Pete Rock Discusses His Smoke DZA Collabo Album & Who Would Be In His Dream Band (Video)
Last Friday (December 2), Smoke DZA & Pete Rock released their first collaborative album, Don’t Smoke Rock. The Babygrande Records LP features Rick Ross, Royce 5’9″, Jadakiss, Mac Miller, Styles P, Big K.R.I.T., and Cam’ron (among others) on 13 brand-new Pete Rock productions. DZA, who has known Pete since he was a teenager, finds a new dimension in his lyricism, and the pair make a great case for bridging generations in Hip-Hop.
Speaking with Ambrosia For Heads, Pete Rock confirmed his enthusiasm for his first collaborative album in more than five years.”[I am] very excited about this project; Smoke [DZA] is a great, great artist. He reminds me of a guy with a ’70s soul. But we updated the sound to what everybody’s doing today. The mixture just is explosive.”
Although Pete and DZA have known one another for more than a decade, they began working together through one of radio’s most recognized voices. “It started from working on a Funkmaster Flex app. We did a song on there. We just talked, ’cause we hadn’t seen each other [for a while before that]. We used to hang out, back when he was much younger. We just said, ‘Hey, let’s do an album. Let’s follow-up with this right here.’ Flex really liked the song that we did for him.” Pete refers to DZA as a friend. After teaming for Flex, the pair dropped “Achieve,” the closing track to 2014’s Dream.Zone.Achieve. From there, they went right to work on Don’t Smoke Rock.
While DZA more than holds down the lyrics, aside from his signature background vocals, Pete briefly checks in on “1 of 1.” “I always said if I write rhymes like I make beats, you guys are in trouble out here,” teases the producer. “I admire Nas. He’s one of my favorite rappers. And all of Wu-Tang [Clan]; O.D.B. stands out for me, not to [downplay anybody else, such as Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, or Method Man, especially]. Shout out to GZA. Shout out to U-God.”
The admiration for Smoke DZA is more than apparent. Asked when he knows he wants to do an entire project with an artist, Pete simply states, “basically, if they’ll let me.” When he finds the necessary chemistry, P.R. admits it goes well beyond supplying a beat tape and recording. “Taking on a job like that, I know I’ll have to make every song different from each other. It’s all coming from one person [though], production-wise. I just want to be versatile in the music, and not just give people what they expect. [I will] give them something dope, but do it [my way].” Pete says his input begins with finding exceptional drum sounds and can often build to input on concepts and choruses. “I’m the beat-maker, and sometimes I’ll hear a hook in my head after making a dope beat. It’s really the feel of the music that [makes me know where it fits].” While DZA gets legendary support on this album, Pete also believes it delivers him to new ears, as well. “I feel how I can be relevant to his generation through his eyes, just [by] giving him beats that he feels.”
In recent years, Pete has diligently worked with a newer crop of artists, ranging from R&B sensation/actor Mack Wilds, to Torae.
While album guests are often used to market releases, for Pete Rock it is much deeper than that. The producer studied the list of names he and DZA established for who may fit on Don’t Smoke Rock. “I listened to their albums [and considered] ‘Oh, this is what they’re rapping to. This is what they’re actually making and putting out. I have to follow all of these guidelines, somehow some way—in a Pete Rock way, to where they can appreciate it even more.'”
Maybach Music Group honcho Rick Ross appears on “Black Superhero Car.” It marks the first time he has rapped on a P.R. beat. The pair met more than six years ago, both working on Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. “This guy Rick Ross…I met him in Hawaii, during a Kanye session. Such a cool dude. From then, we talked about music. I asked him about Smoke DZA. He was all for it. I gave him the beat. He heard the beat, and he actually sent it right back with the vocals on it. That blew us away. Me and Smoke was looking at each other like, ‘We got Rick Ross on a Pete Rock beat.’ It was crazy for us.” Pete later reveals that of all the features for Don’t Smoke Rock he was most surprised by the MMG boss. Pete also alludes to Nas being somebody who the pair hoped would appear on the LP. Questioned if his “The World Is Yours” collaborator may appear on a remix, P.R. says, “I hope so. ‘Nas, what up bruh? I need one of them golden verses from you.'” The producer also alludes to the fact that a remix to “Hold The Drums”—a song made by erasing the percussion from a track—will be in fact, drum-heavy.
Lyrically, the album celebrates New York City’s Uptown. Pete, a Mount Vernon native, has close ties to the same grids that inspire DZA’s sound. “I been hanging out in Harlem for years, since I was 13, 14 years old. I’ve grown to love that place. We used to either take the train or get in the whip and just drive. We used to hang out on 125th [Street]. It’s Black and it’s historical and we have a young generation there who loves great music.””
Also a DJ and avid record collector, Pete was asked to assemble his dream band. “It would be different band members from different [eras].” Getting specific, the producer opened his list with contemporary musicians. “It would be Questlove [and] Chris Dave.” In addition to his place in Robert Glasper Experiment, “Chris Dave and the Drumhedz” have worked with the likes of D’Angelo, Adele, and Mint Condition. This year, Dave provided percussion to Anderson .Paak’s Malibu LP. It would be some [other] Robert Glasper band members: [Casey] Benjamin, a guy who’s nice on the keyboard and Derrick Hodge the bass player. There’s so many great musicians.” Before the interview, Pete had mentioned Jazz legend and early Hip-Hop supporter Herbie Hancock. Pressed, he involved the icon. “Herbie [Hancock] is definitely, definitely one musician that I’d put in the Pete Rock pocket. If you want to talk about Hip-Hop bands, I’d say The Roots of course. Drumhedz? My man Chris “Daddy” Dave and them. Darryl Jones and his band [would be included, as well as] Rod Temperton, rest in peace.” Expanding his list to the deceased Pete immediately included James Brown, one of his biggest inspirations. In 2014, Pete made a James Brown mix that he shared with fans. Pete closed out his list with a few more icons. “These people aren’t [all] around, but I’m just telling you who it’d be. Barry White would be the conductor and arrangement. What would that sound like? James Brown, Barry, Pete Rock, Isaac [Hayes], The Roots, Herbie, all them. Maybe I’m a little out there with it, but give me time. I’ll think about more people.”
Last week, Pete confirmed a 2017 album with his most famous album partner. Of the first Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth project since 1994, the co-founder elaborates, “Shout out to C.L. Smooth. That’s gonna be the clincher, right there. That’ll be the one. That way, we just put our foot in the gravy and make that thing pop. I’m happy and excited that he still has his mojo.”
While Pete and C.L.’s third album is a 2017 topic, the producer makes a great case for his first non-instrumental project in more than five years. Of Don’t Smoke Rock, he says, “It’s something that you could pop in on a long driving trip and not worry about skipping over any songs. Unless you have an actual favorite song, then nothing else matters to you. It’s a really great traveling album. It’s an inspiring album; you can apply it to whatever it is you’re going through [in] life.” Touring will follow soon. “We’re gonna do great things with this.”
#BonusBeat: Smoke DZA x Pete Rock’s music video for “Limitless,” featuring Dave East:
Don’t Smoke Rock is available now.