Music producer, rap musician
In an era where new dances and tales of material gain and sexual conquest are the norm in rap lyrics, pioneering rap/hip-hop producer Pete Rock would like a little recognition from today's generation. Rock's career began in 1988 on radio station WBLS' show, "In Control," with Marley Marl. Using this time wisely, Rock gained experience sampling beats and scratching records with some of the best rappers and producers of that era. He had a successful run as one-half of the duo Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth. After the two split, Rock became a much-sought-after producer and his solo career has continued to touch fans who appreciated good talent.
Pete Rock was born Peter Phillips on June 21, 1970, in the Bronx, New York. His family was originally from Jamaica. His father was a part-time deejay who exposed Rock to music at a young age. A cousin who deejayed at street parties taught Rock how to scratch (moving a vinyl record back and forth with the hand while it is playing on a turntable) after catching him using his equipment.
Rock and his family moved to Mt. Vernon on the borough of Long Island in New York. During high school, he began creating beats using record samples. His cousin, Heavy D of Heavy D & the Boyz, was asked to recommend a replacement deejay for WBLS' groundbreaking weekend show, "In Control." Deejay Marley Marl, widely known for finding fresh talent and producing many classic rap singles, was in charge but also hired several other deejays to stay on the cutting edge. Heavy D recommended Rock and he was hired while still in high school. Rock also helped Heavy D on several tracks of his CDs, including "You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet" and "Big Tyme."
Also during this time, Rock began to release mix tapes and he searched for a rapper. His high school friend, Corey Penn, known as C.L. Smooth, agreed to work with him and the duo Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth was soon created. Their first EP, All Souled Out was released in 1991, the same year Rock's radio show ended.
Released Mecca & the Soul Brother
Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth's next release was the album that placed them on the map. Mecca & the Soul Brother showcased Rock's prowess as a producer. He produced each track with help from Smooth and Heavy D, among others. The CD placed high on both the R&B and rap charts. According to the Six Shot Web site, Mecca & the Soul Brother was "a classic LP which should serve as a model for every [hip-hop] producer in the game."
While singles "Straighten It Out" and "Lots of Lovin'" met with critical acclaim and did admirably on the charts, the single "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)" was an instant success, and further cemented Rock's place as a producer. Stanton Swihart of All Music Guide stated the song "packs a poignant emotional weight." The song paid tribute to a dancer in the group Heavy D & the Boys who had died while on tour. He had grown up with Rock in their Mt. Vernon neighborhood.
Using samples from artists other than James Brown or at least using samples from Brown that were obscure, Rock continued a growing trend utilizing horns and other jazz pieces that strayed from the usual sound of heavy bass and scratches that were synonymous with a rap record. His aim to combine rap with jazz helped continue a new variant in what is considered the Golden Era of the rap genre.
Made Solo Debut
Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth released another album that met with acclaim but did not rise anywhere near Mecca & the Soul Brother. The duo disbanded in 1994, shocking the rap community. Rock, however, continued producing. His collaboration with Run D.M.C. helped bring the pioneering rap group back to the forefront in the 1990s. Rock also produced remixes for Public Enemy, Rakim, Wu Tang Clan, and Nas. His ability to create beats from the most obscure of records has made him a much-sought-after producer. He has also been emulated by many rappers and producers, including Kanye West, P. Diddy, and Q-Tip, who used his sound on the single "Jazz (We've Got)" off of the seminal album, The Low End Theory. Rock said in an interview on the Bump Hip Hop Web site, "A lot of these guys … look up to me, my music and my talent. I definitely think I set the bar for these guys."
Wanting to curb bootleggers and missed credit for beats, Rock signed with Loud Records and released Soul Survivor in 1998. Though he has rapped and can write lyrics, Rock used many recognizable rappers and some unknowns on this release. He received a warm reception in the rap industry. The release did well, and Rock's fame continued, especially abroad in Japan. In addition to producing for others and deejaying around the world, Rock released follow-ups to his first solo effort: Petestrumentals and Soul Survivor II. He also reunited with C.L. Smooth for several tracks on Soul Survivor II.
Released NY's Finest
Rock released NY's Finest in 2008. Though the trend of including guest rappers and singers was nothing new for an industry bent on taking a trend and running it into the ground, Rock chose artists with whom he wanted to work and vice versa. He explained the situation to Dale Coachman of the online magazine Scheme: "The anxiousness of me working with an artist that I love and knowing what's going to come of it and knowing what I'm bringing to the table is amazing and I get this adrenaline rush." Rock collaborated with Jim Jones, the late J. Dilla, and Raekwon and Masts Killa of the Wu Tang Clan. The album was successful and brought Rock back to the forefront.
Rock's quest for finding obscure beats, tracks, and sounds has him searching for rare records in a variety of cities and countries. In what he has labeled as digging, Rock visits record stores to find material to include in new releases. One of his favorite ways to find elusive recordings was to attend conventions but Rock found that he was easily recognized and noticed the competition was more into what he bought versus finding records on their own. Rock estimated that he owns 40,000 records.
In the annals of rap history, Rock is placed among the greatest. While the rap industry has changed from when he made his debut, he hopes that this generation and the ones to follow will hearken back to the rap music of the Golden Era. Rock continues to raise the bar when it comes to producing beats that still bop heads from around the world, and has not been swayed to release music half-produced just to make a quick buck. As a father of two, he has continued to release albums that will inspire generations to elevate themselves. He told Tika Milan of XXL magazine, "I think for the young kids, my album will teach them a lot if they're willing to listen and learn." His place as one of the best is secure and Rock plans to continue to produce and create, pushing rappers and hip-hop music producers to reach new heights.
For the Record …
Born Peter Phillips on June 21, 1970, in the Bronx, New York; children: two.
Began scratching, circa 1977; began producing beats, circa 1983; WBLS, "In Control" radio show, deejay, 1988-91; formed rap group Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, circa 1988; released EP, All Souled Out, 1991; released first album, Mecca & the Soul Brother, 1992; The Main Ingredient, 1994; duo split up, 1994; released solo album, Soul Survivor, 1998; PeteStrumentals, 2001; Soul Survivor II, 2004; NY's Finest, 2008.
Addresses: Record company—Nature Sounds, 181 N. 11th St., 4th Fl., Brooklyn, NY 11211.
(With C.L. Smooth) All Souled Out, Elektra Records, 1991.
(With C.L. Smooth) Mecca & the Soul Brother, Elektra Records, 1992.
(With C.L. Smooth) The Main Ingredient, Elektra Records, 1994.
Soul Survivor, Loud Records, 1998.
PeteStrumentals, BBE Records, 2001.
Soul Survivor II, BBE Records, 2004.
NY's Finest, Nature Sounds Records, 2008.
Washington Times, August 26, 2004.
"Pete Rock," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (June 20, 2008).
"Pete Rock & 9th Wonder: Funky, Fresh and Soulful," Scheme,http://schememag.com/hip-hop/pete-rock-9thwonder-funky-fresh-and-soulful/ (June 20, 2008).
"Pete Rock Biography," Sweets Lyrics, http://www.sweetslyrics.com/bio-Pete%20Rock.html (June 20, 2008).
"Pete Rock Interview," Prefix,http://www.prefixmag.com/features/pete-rock/pete-rock-interview/17354/ (June 20, 2008).
"Pete Rock: Keep It Rollin'," XXL,http://www.xxlmag.com/online/?p=18274 (June 20, 2008).
"Pete Rock: Soul Survivor," Six Shot,http://www.sixshot.com/articles/4239/ (June 20, 2008).
"Pete Rock: The Unkut Interview," Unkut!, http://www.unkut.com/2008/04/pete-rock-the-unkut-interview/ (June 20, 2008).
"The Main Ingredient: Pete Rock," Bump Hip Hop, http://www.bumphiphop.com/bumphiphop/pete-rock/ (June 20, 2008).
—Ashyia N. Henderson
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