If you’ve heard Count Bass D’s music, then you know the extent of his talents. From chopping up samples to playing all the live instruments on his debut album, the man born Dwight Farrell is a one-of-a-kind artist. His career spans over 20 years now, ever since the first time he was assigned the same A&R that Nas had for Illmatic, and seeing how today is his birthday, we wanted to share a conversation we had with him earlier this year.
In our interview, Dwight talks about how he got his first label deal with Sony, recording with DOOM in Nashville, and being approached by the Metalfaced Villain to do a spiritual album. Plus, the Count tells us what he’s up to nowadays and what we can expect from him in the near future.
WatchLOUD: Your debut album Pre-Life Crisis turns 20 later this year. Talk about that album and how you got signed to Song.
Count Bass D: I recorded it from January to March of 1994, but I feel like Sony really was just looking for an opportunity to drop me. At that time, every month would go by and the storage would just keep building, so they finally released it in September of ’95 and I was just grateful to have gotten it released.
The way I got signed to Sony was initially because I was making a lot of noise in the greater Nashville area. I was going to college down there and there was a guy who had heard of me in Nashville, and right before Daddy Rich was the DJ for 3rd Bass, he did some DJing for the group, so he still had relations with Pete Nice. It was confusing, the way it went on, because back then you went in the studio with people and people are helping you out, but it wasn’t until the paperwork came through that I realized his vision of what he thought we were doing together was different from the vision that I had of what we were doing together.
So eventually Pete Nice approached me directly and asked if I would be on Hoppoh Recordings and be Kurious’ labelmate, and that’s what happened. That’s how I got signed.
I didn’t realize your debut album dropped on Hoppoh.
Yes indeed. Bobbito was the president, Pete Nice was the CEO, and at the time DOOM was being managed by Pete Nice through his other company Hit You Off management. That’s how I initially became in contact with the honorable MF DOOM.
So why did you feel like the label wanted to drop you?
Because at the time the A&R that I had was the same A&R that Nas had for Illmatic [Faith Newman], so even though they were excited about me at first, once they put me with her, I had some problems with the way my production was going. So I eventually had to play all the instruments myself because at the time I wasn’t a beat programmer yet, just a record collector. So I ended up turning in an album that was all live instruments.
I played most of the instruments on my first record, and that hadn’t been done before. The Roots had been signed one month before me, but they were also a collective. I was the only person as a solo artist playing his own music and doing it live like that. It was even hard for some people to embrace The Roots with live instruments, so for me not coming out of a metropolitan area like Philadelphia, I was getting a lot of backlash and I think [the label] just wanted to cut their losses.
But eventually Johnny Coppola, who was my radio promotion guy, snuck in a 12 inch that was etched on one side and the song “Sandwiches” on the other side. That got ran by Billboard, it became New & Noteworthy by a guy named Larry Flick, and as a result it started off this huge press storm, because back then people actually read magazines [laughs]. So my first piece of press was in Billboard, and at the time it was like, “How can you drop somebody who just got a piece of press in New & Noteworthy on Billboard?” So they kept stretching my contract out and extending it until finally they were like, “You know what? We’ll just put it out there and see what happens.” So I was happy that that’s what happened.
So you left the label after that?
I didn’t really leave the label. It was funny because I never really got an official letter saying, “Look here, you’re dropped from the label.” They just kind of stopped calling me. It was one of those passive aggressive type things. So it was around February of ’96 when I stopped attempting to be in contact with the record company, and it’s just been that way ever since. That was it.
A lot of people consider 1994 to be the greatest year in hip-hop history. What were you going through when you were recording Pre-Life Crisis?
As far as when I was making Pre-Life Crisis and eventually settling into the production style I chose for it, I was very influenced and inspired by J-Swift and the interludes that were on the first Pharcyde record. That’s what made me feel like I can at least play instruments on a hip-hop record and it not be blasphemy. And then also Larry Smith and a lot of the other people who had live instrumentation in their music at the time, I leaned on that.
But I’ll tell you one thing. There was one time I was doing a session for that album and I was feeling great and excited. And I’ll never forget it – the Wu-Tang Clan had an appearance on the Arsenio Hall Show and they were performing “C.R.E.A.M.” and when Raekwon specifically said, “So I got with the Wu-Tang Clan.” He changed the lyric, he didn’t say, “sick type clique,” he said “Wu-Tang Clan and went all out.” And he must have had at least 50 dudes on there with them. And the way they said “all out” at the same time, it crushed my spirit. I had to shut down the session that night. I just felt like I was completely outgunned, because I had no crew, no affiliation, no gang ties, nothing like that. I was just a musician trying to do my thing, but when I came back in the studio the next day, that’s when I felt like, “I don’t need anybody for anything ever again and I’ll never try to seek any type of affiliation with anything.” And I’ve been my own man ever since.
And at the time, I wasn’t even considered “real hip-hop.” They considered me a misfit or a maverick. They didn’t know what to do with me, so I felt like I was overqualified for hip-hop, that’s why later on the Dwight Spitz album I said, “rap music is beneath me,” because I felt that way at the time. I felt upset because my goal was to show that hip-hop had so much diversity and we could consider it a legitimate art form. But people were stuck on what was real and what was not real, and that kind of offended me, so eventually when I made Dwight Spitz that was out of angst to show people that if you think I can’t chop a kick, snare and hi-hat and just flip it, I guess I have to just do that.
DOOM has two guest features on Dwight Spitz. Were you two in the studio together when you recorded those tracks?
Yeah that’s what’s funny. The only song we’ve done where we weren’t in the studio together was “Potholderz,” and that’s because I had already had it done, but as far as “Quite Buttery” and “Make A Buck,” that came together because DOOM just called me up one day and came to Nashville and was like, “I’m on my way up there.” And he’d do that sometimes, just kinda drop in, and he’s the only person in my life I’ve ever allowed to just drop by my house unannounced like that. And Culture Freedom from Poor Righteous Teachers was there also.
My power went out for some strange reason, I donno if it was space heaters or what, I had a funny way that the electricity was hooked up to get power in the studio, and DOOM came up there and knocked it out. But it was at that session when he told me my friend, who I’d done a radio show with named Egon, worked at Stones Throw and was approaching [DOOM] about this guy from the West Coast who they wanted him to do an album with. And DOOM was asking me how I felt about it and I said, “Who’s the guy?” He said, “Somebody named Madlib, I’m not too familiar with his work.” And I said, “Man…that could be an incredible look. Your style with his style coming together could be a really incredible look.” And he said, “Bet…bet.” I think he just needed one more person to give him the green light on it, and the next thing I know, history was made.
I heard at one point that you and DOOM were supposed to make an album together. Count Bass DOOM or something like that.
Well I’ll tell you this. At one time DOOM approached me about doing some sort of spiritual type of album. He would just brainstorm with me sometimes and he’d say, “I wanna do this or that” but nothing was ever etched in stone. We don’t have many unreleased works together, so nah, that never materialized. I did tour with him for awhile, but I’m grateful as hell to have worked with somebody who I feel is the best, and also how rare it is for people to work with him. I had Just Blaze put me in a corner and just ask me questions [about working with DOOM] for awhile. It’s just wild because so many people want to work with him, but he just selects certain people to do business with, so I was very happy.
I feel like you guys have always worked so well together because your production style is so original.
Well I’m also almost exactly the same age as Sub-Roc, and when I first met DOOM one of the first things he said to me was, “Man, you remind me so much of my brother.” And it kind of took me back for a second and I stopped. I have an older brother that’s a little older than DOOM, so when we’re together I go into little brother mode, student mode, and all I’m trying to do is soak up as much game as possible, because the guy is smarter than most people that I’ve ever met.
What are you up to these days?
I’ve just been DJing because I’ve always collected records and spun, but I’ve always been more of a recording artist than anything, and now it’s getting to the point where being a DJ is essential at the same time. Meaning we do so much gathering of music and playing of music in order to create music, that the skill of DJing has been respected at such a high level that I have to take a part of it.
I took off finishing my next project which will should be Instantly New in the fall, and I’m also prepared to reissue two of my most celebrated records on vinyl – Dwight Spitz (available now right here) and also BegBorrowSteel. The negotiations with the company are still ongoing to reissue BegBorrowSteel, but because vinyl has become so important and people are telling me, “I just paid $500 for my copy of Dwight Spitz, I’m telling myself, “I’ve got to reissue these!” That’s just ridiculous, it’s not a Mickey Mantle baseball card, so I’ve got to go ahead and reissue it.
And BegBorrowSteel turns 10 this year as well.
Yeah. I decided the best way to do that without the companies making it all confusing was I just went down to Kinko’s, I pressed up 100 copies of CDRs and they sold out in like a day. So then [a Japanese label] Jazzy Sport approached me and asked if they could put it out in more of an official manner, and that was cool because it was the first piece of vinyl Jazzy Sport had ever put out. And then another company approached me about doing it worldwide, and BegBorrowSteel went on to become very successful for me. It was really a great thing.
Have you spoken to DOOM recently?
Nah DOOM and I, and it’s not bad blood or anything of that nature, but one thing about The Villain is he has a certain way, a certain vision of how he conducts his life, and if he feels you don’t fit into that way or whatever activities he’s got going on, he’ll leave you outside of that. So for whatever reason, it’s definitely to my benefit, because if he had a situation that he felt could benefit me, I would be the first person he would contact.