Mathematics, guardian of the Shaolin temple

Mathematics, guardian of the Shaolin temple

Producer for the last Wu-Tang album, The Saga Continues, Mathematics is an essential shadow figure in the army created by the RZA.

Photography : Brice Bossavie

Discover our playlist « Algebra and beats : a Mathematics collection », available on Spotify and Deezer.

Abcdr du Son : How came the idea to create The Saga Continues ?

Mathematics : It’s something that happened naturally. Originally, after the making of A Better Tomorrow, the RZA came to me. He’ve seen something into me that maybe I haven’t seen yet. I knew I was getting better with my production, but he came to me saying : « you should produce the next Wu-Tang Clan album ». I was a little taken aback, because, for one, I didn’t feel I was ready, for two, the bar is set so high, and for three, I’ve seen everything he dealt with making the last past albums with everybody, and I didn’t know if i wanted to deal with that. So I kind of dismissed it, and he did too after a while, because we both went back to what we were doing.

A : What made you change your mind ?

M : I’m always patient about my music, that’s something we always do regardless. So, just fine tuning and crafting my tracks, and I like what I’m hearing. I distanced myself from all other music, and listened to two albums : Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and 2001. I took my notes, studied these albums, because I know I can’t try to make nothing like that, those are already set in stone. And that would be biting. But I learned from them, and applied that to what I was dealing with. I shut off all other music, just to work, except when I was DJing. When everybody was on the bus, listening to whatever they listened to, I didn’t wanna hear it, and wanted to stay true to myself. So that was the start of it, the foundation, making this music.

Abcdr : You said you were on the road. With who ?

M : I was on the road with Meth a lot. Meth was hearing what I was doing, and buying it right then. That’s why he’s on the album like that, and killing it. I would like to think that he was inspired by my music, and he was inspiring me for sure, cause I felt like « I gotta keep going making this heat ! ». On the road with the Wu-Tang, I was playing joints. I took advantage on being with all of us being here to make them jump on it, and book sessions.

A : What was the RZA’s place in the making of this album ?

M : RZA trusted me. He let me be me. He heard what I was doing, and said « keep going, that’s that Wu shit ». But right near the end, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but to make this album better, there’s a few things I don’t know. So I went to the The Abbott. He sat there with me, listening to the album at the wu mansion, he took his note, and gave me his notes. I thought there were going to be a lot [laughs], but there was only a little bit. But these little things helped me to mold this album into what it is now.

A : Have you tried to respect some specifications to make it sounds like a pure Wu album, or did you try to put your own signature on this album ?

M : Wu-Tang is me, i’ve been Wu-Tang since the beginning. Music is a feeling. My previous albums, like Love, Hell or Right and The Problem were how I felt at that time. The Answer was more an experiment, that’s the first time I was experimenting live instrumentation. And I learned from it, cause it helped to do The Saga Continues. One of the first sample machine I actually used was the ASR-10, and a lot of Wu-Tang songs were made on an ASR-10. But I just used it differently this time. Instead of just sampling and make music in there, I took the instruments I played and run them through the ASR-10. I tried to find the perfect cohesion of everything. Even with the live instrumentation, now that I learned to do it, I actually went back and took down my albums, The Problem and Love, Hell or Right, and I remixed them and remastered them, so I’ma put those out shortly.

« It was when I saw the RZA make « Ice Cream » that made me want to become a producer. »

A : Let’s go a few years earlier. How did you connect with the Wu-Tang members ?

M : I knew RZA since the mid-80’s. I just knew him from an older brother, Infinit, who used to take me with him around, to all the boroughs. I’m from Southside Queens. With the Nation of God and Earths, the Five-Percent nation, we used to have parliamants, uptown, in Mecca, Harlem, and Medina, Brooklyn. That’s where I first met RZA at. I knew GZA from around Southside Queens cause he lived there one time, and Infinit plugged us together. When I first went to check RZA in Staten Island, back around at the time of the Cold Chillin’ and Tommy Boy days, I met brothers at different times. Sometimes Ghost would travel with RZA, or Raekwon be travelling with RZA, so those would be the few brothers I met first. I remember I met Meth and Deck at the same time, because it was right after RZA did « Ice Cream », and the original « Method Man ». I was at RZA’s in Staten Island and he had just played them joints to me, and I was like « wow, that’s banging ! ». And the original « C.R.E.A.M. », too. There were like four verses on it. I didn’t know Rae really spit like that. Back at that time I didn’t know because I was with GZA on Cold Chillin’. And they had a rehearsal, GZA went on a Cold Chillin’ tour, and I remembered Rae got on the mic and he was…. hittin’ it off. I was on the turntables, rocking the beats, and he was killing it. But Meth… he was nice. The first time I met him, he was like : « you wanna smoke ? » [laughs]. He came like that. And RZA told me : « he’s the brother that was on the joint that I made you listen to ». I think one of the last brother I met was U-God. Cause he was locked down at one point, he came home later.

A : were you making beats at that time ?

M : No I wasn’t. I had an experiment in making beats once the GZA and Cold Chillin’ deal didn’t go right. I remember me and him sampling things, and then going to the studio to do a few songs. I wish I still had these songs on tape ! I think my brother Infinit might have them. I have to ask him. But then the RZA was doing his thing and putting everything together. I could hear his beats. He was already chopping and everything, I was just sampling ! I thought : « what am I doing ? ». It was when I saw him make « Ice Cream » that made me want become a producer. I asked him « you made that on this machine ? What is this ? ». He told me « it’s the ASR-10 », and the rest is history. I fell in love with it. He gave me a quick crash course, and then I got me one.

A : Around RZA, there were you, 4th Disciple, True Master, even Inspectah Deck. Was there a friendly competition ?

Math : Definitely. Especially when we got a call like « yo we’re working on so and so, come through to the studio ». You tried to get there the earliest as possible. I was the last one to start producing, and 4th and True were already nice. So I tried to be the first one to get my joints off, and they’d be up in here already… I’m like « Damn ! ». [laughs] They’re playing joints, and you gotta wait, and make sure that you got that heat when you played it. There were some times I thought I had some heat, played it, and it didn’t cut in.

A : How did you try to sound different from these guys, find your own signature ?

M : Music is a form of expression. You express yourself. So that’s why, even though we have a certain lineage, you can hear a certain sound that link us, but you can also hear the differences between us. If you hear a 4th Disciple track, you know it’s him, the same for True Master and me. We all just stayed true to ourselves, and that’s what I tried to do with this LP, stay true to myself in 2017.

A : As you said, you were the last of all these guys to make beats. According to you, what was your breakthrough track ?

M : « Cobra Clutch », the joint on The Swarm with Ghostface. That one right there made the brothers start to say « you got something here » [laughs]. That led to the tracks on Beneath The Surface like « Publicity », and then « Mighty Healthy ».

« On The Saga Continues, there’s no sample. Everything is played. I think that’s my best reconstruction of a sample on « Lesson Learn’d ». »

A : To my perspective, the way you treated the sample on « Mighty Healthy » might be a milestone in your career on how you looped and chopped samples.

M : It’s different, yeah. And then, I got certain joints I didn’t chop up and people still haven’t detected to this day ! [laughs] But that’s a style we all did, because we all love the same type of music and we all sometimes, not knowingly, came across the same samples, and we all use the same samples. But it’s how you use it. You would try to chop it up and do things as best as possible, and manipulate it. It was definitely a contest, a competition. Even to this day, if somebody use something I wanted to flip out, I’ll still flip it, because I’m not gonna flip it the same way you did.

A : It’s specifically true on this album, because it seems that you went back to David Porter’s « The Masquerade is Over » on some tracks, but it doesn’t sound exactly like it.

M : That’s because there’s no sample on that. Everything is played, I put everything where it’s supposed to be. The voices on « Lesson Learn’d », that Mzee Jones, the guy that sings on « G’d Up ». When I had him in the studio doing it, he was like « that’s what you want ? », and I said « that’s all I need ! ». I think that’s my best reconstruction of a sample on « Lesson Learn’d ». With Isaac Hayes and Norman Whitfield, David Porter is one of my favorite producers, I studied him well.

A : What would be your favorite David Porter record ?

M : That album right there, Victim of a Joke ! It tells a story, and the music is powerful. « The Masquerade is Over » is one of my favourite songs, the way it changes, and it’s almost ten minutes long. But it takes your through chambers. And you see how many people used it already ? « Who Shot Ya », « Ill Bomb », Jake One for Freeway… And I always loved that !

Abcdr : Do you think that the sound that you guys created with 4th Disciple, True Master and the RZA left a legacy ? Do you think some guys are carrying the torch ?

M : Yeah ! Even if you don’t hear it musically, the homage’s being paid. Big Sean, Migos. It’s there. Then you see groups walking the same way we did like the A$AP Mob or TDE, with Kendrick and them. It’s living on in very different forms.

Abcdr : The Saga Continues is, aside of yours, the first album that is wholy produce by you. Does it mean a lot for you ?

M : Yeah, it does. But it’s like I don’t even look at it like that. I was just working, I was in the zone. And I just let everything happened naturally. After the cake is bake, you can look back and say « whoa », appreciate the work.

Abcdr : So there was never a moment you felt there were high stakes for you in this album ?

Mathematics : Never. There was no pressure, there was nothing on me. I think it would have been pressure on me when RZA said « I think you should produce next Wu-Tang ».

Abcdr : Since you were the guy who drew the Wu logo, producing  this album, after being the last Wu producer getting your credits, does it feel like it went full circle ?

M : Yeah. It’s a big crew you know. I’m glad I have a bit of longetivity to still be here, still get my shot of (laughs). And let people let have a glimpse of me, to introduce myself to a whole new generation. That’s a blessing right here.

Abcdr : Did it put some new ideas in your mind for your future music ?

M : Of course, I stay working. I got some things in the stash. The saga continues [smiles].

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