Dre Skull is label boss, ill producer,and dope DJ. His Club Infinity Parties with Kingdom are legendary. His label Mixpak has been dropping pure fire since jump. On a lot of levels he’s pushing a similar sound to what we rate at DA- but he’s also been doing some leftfied releases putting his stamp on Japanese punk, Sissy Bounce and some of contemporary dance halls most distinctive voices. I linked with him in early March on his last visit to Kingston to finish sessions with Vybz Kartel on their collabo full length. The trip started slow for Dre. Apparently even if Kartel says your his favorite producer, he doesn’t always pick up the phone or keep meetings. After last minute Caribbean flights for engineers and Dre lengthening his stay- everything got wrapped. Between sessions with Tifa and waiting on Kartel, Dre previewed the album for me- mostly unmixed, with a couple of tracks needing some revamping- IT SOUNDED FIRE. West Coast G-Funk Dancehall like “My Crew” are going to BURN radio, club and freeway play- but Dre and Kartel also finished minor-chord livity anthems like “Ghetto Youth”, “Real Bad Gyal” an ode to women to run dem own tings, and gyalist anthems for days like the infectious “Half On A Baby.” Looking at sales of dancehall full-lengths, it’s hard to known, from a financial standpoint, why Dre’s putting his time and cash behind the project. But if music is actually about content, then I truly hope this one pays off. I hit him with some questions about how he sets his things, and what we have to expect from him and Mixpak in the future.
Youtubery= I asked him to pull a couple older K/Cartel tracks for us since everyone said Dre has him sounding hungry like when he first came out.
T: What/how has the logistical process been working with Jamaican artists?
D: The process has varied from project to project. The first few projects were all done over the internet, starting when I reached out to work with Sizzla and then Vybz Kartel. Once Kartel’s ‘Yuh Love’ hit, I started getting Jamaican artists reaching out to work with me. That’s how the Ms. Thing and Psycho Tanbad track came about, her manager hit me up and requested the riddim and then they went ahead and shot the video on their own. More recently, I’ve been going to Kingston to work with artists directly, so everything on this upcoming Vybz Kartel album has been recorded with Kartel and I in the studio together. Logistically, I always bring the riddims pretty well built (with chorus melodies and fully structured arrangements) and then I take the vocals back to Brooklyn and rework the riddim around the vocal as needed.
T: What can you tell me about releasing Hard Nips- a japanese all girl punk outfit in Bk- up until that release the Mixpak sound seemed to be all about international forward thinking bass music- how do they fit in with the vision you have for Mixpak?
D: To me Mixpak is much broader than any one type of music, though I realize that being a relatively young label certain appearances can take shape, but I hope that over time a broader picture emerges. I’d like to grow Mixpak to be an XL sort of label focusing on full lengths and I’m choosing that as a reference, not because I’m overly familiar with what they’re putting out, but because my brand impression is that, as a label, they just want to put out the “best” of new music (as opposed to many labels that aspire to release the “best” of a certain genre or sub-genre). That idea of “best of new music” is what I picture for Mixpak, though as a producer I have my own areas of interest and that will probably always shape the label’s output.
T: Besides yourself, who does the Mixpak team consist of?
D: For day to day label operations, Mixpak has mostly been my project. For better or worse, I code the website, make the phone calls, handle merchandise, deal with distributors, etc. For the Mixpak blog, I’ve had a great team of writers and contributors from around the world, we’ve got people from the US, Canada, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and then there’s a Japanese team who translates every blog post and interview into Japanese. I’ve recently brought onboard a London-based woman, Susannah, who functions as the editor of the blog and I’ve been working to get her more directly involved with running some other aspects of the label. I’ve reached the point where I’m definitely a bottleneck and that can hold up getting projects done on time, so I’ve been working to build a system that won’t need my involvement quite so much. I’m hoping that will free me up to work on more of my own projects and will help the label continue to grow.
T: Beyond the full length with Addi, what else are y’all going to bring out into the world this year?
D: We have a whole lot of stuff in the pipeline. We have an all analogue EP from Parisian synth wizard Koyote, a debut EP a ridiculously prolific teen computer music prodigy Andy Petr, a Lil Scrappy remix EP with Dam-Funk and Justin Martin remixes, a Dre Skull & Oliver Twizt single, a Schlachthofbronx soca EP, a single from Stamma Ramma, a follow up Melé EP and more. I’m also getting other voicings in Kingston and beyond, so I’m expecting some more Dre Skull projects at some point this year.
T: Do you feel like the controversy over Kartel’s bleaching should have any bearing on his musical output or career?
D: I don’t feel like I’m the most qualified to speak to that, but I’ll just say that being in Kingston for the last week it seems like the two most prevalent views among people are either that “he’s denigrating his heritage” aka he’s reacting to shame about the color of his skin in a shameful way or that “he’s a man exercising his right to self express through body modification” aka he doesn’t give a damn about anyone else’s social norms. People who hold the first view are definitely concerned, but people seeing this from the second perspective see him as something like a rebel and they respect it from that angle. I suppose whether this should or will have any bearing on his musical output or career will be up to the fans, but from the looks of things in Kingston, he doesn’t appear to be having any trouble. As far I can tell, he seems to be more popular than ever.
T: Can you tell me a bit about your life as a producer- I first heard the Juiceboxxx projects that you did a long while ago and kind of locked you into that vibe- but the last few years its become obvious that your comfortable moving between genres…. how do you see your own production work in relation to UK developments in bass music vs American strains of powerfully local music genres – which youve dipped into with Lil Scarppy, and Sissy Nobby. What are your dream projects/collabos?
D: The biggest piece about my life as a producer I could share is that the vast majority of music I have produced has never been released. I probably have over a thousand unreleased tracks at different stages of completion and that music spans a very wide range of sounds and genres. For a long time, I’ve considered a lot of my time in the studio as an exploration and I say that, mostly, because I didn’t even really conceive of releasing it for a long time. Currently, I’m in a different phase in my life as a producer, so I do think about releasing tracks these days, but retrospectively I see all that production work over the years as having been a process of building a palette that I can now reach for on any given day in the studio. I still have the project files associated with all those tracks, so I can pull a melody or a drum pattern or anything from any old track. On the Kartel album for example, the song that is likely to be the first single consists of a bassline and melody that were written on a laptop in the back of the band Lightning Bolt’s van in 2002 or 2003 during a 45 day cross-country tour. So in making the track for Kartel, I pulled up those components from all those years ago and built a new track with new drums and sounds, but it’s musically the same chords and notes. There’s another track on the album that I produced in 2005 which was always a dancehall riddim and I just brought the track to Kartel as I first wrote it. Back then, I really didn’t know how to get a track to someone like Kartel, so I made the track as an exercise, but I always liked it, so I held it waiting for a day when maybe I would be in a position to use it. So in a lot of ways my life as a producer is only starting to publicly take shape, but I’ve been a studio head for years.
Jumping back to Juiceboxxx, our project was a very intentional exploration of a certain set of influences that we shared, starting with hip house, so we approached it from a pretty conceptual place. It’s cool, we’ve both come a ways since then in terms of our careers – he recently toured opening for Public Enemy and I’ve been working with Kartel, Lil Scrappy and a number of other people – but the truth is, I don’t think either of us has changed it up too much, it’s just a question of things taking there due time to unfold.
In terms of dream projects and collaborations, this Kartel project feels like I’m living the dream and like the culmination of a lot of what I’ve been working towards. Another thing I’d like to do is produce a rap album with me doing the full production on the album and really trying to shape something from start to finish. I don’t have a particular rapper in mind, but I’d love to play a small part in bringing single producer rap albums back.