Battlecat Record Producer | The Hip Hop Evolution
It’s not everyone who can say they were there at a key flashpoint in musical history. But DJ Battlecat is one of those guys who can truly say, “I was there when…” The “When” is the 90’s and the “Where” was West Coast, L.A. South Central, Compton. Battlecat came up during the glory days of hip hop and would go on to becoming a member of the famed Wrecking Cru and The Dogg Pound.
He has produced tracks for Snoop, Tupac, XZibit, The Game and many more legendary artists who would go on to shape the landscape of hip hop forever.
Battlecat was kind enough to grace us with his time and shared some golden nuggets of wisdom with Kaotica.
When you were younger, what inspired you to get into the music industry?
"I would have to say that my mother was there first as a big inspiration for me. She was a vocalist and a songwriter and had crazy love for music."
She did her musical work in two different settings. One was as a choir member and the other was working with an inspiring singing group that she was in.
Watching how they would come together, it was the perfect setting for someone to soak up the vibe. You had pianos and tambourines and a bunch of ladies getting together and sharing each other’s ideas and feelings as they would work on writing the song. I experienced this quite a bit as a young kid. Then when they added more instruments into the mix, including drums, this inspired me to want to become a drummer.
But then I started seeing them using these little tape recorders and hearing the playback and seeing how a mic was supposed to be held and then the idea of recording music began to interest me.
But I didn’t really take it seriously until ’79 and ’80. This is when hip-hop emerged onto the scene. Then I got together a couple of instruments, from the percussion and then turntables, which really ignited my passion to start learning how to make quality music.
I stuck with it for years and I had my peers who were actual DJs and producers. We’re talking about Dr. Dre, Egyptian Lover, Bobcat, just to name a few who were very inspiring to me to want to take it another step further. Once my mother saw that my peers were getting compensation, notoriety and a good reputation through their work, then she backed me up. She let me take the garage and convert into a little studio, which ended up being my bedroom as well.
"From there, I just started shaping and developing my skillset until I was able to get my first drum machine. That’s how I started."
We’re talking about’89 by then. Dre left the Wrecking Cru to form NWA. I got my first demo experience with Alonzo after trying out to be a DJ for him and I eventually took Dre’s place in the Wrecking Cru. And it’s been on ever since. I never looked back.
That’s really cool and a great insight into such an important piece of hip hop’s history. Take us through some of the stories about growing up in the industry and the impact that these artists made on you personally or the impact you made on them.
My friend, Quik, first moved around from Compton to my neighborhood on the west side of South Central. I met him and actually got a chance to see him develop his first record. I watched him using a Midiverb to make the effects and assign his drum machine to it as well and got to see how he made it all come together cohesively. It was amazing to know that you could get that kind of quality and sound from out your house. He had his studio set up in the kitchen and I had mine in the garage. We both shared some ideas and swapped sounds. And that was the drive for me to go deeper into my creativity and my engineering side as well as being a drummer.
I knew that I had to develop my own sound because, you know, one thing about the ‘90s coming from the ‘80s is that you had to have your own sound to be original. And that’s what OG is for and what it stands for, being original.
I knew that once I took those early experiences with me, that it would help brand my reputation as a DJ and a young beat maker because I wasn’t a producer at the time.
But watching Quik and seeing him work hands-on along with a couple of people, as well as Dre in the early ‘90s, this was definitely my inspiration. But when he was coming out of high school, Dre needed some preparation before he would end up being with Death Row. I did a lot of his early demos, which were shared with the whole West coast family, Tha Dogg Pound, Snoop and everyone.
One other important thing that I feel Dre did for me is that before he left, he came to the studio to pick up his turntables and he caught me playing around with the Akai drum machine. He walked in and said, “Wow, man you’re kind of dope. Do you play drums?” And I said, “Yeah, I do but this is my first time to ever touch a drum machine and I don’t know how to really work it.”
He taught me how to stretch out my sequences and all about bars and beats. He taught me how to use the time correction and showed me all the different time signatures and how to sequence the notes.
"And once I learned that I never looked back again. I took that experience with me and decided that I really wanted to become a master drum programmer."
This led me to work with people like Club Nouveau, I did some drum programming for them. Siedah Garrett, who wrote Man in the Mirror. I did some early hip-hop, R&B things for her. And from there my reputation just began to spread all around town. They’d say, ‘there’s this kid named Battlecat and he’s the one to look into. He’s prompt, he’s professional, he’s very savvy and professional.’ Man, that just created more and more opportunities for me to produce some amazing artists that I would have never have thought I would get the chance to work with.
That’s an amazing journey. So speaking of coming up in the business, what advice can you give these young people that are coming up based on some of your experiences?
Well, the fact that I started with analog and hardware and real acoustic instruments is something that I would definitely advise these new producers to look into. To pick up an actual musical instrument so they can understand the difference between it and a VST or any software-based virtual instrument. There’s nothing like a human being strumming a guitar or plugging into something electric and creating actual analog sound.
I would encourage them too to take some of their money, once they can afford it, and to have a studio system where you had real musicians along with the new devices and technology that they are using now and compose the same composition from tape to the digital file, so that they can hear for themselves why that 90s music that we so love or even before then was so great.
And then they would be able to have a balanced appreciation for why we play music like we do. Why we compose music like we do. Why the old school foundation still works for the new school.
"You always want to know your DNA. Where you came from. Some people don’t care about their DNA."
They figure that where they are now is the true foundation of what music should be or sound like. But with that attitude, they are really shortchanging why our music and the movement of hip-hop was ever created in the first place, you know.
Yes indeed. Sage advice indeed. So how has the Eyeball helped you with your art?
Well, that’s what makes you guys so unique with the Kaotica Eyeball. A lot of people are seeing that I’m using that device and going, ‘Whoa, what is that? That’s something new, I’ve never seen before, you know. Is it affordable? Where can I get it?’ They are very interested in what I do and how I do it and I appreciate you guys giving me the time of day to display another new part of Battlecat’s arsenal. You know, it’s just affirmation for me to continue to do the new things that I’m going to be doing.
Nice! So how has the evolution of technology impacted your art? Are you fine sticking with some of the tried and true equipment you know so well from the 90’s or do you just kind of mash everything together, old and new to create something beautiful?
It’s a little bit of everything. It’s a process and it varies because once you have an open mind, patience and a strong drive to master the equipment that you’re using, you start to have a different approach every time and that’s how you come up with your own unique process.
And that’s one thing I love about coming up from the first generation of creativity. Because I came from somewhere with musical roots it gives me a place to go to when creating new music. I could actually put some of that first generation, second generation and third generation of creativity into a track. And the people who would take the time to listen would be intrigued. They’d say ‘Wow, I didn’t know. I had this software and I didn’t think I could get that much out of it, you know. You really have to have the drive to want to master your equipment and know it inside and out. Of course, most people don’t have access to legendary musicians and producers that would take the time to show them their creative approach either.
I hope that we can find good ways to really expose the youth to this phenomenal genre of hip-hop and really remind them that this is what hip-hop is. It’s not just a money-making scheme. It’s a life. It’s a struggle. It’s a story. It’s inspiration. It’s love.
Yeah, it really is. It really is. And I’m glad to share that because in my journey of music I’ve come to love and have a respect for sampling. Once I found out how to properly take care of business and compensate the original composers and writers for the music that I sampled, I found it’s a neat way to bring people into the same room that never thought they’d ever be there together you know. When you put two different types of artists or groups together then from the sample that you made you can create a whole new relationship with R&B, hip-hop, gospel artists, you name it, all in one beautiful process. That’s what hip-hop is, bringing people together and building a unique relationship.