By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
Large Professor is recounting stories of his early days on the road, and those within earshot are rapt as he gives the backstory to his being name-checked in Jay-Z's "Takeover."
"Jay definitely had that Tec-9," the Queens-raised producer/MC says, a reference to Jay-Z's lyrical swipe at Nas's street credibility. "We were in D.C. performing, and the show got shut down by the promoter. The crowd wasn't having it, so they followed [Nas, Large, Jay-Z, Jaz-O, and a handful of other rappers] out to the bus. We thought we were going to have to fight. Luckily Jay went to the back of the bus and got his gym bag. Out came the Tec, and he started brandishing it. He kept the crowd at bay with it.
"Maybe it wasn't Nas's first time seeing a Tec-9," he says with a chuckle. "But it was definitely my first time seeing one."
Stories like these are a dime a dozen for P., who was just a teen when he helped produce beats for Eric B. and Rakim's Paid in Full. He was barely in his twenties when he helped executive produce Nas's timeless Illmatic. But before this uncompromising icon was manipulating samplers and drum machines, he was just a skinny kid with glasses trying to get on.
"First I was a DJ," he recalls. "The natural progression from that was to go from turntables to drum machines. Rapping for me didn't come about until I heard Slick Rick's 'The Show.' Also, in school, I was always good in English. I love words. But I've never been, like, a rappity-rapper type. I just love finding words to convey my thoughts and emotions."
Although he was dope in creative-writing classes, Large Professor never took a single course in producing—all of his training was hands-on, whether it took place in crowded basements where his friends would spin and cut records or at Queens's Power Play Studios.
"I remember I was in that studio when I first heard 'The Bridge Is Over' by KRS," he says. "It hurt, but it also boosted my Queens pride. I went though the list like, 'Who do we have repping Queens?' and I came up with Cool J, Run-D.M.C., Marley. It made me take note of how dope Queens is, and like I said, that boosted my pride."
Not long after, Large Professor and his group Main Source went on to deliver their fresh-sounding debut Breaking Atoms.
"I had been working on Paid in Full, so when it came time to make my own album, I knew what I wanted to do," he says. "That's why to this day, no one can get the loop out of [the Gwen McCrae song] '90% of Me Is You' [when I sampled it on the Main Source track] 'Just Hangin' Out.' Some tried, but the girl's voice would still be talking on it. But I had the early ingenuity to get that loop out of there."
As executive producer of Illmatic, P. linked Nas with famed producers such as Premier and Q-Tip and helped the young rapper execute his vision. "It was dope helping with that album," he says. "Nas was the young dude hanging around Rakim and listening to Kool G Rap, so he came from that school of rhyme. He was so young though that he developed his own distinct style. It was just ill to help share that style with the world."
P.'s new album, Professor @ Large (Fat Beats), was created with familiar ingredients, but he says it also contains a few things he has been wanting to try for a while now. "I was always known for freaking and chopping the ill loops up, but for this go-round, the music winds up in some ill places," he says. "I got a few instrumentals on there just to break the rappity rap of it, so people can just cool out. It's an extension of where I'm at in hip-hop right now."
Which is probably why he didn't go outside of his immediate circle to put it together.
He orchestrated a posse cut, "M.A.R.S.," with Saigon, Action Bronson, Roc Marciano, and Cormega; the only other producer on the album is Marco Polo, who laced the title track. Busta Rhymes is present, as well.
At the beginning of "Light Years," Large Professor showcases a more deliberate method of rhyming. "That's the Park Bark," he laughs. "That slow, deep flow comes from doing joints in the park. Wasn't none of that studio-comfort 'turn my headphones up' shit. You had to project over the noise of the crowd plus over the beat. So that deep, deliberate style comes from that era."
Aside from recording and touring, P. is still doing DJ dates, and he finds the overseas crowds to be more appreciative of legends like himself. He insists he still gets a lot of love in the Big Apple and says that he appreciates up-and-coming local talent like A$AP Rocky and Action Bronson—even though the city that created hip-hop is different today from the rugged scene in which he came up.
"Before I used to be the extreme purist dude," he explains wistfully. "Now I just do what I do and bring that real true shit we used to rock and still rock. Let them do what they do. It's not affecting my sound."