Drums. A staple to any good hip hop track. Big, solid, loud. They can set the tone for an emcee to craft their tales or deliver knock out blows. When they swing and groove like the drums from Pang Productions Co-Founder Must a track can be transformed and your neck begins to move in a hypnotic slow snap. This combined with a spaced out soundscape and samples drawn from obscure places around the globe set up for an epic 25 track release in the form of the White Russian. When combined with a slew of talent from Australia and the UK these beats become something else once again. We caught up with Must to try to find out his secrets and why he is the “White Russian”.
Congrats on the release man. Let’s get right into it. Your sound has developed over the years into a real distinct style. You can pick Must beats on releases these days. Is this something you have been striving towards?
Cheers bro. That’s not something I’ve really consciously set out to achieve. I think it’s more just a result of knowing what I like and having a vision. I think that’s really important as an artist, to have a vision that you’re working towards. I’m always just trying to make beats that I consider Hip Hop, in that they give me the feeling I got when I discovered Hip Hop. So I hope that feeling that I’m chasing is what people get from the beats and what makes them distinctive. I like to create my own drum grooves rather than just run a classic break, so I think that adds to the style as well. Also people would start to recognise the instruments and equipment we use, there are heaps of factors so it’s not always intentional.
Is it hard to develop a distinct sound without feeling like you are producing things too similar?
Yes and no. Definitely when I’m creating beats from scratch, I need to have an idea in my head first or some sort of inspiration or technique I want to try out so I’m not just making the same old shit. I’ll start with the drums and try and make something unique about the drum loop with a percussion noise or the pattern or just a few things that make it unique off the bat. That’s the great thing about sampling though. You can just lift a nice sound off a record, pitch her down, then you’ve got a key to work in melodically and you can be experimental and see where it takes you. If you’ve got fresh drums grooving hard it probably sounds dope already. I’d get bored doing the same shit over and over, but at the same time it’s Hip Hop and best when it’s simple, and true to the genre.
With each beat on the album did you have an artist in mind to spit on that particular joint?
Yeah but it was more batches of beats, so I’d try to give them around a dozen beats that I thought would suit both them and the album. And the people in Melbourne who were able to come and hang would just listen to a whole bunch.
I think I counted 20 artists on the album. How long did this take you to put together, guest verses from one are hard enough sometimes, but 20! Can you run us through the timeframe and bumps in the road?
Haha yep it wasn’t easy. I think it was around three years since the first tracks got started. It began with a long process of experimenting, making hundreds of beats and then working out how to bring it all together with the things I liked about my older beats. Managing a bunch of projects at once while coping with life itself was the hardest thing but thankfully I can’t recall any major hitches with the music. Everyone was keen, obviously some took their time and needed a foot in the ass but I just kept chipping away. Mixing 25 tracks was a fair mission. Retainer spent months on the canvas for the cover art and getting that finished on schedule was probably the hardest part.
Was there anyone you wanted on there that wasn’t present?
Yeah, but I knew that was the nature of the mission when I started with my list of guests that I wanted to invite and I allowed for that. There are things I can’t control and the universe is always gona play it’s role. So it was just a case of releasing it when I felt it was done and now I’m stoked and wouldn’t change it. Mission accomplished. It is what it is.
Your style really suits UK emcees as well. You have Farma G and Sonnyjim on the album. Was the UK sound an influence to you? More so from earlier Taskforce sort of stuff?
Yeah definitely. Ten Pound Bag Vol. 1 was the gateway drug. I was already rhyming and making beats when I discovered UK Hip Hop, but hearing guys like Jehst and Task Force made me realise it was something worth really devoting myself to. It became more relatable.
Was the Honeymoon On Mars project part of this or were they separate? I can see any of those beats finding a home on either release?
That was a last minute thing. I originally planned to have more instrumental tracks on the album and spent some time gathering samples and arranging them amongst the rap songs but I felt they killed the momentum, so I stripped most of them off. I’ve wanted to do an instrumental release for a while so it worked out well to put it out first as a free download and do a hard copy to sweeten the pre-order pack. We were watching some sci-fi and the Honeymoon On Mars theme came together real quick.
We have a lot of talented producers in Aus yet only a handful of producer albums. Why do you think this is and who would you like to see a producer album from?
Maybe because it’s hard. It took longer than I anticipated. Also a lot of artists are becoming more focused on looking to the US for guests in order to gain recognition. I’d rather have my bro Koots on a track than Sean P. I’m proud of the local underground scene. I would also like to see more DJ’s putting out dope mixtapes with their favourite local tracks and some exclusive beats and cuts. Where’s our Louis Slipperz, Dj Mk type dudes? That’s kind of why I made this album. Props to Geko, Ciecmate, Dave V. I’d like to hear from Ramzee and Dontez.
You also have produced the majority of Flu Season and a few joints off the new Mantra album. How do you decide what beats go out and what beats are for you? Did you make these beats from scratch for those guys?
Yeah some I made from scratch with them in mind. Some they just picked when they heard them. Flu insisted on grabbing the Flu Season beat although I hadn’t sent it to him or thought much of it until he rapped on it. Basically if we haven’t rapped on it pretty quick it’s up for grabs. We don’t really hold onto beats unless they get us writing cos there’s always new ones coming and fresh ones are more inspiring.
25 tracks deep is a bit of a buck on current trends with albums running shorter and shorter. Was this a conscious decision or just tracks you couldn’t cut because it all flows like it was intentional?
I was actually shooting for the full 80 minutes. I think it’s around 70 because I took some instrumental tracks off to make it flow better. I wanted to make a classic you could leave in the car for weeks/months, so yeah I was going for as long as possible while keeping a consistent quality and making it flow like a mix.
I feel that the whole album flows really well. It is mixed through the tracks but the actual mood of each emcee fits in. Was there any sort of brief you gave out to the guests to help achieve this? Was there any stuff you kindly rejected or asked to be changed?
Nah there wasn’t really a brief. I told them the White Russian theme but left it up to them. I think that set the mood but left the subject matter pretty open. Some worked off a sample I had on the beat or the beat name. I think they were all familiar with the themes we enjoy at Pang. There were some tunes that didn’t fit. Some artists had a few cracks until they hit the mark. I also remixed a few peoples tracks to tie it all together and update some older tracks with newer beats.
No distro? I can’t imagine this being knocked back so I will assume this was your decision. Can I ask why and the negatives and positives you perceive for distribution for local artists?
Yeah I don’t think we would have had an issue getting distro, it was my personal decision. I wanted to be in control. The positives are we recouped before the release day instead of having to wait months for a cheque. We are in direct contact with most of our customers. That’s satisfying and helping to grow our label. We make twice the amount per unit. I’m leading by example to encourage a shift in the direction I want, which is customers buying directly from the artists via their website or Bandcamp etc. We are supporting the independent stores that support the culture. We do our own distribution in a way. Maybe we’ll sort something out with Leading Edge for the rural heads, or even JB if they’d cut out the middle man again. The negative side of not having distro is really just the JB bulk orders, and the lack of a pro publicist getting the album extra exposure, but it’s not as if they were going to get this album on Triple J, so I’m not too stressed. I’m not a mainstream artist. I know my place and I’m happy with that.
Without giving away too many secrets can you let your fellow producers in on the equipment you are packing in the lab?
The main tool is the MPC 2500. Also the S2000 sampler. Pro Tools. Avalon 737 for vocals. Fender P Bass. Ashton jazz guitar. Microkorg, plus a few vintage keys and secret synths.
Your dream piece of equipment?
I’m gona get a Fender Rhodes. One day soon I’ll build a studio with more room to record live drums and mess around with recording to tape.
I personally feel your drums are one of your many strong points. The swing you have in them just makes them stand out against a lot out there. Is this something you have spent time developing or has it been a natural progression?
Cheers yeah it’s taken some time. Having played the drums definitely helps. I think it comes down to an understanding of how to create a groove rather than relying on a grid or swing setting or break loop. There are those pivotal moments when you feel like you just learned the crucial thing and you’re about to get started. There was a point a few years back where I watched a video of one of my favourite producers talking about his swing and he explained a few things that clicked for me. Then I learned how to create my own groove off the grid and where to put things to make the swing as heavy or as wonky as I want, and now I have recipes in my head I can adjust to taste.
Do you have a set production procedure you tend to stick to or is it more of a free approach?
I used to dig and dig for a worthy sample and then build drums around it. Now I work on the drums first and rely less on samples. I look for a minimal sample I can build around with my own live instrumentation or sounds from the sample library. Make it groove. Keep it simple and leave room for more melodies and arrangement after the raps are there.
You emcee as well. Do you take a different approach to constructing a beat if you are going to be on it?
Not really. I don’t know I’m going to be on a beat until I’ve got a verse written, so that’s never really in my head when I’m making it. The approach may change a little if I’m trying to make a beat for a particular artist and I think they have a certain taste or style I want to cater for.
Just again on the approach. You are known as half of Mata & Must, how did your approach making White Russian differ from a Mata & Must project?
With a Mata & Must release we tend to let it evolve naturally and then do some reflection somewhere in the middle of the process to give it a title, which helps us tie it all together. With this I had to come up with the title to start with. So I tried to keep it simple and not too serious for a change, focusing on the vibe of the music and leaving the artists free to take it wherever they wanted with the subject matter.
Is there another meaning to White Russian or a back story or is it just the drink and is this the studio standard?
White Russian is also an award winning strain of weed (a hybrid of White Widow and AK-47). It’s possibly the most potent. Mix that nugg with Vodka and Kahlua, push play and you should have lift off. I am also half Russian and saw it as a chance to carry on the Volkoff family name which ended with my mother and Aunty having no brothers. The cover art is Retainer’s interpretation of a Vostok. They were the first manned Russian spacecraft. It all ties together.
What producers are you feeling out of Australia right now and what appeals to you as a listener?
I like simple moody beats that don’t outshine the mc, that make you listen to the lyrics as opposed to catchy beats that make you tune out and nod your head. I like the sound of real drums and instruments. I enjoy producers that are able to create an atmosphere by paying careful attention to the character of the sounds they use. I think with Hip Hop being so simple that’s most important. I’m a fan of local producers like Ciecmate, Geko, Tornts, Koots, Gargoyle, Blunted Stylus, Dontez, and lately Ramzee.
The Four Aces project. I spoke briefly to Flu about it a few interviews back and he sounded quietly confident that it was on some shit. What can you tell us from your perspective?
Yeah it’s on some shit. To have four solid emcees on every track is real fresh. Different styles going back to back is something I love about rap music and it feels good to be bringing that type of thing back. We’re planning some special packaging to celebrate the PP/CC joint release. The tracks we’ve being doing live on The Alliance Tour have gone real well so we’re looking forward to dropping it when the time’s right.
Are we going to see White Russian on wax? Also on wax, it is getting more and more popular for releases to come out on vinyl these days. Will Pang be tacking this route with future releases as well?
Yes, White Russian on gatefold 2LP has been sent to press in Europe. Thanks to everyone supporting the CD/digital release that has made it possible. We’ll keep pressing vinyl.
What is next from the Pang camp?
Mata, Must, One Sixth & Flu – 4 Aces 12” EP
Koots – Sleeping In The Sink
Mata & Must – Get Your Mind Right
The Alliance Tour hits Brisbane at Coniston Lane on Sep 27.
Purchase “White Russian” at your local hip hop store