From his creative sampling of Aretha on ‘Ms. Fat Booty’ to his new collection of Good Times DVDs everything about Ayatollah screams vintage soul. The Bronx-bred producer doesn’t even bother keeping up with gear heads, as he’d rather upgrade his MPC-60 and track down antique tools to refine the sound that will grace upcoming projects from Masta Ace, Smif-n-Wessun, and Sean Price. Scratch caught up with Tollah, fresh from recording several tracks with Cormega for their new album, to talk about his sound, love of vintage equipment, and undying loyalty to the MPC-60.
Your beats are often described as soulful. What are the elements you add to your sound that make people describe them that way?
My sound is not just soulful it’s a heavy, heavy soul sound. Everybody out now has a soulful sound but I have a heavy soul sound. You can hear the difference in the cadence of the music I’m doing as opposed to a lot of other producers. There are different rhythms and beat patterns I put in the track to make it bounce differently. It’s the little things I do to enhance the tracks like adding extra kicks, extra snares, or overlapping different bass sounds. Even tempo has a lot to do with it. It’s all in my mood too. Depending on my mood, I come up with different types of styles of music. It’s wherever the wind blows me. It’s basically all off of emotion. If I’m my crib by myself there’s no negativity. If there is I’m bringing it to the table and I’m gonna make it work for me by putting it into the beat. All the good times, all the bad times, the drama it comes out on the machine.
With all the different MPC models available, what is it about the MPC-60 that makes it your weapon of choice?
You can’t go wrong with this or any Akai machine, but for me it’s the MPC-60 because the MPC-60 has a different sound from the other Akai machines. The samples and drums just have a better sound quality when they come out of this machine. I did ‘Ms. Fat Booty’ and ‘The Life’ on this machine with eight seconds of sample time before any of the upgrades. I pushed the limit on it and that’s just real talk. Now I have all the upgrades so I can do whatever, so imagine what’s going on now. But in general I don’t really like new equipment. I don’t think you can capture the feelings with the new equipment like you can with vintage equipment like a Fender Rhodes or a Moog. That’s where my head is at. The hard to find stuff that still has those sounds that are incredible. I want to use the equipment Herbie Hancock would use or what Stevie used to use when he played.
What was your goal for the Now Playing instrumental album?
I just wanted to put out ill beats that I could have given to artists because there is a contingent of people who just want to hear tracks. I could have had mad emcees on them but I just put it out for myself. I’m proud of the album and I’m about to drop another one. I might change it up a little bit but it’s gonna just be beats. I’m gonna focus on just putting out a whole catalog of instrumentals. Mos called me and told me I reminded him of a black version of Moby. I think that’s an ill compliment because I think Moby is dope and he’s experimental and I’m super experimental right now.
What type of stuff are you listening to?
I’m going from Sun Ra to Willie Hutch to Fela Kuti to Parliament to Barry White to Eddie Kendricks to Bootsy. I can’t give too many up but you can put those in there. There are no limits if you’re mind is creative you can sample anything. Premier made that clear on ‘Come Clean,’ when he sampled the water drops I said okay I can do anything. When I get behind the machine all the creativity just comes out. I can’t even explain it to you on the spur of the moment.
Where should we be checking for your sound next?
I’m working on a project with Cormega and contributing tracks to the new Sean Price and Smif-n-Wessun albums. I have some beats on a new album with Masta Ace, Strick and Punch and Words called EMC. I’m also working with some unsigned artists getting their demos together like Last Emperor and Bless Rockwell. I’m just trying to bring fresh new voices to the game. I’d love to start scoring soundtracks or do commercials or video games. Until then it’s instrumentals because everybody wants to hear beats.