Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Unraveling The Layers Behind Andy Cooper's the layered effect On Rocafort Records & "layers upon layers" mega-mix (The Witzard Interview)

Rocafort Records is an independent record label formed by cousins Ivan Muench & Philippe Rocafort in 2013 and is currently, based between Lausanne, Switzerland and Barcelona, Spain. Specializing in a particular brand of Funk, Soul, R&B, Afrobeat, and Latin Boogaloo, Rocafort Records has been "dedicated to editing and re-releasing songs that had previously gone unnoticed or simply, never seen the light of day;" such gently dusted off and re-issued artists include The Nitty Gritty Sextet, Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako, The Slingshots, Cross Bronx Expressway, DJ Format & Abdominal, Phat Fred, and AFRICA GONE FUNKEE: A Collection of Rare & Funky Tracks from The Motherland. Flea Market Funk recently premiered the first video-single from Ugly Duckling & The Allergies emcee and producer Andy Cooper's upcoming Rocafort Records album, the layered effect. "The video follows the Jazz theme of ["Here Comes Another One"] with a 1920's Paris feel. It's dream sequence provides a scenario, if Hip-Hop was early Jazz and had been introduced to a discerning music crowd for the first time," Flea Market Funk Founder Jamison "DJ Prestige" Harvey detailed within his recent feature.

After becoming, for lack of a better term, completely enamored with Andy Cooper's multi-layered "Here Comes Another One" and 12-inch/digital B-side "The Perfect Definition," I reached out to co-founder Philippe Rocafort to attain my own the layered effect 12-inch LP; mere days later, nearly a full month ahead of the album's Jan. 26th release, the layered effect suddenly became available to stream on Rocafort Records' Bandcamp. the layered effect personally, reminds me of fun-loving, sample-laden Golden Age Hip-Hop from the late 80's-1990's and is sonically, evocative of A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Biz Markie, English emcee Mike Skinner AKA The Streets, Rhymesayers Ent. super-stars Atmosphere, Homeboy Sandman, and last, but not least, Paul's Boutique-era Beastie Boys. In fact, "Rick Said So" from Side B of the layered effect even goes as far as to feature nearly an entire song dedicated to infamous Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C. & Aerosmith, and Slayer "reducer" (read: producer) and Def Jam Recordings co-founder Rick Rubin. Ch-check out my all-inclusive interview with Andy Cooper himself down below the cut.


Matt "The Witzard" Horowitz
Golden Age Hip-Hop Wordsmith

I. Where are you originally from, Andy and how did you first get involved in recording and producing Hip-Hop music?

I grew up in Long Beach, California and I discovered Hip-Hop music and culture as a young kid in the early 1980's. Long Beach is an unusually diverse city, so I was raised around children from every racial background and encountered people rapping, breaking, popping, and DJ'ing as soon as I entered grade school. As I grew up, literally, and became a fairly tall person (6'6",) I also turned out to be a pretty good basketball player, which put me into close contact with predominately Black players who, largely, became my social group during adolescence. This had a dramatic effect on my understanding of Hip-Hop/Black culture and gave me the opportunity to learn the skills and attitudes of the genre in a very authentic manner.

II. How did your time spent recording with Ugly Duckling and as a pseudo-member of The Allergies directly/indirectly influence your recent stream of solo output?

I joined Ugly Duckling as an 18-year-old goofball, who knew almost nothing about Hip-Hop production. Up to that point, I was playing the drums and making "pause mixes" (with dual cassette decks) to back my rapping. Luckily, I met Rodney—he'd eventually become Young Einstein—who was three years older than me, had an Akai MPC60, and was already a capable beat-maker. Plus, he had (and still has) an incredible vinyl collection which gave him, in a pre-Internet world, the unique ability to create very cool music. So, for the first year or so, I just soaked up the knowledge and by the time we really got going as a band (late 90's,) I was working on all the tracks with him as a co-producer. Over the next decade and a half, we developed the Ugly Duckling sound and tried our best to push sample-driven, loop-oriented Hip-Hop as far as we could take it.

When I started out on my own a few years ago, I already had the production skill to make my own stuff, but I wanted to become more efficient, technologically. I had massive help from my friend (and accomplished producer) Jungle Josh and when I started working with The Allergies, I also learned some new techniques. In fact, DJ Rackabeat compressed all my vocals on the layered effect and I used some of DJ Moneyshot's drum and Moog sounds to beef up a couple of my songs. Those guys use some nice little tricks to make their music more full, sonically and we always develop cool stuff, when we work together.

III. Where does the idea behind the AndyPuppet character/"Do The AndyPuppet" dance stem from? Looking back now, I remember seeing an AndyPuppet within the video for The Allergies' 2016 single, "Rock Rock."

That's right, I asked AndyPuppet to appear in the "Rock Rock" video and to be honest, I found him far more entertaining than myself. Since that point, I've featured him in a few other videos and it's pretty obvious that he's a natural super-star, so I decided it would be smart to acknowledge his greatness with a track. If you listen to "layers upon layers" (the LP mega-mix) you can hear AP make his microphone debut, as he and I cover [Masta Ace's] Rap classic, "Me & The Biz."

IV. Can we talk a bit about your recent "HERE COMES ANOTHER ONE" b/w "THE PERFECT DEFINITION" 12-inch on Rocafort Records? It sounds like a very Golden Age Hip-Hop-reminiscent affair complete with album versions, instrumentals, and Bonus Beats for each track, as well as a DJ-friendly "Cuttin' Doubles" (2x12") package.

I met BlabberMouf a few years back and I immediately, told him I was going to make the perfect track for him. When I sent him the beat for what is now "Here Comes Another One," he insisted I join him on the mic and I'm very glad he did. I wanted to create something that sounded like so many of the great, Jazzy Hip-Hop songs (from the 90's) with compelling, acoustic baselines: [Eric B. & Rakim's] "Juice (Know The Ledge,") [A Tribe Called Quest's] "Scenario," [Digable Planets'] "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat.") Check the re-layered version on the mega-mix for more examples. So, with that in mind, a 12-inch felt like the correct medium for this song. It's just so Hip-Hop and of course, 7-inch vinyl was never very popular in the Classic Rap era. I'm very happy with how this came out and Blab really K-O'ed the beat.

V. I've really enjoyed your latest Ludo Jaccard-directed video for "Here Comes Another One" with BlabberMouf, wherein you, and I quote, "chant Urban poems on syncopated rhythms" in a 1920's Parisian night club! Now, who thought up the rather ingenious idea for this one and how involved were you in its earliest conception?

"Genius" might be stretching it a bit thin, but thank you for the complements. It started out as a magician-oriented, early 20th Century concept, but because it was too difficult to get props from that era, we switched it to the Paris Jazz scene. I was hugely impacted when I read a biography about Django Reinhardt and his life in Paris during the 30's and 40's. What stood out to me was how passionate some Jazz fans were about the new Swing that was coming from America (particularly Louis Armstrong) and that they even started up clubs which required paid memberships to enter for the purpose of supporting and preserving what they loved. I have to give Phil Rocafort most of the credit for the video because he sorted out the location, hired the costumes, and got all of his friends to act in the clip. "The Emcee," who was brilliant, is Phil's brother!

VI. Why did you call your upcoming album "the layered effect?"

I named the LP the layered effect because, in my opinion, that term best describes the overall sound of this music. For me, "layering" means stacking samples on top of one another to create an instrumental track. For instance, with the song "Get On That," the main musical part during my rapping contains one drum/percussion loop with a little bit of bass, one 808-style drum loop, one loop from an old Electronic record, one spacey Moog sample, and one loop from an African record, where the vocalists were simply saying "ZSHOOM" on the off-beat—that's just the first verse: the choruses, bridges, and other verses all have their own elements, as well. All of these samples combine to make a musical groove, but they also blend their various, original recording session and production sounds together (reverbs, distortions, studio noise, vinyl crackling, etc.) which creates a completely unique, accidental sonic tapestry. In fact, with all of these factors, you could only do this with sampling. Even if you had all the money in the world, no one could re-make the various harmonics because the sounds come from different eras and various musicians and recording engineers, who all had their own methods. This reality fascinates me.

I think that this is what most classic Hip-Hop fans never really grasped, when they listened to all of those great songs during the Golden Age. Many people assumed Rap producers sampled one particular artist (James Brown, Parliament, etc.) but "the layering effect" is what gave the music it's vibrance. I also called the album "the layered effect" because our lives have many layers. Our personalities, our relationships, our values, and our beliefs are never formed simply, but through long, developmental processes, which consist of multiple experiences and interactions. So, to truly know anything, one would need to understand ALL the layers that are embodied in that subject and of course, accomplishing this is almost certainly impossible, which thus means that, despite are confident attitudes, none of us fully comprehend anything. Only God Knows.

VII. the layered effect personally, exudes sonic notes of everyone from Beastie Boys and Jurassic 5 to Atmosphere and The Streets, to my well-trained ear... but what might you likely cite as some of your greatest sources of personal influence and inspiration during the creation of the layered effect?

For me, music is music. My father is in a Bluegrass band, my mom played Classical piano, my wife is Egyptian, and I usually find myself listening to Soul and Jazz, but in the end, I get inspired by anything that sounds cool to me. I delved into so many genres on this LP: "Here Comes Another One" - Bebop, "The Perfect Definition" - Fusion, "B-Boy Blues" - Blues/Country, "Rick Said So" - Rock, "A New Dawn" - Classical, "Get On That" - All of the above. In my opinion, the best thing about sample-driven, "layered" Hip-Hop music is that it can span all musical sounds and styles and integrate them into one, Funky song. That's what makes our tradition rich and unique.

VIII. How did you go about selecting the layered effect's various featured guests including BlabberMouf, Abdominal, Anica "Lulu" Barlow, and "Class P7/6 from Ballock Primary School & their teacher, Miss Rosie Hakim?"

I enjoy ensemble vocals which are filled with different vocal characteristics and attitudes, so I often force my friends—and their friends, wives, children... Lulu is my studio partner's daughter—to record parts on my songs. This summer, when I was working on the layered effect, we were visited by my wife's cousin from Egypt, friends from Scotland, a friend from Germany, and a friend from Australia so, of course, I used all of them on "Do The AndyPuppet," which gave it an international feel. I love the early De La Soul and KMD albums, where they would have all their friends and associates adding character to the album on songs and skits, so I suppose, I'm always trying to carry on those kinds of traditions. Miss Rosie Hakim is my sister-in-law and she teaches the class you mentioned above; they even had to get permission slips to record their part.

IX. What exactly did your typical writing, recording, beat-making, sample-sourcing, feature-attaining, etc. processes behind the layered effect entail?

It usually begins with me finding a cool segment on an old piece of wax: a drum-loop, a baseline, a groove, whatever. Then, I start building up the track with other samples, until I feel like the instrumental is a relatively solid piece of music. Next, I start thinking about vocal rhythms and phrases or an idea, which might compliment the track and once I've got my concept, I start putting together verses. After I record my raps, I return to the instrumental to fill in the blanks and add what [Young] Einstein and I used to call "bells and whistles," which are usually tones, drum fills, hits and, of course, scratches. To be fair, there is no exact formula and I've made songs in a completely different manner, but what I described above is the typical way it goes down for me.

X. Rocafort Records recently announced the sheer existence and wide-spread availability of your "layers upon layers" 30-minute mega-mix, which is now available along with Bandcamp CD & LP pre-orders. Now, how did this "full-album remix" come to fruition and what exactly does it include?

I had a lot of positive feedback with the mega-mix I made for my last LP [Room to Breathe (The Free LP)]—I called it "The Freemix"—so, I decided to put together another one for this album. From my perspective, it's a fun way to present the songs to the listener and it gives me the opportunity to add all kinds of Funky stuff that, quite frankly, would be, copyright-wise, too risky for the album. With "layers upon layers," I blended the songs with some of the original samples, added intros and outros that helped weave the tunes together, remixed some of the music ("Rick Said So" Re-Layered is one of the best things I've ever made,) and added dashes of Comedy and Hip-Hop flavor all over the place. Plus, there's an exclusive track for anyone who is willing to listen all the way through to the end; it's only 30 minutes of your life!

XI. If you were to hypothetically, compile a the layered effect remix album, what artists, emcees, and producers, in particular do you think you might call in to participate?

DJ Format has already "Re-Layered" one of the tracks, but aside from him, I would love, production-wise, to collaborate with People Under The Stairs, Djar One, DJ Suspect, Propo'88, and of course, it would be fun to hear how The Allergies would deal with these songs.

XII. How would you say your personal style, sound, and overall approach to album-making has changed and progressed since the 2016 release of your first Unique Records album, Room to Breathe (The Free LP)?

To be fully honest with you, I recorded The Free EP as a giveaway to attract Ugly Duckling fans to my blog site. I never dreamed I would continue on as a solo artist, so a few years later, believe it or not, I'm almost—counting features, library songs, and The Allergies stuff—50 songs deep, I've become a lot more efficient at making music. Again, because I've learned so much from Jungle Josh on the technological side of things, I'm able to translate my ideas much more quickly than in my [Ugly Duckling] or early solo days. Plus, I work very hard and with a lot of consistency.

Stylistically, I just keep trying to swing harder and harder with more lyrical attack and proficiency. I work on every solo track as if it's my last because I wholeheartedly believe it could be. I am not getting younger and I constantly feel the pressure to step away and give the next generation (or two) the microphone, so if I'm going to stick around, I better be good. Hopefully, this comes across on the layered effect because I made every effort to over-load the album with very cool music and the highest caliber lyricism.

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