“I would come out of Lefrak with duffle bags full of records…” – Large Professor
He studied at the feet of a master and became one of the most influential beatsmiths in hip-hop. William Paul Mitchell, aka, Large Professor is the quintessential hip-hop producer; low-key, humble and continually making magic behind the scenes. His discography reads like a who’s who of hip-hop. As a member of the group Main Source he crafted classics like “Lookin’ At The Front Door,” “Live at The BBQ” and “Fakin The Funk.” As a producer he made legendary MCs like Rakim, Kool G Rap and Nas achieve their greatness and as a solo artist he’s given us two collectible solo albums, The LP and 1st Class.
After releasing two volumes of instrumentals the Queens,NY native released a new CD of original beats and rhymes appropriately titled, Main Source. Taking things back to the break-beat foundation the CD features guest appearances from Styles P, AZ, Jeru The Damaja and Big Noyd with a lush collection of chopped soul and pulsating ear candy. I caught up with Extra P to talk about the Late Paul C, teaching Q-Tip how to make beats why Nas doesn’t like “wearing the same sneakers.”
NF: Why did you name your new project Main Source?
LP: I wanted people to know that I still embrace that. I think people started feeling that I didn’t embrace my foundation. And with the current state of hip-hop, the Main Source album is original recipe hip-hop. When it comes to that real hip-hop I’m the main source of it.
NF: RZA told me you were one of a few producers that had the Stax box set back in the day. Is that true?
LP: A lot of that stuff I had on original vinyl just being a fan of the Stax catalogue. They had the box set which is cool, but I’m a fan of that catalogue in general. I’d check for any and anything Stax.
NF: I was listening to “Fakin The Funk” wondered how you got those drums to hit so hard…
LP: That was the engineer, Gary Clarkson, he’s passed on now. Gary just went in and beefed them up the right way. Those were the Grady Tate “Be Black Baby” drums. We had a previous mix of it where the engineer made them stiff and flat, but Gary got them slappin’ the right way.
NF: How important is the engineer to hip-hop sounding the way it did?
LP: That’s a huge part of the sound. If you have an engineer that knows how to twist them knobs… Some dudes are blessed to know them frequencies, but coming from the street you really don’t know your bottoms and highs and where everything should be. They’d compress your kick, have your snare really knocking. Have your bass crazy. Some of my favorite engineers are my dude Anton Wichanski, Dino, my dude Max Vargas and my dude I just worked with Rich. He’s crazy on the boards.
NF: I was listening to “Lookin At the Front Door” and you took a sliver for that Donald Byrd sample and made a classic…
LP: A whole song…
NF: Where was your head when you made that record?
LP: I had the song written out kind of and I was kind of testing it to different beats. I was in H.S. writing my rhymes while I’m in class and a lot of my friends from back then would volunteer their parents’ records. I would come out of Lefrak [City] with duffle bags full of records and that was one of the records I found amongst those. When I heard that little piece I was like “Aight cool.”
NF: How did you feel later on when Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam used that same part for “Let the Beat Hit ‘Em?”
LP: [Laughs] That was funny man. They gotta big success with that, but they took it to another level. We all built off eachother. I built off of Donald Byrd and they built off the Main Source joint. Dudes were telling me “they bitin of you, they bitin…” but in retrospect it’s all good, we just all buildin’…
NF: Pete Rock told me about the time you gave him the sample for T.R.O.Y. Tell me about the era of sharing samples and digging. Production felt like more of community back then.
LP: That was a good era because were were still dealing with the foundation of hip-hop, the records. We came from early drum machine stages. I always relate it to graffiti. First you had the scribble letters and then dudes got better and you had Wild Style burners. The beats we were doing were like burners cuz we were filtering the bass lines and taking different pieces and making a whole different phrase…
NF: I spoke with Pharoahe Monch recently and he told me about Paul C and how he helped him with his production. How did you meet him and how did he influence your career as a producer?
LP: I met Paul being a part of Main Source. At that time everything was word of mouth. Around the way people trying to make their demos were asking, “how do I make a quality demo?” and people were like there’s this guy in Jamaica named Paul C, he did “Do The James..” they start spittin’ his credentials so we went to see him. I was already hungry making pause tapes and I knew what I wanted to do with certain records and how I wanted to chop ‘em. When Paul introduced me to doing it on the drum machine it was just on. He knew I had that drive and took me under his wing. This is the early days and an SP-1200 was a $2500 machine. Anybody didn’t just have an SP-1200. Paul knew my hunger and gave me the machine for like two weeks. He said ‘I’m gonna be in the studio, you can use the machine.’ My first beats that I sold to Intelligent Hoodlum came out of that two weeks.
NF: Had Paul C lived how do you think people would remember him?
LP: With the racial barriers and everything I think Paul C would be right up there with Rick Rubin. Paul C was that dude for real for real.