Q&A: Hot Sugar On Associative Music, Working With The Roots, And Sampling A Rat Who Played Keyboard
"There are two pigeons right there, so if I threw some bread and scared them off, I could turn that flutter sound into a Mannie Fresh snare roll." With that, Hot Sugar claps his hands and, as if on command, the two pigeons stop their strut through Tompkins Square Park to flap and flutter off. For a moment, the rapid sound their wings make seems like something you could happily hear Lil Wayne or Juvenile rap around.
Hot Sugar is the alias of Nick Koenig, an artist whose associative music technique is hooked around sampling the sounds of the environment and objects around him and, through some sort of technical processing wizardry, turning them into original samples and melodies. It's a technique he's been perfecting since the age of 13, and has recently found some wider recognition: The Roots' opening number on Undun is produced by Koenig, and Das Racist affiliate rapper Big Baby Gandhi included four of his productions on his recent No1 2 Look Up 2 mixtape.
He released an EP, Moon Money, on the Ninja Tune label last week, and is celebrating it with a release party at Littlefield tonight. SOTC sat on a park bench with Koenig and got him to reveal all about his disdain for rap's lazy approach towards sampling, a rumored supergroup with Michel Gondry and MC Paul Barman, and how he came to work with the most famous rat on the Internet.
Your name has recently been linked with Big Baby Gandhi. How did you end up working with him?
Earlier this year, after his first EP came out, he quoted a Slick Rick line on Twitter and I followed it with the next line and we started DM-ing. I asked if I could send him beats and he did that song "Hi It's Me, Baby" which was over one of my older songs.
What was the Slick Rick rap you tweeted about?
It was from the Wu-Tang song "The Sun." You know that song?
Yeah, one of the ones that were cut from Ghostface's Bulletproof Wallets for sample issues.
Right. He wrote "You can't look stare at it long or your face will do like this," but he did the emoticon, which was amazing. We've been really close ever since. I actually just spoke to him 20 minutes ago.
What did you respond with?
I responded with Raekwon's, "He'll sit right there even if you pull your gun out."
How do you rate Big Baby Gandhi as a producer?
He likes sample-based stuff like most MCs, and I hate samples, so that's always a struggle. We've found some common ground now. I'm helping him get more into production, 'cause he's going to be producing his next album and I'm showing him all these associative music techniques. Ideally his next album will be sample free, but we'll see.
Why are you against samples?
I was a fan of the people that are being sampled. When I started working, my start really was when a producer couldn't clear a sample so they'd hire someone like me to come and replicate it, replay the riff and mimic the character of that recording. My trick is to make something sound like an Argentinian rock song from the '60s or a British library synth-pop track. Through that I developed an appreciation for the people that were being sampled rather than people that just took the loops and threw kicks and snares over it. Part of why I'm doing this interview is I'm a fan of your article you wrote about instrumental hip-hop [and why it possibly sometimes sucks].
It kinda got misinterpreted as an anti-J Dilla thing published on his birthday, when it wasn't.
The truth isand that's why I was confused why you'd be interested in my music to begin withoddly enough I feel like I'm clumped into that beat scene to begin with, but I've never compared myself to them. I don't listen to any of that music. I listen to rap music. But I also do think there is a potential for instrumental music, the same way Ennio Morricone exists, and Beethoven, and the list goes on.
There's a difference between creating an instrumental song and just putting out a loop.
Exactly, and it's someone else's loop.
It's like a beat-tape that happens to get released.
Right. There's always repetition in music, but it's not really impressive any more. When sampling began, the equipment was really primitive so every new development was based on the equipment that they had, but now with computers you can do infinity more complicated things and people are stuck on that fetishizing of break-beats and thatmost of which I can identity at this point. That doesn't impress me and I'm not really into that in general. But at the same time, I still love instrumental music and I believe that there is a way to make it even if it has heavy drums like a rap song has.