I think the most interesting developments in Hip Hop are taking place off the commercial radio dial and buried deep in the underground. Let’s go mining.
I sat down with the reclusive underground producer/artist RenRok in his L.A. studio. We talked about the state of hip hop, musical influences, and his most recent project called “Sixty Studies” whose title was inspired by an unlikely source.
CSA: Where did you get the title “Sixty Studies” from?
RenRok: The title came from Etude books I played as a kid. Etude books are typically short compositions designed or prepared for violin and piano to serve as a training or teaching mechanism to learn a specific skill. You practice the etudes over and over and they are designed to help students learn or master a technique of that instrument that they will use for larger pieces or concertos. I play the violin. Actually, my first introduction to music was through formal training in classical music, specifically violin.
CSA: Why create this album?
RenRok: I created this album because what seems to be lacking in a lot of music are joints that go to the essence and emotion of a particular piece of music.
CSA: What do you mean by that?
RenRok: In a lot of music today that I would consider good or interesting hip hop, producers tend to want to show off every little technique in their bag of tricks. Whether that be excessive use of stutter techniques, filtering, plug-in effects, weird samples, etc
The purpose of this album was to get to the point of specific old school techniques used in hip hop namely in MPC style productions.
CSA: Who is your audience for this album?
RenRok: My audience for this album is anyone who loves honest, underground hip-hop. But the more I think about it, I believe this album is a dedication to underground producers who do it for the love of music.
CSA: What do you mean by honest hip hop?
RenRok: That’s a complicated and loaded question, but I’ll try to answer it. Hip hop which I would consider to be not ” honest” seems to fall in 2 broad categories:
1. Music produced, written, and created simply or primarily to sell the largest number of records whose creativity is driven solely by the tastes of the masses at that time.
2. Production that is primarily focused on mimicking or copying the works of prior esteemed producers without any originality or creativity of their own.
CSA: So do you have some examples? I’m not gonna have you put anyone on blast though! How about giving us some examples of honest hip hop.
RenRok: Haha. Yes, as to the first category, there are albums that have a great deal of commercial success that I would consider honest b/c the artist created the music from their heart or life experience and didn’t give a damn about whether the listener would “get it” or understand. Some albums that come to mind in this category would be Wu Tang’s “Enter the 36 Chambers”, Cypress Hill’s first album (the 1991 self-titled debut, “Cypress Hill”), or “Critical Breakdown” by Ultramagnetic MC’s.
Those are albums that when first heard them, you’ve never heard anything quite like them and you know the artist had no assurance that the style would work, but they did it anyway.
As to the second category there’s a school of thought in production that I don’t consider to be “honest” that’s solely aimed to replicate the sound of a revered producer whether that be Dilla-esque, Primo-esque, Pete Rock-esque… Everyone utilizes elements of these great producers because they’ve listened to them over the years so much, but you should always try to add or develop your own individual and unique style.
CSA: Let’s talk a bit more about the style and technique that you used in this album.
RenRok: Someone listening to this album and each of the tracks will find many similarities b/c they were produced in the same, what I would call “MPC Style,” but within each of these songs there were subtle differences in the techniques that were used. Some involved heavily chopped vinyl samples, some tracks involve live instrumentation sampled into an MPC and some tracks involve synthesizers, keyboards and other modules MIDI-ed up and sequenced through an MPC. I’ve also intentionally included tracks that are interludes, beats for vocalists to spit on later, one joint is a re-mix, and others are MPC abstractions.
Taken as a whole the tracks on this album are intended to mimic the classic Etude books that I studied while growing up which exemplify distinct musical techniques that can be used when playing a specific instrument. (in this case an Akai MPC)
CSA: Wow that sounds pretty heavy and conceptual. Will non-producers get it?
RenRok: Absolutely! This isn’t a high brow, avant-garde, art house type of joint. Just bump it in your car on your way to the house party, the beach, or picking up some fresh new kicks and just enjoy it!
Thanks RenRok, you brought us some classic beats and taught us all something new too!
You can listen to Sixty Studies on Soundcloud by clicking below.
From there you can download the entire album for FREE on Bandcamp.com!