Both 2001’s Vocal Studies and Uprock Narratives and 2003’s One Word Extinguisher have become classic lessons in instrumental beat making. With the highly anticipated Surrounded by Silence (Warp Records) just released, the versatile Scott Herren (a.k.a. Prefuse 73) opened his studio doors to a variety of collaborators. XLR8R took a moment with him to discuss gear, sampling, and how to cooperate with fellow musicians.
If you could have a robot to do the bullshit work in your studio, what would you have them do?
Good question. The hardest part for me is actually finding all these vinyl things that match. Once you get a track going, it’s a lot more fun. The shit work is chopping the samples perfect, but I don’t really chop samples perfect. The way I chop samples is kind of careless; I don’t try to match bpms and shit.
Are you still using the Akai MPC and Pro Tools setup?
Yeah, and that new Moog Voyager. When I make Prefuse beats I generally stay away from playing; that’s not my steeze. I like to work on samples. I like digging without the pretentious aspect of it. I don’t give a fuck. I don’t care where they came from, I don’t care how rare they are–I’ll find a way to make it sound like you haven’t heard it before. It’s an art form in itself, and sample laws…that don’t mean shit to me; like suing and shelving a record, I really couldn’t give a fuck. If you’re going to be a complete dumb fuck and take Michael Jackson and loop the entire fucking song, that’s some shit. But if you’re going to chop your shit somehow, or find a small loop, you’re not doing anything, and I think as far as the original artist is concerned, that’s just out of respect.
How do you divide the responsibilities when you collaborate with another producer like Nobody or Dante Carfagna?
Surprisingly, Dante I don’t even know; Turntable Lab hooked that up. He did what I thought was an amazing remix on that Piano Overlord EP that they put out. I was like, “Damn, how did this kid sample just a little bit, and make it so beautiful?” He burned me; it was great. I’m a fan of his music for sure. That’s the perfect example of what I’m saying; his record (Express Rising on Memphix Records) would be hard to make without samples. As far as Nobody is concerned, that’s just more like drunken interaction. That’s some whole different shit, that’s like me and him getting crunk. That’s fun.
How is it different with someone like Ghostface or El-P as opposed to a producer?
If you’re working with an MC, that’s like “Yeah man, keep it like this. Keep it on some B-boy shit or some love shit.” You just explain and get the point across with what you want to do with the song. That’s the main difference; you’re not getting so into it. With that song [“HideYa Face”], it’s a little different because El-P like went out of his way and did his own version of the track too, so that was fresh.
Do you like working alone or with others?
I get more done alone; I’m definitely a loner when it comes to work. I like it but there’s certain people I love, love, love to work with. Like this album has everybody from Blonde Redhead to Masta Killa, GZA, Wu Tang, Camu, Aesop [Rock]; tons, like this close friend Claudia–she went off on it. She just killed it on one tune.
Have you had trouble working with other artists?
There have been people who it’s been disappointing as far as their reaction to me stepping to them. That’s been the most frustrating thing that I’ve dealt with. There’s people that come from a totally different style, which isn’t within a hip-hop realm. I might step to somebody that doesn’t necessarily make hip-hop, and have them [say] ‘Uh…what do you want me to do here?” I’m like, “Well, yo, let’s talk, it’s easy.’ Some people are just instantly down and understand what you’re asking, will get on the beat and get around. I’m never the kind of person who’s going to throw somebody a beat and be like “There’s your beat; you’re never going to have a chance to do something on something else.” I don’t consider myself so important.