Pete Rock Talks Early Hip Hop and How He Got His Start | Interview

There are so many people who want to work in the music industry but they don’t know where to start. NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, Billboard and Yellowbrick have made it easy to carve your music career path with Music Industry Essentials. Music Industry Essentials is a non-credit online course designed for people who are interested in a music career. Deciding what career path to take can be difficult and this course will hopefully make your decision much easier.  Music Industry Essentials Instructional Designer David Grandison sat down with world-renowned producer and DJ, Pete Rock for a detailed interview about his music career. Aside from lending his expertise to the course, he gave us some in-depth commentary about the history of samples, his musical influences and the importance of having a mentor. Check out a snippet of the interview below.  

David Grandison: What made you want to work in the music industry?

Pete Rock: I wanted to be in the industry per say I was under my cousin Heavy D. He was, you know, doing his own thing with music and you know got his own record deal and I was just up under him with all the experience watching, you know soaking up everything like a sponge you know learning you know I’m saying and you know I was just kind of under him. So you know he’s like family just looking out for me and you know we just together and I’m just you know doing everything that you know supposed to be done you know just you know being a learning person a person that’s learning to talk to me about your your first big break you know because I know you were on the radio and you know one of our other one of our other you know guys you would be DJ Clark Kent.          

DG: Can you tell me how that intro happened and how you made that transition from being the high school deejay to be the world renowned DJ you are today?

PR: Having my first job at a radio station in New York. And that happened because my cousin Heavy D actually told Marley Marl about me. At the time, Marley needed a substitute DJ. I had to fill in for Kevin Kev who got into a car accident and hurt himself so you know I just came in and you know try to you know impress Molly more with what you know the talent I had. And you know he liked it. So you know that was it. That was a huge break.

A lot of people don’t know who Marley is. Marley Marl was a DJ/producer from Queens, you could say he was like the J Dilla of the 80s. You know I’m saying how I look at him. I learned a lot from this guy, just by listening to his music and being a fan of what he was involved with and you know in the hip hop industry the Juice Crew, Roxanne Shante, Bismarck…He’s responsible for producing Big Daddy Kane Cool Gee Rap. He’s a great inspiration to me. I looked up to him a lot and you know, I loved his music. I encountered him the first time through Heavy D. And you know we just kind of knit together you know. He liked my talent. And you know I was a big fan of his. And at the time I was you know learning how to make music. And you know trying to form my own. Little thing you know. And you know and that happened later on in my career you know.

DG: Who was one of your biggest influences and how important is it to have a mentor? 

PR: You know I really miss my cousin Heavy D for all he’s done you know. And what he believed in what he saw in me. I think what should be known out there is that celebrities like us, you know, we also have people we looked up to. You know I’m saying that made us who we are today. That’s very important for the young kids to know that it just didn’t come out of the sky. You  know I’m saying we looked up to people like for us it was like soul singers and you know 80s rappers and stuff like that.

DG: Can we talk a little bit about the birth of hip hop and how hip hop evolved here in New York?

PR: I think what happened was before the Sugarhill Gang record that actually you know got hip hop noticed early but there was another record before the Sugarhill Gang by the Fat Bag Band called King Tim the third which was like you know a song that was rap and it was like the first real rap song that you really heard until like you know Sugarhill Gang. Then after Sugarhill Gang you had all the guys that were doing you know the park jams in the Bronx and stuff like that at home you know coming out on Sugar Hill Records Treacherous Three flash Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five spawn e.g. the Crash Crew. The list goes on and on and on and then you know rest in peace to Sylvia Robinson she was the one that actually put hip hop on the map mainstream was the Sugarhill Gang.

You know I was eating in the pizza shop where Big Bad Hank used to work at before they became a Sugar Hill Gang (and the pizza is actually good).

DG: Yeah yeah yeah that’s right in Englewood bro.
DG: Can you talk to me about the progression of the hip hop sample?

PR: Oh the progression of hip hop sample was when it came to the music and then hip hop was like you know of course everybody sample James Brown for first the first time. And once we went through the James Brown frenzy you know, we were opened up to other things…like finding other records that are also funky with break beats but have rhythmic melodic-ness to it. Once we learned this you know we just kind of fell into it. It’s like falling in a really comfortable bed. You know, I’m saying that you look forward to sleep in it. You know what I mean and that’s what it was like. But producers like me and others you know I’m saying well you know go on digging and finding that gold out there you know. And to me it was good that we had the James Brown phase because he was the man that actually created hip hop without even knowing it.

You know that the major companies are going to look at it as stealing but this sampling we were doing of James Brown’s music was nothing but heartfelt, came straight from the heart wasn’t about stealing his music.

We had a great interview with Pete Rock and he drops many more gems in the Music Industry Essentials Course. There are a slew of NYU Professors and industry professionals that give you an inside look at how it goes down in the music industry. If you’ve always wanted a career in the music industry then this is the course for you. 

Visit Music Industry Essentials for more program info today.

A Beginner’s Guide to Industrial Music

Industrial music is an experimental genre originating in the 1970s. The genre emerged as some musicians sought to push the boundaries of mainstream entertainment. Disco and punk rock were the most popular sounds at the time. But the melodically driven style that dominated radio stations didn’t appeal to everyone. As a result, avant-garde artists created a counterculture movement based on more transgressive music. The genre that emerged blended harsher and more dissonant sounds with taboo lyrical content. 

A Brief History

This new music category officially started when Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Peter Christopherson, and Chris Carter founded Throbbing Gristle. The band then launched Industrial Records. The record label would lend its name to the genre after one of its acts, Monte Cazazza, suggested adopting the battle cry “industrial music for industrial people” as its mission statement. In North America, the Chicago-based Wax Trax! Records and Nettwerk in Canada emerged as pivotal record labels and provided a home to influential acts KMFDM, Sister Machine Gun, Skinny Puppy, and Young Gods.

Throbbing Gristle, early pioneers of Industrial Music
Throbbing Gristle, early pioneers of industrial music

The record label would lend its name to the genre after one of its acts, Monte Cazazza, suggested adopting the rallying cry “industrial music for industrial people” as its mission statement.

What Makes Industrial Music Unique?

Skinny Puppy band
Skinny Puppy is considered one of the founding bands of the electro-industrial genre

In its early beginnings, Industrial music was known for its aversion to standard instruments. Instead, music was composed by combining mechanical sounds, white noise, distorted vocals, and loops that were pieced together from physically cut tapes. As the genre grew and technology evolved alongside it, synthesizers and lo-fi sampling became more integral parts. The lyrical subject matter of industrial music is one of its most notorious hallmarks. Being provocative as possible is the lyrics’ intention. This can mean incorporating topics like pornography, the occult, mutilation, and torture. The simultaneous rise of transgressive fiction and success of authors like William S. Burroughs, Hubert Selby Jr., Kathy Acker, and Charles Bukowski played a role in lyrical content, with several musicians of the time citing them as influences. The resulting songs are gritty and raw, called anti-music by prominent English music journalist Jon Savage.

The simultaneous rise of transgressive fiction and success of authors like William S. Burroughs, Hubert Selby Jr., Kathy Acker, and Charles Bukowski was also said to have played a role in lyrical content, with several musicians of the time citing them as influences.

The shock value prevalent in lyrics also found its way to the stage. Performers produced intricate, theatrical concerts that leaned into disturbing visual content. In addition, performances heavily featured fascist and nazi symbolism, sadomasochism, and blood play. Public backlash often followed in the London press. After a particularly offensive show by Throbbing Gristle, Nicholas Fairbairn — at the time a Member of the U.K. Parliament — denounced the group and genre as “wreckers of civilization.”

Hitting the Mainstream 

Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails is one of the most popular bands to emerge from industrial music

Like a lot of art forms once considered extreme, industrial music eventually crossed over to commercial success. During the mid-to-late 1980s, industrial music would give rise to several subgenres. Front 242 originated electronic body music in 1981. Shortly after, Skinny Puppy came up with their own interpretation dubbed electro-industrial. These subgenres maintained their predecessor’s dark subject matter and intense stage performances but featured sleeker production and pulled elements from experimental electronic music such as techno and drum and bass.

By the 1990s, industrial rock and industrial metal found mainstream recognition. Each genre contained elements of traditional rock and metal. Bands like Nine Inch Nails incorporated more melody and recognizable hooks into their songs, making them more radio-friendly and accessible to wider audiences. On the other hand, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie took a horror-centric and shock rock approach to their music and shows. By the end of the decade, Manson and Rob Zombie had achieved chart-topping success with platinum-selling albums. Nine Inch Nails album The Downward Spiral was incredibly successful, with 3.7 million albums sold. The string of mainstream success continued for artists inspired by Manson and Nine Inch Nails. Industrial metal bands Orgy and Powerman 5000 becoming staples on MTV’s Total Request Live.

Bands like Nine Inch Nails incorporated more melody and recognizable hooks into their songs, making them more radio-friendly and accessible to wider audiences. On the other hand, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie took a horror-centric and shock rock approach to their music and shows.

Present Day Industrial Music

Rammstein band
Rammstein has been performing industrial rock since 1994

The 1990s was the peak of industrial music as far as chart success. However, the scene is still going today. Nine Inch Nails and Rob Zombie continue to tour and record new music. Manson — who once claimed he robbed a grave in New Orleans to use bone remnants in his marijuana — remains a divisive figure in industrial rock. The Antichrist Superstar singer has struggled to separate his performance from his daily life, recently facing abuse allegations from multiple women.

Early bands of the genre like Ministry and Rammstein are also still active. Their influence can be heard in today’s electronic dance music. In addition, the performance art nature of live shows has led to a thriving festival circuit. Staples include the annual multi-day festivals Bats Day in the Fun Park in Anaheim, California and Berlin Atonal in Germany, and the twice-yearly Whitby Goth Weekend taking place in Whitby, North Yorkshire, U.K. For current releases and updates on new artists, you can follow industrial music on Bandcamp.

Early bands of the genre like Ministry and Rammstein are also still active. Their influence can be heard in today’s electronic dance music.

Listen to:

“Assimilate” by Skinny Puppy

“Closer” by Nine Inch Nails

Interested in industrial music, exploring sound engineering, or one of the many careers in music production, check out Yellowbrick’s Ultimate Music Career Guide?

Understanding the Areas of the Music Industry

The music industry has been on an unending evolution since its start. From the first time a page of sheet music was printed and sold, the invention of the phonograph, to the rise and fall of analog, the industry has constantly changed and warped itself to operate as seamlessly as possible. As a result, the present-day music industry has a lot of intricate parts. For someone not well versed in the business, it can be intimidating and confusing. To understand the music industry as a whole, let’s break it down by each area to take a closer look at how it all comes together to create the music business.

The Recording Industry

Pete Rock. Music Industry Essentials contributor
Pete Rock, producer, DJ, and Music Industry Essentials contributor.

The recording industry is the branch involved in music production and encompasses recording, marketing, and distribution. This subsection of the music industry is where record labels have the most influence. There are three major record labels in the U.S. that account for around 70% of the market; Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and Sony Music Group. These labels oversee sub-labels specializing in different music genres or serve as a vanity label for a major artist. For instance, Universal Music Group currently controls 19 sub-labels which in turn have their own sub-labels.

There are three major record labels in the U.S. that account for around 70% of the market; Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and Sony Music Group.

Before Recording

The process of discovering an artist to releasing an album or song can be lengthy. First, record labels find artists through their Artist & Repertoire (A&R) departments. An A&R scout goes to live shows, listens to demo recordings, and tracks trends on social media and streaming platforms like Soundcloud to find talent to present to their manager. Then, if the artist is signed to a deal, the production process begins. Most of the time, A&R will remain involved in the recording sessions and process by finding producers and songwriters to pair with an artist. They may also oversee studio time to ensure the finished song or album aligns with the record label’s overall vision for the artist.

Sometimes artists act as their own songwriters, but it’s not unusual for producers to be hired to help complete an album. Producers create the sound and structure of a song and guide the artist’s studio session. Producers work in tandem with other studio personnel — audio engineers, sound mixers, and mastering engineers. Together they produce a final, polished album or song which is turned to the record label.

After the Record is Complete

The label’s marketing and publicity teams come in after an artist finishes recording. The objective of marketing is to familiarize artists with potential consumers. These strategies include radio promotion, media interviews, and television appearances. Finally, the recording is distributed to consumers digitally (streaming, downloads) and physically (vinyl, CDs, etc.). Until 2020, artists were allowed to include merchandise (apparel and memorabilia) and ticket presales with album releases. The practice was known as bundling, and it was used to improve album sales. Although Billboard has changed its guidelines and disallowed bundling, merchandise continues to be a prominent source of revenue for artists with licensed music merchandise accounting for $3.48 billion as recently as 2018.

Notable Career Options In The Recording Industry:

Music Producer, A&R Scout/Coordinator, Music Publicist

Publishing and Licensing

Marc Plotkin. Music Industry Essentials
Marc Plotkin, assistant arts professor at NYU Tisch and Music Industry Essentials contributor.

Distribution to consumers is only one revenue stream for artists. A recording becomes intellectual property and copyrighted once it is complete. It’s standard practice for record labels to maintain ownership of one copyright, called a master recording. The master is the original recording from which all future copies are reproduced. The other copyright is the composition — essentially, the sheet music and the lyrics — owned by the songwriter (in some cases, this is further divided between composers and lyricists). 

Music publishers are responsible for ensuring songwriters are paid correctly and on schedule when their songs are used or incorporated into other music. Publishing payments are commonly known as royalties. Royalties have three different classifications: mechanical royalties — generated by sales, performance royalties — paid when a radio station or a venue broadcasts the music during an event, and synchronization royalties — paid when music is paired with visual media such as a film, television show, or video game. Each royalty has an associated license that publishers handle. For example, streaming music falls under performance royalties, with the most prominent performance rights organizations in the U.S. being ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.

Synchronization licensing has emerged as one of the most lucrative avenues for artists and songwriters. The subsection of this industry is called music supervision. Film and television studios employ music supervisors to choose songs and negotiate the licensing fees for the rights to use those songs. Music supervisors are also routinely hired by video game companies and advertising firms.

Synchronization licensing has emerged as one of the most lucrative avenues for artists and songwriters.

Notable Career Options In Publishing and Licensing:

Music Supervisor, Music Publisher, Royalty Administrator  

Touring and Live Music

Erica Ramon, artist manager
Erica Ramon, artist manager at DAS Communications and Music Industry Essentials contributor.

Touring and live performance is a crucial component of the music industry. Performing — either on tour or appearing at a standalone event such as a festival — serves a dual purpose of generating publicity and revenue for the artist. Touring often coincides with an album release and involves the artist traveling between cities to perform for fans and consumers. It may seem as if touring is straightforward, but it’s one of the most complex aspects of the industry and requires teamwork.

It may seem as if touring is straightforward, but it’s one of the most complex aspects of the industry and requires teamwork.

When an artist is ready to tour, they hire a booking agent. Record labels may have booking agents in-house, but sometimes they work in tandem with a booking agency. The booking agent finds venues in chosen cities and negotiates the artists’ compensation for performing in the venue. Payment for the artist is based on the potential to sell tickets; the more popular the artist, the more likely it is that the forum will sell out, thereby requiring a more significant fee paid to the artist.

On the other end representing venues are promoters, also referred to as talent buyers. Talent buyers work on behalf of venues like clubs, bars, theaters, and arenas to find suitable artists to play shows. Venues make money by selling tickets, so the talent buyer’s primary goal is to keep the venue’s calendar booked to capacity.

Overseeing the entire process is the tour manager. They go on the road with the artist to handle day-to-day tasks. They also manage the technical crew, consisting of sound engineers, lighting technicians, production & stage managers. 

Notable Career Options In Touring and Live Music:

Booking Agent, Tour Manager, Sound Engineer

If you’re interested in working in the music industry and exploring which of the many music career paths may be right for you, check out Yellowbrick’s Ultimate Music Career Guide.

The Ultimate Music Career Guide

 

Your Ultimate Career Guide Into The Music Industry

The total value of the recording industry in 2020 was 21.6 billion dollars, and music revenue is forecasted to more than double to about $131 billion by 2030. The United States leads as the top music market, generating the highest revenue for digital music consumption at 6.7 billion dollars. That growth is expected to extend to music careers and jobs. In fact, the employment market is projected to grow by 11% between 2021 and 2030. There are a lot of jobs on stage and off, what are they and how do you find them?

To help you determine and achieve your goals, we have created this comprehensive guide. Yellowbrick’s Ultimate Music Career Guide is your source to discover careers and learn entry points to work in the music industry. In this guide, you can begin to explore the music jobs that drive the music market. Then, search for your perfect career by area of interest, skills, companies, or industry experts. 

Music Career Guide

Learn about your skills and interests, articulate them confidently to identify career options within the music industry that you might pursue, and implement a successful strategy to attain your desired career outcomes.

In this guide you’ll find the following information:

  • Overview of the Music Industry
  • Future of the Music Market
  • Music Career Library
  • Career Planning Strategy to get into the Music Industry

You’ll also find simple exercises that help you:

  • form a career planning strategy to get into the music industry
  • find your passion in music and identify an area of interest to pursue
  • learn the music industry through top brands and their key players
  • identify your skills and match them to a music area of interest

Download this guide to start planning your music industry career. Whether you’re a novice, a student, or a professional, you can further your career path by downloading this guide that will help you begin understanding the opportunities available, as well as the skills and qualifications you need to succeed.

Student Success: Macy Blankenship

Macy’s love of music and her involvement in the local scene fueled her interest in learning about the business side of music. She enrolled in Music Industry Essentials to take the next step in her career. Macy spoke with Yellowbrick about student success and her next steps.

Learning the foundations of the industry is essential. No matter how much you may know about the present circumstances of the music industry, knowing about those who came before and paved the way for the modern industry is key in being able to predict future trends.

ON CHOOSING MUSIC ESSENTIALS —

I have been passionate about the music industry. I have wanted to break into it to help artists for many years now. When I found out about this online course, I knew that I would be able to benefit from the knowledge of those who have gone before me and have so much more experience than I do. This course held value. I wanted to invest in the education that it could provide for me and my future.

NYU is a name I know and trust. Therefore, it definitely increased my confidence in the course. I have been paying attention to Billboard for as long as I can remember. So, having the chance to take a course with their name attached to it seemed like a no-brainer to me!

ON BEING A YELLOWBRICK STUDENT —

I greatly enjoyed learning from Marc Plotkin and hearing the most efficient ways to market music. Marketing and advertising for events and releases is the area I focus on most in the industry. There were so many things I learned from him that I had never heard before. The concepts may seem like common sense, but I had never had anyone explain it to me in that way before.

STUDENT SUCCESS IN REAL-LIFE APPLICATION —

Learning the foundations of the industry is essential. No matter how much you may know about the present circumstances of the music industry, knowing about those who came before and paved the way for the modern industry is key in being able to predict future trends.

The course prepared me by allowing me to immerse myself in projects that I wouldn’t normally do. I was able to learn new platforms and software, learn about other aspects of the industry, and get to see things from the artist’s side. I believe hearing and knowing the artist is essential to creating their success. The online course showed me how to properly get their message across.

ON THE PAST & WHAT’S NEXT —

I have been able to give advice to a few musician friends, and I am offering freelance services for publicity and marketing.

To follow Macy’s journey beyond Yellowbrick, follow her on Instagram @macy_blank.