Q & A with Prince Paul
Interview by Ben Allen
Prince Paul may be the easiest interview subject ever. In response to each question he went off on a long, articulate rant, full of quotable lines. I spoke with him the night before the release of his new instrumental record, cleverly entitled Itstrumental.
He seemed excited while discussing recording techniques, song structure and concept albums. Paul humorously informed me that he had reached a point in his career where he could “make stupid records,” meaning he no longer feels financial or artistic pressure from others.
In regards to rumors of retirement, Paul wanted to make it clear that he would not rest until he produced a record that will change hip-hop and impact our lives.
NadaMucho.com: How did the idea for Itstrumental arise?
Prince Paul: Well, Peter (Agoston) approached me with it. He was, like, “Ya know I’ve been doing these Instrumental records with Doom, Spinna,” so I said, I don’t know if that’s really my thing, I don’t know if I really make any instrumental songs that people would even care about. Then I thought about it, and was like”ya know I’ve never done that before so let me try, and if he (Peter Agoston) isn’t really expecting much (laughs) I should be able to rise to the occasion.” So, I went and found a bunch of old beats stemming from ’88.
NM: So most of the beats on the record were previously recorded?
PP: Yeah, it’s all old stuff. It ranges from ’88 to 2000. The exception is “Live @ 5” and “The Boston Top” which I did over at Newkirk’s house. Everything else is pretty old, an example being “El Ka Bong.” It was the first song I did on my ASR10 back in 1993.
NM: Tell us a little about your songwriting process and how you came up with the concept of the Mental Victims unit.
PP: Well, most of the tracks on the album are instrumental, but I based the concept around that to make it interesting. Ya know, I don’t make great instrumental beats like Pete Rock and all them guys. They’re like beatmaker guys, whereas I’m more of a producer guy. I’m more into arranging and trying to get something out of a song. So that’s what I’m trying to do with what I consider lackluster beats…make them interesting, throw some hooks and some cuts and that’s going to be my edge. I waned to have some kind of running theme, ’cause the beats are all over the place, there’s no real specific concept overall. But there is some kind of a theme, the album’s called “Itstrumental,” and there’s the Mental Victims Unit skits.
NM: Why did you decide to mix and master this album to analog?
PP: Well, I wanted to have a certain feel to it. I mixed the best of both worlds, using digital and analog. Especially with hip-hop albums these days, everything is so articulate and clear, it’s stale. I wanted it to feel a certain way, and you can only get that using analog. That’s why I went with the tape.
NM: Tell me about your relationship with Peter Agoston and why you decided to release this record on Female Fun.
PP: I think it all stemmed from doing interviews with him. We started discussing something about the politics of the business. He mentioned he had a label, and we have some mutual friends he’s worked with. So I told him, :Send me some stuff, so I can see what you’re doin’.” I kinda had all these beats laying around, and he was interested in putting it out, and I was even considering putting it out on my own, so I just said, “Let’s go for it.”
NM: Do you plan to tour to promote Itstrumental?
PP: If promoters will have me, I would love to go out. What I would really like to do is tour with this record, Psychoanalysis, and The Dix, all in one package. It would be a bizarre, people-scratching-their-head tour. People would be, like, “What is this?” (laughs).
NM: Some tracks on the album, such as “Live @ 5”, sound like a major departure from your previous work. Were you trying to explore other genres outside of hip-hop with this record?
PP: I like to push my own limits, see what I can and cannot do. A lot of producers and artists like to stay in a “comfort zone.” They don’t like challenging themselves ’cause they don’t want to lose what they got. You know, like, “This is outside my style of hip hop or outside my style of singing or rhyming.” For me, I think the beauty in whatever you do is to challenge yourself. That’s why I’ll make a comedy record, I’ll do Handsome Boy Modeling School (which is a little more alternative-sounding), I’ll do Da Gravediggaz. Maybe it’s just a phase I’m going through, but lately I’ve just been into kinda bizarre stuff, get people saying “what the…?” (laughs)
NM: Is there any truth to the rumors that this may be the last album of your career? I’ve heard that you’re more interested in pursuing television and radio projects…
PP: No, no, this won’t be my last recording. I haven’t yet made my best record. That’s kind of what keeps me moving, like, “This record is O.K., but I know it’s not my best.” So ultimately I’m searching for that one record. But I think I am going to retire from making Prince Paul records; I don’t think I’m going to do that too much more. Whatever last one I make, I want it to make an impact. Something where when people look back on hip-hop history, they’ll say, “Woah that was crazy!” I want to make something people are passionate about, either you hate it or love it. I want people to smash it on the floor, or play it fifty times in row. I want to have an impact on your life…if it’s not like that, then why are you making records?