Before Hip-Hop boasted the synth-heavy sound that dominates the culture today, the music was warm and funky. The backbone of that particular sound was sampling. Producers would take pieces from different records to create what could be described as a mosaic of music. Samples and drums were layered from old records to create something brand new and fresh.
West Coast producer/emcee Andy Cooper’s new album “The Layered Effect” is a modern day homage to the sound that gave us Hip-Hop’s golden era. The Layered Effect comes courtesy of Rocafort Records and is produced entirely by Andy Cooper with one track being co-produced by Sensi. The album features appearances by Blabbermouf and Abdominal.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Andy Cooper about his new album, The Layered Effect, his golden era approach to production, and a missed love connection with one of the most exquisite emcees in Hip-Hop.
TRHH: Why’d you title the new album ‘The Layered Effect’?
Andy Cooper: I grew up in what people always call the classic era of Hip-Hop, the renaissance, or the golden age or one of those terms. I thought about why that era is so special and why people feel so strong about it. For me the key ingredient is sampling – particularly the layered style of sampling where you use loops on tops of loops and bits from here and there. It creates this real interesting tapestry of sound and sometimes even dissonance and lack of harmonics – just flavor in a strange mixture of things. Sometimes people worry about the rappers and maybe the culture or the style over time and those are obviously essential ingredients, but sometimes people miss the layering of the production is what gave that music a magical quality. You could get JuJu, Diamond D, and Q-Tip to do an album now and it wouldn’t sound like the golden age because they wouldn’t be using that production technique. I was trying to create an album that used some of that DNA in the approach to production.
TRHH: What’s your opinion on mainstream Hip-Hop moving away from sampling?
Andy Cooper: Well, it left a long time ago. For the most part it was a financial move, understandably. In those days there wasn’t really a precedence set for how the finances were going to work. Nobody knew about a digital streaming world and it was totally artistic and experimental. They were totally trying to make hot songs and that was the method in which they made them. I’m just at an age and a mindset where I don’t care about the legalistic or the money or whatever it is. I just want to make classic, great music so I just do it anyway. I realize that I can’t have a hit or anything like that because of the legal issues that could come up, but I think I’m pretty safe and I’m not going to have a hit anyway [laughs]. So I might as well make good music.
TRHH: What inspired the song ‘The Perfect Definition’?
Andy Cooper: Just a funky banger kind of song. It just sounded like one of those really, exciting killer tracks so I tried to respond to it as a vocalist. That’s the way I’m always looking at it. I make the track because I’m a producer first, and vocalist second. I’m just trying to respond to what the track is telling me to do. It told me, “Sick ‘em boy!” So I did my best [laughs].
TRHH: What does your production workstation consist of?
Andy Cooper: Just mostly turntables and I go right into Pro Tools with it. I got a million plugins and different processors. For years I was in a group called Ugly Duckling and we always used an MPC 3000. I just cut out the middleman and sample it straight into the session now [laughs]. I’m fairly haphazard with it and that’s the spirit in which I try to do this stuff. It’s going to sound real janky. It’s an unconventional way of making music, but I think that’s what’s cool about it.
TRHH: So you edit your samples in Pro Tools?
Andy Cooper: Sure. Yeah, all the time. Chop it up, edit it, whatever. I take it off the grid quite a bit and just go by feel. I try to keep it tight and have faith in my learned sense of rhythm and have it sound good. I try to break all the sonic rules because in that era people were just cowboy’ing so that’s the way I try to approach it.
TRHH: How is doing a solo album different from doing an Ugly Duckling album?
Andy Cooper: I gotta write all the verses [laughs]. With Ugly Duckling music we always tried to make the song first and foremost. We tried to put together a great musical chorus, sound, and atmosphere and then the vocals fell behind it to try and support that. I’m approaching this like a vocalist first and really trying to be more savage on the mic. It swings a little more too. I’m a little more rhythmic than the other two guys so I think I try to make it more rhythmically exciting with my vocal stuff and my production on my own.
TRHH: The song ‘The Last of a Dying Breed’ sounded like a diss to older rappers a little bit. What’s the meaning behind the song?
Andy Cooper: Can I tell you I really appreciate you having actually listened to this music [laughs]. I talk to so many people and they just read the bio, maybe [laughs]. They scan the bio so I appreciate it, man. It’s certainly not. I’m an old rapper so it’s not anything against old vocalists. I think it’s old people who resent young people, young rappers, and young performers. As much as I don’t really like a lot of contemporary rap I also understand that these young people, this is the Hip-Hop that they inherited. This is the cultural and commercial situation in which they were raised and they’re responding to it in their own way. Resenting them because they don’t understand James Brown and classic Hip-Hop rhythms and attitudes I feel is a real bad look. Maybe some of them will appreciate and get into that stuff. I know when I was young I used to like old music. I don’t have that expectation of anybody. Sometimes I’ll meet these really embittered old dudes that are like, “If they just heard ‘The Low End Theory’ then they would really understand,” no they won’t. They have their own time and their own generation and I was just talking about that.
TRHH: That’s interesting because I went to the Jay-Z show with my cousins and one of my cousins brought his son who is 23-years old. His son said that J. Cole is the greatest rapper of all-time. I asked what makes him the greatest and he said, “I never heard a J. Cole song that I didn’t like.” I said, “Well don’t you think there should be more to it like lyrics, live show, longevity, influence, and even record sales?” He goes, “I just like J. Cole.” I said, “How about this, why don’t you listen to other stuff, new and old, and then form an opinion.” He asked me who he should listen to and I said, “Melle Mel, Rakim, Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, LL Cool J, KRS-One to start with.” He goes, “I’m not listening to that.”
Andy Cooper: [Laughs] I saw a similar thing with the Ball basketball family’s reality show. Someone on the camera crew was telling Lonzo that he should listen to Nas’ Illmatic instead of Migos and he just looked at him like he was from Venus or something like that like, “I’m not listening to that old stuff. I don’t care.” On some level I kind of resent that because of course Illmatic is such a great record and Migos is, whatever, that kind of thing. On the other side of it I totally understand where Lonzo Ball is coming from. He’s a young person, he wants his own music, they want their own generation, and their own clothes. If they were any other way I would always look at them as suckers. They should have their own generation. If I was going to play something from a young person I would appreciate that and respect that and say, “You might want to check this too,” not like, “Your stuff’s bad, our stuff was good!” It’s like my grandparents going, “You should listen to Benny Goodman!” Now that I’m in a different place I do listen to Benny Goodman. I can appreciate it. But if you would have tried to tell me that when I was a young dude I would have wanted to hear something from someone who is my age and from my time.
TRHH: I agree with that. Every generation has their thing, however, if you’re going to proclaim somebody the greatest of all-time you should have at least heard of Ice Cube.
Andy Cooper: That’s another thing because you’re talking about a quantifiable skill. In other words just because I like a punk band I’m not going to make the argument that they have the best guitar player of all-time without listening to Wes Montgomery or Eddie Van Halen. I should at least understand technical things, I suppose.
TRHH: That’s my thing. I don’t really care what kids listen to. When I was a kid in the 80s my parents listened to Motown and I was like, “Why are they listening to this old stuff?” But I get it. That was their shit.
Andy Cooper: I’ll tell you something that’s always inspired me. The music from which Hip-Hop got most of its raw material – James Brown, The Meters, and early Kool & the Gang. That violated all of the rules of time. It didn’t sound like Motown, it didn’t sound like old music, and it sounded raw and energetic and alive. I’m kind of always on a quest to find that kind of thing or make that kind of music that just stands out against time and it doesn’t fit into an era, a sound, or a trend. I feel like that’s the kind of thing that usually gets through to young people, when they hear something that’s just explosive. They even sometimes adapt it as their own. When I heard “Soul Power” I felt like that was mine. It didn’t seem like something that came out fifteen years earlier. That’s the only way I can look at it and the way I can bridge the gap. Don’t go to a young dude and say, “We used to wear those kind of pants,” or “I used to have a high top fade!” I’d feel stupid saying something like that [laughs].
TRHH: What you just described about a sound being explosive, would you say that Public Enemy would fall into that category?
Andy Cooper: Yeah, I think a lot of it. Particularly, “Here it is!” I don’t know what planet that comes from. I guess a black planet [laughs]. That’s so explosive and intensive. There’s a lot of Public Enemy like that. I feel like young people who really love music will go back and discover all the great stuff – they always do. If someone plays me something from the 1930s I get excited now, but I love music. Whereas kids who just love entertainment and culture, they’re in school, they gotta like something, whatever. They’re gonna come and go anyway. I’m not sitting around worried about them.
I sometimes work with this group called The Allergies in the UK. They do funk/soul/Hip-Hop related music. We played at this real big soul night. It’s a great tradition in the UK and Europe with soul music. People go out and dance to it. I always work there and I really like it. It’s mostly older folks but there were some college aged kids and I was like, “What are you guys doing here?” in a friendly way because they saw my show and liked it. They said, “When we go to other stuff and they’re playing trap and grime it’s just a real negative atmosphere. We just want to listen to something positive and feel uplifted.” It was like five or six of them and I thought that was cool. I’m glad there’s someone out there with that sensibility. I’m always hopeful but I wouldn’t go down to the grime club and go, “What’s wrong with you people?!?!?” [laughs].
TRHH: Don’t you think the UK is different than America though?
Andy Cooper: Absolutely! For a million reasons. I’ve found more of an audience in Europe than here – Ugly Duckling too.
TRHH: A lot of rappers that I interview say that Europe in general has a different appreciation for Hip-Hop than America does. Would you say that’s the case, and if so why?
Andy Cooper: It’s a long tradition. You can go back to Louis Armstrong and the 1920s jazz scene in Paris. They appreciated it, loved it, and were passionate about it in a way that American’s never were. They’ve always kind of had this kind of outsider’s appreciation for something. I also think that because in America Hip-Hop is culturally dominated by black culture, understandably. But because that’s the case, music that’s produced here has to kind of be made under the umbrella of this mentality. Whereas over there, there aren’t these kind of hardened rules about culture. It’s just a lot more open and experimental. You’ll go to a thing and they’ll play some Hip-Hop and mix it with old music and it’ll be some First-Wave Ska music in the middle of it. It’s just not locked into that. In some ways it’s a more culturally free approach to music because it’s not divided as American music. That’s my take on it at least.
TRHH: Do you have a favorite song on the ‘The Layered Effect’?
Andy Cooper: I think the opening track, ‘Here Comes Another One.’ I think that’s the best song. Like I was saying earlier, the thing I like about old style sampled music is all the songs sound real different and real weird. I like when something is cool but there’s all kinds of different vibes. I think this album has that. I tried to fudge the answer and have it both ways. It takes years of seasoned interview practice [laughs].
TRHH: Who is ‘The Layered Effect’ made for?
Andy Cooper: Woo! I’m going to tell you who it’s made for. May I tell you a story? You seem like someone who has the attention span who can take on a story.
TRHH: Of course.
Andy Cooper: I appreciate that. Maybe ten years ago I was with Ugly Duckling and we were performing at a festival in Barcelona. It was a nice warm afternoon. We were performing in a bill with loads of artists, one of them being Digable Planets. We were sound checking in this big auditorium and when we finished the next group to sound check was Digable Planets. I’d never seen them perform or been around them before. They’re setting up and I walk outside of the theater and who is sitting there on the curb but Ladybug. At this point I think Ladybug is a mom, has a few kids, she’s still cute, but she’s not Ladybug from fifteen years earlier. I say to myself, “For the sake of high school Andy, I’m going to try and get at Ladybug.”
Andy Cooper: He would have loved to have heard that story. Someday, some place, in some other country you’re going to try to chat up Ladybug. So I go up and start talking to her. She’s very polite and sweet. I talked to her for a little while and nothing much comes from it, but that was the spirit in which I approached this record. I’m going to do something great for me back then! If I would have bought that I would have been like, “That’s great!”
TRHH: Hold on, did you get her number?
Andy Cooper: I like to pretend I had a real shot at the number, but in the middle of me chatting she handed me a camera and I was taking photos of her. It turned out pretty cool. I don’t know why she wanted me to take photos of her but I was into that idea. As I was taking photos a Japanese camera crew came along and took over! They paparazzi’d her, starting interviewing her, and just elbowed me out of the way. I walked away pretending I had it all going until they ruined it, knowing full well that I was getting nowhere. I’m going to go down in history saying I was one minute away from getting that number. We probably would have gone out to dinner that night. Me and Mecca would have been hitting it right off I’m sure, having some tapas.
Purchase: Andy Cooper – The Layered Effect