“Hip-hop is dead” DJ Muggs says while eating almonds in his L.A. studio and preparing for his first motion-picture score. He's one of many producers to have staunchly expressed their retrospective love of the “good ol' days.” With the game of Simon Says copycat tracks resounding throughout the airwaves, it's uncertain what the future holds for hip-hop, whose inception once countered popular culture with creativity and individuality.
From the late '80s until now, DJ Muggs has humbly played Solitaire as he watched his peers follow the leader. As grounded as his gritty drum patterns and crackling samples, he managed to swim while those around him sank. With its beginnings as a house-party rap group in '88, Cypress Hill became the staple of eccentricity in the hip-hop community. While everyone was vibing to the smooth sounds of A Tribe Called Quest and the chopped samples of Gang Starr, Cypress Hill awakened a new flavor in hip-hop. DJ Muggs' hollow drums and uniquely piercing soul samples, combined with the infectious nuances of B Real and Sen Dog, earned the group a multiplatinum single, “Insane in the Brain,” and a No. 1 album, Black Sunday (Sony, 1993).
“I come from a time when hip-hop producers were musically trained,” Muggs says. “My music is awkward. I do what I feel. I was never interested in making the sound of the moment. Music needs people willing to be rebellious. Motherfuckers are using the same beats, same clothes. This culture, this music, was built off something opposite. Cypress Hill was that.”
Muggs' ability to mesh chords, drums, genres and coasts made everyone stop, look and listen. Aside from his work with Cypress Hill, Muggs has provided the backdrop for some of the industry's most revered producers/artists and has earned the moniker, “your favorite producer's favorite producer.”
While some are making millions from looping samples accompanied by overused keyboard riffs, there is a chosen generation who still marvels in the art of production. Muggs — whose studio gear includes Steinberg Nuendo, an Akai MPC3000, Avalon Vt-737sp and Neve 1073 channel strips, Apogee converters, Waves Diamond bundle software, a Mackie d.2 mixer, Serato Scratch Live and Blue Sky Big Blue monitors — has successfully evolved from a DJ to a producer.
“I did a song with Dr. Dre called ‘Puppet Master,’” he says. “The original is a song by Issac Hayes. I didn't want to pay for sample clearances, so I replayed it in my studio. I wanted the drums to be crispy, so I got some cleaner drums off one of these drum modules and I put some dirtier drums in. I had a keyboard player come in and replay the piano chords and the bass, and I had a guitarist come in. After vocals were laid down, I mixed in a few scratches, and we had a record.”
Even for the most talented producer, production can be a tedious task. From chopping to EQing, the process can seem relentless. “Practice makes perfect” is the motto Muggs lives by. “I have times when I am superduper meticulous with samples,” he says. “Then I have other times where I'm straightforward. I do different things to inspire me because if not, I get bored. [For example,] I don't try to finish beats. I get them started until they sound good, then move on to the next thing. Once the rhyme is laid, I go in and finish it.”
Muggs is no doubt one of the hardest working producers in the game. “I have a lot going on. I put out a record with Sicken Jack — [DJ Muggs and Sick Jacken (featuring Cynic), The Legend of the Mask and the Assassin (Universal)] — which was cool because we weren't concerned about the industry. We have a loyal fan base around the world, so we made the kind of art we felt like making. We are trying to mimic Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd and not the new boy band of the week. I'm also working on the new Cypress Hill album; I am doing about a few songs, but I won't be touring with them. [On top of that,] I'm working on a new movie, called Knight Watchman, starring Keanu Reeves and Forest Whitaker. In other words, I'm still here.”