Psycho Les and The Beatnuts have been noticeably absent as of late. Without new music, fans have been forced to keep their classic anthems on repeat, which is never a bad thing. But new music from Psycho Les is a huge deal and hopefully the start of much more – a new Beatnuts album, the long-awaited Liknuts collab album with Tha Liks, and more. Running his label, Pit Fight Records, Psycho Les is much more in control of his artistic destiny than he’s ever been in the past, and that freedom is looking and sounding pretty damn good.
Dropping Dank God Volume One, with a slew of heavyweight features including R.A. the Rugged Man, The Lox, and more, Psycho Les stays in the pocket, right where he should be, dropping his classic sample-driven, dirty beats that are more New York than the stains on a concrete subway platform. In this exclusive interview, Psycho Les talks about crafting the album, why there’s more in the clip, why digging should be more appreciated, his record collection, and much more.
I was surprised to see you had a new album dropping, and once it dropped, it’s stayed in rotation. What’s it been like getting Dank God Volume One ready and how’s it doing for you?
I mean, it’s been doing great. Big buzz. The streets is buzzing. Everybody’s feeling it. It just feels good to hear some hip-hop shit again. Bars and beats again.
That seemed to be the focus of the album. What that your first priority?
For Beatnuts, it was always important to be original and to come with something that’s not being heard out there. So that’s what I try to do, man. I ignore whatever’s going on at the time and I go with my heart and I work with the best artists, that I believe are the best. It’s not like I’m reaching out to Drake or any of these famous rappers today. I’m reaching out to artist staht I believe in, like R.A. the Rugged Man, Kool Keith, Inspectah Deck, Jeru Da Damaja, Vinnie Paz. These are the cats I look up to. Jus Allah, Agallah. Real spitters, you know.
Do you find that over the years, you’ve been able to maintain a lot of partnerships and relationships?
Oh yeah. Yeah. Definitely. Everybody that’s on this album is definitely family. We did tours together and we, through the years, see each other and run into each other. They’ll get on my album and I’ll bless them with beats and spit a verse. I spit a verse on the new Kool Keith album called “Bragging’ Rights” that he produced.
The Beatnuts have always had a family atmosphere, especially with new artists you were introducing on a Beatnuts album. How important is that to you?
Ever since the beginning, that’s how we was brought up with the Native Tongues and everybody. We was all one big family. We didn’t work with anybody else. We just worked with each other and that’s what made the good records. It was just family. Anybody we ever worked with is people that’s close to us and good friends and people that we’re all on the same level.
Dank God has some songs that dropped a while ago. Is this more a collection of songs from over the years?
I mean, I’ve been working on this album for many years. That’s why I called it Volume One. I couldn’t fit all the songs on one album so I just made two albums out of it. I just picked the best twelve right now to set it off and to come back on some real hard hip-hop shit. Just trying to make an impact on all this bullshit that’s out right now.
What was it like working on it for so long and not losing focus?
It was just a process. The Alchemist song, I probably recorded that maybe three, four years ago. And the Sean P, we recorded it a couple of months before he passed away. It was all good, man. That was always my goal, my focus, was to put this album out eventually. It’s all independent. It’s all me. I put myself in the studio. I went back and hired my old engineer. He mixed all our old Beatnuts shit. That’s why it has that good hip-hop sound throughout the whole album. Just trying to come back with some good music for the peoples, you know? It’s been awhile since any Beatnuts or anything so I was like, I gotta make it my job to let the people know boom, we’re still here and we’re still banging them out.
Were you concerned the fans might not be there for that too much time had passed?
Yeah. Definitely. That was part of the reason why it took so long because I would always Beatnuts a chance for that shit to happen and it would never happen. Liknuts never happened. So I kept pushing my own project to the back. So this time around, I was like, Fuck everybody. I’m just going to finish this album and put it out. Whatever. Beatnuts will be next.
Is another Beatnuts project in the works?
Definitely. I’ve been talking with Juju. He’s ready. You know, I believe me putting out this project is kind of like putting a battery in everybody’s back right now, like, Oh, shit, it’s really happening again. Sometimes you gotta show motherfuckers how it’s done and what we can do because they don’t have the vision yet.
Just like I was talking to Juju, you know, we need money, boom, let’s put out some records and create a buzz. A buzz is going to create some money. A buzz equals money.
You’ve done a good press tour with the album, talking to some DJs like Kay Slay. Is the press helping on this?
Oh, hell yeah. I’m trying to be everywhere. I got the new project. As long as there’s something to talk about and something that’s new, I’m willing to do all interviews and radios. But before, we didn’t have nothing out so you didn’t see me at no readios. You didn’t hear about no Beatnuts. It was just going on tour and making quiet money.
Was that hard to lay low?
I mean, it’s all good. We could talk, but if there’s nothing to talk about, then what are we going to talk about? The same old Beatnuts story everybody knows? I want to talk about new shit. I want to feel excited again. I don’t want to just keep talking about “Reign of the Tec” and “Off the Books” and “Watch Out Now.” I got much more fire than that.
I’m sure. But there are younger writers who weren’t around when those songs appeared and it all seems new.
Definitely, man. Even the new cats is feeling the new album because it got the ‘90s feel. It’s right up here with whatever’s going on.
You’re one of the most respected producers and have longevity that most would love to have. Looking at the sound you established, how do you update your sound for 2016?
First of all, we’re still living in today’s times so I know exactly what’s going on. Before we drop any album, I always listen to completion and what’s out there and I hear what’s not being brought to the table so I try to bring you that shit what they’re not bringing you. A lot of this equipment shit has changed and me, personally, I stay up on all the new programs. I’m always learning new things. I’m into all that shit because I’m into good quality sounds.
What have been some of the newer advances you’re feeling?
On this album, I have a little bit of everything.I have S-950 songs. I have MPC songs. I have REason tracks. I have Ableton tracks. It’s a little bit of everything. I know I can tell the difference. I don’t know if the people can hear it.
Do you have fans trying to figure out what you’re using and digging for samples that you’re using?
Yeah. Like I tell people, man, equipment don’t really make a producer. You gotta have ideas and you gotta have breaks. You gotta have good ideas and that’s what’s going to make a good beat. You could have all the high tech-ass fuckign stidio and I could have a little MPC in the house and I can probably make a better beat than you. So that’s what I tell people. The crates holds the weight and what you’re going to do with them. There’s a lot of motherfuckers that’s got crates and they make a beat and it’s wack. I got hot crates and I’m making hot beats.
Do you still dig for records?
Yeah. I stopped digging in New York because New York is already dried up. Every time I travel and overseas I’m always hitting the stores in Japan. I was just in Slovakia and Germany. I’m out there catching foreign shit. Australia and shit. Terlalu,that’s what I’m into. I want to bring out that sound that hasn’t been heard yet.
What kinds of records can you find overseas that you can’t find here?
Oh, man. All kinds of songs. There’s all kinds of crazy Greek beats and loops. As long as it’s funky, you keep it funky, you keep it hip-hop, I fucks with all that shit.
I just talked to Showbiz about his production process and he said he’s got friends that will give him hard drives full of records.
Yeah. A lot of people do that. Marley Marl used to do songs like that. Biz Markie usd to bring the records and tell him to flip this, flip that. A lot of people think Marley Marl produced that shit but really it was Biz Markie’s idea. Large Professor used to bring him a lot of beats and drums and shit.
And Marley puts the finishing touches on it.
Yeah. That’s been going on for years. But there’s still people waiting for us at the hotels and they’ll take is to the spots. In France, our boy took us to a store and it was closed at the time but the dude opened the store just for us. Just mad 45s, all kinds of French shit. We kind of got that advantage when it comes to the beats. People look forward to fucking with the Beatnuts and pulling out and holding records for us and pulling out stashes and asking us if we have this or if we have this. Sometimes people do bless us with a lot of shit.
How do you decide if you’re going to actually buy a record?
I buy the record if I know I’m going to flip it. I always did it like that. I’ll hear something and if it’s unknown and I can flip it and make something bigger out of it, then I’m going to buy it. And sometimes, even if it’s just a nice record just to hear and shit. I’m over here in this park getting chewed up by mosquitoes.
It’s that time of the year. What’s your collection like today?
I still got stacks of crates. Just the other day I went to my basement and pulled out a couple of old crates because music changes. A couple years ago what I thought was probably wack is probably hot now. I was hearing a lot of new shit again, like, Oh shit! Times change and music changes.
What do you get out of working with your old engineer on Dank God?
The benefits is that we’ve known each other for years. He knows my sound and he knows how to fuck with our kind of music because we don’t do digital music. All that keyboards music is already big. It already comes with big reverbs and big sound effects and shit so when you’re fucking with samples and MPC drums and all that, you’ve kinda gotta EQ and make shit a little bigger than what it is to make it bang with whatever’s banging out there now. And you know, he knows our sound. His name is Chris Conway. He did all of our old shit, Musical Massacre and all that shit.
Has the way that you like your records being mixed changes over the years?
Not really. I still kind of use the same techniques and I still tweak everything up the same way, pretty much.
What’s it like approaching new songs as a solo artist or working with someone like R.A. instead of Juju?
It’s more work for me to do but at the same time, I’m working with the best artists and they kind of bring out the best in me too. So just working with R.A. and I gotta hold my own weight up there. I’m working with a lot of the best MCs out there so it just kind of makes me step my game up a little bit.
Do you prefer working in the studio with artists like R.A. and Vinnie Paz or are the collaborations sent through files?
Nowadays, whatever’s going to work, whatever’s going to be the fastest way. I was in California with B-Real. I did his radio station and I asked him if he wanted to get on the album so he told me to send him the beat. I sent him the beat and he sent me the verse. But I still was with him and all of that. It doesn’t matter. I mean, I don’t mind working with the artist in the studio. That’s cool because we can build on shit. Regardless, fi shit gets done. I just want the shit to get done.
How do you see your perspective as an artist changing as you grow older?
You’ve still gotta have fun with it, man. It’s still hip-hop. It’s grown music. It’s grown hip-hop. And we’re just spitting little kid shit. We’re spitting real shit, shit that we’re still living.
You mentioned earlier that you’re not feeling what’s out there today. What are you feeling the least?
I mean, I don’t consider the music trash. To me, it’s just not my style. Every music has its place in the music game. There’s a time and place for everything. But when it comes to hip-hop, I keep it authentic hip-hop. That’s what I try to bring. The dirty beats, the dirty rhymes, that good feeling shit.
The album surprised me. Was it supposed to be a surprise release?
Yeah. Every time we ever dropped anything. It was kind of out of left field. It was alway s in the mddiel of motherfuckers doing something.We would alway come and hit you with that other sound. I’m always in the studio anyways, in my own world. I don’t even listen to the radio and I don’t know how it is in the rap game. I know who I believe is hot and I got some of the hottest MCs on my project. Vinnie Paz. Crazy.
What have you kept in rotation lately?
I don’t listen to no new music, really. But you know, once in awhile you get a couple of good songs out there. The Lox, I got them on the album too. They’re still working on stuff. There’s still good MCs out there.
You mentioned Dank God Volume 2. What’s the timeline for that?
I got a lot of music. I just gotta tweak up things and move a couple things around. But right now Dank God 1 is brand new so I’m just working that shit this month. A little later after this month, I’m gonna be doing the “Ba Ba Bars” video with R.A. I’m just going to keep milking this album. I believe there’s a couple more singles on there and maybe do a couple of remixes on there too. There’s no need to rush into part two when part one has a lot of fire.
It sounds like there’s more in store for Pit Fight Records too.
Oh, yeah. Definitely. That was my thing on volume one, was for me to produce the whole shit and put on a lot of heavyweights. For part two I’ll have new producers and MCs that I believe in. I’m going to be bringing in a lot of new talent.
You’ve always had a great ear for talent when you look at who The Beatnuts have put on. What makes an artist stand out to you?
It’s a little bit of everything. You gotta have a good delivery, a good voice, good rhymes. Just everything. Even a good image. Even a good image, you have to have. There’s a lot of rappers that I know that are nice and their image is just super-plain and that’s why they ain’t nobody. We come from that era where MCs, like everybody has an image and everybody’s like a fucking superhero. So you gotta have that image, that star quality. You gotta believe in yourself too.
When you look at everything you’ve accomplished, what do you want your legacy to be when fans talk about Psycho Les twenty years from now?
You know, just that we loved this shit and we always did it with passion and we always had a passion for this shit. I was always doing this shit even when there was no money involved, just doing it from the love. Even from the beginning, it was all about the love for the art and the real shit and our whole shit is everybody always talks about the elements of hip-hop and it’s DJing and it’s this and nobody ever talks about how it’s digging in the crates. That’s a whole ‘nother culture in and of itself but a lot of people don’t know where these records come from. I met this girl one time and she thought that was me in the studio playing these horns and I looked at her like what are you talking about? They have no idea that ti’s us in there with the chops and it’s crazy.
Is there an accomplishment or specific moment in your career that you’re most proud of?
I mean, I’m proud of every moment, man. Every moment was big for me. Every album was a great album and by now, I’m real happy with this album and a lot of good things is happening. I’m around a lot of good people and just good things is happening so I’m just moving along with it, goin wit the flow. Hip-hop right now is in a good state. I just dropped my album. It has a real big buzz. De La Soul just dropped their album and it’s straight hip-hop again. If more artists drop their shit they can bring it back to what it used to be.
Have you and Juju been able to maintain your friendship over the years?
Honestly, the key between me and Juju and keeping it together is not being together all of the time. When you’re around motherfuckers all of the time you’re going to fucking drive each other crazy. You’re going to be fighting all the time. So that’s the key, really – stay away from each other. Do your shit and I’ll do my shit and when it’s time to work, we’ll come together. But I see him around and we’ll hang out, but we got our own worlds. He’s in Juju World and I’m in Psycho World.
I remember N.O.R.E. talking about his ups and downs with Capone too.
Yeah. Everyone goes through that shit. De La Soul had their fights. But the key is to stay away from each other. Just give each other space. Just know what motherfuckers have here.
The Liknuts album was a great concept when you first talked about it. Do you see the project still happening?
Oh, yeah. That album is done. We have like nine songs. E-Swift said he had a plan. So the whole shit with us, what really threw the album out, was we did a couple of tours and they were disaster tours. All the money got split up and everything got split up. You got five motherfuckes to psplit money with when we can make more money as Beatnuts and we can travel as Beatnuts and make more money than splitting shit up between five people. So that’s what really threw the album off. When the money got fucked up, we were like, Damn, we can’t even do a tour together. How are we going to do an album? We’re figuring it out, how we’re going to put this out.
I can see that being tough. Do you have more plans for getting out on the road?
For Beatnuts, yeah. Later this month we’re going to be in Canada. We got a couple of things. December, we got a big, big tour with Onyx, Lords of the Underground, Jeru, and Snowgoons, I believe. Yeah. We stay on the road. We just came from Germany. We were out there with Slick Rick and Onyx and I forget who else. A whole bunch of motherfuckers was out there.
With everything going on right now, what does a normal day look like for Psycho Les?
Every day I’m doing what I gotta do. Doing interviews and a lot of radio, a lot of press. As far as this album, it’s out and I’m trying to work this album.