Hi. Kindly stop Tindering/Netflixing/studying right now and listen to this mixtape. Or listen to the mixtape while you Tinder/Netflix/study. I don’t mind, either way – just listen.
If you’re a living, breathing human who metabolizes glucose and binds oxygen to hemoglobin, English musician FKA twigs’ LP1, gave you some kinda feels. Assuming you are still human, you know the late Biggie Smalls persists as a hip-hop legend. But if you don’t (know)/are not (human, that is): FKA twigs is all deep, woozy beats and whispery vocals, equal parts syrup and salt. Biggie aka Biggie Smalls aka The Notorious B.I.G. (among other things), was an East Coast rap giant flaunting the most cerebral of lyrics and unparalleled flow. And that’s about all the background you need to enjoy FKA Biggie, by trusted mashup master Terry Urban. The 8-track was released March 9, on the 18th anniversary of Biggie’s passing in an L.A. drive-by shooting.
Quite a few people get quite angry when any current artist attempts to retouch the greats. Urban is surely above reproach, though, sampling with demonstrated finesse. The NYC-based Cleveland native has been DJing for 15 years, and making mashups for at least 10 of them. A few successes are 2008’sViva la Hova (Coldplay/Jay Z), 2009’s Me & Mr. Jones (Amy Winehouse/Nas), 2012’s Born Ready to Die (Lana del Rey/Biggie) and last year’s SBTRIGGY (SBTRK/Iggy Azalea). One can see he has an ear for titles: “Video Girl Dreams,” “Two Weeks in Cali,” and “Come Closer Poppa” are personal favorites off FKA Biggie. He happens to skateboard and paint, as well.
Stream the entire mixtape below, and read our interview with 37-year-old Renaissance man Terry Urban, below that.
Sadaaf Mamoon: How did you get started making music?
Terry Urban: Well, I’ve been DJing for years and years, and producing almost as long. I guess I’ve always had a connection with music, ever since I was young. I’ve been skating my whole life, and most of the videos with skating in them are set to hip-hop – scratching. I’d hear it, but not know what it was. Then I saw this DJ set, by The Executioners – scratchy stuff. And I was like, “Holy shit, this is what I want to do.” I basically taught myself how to DJ, and when I learned patterns and bars, I realized I could create my own.
But I never knew how it was done. I never went to music school, new how production worked, any of that. I went to art school in Cleveland for a hot second. It was lesson learned. Then I moved to San Diego to be a pro skateboarder, when I was a teenager.
How did that go?
Yeah… pretty gnarly.
And then you came to the city?
I moved to Park Slope around 10 years ago. Mine’s been a long path. The moment I turned 18, I was out the door, headed as far from home as possible. And San Diego was the mecca of skating. When I moved out to California, Zoo York made a video called Mixtape – probably the best skate video ever – and I watched the Harmony Korine film Kids. Those are what influenced me to come here. I was like, “Why am I not living in New York?”
How did you parents feel about your lifestyle?
They were really supportive, actually. They split when I was a baby. Every skater I knew, growing up in the ’90s, came from a dysfunctional family. Nowadays, watching skating events is like watching football. In my day, it was way cooler. So my parents got it – they let me do whatever, as long as I finished my homework. They really understood me wanting to work for myself. I tried 9-to-5s – they weren’t my thing.
So now it’s just music and skating?
And art. I just started painting again, because I was looking for a new way to express myself.
Nice, what kind of art?
I do everything from commission pieces – portraits, abstracts, acrylics, canvas — to random stuff I like. I’m all around the board right now, experimenting. My art is totally influenced by music. I can’t paint unless I have music on – anything from classical to FKA twigs.
I was painting heavily at the time I first listened to her. It was the first time I was trying this really expressive style, art-wise. I didn’t pay any attention to the painting, just listened to the music. And then, when I stepped back at the end, I realized it was sort of a surreal self portrait that I had no idea I was painting! And I started thinking maybe I should do something with FKA twigs. It was the first time in a while I felt motivated to put out music again.
Why did you stop?
I’m going through my first mid-life crisis, at 37. I feel like someone plugged a hard drive into my head and made me a hundred times wiser. This past year I went through a breakup, shit with my booking agency, I’m moving, my life is changing. It’s been crazy for me. This album means a lot to me.
I put a lot into it in terms of self-expression. Before, I was just constantly putting stuff out, trying to get gigs and get famous. Now, it’s more about expressing my feelings. I’m more in tune with my emotions, I guess more “emo,” now [cue toothy grin]. I think art’s pushed that out of me. When I started painting again, my mind exploded, and I think this album reflects that, which is really awesome. Painting has helped my music so much.
Producing can be very straightforward, technical. It’s always pattern stuff – make this drum hit with this snare. FKA twigs is way out there in terms of pattern, erratic and lovely. She’s kind of led me off the beaten path, taken everything more right brain. I see the laptop and the canvas the same way now – I’m super stoked. You know how The Wizard of Oz is all black and white, and suddenly jumps to color? That’s exactly how I feel right now. It hit me really hard.
I’m going to go as far right-brain as I want, now. People enjoy this. There are lots of haters out there, though. When I did the Lana/Biggie album, people were like, “Oh my god, Biggie is rolling in his grave right now.” And racist stuff like, “How could you do this with a white bitch?” This album’s gotten much less hate – the worst was maybe, “Oh, it’s Biggie and some hipster chick, how original.” I’m just trying to respect him, and help keep his presence going.
How long did this mixtape take you?
Only about two weeks in February. It flew – went so much faster than anything else I’ve done. The first couple of days were tough – her range just goes everywhere. It was tough to figure out exactly what I wanted to sample. As soon as I got her rhythm down, it flew. And Biggie is easy. Biggie is legend.
How do you balance your art with your music?
You go back and forth, back and forth. I don’t have a 9-to-5 job, so I have all the time in the world to paint for a few days, make music for a few days, paint again. Whatever I feel like when I wake up that day.
I’m moving out of my current place soon, since I’ve been painting again. I’m trying to get my own studio space. Right now, I have a music studio in a brownstone in Park Slope, but I’m stepping over my art – very tight, very yuppie. My buddy has a place in Williamsburg, which is more in the scene, and I’m looking to set up there.
I don’t know why I’m picturing a fat cat chilling in the corner. Do you have any pets?
No! I’ve always really wanted a dog, though.
Why don’t you get one?
I’m traveling too much. I have a residency at Feria, out in Tokyo, so I’m there a lot. I’ll usually stay for two to three months, so a dog definitely wouldn’t want to be dragged out there. I travel throughout Asia, when I’m there. I’ve probably been in Asia half the time, this past year, DJing four nights a week. It’s fun.
Very cool. Who are some of your musical influences?
I love House, Twerk, Trap. A Tribe Called Quest is probably one of my favorite groups of all time. Biggie, obviously – love old-school hip-hop. I love outlaw country, like Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. As far as DJs are concerned, The Executioners, Jazzy Jeff, A-Trak are all huge influences. I could name stuff all day.
I feel like a lot of DJing now is associated with EDM [electronic dance music]. I’m not so into that. It’s kind of dying down now, but for the past few years it was such a thing. It kind of made me hate DJing, to be honest. I’m into soulful stuff. EDM is rockstar-status versus sweaty basement dance party. And that’s where DJ was born, in the park or a grimy basement. That’s what it’s supposed to be about. It’s not about making a gazillion dollars and playing out to a sports arena. I’m not hating on EDM, but I’d rather DJ in a basement and play whatever I want.
What’s your ideal crowd?
Like, LES. Grimy. All ethnicities, people who know music. Not trust fund kids who live on the Upper West Side coming down to Chelsea to hear “I Don’t Fuck With You” five times in a row. That’s not my crowd.
Do you have any advice for would-be DJs and producers?
The scene is so flooded. Everyone’s a DJ, these days. The barista here is probably a DJ when the sun goes down. I’d say try to be unique. Move the crowd in a new way. And learn the craft – don’t just hit buttons. Learn the history, the mechanics, the sounds.
Are you signed to a label?
No, I do freelance production for different labels, though. I’d love to produce more. It’d be cool to be a Diplo, or somebody like that – not the same style of music, I’m not a big-arena DJ.
Yes, it’s me producing the songs, but it’s not my original music. Obviously, it’s a little original, but in the end it’s two people you’re sampling. It’s more of a business card for me, I guess – I respect the artists so much, and I love putting their shit together and putting it out. I know the average person is more concerned with FKA twigs or Biggie than they are with Terry Urban.
But they should be concerned with Terry Urban.
That’s what’s up.
(This article was originally posted by Sadaaf Mamoon on NYU Local. Title image via Terry Urban).