Vice Beats is a UK Hip-Hop producer, journalist and podcast host. His recent album ‘Dilla: A Timeless Tribute‘ is an ode to the legacy and artistry of J-Dilla, drawing inspiration and samples from some of Dilla’s most celebrates tracks. The album itself is both a perfect homage to Dilla’s influence on Vice but also a masterful showcase of his own production style. Joining vice beats in this project is a aloquent line up of UK & US Mc’s such as Nutty P, Jaz Kahina, Greg Blackman, J Dubble & Joe Publik.
When he’s not working with some of the coldest vocalists around he somehow finds time to be a journalist, magazine editor, farther and podcast host. Diggin the Crates is the first podcast to be launched on Amsterdam based Jazz & Production magazine The Find Mag. During this well mixed dissection of old-school hip-hop, Vice chats with a wide variety of creatives from Romesh Ranganathan to Marley Marl. 2021 is no doubt going to be a muge year for Vice so we appreciate him kicking off the year with an exclusive interview only on 2&6
2&6 INTERVIEWS: VICE BEATS
How long have you been producing for? What made you want to learn how to make music & what was the biggest challenge to begin with?
Big question! So I started producing when I was 16 years old. I started producing because I used to write poetry, and at the time listened to Garage more than Hip Hop. After meeting a few beat makers I wanted to have a go myself and see what I could create.
I started out using my Playstation One, and a game called Deejay which allowed you to shift blocks around, like a very basic version of Fruity Loops. I then got Hip Hop EJay which enabled sampling, so I started adding in any samples I could get my hands on! I was downloading loads of stuff from Win MX, and chopping them into 2 bar samples which was the longest sample you could create.
Later on I went to Lincoln University and met a bunch of likeminded individuals, and we pretty much lived in the studio, honing our skills, and exploring music. I got a chance to produce with Cubase for the first time. After I graduated I eventually began running music workshops, teaching production and lyric writing / MCing. I travelled round England teaching people from 3 – 63!
I was working on Ableton and then over time started moving over to Logic when I got my first Mac. I’ve just kept building from there really, working on a wide range of collaborative projects and slowly but surely establishing myself as Vice beats, in my own right.
In terms of challenges I think one of the biggest aspects was really understanding how to produce. Youtube wasn’t prominent when I was learning, and I’m self taught, so it took a lot longer to understand the basics then it does now. Also, DAWs weren’t as good, and with the earlier software I was using you had to source every sound, but it taught me how to build a track from the ground up.
In 2005 I met Mecca:83, and we started supporting each other, talking weekly, at points daily, motivating each other and building networks. He spent time with me and helped me to really swing my drums which in Cubase was no easy task! He introduced me to Dilla swing-esque drums, and after that point things really started developing for me.
What do you remember as being your first introduction to J Dilla? Was it love at first listen or did he become a favored producer over time?
I think with Dilla my experience is quite typical in the sense that I’d fell in love with Dilla’s production before I even knew it was him, and it wasn’t until I started exploring liner notes that I started to stitch together that the commonality of some of my favourite music was Dilla. Unknowingly, I think the first time I unknowingly listened to Dilla was D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar. I played that album on loop for months.
You clearly have a deep respect and love for Hip Hop history and its origins, with parts of the album contextualising Dilla with atmospheric narration or conversation with the man himself. How important was it when making this album to educate those who may not be as familiar with Dilla?
I don’t think it was ever about educating people. For me it was a case of paying respect to Dilla, and also to the scene and community he had created. One of the interviews is with Egon. It was a deeply personal interview that I recorded with him in London when “The Diary” was released. Alongside him there’s Ma Dukes, Questlove and Illa J. I wanted to involved his family and friends, and also some signature DIlla sounds, like my version of Dilla’s chains he’d place on cymbals, and various ageing and layering techniques with the drums to get the right sound and feel.
My ambition was always to make something that I could give to Ma Dukes and make an official Dilla tribute release. Having met Ma Dukes, Toney, Illa J and talked to Dilla’s auntie I have a deep respect for their family and wanted to ensure that the legacy of his music was respected within Dilla: The Timeless Tribute.
I feel like a really great part of your productions is that you leave plenty of room and space for the MC to do his thing. Is this a conscious decision to not overcrowd the beat? Is this perhaps a lesson you learnt from Dilla?
Thank you! I guess Dilla is an influence, but funnily enough I quite often find the opposite, that MC’s won’t necessarily know where to rhyme or how to flow on my tracks. With my project Directions, it was really Jazz influenced, and I found that a number of artists I approached couldn’t work the tracks. I changed my way of production with that feedback, but this continued to happen with the Dilla project.
I think the thing I’ve found is that my music is very heavily influenced and quite often features live instrumentation, so over time I have learnt to take this and strip it back a little more. Once the vocalist has done their thing I can layer up the instrumental and add more texture without overcrowding it beforehand.
If you could put together one Jazz artist from history and one hip-hop MC to work on a collaborative album, who would you love to hear?
Great question! There’s a few combinations I can think of, but I think possibly my favourite would be Black Thought and Thelonious Monk. They both seem like they have an aspect of being a reclusive genius and incredibly creative, far surpassing genres and eras.
Earlier in 2020 you released “Torn Ligament”. How did you and Napoleon De Legend get in contact & what was the idea behind creating the song in support of Reclaim the Block? Is it difficult to decide which MC you want to work with or is their a familiar cast of characters that you like to work with??
I love working with different artists. As a producer it gives me the opportunity to try out different styles and hone my skills. Also it creates different narrative within music. I love Napoleon’s music, he’s insanely talented, and as bi-lingual MC he has an amazing perspective on hip hop and lyricism.
This song was created at the start of lockdown (part 1!) and helped us both to find some perspective on the situation. It was written at the time that George Floyd was murdered and Black Lives Matter were really coming to the forefront. We chose Reclaim The Block as they are doing something different and trying to be pro-active and helping to educate the future generations which as teacher I really believe in.
In the spirit of welcoming your new son into the world. What was your favourite music when you were growing up & who did your parents listen to in the house?
What a nice question to ask! I’ve actually been playing my son Eben a lot of the music that I listened to when I was younger. My parent’s separated when I was young which musically exposed me to a real mix of sounds. My dad listened to The Beatles, to Stevie Wonder, Billie Holiday, The Fugees, Fat Domino and so many more.
My mum really liked 80’s and early 90s music and listened to Enya, Crowded House, Gypsy Kings, Seal and all sorts. It gave me a really nice mix of influences.
Lastly, what are your plans post Corona? Any secret projects in the pipeline?
I’m building an album, which will be released in 2021, alongside some collaborative projects with a wide range of vocalists, including The Scribes, a Dutch lyricist called MC Stef, an EP with an amazing London based singer, plus so many more! Feeling really excited about music and the opportunities I’ve got right now. We’ll be launching Season 3 of Diggin’ The Crates, the podcast that I created mid-2020 in collaboration with The Find. I feel like we’re really finding our audience with the podcast now, and we have some amazing guests lined up so I’m excited to push that forwards.
BIG UP TO THE LEGEND THAT IS VICE BEATS FOR COMING TO CHAT WITH US!
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Images by Sam Fordham – @samueljfordham