Meet The Secret Weapon To Hits By Nas, Eric B. & Rakim & Main Source (Audio)
Anton Pukshansky is a name that likely appears in your music library—even if you don’t know it. Born in Russia, raised in New York City, the producer, engineer, bassist, and keyboardist would work on heralded albums including Nas’ Illmatic, Eric B. & Rakim’s Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em, Kool G Rap & DJ Polo’s Wanted: Dead Or Alive, and Organized Konfusion’s self-titled debut, among many others. While he is a lower profile figure in classic Hip-Hop of the 1980s and 1990s, Pukshansky’s details regarding his contributions are intricate and technical. The former Power Play Studios employee made decisions about songs that inherently affect the way Hip-Hop has sounded ever since.
The Cipher interviewed Anton for Episode #147. Host Shawn Setaro asked his would-be band-mate about the details of those critical Queens, New York sessions. Minutia ranging from a shrimp scampi-loving Kool G Rap, to Akinyele’s impressions on Steely Dan’s studio staff, to what Sir Scratch and K-Cut actually did for Main Source, it’s all there and deeply engaging.
Around the 22:00 mark, Anton speaks about Eric B. & Rakim’s third album. It was then that he met the man he would work with through much of his most celebrated Hip-Hop work. “[Large Professor and I met when he] was doing the beats for Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em. He was coming in, after high school, with half a crate of records—just a bunch of records under his arm, sitting under the [eMu SP-12000] and making that thing sing. I was fascinated, because I’d never seen anyone work a sampler with such artistry—and that’s what it was.” While Extra P showed Anton about sampling and why he favored the records he did, Anton showed the Flushing, Queens hopeful about mixing down tracks. “He was really curious about the sonic quality of things, so I started teaching him that.” A longtime fan of Classical, Rock & Roll, and Funk, Anton opened up his tastes as Large Pro showed the possibility in sample sources not considered. It is here that Shawn asks Anton how many songs Large Professor produced for the MCA Records LP, despite credit going to Eric B. & Rakim. “All of them. That’s something that I really don’t think gets talked about enough. As far as I know, every song on Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em is a Large Professor beat,” says Pukshanksy. “Those sessions were funny. First of all, by then, Eric and Rakim wouldn’t really be caught in the same room together. So a lot of times one of them would come in, and the other wouldn’t. Even more times, none of them would come in. A lot of times, it’d be 12 hours, me and [Large Professor] sitting around, talking music, making beats, talking music, making beats, listening to records. I’d be learning the 1200; he’d be learning the SSL [board]. Those guys would just book months at a time and not show up.”
Eric B. & Rakim would record one more album, 1992’s Don’t Sweat The Technique. Recently, Eric B. told Combat Jack that this time caused division between he and his band-mate since the mid-1980s. Specifically, Eric blamed Large Professor by name.
According to Anton, the DJ/producer and MC/producer’s absence from Power Play gave way to other gems. “A lot of [Kool G Rap & DJ Polo] was made on that [studio] time. Not all, but some of Wanted: Dead Or Alive was made on Eric’s time. [Main Source’s] Breaking Atoms was started on Eric’s time.” The engineer also remembers working with then Eric B-protege Kid Flash. He recalls Rakim nailing many of his verses in one or two takes, which freed up even more session time. “There was almost no producer, ever, at that time. Technically, Eric B was the producer. But he would never be there when Rakim was there. So at first, I was just taking direction. But as time went on and I got more confident and knowledgeable, I started making suggestions. It kind of became this organic back-and-forth process. I wouldn’t call myself a producer on those sessions by any stretch of the imagination. But I also wouldn’t call myself just an engineer; I was somewhere in between.” Anton also explains how, at Eric B.’s last-minute request, Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em was mixed in its entirety, in less than 24 hours.
Having worked with Nas, Pharoahe Monch, O.C., Prodigy, Evidence and others, Anton is asked about his starting Hip-Hop engineering with such esteemed MC talent. In 2016, he lists his GOATs as the two men he started recording. “To me, it’s #1 and #2: Rakim and G Rap.”
Near the 46:00 mark, Anton Pukshanksy opens up about the earliest Nasir Jones recordings. Nas would emerge around 1990, near some of those same vacant Eric B. & Rakim studio sessions. “Actually, the first I worked with [Nas] was his demo. I can’t really remember the names of the songs, but they were all Large Professor beats, and they were all Nas rhymes.” Presumably, Anton is alluding to songs that would not make Illmatic, of which he worked on three, alongside Large Pro. “I think we did three songs and mixed them and put them to DAT, and that was that; nothing happened. Then ‘Live At The BBQ’—which was pretty much at the tail end of the Main Source album—of Breaking Atoms.” Pukshansky recalls an overnight session for the Main Source posse cut—and a proud Nas in the early hours of the morning. He praises the fast, tight work of Nas and Akinyele—and third guest Joe Fatal writing his verse on the spot.
Later in the interview, Anton explains connecting with Nas again in the 2010s. He describes DJ Rob Swift’s greatness behind the turntable, and just how much impact he had on the 1991 Organized Konfusion LP. There is also discussion surrounding Anton’s bands, his work with other artists, ranging from Funkdoobiest to Santana to G. Love & Special Sauce.
For lovers of sound, technicality, and behind-the-scenes stories, this Cipher episode is not to be missed.