He’s worked with EPMD, Eric B & Rakim, KRS-1, LL Cool J and Alicia Keys…He could be the Godfather of Sampling and inventor of hip hop’s beloved remix. So how come you haven’t heard about him until now?
When it is all said and done, Ivan Doc Rodriguez will go down in the rock 'n' roll or hip hop hall of fame-or both-as one of music’ greatest producer-remixer-sound engineers of all time; he’s the tri-fecta. Ivan Doc Rodriguez is the name behind some of the most honored classic pop-rap albums in music history. You know those albums, the kind of albums that are often listed in large publications as the top 100 or 50 albums of contemporary music: Eric B & Rakim’s Paid in Full, KRS-1 and Boogie Down Productions’ Criminal Minded, By Any Means Necessary, LL Cool J’s Grammy-nominated Mama Said Knock You Out and all five of EPMD’s classic albums. These are albums that are beyond worthy of mention. And Ivan’s list of credits does not stop there. Starting in the late 80’s and into the mid 90’s, Ivan worked with Redman, The Fugees, Biz Markie, MC Lyte, DAS-EFX and ED OG and The Bulldogs.
It’s time to consider Ivan ‘Doc’ Rodriguez in the discussion of hip hop’s greatest producer. It’s that serious. Top five or bust. His roll call speaks for itself:
[Drawn from Discomusic.com]
- All five EPMD LP recordings which includes (5 gold / 1 platinum RIAA awards) Strictly Business, Unfinished Business, Business As Usual, Business Never Personal, and Back In Business.
- KRS-1 and Boogie Down Productions (2 gold RIAA awards) legendary LPs Criminal Minded and By All Means Necessary.
- Biz Markie (3 gold / 2 double platinum RIAA awards) I Need A Haircut, Just A Friend.
- Eric B and Rakim’s (1 gold / 1 platinum RIAA award) classic LP Paid In Full.
- Rodriguez produced several recording artists including rap's number one lady with MC Lyte’s Poor Georgie single (that included portions of the disco classic “Poor Georgie”), which marked the first time a solo female rap act achieved a gold record.
Ivan also engineered and co-produced the historic single, “Self Destruction”, marking the first time rival rap artists from the East and West coast collaborated for a project with a cause for peace in the violence and drug infested 1980s. These are just a few of his hallmark accomplishments.
For more detailed information on Ivan’s reign in the music industry check out his credits at allmusic.com, where his exact contributions to some of the biggest records in hip hop during the 80s and 90s are documented.
The fact of the matter is Ivan improvised methods in improvising push-button studio technology and helped to innovate a new sound for hip hop.
This is why he’s Doc.
Live from Hell’s Kitchen
Ivan’s story begins on 48th street between 9th & 10th Avenues in Manhattan; New York City. It was an infamous block of real estate during the fast moving 1970’s. Hell’s Kitchen is forever known as that tough Irish-Italian-Puerto Rican-black neighborhood along with the other tough neighborhoods of Manhattan like the Lower East Side, Washington Heights and Harlem. If the kitchen was tough, it also produced some of the biggest names in music; Alongside Ivan, there’s Alicia Key’s-who Ivan remembers seeing while growing up-and Lisa-Lisa from Cult Jam…Yo Spanador holler at us!
Ivan grew up listening to Soul, Funk, R&B and Disco. He's a sound person by nature, a right brain-dominated technocrat loaded with creativity, but he also developed a solid knowledge of music from being a DJ.
His introduction to the profession might have began when his sister “accidentally” snuck him into a nightclub as a teen, where a fascinated Ivan had the opportunity to soak up the sounds of NYC nightlife. It was the NYC club anthem/classic “Love is The Message” by MFSB that gave him the adrenaline rush which foreshadowed his future career events.
After numerous negotiations with his father regarding equipment, Ivan managed to pull off two turntables, plus the world famous Clubman mixer. After buying his equipment, the coveted DJ work arrived as demand for the man also known as “Dee-Jay Doc” began. He started spinning at Manhattan clubs like Inferno and the Starship. Meanwhile, his equipment inventory expanded, which left him with no other option but to go completely mobile. It was the mobile DJ status that led him to becoming a background DJ for artists like Spyder-D, a very early 80s rap pioneer with the hit “Smurfies Dance”. You know, it was that classic:
Head / shoulders / knees and toes / Smurf that body across the floor.
The smash hit of 1983 heard around the world.
Doc met Spyder through a neighborhood friend and aspiring rapper named Speedy. Speedy would often ask Ivan to come by his house to rap, since Doc had the equipment as well as the juice. At first, Ivan shrugged off Speedy’s idea since the whole rap-shouting thing turned him off with its non-stop talk over the mic that hi-jacked the whole DJ show. Regardless, after establishing mutual acquaintance, Speedy asked Ivan to come with him to Power Play studios in Queens. Upon arrival, Ivan was introduced to Spyder and the inevitable happened.
Finally, after all the suspense of being thrown into the fire alive, the two-week gig was over. He was hired at the world famous Power Play Studios permanently.
From those sessions, he developed a quick reputation within the industry as the person to work with. He had a solid grasp of production and mixing, and a big studio presence, prerequisites for engineering throughout rap’s fertiles beginning, where its sound was evolving daily. Ivan would later join KRS-1 and BDP as the official DJ and uncredited producer following the fatal shooting of BDP’s chief beat king, Scott La Rock. Ivan would have a large hat to wear in the upcoming BDP albums.
Studio Alchemy 101: Sampling-Looping and The Remix
This is the part of Ivan’s story that gathers the most attention in his contribution to hip hop, but you have to rewind back to the years of 1983-84 to understand.
Following the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rappers Delight”, rap exploded in 1983-84 with groups like Grandmaster Flash, Run-DMC, Kurtis Blow, Syder-D, Divine Sounds, Dr Jeky’ll & Mr. Hyde, Treacherous 3, Fearless 4, Fresh 3 MC’s, Fat Boys and Whodini. That time period was great for hip hop. You had several powerful independent acts on independent labels flooding clubs, radio and mix shows with a constant barrage of hits. There was Pumpkin and The All-Stars on Profile Records with the hit of the summer in 1984 “King of The Beat”; Ultimate 3 MC’s- “What are we gonna do about it” on Partytime Records. There was the unforgettable FREEZ with John Rocca -“I want it to be real” and “IOU” on Streetwise Records. The independents had the clout. DJs like Chuck Chill Out, Red Alert, Marley Marl, Mr. Magic and The Latin Rascals filled the air waves with master-mixes playing their rap and club hits. The sound was raw, authentic and real big. Powerful drums, keyboard melodies, and sing-along raps ruled the day with innovating producers: Arthur Baker’s shakedown sound, Kurtis Blow, Spyder-D, Orange Krush, Davey-DMX Rod Hui and others creating the official stamp for the “NY Sound” of rap music.
In 1985, rap slowed down to a trickle as the groups were riding on the hits and commercial success from their first albums and into their second. The Roland TR-808 arrived to bring in a new crisp and electronic sound. The group Mantronix literally created the new sound with the smash hit’s “Fresh is the Word”, “Bassline” and “What is it” featuring MC Tee on Sleeping Bag records. Producer Curtis “Mantronic” of Mantronix drastically changed the sound using the 808 and kick drum sound as the industry standard in production. In fact, one can argue that the roots of Dirty South hip hop came from New York’s adoption of the 808 heard in the early records of Luke and The 2 Live crew-Miami bass sound, New Orleans bounce and the slower paced 3-6 Mafia style from Memphis, Tennessee. If you listen to Just Ice’s “Back to the Old School” LP, any Mantronix LP, or T-La Rock, the evidence is there. The 808 played a major significance in the sound shift in NYC and giving birth to the south.
While history was taking place, Ivan was perfecting his skills as a DJ, practicing blends and mixes, listening for quarter notes, eighth notes and sixteenth notes, grooming himself to be the ultimate mixologist.
Fast forward to 1987, following Ivan’s production work for Criminal Minded and Paid in Full. As the uncredited producer, he experimented until he ultimately innovated new textures and sounds. Technology was limited and apt to get extra freaky. The 808 had already defined the 1985-86 era but Ivan found a way to expand on the range of its capabilities with sheer machine wizardry.
Being a technocrat, he found a way to re-create the kick drum sound by using the mixing console, sampling the sound and tuning the outcome of the sound to bass-lines in songs. This was problem solving by process of deduction and innovating new steps in production. He would also experiment heavily with KRS-1 in what he calls “panning” (as opposed to the normal studio use of the word), where he would bring excitement to a record by making it sound like a storm. Before Ivan’s panning idea, there weren’t that many sources of sound to create effects like his “double bass” sound.
However, the sound barrier was altered when the Criminal Minded LP dropped. Instantly, you could tell the difference in sound from the earlier hip hop records of the 80’s compared to Ivan’s influence in EPMD’s, KRS-1’s and Eric B and Rakim’s material. Clearly, the new era of rap had begun.
Ivan also developed his own techniques for looping and sampling, a technology that, at the time, was not perfect. Ivan worked around the limitations. He would record a sample of a sound then loop the tape on which the sound was recorded around the tape machine heads, holding the extra slack from the tape of an extended path from the machine with a pencil! He’d also break the “10-second sample rule” which back then, allowed 10 seconds for recordings. Before Ivan figured out how the mixing console automation could improve this set-back, the standard industry “10 second way” required a lengthy process for sampling. Ivan eliminated most of the steps, and the results are what you hear on Paid in Full, EPMD’s five LP’s, and BDP’s first three albums. For instance, Ivan would play a part from a record at a lower speed and then sample the part at a higher speed using a lower sounding key on a keyboard. Then he'd play it back at the correct speed, thereby extending the sample from one second to three seconds.
On the KRS-1 Boogie Down Productions single “Stop The Violence”, Ivan used his engineering skills by reversing the DJ scratch. He flipped the recording tape upside down on the tape machine and rewound it 40 seconds, playing the groove on an open track. This was the first time a reverse scratch was used. It worked brilliantly.
Another regular scenario: MC Lyte and EPMD would bring pre-recorded grooves and tracks to the studio on cassette tape. Ivan would run the hissy originals over six different channels on the mixing board, removing the hiss and filtering the sound to give his artists something clean to work with.
The remix is probably the most overstated, overrated, and overused concept in hip hop. Much has been said of the remix while many have claimed to have exclusive rights over it, invented it, bought it back to life; you name the philosophy of the month. The reality is that the remix has been around longer than everyone who lays claim to it. Try 1982 to start. A man by the name of Shep Pettibone, who has done remix work for 80’s icons like Madonna, would add his touch to original versions of a 12” single by making a special club mix for DJs when they would play at clubs. World famous DJs like the Latin Rascals would edit and chop their mixes every weekend on WRKS-FM NYC. Technically, the Rascals were chopping and screwing their mixes back in 1984 before Houston’s DJ Screw introduced it to Southern rap and hip hop in general.
At the time, the Rascals style was known as “processed and edited mixes” in which they overdubbed instrumentals into their mixes. A Latin Rascal mix on cassette was like gold. Either you had to steal a copy or stay up late and record it live on the radio. You can still hear several ‘Official’ Latin Rascal mixes at deephousepage.com today.
Ivan should be credited as one of the first people to re-introduce the remix to mainstream hip hop in 1988 on the hit single “Serious” featuring Philadelphia rapper Steady-B and KRS-1. DJ Chuck Chillout played the single live for the first time the day after Christmas on KISS-FM . I was listening in at the time. After playing it, the phone lines lit up with callers requesting the record’s title. In the following weeks, the single became the most requested song on the east coast, including major play on DJ Red Alerts show, and on Yo-MTV rap’s Top Video 10 countdown:
It was hip hop’s first breakout remix on a wider mainstream scale. The single begins with KRS-1 shouting “DJ Doc [Ivan] break it down like this,” followed by a sinister horror movie-like synthesized keyboard before the song breaks in with a massive bass drum heavy beat, a funk filled bass groove and cowbells. Maybe because it was such a novelty, KRS-1 breaks into the track repeatedly shouting “this is a remix,” and “because this is a remix, we will now take the time to remix it.” It was a 360° improvement from the original “Serious” found on Steady B’s Let The Hustlers Play.
Sterling Steel: While doing some research, I noticed something very disturbing. I saw that it said you were the first Latino engineer mixer. I have a problem with this because when it’s all said and done you are a hip hop P-I-O-N-E-E-R! We are talking about some Rolling Stone Magazine classic-rock-albums-of-all-time status. I have a problem with all this first stuff and not giving you due respect by these so-called pseudo-journalists and so called hip hop historians. Let’s keep these Jim Crow laws out of hip hop and stop the segregation. Sorry, but I had to bark on that. How do you feel about that?
Ivan Rodriguez: I have no control over the way those that “write” make their decisions. I learned to not let that type of thing roll off my shouler. Those that “know” know who I really am and what I mean to this genre of music.
SS: Do you think the media does a poor job reporting hip hop?
IR: I’m just too low profile for most to notice me. I have never been caught up in the hype, I never wore big chains or smoked big bluts or committed big crimes, I simply make legendary records and go home.
SS: Where about are you from in Hell Kitchen? Did you ever run into Alicia Keys?
IR: The heart of Hell’s Kitchen, 48th Street between 9th and 10th avenues. Yes I did see Alicia, she lived in the Manhattan Plaza Buildings on west 43rd street. She also took part in a session at my private facility Must Rock Digital.
SS:When you were coming up as a DJ, I read about some kid named Speedy from the neighborhood who used to come by your crib who wanted to rap.
IR: He was (and continues to be) a great friend. He was knee deep into the “Throw Ya Hands In The Air” genre of rap. He sounded good at that. Really good.
SS: At that time, you were DJ’ing. What were the rap songs that you were feeling?
IR: Very early stuff on Enjoy Records, Tuff City and Sugarhill Records.
SS: Did you meet Spyder-D before or after his hit “Smurfies Dance”?
IR: After. I’m sure he was impressed with my dedication to education and my very hard work ethic.
SS: You picked up the whole essence of the craft very fast considering you were asked to step in and work on the Eric B & Rakim Paid In Full album when the other engineer was sick. Did The Eric B camp have doubts since you were asked to substitute?
IR: All I can say to you is that Rakim and I got along very, very well. Really, that was all that mattered to me. I learned fast because I wanted to be great. So, I kept my ears open and my mouth shut.
SS: What was a typical day like working on an Eric B. & Rakim classic album?
IR: As far as in the studio goes, it was sampling in a primitive Publison infernal machine, then adding percussion and creating the necessary flow, then letting the two second marching loop as the incredible Rakim would sit there and write a masterpiece. He would then proceed to go into the vocal booth, turn his back to the engineer and recite magic into the mic. That's what a typical day was like.
SS: You worked on all five EPMD albums and received awards for that among other albums. What did EPMD think of you?
IR: I believe that I was an integral part of the EPMD hit machine. We have great respect for each other and i'm very honored to have been a part of that whole EPMD Legacy.
SS: You also worked with the BIZ on the double platinum "Just a Friend" single… Man how did you pull that off?
IR: Hmmm... that's trade secrets! I recorded massive hits for Biz Markie as well as for the rest of his camp... like 'Kid Capri, Grand Daddy I.U., Diamond Shell. I designed and built a full service (early digital) studio in New Jersey for him as well.
SS: Okay. Everybody thinks P. Diddy "invented the remix," like his Bad-Boy compilation says, but the first time I heard someone on record talking about a remix was that KRS-1 w/ Steady B single "Serious". I must have jumped out of my seat when I heard those horns and that synthesizer. That cut sounded M-E-A-N! The phone lines were ringing when DJ Chuck Chillout played it on KISS-FM. What made you decide to do that remix? And what do you think about all this remix stuff since you set it off first in 1988!
IR: The remix is something I've been doing before folks even knew what the word meant. I was creating remixes with two Gerrard turntables, a Clubman mixer and an Aiwa stereo cassette deck then taking the cassette to Sunshine Sound in New York and having those remixes recorded onto acetates before anyone had a CLUE as to what a remix was... I'm not impressed!
SS: What did you do for the MC Lyte track "Cappuccino" and how did MC Lyte hear of you?
IR:MC Lyte knew of me through the Power Play studios grapevine, those that knew hits knew to hire 'Doc' Rodriguez at Power Play. I remixed that and several other songs for Lyte as well as co-writing and producing her biggest commercial success to date "Poor Georgie".
[Doc and Lord Shafiq, 1986]
SS: Okay DOC we going to make this simple for the readers... LOL. Explain briefly how you got to work with the following below, what you did exactly and how they heard of you:
LL Cool J
IR: Through EPMD then Marley called me to work on the 'Mama' LP.
SS: The Fugees
IR: Their management (out of New Jersey) called my office and asked if I could work on their first LP out of The House of Music in West Orange, NJ. I agreed, they sent a car for me and my staff daily until I finished the project. I found Pras to be really good people.
IR: EPMD Camp
SS: Das Efx
IR: EPMD Camp
SS: Are you known more for your sound engineer reputation or as a record producer? What's the difference?
IR: It all depends on who you ask. I am very well versed on both stages. Many early projects did not carry the proper credits for me and made quite A few people very famous for being so-called producers. The difference between the two is huge.
SS: I guess you were on The Rush Producers management roster. How did you get involved with Rush? What did Russell Simmons say about your work?
IR: They had me sit in their office, and stated that they were "well aware" of what I actually did for an artist (versus what people said that I "only" did) and how important I was to the genre. then, They signed me.
SS: I read you used a Bozak mixer, correct? Was that the inspiration for one of EPMD songs LOL.
IR: No it was not. When I used a Bozak brand mixer it was to blend the audio from two discrete sources (two analog turntables) whereas they used the word "Bozak" to refer to their crotch!
SS: What was the pay like working on those albums and DJ'ing for Spyder D?
IR: Spyder was ALWAYS honest and fair with me. I thank him forever for were there not him there would not be me.
SS: You are celebrating your 20th year in the industry… any parties for you yet?
[Doc with La Bruja]
IR: Too busy working on the new La Bruja LP, For Witch it Stands and I have not planned any parties.
SS: How did you get to work with the Latin Rap Conference?
IR: I went to Los Angeles to share some of my experience in the music industry with my fellow musicians. I made the contact through MySpace. Big shouts to the folks at the LRC and mi gente from the west coast!
SS: What's it like working with Latin artists from the west since the east is entirely different?
IR: Very interesting, but at the end of the day it's about making great music that we'll be proud of 20 years down the road!
SS: Any projects you're working on now? What about that Must Rock facility?
IR: Busy working on the new La Bruja LP, For Witch it Stands. Mustrock Digital, NY is in full swing for 2008 with fully digital compliments. I am very proud of it and its capabilities.
SS: I read that you brought a whole new sound to rap. Explain.
IR: Biz Markie referred to it as the "double bass sound." I make thick and juicy records, that simple. My records have real balls while still filling the audio spectrum with expansive flavor! That's why I'm still number one!
SS: Are you the godfather of sampling and looping? I read about your techniques. That's some real Harry Potter type stuff?
IR: I pioneered many styles in sampling, I will let time make those observations.
SS: I got to ask this question because I know it's coming soon. There'll be idiots who'll say: yeah, DJ Doc was behind those classic albums, but did he make beats? Is he like a Marley Marl or DJ Scratch or a whoever? All DJ Doc did was sit in the studio and play with the sound board.
IR: Some of the greatest records in the history of this industry that carry my name as engineer were actually produced BY ME. Being new to the game I did what I did to survive and to feed my family so therefore there is a lack of credits. I can make "beats" with my eyes closed and they will never be flukes because I actually know how to make a record and not just loop someone else's ideas!
SS: How much of this producing stuff is overrated? You constantly hear the overnight experts saying so and so did the beats but only co-produced it… etc. PLEASE add something to stop these senseless arguments. Anything. LOL.
IR: Making "beats" is not considered producing a composition. Nuff Said!