Kansas City legend and music producer DJ Icy Roc has been in the game for quite some time now. An original mentor to Tech N9ne, he produced all the unreleased “NNUTTHOWZE” material as well as the classic tracks “This Ring” and “It’s Alive” from Anghellic. Recently, Roc was called upon by his old friend once again to do the talkbox for the latest single “O.G.” from The Gates Mixed Plate. We sat down with Icy Roc for an exclusive interview where as he discusses the past (meeting Tech, NNUTTHOWZE), the present (shooting the O.G. video), and the future…
SMB: You have a history with Tech N9ne. He said he didn’t start rapping professionally until he met you. How did you guys meet and what did you do to encourage him to take it a professional level?
DJ Icy Roc: I used to do music for Solé, who’s now married to Ginuwine. She had a group called Divine–it was her and her best friend Sharia. Some guys that came up to the studio I was working at brought this tape and I got to hear it. It was Tech on there rapping and I was like “wow, who is that!?” They were like “that’s this dude from the neighborhood” and I was like “man, y’all need to bring him up here!” So just by chance–or fate, or whatever–I was going to this convention called The BRE–which is The Black Radio Exclusive–with Divine. It was Solé and her father had paid for Tech to go along with them. So when I went to that house to leave that night he was there and I was basically sitting there just looking at these cassettes I was going to take with me to try and get some production work. He walked in the room–(laugh)–he was wearing a freeze then. I don’t know if you’ve seen any of those pictures. It’s like this processed hair style where they put all this gel in there–it was a pretty-boy hairdo basically. He walks in and I ask “who are you?” and he was like “Tech N9ne” and I was like “Huh? Wow. So you’re the dude I’ve heard” and he was like “yeah.” He started rapping for me–he used to do this thing all the time where he’d beat on his chest and rap. So you know– we just went down to BRE and kicked it and we came back and we did the first song we did together. It was a song called “New Breed”. After that it just seemed that it’s been on and cracking.
IR: There’s all the NNUTTHOWZE stuff. Some of the fans have heard some of it, but I got all of it so I want to sit down with Travis (O’Guin, CEO of Strange Music) and Tech and see if we can do something to put that out.
SMB: You read my mind! I was totally wanting to get to that. So you have all the NNUTTHOWZE stuff, correct?
SMB: What was that project and when did that happen?
IR: It was when we were signed to Perspective Records, that was Jimmy Jam’s and Terry Lewis’ label. Basically they sent us out of town–we mostly went to Detroit, LA, New York. We met all kinds of people. We ended up sitting down with The Bomb Squad–Hank and Keith Shocklee.
SMB: The production duo behind Public Enemy and Ice Cube’s first album, right?
IR: Right. We got to sit down with them and have them critique the music. That was very valuable information they gave me because at the time I was just sampling stuff and not really playing. Basically what they told me steered me in the direction I’m in now, which was “play more stuff and don’t really sample”–although I can sample, and can probably do it better than most of these people that are doing it now. The thing I used to have to sample on would only hold ten seconds at the most–I used to rock that. But now it’s like, sampling is not too cool to me–especially coming from sampling to playing. I don’t really respect people that sample stuff. It’s not really that hard to take someone else’s music and arrange it and make something out of it.
SMB: So did you guys make that music in Kansas City?
IR: Yeah, we actually made quite a bit of it at my brother’s house. When Tech was living with his mother-in-law they used to just come down and we used to record and sit there and tinker with stuff and come up with different ideas.
SMB: And this was done around when?
IR: Like the end of ’93 and ’94.
SMB: So you’re going to try and get it released through Travis and Tech, how’s that going on?
IR: Yeah that’s what I’d like to do but I just haven’t had a chance and sit down and talk with them. I kind of mentioned it to Tech but I want to sit down and talk with them about it.
SMB: How many tracks are there?
IR: Man I don’t–
SMB: An album’s worth?
IR: Yeah there’s an album’s worth. We did stuff that we did while we were in LA and we did stuff that we did when we came back home. Between that there’s a lot. There’s stuff that we continued to work on until Tech got with Don Juan and even a little after he started working with Juan. There’s a lot of stuff there.
SMB: Nice. Do you think the fans would be pretty psyched to listen to some of this stuff? From what I understand there’s a lot of people trying to find these tracks.
IR: I’ve seen that! (laughs) People e-mail me and ask me how much I would charge them for a disc of it. Are they crazy? I’m like “so you can put it out and make money off of it? I don’t think so.”
SMB: Do you get a lot of those e-mails?
IR: Yeah! I get people that are pretty adamant about it. They’ll e-mail me, and let some weeks or a month go by, and e-mail me again: “so…have you thought about that?”
SMB: That’s hilarious. So, on the song “O.G.”, how did Tech originally approach you for that? Do you guys always correspond pretty regularly?
IR: I think I called him or something and he said “man, I want you out here to do this talk-box stuff on the song.” I was like “that’s cool” and said “when do you want me to come out there?” He told me and I came out and did it.
SMB: What does the song mean to you and how does it feel to be a part of a whole barbecue-and-party anthem?
IR: I still haven’t heard the song.
SMB: You still haven’t heard it?
IR: No. I never got a copy of the song and I don’t listen to KPRS so, I haven’t heard it really. (laughs)
SMB: Do you just not listen to the radio in general?
IR: I haven’t listened to the radio in awhile. It kind of irritates me a little bit the way they treat the local people around here as far as playing stuff from locals. They’ll play Tech’s stuff–which is cool–and they started to play other people’s stuff but I’m just frustrated that for the longest they have the power to kind of launch people’s careers and they just kind of sit around and twiddle their thumbs. I don’t know what’s going on, but you drive four hours down the highway down to St. Louis, and they’re really supporting their local scene and pushing people and–you know, it’s kind of frustrating.
SMB: The video premieres on Friday.
IR: Oh yeah?
SMB: Yeah man, you’re in it!
IR: Well yeah, I know.
SMB: Yeah, I mean, you were there, but yeah you’re in the final cut rocking the talk-box and what not.
IR: That’s cool.
IR: It’ll be my rebirth. (laughs)
SMB: How was the video shoot? Did you have a good time?
IR: Oh I had a great time–I felt like break dancing!
SMB: How was it hanging out with everybody?
IR: It was great! I felt like I was back home.
SMB: When was the last time you and Tech hung out before that? Other than the studio of course.
IR: It had been a really long time. I’ve done a lot of stuff away from him but I think there’s a chemistry that we’ll always have. Dude is like my brother. I love him with all my heart. I’m so proud to see him become the number one independent and all that. I already knew that was going to happen though. Once you expose a good product to somebody, how can you keep it down? I think he, pound for pound, is the best rapper in the world.
SMB: Are you wanting to get back into production with him and collaborate again?
IR: Yeah! I just submitted some stuff and Big Scoob got one of the tracks.
SMB: For his next album?
IR: Yeah and I’m going to continue to submit stuff.
SMB: How does it feel watching Tech grow into what he’s become?
IR: I feel like I am Doctor Frankenstein and I’ve created a monster, and my monster is going out there and tearing people out the frame while on stage because I trained the monster to do that. After every show we ever did together–I would always have somebody video tape them–we would come home and have what I called a “trash stick” session. Whatever he did that I thought was not what should be happening on stage, you’d get the “trash stick.” We’d put the sticker right on the TV and point: “that right there is whack, and you get the trash stick for that.”
SMB: Wow. Do you think a lot of what he does now is a result of all those sessions you guys had?
IR: Oh yeah. Tech would even say himself. I want to get together with him. I want to do a song together called “Frankenstein”.
SMB: Oh yeah?
IR: Yeah. I’m going through my sound effects library because I want to make it sound like we’re in a laboratory and–you know. I’m going to do some voices–a little “Igor” voice and do the doctor’s voice. Throw some voltage in him, add some voltage pulsating to the music, and create something.
SMB: Wow, that sounds awesome! I really hope that happens…soon.
IR: Yeah it’s a concept I’ve had in my head for a minute but just aint been able to get ahold of him and do it.
SMB: Hopefully soon. I really appreciate the time you’ve set aside to talk to us. Keep making music.
IR: I will man. Kick it for me. Have a good day.
SMB: Thanks, you too.