joe Beats has been a producer for several years, but it wasn't until the beatmaker laid down tracks for underground hip-hop hero and provacative iconoclast Sage Francis that he earned his name as an important producer in the world of underground rap. The Non-Prophets album Hope was a relative success; it delved into rap's past yet retained a truly original identity, thanks in a large part to Joe's inspired production. Unlike many producers working in the sample-heavy genre of indie rap, however, Joe seems well aware of his place within the hip-hop world and is an unapologetic fan; he has an earnest passion for early 90s hip-hop production.

What was your reaction to how the Non-Prophets album was received?

Joe Beats: I was very pleased. I was expecting it to get bashed a lot more than it did. The big worry was whether Sage’s fan base would accept something with such a traditional twist, but … the reaction was very positive. From all ends.

Why do you think it struck a chord with so many people? As far as indie hip-hop goes, it was a fairly big success.

JB: The fun aspect of it. I think it hit at a time when a lot of serious, introspective albums were out and people needed a break. I think they got that with Hope. Also, I thought people really enjoyed watching Sage switch his whole steez up and do it quite well. That helped us greatly, the fact that right off the bat it was traditional but in the same text experimental and different for the guy who normally did things that pushed the boundaries.

One of the things I like about the album is that while in many ways it’s a throwback, it seemed to simultaneously poke fun at people who take hip-hop very seriously—in a 4 elements, by-the-book sense—and still show the influence of the artists who came before it. Was this a conscious effort on you and Sage’s part, or is it something that happened naturally?

JB: Naturally. It was a thought that flowed right into the music and fit. It definitely wasn’t intentional. In fact, nothing about the album was. We didn’t sit down and make a list of points to hit. A lot of it just became his thoughts on the status quo of hip-hop and it included all of those ideas.

Let’s talk for a moment about your part in the album, the production aspect. Obviously your sound is hearkening back, in many ways, to a very specific sound. Could you talk for a moment about the music of that period, and which artists/tracks in particular influenced you?

JB: Definitely the early 90’s, East Coast style of production. Pete Rock (smoothness), Large Pro (stacks), the Beatminerz (dark and blunted), Q-Tip (charming), the Beatnuts (fun and flavorful), etc. However, I always knew it was important to throw a twist of today in there as well. But it wasn’t like I was trying to bring where their sound would be today if the same style of production continued to flourish. If that were the case, they would be making Endtroducing-type records. I looked at it the opposite way. I said to myself, “I’m 14, 15, 16 years old. It’s 1991, 1992, 1993. I want Rosie Perez and all of En Vogue. Hip-Hop is still good. Here’s the type of beats I would be making.” And in that comparison, you see what I’m doing as shit … but that’s the point. To see that shit back then, can still have success now…what does that tell you about modern hip-hop production? [laughs]

What do you think of modern hip-hop, production-wise in particular? Are there any artists doing things that interest you?

JB: Yes. I like Maker, Blockhead, Sixtoo, DJ Shadow (obviously), Signify, etc. As far as the rest I could really care less. Every so often I hear something I like but the person who made it isn’t consistent. They caught lightning in a bottle. But all of that sounds very arrogant, in the inference that I’m killing it too. No, that’s not it. I just don’t particularly like what I hear.

What about mainstream artists who work outside the sample-based medium? Timbaland has clearly been consistent in his work throughout the past seven years or so.

JB: Yeah but he’s not my concern. What concerns me are kids doing shitty or good stuff within the genre [in which] I’m thriving. Timbaland is great, but he’s not my concern. He’s a fire too great to put out. Like Puffy, like Dre, like whomever spreads across the mainstream.

What exactly is the genre in which you’re thriving? Although you take influences from early 90s hip-hop, it seems that the current indie hip-hop fanbase is considerably different from the music’s early 90s influence’s fanbase.

JB: No, my concern is the fans. There are too many heads making this music out to impress the industry. They want to be the top 12” on the CMJ charts. They want their press kit on the right desk. They talk a lot of this after the show with people who are supposedly “doing big things”. They’ve forgotten the most important aspect: the audience. There is no one particular type of audience member to classify and stereotype them all. It’s simple to me, if you like my shit, word up—I’m talking to you after the show. I’m as anxious to dap them up as they are me. It’s special. So all the kids making music to impress the industry can do that. I encourage them to keep doing that. That way, I can keep being successful talking to the people that REALLY matter in this shit, working on the REAL relationship that matters. It only makes matters easier. So they can have all that “impress the big dog” shit. That’s what I meant by Timbaland not being my concern; I have ZERO dreams of being as big as Timbaland. Those impress-the-industry cats do. So Tim is not my concern. Dre is not my concern. I don’t do what they do.

Do you find that focusing within this range of influences (early 90s, sample based) is limiting in any way?

JB: Yes. And that’s why Hope was released a year ago and now I’m moving on. That style of production will always be referenced within mine. Why? Because I enjoy it the most. However, at that point, what artist doesn’t constantly reference the era or the type of music they enjoy most? It’s called influence. But I’m definitely looking to expand, and already have been. So in that sense, EVERYONE is limited by their own tastes. So I’m not too worried about it.

What direction do you see your production moving in? What influences have you started to adopt in your own work?

JB: Latin music and indie rock as of right now. I want to do some R&B; as well, but good R&B.; There is a lot of music that I think my style can infiltrate.

What aspects of, say, Latin music do you see incorporating? Is it a shift to different sample sources, or have you been changing your outlook in other ways as well?

JB: Well, most of Hope is Latin records. But I’m talking more now about adopting the same types of composition, arrangement, and rhythms.

What indie rock in particular have you been listening to of late, and what is it you find appealing about this music?

JB: Well, when I got off tour I went through a big post-tour depression. I mean, you’re in a different city every night, hosting the party. All of your troubles are far away back home. You’re seeing the country, bonding with friends, eating out for EVERY meal, getting paid to do what you love. And also, you have PURPOSE. Even when you’re in the van doing nothing, you’re still en route to rock a show. So in the end, you are ALWAYS doing something with particular and immediate value. You meet great people every night, etc. Then you get home and it all stops. Out of nowhere, life comes to a halt. The dream is done. Album campaign, officially over. The album you wanted to release your whole life has been released and you’ve capped the campaign off by touring. It’s very tough. From there, you hang on to the very few aspects of romance in your life that remain. In my case, none of those things stood true, and it didn’t help the situation. On a trip to New York City, my friend just played me great indie rock song after great indie rock song. When dropped me off, he lent me this CD called The Lioness by Songs: Ohia. I loved it—UP AND DOWN. It was like the first time I heard Pete Rock. The first time I really FELT something in my chest—like I used to feel hip-hop. Back then it was the beats. This time around it was the lyrics. This guy Molina, he was ill. One song in particular KILLED me: “Coxcomb Red.” I played it over and over and over and over. Explained a recent situation to the TEE. So I was making a beat one day and I said to myself, “I gotta rock this “Coxcomb Red” shit.” The same way I would say, “Damn, I gotta rock that Jorge Ben shit.” Boom…I scrapped the beat and just ended up remixing the whole song. I showed it to my buddy and he’s like, “yo you gotta do a whole album like this.” So that’s how it all got started.

Speaking of the tour…it was called “Fuck Clear Channel,” and Sage Francis has outspoken political views. To what degree are you interested in politics and activism?

JB: I don’t know the details but I know the sum greater than I do the individual parts. Like, I know Bush has to go; he abuses power. Simple enough for me. I know Clear Channel is basically a form of censorship. Simple enough for me, get rid of it. Stand against it.

What projects do you have coming up in the near future? Will you be working with artists other than Sage? Hope certainly raised your profile.

JB: Hope gave me the boost I needed, yes. Next is a project called Indie Rock Blues; an album where I’ve remixed a bunch of indie rock songs. I’m about halfway done with that. The next project after that will be “Joey Beats and Nobs”. I’m producing the whole album and Nobs will be rhyming every song. We are about halfway through with that one as well. That album is called Smack and will definitely take longer to finish than Indie Rock Blues. IRB should be out sometime in late October or early November and Smack months later. Also, I have a 45 dropping on Bully Records sometime in the fall. This will be me taking a stab at REAL instrumental music.

RJD2/DJ Shadow style?

JB: Yes. The first track is called “Elephant Juice” and the B-side (which is half done) is yet to be titled. “Elephant Juice” is very angry. I needed to get a few recent demons out of my system. There are sprinkles of it on IRB and DEFINITELY on “Elephant Juice.”

Joey Beats Desert Island Top 10 Early 90s Hip-Hop tracks:

1. Main Source – “Looking at the Front Door”

(The rest, in no order:)

Black Moon – “Who Got the Props”
Pete Rock and CL Smooth – “T.R.O.Y.”
The Beatnuts – “Reign of the Tec”
Brand Nubian – “Slow Down”
Gang Starr – “Just to Get a Rep”
KMD – “Peachfuzz”
Souls of Mischief – “93 Til Infinity” or “That’s When Ya Lost”
Diamond – “Sally Got a One Track Mind”
Lord Finesse featuring Big L – “Yes You May (Remix)”

Links: Non-Prophets

The Non-Prophets album Hope and Joe Beats solo instrumentals entitled Reverse Discourse can be found at the following sites:

Sandbox Automatic
The Giant Peach
Hip-Hop Site

By: David Drake
Published on: 2004-08-30
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