RZA Interview on Roland MV-8000 // How to Make Hip-Hop Beats with Roland MV-8000

Armed with a Roland MV-8000, RZA has become the ninja master of slice-and-dice sampling. A native of Brooklyn, the hip-hop icon has brought his signature chopped-audio sound to Tinseltown, and film directors are fighting to get a piece of it. Kill Bill I & II, Blade Trinity, Ghost Dog, and the upcoming Miami Vice big-screen blockbuster are prime examples of RZA’s stylized music for picture.
Film is just one piece of RZA’s creative catalog, however. As a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, he played a vital role in shaping hip-hop history by contributing to dozens of influential releases. Log onto http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RZA for a crash course.
With his custom-painted Roland MV-8000 in tow, RZA paid a visit to Roland US headquarters recently. What follows are some of the highlights of our in-studio conversation.

How did you get into the Roland MV-8000?

Man, how I got into it is kinda crazy. I was working on the movie Blade Trinity. See, every time I’m working on a new project, I strive to get a new machine. So I was in the store. I’d seen the Roland MV-8000 a few times, played with it, but I never went for it. I own the Roland MC-909, and I like it so much … it has one of the best time-compressors made for digital audio. I thought, “Let me try the Roland MV-8000 and see if it’s up to standards with the 909.” So I bought it, took it home, and … I couldn’t make a beat! I was p---ed off. So I called the guy at the store, he called somebody at Roland, and he figured out what the problem was: I had the old software. So he put the new software in, spent about five minutes showing me a few things, and after that I was hooked on the MV. So I started out with a bad attitude about it, but it turned out that the MV is one of the most friendly drum-machine-type samplers out there. Unlike the MPC, access to your sounds and editing features is at the [snaps fingers] snap of a button.

My production style is chop style. And on the MP, I wouldn’t have been there that quick; it would’ve taken me something like six minutes to get to a point like that. And that’s what hooked me on the Roland MV-8000. So far I’ve probably made over 150 beats on this machine. And also, the sound of this machine is pretty crazy too, yo.

What’s one of your favorite songs or film cues that you’ve used the Roland MV-8000 on?

If you check out the movie Blade Trinity, you’ll hear a song that we did called “Fatal.” That song was based on the Roland MV-8000. That song is another example of how I’d take an old sample [in this case from Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground] and alter it in the machine, chop it up how I wanted, and then do some experimentation on top of it.

What also makes the MV so fat is this — you’ve got the BPM sync. So with that sample, for example [he demonstrates] you can time-stretch it out at any tempo. By doing that, the tempo that I needed for the Lou Reed sound could be stretched quickly without going to my computer. It was all done inside the machine. For the newest project I’m working on right now, Cuban Linx Part 2, which is a follow-up to the Raekwon classic Cuban Linx, at least 60-percent of that album was produced on the Roland MV-8000.

What other features do you rely on when using the Roland MV-8000?

Most beat machines are made for MIDI, and not for MIDI and audio together. The Roland MV-8000 brings both of those worlds together in a unique way. The time-compression, the BPM map, the clipboard, and the quick editing make it so easy and fast for me that I don’t lose my ideas. That’s important for musicians and producers. Ideas come and go [snaps fingers]. I’ve you’ve gotta sit there for ten minutes truncating things and doing whatever you’ve gotta do to make your chop work, you forget what you were gonna do. If you can do it quick, you won’t forget.

I also like the Step Record on the MV, which you can put in by beat or by phrase. In some cases my phrases are off beat; there’s no tempo I can find to match it. But being that the MV can automatically cut samples up, I can just put the phrase in, step record it, go to the next step and put another phrase in, and everything will stay on beat no matter what the tempo is. It’s like a Pro Tools rig inside this machine, which helps me out a lot. Anybody who makes beats on their laptops, and are gettin’ tired of clicking the mouse and doing all those things that don’t make it feel organic, the MV is the solution.

Speaking of audio, how do you typically import audio into the Roland MV-8000 — straight from vinyl, from live sampling, from WAV files through USB?

Everything. You’ve got a turntable jack right on the back, so you can hook your turntable up to it without needing a mixer. You can also plug in a mic. You can plug in a guitar. Just last night I recorded bass. I’ve recorded vocals into it. I’ve also used the internal patches — the keyboard sounds, the 808, which it is just as good as the classic. I use it for about 80-percent of all my beats. The sounds that come with the MV are very, very useful. Being able to combine a bunch of edited audio tracks with MIDI tracks like 808 is super helpful yo.

Other than the Roland MV-8000, what other Roland gear have you used over the years?

One of the most famous pieces that I see in every studio I go to, and I own one myself, is the [JV-] 1080 — and up to the [XV-] 5080. The 1080 basically defined the West Coast sound. I bought a 1080 when I was back up East knowing that the West Coast guys were using it. Some of the sounds in there — the Bass 101, the old Junos ya’ll put in there. . . . It was one of the best modules that ever came out. Now I’ve got the 3080 and 5080. I use many Roland products, including the Fantom and the Roland MC-909, which I love. I used that for Kill Bill.

We went to Mexico when they were filming Kill Bill, and I had the 909 in my room making beats for the film. One night everybody wanted to have a party outside on the beach, so a guy brought some equipment and I brought my Roland MC-909. It was so cool when I was playing the beats, slowin’ ’em down, changing the pitch control. I entertained everybody, man. The girls were going crazy, the homies were like, “Yo, what is that machine?” So that machine is not only a great machine for producing, it’s also a great machine for live action. You can plug up your DJ light system to it. You can synchronize your turntables and CDJs, and you can really put on a unique show. I did a tour in Europe where I took it with me for about 30 days, and I dazzled quite a few crowds with it.

How about BOSS gear?

My first BOSS product was called Dr. Synth [DS-330], which was used on the song “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” by ODB. That part [vocalizes: da dada-da dada-da dada-da da”] was Dr. Synth, which only cost me about 200 bucks. It was my first synth ever. You can also hear it on “Hippa to Da Hoppa” by ODB. Really, on that whole first ODB album, most of the bass and keyboards came from that BOSS sound module. I go back with BOSS, back to the first Dr. Rhythms and all that. I’ve been a geek at this for a while. For people who don’t have the pocket when they’re first starting out, BOSS offers products that you can afford and still get the quality and definitely get the control you need over your sound to get you into the producing world.

Tell us about your custom-painted Roland MV-8000.

Ya’ll are gonna look at this and say, “Hold on, I don’t see that one in the store!” We got this custom painted by Bruce Forat [http://www.forat.com]/, one of the great custom designers of all audio machines. I took my Roland MV-8000 down to Bruce, we chose some colors — yellow and black, the Wu-Tang colors — and he “customed” it out and made it look like a fat car. It almost looks like my Suburban, know what I mean? The original design is cool as well, but if you really wanna get crazy, take it down to Bruce Forat and he’ll hook it up to your own specifications.

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