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Interview with D Planet


31 July 2006 No Comment

For those that don’t know, D Planet is a moderator on the AG Forums and a seasoned producer (check his biography here). He has produced tracks for numerous South African hip hop artists (Trusenz, Pro Kid, Konfab, Ben Sharpa, Middle Finga and Archetypes) and has done various projects in Europe. We recently had a discussion with him to talk about these projects, why he came to South Africa, his influences, the equipment and software he uses and the process he chooses when making music. We also have a lengthy discussion around the “Chickenhawk” song which was a response to Hype Magazine calling him out. Lastly he gives his opinion on South African hip hop. Check it out…

What’s up D-Planet, how you doing these days?

Everything is cool Milk, just chilling with my daughter while she’s on holiday.

You’ve probably been involved with Hip Hop for over 2 decades now (given that you are in your late 30’s). How did you get started and what was it initially that inspired you?

Haha, that’s MID-thirties! – But yeah, I guess you could officially call me ‘old skool’.

Growing up in London in the late 70s I was just discovering music. My mum used to play the Beatles, Bob Dylan, James Brown and Bob Marley, which was cool, but the pop music on the radio did nothing for me. I used to listen to pirate radio in my bedroom – Krafwerk and Herbie Hancock really grabbed my attention. Somehow I got my hands on mixtapes brought over from New York featuring artists like the Cold Crush Brothers and the Funky 4 + 1. In 1979 the Sugarhill Gang released ‘Rapper’s Delight’. Then came the ‘Message’ by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Shortly afterwards, Afrikaa Bambaataa released ‘Planet Rock’ and I was officially hooked.

1979 to 1985 were like magic for me. I knew that Hip Hop was going to be with me for the rest of my life. We all started breakdancing after seeing footage of the Rock Steady Crew. I started trying to scratch on my mum’s old record player (which didn’t go down well). In 1984 I got hold of a copy of ‘Subway Art’ by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfont and it blew me away. I started tagging, but never did any major pieces – London was run by legendary graf crews like Hellraisers and Chrome Angels. I started DJing in 1986.

You’ve gone through a number of Pseudonyms namely China White, Dark Llama and now recently Dplanet. Can you talk a bit about those projects and the Djax days (I’m assuming you were in the Netherlands for this period?).

Actually, I’ve been calling myself Dplanet since about 1986. It’s partly a reference to ‘Planet Rock’ to remind me of the magic times when I first got hooked by Hip Hop.

For me, Hip Hop and Electronic music have always gone hand in hand. Because of this, I was open to the minimalist sound of Chicago House and Detroit Techno. While I was studying in Brighton, UK, I met up with another Detroit head, Simon Atkinson who had a basic studio. We used to hang out at Jelly Jam Records (which was owned and run by Luke Slater) waiting for all the latest pre-releases. One of my favourite record labels was Djax-Up-Beats. After we finished our first four tracks I sent them to Saskia Slegers who owned Djax. She called the next day and we went over to Eindhoven to sign a deal – it was one of the most exciting days of my life.

Making music was much more difficult back then, recording equipment was very expensive and there was no Reason or Fruity Loops like today. Just getting our tracks on to DAT to send to Saskia was a major mission. We were surviving by signing on (to the dole), DJing and other hustles, but our equipment was always malfunctioning and we couldn’t afford to fix it. After we signed a 4 EP deal with Djax we weren’t able to fulfill our contract despite selling our Roland 808 to Saskia. It was very frustrating as we had offers coming in from all over the place.

You’ve been doing a lot of productions working with artists like Trusenz and others. Is music paying your bills or do you have a day job?

I’m working towards music paying my bills but at the moment I see it as an investment. I’m a partner in a design consultancy called Irrational Studios (www.irrational-studios.com).

What equipment / software do you use?

Apple Mac G5 Dual 2.5 GHz with 1GB RAM – Novation X-Station keyboard – Event 20/20 monitors – Rode NT1-A Mic – Beringer Ultragain Pro MIC2200 Mic Preamp – Fostex T20RP headphones – Inter M, R-150 Power amp – Logic Pro 7 – Reason 2.5 – Spectrasonic Trilogy – Spectrasonic Stylus

Can you share with the readers your process in making music. E.g. do you first start with the drums or is it the other way round?

My natural tendency is to start with drums because if the groove isn’t there, it doesn’t matter what else you do with the track. With every new beat I want to do something slightly different from what I did before to keep my sound developing. If I’m lacking inspiration, I might look for a sample and build the beat around that. I also like taking vocals off other tracks and building new beats under the vocals – it’s just another form of inspiration.

What do you find difficult about making beats?

I go through cycles of creativity. In the creative cycles, every time I sit down to make a track it all comes together easily. In the dry cycles nothing sounds right – I can craft a beat for hours and end up trashing it. These days I have learned to accept these cycles and don’t force the issue. I usually try to take care of production work (editing vocals, mixing etc) during the dry cycles, and bang out as many beats as possible during the creative times.

What comes naturally to you in terms of beat making?

Drums and basslines. I have to work much harder with melodies. I guess it comes from growing up around Reggae sound systems. The drum and the bass is where the groove is.

Let’s quickly talk about the Chicken Hawk song. Dope the cover by the way. What did you make of Hype magazine calling you out? Can you perhaps give us a breakdown of how you understand the whole situation.

Yeah, Trusenz came up with the idea for the cover.

The whole thing started with me writing a post on AG about Hype dissing Syd Money. I thought the editorial was bordering on slander, especially for a magazine that is supposed to be building SA Hip Hop. Fungayi came on AG to put his side of the argument. We exchanged views in a civilized way.

Back before this had happened, Hype contacted me because they wanted tracks for Smirnoff Spin compilation CD. I sent them material and signed release forms. They were also going to run a piece on Trusenz performing at the Sundance Music Festival in Estonia. Suddenly the piece was pulled and the tracks never made it on to the CD. I tried to contact them but couldn’t get an answer.

So recently Syd Money called me and he was laughing saying, “you made it in Hype magazine” because we have a running joke about them dissing him. At first I was like, that shit is funny. I was just curious to know what they had said. Someone was kind enough to post what was printed on AG (cause Syd never told me and you can be damn sure I ain’t buying the magazine). I didn’t take the diss too seriously, but what annoyed me was the fact that they were saying that I constantly trash Hype Magazine on AG. I went and found the threads where I’d talked about Hype. I was actually quite surprised about how positive I had been about them. Sure, I had some criticisms about the journalism, but it was all positive.

Trusenz and I decided to do ‘Chickenhawk’ because in our culture, this is how we answer when someone calls us out. We wanted to let Hype magazine know that Hip Hop is in our blood. ‘Chickenhawk’ is an expression that was coined during the Vietnam war. It refers to a politician who strongly supports a war or other military action, but has never personally been in a war. That’s how we feel about the editor of Hype – he’s never been in the trenches, he hasn’t paid his dues in Hip Hop. He’s just a journalist but he wants to start beef with Hip Hop artists trying to pay their dues.

When you look at the scene in South Africa as whole, what do you think of it? Do you think it’s heading in the right direction?

South African Hip Hop is still finding its own identity, both musically and culturally. The American influence is too strong – there’s still a lot of Hip Hop being made here that South Africans just do not see themselves reflected in. When you think about what is shaping youth culture in SA, you don’t think Hip Hop, you think Kwaito. At the moment Kwaito artists embody the ‘kasi’ vibe the best – they are the ones who really reach out to the people. I am not suggesting the rappers start making Kwaito, but they need to think more carefully about their cultural relevance. Spaza is one positive direction for Hip Hop.

We are also held back by the polarization caused by the ‘commercial vs. underground’ debate. A lot of SA’s most talented rappers have been so turned off by the vulgar ultra-capitalism of mainstream US rap music that they have retreated deep into the abstract, metaphysical underground – this is a place where the music buying public in South Africa just doesn’t want to be. I don’t believe that our Hip Hop market is developed enough to support niched Hip Hop yet. If want our industry to be sustainable, we must acknowledge that music is a form of entertainment. We need to find a balance between artistic integrity and broader appeal.

These are exciting times for South African Hip Hop. We have to acknowledge that our market is still developing and that we are all pioneers – this can be frustrating, but it’s an amazing opportunity to create history. I have been lucky enough to live through the old skool days (1970-1985), the Golden Era (1985-1993) and beyond. Work we put in now is shaping the future of our own era of SA Hip Hop and I’m really excited to be taking part in that.

What do you think the South African hip-hop scene needs in order to go forward?

We need to find the balance between artistic integrity and commercial appeal. We need to encourage artists to be themselves – tell South African stories and talk from the heart. We desperately need more professionally organized shows – bad sound systems and poorly promoted and conceived events are really holding us back. Artists also need to become more professional and realize that no one ever made it in music without being 100% dedicated.

When did you come to South Africa and why?

I came over in 1996. My girlfriend at the time in London was a political exile. She came back to South Africa after the elections in 94 and I came for a holiday to check it out. My hustle game in London was getting a bit hot – the possibility of coming to South Africa presented an opportunity for a new start and I took it. I’ve never looked back.

Which South African artists do you think have the potential to really make a huge impact? There are so many who have the potential – whether they will or not is very hard to predict – there are so many variables to take into account. Pro Kid is definitely one to watch. I was about to list everyone I’m working with but that would be wack right? 😉

Which artists would you like to work with? I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of people I really respect. I’m really looking forward to working with Sketch, Jaak and Konfab this weekend. I’d love to work with Roots Manuva too. I’d probably go to my grave happy if I could do a track with KRS1.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

Any time

For more info visit:  www.thetrackpack.com

The original version of ChickenHawk can be found here.

ChickenHawk remixes can be found here.

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