Best known for his multiplatinum work with Cypress Hill, DJ Muggs is a veteran hip-hop icon who refuses to slow down. He has been making records professionally for over 20 years, continues to tour the globe regularly, and is founder of the legendary Soul Assassins crew. He also runs his own independent label, hosts a Sirius radio show, and is an top-tier party DJ.
Most recently, he dropped exceptional albums with GZA and Sick Jacken, and will soon be releasing a new project with Planet Asia. Unwilling to compromise his individualistic sound or personal ethics for industry trends, he continues to make hardcore music for his worldwide fanbase. Read and learn.
MP3: Hey what up Muggs? Thanks for taking the time to do this.
Muggs: Oh, s***, thanks for you taking the time to have me, brother.
No problem, man. So yeah, first of all, I just want to talk about your current projects, what you're working on now. I know you're always grinding like 200 percent, and you always got a lot of irons in the fire. What's the next thing that we can expect to be seeing and to be hearing from you?
Right now, as of yesterday, I just finished a movie score for a new movie called, Street Kings, which stars Keanu Reeves and Forest Whitaker. It's directed by David Ayer, who wrote Training Day.
So, yeah, it's like my third project working with him on it, so we just finished that. It's a big movie, man. It hits April 11.
And that's like full on, theatrical release, big budget, everything?
Full on. I don't know what, 200 theaters. It's a big $20 million movie, $30 million ad campaign, so you know it's a big movie. So we put that to bed yesterday. In the interim, I finished...I did a record with Sick Jacken last year. It probably came out around mid-September, so we've been doing shows, we're promoting that. And in between that I'm working on an album with Planet Asia right now. DJ Muggs vs. Planet Asia, which we pretty much got all the vocals done, and I just started mixing. I mixed last night with Segal, who mixed the Chronic 2001. Segal, you know, big engineer here and a good friend of mine, and we got six songs mixed on the record. So we're probably going to put 16, 17, and we leaked one last week, just getting ready to put the Asia record out, probably June or July.
Nice. And is that going to be through Angeles Records?
I'm not sure, you know. I'm waiting to see what the situation is with [distributor] Fontana. I'm not 100 percent happy with the way Fontana handled our projects because there was, almost like a presidential candidate, what they said they were going to do and what they actually came through with, every f***ing excuse in the book. And it's like, "Come on, guys, man, it ain't that hard. I've been doing this 21 years." This s*** is really ABC. It's just motherf***ers being lazy, you know what I mean?
Right, right, I hear you.
So, I'm stewing about what to do with that. So in April I'm going to figure it out. I'm going to make the whole record. I'm going to mix it. We're shooting two videos, and I'm going to either...you know, a few people are interested, but I told them I'd wait until the record is done.
And then what's up with Soul Assassins III? You working on that still?
Soul Assassins III, yeah, I got a lot of songs, bro, got a lot of songs. And the thing is with that is like, it's like where the market is right now? When I put that record out [Soul Assassins Chapter 1, in 1997], it was a dope compilation, with a lot of different artists. But since we did that record, the music business has changed so much in the sense where everybody started putting out compilations, and then on top of that, everybody's mixtape game got really, really big. And with that, it's just like, how can I make a compilation, how can I make a record, produce a record really, that's going to compete with a mixtape because, see, mixtapes you can use any sample, put everything on there. Any artist will rap on it for free. It's not a problem. But trying to get these artists cleared with their manager, and trying to chase them, trying to get the label, and doing all that, dude? It's a pain in the ass. You know what I mean?
Yeah, I would imagine.
So it's like sometimes I don't feel like, you know, the dudes are chasing fools, jumping through hoops, so I'm kind of trying to...I was thinking of trying to get somebody, maybe one emcee to hold it down, you know, three or four songs so I could take it on the road. Because that's another thing, I'd go on the road and DJ, but when you've got, if I could take that on the road the way it should be taken on the road, it's a bigger thing. You know what I mean?
To make that connection with the fans. So like I said, there are a lot of songs done and we're figuring out the direction and we're building a lot of things with Soul Assassins. We just built a new Web site. And what it is, it is basically the hub for the whole Soul Assassins crew. So between Alchemist, Khalil, Cartoon, Coka Nostra, Cypress, you know, anything we're doing, you can go there and find out what any guy is doing.
Nice. Excellent, man.
But we was going to put the Soul Assassins record out last year and then it was like, "Aw, no, it's really no rush. We've got all these other records coming out," and actually doing these records with GZA and Jacken and Planet Asia just, you know, it's introducing us to new fans, you know what I mean, and new kids, and just keep playing the sound, keep playing the s*** because when we drop it we want to drop it big and just have somebody to give us a nice deal for it.
Right on. I wanted to talk a bit about the GZA record because I love that album and a lot of people, myself included, felt like that was definitely his best album since Liquid Swords. Did you guys, when you were doing that, were those beats all beats that you had, were those older beats that you had from sort of left over from previous projects, or how did that come together?
Well, about a third I made on the fly with him right there. Another third I had, just from regularly, and then a couple of them, probably two or three were old, like five to six years old. We went through s***. We went through DATs, and we went through a bunch of s***. And I had in mind some beats for him to pick, and he didn't pick them. But he had other beats, and then I had this old DAT. I was like, "What's on this s***?" I started playing the s***, and there was a couple of things on there, and he said, "Ooh, what's that?! I wanna use that song." I was like, "F*** it, use it." Good s*** never gets old really.
Good s*** don't get old. So we came and we banged it out. It was a pretty quick turnaround on the record. Man, we had a really good time. It was just about being creative and just doing s*** and keep moving, man, and having a good time. So we got to come here and do that and, you know what I mean, working with fresh, working with talent, really talented motherf***ers with fresh energy and that are inspired and to get in the studio with different energy, it's fun. You know what I mean? It keeps the buzz going, but I'm not a dude who likes to run around selling beats to people. I don't care about having a beat on somebody's album, but it don't do me no good. It's like, you know what I mean, there's really no control over it.
I prefer creating the project from scratch and seeing it materialize into something and seeing the image, the album cover artwork, the shows, where we take it, what that leads to, what other things. And it's time, I've basically, anything I've ever set out to accomplish in this business, I've done it tenfold. I've made enough money to do what I want as an artist, and I refuse to be part of this f***in industry ever again, bro. Don't phone and have some 24-year-old kid who really isn't even a music fan, who loves Maxwell and some Mystikal, tellin me what my s*** should sound like and stuff.
So I'm like, hey, we're punk rock, holmes. We go against the grain, so I'm going to do my s*** the way I want to do it, and this is how I want to do it, and this is it. And the thing is I can give a f*** too about, you know, just these little cities because in the last 20 years from traveling this world 30 times, we've built an international fan base that you can't even find these fans because they try to put SoundScans on, and we sell so many records that are under the SoundScan that there's no way to count these people still. You know what I mean? They're off the grid. So we got these fans. We pay attention to them when we go, so I'm lucky in this. It's like I wake up every day, do what I want, how I want to do it, create the art I want to create, and I don't have to listen to f***in nobody or do what anybody tells me. That's key, man. That's the dream right there. Now I also wanted to talk about, I know also in addition to the straight rugged hip-hop that you also mix it up stylistically, and you do different stuff. You had your Dust album and you had the record with Tricky, and you've done a lot of things sort of outside of that narrow box that people generally associate you with. Is that something that you're still doing? Do you have more tracks for another just straight Muggs solo sort of left-field record in the future that you would do? Yeah, I've got enough. I've probably got about 16, 17 songs left over from Dust. Like we recorded so much music at that time, and what it was is I just got bored with hip-hop for a while. I was like, "What I want to do next?" This s*** is just kind of boring. You know what I mean? So I had to go clean the palette and just musically and creatively just test my boundaries and just try some s*** out of left field and what it actually did is rekindled my creative juices for hip-hop.
And so I came out of that going, "Let me start the Vs. series." I want to do like a comic book collection...I'm going to do a whole series of Vs., Muggs Meets..., and you know we could start flipping them different ways. And it's interesting, and you're still getting that producer-driven project, because I like bands that always had a sound, man. I'm not into the formulated pop, pop formulas of music, which hip-hop is all about now. Because it wasn't either [back in the day]...it was like you had one person who did the whole album. Those are the albums that were such great albums in hip-hop, from the Rakim albums, Public Enemy, Premier, Ultramagnetics. You know what I mean? Records had a sound dude, like a feel you put in. That's what I'm still about, making albums like that and making something fit like, not just a bunch of hot s*** on a record because sometimes a beat that ain't that good could be the best song on the record the way somebody writes it and the way it's put together. Absolutely. And now, obviously, you've been doing this a long, long time. You've had huge levels of success, toured the world, doing your own label, etc., etc. Just in terms of personal preference, are you one of those guys who really likes to just zone out in the studio, or is it when you're onstage that you really feel most comfortable, or is it a combination of both? I like both, and too much of either one, for me, gets monotonous. Like I like to go on the road for two, three weeks at the most, which I don't do too much. And I'll go out for two weeks, come home for two weeks, go out for two weeks, come home for two weeks as opposed to back in the days with Cypress, we'd be gone for four months. But when I was gone for those four months, I couldn't be prolific in the studio. So that slowed me down for a lot of years in the studio, even though I got a lot of s*** done because I never had a day off, because soon as I came home, everybody's sitting around for a month. I was in the studio every day the whole month. Right. Right. So that's what that was, but now it's like I've really learned to time manage and balance my time so I get the most out of everything. So I get so much touring done. I do the whole world every year a few times, and then I get to make records. I can make two or three records a year. I can score movies, and it's just like...that's why I stopped touring with Cypress about two years ago, because it's like, opportunities creatively that I've been turning down over the last 15 or 20 years, and it was like, you know what, these are my boys. I love them but like him, at the phase that I'm in, there's a lot of other things I want to do as a human being. So it's got nothing to do with them, you know, and they want to continue doing that, so it's like, "You all got my blessings, and I'm doing this." That's cool, man. And now you guys are still, the group is still together? You're still working on the 10th album? Yeah, we're cool. I'm not gonna...I'm going to let them take, I usually take all the creative control on the records, and everything. I think they got something they want to do, so they're taking all the creative control on this record. I'm going to do a couple of tracks for the album, but it's basically their thing on this record. OK. And is there a tentative date for that? Nah, I think they're just making songs, man. I've heard a couple of songs. We recorded one here with me, and I heard like two other ones. I don't know how much stuff they really have recorded. Got you. Now I also wanted to touch on just, like you were saying, obviously, the rap game has changed dramatically, whether it's just the sound of the records that are coming out or the way that the industry is working and the label system and all that. Do you feel like, on one hand there's technology that enables people to make music, to have a studio at home without spending a zillion dollars, and also with the Internet you can make a song, you can send it out, anybody can hear it. The flip side of that is there's just a lot of bulls*** out there and there's a lot of people that think that they can make hip-hop and it's flooding the market with just trash. Being that you are like an OG that's been in it for so long, what is your personal feelings on just kind of the state of the game from a music angle but also the industry and where things are at right now? Muggs; Well that's a big question. Let's try to break it down a few ways. Those who cease to change cease to be, brother, first of all. Things change, and I'm sure in every generation there's been technology and there's been major changes. Maybe not this kind, but there always has been, and the business has fluctuated and went up and down. You know what I'm saying?
So I could, (a) you know, I, but then I still have my morals just as an artist. But I can (a) like I said, complain about this s*** or improvise, adapt, and overcome and be able to get into this new world without sacrificing who I am as an artist and trying to bend over backwards and trying to do some s*** that ain't me, that's totally out of my character because I'm trying to get a paycheck. You know what I mean? I don't got to worry about that. And then the other thing is...I forgot the f***in question. Just about, you know, the state of the game, the state of the sort of current condition of hip-hop and how you feel about it? OK. Then the game is like, one thing is like, you know, what separated people, it's like you would have a Dre on the West Coast, and you might have me. And Dre was incredible, but I dug harder than Dre. So you seen it was like, it brung a whole 'nother thing...The '90s, I've seen, you know, brothers going on the Internet and just downloading libraries of people's music. S*** that, probably I spent four or five years, looking for records, I could go on the Internet now and find everything in the matter of a night. It's like, "Wow." So that, drum break records already made, already processed, already looped. You know what I mean? Like the kits for everything, so anybody can do it now. So then all of a sudden you got all these kids on MySpace and stuff, thinking their s*** is better than every rapper that's out, and now they're like, "Why I gotta buy his s***, I got my own s***," you know. That's one part of it.
The other part is that we got this new technology called the Internet, and it's the Wild West, man. You know there's too much money as well as me. I don't know what day it's going to be or what year, but they're going to curb all this s***. All this trading s*** is gonna be gone because they're losing too much money and movies and everything. It isn't just music, so they're going to fix that. So don't worry about that, I tell people. You know what I'm saying? And the other thing is, you got kids, like me. I grew up with the music experience, going to the record stores and going in to buy one record and ended up buying 10 other records, sitting in there all day reading magazines, hanging out. It was kind of like a f***in, almost like a Starbucks lounge. You just go in the record store all f***in day. You know what I mean? Totally. But now I've noticed, I still don't download music like. If the s***'s right there, I will, but I don't know how to go to that Limewire s***, but I notice all these kids in the last...that are probably 8 years old, and when they were probably 10, probably from they're 10 till now, anybody's from f***in 11 to 25, 30 doesn't buy music. They don't even know what the experience was like hanging out in the music store. They think music is supposed to be free because it always has been free and accessible to them. They don't know no different. It ain't even wrong they're not buying music. You know, "My mom gave me $100 last week. I'm not going to spend 40 bucks on two albums." You know what I mean? I hear you. So, I see that. I see like why these kids ain't...they don't have to. They just don't have to do it, so why should they start? They don't even understand. So, then we got that. You know what I mean? It's just a bunch of different factors, so. It's just a bunch of things, man, but like I said, I just keep making my shit, keep building my fan base, keep making s*** strong. I'm not interested in the Top 40 fans. Like I can really give a f***. You know, these people used to buy singles and that's all they buy. So, like, you sell 4 million singles and barely go gold on your album. I don't really want those fans. If they want to come and buy a record or stuff, but trying to keep them and chase their s***? I'm cool man, so I make my s***. You know what I mean? Got my 300,000 to 400,000 fans worldwide locked in. But fans, I mean fans, that are going to buy three T-shirts a year. Till the death. They're going to buy the poster. They're coming to every show, like fans. You know what I mean? So that dude is gonna be buying as much s*** as five different people. So, you know, and that's what it's about. I'm in this game in the long run. I always wanted to be like the Rolling Stones and the Who and Zeppelin where, I'll be 60 years old doing this. It'll be different. It'll have a different interpretation. It'll be different, and it'll be a little slower, but when you have four generations of fans and you're doing your s***, that's when it gets great.
And you know, making your art holmes, uncompromising, how you want to do it, just to be able to do that as a human being and stand for something, and do your s*** is...we're blessed over here. Now I also want to ask just in the sort of legacy of producers, a lot of people, you know, everybody talks about Premier and Pete Rock and Dr. Dre, and RZA, and yourself, but do you feel that you get the recognition across the board that you deserve, or do you feel like maybe people are still sleeping on you after all this time? Or do you not really just trip about that? Man, put it this way. We're like the Raiders, holmes. We are. We've always had this. If I'm selling 5 million records this year, we're still the underdog. You feel me? I'm selling two, we're always the underdog, no matter what we do, and that's how it is for us. Now we come from working class families. We understand what good hard work is, you know, we still work seven days a week. If we're over here, we own restaurants. If we're over here sweeping our restaurants, we're over here, you know, we've got dog kennels. We clean our kennels. Like motherf***ers want to live, we like to feel like we're alive. Like, we got money. I could go sit in the f***in house and lay down all f***in day. I like to be alive, go and get out there and grind, homie. So, you know, I'm cool, I'm cool. That's good. Now also, obviously, Alchemist is doing big things. He's been doing big things for a while now. You definitely kind of mentored him and from way back in the day in terms of putting beats together and collaborating... Just being around as a big brother, you know. What I see in Al, I see me. And I seen a 14-year-old, 15-year-old me. But I didn't have to say, "Come here, holmes, this is how you do this. Come on tour with me." Come on tour with Bob Marley, the Fugees, Gang Starr. Come on. Come on tour again with me, and now come on tour with PE. You know what I mean? Rakim. You know, this kid was going on the road at 15 with me. So to be able to see somebody who had talent like you, that you can actually help, because, you know, I wanted somebody to be like "Yo, this is how records are made. Come in the studio, check this out," and I showed him how things worked. But the kid's our prodigy, so he absorbed everything, and he went and he built an empire out of it, which in essence makes my whole team stronger. You know what I mean? So it's great to see that, man, I'm so f***in happy, and he inspires me now. So it's the best s*** to have your friends achieving at such a level that everybody can help each other. And that's what we have the Soul Assassins crew for, because we're just a group, a collective group of artists, not all rappers or producers, that all are just helping each other out, you know. Cartoon on the graphic arts side and everything, and DJ Khalil, you know, Self Scientific, and we have, motherf***ers own clothing stores and restaurants.
We do a lot of s*** out here for the kids. You know what I mean? But the thing is with being in LA is, you don't hear about a lot of it, because all the media is based out of New York. So when I tell people this, I go, "Look, you got Rap City in New York and you got, it's BET, you know, VH1. You got MTV, you've got the Vibe, The Source, you've got XXL, you've got all, and you've got Scratch, all that s*** in New York." And the thing is is like if I go out tonight and go to a party, I'm not going to get the Rap City people saying, "Hey Muggs come up next week." Or , the Vibe people, like, "Come up to my office tomorrow," because that's what they do when I'm in New York. I'm in f***in offices all day doing s*** because people invite me in, but I don't get that out here. So it's kind of like they don't know what's really happening in LA unless you're paying a publicist to send them that s*** every day. So, that's where we are. I wanted to ask more about the score that you did for the movie. I mean, obviously, you've been producing forever, but in terms of, you know, it's a lot different to score a film than it is to put together a record. What happened was, it's probably about the fourth or fifth film I've actually worked on. But it's my first one I'm really getting credit for. I got additional music. I did for Training Day, and I did like three or four scenes, and when I brought the scenes in they go, "Hey, these are dope. Can you make songs out of these? We want to put these on the soundtrack too," so I recorded songs. And then the guy who wrote Training Day, David Ayer, did a movie Harsh Times. So he had called me, and he goes, "Yo, I need these four scenes, Yo. We're stuck on them." So I came in and banged them out. Boom. And he liked my work. So the new thing we're doing, he's like, "Look, I want to put you in the studio with the composer named Graham Revell, and you and this guy go in and together you guys can create this whole new sound in cinema." Cool. So I assume that's something that you're looking to do more of in the future? Yeah, I definitely enjoy it, man. I like to spread my wings and doing all different things. And in terms of like your studio setup, is there any...what are you working with these days? Are there any new toys or new programs or anything that have really got you excited? Nah, dude, for real, I'm just not really into all that computer s***. It slows me down. I like to work fast and I like it to be second nature. How I work, I don't even gotta think. You know what I mean? And I'm always so busy I just don't even want to take the time to learn all that shit, so I basically just use my MPCs. I have a laptop I store all my sounds on, and if I want a different texture in music I got the SP1200s. I use the Avalon. I use like some good outboard gear. I use like the Neve X73s, you know what I mean, Tube-Techs and Avalon preamps and s***. But besides them, and I just run my s*** right through that and keep it fat, and boom. That's what's up, man. So what else would you like to say to the people that are going to be checking this out? Well, man, I'd like to say thank you very much. For all of you all that have been supporting me and listening to my music, thank you. And for anybody who hasn't ever heard of me, I hope you enjoy it. There are many different aspects to us over here. We ain't the type of artists that go out there and just paint the same f***in apples and oranges every day. You know what I mean? We more like Salvador Dali, avant-garde motherf***ers. Sometimes you understand it; sometimes you don't. We're gonna do what we got to do. And I think we're really putting this, we're really bringing LA together. I've been reaching out to a lot of these younger kids and doing records with them and trying to bring this little community together out here where it's like, "Look, man, don't try to chase Jay-Z's lane." Then you got the backpack lane with everything is a little bit, real mellow with jazzy music. And that's cool. But that ain't my thing. I like underground hip-hop, but hardcore. I like the EPMDs and the Run-D.M.C.s and the Whodinis and s*** that ain't like, "I'm gonna shoot you and kill your mom." But this is hardcore music, man. It makes you feel. You know, the Beastie Boys, s*** like that. So that lane, it's like where's that lane at? You know what I mean? So that's where we are right now with the new Soul Assassins record coming and the Coka Nostra and the s*** me and Al is working on, and the s*** I got coming out with Asia and Jack. It's just like out here. Everything is just...Like me and Jack? [Sick Jacken] We're gonna sell out House of Blues two nights in a row. There ain't a lot of Platinum artists that can come sell that s*** out in LA. Totally. That's very true. We got a festival called the Cypress Hill Smokeout. We haven't done it in three years. We're bringing it back this year. But if you go look that s*** up, Cypress Hill Smokeout, that's 65,000, 70,000 people a year. Nice. That's huge. You know what I mean? So in LA, like, we own this whole city, but it's like sometimes people wouldn't know. "Oh, we only hear of Dre and Snoop out there," because, you know, some guys are beyond superstars. You know what I mean? Well, I got one more question for you and then I'll let you roll. Being that so many cats are trying to break into the game right now and trying to put their little demos together and whatnot, both as rappers but also more and more as producers... Excuse me. First of all, as a beat maker, cuz half these motherf***ers think they're producers. Just because you make a f***in beat and you send it out to somebody and they rap on it, or you make a beat and they rap on it and the song is done, you're not a producer. A producer is crafting, and creating, or writing the music. And in the real world, somebody who writes the music and produces the record could be two different people. Usually when rock bands write their music, a producer comes in and produces their music. You see what I mean? Sure. So like I said, the hip-hop dudes. It's crafting a song to make it the best song, not just a rap on a beat. So working with the hook, working with the cadence, making sure the flow is right, making sure everything's right with the beat, to getting the right engineers in there to help you, to mixing it right, to mastering it right. You know what I mean? So it's the whole process of who am I going to put on this beat? That's part of the process. You know what I'm saying? Like who's going to sound best? So that's, like that's what I try to tell fools. There's still a line there where the guys banging out beats on the drum machine think they're producers. You know, and that's the songwriter. You wrote a piece of music. That's what that is. Now production, you don't even got to make beats to produce. No doubt, I hear you, man. Well, hey, listen Muggs, thanks a lot of taking the time, man. I definitely appreciate it, and I look forward to hearing all the new music. Did you get the Asia? Did you get the Planet Asia s***? No, I haven't got it yet. Can I send it over to you today? Yeah, absolutely, man. Definitely. Yeah, it's a real hardcore, underground, just f***in rhymes and beats, and I'm going to shoot it over to you. Let me know what you think. Anything would be great, bro. Awesome. I'll keep an eye out for it. And thanks again for taking the time. Yeah, thanks for your time too, brother. Have a great day.
For more on Muggs and Soul Assassins, check them out here