Kutmasta Kurt is the ever- active Los Angeles based producer, turntablist/DJ, and label owner of Threshold Recordings. The Bay Area transplant, who started out at KZSU radio and who released his first record twenty years ago, is best known for his longtime collaborations with such artists as Kool Keith and Motion Man with whom he worked jointly on the Masters of Illusion project and also individually on numerous other projects.
Kutmasta Kurt embarks on the Dr. Dooom Vs. Dr. Octagon tour this week with former Ultramagnetic MCs frontman Kool Keith. The two artists have worked on such projects as Dr. Dooom and Dr. Octagon as well as such Kool Keith albums as Sex Style, Diesel Truckers, and Matthew. Kutmasta Kurt also produced the Ultra (Kool Keith + fellow former Ultramagnetic MC Tim Dog) album Big Time in 1996.
Additionally he occassionally dons a long fake beard (see pic left) and morphs into his fun Funky Redneck alter-ego. As such he released the 2004 album RedNeck Games, whose original name had to be changed due to pressure from the Olympics Committee.
I recently caught up with Kurt to ask him about this run in with the Olympics folks and the reaction his Funky Redneck persona typically generates, his illustrious recording career, the status of his record label in these digital downloading times, his favorite recording equipment, and his earliiest hip-hop memories.
"Megalo Maniac-Motion Man" feat KutMasta Kurt
Amoeblog: What was the very first record you ever bought?
Kutmasta Kurt:1977-78 Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, when it was current and new. Actually I bothered my mom to buy it for me at K-Mart (I think we were on welfare at the time)...does that count?
Amoeblog: What are your earliest hip-hop memories?
Kutmasta Kurt: Being in NY in the early 80's. it was everywhere!
Amoeblog: What was the first hip-hop concert you attended?
Kutmasta Kurt: I think September 25th 1985 Run DMC at the Warfield in San Francisco with the Red Hot Chili Peppers opening for them. Me and my homie James were looking at each-other asking who the fuck are these guys opening for Run DMC?
Amoeblog: Did coming up in the Bay Area make it easier for you, do you think, to get into hip-hop?
Kutmasta Kurt: Hell yeah, the Bay is a progressive and innovative place for music, art, and culture. It always has been!
Amoeblog: How instrumental, do you think, was your early experience as a DJ at KZSU as part of The Drum [the station's long-running hip hop show]?
Kutmasta Kurt: It was the best radio experience i could imagine. Artists like Redman, Wu-Tang Clan, Gang Starr, Whodini all came through to the show. It was a special time in hip-hop music no doubt and being on the radio at that time was very instrumental [in] helping me along the music path.
KutMasta Kurt MPC Tutorial with the Grand Royal crew
Amoeblog: What was the first record released that you did or were involved in?
Kutmasta Kurt: That Red Black & Green single as an indie in 1989 and, as a major, the "Forget Compton" radio edit i did for Tim Dog in 1991.
Amoeblog: Approximately how many records to date have you released on your label?
Kutmasta Kurt: About 18 albums, plus instrumental versions of a lot of them and a lot singles too. Probably two per album (at least), plus a bunch of one-off singles too.
Amoeblog: Is Waxploitation the name of another label you have besides Threshold?
Kutmasta Kurt: No, it's a label run by a business associate, Jeff Antebi. He manages Danger Mouse, so i haven't heard form him as much lately, ha!
Amoeblog: How did you first connect with Kool Keith and develop the long recording relationship you have had with him?
Kutmasta Kurt: Met him in the Bay when he and Ultra (Ultramagnetic MCs) were doing some gigs and promo for the Funk Your Head Up album (Mercury) and the "Poppa Large" single was hot.
Amoeblog: Not everyone gives you credit for your contribution to Dr. Octagon. For the record, what tracks did you work on on that album?
Kutmasta Kurt: More then a contribution, actually, [I was] the creator on the music side. I produced the very first song that was made under that name and concept "Dr Octagon," and "Technical Difficulties." Yeah Dan [the Automator] ran with it, that's for sure, and he never looked back and gave credit, ha!
Amoeblog: What is the biggest misconception about Kool Keith?
Kutmasta Kurt: Maybe that music is his main thing. What I mean is, it appears to me that he's way more interested in porn and shopping for clothes and jewelry etc. I think at this point, he mainly makes music to feed those interests.
Amoeblog: One thing I notice about you and your career is that you forge a relationship with artists (eg Kool Keith, Motion Man, and Planet Asia) and, more importantly, manage to maintain those relationships. Not everyone is so lucky. What is the secret to the longevity of your working relationships with artists?
Kutmasta Kurt: I'm able to put up with a lot for the sake of my art and career! Ha, at least my friends have told me they can't imagine how I do it...but really, I think I have a good technique of working with people, especially people known to be not that easy to work with. And I've often heard that I'm also good at what I do [production], so I guess the combo might be the secret if there is one.
Amoeblog: I was looking at this record I have by Fat Hed that came out a few years ago and I realized that you (and Motion Man) contributed to it. And I know you have done remixes for Masta Ace and of course the Beastie Boys ("Body Movin"), but what other artists have you worked with for remixing that we all might not know?
Kutmasta Kurt: Rock groups like Linkin Park, Luscious Jackson, Butthole Surfers, and others like Mos Def, Del, Mr Lif, Kool G Rap, Chris Rock, Twista (back when he was Tung Twista), Hurricane, Chino XL, Styles Of Beyond, Rasco, Dilated Peoples ("Work The Angles"), PMD (of EPMD), Blackalicious, and rappers from Germany, Italy, and the Czech Republic too.
Amoeblog: How is your label Threshold Records doing these days? And how has the rampant illegal downloading affected your business model?
Kutmasta Kurt: I think Threshold has seen sales go down about 90% physically. Maybe digital has made up 10-15% of that, so over all I'd say Threshold is only 25% of what it was pre-downloading. So basically that means I can only spend so much time focusing on the label and have to spend more time touring and doing other things in music that still bring in money to pay the bills. I think putting out records can still be profitable, but not so much from actual sales, [more from] the other things they generate, like tours, licensing, merch, and other artists coming to me for production and remixes etc. If the sales were better I'd prob have a bigger staff and release more music too... but not a lot more; I'm critical of the stuff I release.
Amoeblog: On the up side, the digital age has provided us with some amazing technology and cheap too. Do you think that, given the availability and affordability of music computer programs, music in general has evolved with the technology?
Kutmasta Kurt: In a way, but it's just basically cheaper and easier, not so much better, but maybe a little. I mean, [Akai] MPC has the 5000 out now that has all these bells and whistles, but you can still make a hit on the MPC 60 OG made in 1988...for example, from what I hear DJ Premier does. And I use some of my old equipment too sometimes. I don't necessarily hear the music being more futuristic or technically evolved nowadays just cuz of all the programs out there. I do hear singers who can sing live singing great on records though!
Amoeblog: What are two of your favorite pieces of recording equipment?
Kutmasta Kurt: ASR-10, Audio Technica 4033 mic, that I used to record so many albums, from Dilated to Keith and Motion Man, and even Zach de la Rocha too.
Amoeblog: When was the Funky Redneck character conceived? And what kind of reaction does it get?
Kutmasta Kurt: I had conceived the name in the mid 90's, FunkyRedneck Productions [for example, see the Dr Octagon album credits], then image-wise on the back of the first Dr Dooom album, and finally in voice on the Masters Of Illusion album. So I guess it was a progression of sorts. Now when I do my Funky Redneck DJ set I sometimes get confused reactions. Sometimes people think I'm wearing an Osama beard (like on a the Cali Comm tour we did right after September 11th) when it's really a ZZ-Top style beard... But I think overall it's been very positive reactions, and at the end of the day, who doesn't enjoy yelling out "yeeeeehhhaaaawwww" at a concert? At the least, it's something different than the "everyone say ho" and it's original and fun too.
Amoeblog: Is it true that the US Olympic Committee forced you to change the name of the album Redneck Olympics to Redneck Games?
Kutmasta Kurt: Yeah, but [it's] only in the USA they have that power. In all the other countries it was still Olympics! (Album was also released in Canada, UK, Germany, Italy, Australia, and Korea.) So that shows you how backwards our laws are sometimes...or maybe a lot of the time!
Amoeblog: Do you still make guest appearances on LA radio shows? If so, which ones and when?
Kutmasta Kurt: Yeah, I sometimes fill in on my homie Mike Nardone's We Came From Beyond on KXLU (congrats on 20 years), or even guest DJ. I do guest sets for the Wake-Up Show from time to time. For instance, I did an Isaac Hayes tribute when he passed last year. Tech gave me a call and I knocked it out the box for them.
Amoeblog: I know you recently DJed in SF at the Mezzanine and that you spin in LA sometimes too, but on average, how often do you DJ out in clubs?
Kutmasta Kurt: Not as much in the last few years due to my duties/busy schedule with Kool Keith. But i'm looking forward to getting back into it again more though. Also bringing out the Funky Redneck backing band and cowgirl dancers too!
Kutmasta Kurt - "We All Over" ft. Motion Man & Kool Keith (Masters Of Illusion)Amoeblog: What upcoming projects do you have that people need to know about?
Kutmasta Kurt: The Funky Redneck sings album! I only have one song recorded now, but hope to get some more done later this year after the Japan tour. Probably some remixes and singles with various artists will pop up. Got a single and video coming out with a new concept group called Masala '84, [made up of] Kutmandu and Richard Vindaloo! The Elite Fleet (Create & Devastate crew) from Sweden has an album that should come out later this year on Threshold that features dope production and vocals by Jeru, Masta Ace, the Lootpack (Wildchild), Last Emperor and many more. Also TomC3 (Project Polaroid, Saga of the Simian Samurai, Dopestyle1231) is working on his solo album too.
Amoeblog: What websites/myspace/YouTube channels etc. would you like linked from this Amoeblog?
Kutmasta Kurt: www.threshrecs.com, www.youtube.com/thresholdrecordings & myspace/kutmastakurt.
Amoeblog: Anything you want to add?
Kutmasta Kurt: Thanks to all of my partnas and parntnetts out there who be supportin' my music and art. And big ups Billy Jam, the man! Yeeeehhhaaawwwww!
-------------------Thursday this week (April 2nd), Kurt and Kool Keith will kick off the Dr. Dooom Vs. Dr. Octagon tour with the first stop at Sonar in Baltimore, MD, April 3rd @ Blender, Gramercy in NYC, April 4th @ Johnny Brendas, Philly, PA, April 16th @ Whole Music Club, Minneapolis, MN, April 17th @ Reggies Rock Club, Chicago, IL, April 18th @ Jake's Night Club, Bloomington, IN, and April 19th @ The Grog Shop, Cleveland, OH. And in the midst of this East Coast/Mid West tour he will fly back to Southern California, next Thursday April 10th, to do a DJ set for the Breaks magazine release party at Baja Sharkeez in Manhattan Beach.
"Diesel Truckers" Movie - Kool Keith & KutMasta Kurt / The Funky Redneck