Part 1: Because somebody has to keep this shit alive
Platinum Pied Pipers
[Part 1 of 2]
Platinum Pied Pipers is the brainchild of super-producer and circus-show ring leader Waajeed and his multi-instrumentalist sidekick Saadiq. The production team uses a rotating assembly of rappers, singers and musical contributors to craft a modern soul sound. Coming out of the Detroit school of basement music, Waajeed was mentored by none other than Jay Dee and is considered a founding member of Slum Village. He co-founded the Bling 47 record label, which gave several Detroit artists an outlet for their music, and has been a regular guest and favorite spin for U.K. tastemakers Gilles Peterson and Benji B for some time. Now, with the help of Ubiquity Records, he's finally ready to make U.S. audiences familiar with the sound that is Platinum Pied Pipers. I was hooked from the first time I heard Waajeed and PPP's mix of hard drums, swampy bass and smooth vocals. Seeing them live at New York City's SOB's only brought a more complete understanding of just what this man is trying to bring to the world. I got a chance to sit down with Waajeed at Junior's Famous Cheesecake in Brooklyn. A laid back, casual character, Waajeed spoke candidly about his start with Slum Village, why he decided on music over painting, his place in the industry and his love/hate frustration with the city of Detroit.
Prefix Magazine:So first off, what's up with the name, man?Platinum Pied Pipers: What? Waajeed? That means finder or seeker in Arabic. PM:And what about Platinum Pied Pipers?Platinum Pied Pipers: Oh, well, that's just some joke shit, but you know, like anything silly, you find meaning in it later. PM:This project has been brewing for a minute now. I know Gilles Peterson and Benji B of BBC Radio have been playing stuff off this record and talking it up for at least a year now.Platinum Pied Pipers: They been beating people over the head with us, man. PM:Yeah, but they've been getting such a strong response it's almost like they don't have a choice.Platinum Pied Pipers: Yeah, that too. It's been a long time coming man; this project has been two years in the making. PM:Where are you based now?Platinum Pied Pipers: I got a place in Park Slope now, me and my fiancée. We got a pretty big bedroom, like a half bedroom that I use for a studio, decent living space, decent kitchen and closets closets. PM:That's good, because I imagine you've got a lot of shit.Platinum Pied Pipers: Tons. Tons of records. I had to sell a lot of my equipment. PM:Why? You just wanted to minimize? Platinum Pied Pipers: Yeah, man. Keep it kinda basic, you know? I was kicking it with Madlib and he was talking about how he just uses the real basic shit, just enough to get the point across and get rid of all the fancy extras and whatnot. So I'm kind of in the process of cutting through the fat with some of those things right now. PM:I think it shows in the record. It does have a really raw feel to it, which is nice.Platinum Pied Pipers: Yeah, man that was really important. I mean, I love R&B. I'm an R&B guy. But a lot of times, especially the stuff that's done on major labels, it's just too polished. It's too perfect. PM:Yeah, there's just nothing there. No layers.Platinum Pied Pipers: Nothing. There's no contrast there. So I think with the sensibilities of a really good singer, like a lot of the people we have on this album, and the combination of that with something real and rugged -- it makes for a good balance. PM:I think it's safe to say you're really focused on the drums, because on a lot of these tracks that's the first thing that you notice.Platinum Pied Pipers: That's the heart of it man, the drums. Even on our live performances it's important we have a really good drummer. We need somebody that definitely knows how to identify what it is I do and tries to emulate it on a real drum set. PM:And for the live show you're doubling up a lot of the drums on the MPC right? Platinum Pied Pipers: Definitely, but I'm also playing bass lines or even Rhodes parts that are chopped up. All the parts that you hear on the album were played through the MPC anyway. PM:Everything? Platinum Pied Pipers: Eighty percent of it. Even if Saadiq played something, I usually chopped it up later. I'm that anal. You know, re-played it back anyway. Most of the stuff was just done in one or two takes as opposed to being programmed. Like played all the way through. PM:Yeah?Platinum Pied Pipers: It's better that way. The thing I hate about the music that I hear that's really sample-based is it's just loops. PM:It gets boring. Platinum Pied Pipers: It's boring! And I ain't trying to discredit nobody out there with what they doing, but I want to make music, man, and fucking Herbie Hancock didn't do that shit. Roger Troutman, David Bowie, they wasn't looping shit. So I want to emulate people like them, the best I can with what I'm doing. PM:It seems like you're getting a lot of respect for that, too, especially from other artists. The thing you hear the most right now is, "Well, Waajeed is a musician," as opposed to just a beat-maker.Platinum Pied Pipers: That's what I'm striving for. I'm almost 30, and I've been doing this seriously for the last four years of my life. And that first year, when I first learned the MPC, I kind of went through my loop phase within a year. PM:You burned it out in a year? Platinum Pied Pipers: I burned it out, man. That was the first year I met my fiancée, and that's why we're getting married. Because she was able to put up with my B-side, my personal confidant, the MPC, where I would just beat it out for a whole year. And that's when I started to get serious about music. It struck me like, "This is what I want to do." PM:So back in those days. You're chilling with Slum and Jay-Dee? Platinum Pied Pipers: Yeah, I was in college, doing my creative thing and the whole nine, and then my boys was just like, "We're going on tour, B. You do not want to miss this." We're from the hood, homie. So there's not many of us that see Europe that's not in the Army. So I'm like, Do I stay in school and finish up this scholarship or do I travel the world with my boys and mess with fine broads? I mean, is that really a choice to a twenty-five year old? No, that's not a choice. So I left my books, I left my paintbrushes, I ran. So I traveled with them on and off for about two or three years. And then, just seeing the insides and how things work, I kind of had an idea of -- keep in mind, this is when Slum was like really, really hot -- so I got an idea of what it was like looking from the inside out. And it made me think, Damn, this is kinda fly. Until I had to start doing the work [laughs]. But I mean, I still had an idea like this maybe could work. And when we got off tour, me and Jay Dee would go record shopping almost religiously. And I would go back to the crib and chill with him, and all these dudes would come over there. Like Common would come over there, and Questlove would come over there and just hang out and kick it about music. I remember one of the first times I came to New York with him, and he did a session with D'Angelo, and Q-Tip and Lauryn Hill was there. PM:Wow. Okay. Platinum Pied Pipers: Yeah. Rosario Dawson is just in the studio hanging out. And I'm like, "This could work. This could really work for me." I mean, fucking Premo would stop by. It was crazy. So it was my introduction to the game all under the coat of Dilla, who was my guide. So that kind of experience just wet my earlobes as far as new sounds and new opportunities. I mean, here I am, starting out as a painter PM:Wait, you were originally a painter?Platinum Pied Pipers: Yeah, I'm a painter at heart. That's what I do. But I don't want to be no fucking Van Gogh: without an ear and then I die and then my stuff is worth a million bucks? Fuck that. So I had to decide: Do I jump into this thing now or do I wait until after I'm dead? So if that was the question, then my obvious choice was to jump in. That's when I started thinking about music as a career. But that's why it was easier for me, making the transition from being a painter to being a producer. Because it's the same process. You got four corners -- that could be your four measures in a track. You lay a bass. You add, take away, add, and it ends up being the same process. And I think that's what really made it so easy for me to make that transition. Seriously, I learned in about a year, so I caught up quick. And I knew my influences, who I was surrounded by was a big part of it. Shit, Dilla? Who wants to sit next to that dude? Let alone be in the same crew with him. And you can't come weak. You got to get your weight up. Fast. PM:That's funny, because our introduction to you was through a friend of ours from England, actually, sending us the BPM Instrumentals thing you did. And first of all, a lot of these hip-hop instrumental records are, like you said, boring. Because after you hear that loop twenty times Platinum Pied Pipers: I know PM:And so then we got yours and we're thinking, Great, it's another guy from Detroit. And it's not necessarily that we were discounting it from the outset, but we were skeptical.Platinum Pied Pipers: You have to be. PM:But then we threw it on and we're like, Damn! Okay. And my man J was even like, "This motherfucker is almost better than Jay Dee." Which is, to people like us, really saying something.Platinum Pied Pipers: Yeah, that's a big compliment. PM:I mean Scales and Tron and some of that stuff is just ill. Platinum Pied Pipers: Oh, I love Scales. But I know I have a long way to go in regard to my career and everything I want to do and where I want to go, but I think in general this Motown legacy that we're all kind of committed to -- we knew what we once were in regard to Motown and them being a cornerstone in music for a period of time. I think that weighs on everybody. I think that weighs on Theo Parrish. I think that weighs on Moodyman. I think that weighs on Amp Fiddler. It's almost like a responsibility we have to carry on. PM:But from my understanding, you guys are kind of rare. Because it seems like you're willing to try to help each other out. I mean, Amp Fiddler taught Dilla how to use the MPC.Platinum Pied Pipers: Yeah, taught Dilla how to use the MPC . I wish I had some more help from those guys. But regardless, Detroit is funny in that way -- in a way it's like crabs in the barrel. But then in a way it's like if you're hooked into the right people . But it's hard, too, because like when Dilla decided to move to L.A. he caught a lot of slack from people. On some, "you selling us out and you leaving us," bullshit. And the same with us, too. But you know what? Fuck 'em. You gotta eat, man. Detroit is a great place for the creative aspect of it, but there's just not a lot of outlets. PM:Yeah, and another thing I wanted to ask you about -- that I've heard Jay Dee speak about, too -- that has to be weird and frustrating, is that when you're in Europe or wherever overseas, you're basically stars. Or at least people know who you are. But then you're in Detroit and nobody even knows.Platinum Pied Pipers: It's crazy. I mean crazy PM:What does that feel like? Platinum Pied Pipers: It actually feels pretty good, to tell you the truth. Because you can just go and do your thing and go anywhere and eat a sandwich and don't nobody give a fuck. It's like being in New York. Don't nobody give a fuck if you're sitting next to DMX or whoever. Nobody cares. But that's the beauty of Detroit. It's honest, it's real, and you almost feel yourself going to work. If you're going to Europe for a month, it's more of a feeling like, I'm going to work for a month. It ain't the type of thing where somebody's trying to look at the type of water you drinking because they think that's going to make them make better beats [laughs]. Or they trying to follow you, or you're scared to leave your shit around. I had my jacket stolen from a coat check. Some crazy motherfucker running around with a big P on his jacket and shit -- and let me tell you, there's not that many people running around with P's on their jacket. PM:So when you see that dumb motherfucker you're going to say, "That's my jacket."Platinum Pied Pipers: That's my fucking jacket homie [laughs]. But you know, it's kind of cool to get away from that, man, because those are my sensibilities. I want to cut to the chase. I'm not with none of this "star" bullshit. I just want to make some fucking fly shit and make a couple dollars and in turn just keep doing the same. Recycling. I didn't really sign up for all that bullshit man. PM:I don't think Jay Dee was really on it like that either. I just heard him say something along the lines of, "I come back from doing packed houses and I come home and do a show and I'll be lucky to have a hundred people come out." Platinum Pied Pipers: A hundred? That's real lucky. But it's crazy man. I was just on the phone with Theo Parrish talking about the same thing. Talking about how he could spin at a club down in Detroit and fucking five people show up. But I saw him at Plastic People and I couldn't even speak to him because there were so many people surrounding him. Okay, I'm going to tell you the truth right now. When we were in London we must have sold 125 copies of our album at one show. In Detroit, a record store that I'm not going to name ordered eight copies to sell. PM:That says it all.Platinum Pied Pipers: That says everything! In New York last night we sold tons of CDs. But in the D, they ordering eight copies of the record. And how do I know this? Because my father went to buy the album and they were sold out. And he asked them [how many they ordered], and the guy told him eight copies. If anyone from the D is going to read this, they need to know that. This is why my ass is gone. Because that is some bullshit, for real. That's where I'm from, and they ordering eight copies. PM:But there are heads in Detroit. I mean, I've been to St. Andrews. I've seen them.Platinum Pied Pipers: Absolutely. I wouldn't exist if it wasn't for that community. That supports and recognizes what real hip-hop is. Eminem wouldn't be who he is if it wasn't for those same people. But it's a dying breed.