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Published: 2007/04/03
by Mike Greenhaus

The Green Apple Core: Adam Deitch

[Update: Unfortunately, the April 21 performance by Slick Rick featuring the Adam Deitch Project at New York’s Canal Room has been cancelled. However, we still offer you the following interview, which Mike Greenhaus conducted with Deitch in conjunction with that show, as it takes a look at Deitch’s current endeavors. While this gig will not take place, the second annual Green Apple Music & Arts Festival is still a go for April 19-22 in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.]

Your recent work has leaned more towards hip-hop than jazz. Have you always been interested in hip-hop?

AD- I grew up in New York and I grew up very much involved in the hip-hop world. Slick Rick is one of the forefathers of that scene. The people I want to be seen with, and the people I want to debut my new music to, are part of the traditional hip-hop crowd. I’m at the point now where my music is very hip-hop oriented. The people I have been playing with recently, like GZA from Wu-Tang or Redman, are hip-hop luminaries. Just to be involved with people like that is what I have been working towards. But, if you ask any rapper, they’ll tell you Slick Rick is their top 5. It is pretty big stuff to hang with a guy like that.

How do you view your role as a drummer backing an MC? Do you find yourself working with given beats or improvising around Slick Rick’s lyrics?

AD- It is along the lines of an old jazz kind of mentality where we will perform our music with my band and then start a set before he comes onstage. That is when we are really able to express ourselves and to play all these brand new tracks that I’ve done at home and played live. It lets us see which tracks strike the audience and that kind of vibe. That’s where we do our stretching and our experimenting. Then Slick Rick comes up with us and we start interacting with his DJ, DJ Chaos, who is also a very famous and amazing DJ. He is just unbelievable at following the band. He’ll start the record and we’d play 4/8 bars. Then he will bring the record back in, we would play along with the record, so its kind of like combining the true elements of hip-hop, the DJing, the MCing then adding another element which is the live band.

Did you find it challenging shifting from jazz to hip-hop?

AD- It is very rare that musicians play live hip-hop because it takes a certain amount of a discipline and a certain lack of ego. Especially for people that have studied music very intensely—-to play a hip-hop show with a DJ to some musicians is a blow to the ego. But, I’ve been playing drums since I was two years old. I went to the Berklee College of Music, both my parents are musicians, and I’m a trained musician. And I find that playing hip-hop with a DJ is just as challenging as playing the hardest jazz with John Scofield. That’s what people don’t realize. I feel like it’s our responsibility to let the music world know that hip-hop is real music and it takes a lifetime to learn how to play.

It’s a completely different beast. But, my parents had a full jazz record collection, as well as soul and funk records. It took me till I was about 12 or 14 to star buying the early-rap records. I’d look at these records and it would say, “this record has a sample of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers or this one has a sample of Lawrence Welk.” Then I would go and buy those records and my interest in jazz peeked because of those hip-hop records. They were both together for me.

When you practice both styles at the same time?

AD- When I practiced I would throw on a Coltrane record on at the same time as a rap album. It was just all one thing for me and I’m just happy that, you know, as weird as it was when I was doing it, now it seems natural

Hip-Hop and jazz also have a very deep connection.

AD- It’s part of a family tree that begins in West Africa with the origin of man and the hand drum and makes its way over through slavery and to the Americas and other places and developed into the thing that happened in New Orleans with marching bands and the New Orleans Second line. It became blues, R & B and then R & B became jazz and, then, hip-hop and dance, disco and funk. It’s all a part of the same family.

There is also a very New York connection between jazz and hip hop too.

AD- Absolutely. It’s the place to be for both.

I personally have not seen Slick Rick’s current show, what kind of material is he playing?

AD- Aside from his classics—-he has about 6 or 7 songs that are just hip-hop anthems that he has to perform—-he’s got a few songs he does. One song he recorded with Outkast a few years ago. When he does “Ladi Dadi” it is just him with a DJ because the original beat box that Doug E. Fresh does is so classic. People know every little nuance of that beat. So, we take a break for a minute and let the DJ do that. Even though we are up there, it’s not like we have to be playing every second. So, true hip-hop fans don’t have to worry about some band messing up “Ladi Dadi.”

What was the process like digging into his back catalogue?

AD- I’m learning it bit by bit. But, learning all the stuff Doug E. Fresh does is like transcribing an Elvin Jones solo or something [laughs]. It is, like, very intricate drum stuff that is just totally in line with the family tree of drumming. Just gonna take me a while to learn. We also got another tour with GZA coming out pretty soon and we just produced 3 tracks on the new Redman record which just came out. It’s his first record in 6 years.

Do you plan to enter the studio with Slick Rick anytime soon?

AD- Yeah, we’re in the works right now. It’s up to us to specifically craft music for Slick Rick knowing his style and what he likes and what tempos he likes, feels the sound. Now, we all have an understanding—-my whole crew—-and we’re gonna specifically make some stuff that’s gonna appeal to him and that’s gonna appeal to us. We’re gonna bridge a gap to a time when hip-hop was fun and enjoyable party music.

Like the era of Slick Rick.

AD- Exactly. People just danced and partied and there was no shooting.

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