Kenny Dope’s Beatport Interview

Kenny Dope is a name synonymous with the heyday of New York house music. On his own, and as part of the fabled Masters At Work duo (alongside Louie Vega), Dope helped define the sound of NYC house, combining hip-hop, Latin, and funk influences to yield a whole catalog of potent dancefloor weapons.

As part of our ongoing Icons and Their Inspirations series of charts and interviews, we asked Dope to share with us some of the history he took part in as an leading DJ and producer during one of house music’s most fertile eras. Read on to find out more about his roots and the origins of Masters At Work, and check out his chart of influences here.

What was the first record that turned you on to electronic music?

Wow, it would have been in the early ’80s and there was a videogame called TV Pixand, if I remember correctly, the theme song was “I’m Ready” by Kano.

Do you remember what sort of system you started playing on?

Well, I didn’t have my own equipment until ’85, when I was 15, but there was a kid at school that wanted DJ equipment before then and his mom bought it for him, so we used to go to his basement and work.

Tell us about the scene in New York at the time. Were there radio DJs that you admired? What were their shows like?

At that time radio was great—not like now—but back then it really was The Awesome 2 (Special K & DJ Teddy Tedd), DJ Red Alert, DJ Chuck Chillout and—of course—Mr. Magic and Marley Marl. The Awesome 2 radio show was on buy-time radio, Red Alert and Chuck Chillout were on Kiss 98.7, and Magic and Marley were on 107.5 WBLS. All the radio shows were great. They played all types of music—soul, funk, breaks, hip-hop, disco, and electro.

Who were your first favorite electronic artists? Any favorite songs?

Kraftwerk! They were nuts and they made their own drum machines and synths, which gave them that sound that was so big and unique. Louie and I, as Masters At Work, got to play with them some years ago at Coachella. We could not go on stage until after they were done and broken down because it was said it took a week to set it all up. It was all the original gear; it took up the whole stage. The drum machine looked like a washing machine, so I had to go into the crowd and hear what this sounded like and I remember hearing “Trans Europe Express” and it sounded insane.

I really like “E2-E4? by Manuel Gottsching. It’s an import that is, to me, the best sounding record ever, and it’s like 30 minutes long on each side! And, of course, “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force was big for me, too.

What was it about those artists that particularly appealed to you?

Well, I really liked the sounds. There was just a lot of innovative stuff early on, producers like John Robie and all the ones I already mentioned. Mantronix is a friend who people rarely speak about, and we also can’t forget The Latin Rascals.

How do you feel their legacy has impacted music—including yours—over the years?

That was the electronic foundation, the blueprint. Today we can make tracks in our laptops. We have 808s, 909s, 303s, and Junos all right there and we can even create something on a plane while we are traveling. I would have never thought this would be possible standing there watching Kraftwerk, but the whole process of recording back then was really dope and hands-on. I still do that to this day, and still have a mixing board and all my drum machines, analog synths, and tape machines.

Have you met any of these artists?

I’ve played with Bambaataa a bunch of times and he’s a really cool person. For the show with Kraftwerk, we weren’t allowed on stage that year at Coachella, so we didn’t meet them.

What were your first pieces of electronic-music-making gear?

Casio RZ-1, Roland TR-606 (which I still have), Casio SK-1 keyboard, Casio CZ-101, and then later Emu Sp-1200 and Akai S-950.

Did you have any mentors when you were starting out?

I watched Mike Delgado and Franklin Martinez do tape edits on a reel-to-reel, and I used to cut school and go to Todd Terry‘s house to watch him work when I was a teenager. At that same time, I worked in a record store and later became the buyer of the store, which really trained my ear because I had to stock all the genres. I was also doing the original Masters At Work parties (which was founded by Mike Delgado and myself) then, too.

Tell us about your first big break, musically.

It had to be around 1989 or 1990 because I had done a record called “A Touch of Salsa” and Louie Vega had been talking to Todd Terry and had said that he liked the record. Terry told him I was an up-and-coming DJ and introduced us because Louie wanted to do a remix (which never happened). That was the beginning of the Masters At Work production team.

Your work over the years has had a huge effect on house music. Were there artists that you’ve mentored, and can you tell us a bit about them, if so?

There’s been a lot of people who have come through and worked at our studio, but really too many to mention. Erick Morillo is one that stands out. Those are my drums on “I Like To Move It“; it’s the same SP-1200 disc I programmed for a Trey Lorenzremix. Erick has always had that fire about him, and I remember thinking to myself, “He’s is going to be big one day.”

Tell us about your Icons and Their Inspirations chart—any specific approach you took to assembling it? Can you tell us about why you chose some of the tracks on the list?

The list is in the order of how I remember these songs coming out. Like I said, the earlier Kraftwerk material (especially Computer World) just had, and still has, a really unique sound and continues to stand out today.

I remember when Marshall Jefferson brought “Move Your Body” into the store and I was like, “Oh my god, this record is a smash, but wait—what is this house music?”

Black Riot‘s “A Day In The Life” was nuts—a whole song made out of samples. Todd was out of control with a Casio RZ-1, a Korg sampler, and a four-track tape machine. I remember dropping this record and the people going nuts at Brooklyn parties.

Who are your favorite new artists these days?

I like Floating Points and The Simonsound because they are creating albums.

Any tracks of theirs you’d like to share?

Floating Points – People’s Potential [Eglo Records]

The Simonsound – It’s Just Begun [First Word Records]

Source: Beatport

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