuum of using pre-existing music to make new music, and really blurring the lines. I think nowadays – and I touch on this in the outro – Nowadays you have bands that are basically live bands that create live music that is jazz or funk that is largely indebted to the sound of hip hop, and the music that hip hop unearthed or re-popularized. Like when have BADBADNOTGOOD or The Heliocentrics or J-Zone, who has a group called The Du-Rites, and he started out as a rapper/producer who learned how to play the drums. You have these – hip hop is a way of re-circulating these old ideas into new bands and new sounds. It’s kind of an ouroboros of feedback and creation.
Madlib’s peers like J Dilla, who was very musically inclined – I mean all producers are musically inclined, but I think J Dilla wanted to use sampling as a way to comment on itself. The fact that he turned the quantization off his MPC and just did things by hand and by the seat of his pants, so you’d have maybe the snare would sound like it’s in a weird place or sound kind of wonky, but that just meant that you could hear the fingerprints on things. It put the boot to the idea that sampling is this computerized process. You have not only this curatorial process, a musician isolating an idea that they hear, but then taking that and turning that into an expression of interest and influence. Using the beat to mediate between the inspiration and the expression.
Dilla obviously nowadays is a big influence on this next generation of producers who are - I know it’s kind of a cliché expression, “Lo-fi beats that you can chill to,” but that is an entirely new wave of people who picked up on albums like Donuts and Welcome To Detroit, and like the Madlib stuff, Madvillainy, and MF DOOM. Some of these other super lo-fi easy-to-learn-hard-to-master techniques where it coincides with…you can get pretty much any album you want off the Internet now, whether you buy it or find it on somebody’s mp3 blog, or pull it up on Youtube or even Spotify, you have limitless resources. And then have Serato, so you don’t even have to get it on vinyl, you can just get it however you want. It takes a bit of the challenge and the traditional sense of discovery out of old school crate digging, going to a record store, finding something weird and taking a chance on it. It also vastly – you could make a hip hop beat out of anything that’s out there, and everything that’s out there is so much easier to get that it really puts the possibilities to practically limitless. You can an entire – like Alchemist does – here’s a bunch of weird French ‘70s prog rock, I’ll make an entire beat tape out of that. That’s just what you get when you have somebody who has the time and the resources who is able to get stuff. And that’s somebody who actually goes out and buys records. If you have some teenager with FruityLoops, who doesn’t have a lot of time or a lot of money, but has heard some idiosyncratic interests, they can make something that nobody has done before and completely ambush you. So as I think that as much as people are like, “Oh, the sample era is kind of damaged by copyright issues and clearance issues and the popularity of Southern-based hip hop” – which you have some pretty memorable sample-based tracks from Geto Boys and UGK, but in the meantime the 808 and drum machine and synth lines are much more popular, especially when you get into the Virginia clique like Timbaland and the Neptunes or Atlanta with Organized Noize. That really brought composition to the forefront, but sampling is still so accessible now and so wide open, it’s anybody’s guess what the next thing is and what it’s going to sound like and where it’s going to come from. I think the future of shit is going to be pretty compelling.
SV: This brings us to the note that you end the book on. Who out there has your ear as far as an up-and-coming producer who’s doing interesting things with sample-based production?
Nate Patrin: I mean, there’s so many different scenes and artists, and I still feel like I’m playing catch up here and there. It’s gotten to the point where I’m like, “This person is up-and-coming,” and it’s like, no, they’ve been doing this since 2010. Knxwledge is up there, as far as the current vanguard, I really like some of the things Mndsgn. has been doing…and then of course you have the post-Low End Theory/Brainfeeder thing where people have pushed sampling to where it may as well be jazz at this point, or an element of jazz…There’s a couple I picked up like Spectacular Diagnostics or Ginseng…Paul White, he’s been doing stuff a while, but I really like the stuff he’s done with Danny Brown and Open Mike Eagle.
SV: Going back for a second – we’ve covered a ton – in doing research for the book, were there any stories that surprised you, or just interesting stories that you couldn’t make fit and had to grit your teeth and leave it on the cutting room floor?
Nate Patrin: Oh, man, my favorite that we had to cut was the story behind “Top Billin’,” the Audio Two track. It was sampling creating a happy accident. Basically, Daddy-O from Stetsasonic, which was Prince Paul’s first group, and Milk Dee from Audio Two, they were like, “Oh yeah, everyone’s using these drums from ‘Impeach the President’ by The Honey Drippers, we’re going to make a track around it, too!” And then they programmed all the beats into the sampler, but when they played it back, they played the wrong sequence, the wrong pattern, because they were using the same sampler to do another track. The beats on the snares were all in a completely different pattern than they had intended, but it came out with such a strange, loping, off-kilter beat, it was like, “Okay, we’re going with this!” And that’s how “Top Billin’” came around. Just this very counter-intuitive, but an easy-to-spit-over, immediate kind of beat that happened because someone forgot to press a button.
SV: Normally to wrap things up, I like to ask musicians about their dream collaborations. What I’ll ask you is, what are three of your favorite samples that informed your knowledge of production?
Nate Patrin: That’s a good one. When I was first getting into hip hop, at the same time I was listening to top 40, I was listening to classic rock radio, and so…when I heard “Walk This Way,” I had heard the Run DMC song before I knew what the Aerosmith song was. One example I like to turn to is the Boogie Down Productions track, “Ya Slippin,‘” which I was this Midwestern white kid, blue collar, and I was like, “‘Smoke on the Water?’ That song fuckin’ rules!” And then I hear the guitar riff chopped up and manipulated for a completely different rhythm and a different beat to it, and I was like, “Oh! That’s how you can take a riff, take a very recognizable moment, and translate it into something entirely different.”
Another example – De La Soul was the group that you get into and just get knee deep, well not just knee deep, no pun intended, introduction to sampling as a reflection of music history. And I think there’s no such thing, especially if you don’t have older relatives – classic R&B didn’t really have a major presence. Well, so I grew up in the Twin Cities, so if you want to talk about funk, okay – Prince. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. That’s the fundamentals there. Learning about Curtis Mayfield, or P-Funk, or Zapp, or even one-hit groups that got sampled, you don’t necessarily know them until you hear it in hip hop and you hear it through that context. My favorite example of that is “A Roller Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays,’” because you have five or six different famous and less-famous segments from roller rink disco funk from the mid to late ‘70s, all kind of colliding together. And so while part of the appeal is that you have De La and Q-Tip doing these fantastic verses, but it’s also that this is putting things together that is sort of nostalgic, but also filling in some of the fundamentals. It’s not necessarily just the big hits you should know about, but it’s also…[it] helped open some doors. I was some kid in the ‘90s, I didn’t know shit about disco and late ‘70s R&B, yet here’s a track that makes it sound like the most entertaining shit in the world! I gotta see what else is out there!
The third track, well it makes more sense to talk about it as an album, DJ Shadow’s Entroducing….. That was a real kick in the ass, because I had been listening to hip hop as my main thing for years at that point, and then…it felt like being a bebop head who listened to Bitches Brew for the first time. You could do this with samples!? I didn’t know at the time how an MPC worked. I learned a little later on, and then it’s like the things you can do with drum breaks and loops and riffs, it’s just astounding! It’s like you don’t have to loop stuff, you can completely obliterate it. You know, ‘96 was a pretty pivotal year for me, because that was Entroducing….., but that was the same year I got Stakes is High and Beats, Rhymes, and Life. That, and The Pharcyde’s “Runnin’” was my introduction to Dilla, or Jay Dee at the time, even though I wasn’t sure who he was. I was like, “I like all of these tracks!” And I suspected that they had a commonality, and I found out later that it was all this one producer that I liked.
SV: At the time we had no idea.
Nate Patrin: Yeah, at the time he was a pretty low profile guy. You know, I wrote when people saw, “Produced by Jay Dee,” they thought, “Oh, that must be a pseudonym for Q-Tip, because his government name is Jonathon Davis!” But yeah, those are at least a few, but I could go on all day about my favorite records. I haven’t even mentioned Paul’s Boutique yet! Jesus. Wow.
SV: We can leave it there.
You can purchase Bring That Beat Back at your local independent bookstore, or you can purchase it directly from UM Press at: https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/bring-that-beat-back