Mathematics, Wu-Tang Clan DJ and producer, keeps his options open
As the Wu-Tang Clan's official DJ, Mathematics has supported hip-hop's most dynamic supergroup for more than a decade. In addition to his skills on the tables, he is also a talented producer who has provided beats for several classic Wu-related albums. He recently dropped his sophomore solo LP, The Problem (Nature Sounds, 2005), a neck-breaking collection that showcases his sonic abilities.
Mathematics' allegiance to the Wu goes way back, when he worked the decks behind GZA, aka The Genius, and toured with the entire Cold Chillin' collective. Although he and GZA had collaborated on demos before, it was RZA's work on a frosty summer anthem that really inspired him to get into production. “I didn't really start producing until I seen RZA make ‘Ice Cream,’” Mathematics recalls enthusiastically. “When I seen the transformation from what it was to what it became, I was like, ‘Yo!’ I started asking questions, like, ‘What board is that?’ He's like, ‘ASR-10.’ So that's when I really started. The first joint I did that actually came out was called ‘Fast Life,’ with Ghostface and Andre Rison; that was '96.”
Gearwise, Mathematics remains a steadfast ASR advocate, though he doesn't shy away from other setups and runs everything in Digidesign Pro Tools. “I rock the Motif a lot on this album and some other joints like the Triton,” he says. “I use different gear, but I run everything through the ASR-10 'cause that's what I've mastered. You got brothers who are jacks-of-all-trades but not a master of one. I'm comfortable with the ASR-10, so that's what I go with.”
Mathematics knows that there's a big difference between simply making a beat and being a producer. For instance, there are times when he'll feel it's important to push a vocalist to work with his ideas, even when the rapper isn't trying to hear it. “A lot of times, there's some creative difference between a producer and an MC,” he admits. “I definitely put it in their head that this is what I'm looking for — this is the direction I'm going. And I tell 'em, if you feel something else, go ahead and rock it, but try this so I get a little bit of everything.”
When it comes time to mix, Mathematics takes the finished tracks back to the crib, working with the small but powerful recording gear at his in-house lab. “I have a Roland VS-2480,” he reveals. “It's small, it's compact, but you can get over 300 tracks with it, and it has automation. When I link it with Pro Tools, you got a damn-near unlimited amount of tracks there, too. I hook it up to the best of my ability and, when I'm satisfied, take it back to the big studio and let the engineer put the little something on top.”
As far as working the tables, Mathematics is a recent convert to the ease and convenience of Pioneer CDJ-1000s after resisting for many years. “I still collect vinyl,” he says. “But I like the CDJs 'cause you can scratch on 'em — they're stable; they don't jump. You can do a lot of improvising. And it's convenient for travel. I can travel with 30 hours of music in a small little case.”
Like his Wu-Tang brethren, Mathematics is also branching out and diversifying, working on new projects outside the traditional album-and-tour route. He did the music for Comedy Central's Wanda at Large show and has an instructional DVD called The Beat Kings on deck, aiming to help out the growing legions of aspiring beat maestros. “I went around interviewing other producers: RZA, Marley Marl, Pete Rock, Premier, Alchemist, Havoc, Swizz Beatz, Kanye West, Just Blaze, Trackmasters,” he says. “I got a little lesson from all of them. I got a lot of underground cats, too, a lot of veterans, just good information for anybody that wanna become a producer. That should be out in the fall.”
Whether on LP, DVD or the ones and twos, Mathematics is clearly a man on a mission. Even though his name may be unknown to some, his prowess in the lab is more and more apparent with every new beat. For those in search of that raw, real-deal hip-hop, Mathematics has your number.