Interview: Highlight Nation Meets Easy Mo Bee (Part 2)

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In the second of our Easy Mo Bee discussions, we quiz the record producer over his work with Miles Davis and find out why James Brown was such a towering influence on hip hop. Read on for the full interview. For part 1, click here

Anton: “Now, Easy, I love a bit of James Brown, but I wouldn’t exactly classify his music as rap or a precursor to rap. Why was Brown so important to hip hop?”

Easy Mo Bee ‘James Brown was hip hop before there was hip hop. He was an early master of the breakbeat concept of and looping and repeating, made famous by rap producers, and paved the way for people like myself. He conducted his band much in the same way that a deejay spins the decks. Once his band got into the pocket of a groove, he would tell them “hold it right there, keep that”, and then keep the groove going whilst he sings over the top. That’s hip hop as far as I’m concerned!”

Anton “Oh, without a doubt! That’s interesting, because he’s not the first person that springs to mind when you think ‘hip hop originator’. Unlike, say The Isley Brothers or Roy Ayers – whose songs have been sampled a million times over by hip hop artists. What do you think?”

Easy Mo Bee: “In all truth, I think hip hop learned a lot from listening to him. In New York, at least, James Brown has always been considered hip hop. His music and his beats were our primary go-to as DJs and producers, as they already contained the main elements needed to make good music. That’s why it’s always been so easy to loop a James Brown record. With that said, I would argue that James Brown affected hip hop more than any other artist.”

Anton: “It’s fascinating how you pick apart his music on such a technical level. I’d never really given much thought to his use of grooves and how they’ve impacted on hip hop, structurally, but it’s clear there’s a relationship.”

Easy Mo Bee: “Oh, definitely! Another fact – did you know that James Brown was involved in a music feud similar to that of 2Pac and Biggie?”

Anton: “No! Are you serious? That’s mad!”

Easy Mo Bee: “I’m telling you! He had beef with the soul singer, Joe Tex, and it got pretty heated between the two of them. Tex alleged that Brown had stolen his dance moves and microphone stand tricks. He also claimed that Brown stopped radio presenters from playing his hit tune, Skinny Legs and All. Brown didn’t exactly help the situation by shacking up with Tex’s ex-wife, Bea Ford. To make matters worse, he even sent a letter to Tex, telling him he was through with her, leading Tex to hit back with the diss track, You Keep Her. That’s only part of the story, but, you get the picture. The two were bitter rivals!”

Anton: “Bloody hell! I didn’t know that! I need to look into this. Now, I know you could probably bang on for hours about Brown, but I want to move on to another major artist you worked with – Miles Davis – the king of jazz. I believe you produced his final album, Doo-Bop?”

Easy Mo Bee “That’s right. I produced the entire album from start to finish. Sadly, Davis passed away during the course of its production, and so never got to see the final product. At time of his death in 1991, we were six songs in, and, with the help of Warner Bros, the album’s label, we were able to hunt down two further unreleased tracks by Davis – High Speed Chase and Fantasy – which I remixed.”

Anton: “That’s amazing! What was he like to work with?”

Easy Mo Bee: “He was eccentric, to say the least. One minute he was smiling and laughing, and the next minute he was quiet. There would be moments where he would stare at you. He had these piercings eyes that just cut through you. I remember once my manager sent me over to his apartment on the Upper West side of Manhattan. I was playing some music to Miles and he was just staring at me. I didn’t know what to make of it. He was just nodding his head up and down whilst looking at me. Then he’d let out the odd comment or two. ‘I like that. Keep doing that.’ he’d say. You didn’t exactly get the “average” response from him.”

Anton: “Wow – he sounded pretty intense. What was the reason for that, d’you think?”

Easy Mo Bee: “I think his rise to fame had something to do with his mannerisms. I mean, he got into music through the back door. He started out in a kitchen, and experienced a lot of racism in his time. He had a lot to prove and would often turn his back on the audience as a statement of cockiness. That was his way of saying “You’ve come out tonight to see me. You need me!” Who turns their back on an audience of thousands? You can’t do that today! He was one of a kind, just in the same way that James Brown was.”

In part 3, we’ll be taking a look at Easy Mo Bee’s perspective on the Biggie – ‘Pac saga and asking the question – can a record producer really work with rival artists? You can follow Easy Mo Bee on Instagram at @therealeasymobee




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