In the realm of hip-hop, there are two rules. The first says that there are no second chances for those who come to the battle with wack beats. The second is that you’re only as good as your next record. Back in 1993 — while his group Cypress Hill was enjoying universal respect from the leading lights of the hip-hop community and enormous worldwide prosperity from the Hill’s triple platinum-selling second album, Black Sunday — the creative wheels inside of producer DJ Muggs’ mind began to turn.
With a discography including producer credits for Ice Cube, as well as remixes for the likes of U2, Me’Shell Ndegeocello and Janet Jackson, Muggs became enticed with the idea of putting together MUGGS PRESENTS… THE SOUL ASSASSINS, a solo album full of his own joints and some fresh faces. But there was a problem: Muggs could easily craft the beats, but rhyming wasn’t really his forte. “I’m not a rapper and I never aspired to be one,” Muggs admits. “So I thought long and hard how I could go about doing this.”
The concept was hot, but Muggs’ Soul Assassins project was destined to percolate for awhile. Muggs spent two years touring the world with Cypress Hill in support of the groundbreaking Black Sunday before heading back into the lab to write and produce the group’s third platinum album, III (Temples of Boom). Once that record was in the can and on the charts, Muggs began seriously woodshedding and mulling over various approaches to the making of his solo album. After watching the methods of the legendary producer Quincy Jones, Muggs realized how he could make his dream into a sonic reality.
“The way that Quincy Jones does his thing is that he does all of the music and then invites guest artists and friends to come into the studio,” Muggs says. “Right then and there I knew that was the way to go. Then I talked to a bunch of friends of mine who I had met in the rap game throughout the years, as well as other people who I knew I wanted to work with. I started getting in touch with people. Everyone was down and I started knocking out tracks.”
While MUGGS PRESENTS…THE SOUL ASSASSINS manages to gather together some of the best names in hip-hop under one umbrella, Muggs also wanted to showcase the skills of Atlanta’s underrated Goodie Mobb in addition to some younger talent he’d come across. So Muggs recorded cuts with Wu-Tang Clan protégé LA The Darkman; Mobb Deep’s homies Infamous Mobb; and Call O’ Da Wild, a New York outfit who’ve toured extensively with Cypress Hill and will release its own Muggs-produced debut later this year.
Production of the star-studded MUGGS PRESENTS…THE SOUL ASSASSINS began in July 1996. The top notch array of talent on the album reads like a Who’s Who of Hip-Hop: Dr. Dre, Cypress Hill’s B-Real, RZA and GZA/Genius from the Wu-Tang Clan, the Fugees’ Wyclef (a good friend of Mugg’s who’d done a remix of Cypress’ “Boom Biddy Bye Bye”), Goodie Mobb, KRS-One, Mobb Deep, Infamous Mobb, MC Eiht, and LA The Darkman. Understandably, the artists’ conflicting schedules made creating the album an often tricky proposition while the diversity of their styles added to the spontaneity and musical magic of the project.
One big creative departure on MUGGS PRESENTS…THE SOUL ASSASSINS is the back-to-back conceptual juxtaposition of “Third World” and “Battle Of 2001” — a pair of apocalyptic futuristic tales of hip-hop crews (played by Wu-Tang Clan and Cypress Hill, respectively) residing on an island trying to fend off government oppressors while maintaining a mountain range stronghold. “With the RZA/GZA track ‘Third World,’ my man who works with me ran into them and he calls me up and goes, ‘Yo, Muggs, I got GZA here. Book studio time in an hour!’ Then the next day he calls me up again and says he’s got RZA: ‘Yo, Muggs, I got RZA — let’s do it!'”
The same scenario happened with Havoc and Prodigy of Queensbridge’s street-savvy clique, Mobb Deep. “I played them six tracks and we just did it,” says Muggs. “The same with MC Eiht; I flew in from L.A. to New York and we met at D&D Studios. He was incredible. He sat, heard three beats, picked out the one he liked, wrote his lyrics and we were done in two and a half hours. Boom!”
“Puppet Master,” the tense, stark opus which teams Cypress Hill’s B. Real and the venerable West Coast funkologist Dr. Dre proved to not only be a meeting of the minds, but a testament of mutual professionalism. “I’ve worked with young artists in the studio who’ve given me mad problems,” Muggs winces, “but Dre — who’s had all of this success already — was really cool and totally on point. We talked about the track for a while before he laid his vocals and he was so flexible. He wanted it to work as much as I did and he really came through with something special.”
One of the biggest treats for Muggs working with the legendary mic blaster, Boogie Down Bronx’s KRS-One. “It was a dream come true for me to work with him,” beams Muggs. In fact, they hit it off so well that KRS-One asked Muggs to produce “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” for his forthcoming album. “I idolized him when I was coming up and it was people like KRS-One, Chuck D. and EPMD who inspired me even before I started to make my own beats. He was dope!”
Working with talented young guns as well as some of the most established MCs in the biz not only allowed Muggs to conjure some bona fide hip-hop magic on tape, the experience personally provided him with a fresh perspective, one which he says will no doubt pay off in dividends on the next Cypress Hill extravaganza.
“While working on this album I realized that rappers are all going to the same point, but everybody’s heading there through a different set of directions,” he summarizes. “They’re all geniuses and I learned a lot from working with these artists. I have my way of working, but watching others opened my mind up to some new ideas. The whole vibe was great and nothing was thought out too much.”
By maintaining a varied musical diet — which includes everything from brooding British trip-hop to seething alternative music — Muggs is continually absorbing new sounds and ideas, blending them together, and taking them to the next level of expression. With plenty more dope beats stashed away in the vault until they propel Cypress Hill and the Soul Assassins to even higher plateaus for the next millennium, DJ Muggs is a hip-hop icon who won’t stop rocking until long after he retires.