LARGE PROFESSOR INTERVIEWS BOB JAMES
Curated by: Gustavo "Distrolord" Guerra
When the student becomes a master sometimes it signals a newfound rivalry and there is turmoil. In the present case of Bob James and Large Professor there is no such animosity. Inspiring a young William Paul Mitchell for years (even after he became Large Professor) to develop his own style of creating timeless music, Bob James also created a sub genre that laid sturdy I-beams for hip hop to build on. Though he built on the foundation that James had erected for the coming generations, Large Professor, Rza and other producers who sampled his work created something altogether different.
As it were when the two finally spoke recently, by James’ own admission Large Pro had become a master in his own right. Large Pro wasn’t trying to hear that though. He humbly praised James intermittently as they conversed about James’ legacy and the accidental gem that is “Nautilus.” After all only James Brown is more sampled. The conversation was relaxed but still ripe with lessons about creating music. Learn something, kid.
Words by: J Pablo @AvenueP
Large Professor: How’s it going?
Bob James: Feeling’ fine.
Large Professor: You know we actually have a mutual friend, Rob Swift.
Bob James: Oh man. Rob? I haven’t seen him in a long time.
LP: It started with Zulu Beats, Afrika Izlam, in ‘82 and of course they would take record and play certain parts, but a lot of us were listening to the whole record, so we had mad respect for artists before us. How it was recorded, the big bass line, the slick drums patterns… [Nautilus] defined hip hop. Q-tip just played it in the club just last week and the crowd went crazy. You have breaks like “Good Times” and “Impeach The President” but “Nautilus” in a way was so mysterious and ahead of it’s time.
BJ: I’m flattered. I have this big smile on my face hearing you describe that. Some of the history of my recording we had no idea. We could never dream it would take on this type of life. For so many years I’ve been trying to figure it out. Sometimes we achieve magic and sometimes we don't. It’s scary to take on a new project and you may not find any magic but that's part of the thrill. But I hear you describing [my music] and I can think back to the day we recorded it. It was almost a throw away. At that time we had the album pretty much completed. “Feel Like Making Love” was geared to be getting all the attention and they were. I keep telling people that the albums were sequenced to have the strongest song first on Side A. It was customary to because the widest groove was on the outer edge. So it sounded the best. Inside of the LP didn't have much bass. And we stuck “Nautilus” way at the end right before the album was finished. I never knew it would have such an impact.
LP: Wow. Sometimes that’s just how the gem comes out. When you least expect it. Like you’re just working and for whatever the reason things are just blocked out and you’re able to channel that clarity.
BJ: Yes. It is a sort of trance of clarity.
LP: So who were some of your co conspirators on Nautilus? Also who contributed your favorite aspect of the song?
BJ: Idris Muhammad on drums was probably my favorite part of the record in so many ways. He played the drums with a kind of New Orleans street beat. It always kind of sounded creole and no matter what tune he had that pocket that was uniquely him. I would play my riff or sketch and he would lay the groove. He would play in this very loose classic Idris kind of way. It just added such a special, unique feel.
LP: Tell me about the bass player.
BJ: Bass was by Gary King. He was also completely unique. His pocket was very deep and strong and solid. Looking back it was so easy to loop and find 2 measure chunks. Gary had a serious pocket.
LP: That's not to discount the keys. That was the icing on the cake. The keys would just send you to another world when they mixed with the bass.
BJ: Well, when we shifted to electric bass it was closer in technique to guitar so the bass lines were more melodic. This was all very fresh to us and new. Most stuff prior to that had been upright acoustic bass; “Nautilus” being the first time for those bass lines to come together was a catalyst to put a rhythm section together. You know the more I talk about [Nautilus] the more I can understand why it found such a good audience with Hip Hop.
LP: Yeah, I can understand that. Looking back I can see why certain beats stood the test of time while others were kind of forgotten a bit.
BJ: In our field we don't know what’s going to catch on we just do the stuff. I’ve always been open about letting creativity flow. Like with “Angela.” We had done a bunch of tracks but the TV producers picked that one. It surprised me they wanted something so mellow but it made sense because they wanted it for the opening shot for a TV show. The music took on its own life. Same with “Nautilus.” You just never know how some pieces will be received.
LP: When I get in the studio it’s still a challenge for me to come up with something new. I’ve been listening to more bluegrass and funk to find new music to loop up. That’s how I stay inspired. Has it gotten easier for you to craft timeless pieces?
BJ: It doesn't get any easier at least for me. I have a lot of technique or craft and so it’s not difficult to compose. It is however always difficult to find the magic something that sets it apart. That magic… I try to stay open and hope it happens. Most helpful is that I enjoy the process of making the music, experimenting in the studio. I really love the process. I’ve learned to accept the fact that things may not find an audience. If that’s the case, just move on to the next one.
LP: Do you ever think that your music will have another resurgence? Like maybe your newer material or the next generation will pick up your old material again?
BJ: I would never dare to predict. I certainly wouldn't have predicted what happened last time around. Hip Hop is always searching for something new and my music has had a stamp association with [new] sounds. But younger artists may want to break away from that. Or maybe they’ll find something else of mine that they can configure into their music. Hopefully the legacy stays around for a while but I’m definitely a realist and things change and they have to change and the kids are always looking for something fresh and new. We have a realistic time when we have their attention and then newer younger hungrier artists come in the frame.