DJ Prince Paul is one of my all-time favourite producers! Over the years his production and music has brought me joy that can not be measured. I love how all of his projects – Stetsasonic, De La Soul, Gravediggaz, Handsome Boy Modeling School as well as collabs with Boogie Down Productions, MC Lyte, 3rd Bass, Big Daddy Kane, Queen Latifah & more – are unique and have provided an essential soundtrack for my life–latest project Brookzill is no different! Featuring Paul, Ladybug Mecca (Digable Planets), Rodrigo Brandão aka Gorila Urbano, and long-time collaborator and friend, Don Newkirk, they put ‘the heart of Brooklyn and the soul of Brazil’ together to create something truly exciting, positive and uplifting–just what’s needed in these crazy, crazy times! It was such a pleasure talking with Paul and getting an insight into what he does and hear about Brookzill. To find out more read on…
Why is music important to you?
PRINCE PAUL: Wow! Why is music important to me? I feel it’s important to me because it is the soundtrack to my life. When times are bad, it reflected maybe how I felt at the time and made me feel better; when times were great, it represented what I was feeling at the time too. More so, making music, it allows me to express myself in ways that I probably couldn’t in the real world. When I was going through some dark moments, the Gravediggaz came about; when I was feeling rebellious in my Stetsasonic times, De La [Soul] came about. It’s a good creative outlet for me. Other than that, it expresses what my moods are. It’s a timeline too. When you go back and you’re like, man, that record was really popular or I remember this song from when I failed that maths test in high school [laughs]… or it’s maybe like, I met this girl at prom and we were partying and a certain song was playing, in that regard music is great.
Definitely, I feel that way too about music. I was watching your Musician Impossible series, where you travel around the US with your friends – Mr. Dead and Soce – taking in different music, meeting other musicians in a quest for inspiration. The one thing you said at the beginning of every episode is: I just want to feel good about music again. How did you come to a place of not feel so good about music?
PP: I think it got to a point that, part of it was industry related. Being a producer and dealing with the music business, you have a tendency to analyse things a little more than just what it is. For example, if you hear a record on the radio these days you’re like, oh they’re only playing that record because homeboy’s a friend of the DJ and there’s a hook on deal, and he’s rhyming about nothing because the label made him do it. Or like, oh man, that’s the same drum machines… you pick apart music differently after a while. In my opinion, there wasn’t too much good new stuff coming out, so I had to go backwards, I had to expand my scope of what I was listening to. That was part of the reason I did that project with Scion, it gave me the ability to go outside of what I probably listen to, or what I’m exposed to. It gave me a chance to appreciate other types of music too.
What appealed to you about working on this new project, Brookzill?
PP: The good thing is, a good friend of mine, Rodrigo Brandão, who is in the group… I met him almost ten years ago on my first trip to Brazil through a mutual friend named, Scotty Hard – he was my engineer for De La Soul Is Dead, 6ft Deep by the Gravediggaz, the first Handsome Boy album, a bunch of stuff – we all went out there to DJ and do some shows, me and Rodrigo got talking. When I was in São Paulo, I realised when I met the people, that there is a different type of appreciation for music. It wasn’t really about what the music looked like, ‘cause now days it’s like, oh I like this song but what does it look like? Where’s the video? What’s the person wearing? Who do they know?—it’s nothing about the actual music. When I went there it was strictly about the music! You could have a ‘white label’ [record] and if it was funky, people liked it. That made me feel good about music, at least experimenting with music. Talking to Rodrigo, he’s an established artist in Brazil, I was like, hey, let’s sit down and think about making an album together. This album has been literally ten years in the making, from conception to it finally being released in October, it’s been a minute!
I love when things take time and they form organically, I think things come out better that way rather than trying to force it.
PP: I totally agree. During that time we were able to create a good bond and a good friendship—that translates in the music as well. It wasn’t like, oh I like what he does, he likes what I do, so let’s make music; it actually brought us a real closeness and a bond, that’s in addition to the other members too with Mecca and Newkirk—it translates in the music. It was very organic, it seems like it was what the universe called for.
Absolutely with all the craziness going on, it’s nice to see something positive, fun and feel good. It’s exciting!
PP: Yeah, I’m excited! It’s different. I guess you could classify it under world music or hip-hop, or Brazilian music, however you want to see it. It’s something I’ve never heard before so that makes it really exciting. Either people will gravitate to it and think it’s probably the greatest thing ever or, like most of my music, they’ll think it’s the worst thing they’ve ever heard [laughs]. I don’t think they’ll be a middle ground with people thinking, oh it’s all right. It’ll be, oh this is horrible! Or, this is the best record since sliced bread [laughs].
You’ve said in the past that music is emotion to you, that it evokes emotions and makes you feel; when you listen to Brookzill’s forth coming debut record, Throw Back To The Future, what does it make you feel?
PP: Man, that’s a very good question. It gives me a sense of calm. The music is very melodic and very soulful, not in the meaning of soul music like RnB, but more that it hits you. You can close your eyes and vibe out to it, it’s very easy to listen to. Some records, especially albums, you listen to them and you start skipping past songs, you’re like, aaah! I can’t listen to this, I gotta get passed this one… oh and this one too, I gotta get passed it! [laughs]. With the mixtapes we put out, it’s really easy to listen to. As the volumes go on to the second and third, it gets even better. The thing with this album is, that when you hear it, there’s a familiarity but it’s not familiar because you haven’t heard it before, it just strikes you. That’s what I like about it, that’s what it brings out for me.
I was actually listening to Mixtape 1 [Rodrigo Mix] while I was making dinner last night, a Brazilian-style stew, it inspired my meal choice…
PP: [Laughs] well I hope that stew was good! If it was nasty you might think badly of the record.
[Laughs] Nah, I’m a good cook, so it was good! As you mentioned you’re releasing three mixtapes in the lead up to your record release in October, each are inspired by your bandmates; how did you draw inspiration for each of them? Did you take from their personality, their musicianship, their style?
PP: All of the above, everything you just mentioned, and with the help of Rodrigo; his familiarity with Brazilian music, it really helped me choose the songs. It’s like, you know it will work with a female influence, this reminds me of Mecca, let’s do that. I filtered through all the songs that he had and said, ok, we’ll use this one and this one and this one, put a little order to it… and it really, really worked. The first one is good but like I said, it really does get better, that’s why I’m really excited. People are like, that’s cool, and I’m like you have no idea! …and leading into the record, you really have no idea! I really am excited.
I’m so happy that you’re excited to be making music again, your excitement is infectious. Fun, excitement and trying new things and the learning process is one of the best parts of life, for me anyway.
PP: Yeah, the trying new things, has always been a part of my production. I think artists and producers in general get stuck in a comfort zone, and they’re cool with that, that’s cool for them if they want to have a certain sound and repeat it and that makes the money, but for me, the excitement is the learning process. Whatever I’m feeling at the time might not be what I felt in 1996 or 2000, I’m in a different place. This [Brookzill] represents what I’m feeling at the moment. It still has my signature touch to it… it’s because it’s you; I think that’s what music and art is about. Like, you don’t see Picasso, even though a lot of pieces has his signature look and certain time period, the frame, but it’s different yet has that signature look, that’s how I want to do my music, the same way. This is what I’m feeling at the time, and it’s dangerous, because everyone wants to be liked, I always run the risk of not being liked [laughs]. It’s something that I haven’t heard before, that goes for De La, Gravediggaz, Handsome Boy… [albums] Psychoanalysis and Prince Among Thieves—they all ran the risk of not being liked. I just roll with it and see what’s happens.
I know that you really like a challenge when it comes to the music you make; what were the challenges for you making this record?
PP: One of the challenges was distance – Rodrigo is from São Paulo, Mecca lives in Connecticut, which really isn’t that far from New York, and Newkirk lives in Atlanta – the travelling and recording the record. A lot of times, especially now days, people will go, yo, I got this beat, I’m gonna send it to you, you put the lyrics on and send it back; we didn’t’ do that. It was recorded with us together, that gives a certain vibe to the album. It helps one critique with production and helps give one some kind of coaching; you’ll get a cool sign if you’re doing something good like, yeah! Do that! You don’t get that when you just hand off music through the internet. There was challenge in going from place to place to place. We recorded in São Paulo, Atlanta, out here in New York, it was mixed in Brooklyn, some was recorded at a spot called the Coffee Shop in Long Island—that was probably one of the main things to get beyond [laughs], but we did it! It’s another reason why the album took a while as well, we wanted to make sure we recorded together as a band.
What’s one of your favourite memories from those sessions?
PP: Man, I can’t pinpoint one specific thing because it was all a good process. I’m around really good people, that helps a lot. As soon as someone records something, whether it be a lyric or Newkirk playing keys or when I’m adding something, it’d be just everyone’s eyes lighting up and going, oh my god! That’s crazy! [laughs]. We recorded a lot of live Brazilian musicians when we went to São Paulo too, you have a horn player, guitarist, a percussionist with percussion I’ve never seen before, and when they add something to the track and you go, oh my god! Yo! That’s incredible! Sometimes people will hear things that you don’t’ hear, when they add something to the thing that you created that you had no idea it would work, that’s exciting! The whole process of recording the album was like, whoa! Whoa! WHOA! Ohhhhh! [laughs]. Honestly I can’t even think of one thing that anyone did and I was like, Yo! That’s wack! Yooou really gotta go back and rethink that, actually as a matter of fact, rethink your life and then come back in five years [laughs], it wasn’t that bad. It was pretty easy and very vibe-y.
Awesome! Can you tell me something you learnt from each of your bandmates?
PP: From Rodrigo, one thing I really learned from him was Brazilian music and culture; visiting is one thing back actually visiting with them, their home and eating with them and learning the music, it gives you a deep appreciation. Like when we were talking about Musician Impossible, it gave me a spark, which is what I needed.
As far as Newkirk, I’ve known him since I was 14. We had a group together back in Junior High School called, The Soul Brothers. He was the voice on 3 Feet High And Rising, the announcer voice on the end; Gas Face; got him a [The Dix] deal with Def Jam—he’s my friend ‘til the end!
Mecca, we worked on the Dino 5 record [a concept hip-hop album for children], her voice to me, is freakin’ incredible. One thing I definitely learnt from her was a sense of calmness. She has a good sensibility in like, well maybe we can… ok. Don’t get me wrong, she can get feisty at times [laughs], she’s human, but she does bring a sense of calm and, oh maybe we could do this it may turn out right… and you’re like ok. It’s nice how the energy is in the group together. We all respect each other, that helps. I’ve definitely picked a good crew.
Can you tell me about some of the tracks on, Throw Back To The Future? So far, I know there’s one called ‘Macumba 3000’ and another ‘Raise The Flag’.
PP: Macumba, is a bit like a Brazilian-African type of chant, which is… man, you know what’s hard about these records? It’s so freakin’ hard to explain because I can’t compare it to other stuff. I can’t be like, hey, have you heard Lil’ Wayne’s blah blah blah, and you go yeah, and I’m like, well throw some tambourine on it and that’s my song [laughs]. If I struggle explaining, it’s because of that. It’s real tribal. Raise the Flag, is actually the last song that we recorded on the album, it explains the group—putting the heart of Brooklyn and the soul of Brazil together. The flag represents what we stand for, it’s like our country, Brazil, we’re combining the two together and the philosophies of us as a band. That’s important because it ties everything together. Oh man it’s so freakin’ hard to explain, it’s so ill! [laughs]. I don’t want people to expect any other work that I’ve done before, that’s what makes it hard to explain too. Is it like, 3 Feet And Rising? No; is it like this or that? No; how is it like you? It’s just different, it’s creative. The music on the album is very melodic, very rhythmic, a lot of percussion, a lot of it is mixed with Portuguese and English. My Portuguese is really bad, even after making the record. I can say that I can’t navigate Portuguese very well, but I’ll learn. It’s pretty scary for me, but it’s exciting too, because I really don’t know what people are going to think. We could classify it almost as world music.
I love world music. It’s cool that there’s rapping in Portuguese on the record. I often listen to songs in other languages and even though I might not know the language their singing or rapping in, I feel like I can still understand or know what they’re saying or getting at because of the vibe, there’s an emotion and mood.
PP: Yeah, and that to me was important. I think it’s good for me in a way not speaking Portuguese, because I go by rhythms and feels… You know, like a lot of Japanese artists and rappers, and music in other countries, if you talk about Americans they can get especially snooty like, oh my god, I don’t understand it so they just dismiss it so, the first thing I wanted to do was make sure that even if you don’t understand what the lyrics are, that the tone and the melody of the lyrics gets you. There’s a lot of rappers that rap now and you’re like, what is he saying? [laughs]. American rappers, oh my god, it’s like [mumbles gibberish; laughs], and people still like it, so, you know… and that’s using bad English. Even though it’s in Portuguese, I try to make sure, like you said, it has a vibe. After a while, you’re going to be starting to speak some really bad Portuguese because you’re going to start rhyming to it [laughs]. It’s catchy!
I remember seeing an old interview with you once where someone asked you, what is hip-hop to you? You replied that, in the beginning it was fun, adventurous and a big question mark. I get a sense that, that’s what Brookzill is for you now, all those things you felt when you started making music; what do you think?
PP: Yes! Going to Brazil, was like me going back to when I was a kid. That made me feel good because everybody was having fun, all the parties and things I went to, the focus was on the music—it was refreshing. I reminded me of my youth. I was having fun! It actually spawned off some other projects that I have coming out too! SuperBlack, which is with J-Zone and Sacha Jenkins, that will come out sometime next year on Mass Appeal. There’s also a solo record that will be coming out too that I’ve been working on over the spring and summer. I’m so excited I’m making music again, I haven’t been making music in a while, by choice. You’re right, I’m kind of getting that vibe again. A lot of it too, is not caring. I think when you sit down and try to take everybody’s feelings… like what everyone is listening to, into consideration, it kind of prevents you from being creative. I just went by, if I like it, I like it; if they don’t like it, they don’t like it. What else can I do?
That’s right. I take the same approach with the work I do. I get people wanting to advertise on my site or artists or their management and labels offer me money to feature them, but I decline. I chat with who I want to, I have to dig their work and believe in what they’re doing and care about them—that’s it. I don’t need to talk to the artists and bands that everyone else is or because they’re famous or whatever, I’m not interested by those things, I’m interested in the work and sharing stuff I think is awesome with people.
PP: And that’s what makes what you do great and that’s why people want to be a part of it. You’re right, once you do that, that’s when everything changes! [laughs].
It is, and that’s when you’ll find a greater happiness. I wanted to ask you about someone else that you’ve worked with, Bernie Worrell [Parliament-Funkadelic, Talking Heads, Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains…].
PP: Oh yeah Bernie, god bless his soul.
What are some things you learnt from working with him?
PP: Oh man! What didn’t I learn from him! I had dialogue with him way beyond before we even did the record [Baby Elephant] together, we made that record in 2006-2007. It right before my mom passed, that was almost ten years ago, and I told him I wanted to make a record with him. People always recognise George Clinton, he’s a genius, I’ve met him, he’s great but, Bernie was really the guy that was the pulse of that band, you know what I’m saying? [laughs].
PP: I finally got an opportunity to work with him. To me, it had nothing to do with money, it had nothing to do with anything else at all except, yo, I’m going to go to school. I’m going to sit down with a person who shaped my childhood. I can say that if it wasn’t for Parliament Funkadelic, it wouldn’t have expanded my mind to be as creatively as I was musically. I’ve applied that to De La Soul and everything else that I’ve done… Parliament-Funkadelic completely! Even though I didn’t try to sound like them but, the ideology and the philosophies of how they made stuff is what I adapted my music to. Being able to sit down with him, I was just like, yo! This is a chance to be able to check out my past [laughs]. I was like, so how did you do this? Then what did you do? I asked him tons of questions like, how did you record stuff? How did you do this certain record? The thing about Bernie, he’s so cool and so humble, and I’m there so excited! He’s like, we just pressed record, I played blah blah blah… he’s very matter of factual. I’m thinking there’s some big secret to everything! Like, what about this reverb? He’s like nah man, we played in a bathroom, I did one thing, and then I had a sandwich [laughs]. All the excitement of all the stuff I had in my head as a child, all the stuff I fantasied about and romanticised way more than it was. What I did learn from him is, just do what you do and keep it simple—he did what he felt. His ear is incredible because he had perfect pitch, I’d just have no clue [laughs] so I’d sit there and just watch. Even though I couldn’t hear some things that he could hear, I think I’m pretty good at it as a producer, I would just sit in awe and try to figure out, ok, that’s what he means and he’s doing that because of that. A lot of learning from Bernie, you’ll actually hear on this Brookzill record.
It’s funny that you mention Bernie Worrell because Newkirk was actually there working with me on that album. You can hear a lot of Bernie influence [laughs]. There’s a lot of Bernie on this record, those keys! I hear it, it’s like wow! It’s like Bernie. He’s such a great guy.
Awww, when you were describing everything to me just now, it’s made me teary.
PP: Yeah man. I think the most beautiful thing about Bernie is that he’s so freakin’ humble! I like to keep myself humble and thankful, I always feel I have been but, he just took it to another level! Even with all the accolades, achievements and things that he’s done – he changed the face of music! Everything with Bernie was real simple, I like that about him.
At this point, what are the things that are important to you?
PP: In life in general or musically?
Both, they’re interconnected, aren’t they?
PP: Yes, good point. To be happy! When I was younger, especially starting early in the music business and having early success, I’m talking production success, not Stesasonic but, 3 Feet High And Rising, every part of my career producing-wise was like gold record, gold record, platinum record, gold record. There was so much stress trying to repeat that, because a lot of people look at you and expect a lot from you. If the people expected a lot, then I expect a lot from myself at some point. Like, I can do this, I can make this better than that—it was a lot of stress, a lot of undue stress. I’d sit around like, oh I’m gonna make this and do this beat, oh man I gotta hand this to the label… As I’m older now, I realise that the fame, success and money really doesn’t equate to happiness. I was very uneasy in my youth, I made a lot more money than I do now [laughs]. Looking back, it’s not about the fame or likes or how far I could push myself, it’s about having a peace of mind, to me that’s what’s important. With that, comes your family, making sure they’re happy and that their needs are met. Enjoying life! Life is serious at times but, it’s not that serious! People really stress over things that don’t need to be stressed over, you’re wasting your energy. Since my mom passed and with my brother passing, close together, it taught me that. There’s more to life than a lot of stupid stuff. Like, oh my god, I only got three likes on Instagram, oh no! [laughs].
I was at a festival on the weekend and I was on my way out the gate home and this young dude came up and started going on about how the night was THE worst night of his whole life ever! I was like, oh no! Are you ok? He said he’d lost his phone then got it back but there was only one bar of battery left and now he was on the way to meet up with his friends at a pre-designated spot they had organised. I thought to myself, wow! If that’s the worst night of your life, I’d hate to see how you react when something truly terrible happens. Like, if that’s the worst night of your life, you’re a very, very lucky person.
PP: [Laughs] He was probably like, oh my god! I want to throw myself off the first bridge!
Yeah, totally that vibe, really dramatic.
PP: You know what, maybe it’s something that comes with age, you put things into a better perspective. Maybe that’s part of the case. When you look at life in general and all the things that you really worry about, they tend to kind of work out in the end anyway. I think things will kind of work out if you do the right thing and you put your energies in the right places. It took me all of this time to work out that things do work out, even when things seem dark. You look back on those things and they turn out to be blessings in the long run. You’re like, maybe it was good that, that happened, because as a result of that, I’m here. There’s a certain calmness—that’s what’s important to me now. That’s what actually helped me make these records, you’re right, music and life is hand-in-hand. Once I stopped stressing and worrying about outside things and got more into my own headspace, everything just worked it’s self out.
I really am so happy to hear that. I am SO excited for the mixtapes and album!
PP: Man, now my stress is, I hope it don’t disappoint! [laughs]. Now you putting pressure on me.
Nah, don’t stress. I’m excited for the fact it is something different. I’ve always loved how all your projects have been different from the last. Even though you have told me a little about what you’re doing, I still don’t totally know until I listen to it for myself. I like to make my own mind up about music, I’m not easily influenced by the opinions of others. Often what is popular and a majority of people like, to me isn’t necessarily good, in my observations I find people sometimes tend to just like something or get into something because everyone else, their friends or whatever, is into it.
PP: See that’s good! That makes you a strong-willed and strong-minded person which there’s not too many of, especially now days, where people like to be led and thought for. It’s nice to find other people like that. Hopefully when the album is out, you like it, I’d appreciate your opinion even more because, you think on your own. At some point, let me know what you think, even if it’s bad! Even if you think, like you were saying with homeboy that lost his phone, oh it’s the worst experience of my life, tell me.
I will. I’d rather tell someone the truth of what I think, if I’m not digging it, than say it’s awesome when I don’t believe it, just to not hurt their feelings. That said, at the end of the day it’s one person’s opinion that can be influenced by all kinds of things, my mood, what happened in my day etc. Moby invited me to one of his shows once when he was in my town, afterwards I was backstage with him and he asked me what I thought of the show. While I loved some parts, there were other parts that I wasn’t diggin’… when he asked for my opinion, I looked at him and there was an awkward silence as he was waiting for my answer, in my mind I was thinking, do I tell him the truth or do I just say it was amazing like everyone else was telling him. When I looked at him, in the eyes, I made the choice to just be totally honest. He thought for a second when I told him I thought parts weren’t so great and then he pretty much left for his hotel after that [laughs].
Yeah. A few days later I got a message from him expressing he was glad I was truthful. I thought he’d hate me forever [laughs].
PP: [Laughs] you gotta respect him for that, he’s someone who’s obviously concerned about his craft. You know what’s crazy?
PP: All artists really are sensitive, think about it—you’re putting yourself out there. Even the most gangsta rappers! You go, yo, man that verse is wack! And they’re like, I want to shoot you! [laughs], what do you mean that verse is wack?! When you think about it, that’s not really gangsta. If you’re gangsta and hardcore, little things like that shouldn’t bother you; their emotions get all outta sorts: I’m gonna shoot you if you don’t like my rap! [laughs]. It’s good he could rebound off of that. I’ve had people say that they don’t like my stuff. I rarely look at comments on the ‘Net ‘cause there’s a lot of trolls and people just want to hate to hate. Every once in a while I will though, and at first I’ll be like, what?!! [laughs]. Then I try to look at the basis for why they might have said those things, and I can be like, oh, ok, I can see that. I’ve seen really absurd stuff too like people commenting, yo! He didn’t even produce that, it’s Dan the Automator, it’s the RZA, and everyone else that’s around me that produced it… I’m like, where does this come from? [laughs]. Whatever.
Anything else you’d like to tell me?
PP: Yeah, the record comes out in October on Tommy Boy Records, it’s been a long time, I guess a minute [laughs], since I worked with them, I’m excited about it. I hope people give the record a chance, that’s the best thing you could do, just listen to it. You know how people can be, they listen to the first two seconds then it’s brrrrrrrep [fast-forward] to the next track, then, ok, next! Next! NEXT! …man that was wack! You know how it is [laughs].
Find out more about BROOKZILL here. LISTEN to Brookzill Mixtape 1 (Rodrigo Mix) here. FOLLOW their adventures on IG: @brookzillofficial & the Brookzill Facebook page + @donnewkirk + @gorilaurbano + @officialladybugmecca + @djprincepaul & check out @wearesuperblack
*Images courtesy of Brookzill, Ladybug Mecca & Don Newkirk’s IG + brookzill.com; mixed media collage by me.