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Adrian Younge Talks ‘Picasso Baby,’ Soul Samples, & Discipline

Natalie Cass, Getty Images

Adrian Younge is a very skilled individual. Some would claim that he is gifted, but Younge subscribes to the belief that the hard work he has put in to mastering multiple crafts is the key to his success. This hard work has led to extremely successful 2013 thus far for the producer, DJ, film editor, and former entertainment law professor.

For Younge, the year began with the release of ‘Adrian Younge Presents the Delfonics,’ a well-received project that added a hip-hop flavor to the classic Delfonics sound. Shortly after that came the release of ‘Twelve Reasons to Die,’ his collaborative album with Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah. This album was easily one of the best hip-hop releases of 2013, and is one of the jewels in the latter half of the Wu-Tang discography.

Shortly after going on tour with Ghostface, the world was inadvertently introduced to Younge’s earlier catalog on a larger scale. 90 seconds into Jay Z’s Samsung Galaxy commercial that aired during Game 5 of the 2013 NBA Finals, the hard-hitting sounds of ‘Sirens,’ off Younge’s 2011 release ‘Something About April,’ came out of the speakers. The result of the studio session that we see filmed is ‘Picasso Baby,’ a song off Jay’s ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail.’

By the time the album came out, we discovered that Timbaland had, in fact, used two samples from Younge on ‘Magna Carta …’ taking a portion if Younge’s ‘Reverie‘ for the  standout track, ‘Heaven.’

The BoomBox spoke to Younge about sampling and live instrumentation a recently, since then, Jay has gone on to make a performance art film for ‘Picasso Baby,’ a video that has received some mixed reviews. Asking for Younge’s take, the producer said, “I love the song Picasso Baby, and I think the performance art piece was brilliant. I love that fact that Jay Z is continuing to raise the bar on hip hop.”

With a new collaboration with Souls of Mischief (‘There Is Only Now’) slated for a September release and a “big album” that Younge has thus far remained tight-lipped about on the horizon, 2013 has the potential to become even bigger for the prolific renaissance man.

The BoomBox: You know, one of the first things obviously, two of your songs just got sampled on Jay Z’s ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail.’ Talk about how that came about.

Adrian Younge: I know that Hip-Hop played them for Jay Z directly. I haven’t spoken to any of them in regards to this. Maybe Timbaland made the beats later and showed them to him, but I know that Hip-Hop played them for Jay Z first.

So with that, I know you’ve been talking to Roc Nation as well during that time. So what’s your reaction been to everything that’s happened in the last couple of weeks?

AY: Aw man, it’s been great. To be sampled by one of the greatest producers for one of the greatest rappers, it’s humbling, flattering, and inspiring. It makes me want to continue to work harder to be in the upper echelon of those making hip-hop music. It’s a good feeling.

You’ve used a style of going away from sampling and focusing on instrumentation. Was this because you are an entertainment lawyer and are aware of copyright claims in sampling? Did that play a part in it at all?

AY: I have a JD, but I’m not a practicing attorney as far as entertainment law goes. But that had nothing to do with me playing instruments to avoid sampling. It was just me feeling for myself it was the right move. Playing instruments was something that I really wanted to do.

Okay. So when you did this album with Ghostface you were on RZA’s label, and you know RZA of late has also shifted away from sampling as well. Do you know what his views are about sampling versus live instrumentation?

AY: I mean, I’m a very big proponent of sampling. I love sampling and RZA loves sampling too. I think with RZA, he just wants to explore new boundaries and territory and that’s why he left sampling. For me, I make better music without sampling. So that’s why I don’t sample.

OK, and when it comes to sampling, what would you say are, maybe, some of your favorite soul samples that have been used in hip-hop music?

AY: Willie Mitchell [‘Groovin’’] on ‘Liquid Swords.’ I mean, I can go on-and-on. Any Wu-Tang sample really. One of my favorites was Wendy Rene’s ‘After Laughter’ [sampled on ‘Tearz.’] I love the old Tribe Called Quest samples, where they sampled Cal Tjader [His ‘Aquarius’ was sampled on ‘Midnight Marauders Tour Guide’] and all these old jazz cats like Grant Green [His ‘Down Here On The Ground’ was sampled on ‘Vibes and Stuff’] off the ‘Alive!’ album. I collect a lot of the soul samples now.

I saw your Crate Digger’s series so I do know that you’re a huge collector of records as well. Who would you say are some of your favorite hip-hop producers?

AY: Actually, A-Plus of Hieroglyphics is one of them. You got him, you got Premier, you got Pete Rock, Diamond D. I mean, there’s a bunch of great producers. The Bomb Squad … The list goes on and on.

In an interview you once said that learning an instrument is a lesson in discipline. And that it’s more about discipline than maybe talent. Could you elaborate a little bit more on that?

AY: Basically, if you work hard, and practice an instrument every day, you’ll learn how to play like a professional. You’ll get better and better each day. And that’s how it works for me. I wasn’t magically inclined to play. I had to keep practicing and practicing to train my fingers.

So would you say that some of the upper echelon instrumentalists, do you think you could reach their level just by practice alone, or is there a certain amount of talent that’s innate?

AY: If I wanted to, I could. Anybody could. It’s just mechanics. If you practiced every day you could be just as good. But I mean, that’s my general perspective or my mantra in life. That’s it.

Do you still practice on a day-to-day basis at this point with certain instruments?

AY: I don’t practice per se. I record, so when I’m recording that’s practicing what I got to record.

When it comes to hip-hop, the voice is also an instrument. Which rappers had the best voices?

AY: Ghostface, Jay Z, Jeru, RZA, Chuck D.

So now what would you say to somebody who maybe didn’t have the best voice?

AY: Uh… I would say stop rapping. Honestly.

You have said that you made your music hoping that people would come to them for sampling. What was the first example of a song you heard that sampled you?

AY: I heard a lot of songs. I mean, a lot of producers have put them on Soundcloud and everything. So I don’t remember what the first one was.

True. I noticed before ‘Magna Carta …’ came out, Alchemist had just used one of your songs from the Delfonics album.

AY: Yeah, he killed that thing. That’s my boy. He did a good job on that one.

Did he reach out to you when he did that? Did he let you know?

AY: Yeah, he let me know. He filled me in before it came out.

So who else are you looking to work with and what else are you working on moving forward?

AY: My next album is with Souls of Mischief. It’s called ‘There Is Only Now,’ and we did that whole album in my studio. I’m also working on another album, but I can’t mention that yet. I can’t wait until I can though. But it’s going to be a big album though.

Is it another concept album?

AY: Yeah.

Do you ever see yourself not making a concept album?

AY: Yeah, I mean my ‘Something About April’ album was not a concept album. And my Delfonics album was not a concept album. The Delfonics album came out six months ago and ‘Something About April’ came out about two years ago. So I mean, I go back and forth.

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