Dante Ross: Dummy Smacks

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oday’s A&R not only eats off of the artists he signs, he can become a star in his own right. Jay-Z can shout out “Lenny S” as TI brings in DJ Drama to be the ears of Grand Hustle/Atlantic. However, in the formation of Hip-Hop as we know it, one of the most unmentioned names that should be is Dante Ross.

As a producer, Ross was known as the “Stimulated Dummy,” but with the demo tape blasting, he was a prophet. At Tommy Boy, Ross helped bring in a young Dana Owens who’d soon become Queen. At Elektra, he saw a star in a beanie-wearing Busta Rhymes, in Leaders of the New School. But as 3rd Bass, Brand Nubian, and KMD all ripened with Dante Ross in their sessions and producing their beats, it wasn’t until 1998 that the New Yorker got his props.

Since producing the Triple Platinum Everlast album Whitey Ford Sings the Blues Dante Ross has been distracted by the duckets and the diversity within Rock music. But this summer, teaming up with Scion, Ross will be holding beat-battles to see if you can inspire him.

AllHipHop.com: From the years as an A&R, what’s one act that you passed on that may’ve been a mistake?

Dante Ross: There’s a couple. Das EFX, I had their demo and I was late to their party. Erick Sermon had sent it to me beforehand and I really slept on that. Groups that I tried to sign that I didn’t get were A Tribe Called Quest and D.O.C. – the two I remember the clearest. A Tribe Called Quest, I lost in a bidding war. The D.O.C. had the greatest demo ever, because it was his album. It was literally his mastered album. There was a song on there they couldn’t fit that Atlantic ended up taking off the album, that they wanted to be able to put it out. I really, really wanted to sign him, but it was just too complicated and couldn’t go down. The group that I passed on ‘cause they were my friends was Cypress Hill. I should’ve signed them, they fit into everything I was doing at the time, but I was such good friends with Muggs. Fifteen, 20 years later, I’m still really good friends with Muggs, so maybe it was the right thing to do. I passed on House of Pain too. They had “Jump Around” on [their demo]. I knew it was a hit song. But the reason I passed on them was ‘cause I signed a lot of Five Percenters, a lot of Gods, and I didn’t want to deal with the grief of the white dudes bein’ my biggest group. It was disrespectful to the Gods.

AllHipHop.com: I was reading your Lordz of Brooklyn interview in the new issue of Mass Appeal. I know you write there, but what else are you doing in Hip-Hop these days?

Dante Ross: Actually, I do less Hip-Hop production nowadays than I ever have. [After Everlast’s] Whitey Ford Sings the Blues I just did a lot of alternative records. I worked with Korn, Santana, Anthony Hamilton… the list goes on and on. I tend to do a lot more stuff that’s beat orientated, but not straight-up Hip-Hop. There’s some Hip-Hop in everything I do. Whether it’s an ‘80s “Planet Rock” thing, or some grimy stuff like I put under the Whitey Ford [album], it usually tends to be beat orientated.

AllHipHop.com: When Jay-Z brought Rick Rubin back into Hip-Hop with “99 Problems,” it was huge. Could a certain artist do that with you?

Dante Ross: Possibly. My Hip-Hop stuff nowadays is more current than what Rick’s doing. Rick is doing this retro thing where they’re going to Rick for an ‘80s sound. The “Stimulated Dummy” sound wasn’t as tied into an era. I think what Kanye and people are doing now is just an extension of the sound we had.

AllHipHop.com: Is it true that when you signed Leaders of the New School, Charlie and Dinco showed up to sign without Busta – who’d been kicked out – and you refused unless it was the whole package?

Dante Ross: It wasn’t really like that. Charlie came to see me with a joint. It was just him, not Dinco. [Charlie] and Busta always had their little things. I was just like, “Yo, your man right there though, the Busta Rhymes kid, he’s a star. He’s gotta be that dude.” They accepted. It wasn’t like they was tryin’ to get him out of the band. Charlie always wanted to put himself on the forefront; there was always a competitive thing with him and Bus’.

AllHipHop.com: It have to been hard to sign an artist, then turn around and charge them for beats…

Dante Ross: I was always really, really cheap. I never charged an astronomical amount of money. It was never pre-disposed that somebody had to do somethin’ with me. It was like, if I had a joint that they liked, hey, it was all good. Actually, the dude who I always ended up workin’ with was [Grand] Puba. Me and Puba, musically, were really on the same page. Max [Puba] showed me a lot about makin’ music. My biggest checks came from Everlast; I never got big checks from my Hip-Hop groups. I mean, 3rd Bass paid me more money than like Puba would.

AllHipHop.com: My favorite Casual record was always “Gotta Get Down” b/w “Turf Dirt” on your Stimulated label. Why didn’t the label succeed, because it was part of Loud Records?

Dante Ross: It’s multi-tiered. One, it was in the Loud fold. Two, as a producer, I was so distracted doing other records. I didn’t focus enough on my own stuff as I should have. Reason being – economics. At that point, after doing the Everlast record, I could write my own ticket. I could do a Korn remix for 30,000 bucks, no problem. I could do a Santana song for 50,000 dollars. Getting gigs like that – the biggest gigs you’ve ever had in your whole life, and you’re slowing down to pick up of [thousand dollars], it’s not worth it. I was just following my heart to an extent. I wanted to make other kinds of music. I had a little deal over at Warner Brothers with this group, Hesher, and it didn’t really happen – but it was wanted to do. I wouldn’t fault anybody, I’d just say the success I had with Everlast to an extent.

“Gotta Get Down” has a story though. I bought that beat six months before Casual hit it. [Alchemist] played it for me, and I had just got my deal, and I was like, “Yo, I’m buyin’ that from you.” That one sat on the shelf for like six months. Al’s a nasty mothaf**ka. He studied a lot. He’s further proof that it’s a young man’s game.

AllHipHop.com: What let you know that now was a good time for a nationwide producer competition?

Dante Ross: I saw Beat Society do it. Back in the days, both Large Professor or the Beatnuts would have a stretch in their show where’d they just rock s**t live. It was amazing to see. About two days ago, I walked into Rootdown in Los Angeles, and I seen Cut Chemist and Madlib goin’ at it – just bangin’ s**t against each other. I thought it was incredible to see. The idea was always in my mind. I saw Beat Society and I thought it could be done a lot more excitingly than the way they were doing it. Live beatmaker people really wanna see that – it’s like the next step in a DJ battle. Me and my boys always sit around like “What you got?” just buggin’ out with the [MPCs], battling it out. It’s real fun to do. If it inspires me, and I think it’s exciting, I think the rest of the country will as well.

AllHipHop.com: The Beatnuts and Large Professor are geniuses at what they do. But nowadays, so many of the guys that win these competitions really believe that “Yo, I’m a producer now.” Is the door too easy to walk through to be a Hip-Hop producer today?

Dante Ross: It depends what your definition of a Hip-Hop producer is. To me, there’s a beat-maker and a Hip-Hop producer. A producer makes songs; a beatmaker makes beats. There’s cats that’s really dope with the beats but [can’t] arrange a song, make an artist perform better, mic equipment – that separates you. I started as a beatmaker and I became a producer and a songwriter. Usually, it’s an evolution. I do think now, there’s more tools than ever. I think that’s a plus. I don’t think it’s too easy to be a producer, ‘cause on the real, it’s hard to sell joints right now.

AllHipHop.com: Besides you, who are the other judges?

Dante Ross: I’m in the middle of confirming a lot of people, and I don’t know who’s gonna stick. I’ve reached out to Prince Paul, Alchemist, Muggs, Rico Wade, Organized Noize. It looks like everybody’s gonna come through. I’m lookin’ for my finale judges. I don’t know who I’m gonna use. I’m trying to get [DJ] Premier to do it, but I haven’t really connected with him yet on it.

AllHipHop.com: You go to a lot of beat battles. What’s cliché these days? What’s cutting edge, what isn’t?

Dante Ross: To me, something that’s not fresh is using a tired sample. One of the rounds, we’re gonna give people a sample lab, a drum loop, and a couple of sounds. I think what’s wrong is to just grab the most obvious loop in the sample lab. What’s wrong is to just press play on your MP and think you’re rockin’. I think the guy who’s gonna win is gonna bring his live performance aspect to the show – somebody who uses mutes on the MP, somebody who’s triggering live. What’s tired is not being charismatic and doesn’t do the obvious.

AllHipHop.com: On the mainstream level, many would say Busta Rhymes is the hottest artist out in 2006. In the independent/underground culture, many would say that MF DOOM is the biggest artist the last few years. How does it feel, years later, to know that you brought those two monsters into the game?

Dante Ross: It makes me feel great. Busta, that guy’s built for it. I’ve rarely met anybody who works harder than him. That guy’s relentless, always wanted it so bad, and he got it. Man, he’s a testament to talent and grind. He’s a superstar. From the minute I saw him with Leaders on one microphone with all three gettin’ down, I was like, “That guy got it. He’s a genius.” To see DOOM do it, to me, is even more amazing ‘cause DOOM was dealt a bad hand by Elektra Records and the loss of [his brother] Subroc and all that. To see DOOM on top is amazing. It says that my years are still relevant, that time may pass, but artists are still relevant. Those two artists are a testament that my ears are made for the long haul. Unfortunately, I don’t think too many record label executives give me the respect for having pioneered those guys’ careers, but I can’t let things like that bother me. To see them carrying on like that is beautiful. I’ll see Busta out, and he’ll tell his boys, “Yo, this is the man who put me on.” I always felt that [saying] that is awkward ‘cause nobody ever puts anybody on; you get on for a reason.

Contestants from across the United States are invited to send their original

Mixes/Videos (between 1 and 4 minutes in length) between June 1, 2006 and

August 18, 2006.

Entries should be sent to:

King of the Beats Entry

276 Canal street

Suite 7W

New York, NY 10013

For more information: www.scion.com/kingofthebeats

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