We caught up with this elusive beat maestro to ask him about his latest Ninja Tune release, Downtown Science. We also got him to make us a mixtape and recommend a few favorite haunts in New York City, his hometown and the inspiration behind the many disparate sounds on his new album.
AD: Let's get the obvious question out of the way first: How did you get the name Blockhead?
Blockhead: I got it from the actual shape of my head. While it's not square, it's pretty close.
What were some of the first hip-hop records you owned?
I was more of a cassette guy when I first got into hip-hop. The first album I ever owned was the soundtrack to Beat Street...after that, I guess "Radio" by LL Cool J and "Yo, Bum Rush the Show" by Public Enemy.
You tried your hand at rapping before you began producing beats. Do you remember what any of your lyrics were?
Sure, but no one will ever hear them if I have any control over it.
What were the first pieces of gear you acquired to start writing and producing your own tracks?
The same piece I still use, which is an ASR-10 sampler. It's all I know how to use.
How did your connection with Ninja Tune come about?
Lots of luck. I sent them my done album as a demo and they liked it. It was one of those rare cases where the demo works out.
What would you say is the biggest difference between this new album and Music by Cavelight?
The new album is more eclectic. It's less jazzy and more a gumbo of different genres.
There are a lot samples from what sounds like a Broadway musical sprinkled throughout Downtown Science. What are those from?
I found this weird record about a love affair in Manhattan. I believe it was [from] a show, but I could be wrong. Anyway, it had all these parts about downtown Manhattan and it basically shaped up the whole album.
Are you a big fan of many mainstream hip-hop artists or do you mostly prefer the "underground" stuff?
I'm pretty sick of most underground rap. When it's good, it's great, but most of the time it's boring. I prefer some mainstream stuff. But when mainstream is bad, it's the worst.
Your collaborations with Aesop Rock are terrific, but your own albums don't feature any raps or live vocals. Is Blockhead ever going to release the classic hip-hop producer album, with lots of guest vocalists?
I'd love to. I plan to. It just depends when it'll actually happen. Rappers are hard to gather for that kinda project.
Blockhead's New York favorites:
Borough: Manhattan, duh.
Subway line: 1/9.
Record store: Academy Records on 10th off 4th Ave.
Deli: Hmm...this one around the corner from my house on 15th St. is really dope. But I'm sure there are better ones all over.
Dive bar: Max Fish. [178 Ludlow St., Lower East Side]
Hip-hop club: I avoid those.
Late night eatery: Anywhere that's open. I tend to just go to whatever's closest.
Sports team: Hmm...I'm not a very loyal team guy. I root for the Yankees, but if they lose I don't really care.
Place to grab a slice: Ben's on W. 3rd is the downlow spot.
Blockhead's mixtape madness:
1. Clipse - "Virginia"
No one in hip hop can rap about selling coke better.
2. Marvin Gaye - "Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide"
The good old sh*t like they don't make anymore.
3. Donovan - "Get Thy Bearings"
Gotta love Donovan. Especially when he's on some other ish.
4. Tim Dog - "The Dog's Gonna Getcha"
Quite possibly the hardest song ever made.
5. Black Sheep - "Freak Y'All"
Dope track of their over-hated second album.
6. Young Jeezy feat. Jay-Z and Fat Foe - "Go Crazy Rmx"
I can't get this outta my head. Dope Impressions sample and perfect ignorance.
7. Ray Charles - "I Believe to My Soul"
Just an all around powerful song.
8. Master Ace - "Can't Stop the Bum Rush"
Back when he was Master (not "Masta"), he very slept on.
9. Tom Waits - "Innocent When You Dream"
At first it sounds like a drunk yelling, but it's a beautiful song.
10. Cam'ron - "Killa Cam"
So good...so very good.
Blockhead's new album Downtown Science is available now in the ARTISTdirect Store.