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Lessons From A Legend: DJ Bobcat

DJBobcat

Los Angeles based DJ and Producer, Bobcat, has had quite an amazing career in Hip-Hop over the last 25 years. Starting off as a member of the groundbreaking and iconic DJ crew Uncle Jamm’s Army in the early 80’s, Bobcat was able to turn that in to career as a record producer. He was also instrumental in creating some of LL Cool J’s biggest records. After his stint with LL, Bobcat also laid down beats for Ice Cube’s Death Certificate album, which many consider to be his greatest to this day. It didn’t stop there. DJ Bobcat also played a very important role in the early career of Tupac Shakur, serving not only as a mentor and a big brother, but  helping to shape the sound of his 2nd album, Strictly For My N.I.G.G.A.Z. AllHipHop.com caught up with the legendary DJ Bobcat, who shared some very interesting lessons about the music industry, working with a top artists and his private musical library.

AllHipHop.com: You came up under the legendary DJ crew, Uncle Jamm’s Army. Tell us about your involvement in that whole movement.

DJ Bobcat: For those that don’t know, Uncle Jamm’s Army was a legendary concert and party promoters that was responsible for pioneering the West Coast hip-hop scene – along with The Wreckin’ Cru. There were a lot of party promoters but Uncle Jamm’s was number one and the reason why is because they were able to do dances at the Los Angeles Sports Arena with 15,000 people showing up. This was all done without a concert or performing headliner. The DJ’s were the headliners. This was all the brainchild of Rodger Clayton, rest in peace. The Egyptian Lover was the star DJ and he was there before I came along. I ended up joining and I brought my own style to the crew because I was scratching much different than Egypt and the rest of them. I had a faster style because I was younger.

How old were you when you joined Uncle Jamm’s Army?

I was around the age of 14. I was still in middle school when I started to DJ. When I played at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, they had to give me milk crates to stand on so that I could reach the turntables. I know that I’m the old O.G. now but back then I was the little shrimp who was a DJ and people would say, “Look at the little kid mix!” I was a fast Scratcher but The Egyptian Lover taught me how to be precise. Rodger Clayton also taught me how to blend records and program. The art of programming is knowing what records to play and the way that you play them at certain stages of a party. I started the California Cat Crew which also included DJ Battlecat and I did that because I was doing up to 3 party’s a night and I needed someone to fill in at some of the gigs.

Not long after that, you made the transition from DJ to Record Producer. How did you manage that transition?

I always tell producers that you always want to do a song in the same vibe of the song that you love. When I made “I Need Love” for LL Cool J, a lot of people don’t know that I was doing my own version of “Secret Lovers” by Atlantic Starr. Snoop Dogg and Mack 10 thought that I used a sample for Mack’s “Backyard Boogie.” I didn’t use one. That’s just me playing music. Producers like myself, DJ Pooh, Battlecat, Daz, Dre, Quik, Johnny J (Rest in Peace), after a while we have whatever type of music in us. It’s like, “You want something like this? Ok. Let me make something like this.” The tracks that I did for 2Pac originally came from the stuff that I was doing for Ice Cube; that whole Bomb Squad/Public Enemy sound. If you listen to “Peep Game” by 2Pac and Deadly Threat, you can take Pac off of there and easily replace him with Chuck D or Ice Cube. As a matter of fact, on that same album I did put Cube on there with Pac and Ice T.

You mentioned “I Need Love.” That song took LL and rap to new heights because it was a different type of a hip-hop song at the time. How did you develop that sound and convince LL this was the direction he should take?

At a young age I was blessed with the opportunity to meet Leon of the family singing group, The Sylvers. My sister Pam took me to their studio and their engineer began to teach me how to EQ sounds and other things. I was learning about songs just sitting around and listening to them. As it relates to me and how “I Need Love” was conceptualized, I would be at Uncle Jamm’s Record Store where Rodger Clayton had keyboards, fooling around on the Casio’s and the DX100. It was originally a song that I wrote called “Friends by Day, Lovers by Night.” I flew out to New York as part of The L.A. Posse to work with a Def Jam artist named Breeze. It was myself, Big Dad, Muffla and DJ Pooh. Breeze was supposed to be the up and coming LL, so Russell Simmons signed him. Just to throw this out there, we were the ones that also developed Nicky D and got her signed to Def Jam. So we were working with Breeze and doing such a great job, that Russell asked us if we were interested in doing pre-production on LL’s next album. We said yes and started working on records with LL. I developed a friendship with him and started going over to his house every day and we became like cousins. One day we had a discussion about ballads and I told him to take his music to another level by having something with music in it for the female audience to embrace. On his first album he had a song called “I Want You” and it was dope but it was more of a B-Boy love song.That was fine but gangstas don’t care about that. Females are the ones that buy and listen to records and I was articulating that to him and he was in agreement. We did the song but after it was made, he let his friends tell him that it was soft, so he didn’t want to put the record on the album. Russell didn’t like it either and to this day he says that about that song. It was just something that rappers didn’t do at the time. As you know now, it’s probably the most re-made rap song in history (laughs).

So how did it make it to the album?

LL and I used to get in to the biggest arguments in the world. Most producers have these arguments with artists. The artist sees things one day, the label sees things another way, and the producer sees things the right way. If you ask any producer, they will tell you that. Even on “Mama Said Knock You Out” there was an argument over that song and how he was going to rap on it. When LL says “Come on” at the beginning, it was him getting mad at me. It wasn’t just him saying, “Come on.” When we were recording and we took it from the top, I kept that in there.

LL was mad at you because you were telling him to get it right?

Absolutely, but that’s LL though. He will make you argue your point. He may later on agree with you, but he will make you argue. Now Ice Cube, he was a snap to work with as well as 2Pac. I went back and forth with Mack 10 a little bit. To this day Mack will tell me that he should have listened to me when I told him to put out “Inglewood Swangin” as a follow up single to “Backyard Boogie.” The same thing happened with LL. I did a song called “Cross Roads” on his 14 Shots to the Dome album and we had the New York Philharmonic Orchestra on this song. I used 105 tracks to mix this song. You don’t do a song with the Philharmonic Orchestra for it to just be an album song. We were talking about making it in to an iconic video and it was going to be something different – an area that rappers weren’t really visiting. He wanted to do it at first but then he changed his mind and went with a typical hip-hop “in the hood/by the liquor store” record as the single. I was like, “You’ve already done this.” To me, the music business is about putting out things that people haven’t seen yet. The wrong single can destroy the whole momentum of your album.

Tell us about working with 2Pac.

Pac was like a younger brother to me. My cousin D-Skillz out in New York had a show and him and Pac used to room together. My cousin approached me about a rapper that he knew who he thought would be a good fit for a group that I had called Microphone Mafia — a group I created which consisted of rappers Deadly Threat, K-Borne, and Nefertitti. So I went and bought the 2Pacalypse Now cassette and I drove around Sunset Boulevard by the House of Blues all night listening to his album. I thought that he was incredible so I called Skillz back and arranged to meet Pac. When I met him, it was right after the movie Juice and he was in a transitional period. He didn’t really have any money and I started looking out for him – getting him things and buying him different stuff. He used to hang out with me, MC Ren, Eazy-E and LL. He basically became a part of our crew and we took him under our wings. We would be in the studio talking about consciousness, racism and equal rights. On his album, we basically did with him what we did with Ice Cube on Death Certificate.

I felt at the time that Pac was still exploring and trying to find himself. When he was released from Prison and we worked on All Eyez On Me, I felt like a lot of what he was doing was a mash-up of what he had written in Prison and what he was experiencing after he got out of it. I’ve had friends who have done Prison bids that were a lot longer than Pac’s. When you get out of Prison, you need time to get yourself back down to Earth, and I don’t think he was able to ever do that. I hear people talk about Pac and who he was but I don’t think he even knew who he was. He never developed in to what he could have ultimately become. Jay-Z is an example of an artist that had a chance to develop and maximize their full potential and Pac and Biggie never had that chance. We were only able to see their greatness in only one stage of their lives. Who knows what they could have turned in to at 40 years of age?

What songs do you consider to be the Top 5 that you have ever produced?

That’s a tough question because that list can change every day. Today it might be a certain list of songs and tomorrow I could change my mind and list another. You can always go to http://www.djbobcat.com and see the list of songs that I’ve produced or been a part of and you can decide for yourselves.

I also have the songs that I love that have never been released. I have a whole album of songs with LL that have never been released. Going back to “Mama Said Knock You Out,” that song was originally for the Microphone Mafia (an  before LL even rapped on it. I have that song with Deadly Threat, K-Borne and Nefertitti on it. The song would have not have been as big as LL’s version but it was our crew anthem. That song was like “The Grand Finale” on The D.O.C.’s album. I’ve also got records with MC Ren and Ice Cube that nobody has ever heard.

Is there any chance of us hearing some of these unreleased gems?

Yes, if the right situation presents itself. I just don’t want these records to leak and end up on someone’s mixtape. I would never try to present these as new records. I would let people know the time frame that the songs were created.

You created a company called The Foundation to help out artists. What exactly does your company do?

The Foundation is a strategic marketing and branding firm. If you go to a label, they are going to market you and brand you under new deals known as “360 deals.” They will come on as your investor and they will take your record and promote it, get you tours, and do your videos. In return, they will take a percentage of your record and pay you a percentage of that. You’re in a partnership with that record label. What we do is basically that but it’s for the average artist that can’t afford some of these services. For instance if you go to most publicists or marketing firms, they are going to ask for a 5 to 10 thousand dollar retainer. We have an International DJ Network set up so that we can set up a strategy to work your record in different regions. We will also create online teams to help you keep your internet and social networking up. We’ll build a case with you to where you can choose to go the major label route or if you want to stay independent. An artist needs to have connections all over the country and not just one region, especially with DJ’s, and we can make those connections for you. We also offer over 25 years of record making advice and experience. To learn more, you can go to www.the-foundation.us or you can call us at 818-973-2221.

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