There's been some thought 'round these parts about some of the great stories in hip-hop that rarely find their way to the surface. Then some cats on the Okayplayer boards were asking about Paul C- who he was, his legacy, his death. Thought it'd be good to dig in the archives and pull this story out, by Dave Tompkins, the most comprehensive piece on Paul C ever written.
This story's origins began somewhere in the office of 360hiphop around 2001, those halcyon days of internet-media revolution. The story was published after about three months of work, but the hubris of the site's upper-management had created a space that few people could actually access, tricked-out computers or not. Luckily DT found a print home for it eventually, with Big Daddy. Still, just wanted to put out the word of where it came from first.
That 360 crew we had was no joke: jeff chang, caramanica, dave tompkins, kris ex, hua hsu, sly stallone (where is you man?), egon, etc. Maybe some more from those archives should go up in the next few weeks.
Anyway, here's the piece for folks to read. It was absolutely unbelievable to edit; Tompkins was just on some other shit. Enjoy.
He produced the Ultramagnetic MCs and Eric B & Rakim. He perfected techniques like the "chop" and "pan." He taught Large Professor everything he knows. And he died in 1989 at the age of 24. Paul C is the most influential producer you've never read about – until now. This is a 360 report on a man and his music.
RETURN TO THE WORLD AS A THOUGHT
by Dave Tompkins
Spring, 1969. Someone’s digits were stubbed to the nub, hitting the piano so hard that it bounced across the planks, out the door and into a sun that beat hotter than Georgia asphalt. It left vapor trails of hot pants and everybody was after it. The song? "There Was A Time" by the Dee Felice Trio, an early James Brown production on his People imprint. Besides the piano that knocked cuticles into knuckles, the trio were nice enough to mix their gamboling upright bass in the left channel of the speaker. And in the right channel, the drums – the drums that changed hip-hop.
Drums that changed hip hop?
"Play MC Ultra as a warning sign of my skill."
--Kool Keith, "Give The Drummer Some"
Pan across the decades to 1987. Jamaica, Queens, New York. At 1212 Union Hall Street, you’ll find a booming cranny called Studio 1212. It shares rent with a Muslim community center and a rehearsal space where Metallica once dwelled, blocks from LL Cool J's "Bristol Hotel." Deep within, somewhere between a SP-12 drum machine and a 1200 turntable, sits studio engineer Paul McKasty, or as hip-hop would have it, Paul C. Across from him are the Ultramagnetic MCs who, as skill would have it, are working on an album that would change hip-hop. Marley Marl had already done his part by introducing sampling in ‘86. By adopting this five-finger discount marvel of technology, Ultramagnetic would introduce hip-hop to Dee Felice. Satellites are getting dim and Kool Keith’s twinkling, ready to grill some brains. At this point in the recording, Ultra’s already done “Feelin It,” and they made a friend for life by using two seconds of unturned drum from James Brown’s “Get Up Get Into It Get Involved,” something Marley would set off every which way.
So things are going swimmingly.
Paul C’s been chasing drums in the right channel all night and wants to run a new beat he's concocted by the group. He pushes play and Dee Felice’s drums bust out of the (right) speaker, beating their snarey chest with more snap in their bap, more mug-wumph to their bump. Horns exchange blasts with guitar riffs, and a sax burns rubber across the track, leaving your face with a skid-mark handlebar moustache. This would become the masterpiece "Give The Drummer Some." Here, Keith rhymes about "funky extensions," and faster than a switch-up, the track sprouts one: a roll from "Funky Drummer" fills in for two seconds and then it's back to Dee's "Time" being pounded senseless. "Give The Drummer Some” is Paul C's single production credit on Ultra's debut. The original "funky drummer," Clyde Stubblefield, got a lot. Paul treated him right by isolating his stickin’ moves as if Clyde was the soloist. Felice yourself!
"There Was a Time" and Paul C was ahead of his. It was as if Ced Gee called it when, in ’86, he rhymed over the Dynamic Corvette cowbell stabs of Ultra’s “Funky Potion” and said, "Anticipating laws concerning realized composition." When Paul C crashed "Funky Drummer" into Dee's "Time," isolating the drums in the meantime, it was a profound moment in hip-hop history: the introduction, essentially, of the "chop" and the "pan," techniques forever repeated that would change the music at the rate Kool Keith turns his Budweiser painter-cap sideways.
Paul C was a master at innovating such production techniques with confining technology, trumping the sound of even today's advancements. Paul C's ideas were not in the lab's job description. His story is a mutation of a theme essential to hip-hop: making the most of limited means. It's the plug in the park lamppost or taking the two copies of a break and turning five seconds into five minutes of funk.
Ask Ultra's TR Love when "Give The Drummer's" rhymes were written and he laughs, "Shit…(we'd) just lay it down and let it go. Paul didn't let us know he was doing the track. He just dropped it on us." Until then, Paul C was on Ultra's groove support, adding a roll here or putting some extra ass on the bass there. "The fun thing was making records with him," remembers Keith. "He really cared about our music. He gave it ("Drummer") that sharp snare. He traded drum kicks with (TR Love). There in the late-night ghost sessions, he giggled at my lyrics looking through the window."
Ask Large Professor, erstwhile Main Source frontman who "drops skills over drum fills,” about Paul’s Ultra beat and he says: "Paul C panned the record, then he just flipped out on the programming. It was crazy.” Extra P says, “It was crazy” three more times and grimaces like it’s so good, it’s McNasty. Large Professor knows because Paul C was his mentor, teaching him the SP-12 sampler and other prestidigitations that allowed the Extra P to "get busy over unknown tracks." On the back of Main Source's Breaking Atoms, the credits read, "Paul C Lives." And he did in a way, through the Extra P. So indebted was he to the knowledge and skill he gleaned from Paul C, Large Pro named his publishing after him, Paul Sea Music.
“Ultramagnetic was schooling a lot of cats with their music," says Pete Rock, a chop off the Marley Marl block. "I always listened to 'Give The Drummer Some,' trying to figure it out. I thought maybe (Paul C) knew someone at Polygram that had James Brown’s reels. There’s no way in the world he could sample (Dee Felice) and take the sounds out. Those are the illest drums I ever heard.”
"That was sick, waaayyy ahead of its time,” agrees Rahzel, the inhuman beatbox who worked with Paul C in ’85. “He could take a tin can and make it sound like elephants running through a jungle. Listen to a lot of Ultra’s stuff and you can see where sound changed. The only person that came close to his engineering abilities was Bob Power."
On the back of Stezo's "Freak The Funk" single and Eric B. & Rakim’s Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em LP, you’ll find snapshots of a white guy and the inscriptions "In Memory Of Paul C." At the fade of Organized Konfusion’s "Fudge Pudge," Monch, Prince Poetry and OC are chanting, “To the organisms! Paul C! To the organisms! Let the beat ride…"
That’s about all that is known about Paul C – his name and his musical fingerprint. He was white, Irish and, at times, called Barney Rubble. Most knew him as the nice guy with the ridiculous record collection. On July 17th, 1989, the 24 year-old producer was found murdered in his Rosedale, Queens home, shot three times in his head and neck. To this day, nobody knows who killed him or, more importantly, why. That night, Biz Markie was on his way to Studio 1212 to work with Paul on his Diabolical LP. Paul C had just produced a demo for Organized Konfusion and mixed Stezo's classic Crazy Noise LP. The last thing he produced was Eric B. & Rakim’s Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em (though the credits indicate otherwise). Latifah was supposed to be next.
Things were good for hip-hop in and around the turn of the decade. Master Ace rhymed with himself-as-Biz-Markie, over the journeyman's bassline from Cymande's "Message." KMD was mixing Sesame Street puppets with The Isley Brothers. There were the stratified derangements of the Bomb Squad (Ice Cube, Public Enemy), and, yo and behold, what's that in the left channel? Hitman Howie Tee had plucked the Dee Felice bassline for Chubb Rock’s "Treat ‘Em Right." Sound is a spiritual medium and it sounded like Paul C was also lab-slabbin' on Eric B. & Rakim's "The Ghetto," and on Large Professor's beats on Main Source's "Looking at the Front Door" and Kool G Rap's "Streets of New York."
But Paul C’s death came just after NWA’s Straight Outta Compton and two years before The Chronic. There were going to be more Gs, decimal points and opportunity in hip-hop, and though Paul C loathed contracts, they became a necessity. (Large Professor says Paul C was listening to a lot of NWA so imagine what Kool G. Rap would’ve done over those drums of death?) At the time he passed, producers like DJ Premier, Pete Rock and Large Professor were just getting their chops and pans together – techniques they directly or indirectly learned from Paul C.
Like an engineer’s subtle tweaks, Paul's presence is felt in hip-hop music but few are aware they're hearing him. As long as the sound's bangin', who cares? Paul C's found in the ghost notes, the incidental sounds created when samples react to each other in the same space. "A lot of producers won’t admit to it but they changed their sound after hearing Paul C,” says Rahzel. "They were like, 'Oh, I gotta sound like this shit.'"
Paul C’s undefined role as mixer, engineer and producer makes you wonder just how many beats he actually did create. His paws are all over Superlover Cee & Casanova Rud’s classic "Do The James," (credited to Calliente aka Superlover Cee). The producer’s role in hip-hop today is as songwriter, music maker. Back then, "mixing, arranging and engineering" could've very well meant finding the loop and hooking it up. And "producer" was the guy who ganked the guy who found the loop and hooked it up. Today, the credited "producer" sometimes ganks the guy who actually produced it because he banked the guy who found the loop and hooked it up. Now that that’s clear…
"He was on some unmade up shit, you can't even describe it," says Organized's Prince Poetry. The Queens duo were signed on the strength of their Paul C-produced demo, eerily being approached by labels at the producer's funeral. Then there’s people who say Paul C didn’t exist, rather he was a Jamie Starr alter-ego of Large Professor, also named Paul. The mythology surrounding Paul C stems from how he wasn’t mysterious, at least to the people who knew him. The consensus is “He’s was a cool white guy who knew records and made dope beats.”
Remembers TR Love: "Ced Gee told me that nigga Paul C is nice and then I meet him and I was like ‘Who the fuck is this?’ When you call a white boy a nigga, he has some type of skill, he’s down."
“The way he spoke, if you weren’t looking at him you wouldn’t know (he was white),” recalls Large Professor. “I was still in my teens then. It let me know people are people. It did a lot for me."
Adds Rahzel, "There was nothing crazy about him, just cool."
"You look at him and he got on faded jeans, a fat pair of sneakers and an old Gang Starr t-shirt or a sweatshirt with a hole in it," remembers Prince Poetry. Paul C not only helped Monch and Poetry transform from Simply Too Positive into Organized Konfusion but he was a close friend. “He was hip-hop but wasn’t phoney about it. He was more into throwing on that James Brown cut that niggas couldn’t find.”
"When you’re taught the bare essence of music and how to love it and define what’s funk to you. Paul C spent so much with it. He got so good I don’t think he knew how good he was. He always worked off friendship; he didn’t like doing contractual work. Very open hearted person. He just loved the music so much he didn’t want to mess with nothin' that was wack. Everything he touched he wanted to be funky."
Before Ultramagnetic, Paul C produced early Queens groups Mikey D & L.A. Posse and Marauder & The Fury (“Get Loose Mother Goose”) on Public Records. A green-eyed pioneer, Mikey once gave a young Cool J his Ls and, in ‘93, returned from obscurity to become Main Source’s headmaster after Large Professor bolted out the front door. Irony abounds. With Paul C on the "Brick House" beat, Mikey D’s "I Get Rough" sounds like LL backed by Fresh Gordon’s crushing drums. “I liked that stuff because it reminded me of Mantronix, except the drums were heavier and louder," says Cut Chemist, who cites Paul C as a big influence.
"I Get Rough" also debuted Rahzel as a cazal-fogging “huh!” as Paul C had chopped up Rahzel’s beatbox for the song. Paul C told Rahzel that the drums are his voice and assigned him tapes of Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath and James Brown to memorize. Like a hog burping through a distortion pedal, Rahzel’s patented “brwoinrrrnnw!” was the result of Paul C teaching him guitar stabs. Like Rick Rubin, Paul C heard hip-hop in rock. "He’d tell me to break down each instrument and then put it all together whole," Rahzel says. "He said, ‘The way you should sound over a microphone, no one should be able to tell that it’s a human.' He was one of the first to put together a song that was all vocals. The only person who came close to what Paul was doing was Bobby McFerrin. And this is ‘85. He used a tape of my vocals to put together a song that was all vocals."
Rahzel then recites Paul C’s remix of himself and it’s akin to the melody Alchemist used for Dilated Peoples’ "Annihilation." Six degrees of chopping never ends: Pete Rock has said Alchemist’s production reminds him of Paul C and Rahzel recently worked with Pete Rock. On Main Source’s "Just Hangin Out,” Large Professor is “with Pete Rock making beats sharper than cleats.” All of this, of course, pieced together by Paul C’s influence.
Rahzel also beatboxes James Brown’s "Stoned To The Bone." No wait, he’s beatboxing "I Got A Good Thing (remix)" by Superlover Cee and Casanova Rud, produced by Paul C in 1988. Rahzel emulates the track, from its guitar stabs to The JB’s "ooh!" shrieks. Rud and Cee added layers of syncopated rhymes (“My beat is your choreographer”) over Paul’s C’s high end tambourine jangles, a production trait that could be likened to Large Professor’s later obsession with the sleigh bells.
On “Do The James,” Paul blended “Impeach The President” (the first thing Marley stabbed with his SP-12) with the descending guitar frolics of James Brown’s “Blues And Pants,” the uptown riff that had every R&B diva writhing to Big’s “Dreams…"
"It’s still the biggest I’ve ever heard ‘Impeach the President,'” says Large Professor. "That’s how good of engineer he was."
"'Do The James' was the blend of the century,” adds Cut Chemist. In the words of Positive K and LG: “It’s a good combination."
There was a time. It goes back to the speakers. This time Paul’s in the left channel, alone again with the same song by Dee Felice Trio. This time, the swinging bassline gets the starting nod and, before Hitman Howie Tee jacked it for "Treat ‘Em Right," "There Was A Time" becomes Superlover Cee and Casanova Rud’s “It Gets No Deeper.” Oh, but it does.
Wheeze back and return to a world out of breath. We’re trying to catch one in particular, a respiration before Kraftwerk swerved its automotives to electro and hopped on a Huffy for "Tour De France." Pedal out of those bicycle pants, whiz along the funky back porch routes of Georgia, 1969, pass through James Brown’s "Pants and Blues," Dee Felice Trio’s "There Was A Time" and cut across to the Motor City, 1974.
Here, the factories hack, the hoary sky stoops down to inhale and "The Assembly Line," a song by the Commodores, says: don’t be a human piston. Its beat would become a catchphrase in hip-hop production by artists like Kool G Rap and Third Bass. Four minutes after the solemn guitar part plucked by the Jungle Brothers (for "Black Woman"), drummer Walter Orange beats the breath out of his kit and the Commodores harmonize a "huh." Their one-note blow announces a cymballistic break that would propel Eric B & Rakim's "Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em," produced by this story's hero, Paul C. Paul's sampled "huh" is barely recognizable from the Lionel Ritchie original; he must've starved it through the mixing console 'cause it's thinned out and ghostly, as if on life support.
On the song, Rakim rhymes, "At least when he left he'll know what hit 'im / The last breath of the words of death was the rhythm." "Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em" is Paul C's last production breath on record before he was murdered in the summer of 1989.
"If I’ve got one breath left / I’ll suck wind from the Valley of Death"
--Pharoahe Monch "Releasing Hypnotical Gases"
"Huh?" was Pharoahe Monch’s response when, one day in 1988, Paul C rang him up to say he wanted to work with his and Prince Poetry's group, Simply Too Positive. Let’s call it a heave-“huhhhhhh?” because Paul C gave Pharoahe Monch an asthma attack. "That was the first time I really had an attack from hearing some exciting news," remembers Monch, an MC who hits the inhaler while others fly Cronkites. "I got that phone call and was like [gasping], 'Damn, we're going to work with Paul C!' His record preceded him already – with Ultramagnetic and Casanova Rud."
Paul produced the group's demo, taking interest after hearing only four bars of rhyme. He popped in when Studio 1212 engineer CJ Moore was hooking up Cymande's "Bra" for the first STP session. The STP demo would have any Organized Konfusion fan making fudge pudge in his pants. You may snicker at the name, Simply Too Positive, but motor oil is motor oil and Monch and Po’s lubri-cadence burned tracks like a redneck trucker. They hadn't yet stepped outside of themselves lyrically ("You can never begin to apprehend a hologram") nor had Monch burst from his padded brain cells by chopping the foot off the beat.
But Paul's C stood for catalyst.
"On 'Funky For You," we were actually rhyming in time to the bassline and (Paul) was just blown away," elaborates Monch, speaking of the bassline from Billy Cobham's "Stratus" that Paul C played himself. ("Paul was an incredible bass player," recalls engineer Moore, formerly of Tommy Boy group Black By Demand). Also on that song, Paul punctuated the mumbling loop with a reverberating hit and roll from Bob Marley. "Nobody was really doing that at the time," Monch continues. "We played the song for Mr. Walt (the Beatminerz) and he was like, 'Oh my god!' Basically, that demo is what made Organized Konfusion."
Using Chuck D's voice as a hook, another demo song, "Mind Over Matter" was the vapor trail leading to OK's "Hypnotical Gases." Monch shakes his head with a grin: "It had an eerie Wes Montgomery loop. It was PE inspired with a Kool G Rap flow. It felt like a typical Organized-spit song at the time – very lyrical, rhythmic and a bit of information in there. I mean, the way (Paul) had the drums programmed was just incredible."
On another untitled song, a couple of horn blowhards bump into Zigaboo Modeliste's drums from “Here Comes The Meter Man." A percussive brawl breaks out: it’s a hi-hat "clash-kssh" on some next ish. Perfect for Organized Konfusion. Paul C went outside the sampled drum kit for other drum hits, sometimes mimicking them with other instruments; these stabs help fill in as rhythms. "That was the first time we were doing breakdowns," says Prince Poetry. "Paul taught us song structure – we even had intros with planes taking off." At mayhem's end, Po rhymes, "I'm outta here like hair on a baby's chest."
Paul worked with the group on song structure, breath control and, when necessary, told them to shut up. "Monch would write his songs in pieces," remembers Prince Po. "He’d write four bars on Thursday, take two bars from Monday, then put it with the seven bars he made Friday. Paul would be like, ‘Man that shit is too much.' We’d be like, No it’s not – that’s what niggas want! He’d be like, 'Y'all got to shut the fuck up somewhere in there because it’s too long.' We’d look at him with this stubborn inexperienced look."
"I was a pretty arrogant MC at the time," admits Pharoahe. "Paul was the first to shut me down. He pretty much humbled me. He gave us insight into being artists, lyrically, not just MCs."
Monch walks into Studio 1212 one day and sees a bookish, bespectacled guy fiddling with the SP-1200, the LCD readout shining his lenses. "He was just fucking with it and I'm like, 'What are you doing? You're not doing anything. You're just fucking with the machine.' I didn't hear anything for like an hour. I was like, 'Who is this fucking guy, man?' And you know, lo and behold…"
Don’t try to diss the Profess—OR!
Labels like Tommy Boy and Sleeping Bag were approaching the small Jamaica, Queens studio, so 1212 was getting busy. Owner Mick Carrey, engineers CJ Moore, Paul C and his brother Tim McKasty found themselves swamped. So Paul taught Large Professor how to mind his SPs and EQs. Monch must've caught Extra P in the throes of breaking down atom bom-boms in the drum machine.
Figuratively tweaking, loops dopple from the SP nucleus as soundwaves; Large Proton was honing chops that’d later be smackin’ on his classic Main Source debut of 1989. Maybe both Pauls took a mutton-sized sound byte from neighborhood braggart James Todd Smith: "Before I eat up the beat it has to be chopped."
Mention "the chop" to Large Professor and his face lights up like Nas firing up an X-mas tree when he heard Extra P's jingle bells on "It Ain't Hard To Tell." Large Pro puts the wood to it: "Like MC Shan said, 'We're livin' in a world of hip-hop. That's what Paul C brought to hip-hop: the chop. Back then, we felt free to throw this in and that in. Now people are like, 'You can't even use that one second.' The chop is the chop. You gotta make it do what you want it to do. Pete Rock mastered the chop; he'll make a record go crazy. I love the stabs and programming those little sharp pieces. People are not doing what Paul C was doing because the boundaries of music are different now."
True DAT. Now, 2-inch reels are bound and gagged in 'persnippity' sampling laws. Also, studio advancements like ProTools provide shortcuts. There's less manual toil involved in production, save for digging (now made easier with reissues, online bins and bounty hunters) or diddling a string-cheese keyboard. "These guys would slave hours over a loop," explains 1212 owner Carrey. "It was hard to sample on the damned things (SP-12). You could only take snippets…you had to have your record set up just right. CJ and Paul were working instruments."
"It was a step above a pause mix," CJ concurs. "You couldn’t get it into the recording medium unless you chopped it up and put it back together, one bit at a time. For example, you’ve got a kick from Ohio Players , a snare from James Brown, another snare from Herbie Hancock, a hi-hat from MFSB – you've got different (drum) kits recorded in different rooms at different times on different boards. The challenge was to tie that in together to make it sound like one kit. Make it sound better than it did when it came off the record, which was usually trashed.”
Hip-hop producers have always pirated technology for their own discourse. Paul C, CJ Moore and Large Professor were translating the inventive spirit of hip-hop's old school by making their own studio fidgetry, just as Marley Marl was, whether it was looping, chopping, or adlibbing sound effects. There were no templates of beat production, so Studio 1212 extrapolated from owner Carrey's rock acumen.
"Critical Beatdown was mixed like a rock record," explains Ultra's TR Love. The producers at 1212 loved the music so it seemed natural to log bloodshot hours inside the notes, never napping between the boom and the bap. Like Large Professor, there are those who still labor over the minutia, the specks within hip-hop's specs, but the slapdash shine of major productions lack the lust for the dusty and so they are few.
Large Professor offers an example: "Paul C got the drums out of 'I Know You Got Soul' by Bobby (Byrd). That's incredible to me. I still can't do it. Biz would be amazed at something like that. But (most) people don't care about that these days.
"That's why 'Just Hangin' Out' is how it is. Paul C did it," he adds, giving credit to Paul out of tribute.
Main Source’s "Just Hangin’ Out" samples Gwen McCrae’s "90% Of Me," which shows how much one Paul gleaned from the other (the "funky extension" Kool Keith referenced on "Give The Drummer Some"). The song also uses Sister Nancy’s "Bam Bam" riff, a blend so seamless that Nancy’s voice becomes the other 10%. Thelonius Monk called it “Two is one” when musicians (in Paul's case, samples and producers) are in tune (the song itself) with each other.
"Large Professor was stacking loops,” says Cut Chemist. “Paul C taught him the good combination – like this loop goes with that beat. The drum programming on 'Snake Eyes,' that's 'Synthetic Substitution' chopped up really nice. That’s an example of what I think good production is and how I’m influenced – chopped to the point where it doesn’t sound chopped. It’s totally natural sounding." It’s as natural a blend as Paul C putting the hip in "chip" and the hop in "chop."
OK. Let’s get organized. Pause and take a breath. Damn, take an L, an LP and a PC to the head. Where were we?
Back at the Studio 1212 console, things were getting busy around '88. Mick had some of Arron Fuchs’ original reels of The Meters and ancillary James Brown projects. Paul C and CJ Moore mixed many of Fuchs' Tuff City acts, including Mighty Mic Masters. A human sketch of Industry Rule #4080, Fuchs bought the licensing to "Impeach the President."
"Sometimes, Paul C was just sampling directly off the tracks," Carrey reveals. "With the master tapes, he had a separate control for each instrument and could basically build his tracks from scratch. With looping directly off the record, everything’s there. It’s a lot harder to get rid of things."
With the masters, they could isolate different bits. But when mixing from Rud’s maimed copy of “Impeach The President,” Paul and CJ had to euphemize the sound quality from the entire track. They also minced and assembled a vast in-house sound library, and other studios would call up for samples or kicks. "It became a standard, which was bad and good," evinces CJ. "We had the popularity but we were really being used. We lived in 1212. We just go home, shower come back and get back to it."
Sometimes they’d wake up in the studio to the sound of a song they’d just produced, detonating from a passing jeep or a JVC-forced radio being lugged nearby. "That was the coolest thing," says Carrey. "I heard ‘Do The James’ right outside and I’d just heard the record in the studio, sounding like shit just like a week ago. It was such a big New York record.”
"You go in the bins at the local record store, look at the credits and find out that people that did things were right in your backyard," says Prince Po.
Studio 1212 was also home to MCs whose reps didn't transcend their zip code – but that's all that mattered. These were the small, scarce pressings wax collectors now froth over: Phase & Rhythm's "Hyperactive" (one of Paul C's best productions), Lotto, Mighty Mic Masters, Percee P and soon-to-be-better-known acts like CJ's Black By Demand, Son of Bazerk, Super Lover Cee and Casanova Rud, Stezo, Queen Latifah and finally with legends like Rakim and Biz.
"When these guys would put records out we’d get calls to the studio – because it was listed on the label. I’d have little kids calling up from across the country: ‘Is Paul C there? I really like his record," recalls Carrey. Biz Markie sought 1212 when he heard about Paul C’s legendary EQs. CJ emphasizes, "We were reachable and affordable so we got the core of artists in Queens. People would come in on the strength of 'This is a studio where that happened and I want to be a part of that."
Large Professor tips his thinking cap, "1212 was right there in Jamaica so you could stay in the hood and get busy. Wow, word."
We are left winded.
Need a haircut?
Up in West Haven, Connecticut, on a day like any other, you can glissade into S&S Hair Cuts and get an aerodynamic fade, a Gumby or a Ronald Reagan. Just like it was ‘89. Despite the crazy noise, you interject, "It’s my turn." Despite your hydrochloric pleataloons, the Barber waves you to an empty chair. Your Balleys slip on an activator slick and you skid across the floor like an EPMD dancer, weaving a S-Curl formation in and out of the queue of chairs. You land in the last seat.
Barber asks, “To the max?” You reply, “Just rip the cut.”
Barber gets into his move, spinning you around at 33 rpms as you note the album covers carouseling by on the wall. The box-cuts rocked on these covers look tighter than the UPS box-butt on top of your head. The chair stops, your skull snaps and the clippers begin their slurred buzz. As tiny polka dots of fuzz float past your eyes, you realize the guy on these album covers looks suspiciously like the guy cutting your hair – and they both look like Stezo, the rapper with the Reagan you once saw doing the "Steve Martin" in EPMD’s "You Gots To Chill" video. As your ears lower, your brows raise. You jerk up, causing the clippers to zig a drunken zag across your head. You wrench a 12-inch single off the wall, causing the barber to freak the funk out. In fact, the record you pull is "Freak The Funk," and your barber is indeed the rapper Stezo.
The back of Stezo's "Freak The Funk" single features a small snapshot of a white guy with record bags under his eyes and the panegyrics "Dedicated to the memory of Paul C (McKasty) who's work and love for music inspired many." Paul C inspired many because many a producer sampled a sample he mixed rather than the source itself. Paul C mixed Stezo’s ’89 LP Crazy Noise and his opening break on "It’s My Turn" gets sampled more than its original source, Skullsnaps’ "It’s A New Day." A scarce English funk recording from 1973, the Skullsnaps LP was harder to find than your mind upon first hearing it – so producers used Paul C’s mix for a louder more accessible version.
"Most everyone who samples Skullsnaps gets it off my album," vaunts Steve "Stezo" Williams, happy to have spread the lovely beat. "One day Erick Sermon pulled up in his Benz and said, ‘Get in the car, Steve.'" The E Double had a tape of Crazy Noise and kept playing that beginning of "It’s My Turn" over and over again, as if looping a pause-tape live. Stezo chuckles, "He kept saying, ‘Let us have that beat, Steve. Let us have that beat.'” Chill. E already had the beat, unbeknownst to him, which he eventually used for Sermon's "Hittin' Switches" and a pair of Das EFX songs.
On Stezo's "To The Max," a piano struts toward two hopeful guitar chirps and walks on by to meet a single, gleaming horn which toots the arrangement. While produced by Stezo and his partner DJ Chris “Cosby” Lowe, the tambourine wiggle and extra kick and consequent extra foot-in-that-ass is Paul C. "When we were recording," laughs Stezo, "Paul wasn't shy to tell us, 'Yo that shit is wack. Do it over." Paul C made Stezo rewrite "Talking Sense" three times, evidence of his love for the music he engineered. Rocking a frayed Zeppelin T-shirt and a Stetsa hat, Paul would be at 1212 adding "bump" insurance" on his DAT levels before sending them to get mastered. "At the time, people who mastered rap albums would try to take the levels down," explains Stezven. "Paul would put extra boost in it so it wouldn't take from the music."
Paul C collaborated with partner CJ Moore on Black By Demand’s "Can’t Get Enough," its horns blat like a remastered funk 45; and produced Phase and Rhythm for Funky Tune Records (Both groups would later sign to Tommy Boy). On Phase and Rhythm’s "Brainfood" single, Paul C pulls a Steinski and drops in a dialog bite, "This record will not be heard so we can bring you the following special report," and what follows is a vocal bit from an instructional guitar 45. On the "Hyperactive" b-side, Rhythm rhymes: "When I first heard this beat, it had to hype me." No wonder. Paul killed it with the drums from Tommy Roe’s "Sweet Pea," hitting so hard that the peas passed on – from School of Hard Knocks to MC Lyte to Attica Blues and others who’ve reverberated the same.
Take a look around. Paul C was getting ready to blow up like clippers hitting Jeru’s dreds. He was grooming Organized Konfusion and played a crucial role in making one of New York’s biggest records, Superlover Cee and Cassanova Rud's "Do The James." His young career even survived the bad idea of hip-house with his version of Ultra’s "Traveling At The Speed Of Thought." And, according to Mick Carrey and CJ Moore, Devo and the Rolling Stones were approaching Paul C for beats.
Fortunately for us, the phone trilled. It’s Rakim, aka "Mr. Sexy."
Before your head starts ringing, jump forward 12 years, say, about the time you found out Dr. Dre was to produce Rakim’s next album. Imagine the backstage scene at the "Up In Smoke Tour," looking like a booty casting call for Eric B & Rakim’s “Don’t Sweat The Technique” video. Dre's sitting there, headphones snug, drowning out Eminem’s whine, listening to “Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em” and panting like the Commodores’ “Assembly Line."
Now back that clock up. Paul C was studying N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton when he was getting ready to work with Rakim. One day Stezo partner Chris Lowe was over at Paul C’s house checking out records. “I looked out the window and Rakim pulled up in a white Mercedes with a Louis Vuitton top. I was like, Oh shit, it’s about to be on!"
"Just before he passed, I know Paul and Rakim were getting close," remembers Large Professor. "I would be over at Paul’s house and hear the messages from Ra. I was like wow, he’s getting ready to get busy with Eric B & Rakim."
Paul would call CJ Moore and audition beats he wanted to use. "I wanted to get on that project," smiles CJ. "I think Paul’s wife was friends with Rakim’s girl and they were introduced that way. I gave Paul a Steely Dan record we were going to use with Rakim. I was like, 'You can just play that shit over.' So (Paul) played the bass over the phone – that's when I noticed just how gifted he was. It was the way he played. A lot of records we sampled aren’t jamming records. There were simple lines. But it was about how long you held the note, how you plucked it, how you approached it with velocity. Paul C understood how what we sampled was played."
Everybody he worked with, from Mikey D to Rahzel to Monch, remembers Paul C chomping at the chance to match his beats with the appropriate lyrical arsenal. The R stood between the cue of the record and the "S" on any MC's soon-to-be-deflated chessst. For production ideas, Paul C makes tapes for Rakim and they build over then-unknown funk gems like Funk Inc., 24 Carat Black and Tony Avlon. [CHECK]
On the night of July 16th 1989, Paul C engineered his last session. It was with a new Boston group called the Almighty RSO, managed then, as they are now, by David Mayes, a Harvard student who was put out a small hip-hop newsletter called The Source. As usual, Paul would get home late and exhausted.
The next morning, Tim McKasty found his younger brother dead, murdered in his sleep from three gunshot wounds to the head and neck. He was only 24. To this day, this case remains unsolved. "We were all stunned," remembers 1212 owner Mick Carrey. "I was upset for years; there’s no healing when you get to know somebody like him. It was such a shock. He would never touch or hurt a person."
"Paul was a kind-hearted, nice guy. He was almost like an angel, really," says Large Professor. "I was at the New Music Seminar and Joe Fatal told me Paul C was dead because he heard it from Rakim. I didn’t think it was real. I tried to call him and call him and then I called 1212. I spoke to Paul every day back then, every day." Rahzel, Pharoah Monch, Prince Po—nobody believed it. “Him? Naah,” adds Stezo. “I wasn’t worried about him dyin’. Not Paul."
“We were young," recalls Monch. "No one I knew had been murdered. I had never experienced that. I had only seen it on TV. So when you hear that kind of news, you don’t believe it. We went home to call Paul and see what the fuck is going on.”
Prince Po went over to Paul’s house a couple of hours after his brother found him and was greeted at the door by grim detectives in sports jackets. "My vibe was like, 'Damn I ain't heard from Paul in a minute.' Usually he’ll call and kick it real quick even if he was really busy. I was just going over to check him out. I didn’t know he was dead. I lost it. They took me in and questioned me. I was distraught because I just couldn’t believe what they was tellin' me."
A bewildering contagion of rumors surrounded the brutal crime because Paul C had no enemies. "The first thing that came to my mind," says CJ, "was Superlover Cee. I'm like, my partner's fucking dead because of these dudes. That was everybody's perception at the time but that was just on the surface."
Cee and Rud's reputation for hustling spawned the theory they had gotten into some trouble and the killer who came looking for them found Paul instead. "They was trying to get their dollar until they came up with the record deal," recalls Ultramagnetic MC's TR Love. "But you can’t bring that street shit into the records. They tried both in the same realm and it wasn’t working."
"At the funeral, STP (Organized Konfusion) were right there with me," reflects Large Professor. "For me, it was hard. He got shot up and that’s all I knew. It was hard for me to understand. There were speculations about why he got shot. The people it might’ve been were actually sitting there at the funeral. It was confusing. I don’t like to speak on that end of it because that’s the part that God knows and in some way will reveal to us one day."
Initially, everybody was a suspect and all the artists who worked with Paul C were interrogated. Rud and Cee were cleared of any involvement but only after their reputation had been blotted. While accusations spread quickly, the news of their innocence only trickled because nobody knew what to believe. The retraction was too late and the damage was done. Rud and Cee’s career as one Queens’ most talented groups was frozen in the moment of "Do The James," their classic debut Girls I Got ‘Em Locked and their bond with Paul C. In ’93, the duo attempted an EP on Wild Pitch called Blow Up The Spot, but the music was a foible and lacked the acuity of their debut.
"After that I kept my distance from whomever we associated with at that time," says TR Love. "I didn’t know the real story. I didn’t know who was who. I didn’t want to judge no one and get my feelings worked up. We (Ultramagnetic) were getting ready to go overseas. Sitting around New York wouldn’t have done us any good."
Tim McKasty promised to give TR Love Paul’s discs with the samples and drum programming but then decided to keep them. "I don’t blame him," TR says. "They had to have something to remember him by. For a while things were uncontrollably bitter between the family and the artists. We’d check on them. Then his wife disappeared and Tim went into seclusion."
Prince Po and Monch were hanging out a lot with Paul around the time of his death. "His wife was black and that made (the murder fall-out) controversial," says Po. "After it happened his family wasn’t really trying to associate with black people no more. I kind of understood; he was their son. They moved. I saw Tim afterwards. It (the murder) nerved him out. He had a jumpy way about him and it was sad because you know where it’s from. I felt real bad for him."
The theories surrounding the death get even wilder. Paul C's last recording session the night of July 16th was with Almighty RSO, a group whose reputation isn't exactly Doug E. Fresh clean, and that conjures its own speculation. More disheartening are suggestions Paul's wife was somehow involved. "(Paul's death) taught me a valuable lesson about paying attention to what goes on around you," Prince Po says cryptically. "The few times when she was around and we was around she was very distant. They seemed more like friends than being married. He hung out a lot with us. Paul would complain to me about when he gives his wife something, instead of her building their shit up she’d run and give it to her sister. It was stressful times because Paul worked really hard."
Lucrative contracts for producers are the norm today – when making beats for money, the cheesier the better and the mo' cheddar – but back then, producers worked hard for money. Just like Paul – except Paul didn't like dealing with contracts. "I saw where a lot of his stress was coming from," Po continues. "“He said ‘I don’t have to do contracts. I can survive off the ones I trust if my wife do right by the money. Eric B & Rakim, Latifah, Biz Mark was coming into play and he had gotten so much recognition off the Ultra. I guess a greedy bug bit his wife in the ass. She was after money that wasn’t received yet. She was getting the perception that money was there that wasn’t there."
At the time, hip-hop murders weren't profitable and there was no real hip-hop media to speak of, so the press wasn't interested. The unsolved mystery of Paul's death ran on an episode of America’s Most Wanted, leading to the arrest of a suspect in the small military town of Fayetteville, North Carolina. He was soon released for lack of evidence.
Paul’s death left his friends in the lurch. Phase and Rhythm vanished after CJ Moore mixed their lone Tommy Boy single, “Swollen Pockets.” Sleeping Bag went under, EPMD was picked up by Def Jam and, without Paul C’s guidance, Stezo and his dance moves were in limbo. “It was fucked up, because I felt selfish,” says Monch. “I was like, ‘What do we do now?’” Organized Konfusion was even approached by A&R at Paul C’s wake, eager to sign the group and assume beat duties suddenly left vacant. “It was kind of weird at the time, but I also felt selfish—thinking about the future of Organized Konfusion.”
TR Love and CJ Moore couldn’t even look at an SP or drum machine for a while. "The closest thing to Paul was me," explains CJ Moore. "But I didn’t want nothing to do with nothing. I was so tired (already) even though I was young.” This comes from an innovator in his own right who, at age 13, would show up at 1212’s door at 3 in the morning, asking Mick if he had any studio time, always feverish to make beats. "A part of me was taken," continues CJ. "People never saw Paul or my face. Sometimes you’re not appreciated until your death."
CJ turned down the opportunity to work on the Eric B & Rakim album, so Large Professor assumed production duties. "I felt like I had to keep it real," recalls Large Professor, looking down, hands wrought together. "I just wanted to show love how Paul showed love. It was like a dream. Paul showed me the fundamentals and as soon I’m getting into it, I’m working with Eric B & Rakim."
Paul C hooked up the Commodores loop for "Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em" while Rakim added the strobing keyboards from Bob James’ "Night On Bald Mountain." Paul C produced all of "Run For Cover" as the drums from Tony Avlon’s “Sexy Coffee Pot” kept frantic pace. "In The Ghetto" was yet another seamless blend of the Pauls' productionalities. The former brought the 24 Carat Black piano and strings while the latter dropped in the Bill Withers’ drums – and the eighteenth letter flows over sixteenth notes. Yet the credits for the Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em LP acknowledge neither Paul C nor Large Professor’s contributions, which is nothing new. Mark the 45 King ghost-produced much of Eric B & Rakim’s second LP, Follow The Leader.
Stezo and Rakim met while both sat on each other's 1212 sessions, just to vibe with Paul C. Like Stezo, Rakim put a photo of Paul C on the back of Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em, right next to the picture commemorating his father, William Griffin. "I had to put his picture on there,” affirms Stezo about the "Freak The Funk" single. "His sister and mother came down to the Studio and said ‘Thank you.’ A lot of people didn’t bring his records back to him but we made it our business to make it up to his family. That was the main thing I think Rakim remembered me for. One day he saw me on 125th St. and we talked about Paul C. He said he missed him."
Studio 1212 trudged on, and CJ continued working with Paul C’s ingenuity in mind. While producing Tommy Boy act Live Squad, CJ dangled mics out the window to record skits of staged car jackings in the 1212 parking lot. Mick Carrey awoke to gun shots and called the cops, unintentionally adding to the scene’s authenticity. The Live Squad was too live for Tommy Boy and the only thing that got out was a bootleg video whose highlights included a baby being tossed out a car window and a cop being shot. In ’95, Studio 1212 burned to the ground.
CJ Moore called Paul C a "word processor," for good reason. Pharoahe Monch, Kool Keith and Rahzel continue to spit in the face of technology while applying Paul C studio innovations, making words really stretch their role. Casanova Rud has been submitting tracks for various Queensbridge artists, while Paul’s brother went from being AWOL to resurfacing on sundry Bad Boy projects – playing keyboards for Carl Thomas and Puff Daddy. Mick Carrey runs Soho Music and is partners with Stretch Armstrong, who originally brought Percee P to 1212.
On the outgoing message at S&S Haircuts, you’ll hear that Stezo is still recording.
"I’ll always remember what he instilled in me,” says Large “Buy-the-album-when-I-drop-it” Professor who’d go on to make a pantheon of classics with Paul C reflected his beat specs: Main Source's Breaking Atoms, Kool G Rap, Nasty Nas and some of hip hop’s most coveted remixes in Gang Starr (“Gotta Get Over”), Slick Rick (“It’s A Boy”) and Common Sense (“Resurrection”). "I know he felt that Main Source record,” emphasizes Large Professor, choked up with excitement because he knew that the project was overseen and overstood, a la Scott La Rock. “I know it would’ve done him proud. A lot of stuff I was doing was just for…” Large Professor trails off into his thoughts and looks down at his hands.
The Paul C catalog finishes Large Professor’s thought, a thought that can be traced back to the ghost notes and what you heard and what you think you heard. Whether it’s the faint eerie “ha!” of the Commodores in “Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em" or "The Producer Speaks,” a bonus beat mixed and arranged by Paul C for a group called 360.
Read between the drums and you’ll find the engineer.
Prince Poetry is still working on tracks as well, trying to maintain someway, somehow. "If I was to head to Monch's house now and take the local streets, I would pass by Paul’s house, at the beginning of Rosedale. I pass by the funeral home where they had the service. Three days before (today), I told the cab to let me off early because I wanted to just walk past (Paul C’s) crib – and now you asked me to do an interview about him. The weight of the whole thing was enough for me to keep it as a strong memory but put it to the side because it’s too much to think about."
“Paul C to the organisms…Let the beat ride…Let the beat ride…”
Posted by joseph at August 5, 2004 11:48 PM