Prince Paul

Despite the old school pedigree of seminal hip-hop producer Prince Paul Huston (Stetsasonic, De La Soul, Gravediggaz, Handsome Boy Modeling School, 3rd Bass, Chris Rock, Big Daddy Kane, etc., etc.), his solo albums — like the abstractly groovy Psychoanalysis and the hilariously hot Politics of the Business — have either flown under the mainstream radar or were flat out panned by critics (suckers). Still, Paul continues to make the music that he likes, despite the exclusionary myopia of the MTV set.

His last, most recent venture, the comfortably funky and mid-fi Itstrumental, is mostly an instrumental record, but features goofy vocal contributions from the likes of Mr. Dead and Steineki, as well as an all-live instrument track, on which Paul played all the instruments himself.

You played all the instruments on the song “Live At 5.” You’re a musician now, as well as a producer?

No, not at all. I can play a lot of things, but not well. Thank God for technology, though, because I can arrange it all. With that song, I wanted to challenge myself because I find that a lot of producers and artists stay in one zone and they get comfortable in that zone because it works. I like to challenge myself with everything, and when you challenge yourself like that you risk losing fans and losing people around you, but you know, making the same record over and over is boring. So with “Live at 5” I was like, lemme just try to play something, and let’s see what happens when I pick up a bass guitar or electric guitar, a keyboard. Lemme just play the drums, the tambourine, and whatever else, and then go chop ’em up, and see what happens. And that’s what came out. Simple.

What’s the difference between how you make an instrumental track and putting something together for a vocalist to rap or sing over?

When I approach a track for a vocalist — even though I don’t rhyme — I see if I can rhyme on it, and I see what kind of rhyme style I hear on it. If I can’t rhyme to it or if I can’t hear a flow to it, I put it to the side. But I’ve been shocked. “I Am I Be” on De La Soul’s Bulhoone Mindstate is a good example of me making a record for myself — that beat was something I had going on the side — and Pos was like, “Yo! That’s crazy, I like that!” I said, “Man, you can’t rhyme on that. That’s for me, not for y’all. I can’t give that to you.” But they made a brilliant song, so I’ve been fooled. You know, as a producer, you can’t hear everything, and I’ve learned that.

Weapon of choice in the studio?

For stuff like this record, I still use tape because I want a certain texture to it. I don’t want to articulate it so much. Especially nowadays because everything is so digital, so articulate and right in your face and you know exactly where it is. But when you listen to older hip-hop, things mesh together, it warms it all up and everything kinda complements each other a little more. That’s the kind of feeling I wanted for this record. I still wanted it clear, but I wanted it warm and full-bodied, and I know that I can only get that from tape, so I recorded a lot of stuff to tape, and a lot of it is really old tracks from the ’80s up through 2000. So for this particular album, there is no one weapon of choice. It’s all over the place. In general, it depends on the vibe I’m going for. In my studio I can pick up a real 808 and program 808, or a 909 — the real machine. I’m into vintage stuff. Even though they make programs that sound like the real thing, nothing beats the real thing. So I’ll pull out an ASR when I wanna get rugged, sorta Wu-Tang-y. If I wanna chop it up, like Premier or Pete Rock, I’ll SP12 it or MPC2000 it. Whatever the vibe is, I have the equipment to match it. It’s weird — Hank Shocklee did this seminar thing that I went to, and people there asked me stuff like, “What piece of equipment couldn’t you live without?” And I was just like, “Doesn’t make a difference to me, I can use it all.” See man, all I need is the motivation.