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In The Lab with Large Professor

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Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)

It’s 2015, and the legendary Large Professor is still out here teaching cats how to make dope hip-hop music. Forget the fact that he’s the guy responsible for so many classics—that’s not a crutch holding up his career. Even with all the accolades, Large Pro is devoted now more than ever to taking rap to new heights and moving the culture forward. He’s a purist, a leader, a thinker, an innovator, and with a quarter-century’s worth of history in the game, he still has the passion of a fresh-faced teen touching a beat machine for the first time.

With his new LP Re:Living due out June 9th (pre-order on iTunes or cop the deluxe bundle at Fat Beats), we linked up with Extra P to get some extra info on the making of the album for our In The Lab series. As you’ll discover, The Mad Scientist still keeps the music at the core of everything he does. And he’s also tapped into his spirituality, which is something that played a major role during the creation of Re:Living. Find out all about his digging, beat-making, and writing process—plus much, much more—below.

Class is in session.

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Studio Setup

Large Professor: “All throughout, I’ve always kept a DJ setup in my production setup. Two turntables, a mixer, a drum machine, CDJs—always a DJ setup, because that’s what it all stems from. Playing records, blending them, and matching stuff.

“The drum machines have always varied. I sometimes work with the SP-1200, the ASR-10, MPCs of all sorts. It’s always been like that, just trying to keep it hip-hop. Of course now with computers, there’s software. So Ableton, Logic, Protools, and all of these things play a part. Different keyboards and modules, and that’s basically it. It’s a hip-hop setup until I bring it into the studio with a lot broader and bigger technology.

“For this album, I was using the MPC1000 a lot, just to get that sound. We’re somewhere else with hip-hop right now. A lot of the original hip-hop people that appreciate the original hip-hop gritty sound, they’re not being fed. Even though I always try to, with this project more so than ever, I just tried to get as gritty as possible and put something out there so people know what hip-hop is.”

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“I’m always digging. I always have to check for some new records. I just came back from Pittsburgh. I hit up Jerry’s, and there’s thousands and thousands of records in there. They have towering shelves of 45s. You have to get on ladders to go up. It’s kind of crazy in there.

“These days, since there’s such a lack of jazz in New York—they kind of canned CD101, and now they have WBGO which is dope—I’ve been kind of gravitating to the jazz a little more. We gotta keep that jazz flowing. They wanna throw the lid on jazz, so I’ve been going to a lot of jazz. Everything else after that—the psych rock, the soul. But definitely the jazz. I’ve been going hard trying to get the jazz records lately.

“This time [when I went to Jerry’s] I was looking for jazz, and the last time I was looking for jazz. But it varies. Sometimes I may be looking for a specific title. After record collecting for all of these years, it could be a combination. Like, I’ll have a list in my phone. I have songs that I’ve Shazam’d. It’s like a kid in a candy store when I go into a record store.

“I like Infinity Records on Long Island. A lot of times when I go into Infinity, it’s empty. And I can just go in there, and take my time and be easy with it, as opposed to going to the city to places like Academy or Brooklyn Academy. Like, I’m not the dude that’s in the record store on Record Store Day. I’m a luxurious digger. I be chillin’ out, coolin’, and taking my time. But I like Academy, Infinity, and I’ve been to a lot of Midwest spots that I came up in. But just all over, in general.”

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Digital Digging

“I just started checking for that. I don’t know, I still feel kind of crazy doing that, because I come from the school of Paul C, where you must have the record. I’m really funny about that. I know dudes are doing it. But I do use the digital thing as a resource, then see if I can go on Discogs and get a copy.

“I’m really into the DJ aspect—being able to spin the wax back, and things like that. The digital thing is straight just taking a sound without being able spin it back, or read the cover and the label and who played on it. I’ll use that for DJing more than anything. Like, if there’s something I want to play that would be nice for a DJ set, I’ll go to YouTube and rip it.”

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Daily Routine/Making Beats

“It’s not really a routine. But normally, I’ll get up, and instead of turning the television on or something like that, I’ll throw a record on and just start listening and organizing the crib. Maybe I brought a bunch of records in a day before—and I like to keep my records alphabetized—so I might start alphabetizing them or whatever, get something to eat. And all the while, I’m listening to records. I’m hearing things, I’m going to the turntable, spinning it back, playing it again. I might hear something, then chop something up and start playing the loop in the drum machine. Get back to work with whatever I’m doing in the house, stop that, play another record. It’s just really listening to a lot of records everyday, and organizing the records. Then maybe later on in the night I’ll go to buy more records.

“I’m all over the place with it. Sometimes I’ll loop it up and save it. Sometimes I’ll loop it up and trash it, like, ‘I’ll get back to that.’ Or I’ll throw some drums on something I might’ve looped up a few days ago. It’s just hooking stuff up daily. Bits and pieces.

“I’ll put something in the phone and drive around listening to it. I’m listening to other projects that dropped. It’s just music—all day.”

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Inspiration/Starting a New Project

“With Re:Living, I found myself living back in my hometown of Flushing. After traveling the world and all these places and coming back to the home-front—it’s just the walls, the halls, the doorways, the staircases and everything. The beats that I picked out kind of matched what I was feeling.”

“I’ll get a call like, ‘Let’s start a new project.’ And all along, I’ve been working with people and doing all these other productions and stuff like that. So I’ll have beats, and have a song in my mind for it. I have a bunch of songs that I haven’t even released that I’ve been writing for years. I have the beat already made, and the lyrics. Then when I feel the time is right, it’ll be like, ‘Yo, put this song out.’ Like with my last project, ‘Key to the City’ was a song I had for a while, and I felt it was time to put it out there. The tempo was getting really slow and that was a fast joint, so I was like, ‘It’ll be good to put something nice and quick out there.’”

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Studio Essentials

“All I really need is peace and cooperation from whoever I’m working with. After doing this for so long, just give me some food and a damn drink of water and I’m good. We’re here to knock the song out. That’s what I’m in here trying to do. So all I need is peace and cooperation.

“It would be good too if someone is technologically advanced, like, ‘Yo, you know what? We could do this…’ That always helps. I like the geek engineers, that geek out like, ‘Hey man, I’m gonna throw this through this. Check it out.’ That kind of stuff.”

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“I love writing, and I love representing the era that I represent. I’m not scared of old school, new school—I’m not scared of none of that. I’m standing on solid ground, so I’m always good. I’ve taken the stage with the hottest dude and all of that and been able to hold my own and get respect. Sometimes even more respect, which is how it’s supposed to be if you’re a veteran artist. So, I’m cool with that. I can stand next to a veteran artist like Grandmaster Caz and get his respect, and stand next to a Kid Cudi and get his respect also.

“I’ve always written about the state of affairs. Like ‘Fakin’ the Funk,’ ‘Snake Eyes’—it’s just always the state of affairs of what’s going on with us as a culture. I just always did songs on like a ‘look at what we doing’ kind of thing.

“I don’t do the notebook anymore. And I feel bad about that, because I see people that still physically write. I’m like, ‘Wow!’ But I need to be able to fluently read through. I can’t take the scribble. Even in the Main Source days, I was using a word processor. And same with today. I still type my lyrics into a computer.”

A video posted by Large Pro (@plargepro) on

Recording Vocals

“I’ve worked with so many insane, crazy talented vocalists—Slick Rick, Kane, Rakim, Busta Rhymes—so I’ve seen all these dudes and their different techniques. But with me, I’ve always been like a one or two track vocalist. I’m not with all the crazy ad-libs and everything, because I always like to keep it stage-ready. If I grab the mic on stage, it’s that one track that you’re gonna hear, just like the record.”

Favorite Verses on Re:Living

“I really like the lyrics on ‘Dreams Don’t Die.’ I haven’t lived in Flushing for a while. I was in Jamaica and other parts of Queens. So when I really found myself in Flushing, I was able to revisit a lot of things. When your life starts moving fast and it’s very eventful, and you’re out there running and gunning, when you get to the place where you always found comfort and you can sit down and relax and look back at all the work—that’s what the verses from “Dreams Don’t Die” do for me. I really like those verses.

“It’s really personal for me. I’m not one of those personal artists. You don’t know my story like that. So, that’s a little dash of personal B.I.”

Producing for Other Artists/“Opulence”

“I got mad beats, and I’m kind of like a suit salesmen. Like, ‘This suit would fit you nice. This suit would look nice on you.’ That kind of thing. I just sent some nice joints to La Coka Nostra, and they’re working on some of the stuff that I sent them. But just in general, [artists] say, ‘Yo, we wanna work with you.’ Then I’ll go into my bag and say, ‘Yo, this would be nice.’

“I’ll show beats to other rappers and be like, ‘Yo, this would be a dope song.’ Sometimes they get it, sometimes they don’t. If they don’t, it’s like, ‘Alright cool, this means it’s meant for me to record this song.’ Like, I’ve always showed people the beat for ‘Opulence,’ and they’ll be like, ‘I like it, but I don’t know what I would talk about on it.’ Then I had this song I wrote to a DJ Spinna beat. I don’t know what happened, but they weren’t able to hook it up. Then I put the rhyme to the ‘Opulence’ beat, and it came out really nice.”

“Own World”

“Honest to God, I had those two loops since ‘97, ‘98. I had those two loops together. And all throughout the years, I’ve just been listening and listening to those loops. Then everything just lined up where it was like, ‘Yo, I gotta hook this joint up and finish it, and do the lyrics.’

“Another thing about this project is I had a lot of good people hanging around me. Sometimes when you’re an artist, people don’t don’t know how to help their artist friend. When you’re dealing with an artist, you gotta kind of look out for them. Like, ‘Yo, am I talking too loud when I’m in his session? Is he trying to listen to his song right now? Am I taking away from the energy?’ I was around a lot of cooperative people, and they just wanted to see me do good. So the song ‘Own World’ came from that vibe right there.

“It’s a funny game. I always check to see if WhoSampled can figure out [what samples I used]. Like Rakim said, we gotta go ‘deeper in the style.’ With ‘Own World,’ the samples that I used for that, and the timing—it’s just crazy.”

“In The Scrolls”

“I wanted Nas to rock on that. I made that beat for Nas, because if you hear it, it has, ‘Nobody does it better than Nas’—I used from this De La joint. So I thought it would be nice for Nas. But for whatever reason, he didn’t use the beat. So I was like, ‘I gotta keep this in the Nas vibe,’ because he’s been shouting me out. He shouted me out on the J. Cole joint, and off the [20th anniversary celebration] of Illmatic and everything. And Wiz, when his verse starts, he kind of sounds like Nas on that.”


“I like mixing and mastering and all that. But I’m from the days where hip-hop was coming out of a speaker. The sound of it was coming from a park jam, or off of a tape. I’m not trying to make that type of hip-hop, but I still remember those days. I don’t rely on studio tricks that much.

“More than anything, I want the message of the song to get out there. I do little tricks, little snare doubles and things like that occasionally. But overall, I like the whole entire message of the song to get through.”

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DJing for Raekwon and Ghostface at the Vice 20th Anniversary Party

“Those dudes, what I love about them is that they always look at me as the O.G. But I’m like, ‘Wow, but as much work as y’all have put in…’ The respect is mutual.

“When I got the call, you know, we’ve had our little bit of working together with ‘The Heist’ with Busta Rhymes, and the ‘Mega project just had Raekwon on it, so I was like, ‘Of course! I’ll definitely go up there and represent with the brothers.’

“It was good chopping it up with the brothers, especially Ghost because I rarely get to speak to him. And my father, God bless him, I would always sit down and watch videos with him. And whenever Ghost would come on, my father would always say, ‘It feels like I know that guy. Like he’s family or something.’ And I’d be like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy.’ So after the show, I told him, ‘Yo, my father used to always say that he felt a familiarity about you and that you was almost like family or something.’

“It’s a spiritual thing with Re:Living. There’s a lot of spirituality to it. I can’t go into every detail, but even after I told Ghost about what my pops said, he was like, ‘Yo, it’s crazy when that spirit is like that.’ You know, my pops, he’s ascended, so just to be able to kick that message to Ghost and for him to connect with it spiritually, that was a good thing. And it was paving the road to what the album title was with Re:Living. Like, my pops was alive right there when I was speaking to Ghost. Like, ‘That’s family right there.’ So whether it was music or not, that was already sort of ordained.”

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What’s Next

“Just productions. Keeping the foundation of hip-hop strong. Holding the family down, making sure the family’s good. I’ve been going all over the world DJing and picking up the mic, gettin’ busy for the culture. That’s mainly it.”

Photos via Large Professor’s Instagram and Distrolord’s Instagram.

Catch Large Professor and Marley Marl on July 16th at Queensbridge Park for free, 7-9pm. More info HERE.


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Related: Large Professor Tells The Story Behind His Classic Records (Part 1 and Part 2)

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