Vie Marshall raps with the bad young brother himself about Ataris, Creator and reader-friendly manuals
Vie Marshall talks to rapper, studio owner and C-Lab Creator user
Derek B blazed a trail for an influx of British hip hop artists when his single Bad Young Brother hit the charts like (as the album said) a Bullet From A Gun.
Since Derek's success other Brit-rappers, such as the Cookie Crew and the Wee Papa Girl Rappers have been able to enter previously virgin territory.
Hip hop emanated from the streets in the 1970's. No one then thought that it would last this long or that bad young brothers (and of course now sisters) would be jostling beside conventional pop stars for pinnacle chart positions.
Indeed, rap music has come a long way, with the exponents on the medium employing the use of the most up to date technological equipment to enhance their sound.
Derek B(oland) ploughs all the dough from his success straight back into what makes his bread and butter - his music. In his plush new West Hampstead home, the 23 year old music maestro has kitted himself up with a wealth of up to the minute gadgets and frippery to make his own pre-production studio.
Representing Micro Music, I was the first journalist allowed to snoop around his gaf and check out his flash equipment. Armed with an eye-opening mug of coffee early one Tuesday morning, Derek lead the way upstairs past the bathroom to the studio.
"I'm from the same 'school as Tim Simenon of Bomb The Bass, Mark Moore of S'Express and Jazzie B of Soul II Soul," says Derek. And for good reason all four men started their careers as DJ's. From building reputations and followings in London's West End, they turned their hands to making music of their own as opposed to playing other people's records.
"All DJ's are frustrated musicians. Tim, Mark, Jazzie and myself are all technology kids. We all make the technology work for us, because we're not true musicians".
"The essence of all my tunes is the drum and bass. Once I've got those sorted out it all starts to gel.
I use the Akai MPC-60. It's the most superior drum machine I've ever used. You get a really good feel out of it. The timing is brilliant and the editing you can do with it is first class. There's also a brilliant button on it called the Help Button. I use that one a lot!".
It's a long established tradition in the innovative world of hip hop to beg, steal and borrow beats, rhymes and rhythms. Elusively, Derek says he uses samples from 'all over'.
"I use the Akai S-1000 HD sampler. My S-1000 is the tool. I think it's the best sampler on the market, it's a dream to use. The Akai sampling products are probably the best at the moment. I take samples from vinyl tapes and more recently CDs, but I prefer to keep the sample sounding raw so I rarely take samples from a compact disc. I guess you could call me a sample purist.
Anyway, back to Akai products. I'm not sponsored by them or anything, but I must say I think their stuff are the best things since sliced bread. They make their products very user friendly.
I use C-Lab's Creator software to run on the Atari 1040 ST. I found the Creator a lot better than the Pro-24, because it can do a lot more things. I don't read music, so I didn't buy the Notator.
I've got all this equipment, but I don't consider myself to be a technology wizard. I learnt to use my equipment like I learnt to use my car, my video and everything else. I eat manuals like nobody's business but some of them are indigestible, he quips. "Seriously though I think they copy some of these manuals straight from Japanese. The Japanese are very logical, so their manuals aren't very readable, or as you put it, reader friendly. Roland are starting to make quite reader friendly manuals. They used to be really bad, like the one for the TB-303 for instance, "he picks it up from a nearby coffee table" reading this drove me potty. The manual for their D-50 Linear synth, that's alright.
"I use the D-50 and the Ensoniq Mirage Sampling Keyboard. The Ensoniq is the first sampling 'thinga-ma-jiggy' I ever bought and it's very dear to my heart. It's two and a half years old, but I think it's still a very good MIDI keyboard. The audio bandwidth isn't as good as they could be, but I don't care I won't part company with it.
I've just got the Roland JX in rack form, so I've got quite an abundance of sounds, which can all be changed and mixed together. I think you can still keep electronic music personal.
As well as the Atari 1040, which I run the D-50 off, my Ensoniq and my Super JX, I use Drawmer Gates and Drawer Compressors. I've got 5 pairs of Drawmer Gates and 4 pairs of Drawmer Compressors. I master it all onto DAT. I edit onto 322-B, my analog recorder. And that is really the basis of my set-up.
I produced all or co-produced all the tracks on my first album, 'Bullet From A Gun'. It was very much an experimental album. I was still making the transition from club dj to recording artist and producer, so it was a learning process all the way. I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn't really know how to get to it. Simon Harris (from Bass (How Can You Go) fame) was a great help, he really knew how to transpose my ideas.
'Bullet From A Gun' took a lot longer than usual to make because I was determined to learn as much about producing as I could. My first lessons are recorded on that album.
I 'produced' my first record when I was seventeen. It was called 'It's Your Love' and I got this girl called Susie Hall (who used to work for Jive Records) singing on it'.
Explaining how he made the transition from djing to producing, Derek says, "I was always mixing up tracks at the clubs I played at. One club I used to do a lot of mixing at was this place called Bentley's in Canning Town. I always wanted to make the records sound like something else".
Funnily enough even though Derek has made quite a tidy packet for himself as a rap artist, he still yearns to be behind two turntables entertaining crowds with a selection of records.
"I was a dj for seven years. I miss it really bad, but I still manage to slip a few records onto turntables here and there, but its not quite enough. I loved those days".
Even though Derek misses djing he claims he wouldn't give up what he's got for anything. All he wants is the best of both worlds - nothing to wrong with that.
"Music is, and always has been my life. My mother introduced me to soul music as a very young age. Even though she comes from the West Indies, she's not very keen on reggae music. Soul music is really progression from soul music, because basically all the riffs and sounds come from there. And my music is a progression of my moods an how I feel at a particular moment". After more than a year off the scene Derek has set up his own production company run from home (which is one of the reasons he has a production studio in his house). The production company is called Tuff Audio Productions.
"I've been raking up people who I think are hot and young for Tuff Audio, and I think they're really gonna make it happen in '89 and beyond.
"I've got about nine projects under the Tuff Audio Productions umbrella ringing from rap music to house music, rock and soul. I'll be producing acts such as Top Billin' Rub and Dub and Trouble which are all first class rap acts".
"People have been sending me demo tapes for ages, not just hip hop tapes as you would imagine but soul tapes, house tapes in fact all sorts of dance music. I'm very passionate about all forms of music I guess that's because I come from a family who are passionate about music. Whatever it is it's only been in the past six or eight months with the starting up of Tuff Audio that I've been able to realise dreams in other areas, not just hip hop.
"The Tuff Audio motto is Making Dreams Reality and that's just what we intend to do; but I make sure the people I agree to work with don't come in thinking it's all dead easy or becoming a pop star's a bowl of cherries. I make them work for it. The people I work with are real and talented people. Take for instance this guy called Horace Carter Allen, he's an ex-model and dj we've just signed up. One the surface he might seem like just a pretty boy (he looks like a cross between Terence Trent D'Arby and the Pasadenas) but he's got what it takes. It's just like that guy from Bros, everybody thought he was just a male bimbo but boy can that guy sing".
Derek is also busy writing material for his second album, and as he explained his songs usually have very strange origins.
"I carry my filofax with me whenever I go if what starts like the beginnings of a song comes into my head I scribble it down. Sometimes I get inspiration in my car or on the bog or in the bath. As I explained before I can't read or write music, so when I write out songs I usually write down things like... boom ke tack boom ke tack boom boom bash bash boom. I know it sounds like garbage to you, but I understand it, and it works.
"I've recorded about four tracks for the album, I wrote a lot more originally, but I've scrapped quite a few because they weren't going in the new direction I'm pursuing".
What is the new direction?
"Well it's hard to say really. There's going to be a few political raps that's for sure. But overall I'd like there to be an urgency in the new stuff. When I think up a 'new song', I usually get the basis of my idea down in about four hours. I like to do things as quickly as possible because otherwise you loose the momentum".
Lets just say the new album's going to be very special. It's going to be one of those albums you burn your fingers on when you pick it up. It's going to be like going 10 rounds with Mike Tyson". Sounds like a very lethal album.
"You know what I mean, it's going to be a GOOD album, but I haven't thought of a name for it yet".
It's hard to believe that Derek didn't know what he was up to before at the time when 'Bullet From A Gun' was released. After all he had three top twenty singles out of it, and there are awards for best this and best that adorning every wall. Perhaps he's just modest, but by the way he's talked about his new album et al, I pretty much doubt it. Whatever it is it sets him in the vanguard of British dance music.
Interview by Vie Marshall
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