photo by dan monick | logo by erik brunetti
L.A. RECORD has been lucky enough to watch Low End Theory grow into one of the most exciting and vital music communities in Los Angeles, and some of our favorite interviews (and memories!) come from Low End Theory artists and residents like Flying Lotus, Gaslamp Killer, Nobody, Daedelus, Nosaj Thing, Samiyam, Dibia$e, Thavius Beck, Gangi, Crystal Antlers, the Entrance band and of course Daddy Kev, who holds the distinction of being the first person (but definitely not the last person) to get naked on an L.A. RECORD cover. (Pictured above—issue 21 from volume 1, lovingly assembled on Charlie’s futon.)
Tonight’s celebration will be the eleventh Unreleased Beat Invitational, featuring a destroying line-up of Flying Lotus, Jneiro Jarel, Free The Robots, Samiyam, Dibi$se and Matthewdavid with opening sets by L.A. RECORD contributors Kutmah and Nobody plus My Hollow Drum, Nocando and Daddy Kev. In honor of this birthday, we’ve linked the entire Low End Theory Podcast Series, and below we’re re-publishing this ancient Daddy Kev interview from the archives—done months before Low End even started. Congratulations and thanks to Kev and everyone who makes Low End Theory happen!
DADDY KEV: PURE AUDIO PLEASURE (FEB. 2006 INTERVIEW)
Harbor City madman Daddy Kev came into music as an intern for Urb during high school and began producing beats with an Akai sampler and some ideas for 8-bar loops. Now he runs Alpha Pup records (between Myspace requests to DJ house parties) and has produced tracks for everyone from Sage Francis and Shapeshifters to his own Alpha Pup alums like Awol One and Busdriver. He speaks while watching a mugging in downtown Los Angeles. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
What makes a beat work for a certain artist—like how do you decide which is a Busdriver beat and which is an Awol beat?
Daddy Kev: Usually, it’s pretty obvious to me who’s gonna sound best over a particular song—and you’d be surprised how often I’m wrong about that. My stuff is pretty much custom-made, but what ends up happening is I’ll be all hyped—‘They’re gonna love it!’—and they hear it and they’re just like, ‘What? Aw, naw.’ So what happens is the beat gets reused. Usually I don’t let people know—‘Hey, this is a beat three guys passed on!’—but I don’t make like a big deal that it’s custom-made, either. Strangely enough, some of my more popular songs have been like that. My song on the Sage Francis record—like seven or eight people passed on that beat.
Is Sage gonna read this and be bummed?
Daddy Kev: Yeah, right? I sent him the CD and didn’t hear back for months—figured he passed on it. Then I got a call six months later: ‘Dude, that beat’s insane—lemme rap over it!’ And that was one of my bigger blow-up songs of last year.
How can you tell when a beat by itself is going to be good?
Daddy Kev: I never conceptualize myself as a by-themselves type of musical artist—I don’t think of it until it’s got a vocal on it and it’s taken to the next phase. People over the years ask many times: ‘Where’s the Daddy Kev solo album? Where’s the instrumentals?’ Maybe it’s even set my career back. But I love the collaborative aspect of music—that’s what keeps it fresh and interesting to me. I don’t like the idea of being in my own little world, not being checked by other people. When I was a kid listening, I’d wonder: ‘How did they make this? What was it like?’ The whole industry has fascinated me forever. To be honest, I think the age of music we’re living in now—the music industry being revolutionized by the digital world—is perhaps one of the most exciting times to be involved in music.
Alpha Pup has really jumped on the digital thing, too.
Daddy Kev: We’re phasing out CDs. And some people look at me like I’m crazy. But to anyone looking objectively, it’s pretty damn clear. The whole thing is moving to another plateau. I love it because we’re truly looking at the final frontier of how music is going to be distributed and consumed—the only step past digital is people injecting music into their veins. For the next hundred years, how our kids and their kids will be buying music—all the rules are being written right now. It’s so fascinating for a great many ways. And it can really liberate artists and a label, by not having to deal with manufacturing and costs—we can be more daring. We can drop whatever we think is good.
Do you still sample off the radio?
Daddy Kev: I sure do. One of the advantages of being in Los Angeles is there’s such variety in the radio programs. It reached a point with sampling where I felt like everybody had everything—albeit that isn’t the case, but it started bothering me a little bit. It started bothering me that some of the bigger things I’ve done were samples that people could now easily get. So the next level is I gotta start sampling stuff that isn’t available—that you can’t buy. Maybe it just broadcasts once; maybe never before. I try and capture those. On the jazz stations, they do regular shows where guys come out and bust out the old quarter-inch tape and they’re even telling you: ‘I’ve never even played this for anybody before!’ And I have a DAT and let it roll, then go back and review. If I find one thing for every ten hours—one thing that can be made into something—then it’s all worth it.
What’s the next level after that?
Daddy Kev: What I’m seeing for the next couple years is a combination of the real outlandish rare sampling combined with electronic layering and drum machines. At least in hip-hop, those have been different camps—you’ve got the synth cats and the hardcore sample cats, but not many people try and go in between. Daedelus is a great embodiment, and it’s something I’ve been trying to improve on. I’ve been layering my beats with electronic kick drums and 808s for years—people say ‘you got that organic sound,’ and sure, but by the same token, I layer it with the rap drums to give it that kick out. I don’t think of music as competition in that there’s a first and second place, but being in a town in LA, there are a lot of people out there that this is their dream, and that alone keeps me on my toes. I feel like I consistently have to do better than I’ve done before—at least to be able to look in the mirror in the morning!
What records will always have something there for you to use, no matter how many times you go back to them?
Daddy Kev: Funkadelic—either by myself or in the car or in the DJ booth, those songs will always remain timeless. It’s music I consider to be perfect, if you will.
How about records that you save just for listening for fun—that you know you can’t use in your own work?
Daddy Kev: A lot of rock stuff—when I listen to the Unicorns, I’m definitely not listening to listen to production values or mix quality. To me that’s pure audio pleasure. And I love reggae music, but there’s very little reggae element in any of the music I’ve ever done. Steel Pulse, Black Uhuru—when I listen to that, my mind is the furthest it could be from thinking of work. But then listening to someone like Lee “Scratch” Perry is when the lightbulb flips on again. With records that are overly engineered, I go into dissection mode—or ones that are completely poorly done, thinking ‘This is what I could have done…’
What records would you remix if you could go back and get in the studio?
Daddy Kev: That’s a loaded question—‘Whose record have you worked on that’s wack?’ It’s gonna sound terrible, but groups that fell off—A Tribe Called Quest or De La Soul, where you hear their later records and think ‘Oh my God, who said yes to this? Who was the guy in the room who was like, “Yeah, that’s perfect!”?’ I’m definitely at a point where I will retire before I start making wack shit—granted, a lot of people tell themselves that, but then go on to make terrible albums. I try to look at stuff as objectively as possible—if I made a beat wack, I’m the first to admit it. A lot of people keep going—it’s hard to think about going back. ‘That job doing data entry in Irvine is sounding good right now.’ But when the day comes where I got nothing left in in me, I’ll recognize it.
What’s a career you’d like to follow?
Daddy Kev: Rick Rubin. He has label success, he’s able to stay current, and he continues to produce albums and music that are astonishing. You gotta walk that line carefully: between creating music and marketing music. But one thing that will never change is my fundamental respect for the art.
Even if you grow a giant Rick Rubin beard?
Daddy Kev: When I’m in a Jay Z video, I know I’ve made it.