Sunday, 22 February 2009

Talking vinyl and production with Insane Macbeth

Due to a few computer problems it's been a while since my last post but I'm back, and with something a little special for you all. Now, I've never done an interview before but following on from the interest in the 'U.K. Hip-Hop and the Record Collector Price Guide' post, I've been fortunate enough to get chatting with one of the artists responsible for a couple of the records listed in that book - veteran London producer Insane Macbeth. As well as producing the aforementioned Kinetic Effect "Borderin' Insanity" single, the man was also behind the boards on my favourite U.K. Hip-Hop 12" released this century - "True Heart" which featured another London legend - The Icepick. Insane Macbeth's knowledge on vinyl and production runs deep, so, without further a-do, let's get down to business...

First of all, thanks for taking the time out to do this interview. For the readers who might not be so familiar with Insane Macbeth, please introduce yourself...

My name is Keith Rodgers. I am a hip-hop producer/ beatmaker, and businessman. I go under the moniker of Insane Macbeth. I own two businesses…Insane Recordings, which is an independent record label; and Vicious Productions. I am from Brixton, south London…and I rep Brixton to the fullest. My sound is essentially known as ‘the dungeon vibe’, and it was The Icepick, who called my sound this. My sound and vibe, is essentially cinematic, dark, esoteric in nature. I like mood music, music that touches certain emotions. I am also very concerned with what are called ‘sonics’, and ‘psychoacoustics’. These two terms deal with the scientific study of the relationship between human hearing and its stimulus, essentially how the brain perceives sound. To understand this, in layman terms, understanding sonics is to do with how sounds are eq-ed, effects, reverbs…essentially to do with the final mix down, of a track.

Ok, so is music something you've studied at college?

No, I haven’t studied music theory, or the art of mixing. I basically studied a number of UK rap records in the mid-to-late 1980s, and knew that something was lacking in the low-end frequencies, when it came to these choonz being mixed. So when I recorded/ mixed my 1st release, Kinetic Effect’s “Borderin’ Insanity", b/ w “Beyond the Parameters Of Amateurs”, I ensured that K.E. and I went into a quality studio. We used what is called an S.S.L., or Solid State Logic, a high-end studio console, with the automated faders (known as ‘flying’ faders) on the channel strips. These (and Neve) have eq.s that go on for ever, on the channel strips, which essentially affect mixing. I always studied Dr. Dre, as he is ‘the man’, when it comes to hip-hop production, and mix downs (the general consensus in the U.S.A., is that he is the best producer, since Quincy Jones). Dre definitely has the best eq-ed drumz, so I have always followed his blueprint, and incorporated that, into my vibe.

Right, so what exactly is the creative process involved when making an Insane Macbeth production?

Well, like all producers, it really depends on which direction I wish to take. I am not a particularly spontaneous person; I am very meticulous on what I like…and I very much like to plan the shape of an instrumental, before I start actually creating. If I am going to sample an ‘element’, that more often than not, will determine the tempo/ b.p.m. of the track. I don’t normally sample anymore, unless I really hear a sample/ element that makes me just go “yes, I just have to use this!”. For many years now, I’ve been creating my own musical scores…ideas that come from my mind. I don’t even do renditions of samples, like Dr. Dre does. I’ve only did that with “Last Call”. I create my own bar lines. I am also interested in key signatures, as I incorporate live musicianship in my tracks. Even if I do sample, there has to be a live element, on my track. On a track I released with The Icepick, called “True Heart”, I got my engineer Nigel to play live bass. Then I played the piano, in the same key as the bass.
Damn! I always presumed that the True Heart beat was all sampled! Everything gels perfectly on that track.

The pianos came from the Korg Kawai K4 keyboard. It has some good bass sounds that I’ve used, as well as good clavinet, and strings sounds. However, Korg keyboards have the most authentic piano sounds. Yes, I love the pianos on “True Heart”. I have always worked this way. Therefore, when you listen to an I.M. track, it sounds like ‘real’ music. If I am not going to sample from a record, then I always programme my drumz, first. Again, this is to ascertain the tempo. The tempo normally drives the vibe, which then tells me where I’m going; whether the track is going to sound vicious, or more musical, etc. I will then go through a few sound modules. I normally know which banks/ libraries to go through, and Cavey knows exactly what I need. I’ll use the Proteus 2000, and/ or the Roland JV 3080. I also use the Korg NS-5R, sound module. It has a lot of good synth sounds, for if you’re messing with the 80s vibe. Plus, it seems that no-one’s really messing with it. I love the NS-5R! There are some other sound sources, that I get sounds from. Maybe we can do a part 2 to this interview, and I’ll reveal some more jewelz. I mess with a whole bunch of percussion: high hats, ride symbols, sleigh bells. That way, it keeps the creative juices flowing, and my productions interesting.

Can you remember the first bit of equipment you bought?

It’s really funny, Mr. Krum. You know what? I’ve never bought a piece of studio gear, in my life. A lot of my early ‘ideas’ were done at ‘No-Sleep’ Nigel’s house. We’d used the Akai S950, and Atari 1040, with Creator sequencer. My first serious instrumental was done at Marga’s house. Marga was the producer for Katch 22, a group that was down with south London legends, Hijack. We’d use the Akai S1000, with stereo sampling, and the Roland W-30 keyboard, which also had the capability to sample. Marga used to like using Cu Base, for sequencing, instead of Creator. With Marga’s gear, I made what became my first serious production: Kinetic Effect’s “Borderin’ Insanity”, b/ w ”Beyond The Parameters Of Amateurs” release, on my imprint. The only gear I own is the Casio FZ-1 synthesizer/ keyboard/ sampler. Its historical significance, is that I now own the keyboard/ sampler that Hijack’s DJ Supreme used, to make “Hold No Hostage”, and the “B.R.O.T.H.E.R.” track against South African apartheid.

That's definitely a nice object to own! So did you have a mentor type of figure who initially showed you the ins and outs of production/ equipment?

I would say that ‘No-Sleep’ Nigel was like a father figure, in regards to telling me stories of great underground/ esoteric artists. For example, Nigel was the person who introduced me to listen to the abstract jazz artist Sun Ra. Nigel has a broad knowledge of all musical genres. However, in regards to my own ‘vibe’, I always had my own ideas, in regards to the type of sounds I’d like to use. Definitely, especially when I started utilising live instrumentation, into my productions, in the late 1980s. I tapped into my personality a lot more, and also my interest in musical scores/ soundtracks, when making beats. In regards to studio gear, again, like with the crate diggin’ thing, I would never consider myself a gear head! I always left that to my infrastructure – people like ‘No-Sleep’ Nigel, and my assistant engineer (who I now do my pre-productions with), ‘Cavey’. I have always been primarily concerned with the creative process, and messing with a different array of sounds. I do however keep abreast of new technology, whether it be hard ware such as Open Labs computer music keyboard/ samplers, and/ or soft ware like Cakewalk. Just knowing what the top hitmakers use, often aids me, in keeping sharp, creatively!
Which Hip Hop record in particular, if any, did you hear that was the one that made you say - I wanna do this too?

I would unequivocally state, that Eric B. & Rakim’s “Follow The Leader” record blew me away, and made me think, “yes, music production is the thing I wish to pursue!”

I remember around 1986, when people in the underground London scene started making records. Some of the artists included people like Freshki and Mo’ Rock, DJ Fingers and Crazy Noddy (The Sindecut), Jus’ Bad Crew (Mell’o’, Sparkii Ski, DJ Pogo and Monie Love), Hijack (Kamanchi Sly, DJ Undercover and DJ Supreme), plus others. It was an organic time, but what happened was that my school friend Apollo Belladona phoned me one day, in 1987. He told me that he was about to go into a studio, to record a track. Apollo invited to the studio session. I thought to myself, “raaaaaaah!”. “If my school friend can make a track, why can’t I?”! It was in this studio session, that I met the person who’d become my sound engineer. He went by the name of ‘No-Sleep’ Nigel. So this was a major reason, why I got interested in music production. Also, Apollo and I were really into Ultramagnetic MCs. We were really impressed with Ced-Gee, and the way he used to chop samples. Especially, on the “Critical Beatdown” album. I also was inspired by Marley Marl, who was the in-house producer for The Juice Crew, and Prism Records. I noticed, even back in 1987-8, that he’d eq his drumz differently to other producers. He definitely had a ‘sound’’! I was also impressed with DJ Mark The 45 King. The 45 King was definitely one of the best crate diggers, around 1987-8. The production unit for Public Enemy (The Bomb Squad – Hank and Keith Shocklee, and Eric “Vietnam” Sadler), were also great, at chopping samples, too.

You've mentioned you like to combine the use of samples along with live instrumentiaton, similar to the way some of the influences you've listed above did with drum machines and loops or chops lifted off old records. So, from when you first started buying vinyl, were you looking specifically for stuff to sample or where you just buying records because you liked the music and if you ended up using them it was a bonus?

Well, when I first started buying records, I, like most people who became a part of the hip-hop fraternity, was purchasing hip-hop records. I was buying records, from I was around 13 years old. I had an extensive record collection (around 800 of my record collection got stolen, in 2000). However, I didn’t start buying ‘breaks’…so to speak, until after I left school, in 1986. I myself, and a close associate of mine, called Apollo Belladona, used to go to various spots in 1987-8. One spot we’d always go, was this shop in Croydon, south London called Timewarp Records. A guy called Terry Mac, used to run this shop. We’d buy doubles, of all the generic classic break beats, like “Dance To The Drummer’s Beat”, “I Can’t Stop”, “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll”, etc. The aforementioned titles, were just a few of the generic breaks that the old school Bronx deejays would cut up. I would buy breaks, but Apollo Belladona was more into collecting. I was just getting into the whole break-collecting and music production. I was definitely learning my trade. I also learnt a lot from two old school deejays/ producers. These being DJ Fingers of The Sindecut, and Mo’ Rock. Mo’ Rock used to produce for an emcee called Freshki. Mo’ Rock was especially helpful, in my development. He had an extensive record collection, even back then. He would allow me to go through his collection, and sometimes he would create these loop tapes; Mo’ Rock had this mixer with something like a 4-second sampler. Boy, I’m reminiscing now (l.o.l.). He’d loop up a bunch of obscure breaks. He was definitely the first person I heard loop up the Latin jazz artist, Eumir Deodato. Mo’ Rock was also messing with this kraut-rock group called Can, before anyone. Mo’ Rock was a real crate digger, even back in the mid-1980s, and I give him a lot of credit, for finding exclusive sh*t! DJ Fingers was also a very serious crate digger, but wasn’t as benevolent in sharing ‘jewelz’! But I’d credit those two, as the serious crate diggers, who I had to compete with. From hearing what DJ Fingers, and Mo’ Rock had in their collections, I knew that I had to go some way, in order to compete with them!
As well as the proper record spots were you also digging in the charity shops and places like that?

Yes, like a lot of producers, I have also found some good bits in second-hand shops. For example I found this Paul McCartney: “The McCartney Interview”, at a second-hand shop, that was selling bric-a-brac junk (l.m.a.o.). That record’s just got a bunch of interesting quotes, on there. Also, I have to credit Apollo Belladona for informing me on library music. I think that if you rely heavily on sampling from records, you have to move away from the generic funk/ jazz/ soul genres, which a lot of hip-hop music is founded on. For a track I did with east London rapper Malarchi called “Last Call”, Cavey and I replayed some weird strings, off an album called “Sneaking Up”, which is considered to be library music. I wonder whether DJ Premier, or The Alchemist, know about this album? I also did a track with Cardiff-based emcee, Ruffstylz. The track was called “Unf*ckwithable”. I chopped the drumz off a Cliff Richard record, called “Jesus”! Cavey and Darkjoint (Malarchi’s main producer) couldn’t believe that the drumz came from a Cliff Richard record, could sound so ‘big’ (l.o.l.)! Again, Apollo Belladona hooked me up, with that jewel.
Yeah, I remember going into Across The Tracks in Brighton some time ago now and Alan, the owner, who knew I was into breaks and stuff pulled out that Cliff Richard record and said “I found some drums on a Cliff Richard album”. I wasn’t expecting much to be honest, but that is definitely a nice break!

When we spoke briefly on the phone, you mentioned the ‘Dirty Harry’ soundtrack, which was obviously an important piece to you. Can you break down the significance of that particular album?

Ok. For the readers out there, a number of the artists from Brixton, south London and the surrounding areas (Stockwell, Clapham, Streatham, etc.) were influenced by making really strong, aggressive records. What I used to call, ‘killer records’. Speaking for myself, when I first came into the music business, I wasn’t very concerned with obtaining major radio play. I guess that when I heard Hijack’s “Hold No Hostage, b/ w “Doomsday Of Rap”, I decided that, those two tracks were the template, the standard to reach. A number of the artists I was around, to a greater or lesser extent (I’m talking about Hijack, Katch 22, The Zombie Headhunters, 17th Hangmen, Standing Ovation, and Hard Noise) were all messing with the ‘Dirty Harry’ soundtrack. So obviously, there was this subliminal competitive aura, as to who would use it the best. Hijack used ‘D.H.’ for “The Contract”, off ‘The Horns Of Jericho’ album; Katch 22 used it for “Service With A Smile”, off the ‘Diary Of A Black Man’ album [produced by Roughneck Scout, of The Zombie Headhunters}; Hard Noise used it, for Serve Tea, Then Murder”; Standing Ovation used it, for, I think the track was called “Nightstalkers” (it was unreleased); I used it ‘D.H.’ for Kinetic Effect’s “The Effect Of Fear”, his 2nd release on my label. In my opinion, in regards to creativity, I believe that I used it the best (l.o.l.). But…in regards to just pure listening pleasure, I thought that “Service With A Smile” was truly awe-inspiring. I actually wished, back in the day, that I produced that track. But yes, ‘Dirty Harry’ was a favourite amongst people like myself, DJ. Supreme, Roughneck Scout, and A.J. (producer from Hard Noise).

The tracks you've mentioned above are amongst some of my favourite U.K. Hip-Hop records! So what are some of your favourite records you've used over the years that you don't mind sharing with us?

Bob Crewe and Charles Fox "Barbarella" O.S.T.
I used some violins off this soundtrack (I'm not going to give titles), for Huntkillbury Finn's solo EP, "Mummy's Little Soldier". The track I produced, was called "Retrospective: U-XB". Released on SON Records.

Can "Ege Bamyasi"
Mo' Rock introduced me to Can. I used to love their drumz. Especially, their tinny snares. Had a real live feel, to them. I used some drumz off this album, for something unreleased.

Can "Tago Mago"
Like the one above, Mo' Rock had a whole leap of Can material. Mo' looped up the drumz, for one of those those breakbeat tapes, he'd drop on me. I later bought the album.

Lalo Schiffrin "Dirty Harry" O.S.T.
It's really funny, because American producers weren't fukken with this album, apart from Dr. Dre. He used this on "Approach To Danger", off 'NIGGAZ4LIFE'. What was ironic was, that for Roughneck Scout, DJ Supreme, and myself, Dr. Dre was the template for hip-hop production, in 1991. So when Dre used the album, it sort of validated the fact that 'we' were messing with it!

Jimmy Smith "Root Down Live!"
I used a baseline off this jazz album, for Kinetic Effect's "Man Bites Dog" single, released on my label.

Alain Goraguer "La Planete Sauvage" O.S.T.
Around 2000-1, I was messing with a lot of European music, to sample. I was fukken with this, until I heard that avant-garde rapper/ producer Quasimoto/ Madlib, was sampling sh*t off this.

Barry White "Together Brothers" O.S.T.
I myself, and producers from Standing Ovation, and The Zombie Headhunters, were messing with a lot of Barry White/ Love Unlimited material. I used some sinister violins, for a track called "The Catalyst", by Kinetic Effect. This track was off K.E.'s (unrealesed) mini-LP, 'The "Mortis" Experiments'. Tim Westwood did play it a few times, though...when he was on Capital Radio.

Donny Hathaway and Quincy Jones "Come Back Charleston Blue" O.S.T.
Marga (Katch 22), and I were checkin' for a lot of Quincy Jones' stuff. And so was Dr. Dre. I used some abstract sounds off this album, for a beat for Kinetic Effect. The track was called "False Profits". However, we never did get to record that track.

Herbie Hancock "Death Wish" O.S.T.
Another classic album, that DJ. Supreme, and myself would mess with. I raped this album (l.o.l.). I remember using some wierd sounds for "The Effect Of Fear II", off my (unreleased album) 'The "Retardation" Project'. It is known, that I was definitely the first, to be messing with this album.

James Horner "Gorky Park" O.S.T.
DJ Supreme, and I raped this album, too (l.o.l.). Don't remember on what tracks I used this, though. Probably some beats, that I have on tape.

Nice selection! Theres a few albums there that I'm not up on - I'll have to keep an eye out for them.

I'd like to talk about the records you've put out yourself - in particular the 'Retardation Project'. Like I said, I haven't even heard this and I'm curious to know why you only pressed up 150 copies of what looks like, on paper, to be an amazing album. I also read somewhere about a track you were meant to record with Kamanchi Sly but for some reason or another didn't happen - any chances it will come about?

Ahhh yes, my ‘album’ that didn’t come out?!? Why didn’t I release my album? Well, I was planning to bring out my album. That’s why I initially pressed up 150 white labels. I only sold about four of those copies. One customer paid me something like £40, for a copy. All the rest went to industry figures, as I was trying to promote a project I was very happy with. However, I didn’t release the album in the end, for political reasons. So therefore, my album became a collector’s item; but that wasn’t my intention. I recently saw on that a copy of my album was for sale, for 89 Euros. Hence, the artists that featured on there…The Ripper, Crazy Noddy, The Icepick, Grizzly, Huntkillbury Finn, Shaka Shazzam, and Kinetic Effect…are a part of a bit of history there. There is also truth to the rumour that Kamanchi Sly was offered to be on my album. He actually wrote some lyrics to a beat I submitted to him. The track was called “Masters Of The Art”. Kamanchi did spit some lyrics down the phone to me; the lyrics were in the same vein as “Doomsday Of Rap”. I was very pleased with what I heard. However, Kamanchi was also starting to move in a different direction, creatively. I do wish that we’d worked together, thou gh. I also asked T.L.P.-1 of Hard Noise, to feature on my album. For some unknown reason, T.L.P. did not cooperate, either!
So what are you working on at the moment? Any future releases in the pipeline?

Since releasing Insane Macbeth f/ The ‘Legendary’ Icepick: “True Heart” 12” single, I decided that it was problematic to release vinyl, in the current music industry climate. In the digital domain, there is no demand for vinyl. I therefore had to restrategise; I am still recording new material, especially with Ruffstlyz, and Malarchi (I am open to work with other artists, especially K-lash-nek-off); but I now am only really seeking production placements. I now have a ‘situation’, where I am connected with a music industry executive called Sickamore. He is from New York, in the U.S.A., and his company is called The Famous Firm. Production placements is where I’m currently headed, right now! Also, my friend Darkjoint gave me a drumz library in 2006; a drumz library which contained thousands of ‘treated’ S.S.L. and Neve drumz. When I use the term ‘treated’, it means that they are already mixed. The consequence of this, is that I can now compete with A-list American producers, because of my library. I can match A-list Americans sonically, when it comes to drumz. So I am definitely still rolling. However, I’m trying to now make hit records, although I’m still messing with the ‘underground. We’ll see what the future brings.

And finally, what is your personal favourite track you have produced?
I knew you were going to ask this question, and it’s a hard one to answer, too! I love everything I make. I do believe that some of my best beats, are instrumentals that haven’t even had vocals on them. However, if I had to pick one, I’d say Kinetic Effect’s “A Physical Exorcise” is my favourite track. A snippet of this track, is on my official website -
Right. I just wanna say thanks again for spending the time to share the knowledge. Any last words or shout outs before we wrap thigs up?

Big-ups: I. M. would like to big up anyone who took the time to read what I had to say. Apollo Belladona, ‘No-Sleep’ Nigel, Cavey, Ruffstylz, Malarchi, Darkjoint, and Missedukated. Sickamore and The Famous Firm/ The Machines (I need them placements, Sick). I would like to thank Zach Katz, for replying to my business e-mails. I would also like to thank Sha Money XL/ Money Management XL representative, for requesting them 5 beats, off me. And of course, you Mr. Krum…for interviewing me, and giving me a chance to show the world, that I’m a serious music producer. I feel honoured, that at this stage of my career, I can still garner interest, as a music producer. Bless.


Kinetic Effect "Beyond The Parameters Of Amateurs"

Kinetic Effect "Borderin' Insanity"


Kinetic Effect: ‘Borderin Insanity'/'Beyond The Parameters Of Amateurs’ 12” (1993, Insane Recordings)

Kinetic Effect: ‘Man Bites Dog’/'The Effect Of Fear' 12” (1997, Insane Recordings)

Kinetic Effect: ‘The “Mortis Experiments’ mini-LP (1997, Insane Recordings)*

Insane Macbeth: ‘The Retardation Project’ LP (2000, Insane Recordings)*

Insane Macbeth: ‘True Heart’ (featuring The Icepick)’ 12” (2001, Insane Recordings)

Huntkillbury Finn production on ‘Bad Enough’ and ‘Retrospective: U-XB’ (from ‘Mummy’s Little Soldier’ EP. 1999, Son Records)

* Unreleased

Photos of Insane Macbeth by: ROSSANA MUSSAVI


The Purist said...

nice work krumizzle

Unknown said...

Some great history & knowledge there. Nice one.
Found this when searching for Timewarp in Croydon- what a place!

Remember This?

djtwohands said...

Ha ha, i used to have that copy of Hip Hop Connection.

Dope stuff mate.

Anonymous said...

Insane Macbeth is RUBBISH!!! Crying all over twiiter about how much support he don't get.. its no wonder coz he iz RUBBISH!! and he is not a veteran, he may be a vegetarian but certainly not a veteran.

111 said...

Awesome article , very informative thanks, btw I am making hip hop beats and need to know ur opinion about this sample pack