DIBIA$E: GO WITH A NUCLEAR WARHEAD
Stream: Dibia$e “What Champions Made Of”
Dibia$e is an 8-bit information-decoding machine whose beats sound like the dial-up connection from War Games. His Up The Joystick albums are necessary listening for anyone seeking secret levels. He speaks now while very relaxed. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
Who made you the MPC birthday cake?
Oh, man—my girl! She surprised me with it. She knows I like making the beats. That was before we got together but that pretty much sealed the deal. I didn’t even wanna cut the cake—but I had to.
What’s your room like where you work and what’s the best streak you’ve had in there?
I’m a late-night owl, so the wee hours of the morning—I work during the day. The latest I was up was til one in the afternoon. I recorded lines at the same time—make the beat, write a rhyme, lay it down. So that took all day, and after a couple of days of that I felt myself breaking down. I’ve taken my set-up to work—I made some beats there. I work at a park and I got a few supervisors that are cool, so when it’s kick-back on a Saturday I’ll bring the laptop and keyboard and bang out a few. Back in the day, when I worked in the weight room and you had to sit there and monitor, it was pretty boring. But they had a radio with a speaker, so I brought the MP in a duffle bag and set it up with the little amplifier and I was bangin’ beats. You could hear it bumping—the whole weight room could hear it!
What’s the best environment for you to get good work done?
It doesn’t matter. I work in all kinds of settings. My grandma used to be like, ‘Ah, turn that noise down!’ so I’d work in that setting. Now I’m in a crib full of musicians—recording in the living room, and I’m doing vocals in my room, and inside the garage is a live band rehearsing. Crazy! Aloe Blacc moved out and I pretty much took his spot. We had a get-together in the living room—Ableton Live recording with live drummers and piano and I was live on the MP banging drums. Crazy! All kinds of heads fall through there any given day.
What kind of family did you grow up in?
None of my family—they’re non-musicians. But my father and uncle had records. My grandfather would always play jazz around the house—Duke Ellington, Wes Montgomery, stuff like that. I’d listen and think, ‘Damn, that’s cool.’ And my mom listened to ’80s—Gap Band or SOS Band and stuff like that. And my uncle listened to the Supremes—Diana Ross a lot. So he had all them records, and that was in the garage, and when I got equipment, I was going through those records.
The exact same ones you’d grown up with?
And when I got that little eight-second sampler, I started catching loops. That was tricky. When I got the MP I started coppin’—that was ’97. But in ’95 I was making beats with eight seconds and a Roland drum machine. The first one I ever grabbed was an Al Jarreau record—Ninth Wonder sampled on it. And a Thad Jones record with the Philadelphia Orchestra that had a Dilla sample. I was trying to sample that way back in the day. And Pete Rock sampled it, too. Those were the first two records.
That’s funny you were on that same wavelength.
Yeah—I was like, ‘Oh snap!’ It started from that. I used to sample from the radio station back in the day. Like 88.1, 89.9, 90.7—at my friend’s house with the eight-second and we’d just get live samples. You had to get them live because you couldn’t rewind it, and I had to hold the antenna sometimes so I could get it clear. That was some work! I still got some tapes—I got the four-track tapes but I just don’t have the four-track. I’ll break it out for a few heads but I’ll be embarrassed a few times! I was like 18 when I was doing that. Now I’m 31.
How are you getting better at what you’re doing?
All those years when I was beginning—I know I’d make mistakes, but that was my best teacher. I’d apply every year as I go and I’m still learning stuff to this day. And I get advice from heads. ‘More transitions, make the track build up, think of it as a soundtrack’—you can close your eyes and it has a setting to it. It doesn’t even need words—it already sets the mood. I try to apply all of that. I don’t listen to much rapping like I did back in the day. I listen to a lot of old school now—Redman, Muddy Waters, old Wu Tang, ODB’s first album, old Operation Doomsday, Slum V Fantastic Vol. 1 and 2—
That’s a pretty pure diet.
Yeah, man! N.W.A., X Clan, Black Moon—just a lot of that stuff. Standard boom-bap. I try to keep it standard but I try to put a future to it. I still got the groove to that. I think of that shock factor every time—I wanna shock the listener’s ear. ‘You can’t flip that—what’s he gonna do with this?’ And then come in like—‘Damn!’ You got all kinds of heads in L.A. killing it, so to put a stamp on something—Lotus, Samiyam, he’s killing it, Ras G—so I gotta get my stamp where it’s still on some next, but totally Dibia$e every time.
What producer here challenges you the most when you work together?
That’s every beathead out here! I done a few with Lotus back in the day. Ras G, we done stuff—live in the kitchen! And this head Devon from Portland—he’s pretty sick with it. Vinnie B out of Brooklyn. Back and forth with Pudge. My friend Elliot Saunders. Pusher Price, Green Llama camp and U.N.I. I’m open to collaborating with heads. They’re all from next so you gotta come correct. Right now I’m with Jazzy Sport—I just put a beat on Pound For Pound Two, and that’s already out. I’m working on Up The Joystick: The Secret Levels. That’ll probably be the end of the video game thing. I got plenty of video games but I don’t wanna run it into the ground!
When you were sampling games, did you have to play to the actual part you wanted to sample?
Yup—the Mario Brothers beat, I was actually playing through the game and I had the thing going through the 404, and I was just recording it live while I played it. And I looped up a few beautiful things and dumped it into the MP, and I’d play some more and get caught up playing it and before you know it, I’m beating the stage—I had to get to the Bowser level! Man! Now I got a little thing where it just has the soundtrack and I don’t have to play it. Wish I knew that back then.
Did you ever lose a beat because you died in the middle of sampling?
No, I’ll get the sounds from that, too! When I die or all that stuff—I’m just trying to collect it all!
How much do you have kicking around?
Including stuff on tape? I have no idea but it’s gotta be over a thousand.
Did you feel any different once you passed a thousand?
That’s what I’m saying—I’m still learning! If you’re not learning, you’re not getting any better. I get shocked by it, too—like a kid in a candy store. It’s kind of weird but sometimes I might sleep on it—have a dream and have a beat in my head! They’ll come out that way. Stuck before and then I’ll lay down the beat I dreamed up.
What are you frustrated about most in L.A.? And what makes you proudest?
I’ll go on a positive note first! I’m happy about this beat scene. It’s been building since ‘05—since Sketchbook and we all posted up there. I used to be up there with a boombox every week, and everybody would make the beats for the whole week and come back with a CD or a tape—it’d be like a roundtable. Ras G, Lotus, Georgia, Sacred, Take—you name it. Everyone’s been taking off since. It kept everybody on their toes sharpening their swords every week. It wasn’t like a battle or nothing—everybody wanted to stay on point because they knew the next person was. That inspired me a lot. The negative thing—just the crowds! I’m from the era—I used to go to Unity back in the day—see Redman, Wu Tang, O.C., Gang Starr, all that. Walk up in the club and the crowd is hype all day! Wasn’t like ‘I’m too cool to throw my hands up or bob my head.’ And they had openers nobody heard of who were killing it and everybody would give it up. Now it’s like a popularity contest. ‘I don’t know this guy—not my camp, forget him!’ They wanna stand in front like it’s a funeral! There’s heads that know how to have a good time, and it’s all for them, but for all the zombies—I’m gonna start playing some funeral music for them! When I see a fellow L.A. artist doing it, damn—I’m proud he’s from L.A.! These guys are holding it down! But you know what they say—if somebody’s hating, you’re doing something right.
When was the last time you were shook up before a beat battle?
I’m always nervous! Nothing’s a guarantee. Ask any of my homies before the battle what I tell ‘em: ‘I don’t like my chances!’ And they’re like, ‘You’re crazy, man!’ I’m not trying to hold back—back in the day, I used to hold back and I paid for it at the end. So I try to go with a nuclear warhead every round. I’m not gonna play the first like I play the last. Sink or swim!
Since you’re the Million Dollar Man, what’s your Million Dollar Dream?
That’s some smooth melodic beats right there—the submission-hold sleeper, and then he slaps you awake stuffing that $100 down your throat! That slap! I call myself the Slapmaster General!
DIBIA$E WITH MAGNIFICENT RUFFIANS, AFTERDARK, BROTHER DVOOA AND MORE ON WED., NOV. 26, AT VIBE, 1805 UNIVERSITY AVE., RIVERSIDE. 9 PM / $2-$5 / CONTACT VENUE FOR AGES. VISIT DIBIA$E AT MYSPACE.COM/DIABOLIC1.