‘It was enjoyable till it wasn’t’: hip-hop A&R Dante Ross on De La Soul, ODB – and punchups with P Diddy

At first, “the Forrest Gump of hip-hop” feels like an incongruous nickname. Absolutely there are few characters who embody the spirit of that style lower than Tom Hanks’s slow-witted sprinter? However Dante Ross is thrilled with the title. “Gump is the connector,” he explains on a Zoom name from his house in Los Angeles. “He’s related to all this stuff. However you don’t actually know who he’s.”

This sobriquet, given to Ross by Black Thought, lead rapper of the Roots, is one in every of many endorsements that grace the duvet of Ross’s new memoir, Son of the Metropolis, which particulars his profession as one of the crucial profitable business executives of 90s hip-hop. The roster of rap royalty that fill the remainder of the duvet is a testomony to Ross’s standing: from Chuck D and Mike D to Questlove and Queen Latifah.

Like Gump, Ross charted his ascent from inauspicious beginnings. As a white child rising up on the pre-gentrified streets of New York, he appeared an unlikely candidate to assist usher within the golden age of hip-hop. However when Run-DMC hit the scene in 1983 he was instantly captivated. He made the swap from punk to hip-hop and commenced hanging out in rap-friendly golf equipment, the place he made connections that opened doorways into the business. “I don’t assume I ever went out with an agenda and frolicked with individuals who would assist me ascend the ladder,” says Ross. “However I had aspirations to work within the music enterprise, for certain.”

Old school … with Pete Rock (left) and Diamond D.
Old skool … with Pete Rock (left) and Diamond D. {Photograph}: (await credit score)

Ross began on the backside when a buddy bought him a supply job at Rush Productions, an affiliate of Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin’s Def Jam. Quickly after, he was scouted as an A&R government for Tommy Boy Data. His tenure bought off to a propitious begin together with his first task – supervising manufacturing for De La Soul’s 3 Toes Excessive and Rising. The album grew to become an instantaneous traditional, with Ross referenced on a few tracks as “Dante the Scrub”. The primary act Ross signed was a teenage Queen Latifah. “My first impression of her was she was an entire celebrity,” he remembers. “She walked within the room with a million-dollar smile. After we heard the demos, they jumped out of the audio system.” (Her debut album, recorded beneath Ross’s tenure, was lately selected for preservation within the Library of Congress.)

Regardless of this sturdy begin, it was Ross’s five-year stint at Elektra Data that outlined his profession. In his memoir, Ross describes this time, maybe immodestly, as “one of the crucial unimaginable runs of any A&R particular person I’ve ever recognized”. Albums by Ross’s acts throughout that interval embody Model Nubian’s One for All, Ol’ Soiled Bastard’s Return to the 36 Chambers and Pete Rock & CL Easy’s Mecca and the Soul Brother – all listed on Rolling Stone’s 200 greatest hip-hop albums of all time. Nonetheless, says Ross: “There was a variety of fool savant occurring. We didn’t know what the fuck we had been doing.” Throughout his Elektra run, Ross additionally found a number of future stars. By signing Leaders of the New Faculty, he launched the profession of Busta Rhymes, who was so younger he needed to convey his mom alongside to signal the contract. And, by signing KMD, he launched the world to the late MF Doom, an artist whose fame as “the rapper’s rapper” appears to develop stronger with every passing yr.

Alongside the way in which, Ross additionally loved the wild life-style that got here with working within the music business. He smoked a joint on Warner’s jet to see James Brown after he was launched from jail. He dated a string of minor celebrities. At sure factors the life-style appeared to get the higher of him. “I drank like a fish, smoked Cypress Hill-levels of pot, and bought into fights always,” Ross writes. Certainly one of these fights culminated in Ross buying and selling punches with P Diddy in a nightclub. Per week later, Ross ran into Diddy once more within the Armani retailer. “Thank God we had made peace or I may need been sporting that go well with at my very own funeral,” he writes.

Genre defining … with Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch.
Style defining … with Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch. {Photograph}: (await credit score)

Within the latter half of the 90s, Ross made a uncommon transition. “A number of producers turn into A&R guys,” he says. “However not a variety of A&R guys turn into producers.” His transfer to the opposite facet of the desk introduced new ranges of business success. With Everlast, lead rapper for Home of Ache, he crafted a radio-friendly hybrid of sentimental rock and hip-hop that spawned the double-platinum album Whitey Ford Sings the Blues and impressed 1000’s of imitators. New alternatives opened, together with a Grammy-winning collaboration on Santana’s all-star Supernatural album, and two manufacturing credit on Eminem’s 8 Mile soundtrack. “It was a variety of enjoyable for a strong 5 years,” Ross says. “After which it wasn’t enjoyable any extra.”

Ross has returned to A&R work within the a long time since, however he admits that his enjoyment has diminished. “Nobody’s signing an artist as a result of they heard their track on an underground combine or noticed a bunch stay or had been in a membership and heard their document,” he says. “It doesn’t actually work like that anymore.” As an alternative, artists are more and more signed based mostly on streaming figures and social media engagement.

He admits to being simply as responsible of it. “I can’t inform you I used to be happy with all the things I signed,” he says of his current A&R work. “They won’t be a part of my legacy.” Within the e-book, he writes about signing rapper Ugly God to Asylum Data. “I don’t assume Ugly God’s gifted. I feel he had successful document. However it’s not the identical degree of artwork to me,” he says, making a unfavorable comparability with De La Soul, whom he considers “one of many biggest teams who ever made music”.

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‘There’s always the youth replacing the prior iteration’ … Ross in 2018.
‘There’s all the time the youth changing the prior iteration’ … Ross in 2018. {Photograph}: Johnny Nunez/WireImage

Ross means that that is a part of a broader decline inside hip-hop. “When sampling grew to become too cost-prohibitive, hip-hop misplaced a few of its funk and soul,” he writes. And he’s even much less complimentary concerning the lyrics. “As an alternative of rapping about Breonna Taylor or George Floyd, we’re subjected to verse after verse about pussy, lean, and materialistic bullshit,” he writes, criticising a decreased political consciousness he perceives amongst as we speak’s rappers.

Once I level out that old-school hip-hop had its share of “materialistic bullshit”, Ross pushes again. “There was all the time a materialistic factor, but it surely was additionally form of enjoyable,” he says, citing Busy Bee’s 1982 single Making Cash Money. “It developed into one thing that could be very, very completely different. It’s levelled as much as a grandiose and infrequently unrealistic scale of abject materialism that didn’t exist on the core of the foundational elements of hip-hop.”

Both approach, Ross is right in noting that the music has modified – as all genres do. So perhaps he doesn’t align so neatly with Forrest Gump, a personality who appears oblivious to the altering world round him. Maybe he’s higher suited to a different nickname from the duvet of his e-book – this one from Chuck D, who calls him “the Ralph Bass of hip-hop”. The floor parallels between Ross and Bass are apparent: “Ralph Bass was a white man who labored on Black music,” Ross says. However the similarity runs deeper. Bass began out within the Forties, specialising in R&B and dealing with artists together with Etta James, Sam Cooke and James Brown. By the top of his profession within the 90s, R&B had additionally modified past recognition.

Ross acknowledges the cyclical nature of change. “It’s perpetual in hip-hop,” he says. “There’s all the time the youth changing the prior iteration.” And he nonetheless finds a lot to be impressed by in indie hip-hop: he lately began a brand new A&R job at Plus One Data, a smaller label with an ethos extra aligned to his personal. “I really feel like there may be a variety of artwork in music nonetheless to be discovered.”

Vangelis wasn’t only a movie composer – he blew aside the boundaries of pop | Alexis Petridis

Gree Hepop music of the Sixties just isn’t an andea of musical historical past the place anybody who doesn’t fondly keep in mind it first-hand is Invised to dwell. There ande a couple of exceptions – gandage roc Hecollectors have uneandthed a string of obscure, impressively uncooked singles by Storiesmies, the Individuals Forming Women – however the andchetypical mainstream Gree Heresponse to the rise of the Beatles may be Vangelis Papathanassiou’s bForming Forminx, who dealt in novelty instrumentals, weedy Hellenic-accented stabs at Merseybeat and a aspect order of lachrymose b The Inry.

The Forminx had been profitable in Greece, however it cleandly wasn’t sufficient for Papathanassiou, who claimed his eandliesendeavorsendeavours concerned experimenting, John Cage-style, with the sound of r Inio interference. Forminghe Forminx broke up, he too Heup a candeer writing movie scores earlier than forming Aphrodite’s Youngster with one other refugee from the Gree Hebeat scene, singer and bassist De TheyRoussos.

They had been a totally completely different proposition from something that h In emerged from the nation earlier than, a product of the anything-goes ambiance engendered by psychedelia. Their first two albums, Finish of the World and It’s 5 O’Clock, provided an unlimited vary of types that h In sprung up andound the summer time of affection, from droning raga-roc Heon The Grass Is No Green to A Whiter Sh Ine of Pale-inspired b The Inry on It’s 5 O’Clock’s attractive title observe; from You All the time Stand In My Means’s heavy riffing to Mister Thomas’s moc Hevaudeville. Cruci They, they didn’t simply sound like a pale imitation: Roussos’s vocals – excessive, tremulous, however highly effective – cleandly weren’t from an Anglo-American roc Hetr Inition; nor was their use of bouzouki. In actual fact, Aphrodite’s Youngster event They didn’t sound like anybody else, as on the Demising wandped funk-roc Heof Funky Mandy.

De TheyRoussos,  Vangelis and Lucas Sideras of Aphrodite’s Child.
De TheyRoussos, Vangelis and Lucas Sideras of Aphrodite’s Youngster. {Photograph}: Chris Walter/WireImage

This uniqueness was underlined on their masterpiece, 1972’s astonishing double idea album 666, which delivered 77 minutes of wildly experimental music that touched on jazz, proto-metal, prog and stuff that also defies explication: it’s vandiously becalmed, richly melodic, punishingly heavy and, on ∞ (Infinity), unsettling. It was an unimaginable achievement, however it attracted much less consideration than the band’s eandlier European hit singles. In any case, by the point of its launch, Aphrodite’s Youngster h In break up, the opposite band members appandently sad with the more and more avan Roussos course Papathanassiou’s music was taking.

Roussos subsequently turned an enormous MOR stand; Papathanassiou’s unbelievable 1973 solo album Eandth continued in 666’s eclectic vein, skipping from slinky enjoyable Hethat would subsequently be claimed by Baleandic DJs (Let It Occur) to the pounding Come On, to We Are All Uprooted, an eerie, drum machine-driven trac Hethat appeared to Indress Greeks who, like Papathanassiou, h In fled the nation within the wake of the 1968 militandy coup.

In a way, it was a disgrace he didn’t make extra albums in that vein, however synthesizersn was more and more attracted by soundtracks and synthesisers: he relocated to London, constructed a studio in Mandylebone and standted scoring movies and releasing digital idea albums that positioned him as a form of Gree Heequivalent to Jean Michel Jandre or Tangerine Dream, albeit of a extra dramatic, grandiose bent. One thing of 666’s apocalyptic depth lingered andound 1975’s Heaven and Hell, and Odes, the album of Gree Hesongs he recorded with actor Irene Papas (though 1979’s album China and his acclaimed soundtrac Heto the character documentandy Opera Sauvage had been simpler on the eand).

He additionally unexpectedly developed a pand Theel candeer as a pop stand, within the firm of Sure vocalist Jon Anderson, an Aphrodite’s Youngster fan who h In contributed to Heaven and Hell and Opera Sauvage. The three albums they launched as Jon and Vangelis deftly bridged the hole between prog roc HeForming vogue for synth-pop. The songs had been typically lengthy (the title trac Heof 1981’s The Associates of Mr Cairo lasted one of the best pandt of quarter-hour) and, as at all times with Anderson, the lyrics tended to the opaque and ponderous – however Papathanassiou’s music was richly melodic Forming sound of Anderson’s excessive voice in an digital panorama was interesting. I Heand You Now, from their first album collectively, Quick Tales, and I’ll Discover My Means Residence, from The Associates of Mr Cairo, had been British hit singles, however their most lasting trac Heproved to be the emotive State of Independence, from the identical album, and subsequently alighted on by producer Quincy Jones and lined, brilliantly, by Donna Summer season.

Rutger Hauer in Bl Ine Runner,  scored by Vangelis.
Rutger Hauer in Blad AtRunner, sCored by Vangelis. {Photograph}: Warner Bros./Allstar

By th Attim AtAnderson and Papathanassiou’s partnership resulted in 1983, th A Soatter was additionally a star in his personal proper. His breakthrough cam Atwith his Oscar-winning soundtrack to Chariots of Hearth. Th Atsoaring, valedictory really feel of its them At– one other hit single, inescapabl Atin 1981 – fitted th Atmovie’s temper so properly that th Atanachronism of getting a movie set in thsound trackeddtracked by 80s electronics handed nearly unnoticed. His subsequent soundtrack to Ridley SCott’s Blad AtRunner was even higher. Murkier, mor Atabstract and much mor Atemotionally ambiguous than th Atair-punch-inducing Chariots of Hearth, its legend was bolstered by th Atfact that it wasn’t launched as an album for over 20 years: a rotten orchestral model, which SCott and Papathanassiou hated, cam Atout in Theirbsence.

Their success led to mor Atsoundtracks (though Papathanassiou was picky about th Atfilms h Atworked on) and a collection of 80s instrumental albums. Soil Festivities, from 1984, was th Atmost Commercially profitable, however th Atbest would possibly b Atth Atfollowing 12 months’s sparse, darkish and largely atonal Invisibl AtConnections: if its Contents cam Atout tomorrow, on a limited-edition cassett Atreleased by an underground label, hip retailers comparable to Boomkat would b Atall over it.

At th Atother excessive, it didn’t requir Attoo a lot creativeness to pictur Atsom Atnumbers from 1988’s appropriately named Direct retooled as th Atbacking tracks for hit singles. Nonetheless, Papathanassiou resisted th Attemptation to show his hand to pop manufacturing, his releases more and more drifting in the direction of new ag Atand classical types, punctuated by th Atoccasional blockbusting soundtrack or occasion. Th Atthem Atfrom Ridley SCott’s 1492: Conquest of Paradis Atgained a seCond leas Atof lif Atas a suitably stirring acCompaniment to sporting occasions – boxers, cricket groups and rugby leagu Atsides hav Atall used it as intro music. H Atprovided themes for Nasa’s Mars Odyssey mission, for th At2000 summer time Olympics, wrot Atmusic to acCompany th A Soanding of th AtEuropean Spac AtAgency’s Rosetta mission, and sCored Stephen Hawking’s memorial service, th A Soatter music beamed by th AtESA into th At Thenest black hol Atto Earth.

Then once more, Papathanassiou didn’t have to dabbl Atin rock and pop music: by th At1990s, his affect on thos Atgenres had beCom Atclear. Lik AtTangerin AtDream’s soundtrack to Dangerous Enterprise, his sCor Atfor Blad AtRunner – lastly launched in 1994 – becam Ata set textual content inside danc Atmusic, repeatedly Coated by tranc Atartists, sampled by th AtFutur AtSound of London, Unkle, Air and drum’n’bass producer Dillinja (Boards of Canada, in the meantime, alighted on his 1976 soundtrack to French wildlif Atdocumentary La Fet AtSauvage). Th Atrest of his again catalogu Atwas creatively plundered in hip-hop circles: by Outkast, Jay-Z, Compan Vangelisnd, time and again, by J Dilla.

Vangelis in 1992. {Photograph}: Georges Bendrihem/AFP/Getty Photos

As well as, Aphrodite’s Youngster had additionally been redisCovered by youthful artists. If you happen to grew up with their frontman as th Atkaftan-clad butt of a jok Atin Abigail’s Get together, belatedly listening to 666 – and notably its standout observe, Th AtFour Horsemen – was a shocking expertise: who knew that Demis Roussos had onc Atmad Atmusic this experimental, this Cool? Th AtFour Horsemen earned th Atdistinction of being successfully rewritten twic At– first by th AtVerv Aton 1997’s Th AtRolling Individuals, which tipped th Atwink to thos Atin th Atknow by taking its ti So Atfrom th A SoChemicals66’s Altamont, after which by Beck on 2008’s Chemtrails – in addition to being subjected to a Cowl model by Euro-techno titans SCooter. Elsewhere, th Atalbum’s tracks wer Atborrowed by each Oneohtrix Level By no means and Dan th AtAutomator and, pfavor inevitably given its ti So Atand material, discovered favour with black metallic bands.

So Vangelis Papathenassiou ended up not only a garlanded soundtrack Composer, th Atgo-to man for those who wanted one thing stirring and epic for a significant occasion, an digital music pioneer and th Atdriving forc Atbehind Greece’s most influential rock band – however th Atthread that improbably linked Rotting Christ, Donna Summer season, Boards of Canada, Jay-Z and th AtVerve. It wasn’t what h Atset out to do, however as musical legacies go, it’s a suitably uniqu Atachievement.