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Adrian Younge: Looking Back To Move Hip-Hop Forward

Composer and producer Adrian Younge has produced two new albums: one with William Hart of The Delfonics and another with rapper Ghostface Killah.
Courtesy of the artist
Composer and producer Adrian Younge has produced two new albums: one with William Hart of The Delfonics and another with rapper Ghostface Killah.

Spaghetti Westerns and the scores of Ennio Morricone, Philadelphia soul, opera and the Wu-Tang Clan all come together in the music of composer and producer Adrian Younge. He has produced and composed two new albums: one with William Hart, lead singer of The Delfonics, that's being released this week, and one with rapper Ghostface KillahTwelve Reasons to Die — that will be out next month. Ghostface Killah and Younge will debut their album just after midnight Thursday at South by Southwest.

While Younge thinks of himself as a hip-hop guy, it's been years since he has listened to that music with any regularity.

"I was really raised on hip-hop, and hip-hop introduced me basically to all the music I listen to now," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, "and what's sad to me is I can't really listen to hip-hop that much anymore. You know, I mean, there's a lot of great hip-hop out there, but I'm not an avid fan of hip-hop. I always say to people that I left hip-hop in '97, meaning that I departed from listening to predominantly hip-hop and just started really getting into records from the late '60s, early '70s. Once I made that change, I realized how much great music was made back in the day, and it started to become apparent how much we'd lost in music. And that's why I don't listen to much modern music anymore, because it just doesn't stimulate me anymore."

The influence of the music from the late '60s and early '70s is apparent on the collaborative album with William Hart, Adrian Younge Presents The Delfonics. Younge says that as he was working, he "wanted to travel back in time to about '69 to compete with the other soul groups that are out there." Younge looks to the past for inspiration at least in part because he believes contemporary hip-hop lacks mastery of composition. He cites Quincy Jones for making the observation, and, he says, "I agree with [that] 150 million percent."

Interview Highlights

On the influence of Ennio Morricone's music on his sound

"To me, the Ennio Morricone kind of sound is a derivative of soul music. A lot of Ennio Morricone's music, it's very soulful, very cinematic and very psychedelic. So, the sounds that were used ... the chimes, the bells, the fuzz guitar, it's something that's nostalgic and speaks to a listener in a different way. You don't usually hear those types of sounds in today's music, but when you hear those sounds, it takes you back to the music I like the best: organic music that is composed by real composers at a time when recording was at its height, which I believe was around like '68 to '73."

On the technology of his studio

"My studio is fully analog. There's not even a computer in my studio. Everything's old: old instruments, old pro audio, the mic that he's singing out of is an old ribbon mic. Everything's old. So I record, and then when I'm mixing, I mix down in a way that they would have back then also, which is not perfect."

On how he teamed up with William Hart of The Delfonics

"One day on Twitter a little over a year ago, I tweeted the question, 'Who is better: The Dramatics or The Delfonics?' and people went back and forth saying who they thought was better, and one guy said, 'Hey, I know William Hart of The Delfonics.' I said, 'Wow, OK.' And he's like, 'Yo, I'm a fan of your music, man. I would love for you and him to do music together.' To me, it's always been a dream to do something with The Delfonics, but people say things all the time. It's Hollywood. So [to] make a long story short, a day later, I'm on the phone with William Hart and we're speaking for like two hours and then we're speaking the next day for like two hours, and we hit it off in a way that was just cosmic."

On the kind of music he seeks to create

"I wanted to create another world. You know, I tell people, 'I don't make music, I make worlds.' And what I mean by that is I'm not the guy who's going to make a single for somebody. ... I want when people are listening to my music [to] ... enter a world."

On a lesson learned from his friend, director and screenwriter Scott Sanders while working on the film Black Dynamite

"One of the things that Scott Sanders made me realize is that when a black person is done with something, they leave. The black culture does not go back. When they're done, they are out. And what happens is that white people come in and they go back and they study and bring a different approach to it and preserve what a lot of black people did. The reason why I say that here is I'm that white guy. I'm the black dude that loves old black culture. I also love old white culture. I just love history, but I'm the guy that wants to bring things back and push them forward. A lot of black people don't like that kind of stuff. They don't like doing that kind of stuff."

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