If you asked the average hip-hop fan today to pinpoint the origin of G-Funk, they’d probably say it was Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. That was the album that put the style of live synths and P-Funk samples on to the map for the world to see, followed by the arguable peak of the sound – Snoop Doggy Dogg’s ’94 debut LP Doggystyle.
But dig a bit deeper and you’ll find that G-Funk started years before The Chronic was even a thought. A guy named Cold 187um, a.k.a. Big Hutch, whose uncle was soul singer Willie Hutch, was the main producer behind Above The Law, a West Coast group that signed to Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records in 1989 and released their stunning debut album Livin’ Like Hustlers a year later. Anyone who’s heard Livin’ Like Hustlers knows that it’s the true source of G-Funk, not The Chronic, and it was Hutch who can be credited for first innovating the sound, not Dre.
G-Funk is still alive and well – just peep YG’s infectious new single “Twist My Fingaz” – but one place it hasn’t showed up is on Dr. Dre’s new album, Compton. Instead of resurrecting an old sound, Dre brought in the guy who innovated G-Funk in the first place, putting Cold 187um on “Loose Cannons” with another West Coast vet Xzibit. We caught up with Hutch to talk about the specific elements of G-Funk, his history with Dr. Dre, and how two old friends reconnected for an incredible record.
You started working with Dr. Dre on Above The Law’s first album Livin’ Like Hustlers, and both of you are credited as producers on the album along with Laylaw. What was the extent of each of your contributions to that album?
I was the producer at the time but no one could really get a full, big production credit and it was through Laylaw’s company. Laylaw was more the executive producer of Livin’ Like Hustlers. Dre assisted me, because I was a young producer coming up and hadn’t really ever made a record yet, so he assisted me on producing, but I came in and [Livin’ Like Hustlers] was probably 80% done as far as all the ideas. I think we had “Untouchables,” “Murder Rap,” “Menace To Society,” “Ballin,” “Flow On,” and one more joint. I think the only three records that me and Dre did from the bottom up would have been “Freedom Of Speech,” “The Last Song,” and “Just Kickin’ Lyrics,” I want to say to it was. Everything else, I had already been in crates, doing my thing. Finding the grooves and putting them together.
The way Dre helped was that a lot of that stuff I recorded on 8 and 16-tracks, we bumped it up to 24-tracks for a sharper, cleaner sound. So he came in and we re-laid everything.
One thing people might not know is that Warren G and Snoop Dogg were originally your artists, right?
Absolutely. We were in the process of doing an original Lawhouse production roster. Me and Warren was tight in the Ruthless days and he used to always tell me about this kid Snoop, so when Snoop got home from youth camp or whatever, [Warren] brought him around and we were working on Vocally Pimpin’ at the time. Then we started getting into Black Mafia Life and wrapped that album up. That was around the time that N.W.A. broke up, and during the break-up that’s when [Warren G and Snoop Dogg] decided to go on with Dre and stop dealing with me and Lawhouse/Ruthless.
You were also originally supposed to be on Dre’s “Deep Cover,” hence why the song goes, “Cause it’s 187 on a mother*ckin’ cop.”
Yeah, because at the time we were all working together. We were working on the Deep Cover soundtrack and we were all still on the same label. But when things started getting crazy, half of us stayed at Ruthless and the other half went on to Death Row. The whole little “187!” was my tag for everything, that’s just who I am. And it was more like homage to me, not a biting thing. That was the vibe we had in our clique. That’s the way we said stuff.
You’ve said in the past that you took specific elements from Above The Law’s debut album Livin’ Like Hustlers to solidify the sound of G-Funk.
A lot of that was just being diverse. Coming up in that era, you were more commended for being diverse. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, and create your own formula just to be different. That’s how it kind of evolved into something that was different from having a group that was kind of saying the same thing that N.W.A. was saying, a street commentary type of group, but had a different sound sonically.
What were the specific elements you developed from Above The Law’s first album to fully form G-Funk?
The grooves, the vibe of it, and maybe a bit of the lyrical snap. The only thing I think became a little different on Vocally Pimpin’ was the flyness of stuff. Bells, sirens, stuff like that. More raw synthesizers over like, a dope sample, or a dark groove with strings and humming or singing over it. Because there wasn’t a lot of that on Livin’ Like Hustlers. There was a little, but we kept the hard-edged, raw, street informative stuff and then we made it more funky and melodic. Livin’ Like Hustlers was a very funky record to me, but when we did Black Mafia Life that was smoother, fly, fun, funky.
80% of what you’re hearing on Livin’ Like Hustlers is the raw demo approach. None of it is fabricated, like “Oh yeah, me and Dre went in there and re-produced the whole thing.” It’s still the way that the demo was.
In 2008 you gave an interview and said you were not in contact with Dre at all. How did you two re-connect for Compton?
Through Laylaw. I guess Law was still working with Dre through the movie [Straight Outta Compton] and I was working on my new project, which Law is co-executive producing with me. We were talking about the old times and I said, “Man I’d love to hear from Dre and see how he’s doing.” So I just called him at like two in the afternoon, text him and he text me back like, “Ayy! Like old times!” And from there he told me that he was working on a project that was inspired by the movie. He said when he got back into town, would I come through and check out some of the songs and give him my take on it. He called me when he was back, I went through, listened to some joints, vibed with it, loved the majority of it, and loved it even more when he asked if I would come aboard and be on a track. Just old friends kickin’ sh*t around. It wasn’t no executive type of sh*t.
What was it like recording for “Loose Cannons”?
I was there when the beat was being laid all the way up to the last skit where we’re burying the body. The cool thing about it was that it was like how we used to do it back in the day where you came in, heard the beat in its embryo stage, you heard things get put on top, then you laid your vocals and laid more on top of that. The song kept on building to what you got today. It wasn’t like a file was sent to me or the record was already done and I came in and did my 16. I experienced that whole process with Dre, and that’s something that I think a lot of people who create music now don’t experience.