Ralph M is fast evolving into one of the West Coast's premier production talents. When you hear the name, the role of producer doesn't automatically spring to mind. Although he has produced tracks for House Of Pain, Mellow Man Ace and Funkdoobiest, most think of him as a DJ. Touring with the Soul Assassins, Funkdoobiest and Cypress Hill, his reputation behind the decks soared, and he now stands in a unique position within the LA rap community.
Like many prestigious hip-hop names before him, Ralph first cut his teeth as a DJ on the now defunct LA radio station KDAY.
"I was a big fan of their DJs," he says. "Even Dr Dre used to DJ on there when he was with the Wreckin' Cru. They used to inspire me, and they had this big competition every two or three years. On the radio they would say, 'Come on down if you think you've got what it takes'.
"I was 13, I tried out, but I'd never DJ'd on 1200 turntables before. I had those belt-drive turntables, and 1200s were direct-drive. Everybody had belt-drives, starting out."
Having failed first time round, Ralph tried again successfully a couple of years later. This led to a partnership with Kid Frost, via Tony Gonzalez - a respected DJ who also worked at KDAY.
"Tony G was like a serious old-school pioneer for LA; he basically did a lot for LA hip-hop. He was responsible for groups like Boo-Yaa Tribe, Mellow Man Ace and Kid Frost - who didn't have a DJ at the time. So Tony said, 'I need you to do this with this homeboy, he's looking for a Mexican kid and you're going to travel and stuff. His record's taking off. We did over a thousand shows together."
Shortly afterwards, the foundations for Funkdoobiest were laid. "DJ Muggs was in 7A3 at the time. He also had Cypress Hill on the side. I started hanging out with him and we used to work together. I had a four-track, and I used to go over there to work and stuff. When Cypress made it big, they were on the road a lot, so me, Son and T-Funk started working on our demos together - and that's when I started producing on the SP1200. I'd only just got the SP so I was working on the album immediately. From the point I got that, it was a trip."
'Freak Mode' and 'Uh Come On Yeah' were the first tracks.
But it wasn't until 1992, when he worked on House Of Pain's debut album Shamrocks & Shenanigans, that Ralph got his first production credit. Billed as 'Ralph Tha Funky Mexican', he produced three of the tracks; 'Life Goes On', 'Feel It' and, best of all, 'Come And Get Some Of This' - co-produced with DJ Muggs with a gritty, bluesy edge.
"We did it on the four-track, laid it on the SP1200, went into the studio and knocked it out," he says. "I was still learning at the time."
Ralph claims his move into the producer's seat was a natural transition from his early love of hip-hop.
"Being a producer takes a lot of patience and determination"
"I went to this party with my parents. Their friends' kids used to be into popping and listening to hip-hop and that's how I got exposed to it. At first I didn't know anybody, but it kinda like came together in the end. A lot of people knew me from KDAY so that helped me. I used to sell tapes on the streets or at school. I was local, and when I got on KDAY I branched out a little more.
"If you work at something enough you'll definitely get better at it - if you always have that desire for it," he says of of his current status. "If you try hard enough at anything you can do it."
Does he feel he has any special qualities that enable him to be producer?
"For me it's down to overall experience. It's all to do with feeling, and if it doesn't sound right I just can't roll with it. Sometimes it might take me six months to finish a song, the way I really want it. Being a producer not only takes a lot of patience and determination, but also you gotta know what you want.
"I started off with an Electrobrand - same record player as DJ Muggs had. Big-ass turntable and big-ass needle - I used to scratch, but I didn't have a pad underneath. My records were pretty f****d up. Muggs was a big inspiration to me, along with Tony G, Grandmaster Flash, Pete Rock, Large Professor, DJ Premier and T Ray."
How would Ralph describe his production sound?
"I call it tribal funk, but it's just basically the expressions of a young Latino coming from LA. It's hard to classify it."
Ralph's main priority now is Funkdoobiest's second album. Their first, Which Doobie U B?, was a real breakthrough. As well as showing off his impressive DJing skills, Ralph produced half of the album, including one of its best - and funkiest - tracks, 'Doobie To The Head'. 'Funk's On Me' runs it a close second.
Since then, his identity as a member of the crew has been established, but with such influence on the LA scene he may just produce the next phase of rap single-handed.
"I'm still growing, I'm still definitely learning a lot - but I see myself heading in the right direction."
Interview by Antoinette Turton
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