Pete Rock: “James Brown Gave Me Soul Power When I Shook His Hand”

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    As part of our ongoing Black Music Month coverage legendary Producer and DJ Pete Rock to a break from recording with Camp Lo and Roy Ayers to  share with TheUrbandaily what exactly Black Music means to him.

    As Told To Jerry L. Barrow

    Black music to Pete Rock is like steak to a hungry lion. It’s so soulful and soothing to the human body. People don’t even realize that music can heal. Music is like medicine, bro. And what I grew up off of , soul wise, jazz wise, I range from Teddy Pendergrass, Barry White, Isaac Hayes, James Brown, all the way down to Coltrane, Miles Davis, James Baldwin, Thelonious [Monk], I go deep. Reggae influences — Ken Lazarus, John Holt, Gregory Isaacs, rest in peace, Sugar Minott, rest in peace, Super Cat — all these people made a huge impact on me. The types of music I’m talking about, from reggae to soul to jazz, those were the three main elements that had Pete Rock going as a kid. My pops listened to classical as well, but I no had clue of classical until I got older and was digging for records and found samples and learned about classical stuff like that.

    Black music is so important to me. It actually defines who I am today. It made me who I am today. And to me, that says a lot about black music; it says a lot when you see white people singing soul music, when you see white people diggin’ on our culture. We as a people are so influential to everyone. And I learned this from going all over the world, from Japan to Australia, and I see how people love our culture more than we love it. And it’s a sad thing, but at the same time, it’s like okay. Retired musicians or people that still do music who have passion and love for it can come out here and make a living and be okay. Because the people from like Germany, London, and Paris, they love it! Ukraine. They love Hip-Hop; they love black music. They love the soul, they love the funk, they love the jazz, they love the reggae — they love it. And to me, black music is like … I’m trying to find another word for strong … it carries so much strength, and it’s so influential that you can’t really deny it. And it’s all around you whether you like it or not.

    When I met James Brown at seven years old, I think he passed along something to me when I shook his hand. I look at that today, and I say, “Damn, I think James Brown gave me a piece of his [soul] power.” He came to Mount Vernon and he did a concert with Bobby Bird and The JBS in my hood at a spot called the Left Bank. And I’m telling you I’ve never seen Mount Vernon so poppin’ in my entire life! It was always poppin’–don’t get it twisted–because we used to do little parties in the hood and stuff like that and everybody would come out. But James Brown — I mean I was seven years old, me and my brother Grap, and we walked in the joint and my mother talked to one of James’ bodyguards or managers or something and was asking him, “Yo, can my kids meet James?” And the next thing you know, he came up behind us and I shook his hand and he was like, “God bless you man, God bless you.” And he shook my mother’s hand and he shook my brother’s hand. And it left something with me. This was before he got on stage. He shook our hands and then we watched the show. And I left that place not the same. So you see how strong black music can be. It had a heavy impact on me in my life.

    Jazz…We Got…

    I think that jazz music is more of an expression music. But certain band members or players would express themselves by playing the instrument they love and made beautiful music with that. Jazz was very important because it was connected someway to soul but had another style. It was more difficult than soul. Soul music was easily defined. But jazz, you really had to get into it and really feel these players. Because they’re expressing themselves in a way where I feel is how they lived their everyday life; it was messaged in the music. Jazz was very important. My dad taught me about it, taught me about John Coltrane and who Miles Davis was. He had the records. And I used to go through the albums and I remember certain album covers as a kid — now, when I see those same album covers, I get these flashbacks easily like, “Damn, I remember what I was doing at this point. I remember this cover.” Like Harry Belafonte albums — my pops had everybody. And he just played jazz albums everyday. And you do that and your kids around, it’s going to do something good. It’s going to influence the kids somehow. And somehow the music sticks with you, and there are certain records that I remember my dad playing that I’m still trying to find today.

    There’s this one 45 that I remember the music, but can’t remember the artist. I remember the label it was on — Kapp Records. And it was just one of those things that stuck in my head. I’m just letting you know what jazz music did to me as kid; it just stuck with me as I grew up. And my older brother was into fusion jazz. He used to listen to Bluefoot and Weather Report. And then I started learning about that, and I liked the fusion jazz. And one of my favorite jazz albums was Miles Davis’ — I actually have two — Water Babies and Bitches Brew. Two of his claim to fame albums that people remember. And the Tutu album as well — Soul Survivor II is like a remixed version. If you look at my cover and look at his cover, you’ll see what I did. I tried to do it just like him. And I did that just because of the influence of his music and just how much it meant to me as a kid.

    Dutty Wine…

    Reggae music was a big influence on my family, because we’re Jamaican. And that’s all we listen to. Everyday. Every single day of my life there was not one time my father wasn’t coming home from work and gettin’ it in with the reggae music. So I was pretty intrigued by that as a kid and learning about the artists, of course; that became really easy to me because that was the first music that I learned before jazz. As I got older and it got more popular, reggae wasn’t as popular a music as soul or jazz or R&B, because you had the reggae artists re-doing the American music. They had weight though — they would do it in the reggae style, and that’s how they broke into the market in America. Now everyone here loves reggae.

    And I’m just glad that I was taught the way I was taught, I’m glad I learned what I learned. I used to just hang out in record shops with my pops. I had Jamaican uncles who had record stores. I was born into this, bro. Yeah, I was born to do this. That all became influential in creating Hip-Hop music — it takes various other things to create one great thing. And to me, soul and jazz and all that stuff was just influential to black people to create Hip-Hop music. Because we used that music, and we took the break beats from it and made Hip-Hop. Kool Herc was a great man for coming from Jamaica and introducing the sound of reggae music to Hip-Hop. And the band members and how they would play deep bass and heavy drums, and reggae was all about that. The heavy bass, the heavy drums, the guitar licks, and Kool Herc introduced it to Hip-Hop and showed people, “Hey look, if we can continue to loop this part of the record where there’s just the drum beat…” That’s how Hip-Hop was born.

    And then you had cats like Grand Wizzard Theodore who invented scratching. And then you have Grandmaster Flash, who’s one of the key members in Hip-Hop who was one of the forefront guys along with EST, and then you had Cold Crush, Charlie Chase…And that’s why I always will big up Kool Herc and Bambaataa — that’s my school; that’s where I learned about Hip-Hop, through those guys. It’s real heavy man, real heavy.

    In 2011 Black Music is as big as ever; it’s as big as it wants to be. Black music is still strong, but it just lacks originality now with these new guys following each other and doing the same thing and not being different from one another. One hot record comes on the radio, and then all of them are doing the same type of beat. That’s the only thing I can say I have a problem with [in] today’s black music. But other than that, I love to see my people doing what we do best, which is entertain, which is show talent and so forth. I have nothing against anybody, and I would work with anybody who wants to work with me at this point. To me, I think it’s still as strong as it was in the 70s, but it’s not as original as it was back then. That’s all I look for is the originality, and all this new stuff that I’m doing, coming out with, shows versatility and originality.

    Pete Rock’s album with Smiff-N-Wessun, Monumental will be in stores June 28th

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