Producer’s Corner: DJ Green Lantern (HipHopDX 09/13/2008)

by WILLIAM E. KETCHUM III

DJ Green Lantern doesn’t rhyme, but he’s got all the other areas of this rap shit covered. Primarily known for his skills behind the turntables, he initially established himself with Shady Records’ Benzino-blasting Invasion mixtape series. Since then, everyone from D-Block to Ghostface Killah has enlisted the Rochester, NY native for his energetic hosting and deft mixing. But Green Lantern is just as talented on the MPC as he is on the Technics, and heaters like Ludacris’ Austin Powers-sampling “Number One Spot,” D-Block’s “2 Gunz Up,” and Busta Rhymes’ pulsating “In The Ghetto” collabo with Rick James back up such claims. He’s also played a behind-the-scenes role in the career of Uncle Murda, the hardnosed Brooklynite who impressed Jay-Z enough to earn a deal with Def Jam.

These days, Green Lantern is staying busy by incorporating all of his talents at once. He has a radio show on the hit video game Grand Theft Auto IV that sees him spinning and hosting self-produced songs featuring the likes of Jim Jones and Juelz Santana, Busta Rhymes and Fabolous and Fat Joe. After laying the soundbeds to several new Nas songs and hosting his latest “The Nigger Tape,” he served as his DJ on the Jones Experience tour. His mixtape/album with Immortal Technique, The Third World, has gotten rave reviews as one of the year’s best releases. Now, he’s putting the final touches on the much-buzzed Barack Obama Mixtape, and in this interview with HipHopDX, he reveals upcoming projects with dead prez and Jay Electronica. Read below to see the Evil Genius chop it up about working with Nas, going corporate with the GTA project, and being Hip Hop for Obama without damaging his campaign.

 

HipHopDX: We know you as a DJ first, and a producer second. Which were you doing first?

DJ Green Lantern: I wanted to be a producer first, I was making beats for a few years. I fell into DJing and started doing the mixtapes, and that sort of propelled my name to where I could shop beats differently than most producers. Everything goes hand in hand, but I was definitely producing first.

HipHopDX: How does a DJ—specifically you, but in general—transcend from doing free beats for cats on mixtapes, to being taken seriously by major labels?

DJ Green Lantern: You’ve just got to have peeps, but you’ve got to have a hustle, too. You look at somebody like Don Cannon. He’s getting a lot of production credits, he’s on his hustle. He’s a DJ, and he makes beats too. You’ve got to be ready to be in the studio, playing beats for people just like producers are. … You always have to understand what your competition is. You’re in competition with professional beatmakers, and professional producers. You can never just say, “I’m such and such,” or, “Here’s this beat. You better like it, and you better use it, because it’s me.” You’re in competition with people who do nothing but produce, so you’ve got to be able to compete on that playing field, or don’t even try.

HipHopDX: What would you say are your favorite five beats that you’ve made?

DJ Green Lantern: The “2 Gunz Up” joint for D-Block, that’d probably be number one. Then I’ve got to go with Ludacris’ “Number One Spot.” Number three would be Jadakiss “The Champ Is Here,” Busta Rhymes and Rick James (“In The Ghetto”) is number four. And (Uncle Murda’s) “Bullet Bullet” is number five.

HipHopDX: I thought some of your best beats were with Nas. What do you think contributes to you guys’ chemistry?

DJ Green Lantern: I don’t know man. We just started rocking, too. It’s kind of ill, man, because the chemistry on stage is like that too. Shows were going real ill from a DJ format; we go on the road, and there’s an ill chemistry. I don’t know what it is, man. It’s something…I don’t know if it’s some elements used in a laboratory that we didn’t know about, but it’s really there. I think he’s an ill dude. Some of those joints that you hear are me taking his vocals and reworking an acapella into a song. … That’s what happened with the “Cops Keep Firing.” He gave me the acapella of the first verse, and I built the whole song around it. Then he went in and did a second verse. So I think it goes hand in hand.

HipHopDX: You’ve performed with a live band and Rock The Bells in New York. What was it like for you, as a DJ, performing with other performers in a live situation?

You’re pretty much the quarterback in that situation. I know the show, and sometimes, you’ve just got to be ready to give queues. Like, “All right, we’re going to stop right now based on the queues that he’s giving me.” It’s one thing with two turntables and a mic. And then when you add guitars, keyboards, trumpet, all kinds of stuff, they’ve got to take their queue from somebody. So there’s the band leader, who’s the bass player, he’s watching me, and I’m watching Nas, because sometimes he’ll call different queues on the show to switch up the show. You’ve just got to be ready to be on your toes, because the show’s going to switch sometimes during the show. It’s a challenge, but it’s a fuller sound, and I always like to think it’s fun.

HipHopDX: You’ve also performed with Eminem. How is working with Eminem different from working with Nas?

DJ Green Lantern: Really similar! [laughs] Very similar, dog. They’re both real cool and down to earth dudes. Sit on the bus and crack jokes and watch DVDs. They’re just regular people. They’re very similar.

HipHopDX: You have your own radio show on the new Grand Theft Auto game. What was that whole experience like for you?

DJ Green Lantern: It was kind of crazy. It was definitely some responsibility put into it, because I had to produce the whole radio show. I had to make all the music that I play. Every other radio show on the video game—if you’re familiar with the video game, you know that you get in the car and listen to the radio, and there’s “x” amount of radio station with “x” amount of radio shows. The whole radio show that I was on, I had to go get the artist, make the songs, produce the songs, mix all the songs, and then be the DJ and play it and make it all exciting and hype for radio. Which is a little bit of work, but that’s what I do anyway. But now this is on a corporate level. So there’s a definite responsibility to make sure all T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted as far as legalities and things like that. But I’m glad I did it, because it’s getting views based on what it is, which is a very aggressive set of songs on a very aggressive video game. So I think I did my job.

HipHopDX: Is this your first project where you’ve produced everything at once like that?

DJ Green Lantern: You know what? I think it is. I know definitely as far as in the video game and in a corporate sense as well, definitely. Other stuff is mixtapes, but nothing on that scale.

HipHopDX: Along with the obvious perks of more exposure, what about the royalties for cats like MC Lyte and Brand Nubian who are on Primo’s show? Where do royalties for these other cats play in with the game’s sales being so high?

DJ Green Lantern: I mean, honestly, I would rather not go into details on stuff like that. But what somebody may be getting might not be what somebody else may be getting. So I don’t talk numbers like that. ‘Cause I can tell I’ma start getting some phone calls. “You leave those numbers alone, man!”

HipHopDX: You’ve also been working with Uncle Murda. How did Jay-Z leaving Def Jam affect Murda’s situation?

DJ Green Lantern: Not too much, man. [Jay-Z] has been involved with the project. He keeps up on the work on a regular basis, and has been checking in. He’s definitely still on board with everything.

HipHopDX: Is there a tentative release date for his album yet?

DJ Green Lantern: There are a few dates being thrown around, but they’re not solid yet, so I can’t throw it out there yet.

HipHopDX: So what else are you working on? You’ve got the Nas tour, the Nas mixtape, Uncle Murda. Anything else you’ve got going?

DJ Green Lantern: Yeah. I’m actually working on the Barack Obama Mixtape; I got caught up doing the Nas mixtape and the tour a little bit, so that should be wrapping up pretty soon. There’s a bunch of songs on that I made exclusive: like the “Black President” remix is on there, a crazy joint with Styles P and Cassidy is on there, a bunch of crazy records that I made. I’m also working on this mixtape/album with dead prez right now. That’ll probably be released commercially, like the Immortal Technique project was, The Third World. That was released in the stores, ‘cause technically it’s a mixtape, but there’s still a barcode on it. So that’s what that’s looking like. Also, a project with Jay Electronica, that project is called The Wrath of the Staff. The project with dead prez is called post to the people. Those both will be commercial releases. So you can really look forward to Green Lantern. The next step is, as I do these mixtapes, people say, “Damn son, that should be released in the store!” The more and more artists are independent, the easier it is for us to put forth a project we can sell with a barcode on it. If there’s no major label constraint on them, we can put it in the store. We’ve got to stay away from samples, and rocking over other peoples’ beats, but that doesn’t take away from the music at all. I’m still going to put my all into it.

HipHopDX: Where did the idea of the Barack Obama Mixtape come from, and what can we expect from it?

DJ Green Lantern: I know Russell [Simmons] e-mailed me one day and said he was throwing his hat in the ring for Obama. … I’m like, “All right, well what can I do? … How about make a mixtape?” I started calling people; I got some responses, and I got some non-responses. Some of the non-responses were a little surprising, but I’m rocking with the responses. So I made a bunch of records, and I’m still sort of fine-tuning it, because it’s a big deal. I think it’s a statement that needs to be made for our generation.

HipHopDX: Barack Obama has said that he likes Hip Hop, but that he has an issue with the messages in Hip Hop. There was also a lot of controversy surrounding Ludacris’ song “Politics As Usual,” and how it affected Obama’s campaign. Have you gotten to speak to Obama about the mixtape? Does hearing what he’s said about Hip Hop give you an idea of how to approach it?

DJ Green Lantern: Of course, that tells me what I need to stay away from. I want him to be able to not have to distance himself from it. You’ve got Republicans and people who don’t want him to win, they want to put him with messages…like the Ludacris record. Ludacris said some things, and it’s his opinion, right? But the people who don’t want Barack to win want to make it seem like it’s [Barack’s] opinion. What I’ve done is, on this joint, I made sure nobody said anything was inflammatory that he couldn’t stand behind. I don’t want to do him a disservice at all. I don’t want to make it to where he has to denounce it, because that’s what it is. He may personally be saying, “That’s Ludacris’ opinion,” but now that he’s in a race, he has to publicly denounce it, or it’ll look like he’s embracing it. I don’t want to have to go through that.

HipHopDX: What is it like working with Jay Electronica? He’s been really enigmatic since he’s come out there. What can you say about him that someone else may not have already known?

DJ Green Lantern: Super lyricist, super high energy guy. You see his show, and the people in the crowd may not know a song that he sang, but they’re rocking with him crazy because of how he performs. Because we’re on tour together. I see him almost every day. Lyrically, I don’t say this too much about a lot of people, but there aren’t too many people who can touch what he’s actually doing. And like you said, a lot of people haven’t heard his music. When I told my manager the other day, “I’m going to do a commercial release with Jay Electronica,” he was like, “Who?” I’m like, “Just look him up, Google him.” He came back like, “Yo, this kid is incredible.” He’s so down to earth. It’s a few people out there that are gems or diamonds in the rough. There are people like Jay Electronica, people like Charles Hamilton, couple other people that shine throughout the mass of rappers trying to get on.

HipHopDX: I was asking some friends what I should ask, and one of them listens to your freestyle show. He brought up that you tolerate non-freestyles, and he used the Beanie Sigel and Freeway show as an example. Are you in a tough position to say something to them to people like that?

DJ Green Lantern: To be honest, man, these days, you’ve got to be thankful that people are rapping. There’s so many non-rapping ass rappers that’s out here, I’m just glad you’re spitting something. There’s so many people that come on the show, and I’m like, “Aww, you won’t even rap? Dog, ain’t that what you do for a profession? You’re coming on the show, have something.” But that comes with all of these hustlers. “I’m not a rapper, I’m a hustler.” That really comes with a lot of them, they really get into that mindstate. But as far as freestyle vs. written? I’d rather hear a well put-together written joint that no one’s heard before than a sloppy, off-the-top freestyle just for the sake ‘cause it’s a freestyle. We never say, “This is the part where you have to freestyle;” we say, “On the spot. Se need bars.” You feel like going off the top? Cool, but we’re nationwide, so I don’t want your off-the-top to sound like, “Cat, fat, hat, bat.” I’d rather have a hot written than versus a wack off-the-top, any day.

[via HipHopDX]