In the realm of hip-hop legends, Havoc stands as one of the genre’s most iconic producers and MCs, a name synonymous with the raw energy of New York’s rap scene. Having crafted tracks that have rocked the world and collaborated with giants like The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Kanye West, Eminem, and many more, Havoc’s influence on hip-hop is indelible. As we commemorate the 50th year of hip-hop music, OurSong had the privilege of interviewing Havoc at a New York studio. This momentous occasion coincides with OurSong’s exciting announcement: the launch of the Havoc remix challenge, inviting musicians worldwide to reimagine Havoc’s tracks and join us in celebrating this historic milestone.
In the hip-hop world, remixes are an art form that breathes new life into familiar beats and lyrics. Havoc, a maestro of this craft, describes remix culture as simply “dope.” He acknowledges that some of his biggest songs have emerged from remixes, making him a staunch advocate of this creative practice.
Havoc also emphasizes the significance of fair compensation for creators. He believes it’s essential to ensure that artists are compensated fairly when their work is remixed or sampled. Havoc’s commitment to this principle adds depth to his character and reinforces the importance of recognizing and compensating musicians for their contributions.
Beyond remixes and compensation, Havoc generously shares insights into his musical journey. He discusses influential mentors, his favorite remixes, dream collaborations, his perspective on the best sample of all time, and his last five Shazams. These revelations set the stage for a dynamic conversation between Havoc and OurSong, offering a unique glimpse into the mind of a hip-hop legend.
What are your thoughts on remix culture and how do you feel about a world where creators can sample or remix freely without the fear of exploitation?
“I think remix culture is dope, you know what I mean? I like to remix songs and some remixes of mine are some of my biggest songs, so I’m a super fan of remixes. And I think what you guys are doing (open license) is pretty important right? You know what I mean, cuz you know, musicians, they create art, and they should be compensated for their art, and not taken advantage of and abused. Pay the musician cuz you’re already paying homage to him, right? So pay ‘em monetarily if you get paid off of that sample.”
The remix challenge track comes from Ali, one of our talented 17-year-old members, who teamed up with his buddy Jeek for the sample. What was your creative spark when you got your hands on the beat?
“When I first heard the beat, I was like, this is dope. It has a classical feel to it, with the sample. And then I was like, it’s upbeat. It’s something that, you know, a tempo that we used to use, like definitely in the 90’s, like more uptempo, kinda hip-hop beats, so it reminded me of that.
Definitely there were influences in the beat. You know, the beat just being uptempo off top, made me have to really pay attention to my flow, right? So I could fit enough words in there. And then, you know, like I said, with the classical music vibe sample, gave me like, a dark feeling that I could draw from.”
What advice would you give to those joining the campaign?
“My advice to people joining the campaign is have fun, you know what I mean? And just have fun with it, like for real. I mean, that’s what it’s all about, being creative and having fun.”
When you were coming up, what were some of the challenges you and your peers faced when it came to making music and getting paid properly?
“You know, when you’re new in the game, that’s always a challenge, cuz you don’t know the nature of the business, right? So the challenge was to learn the business as fast as we could, you know what I mean? To make sure that we got paid correctly. You learn on the job, none of us are born professionals. We come in, and we just learn on the job and try to learn as quickly as possible.
And yeah, you could face those challenges every day because you got people out there that still, you know, they don’t mean the best for you. And um, you gotta stay on top of your game, that’s why you gotta have good management, stuff like that.”
Can you share how mentors and collaborators like Q-Tip, Scott Free, and Matty C influenced your production style during your early career?
“That was really important because without that, I don’t think I could’ve even made ‘Shook Ones’, you know what I mean? Having them as mentors, you know, especially Matty C and Scott Free cuz I was a new producer, and then, you know, a lot of things I still didn’t know. And they used to take me like record shopping, or hit me with samples and stuff like that. And then Large Professor and Q-Tip and Premo, just watching them, seeing what they was doin’, and asking questions, played a really really big part.”
What was the best piece of advice that Prodigy gave you?
“I would have to say… um, to just believe, that you the fucking best, you know what I mean? He was like, if I ever doubted anything about Mobb Deep, he didn’t. He would reinforce it. His confidence was through the roof, so you know, if anything I got from him, it was a lot of confidence, cuz he was confident in Mobb Deep no matter what. Even when shit was down, you know what I’m saying?”
No doubt. And how have you helped put on someone coming up, whether it’s with game, or with opportunity?
“You know, I like to give advice to a lot of up and coming artists, like any artist, and stuff like that, and you know, nobody is specific but I always tell ‘em to never quit, never stop, and try to be original.”
In your opinion, what songs had better remixes than the original?
“In my opinion? I would say… ‘Quiet Storm’ you know what I mean? Like, to me. Even though the first one with Prodigy, that shit was dope. ‘Shook Ones’, right? Part 2 was definitely better than Part 1. Um..Oh, [A Tribe Called Quest’s] The ‘Scenario’ remix! Yeah yeah yeah, that was dope. That’s a classic remix right there, you know? That’s the remix of all remixes, matter of fact.”
Who were your favorite collaborations outside of the Mobb Deep albums?
“Mm, I have to say…Jadakiss’ ‘Why’. Yeah. Definitely.”
Is there anyone you still want to collaborate with?
“I would love to do a collab with Treach, or Naughty by Nature, that’s a fact. Naughty by Nature is one of my favorite groups of all time.”
Any musical heroes?
“Musical heroes, I got a lot. Definitely LL, Rakim, KRS-One, Run DMC, Sugarhill Gang, Tribe. Yeah, definitely.”
Best sample of all time?
“The best sample of all time would have to be ‘Shook Ones’. Those parts are like ‘Kitty With The Bent Frame’. Um, ‘Jessica’, and then uh, you know, ‘Happy Feet’, the drums like, the whole shit is crazy.”
There’s no stove on there, right?
“No, you know what I’m saying? People like to say that, but snares… I mean, hi-hats, they sound like *click* the ticking stove, you know what I mean? But I let people romanticize it [laughs] and I agree with them like, ‘Yeah, that’s a stove’ [laughs].”
Do you use Shazam? Do you mind if you pull up your Shazam and let us know what your last 5 Shazams were?
“I do. I was just using it in B&H just now, like the electronics store. I heard a song that I liked, that turned out to be SZA. So the SZA song was called ‘S.O.S’. I liked that. Umm, the next one before that was a song called, ‘MM MM’ featuring ATLJacob, Cali, by this girl named Cali. I wanted to know who did that. Another one was, the third one was, ‘Home Run’ by Joe Nichols. I don’t remember what that was, but it sounded good to me at the time. Um, and then, the fourth one is a song called ‘Baby Come Back’ by Player. And then the fifth one is, ‘Back At The Ranch’ featuring Jean Grae, Maurice Mo Betta Brown.
Are you more creative in the AM or PM?
“AM. Yeah definitely, the AM. I, you know, back in the day, it might have been the PM, but… I think, nah, it’s always been the AM for me, cuz I like to wake up and just… you know, you fresh, you working. Later in the day, you’re tired.”
Any upcoming projects?
“Yeah, I got music with Ras Kass. I got music with Method Man, full albums. I got music with, um, it’s a new artist, his name is Jay Royale. We are about to do some work. Um, yeah, so I’m just tryna stay busy.”