You might not expect someone as skilled in the vinyl and analog arts as Babu (of the Los Angeles hip-hop group Dilated Peoples and the world-famous Beat Junkies DJ crew) to embrace CDs and all things digital as thoroughly as he does. But as digital manufacturers have clued in to the importance of being able to be tactile with certain pieces and, as Babu puts it, “touch sound,” even the staunchest vinyl supporters have taken notice.
Babu's home studio reveals an economical blend of analog and digital: an Apple G4 with Digidesign ProTools LE; an E-mu SP-1200; an Ensoniq ASR-10 and EPS-16+; a Korg Triton; a Moog Minimoog; a pair of Pioneer CDJ-1000s; a Rane mixer; and, of course, a pair of Technics SL-1200 turntables and “a mess of records.” But even with all of the modern gear, Babu's favorite is still a classic choice.
“I am a big fan of the new technology, but for me, it all really comes back to my ASR-10,” he says. “It's a machine I've been using for years. And if I have anything to say to people who are trying to get into beats and production, whether you're making music on a computer, a keyboard or a drum machine, they pretty much all do the same thing. They all have their own quirks and different sound qualities and different languages to learn, but at the end of the day, what machine you prefer to use is all about comfort and what's easier to use.”
Last year's mix effort, Duck Season, Vol. 1 (Sequence/Ultra) — the title a nod to his classic battle record for DJs, Super Duck Breaks (Stones Throw, 1996), under the name The Turntablist — showcased his own production on three songs. But his new sequel exponentially ups the ante both for himself and for the other DJs releasing multitudes of mixes each year. For Duck Season, Vol. 2 (Sequence, 2003), Babu “reached out to a few friends,” he says, from his Dilated Peoples partners and independent heroes Planet Asia, Defari and Jaylib to hip-hop mainstays KRS-One, Gang Starr and Infamous Mobb (a trio that was first introduced on two of Mobb Deep's albums).
Far more an artist album than a mix CD (though still mixed), Vol. 2 finds Babu as producer for 10 of the 16 cuts, as well as for the comedic and freestyle interludes. When it came time to switch to DJ mode and do the mix, Babu relied heavily on the CDJ-1000s rather than vinyl turntables, given the prohibitive expense of pressing up a stack of vinyl acetates.
With all of the fire and variety of an underground hip-hop mix tape (which are mostly released on CDs these days) and a significant amount of personal involvement in the songs themselves, Babu has set a new standard. Hot on the album's heels will be the third Dilated Peoples album, Neighborhood Watch (Capitol), in early 2004 and a string of releases on the Beat Junkie Sound imprint. And through it all, Babu continues to be a pure student of sound, no matter how he arrives at it.
“I think if you take any great artist or great musician and you plop them anywhere in our civilization's timeline, those people are gonna use whatever means possible to make beautiful art,” he says. “I'm sure if you dropped Jimi Hendrix in this day and age, he would use technology to make that same impacting kind of music. I feel strongly that way about myself — if I were dropped off in the '60s, I'd definitely be banging on a drum kit. I'd be banging analog because that's what's there to make it. I'm sure if I were a caveman, I'd be beating on a rock.”