PETE ROCK with MASTERMIND, P-PLUS, PAUL E. LOPES and SON OF S.O.U.L. at the Opera House (735 Queen East), Saturday (August 25), $15. 416-466-0313. Rating: NNNNN
The photo on the cover of 1994's The Main Ingredient album says it all about Pete Rock.
The legendary New York hiphop producer is in his basement bunker surrounded by crates of records. The only free space is taken up by a turntable and a sampler.
The self-described Soul Brother is a record nut, and it's that addiction to dusty grooves that has set his smooth beats apart for more than a decade.
In an era of keyboard producers who sample from stock sounds and are above spending a few hours digging for breaks, Rock is old-school to the core. His beats, from the classic Mecca & The Soul Brother album on down, are closer to deep soul cuts than to hiphop karaoke. Nothing's recognizable and everything's funky.
Not surprisingly, Rock has little good to say about hiphop production these days.
"Originality has faded in this game," he laments from New York. "People stick with the same beats over and over again, and people are saying the same rhymes. Then you've got other MCs biting those tracks and producers who just steal the old beats.
"The digger culture is gone, but even so, it's really all about how you do your beats. If you're wack and you're using a keyboard, nobody wants to hear that. If you're a dope producer, then that's a different story. Cats like Alchemist, Hi-Tek and JayDee seem to be on the right path, and they appreciate hiphop."
Recently, Rock's unique beats have been in short supply. Aside from a few select cuts, the producer has been uncommonly silent, but that's about to change.
In the works is a new Soul Survivors album and a surprise reunion with former partner C.L. Smooth on a Mary J. Blige remix. There's also PeteStrumentals, a disc showcasing the diversity of music in Rock's collection. The understated disc features neck-snapping hiphop instrumentals as well as hints of jazz, soul, reggae and rock.
"This is something I've always wanted to do. I've got records, kid, and sometimes it's fun to put some shit together just for the hell of it. These were cuts that I had sitting around that didn't fit any particular MC.
"There's a listening vibe to the record, made for people who are really into music. I also put a few rap joints on for the young 'uns, 'cause I know they want to be rocked."
Rock's also been spending time raiding Toronto's used record haunts, so if there's an old platter you haven't been able to find, blame the Soul Brother.
"I have a sister who lives in Toronto, so I'm in town a lot, digging and buying up your records," he laughs. "I've spent mad loot at Vortex, Kops and that Cosmos joint.
"Pete Rock on a record binge is your worst nightmare."