Prince Paul On Which Grammy Album He Got No Credit For, Magic Of Gravediggaz (Audio)
In Hip-Hop production, Prince Paul may be one of the quiet giants. Much like some of the music he’s provided for himself and others, Paul Huston is whimsical, at times silly, and yet incredibly soulful. In a sentence filled with laughter and maybe some jokes of his own, the Long Island, New York DJ-turned-producer may make some especially poignant remark about himself, his peers, or the 30 years he’s been making records.
Shawn Setaro and The Cipher Show sat down with the Stetsasonic and Gravediggaz member, in a multi-part interview that truly basks in the beauty of a fully-produced audio conversation. Paul’s laughter and easygoing personality are an extension of his album characters, and even some of his admittedly “bitter” views on the industry. Although he’s not afraid to put the past in perspective, Prince Paul has proven to be a gentle-humored monarch. He has Grammy awards, fully-produced platinum and gold albums, and has towing the line for so many of Hip-Hop’s advances over the last 25-plus years.
Below is the interview, with a breakdown of what is where:
(5:00) Shawn asks Paul about Politics Of Business. Much like Mike Myers’ (“Saturday Night Live” founder) Lorne Michaels-inspired “Dr. Evil” in the Austin Powers franchise, Paul admits that Chris Rock’s caricature on the 2003 Razor & Tie Records release was inspired by Tommy Boy’s founder and namesake, Tom Silverman. Paul, who worked with the Manhattan label in Stet, De La Soul, and two solo albums, explains how and why he decided to poke fun at the team whose name was at the top of his checks for more than a decade.
The conversation grows into the label and political pressures of music-making. Paul admits that he’s never been able to chase hits. “I’ve always just made records for me, and whoever’s in the room,” says the producer, who has done a la carte work for Big Daddy Kane, Boogie Down Productions, and Slick Rick, among many others. Rather indifferently, the 47 year-old also simply states, “All my records are bitter.” Specifically, the Amityville native points to De La’s 3 Feet High And Rising, his 1996 debut, Psychoanalysis: What Is It?, Gravediggaz’ 6 Feet Deep. Paul calls his music “therapy,” perhaps explaining some of the overlying themes and titles.
(12:00) Given Paul’s far-reaching influences, record crates at DJ sets and samples on albums, he is asked about Radio’s affect and influence on his career. Paul points back specifically to certain stations and shows (and Setaro finds archival footage), as the producer recalls being exposed to acts like Abba, Bee-Gees, James Brown, and even Rick Dees’ ‘Disco Duck.’ This gestalt of sound, coupled with liner notes allowed Paul to take greater interest in a more expansive catalog than some of his would-be peers.
In this discussion segment, The Cipher Show delves into Afrika Bambaataa’s influence on Paul. With Bam and The Soulsonic Force’s “Planet Rock” making a blockbuster hit for Tommy Boy in 1982, it was just years before Paul and Stet were label-mates with one of the Hip-Hop genre’s credited forefathers. In speaking about Bam, Paul makes a powerful point to those reading about the genre’s history: “I don’t think Bambaataa gets enough credit. He gets more credit for organizing angry youth and converting into Hip-Hop in a peaceful manner than he does [for his music]. It all comes back to music. Bambaataa organizing the youth without the music, he might not have organized the youth.” Laughing through it all, Paul makes a great case about the Universal Zulu Nation founder.
(16:00) Looking at another onetime label-mate and lifelong friend, Paul opens up about growing up with Biz Markie. It was in fact the Juice Crew MC/DJ/producer that Paul first DJ’d for. The collaborators frequently hung out as teenagers. Paul admits that the New Jersey native born Marcell Hall was picked on in life, not only by classmates, but by would-be Rap peers. As Biz Markie has become a 30-year fixture in Hip-Hop, a onetime featured cast member on “In Living Color,” and even a star in Men In Black II, Paul says that the “Vapors” are very real. “He’s in a class of least likely to succeed, who’s exceeded everybody’s expectations, probably including his own.”
(17:44) Often eclipsed by the success and impact of De La Soul, Shawn Setaro asks Paul about Stet, with whom he recorded three albums as a DJ and later producer. “Stetsasonic is easily the best thing that ever happened to me,” says Huston, who was a minor at the time he joined the Brooklyn, New York collective led by Daddy-O. Setaro hones in on how despite Paul’s goofy and approachable persona years later, 1986’s “Go Stesa I” was most definitely a Mayor Koch New York-era stick-up record in the clubs. Paul admits the same, pointing to some other records that predated M.O.P.’s “Ante Up,” despite party-minded themes. As the conversation about Stet progresses, Paul opens up about his turntablism skills, and the modest producer shows some ego about his cuts in the day. Quite notably, he admits that Daddy-O had to do some of the scratches many Heads thought were Paul’s, because his techniques were too advanced for a group who sometimes wanted him to simply imitate Jam Master Jay. “I was a kid in a room full of men,” he says, although he stated that it did deter him from asserting himself. Paul also adds that 1988’s “Talkin’ All That Jazz” was mainly aimed at James Mtume (who had spoken out against Stetsasonic’s sampling), though not at Paul’s decision.
(31:00) Moving into De La Soul, Paul admits how a high school teacher’s orchestration (not just any teacher) led him to producing for a L.I. artist named Gangsta B. When that was not a fit, he would retain some connections and move into developing De La. By 36:00, Paul makes a bold proclamation that may be lost on many Heads. “De La Soul Is Dead was looked at as a failure, even though The Source gave it 5 mics,” he says. Only gold, the 1991 album lived in the shadow of its 3 Feet predecessor. “Nowadays, people look at that and it’s great, but overall, ‘ehhh.'” Expounding on his third and final album with De La, 1993’s Buhloone Mindstate, Paul says something that echoes. As the three members of the group were increasingly popular, paid, and starting families, they moved away, making recording and living as a unit more difficult. Paul surmises, “Everybody changed, and I was the same stupid guy. And it kind of conflicted.” Presumably, there will be lots more De La Soul talk in upcoming part two.
(40:00) Paul really delves into his production style. Notably, Paul gives immense props to the musical theory and technicality of longtime partner, Don Newkirk. Shawn asks Paul about his production sensibilities, which seem to often serve as a Rick Rubin-like adviser to records more so than “beat-maker,” as Paul points. In this interview, Paul reveals that he was not given credit for a Grammy Award-winning album. After Prince Paul worked extensively on Chris Rock’s 1997 LP, Roll With The New and 1999 follow-up Bigger And Blacker, Rock and Paul did in fact work on 2005’s return, Never Scared. Quite notably, Dreamworks/Geffen Records gave the veteran an executive producer credit. However, when the album (which featured Lil Jon) released, those credits were missing. “Oh we’ll correct it on the next batch,” Paul remembers record execs as saying—”you know there ain’t gon’ be no next batch!” Laughing about it now, how many producers do you know that would keep that under their cap for a decade?
On the subject of production, Paul adds some strong insights surrounding the formation of Gravediggaz. “That might be my favorite record of all my records,” says the man known as The Undertaker in the realm, who in 1994, had stopped working with De La Soul, and had lost his Def Jam Records-backed imprint, Doo Doo Man Records. Paul reminds casual fans that at the time, RZA (RZArector) was in severe legal trouble and possibly on the run. Laughing, Paul won’t elaborate further. Gravediggaz member Poetic (the late Grym Reaper) was homeless at the time, while fellow Stetsasonic alum Frukwan (The Gatekeeper) was reportedly providing for himself by “makin’ clothes.” “We were all rejects,” says Paul, who maybe cynically, possibly sarcastically, adds, “My career was over anyway, to a certain extent. I just wanted to freak people out.” Paul had defied the judgement post-De La, and made a Top 40 album. Having produced elements of some of RZA’s Tommy Boy solo material, including 1991 single, “Ooh I Love You Rakeem,” Paul says critical history is revisionist surrounding the Wu-Tang Clan Abbott. “When he was strugglin’, there weren’t really people checkin’ for him.” Before revealing that a scratched Biz Markie record Paul “loaned” RZA would add a critical element to “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F’ Wit,” Paul is not above making an observation of his friend’s production. “The early stuff is a little more passioned than his [later] stuff.” Admitting that he admires all of RZA’s work, this is a powerful track-back to a 21 year-old album and oft-forgotten time in Rap music.
In closing out this more than one hour conversation, Paul says an interesting thing about Kanye West’s album progression. One producer salutes the other for making all his works attached to an album, and a particular thematic sound and style. Paul adds that he feels as though a playlist can be made of Jay Z material spanning all of his albums and sound as though it belongs together—an opinion that may or may not be agreed upon by Jigga Heads.
This interview, filled with detailed found footage, sound selections, and lots more is as compelling as any to understanding an often misunderstood musical legend.
As fans, readers, and listeners alike anticipate part two of this discussion, does Prince Paul deserve a place in the all-time Top 5 Hip-Hop producers list?