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DM) You've written some of the biggest rap hits with your initial few albums. Some critics, however, claim rap isn't a "legitimate" means of songwriting, and in fact is the re-interpretation of other people songs. How do you see writing rap?
YM) If you choose to write original things, then it is. It goes in degrees, because I even think that taking a sample and manipulating it in a clever way is musical. But definitely, there are rap songs with that similar amount of care put into them. Not all of rap is taking somebody else's music, sampling it, and calling it a day. On my album, the only samples I have are samples of my own, where I went into the studio and put original stuff down. It's really difficult to paint the whole genre with that big brush. There are guys out there who find a popular record, loop it, and call it a track. And I can see where some music purists would say that's not real music. But for every person like that, there's a [Dr.] Dre, or there's some other producers like myself who use a lot of original things, and come out with original chords and arrangements that provide the backing track...let alone the lyrics which, in a lot of cases, take more care than Pop, R&B, or Country lyrics.
DM) Have there been songs you've heard and really felt weren't creative and were in fact copying others?
YM) Oh yeah, I'm not going to name names, but I've done that. Especially when you know what it takes in terms of sampling and playing along, and you can listen and count the tracks--and you count only 3, 4 or 5 tracks in a song, then you realize there's not much to it.
DM) When you take a pop song, you start with a basic I-IV-V chord structure, which makes up most of modern day pop music. When you take a rap song, are you focusing on the beat or the lyrics first?
YM) Some people might start with the beat, and then they find some interesting sounds out of a keyboard or a sample. Some might start with a sample and put the beat behind it. To me, there's not much difference from a keyboard, or a guitar player playing a I-IV-V chord, and a rapper taking a sample, putting drums behind that, coming up with a hook, and creating the song, too.
DM) Did rap, in a way, expand the method of songwriting?
YM) Absolutely, I think the whole idea of sampling has done a lot for music. In rap, you see sampling in its purist form. The one group who suffers for it are the studio musicians because you can get a keyboard that plays bass and guitarist, and if you can get a guitarist to play some stuff, you can loop it and play it on 80 different records. The players have suffered for it, but the producers have blossomed for it.
DM) It's been quite some time since the rap and pop worlds merged with songs like, "Walk This Way." Was that a fluke or a direction in music that is slowly coming to fractioning?
YM) It was quite a long time ago, but it wasn't a fluke. That beat from "Walk this Way" in New York and Queens where I grew up...they had the singles from Aerosmith's "Toy in the Attic," and it was a standard piece of equipment to have. You had that, you had the theme from Good Times--it was a standard piece to have. There's quite a few that you had. If I'm not mistaken, the drumbeat only went for 2 bars, so if you didn't catch it at that point, the guitarist came in. So every rapper was used to hearing it because it was kinda hard to catch in time.
DM) So it really developed out of an error?
YM) Absolutely. I don't know if lyrically Run DMC worked liked that before, but that entire introduction, I'm sure they've done dozens of times before.
DM) In a different angle, having been in the rap industry for quite some time, do you feel that your average Rap artist can improve as a musician over the years?
YM) Lyrically, yes. Musically, I don't think so. If somebody was to play something really intricate, it might not work. You might be a better scratcher or be able to put a more intricate beat, but in terms of musical l skills going into a record, it's not really appreciated like in other forms of music as opposed to a guitarist who might say Eddie Van Halen is a great guitarist. You don't hear people talking about how well a certain producer plays keys. It's not as big of an issue. It's a different criteria of judging.
DM) Do you feel you are better at what you do than 10 years ago?
YM) Oh yeah, definitely.
DM) How so?
YM) I'm better in that I'm more comfortable... I'm better at making music that works better on stage. I'm really able to see the stage when I make the record. I just saw the record when I made the record now, and I also see the stage, and I'm trying to make a good overall record. Not to be swayed by what other people want me to do, but by what I feel I need to do.