Before he heard Thriller, Scott Herren was born in Miami. Post-Thriller as his passion for rap became further realized, he found himself in Atlanta producing gold-grill Southern booty music. During studio breaks, he’d tool around with a basic MPC sampler, privately snipping up MCs’ lyrics into brief loops of edgy, bumpy melodies. It was a chaotic sound all his own, one bold enough to mold the artistic identity forever known as Prefuse 73.
Now 28, isolated from the burdening politics and stress stateside, he records music and oversees a small innovative record label in Barcelona. Colors and textures conjured by the three cities mentioned above – perhaps a Napoleon ice cream topped with domestic urban pace and exotic foreign peace, come together on One Word Extinguisher – Herren’s recent venerated and highly celebrated record based on a stormy ex-relationship. Snapping and popping across 23-tracks until it revamps entire notions of hip hop, this choice album of the summer never turns soft or confectionary.
Keeping little contact with Miami over the years, minus an occasional phone call or tour with mates from downtown label Schematic, the album, his second as Prefuse, sounds remarkably predestined for our city’s red-means-yellow, Tongue Splasher-skied aesthetic. From the familiar pinks and blues gracing the cover, to the way his signature beat syntax looms lazily in the sun before diving into the hyper-psychedelia and piercing detail of sundown – there’s such an uncanny semblance.
A broader reason to check out One Word arrives from its beneficial contribution to hip hop. Unlike the preceding nervier Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives, here Herren actually aspires, and succeeds greatly, to express a complex message and share his personality – beyond the fact that he extracts more jams from a ghetto sampler than Swizz Beatz can muster from an entire lab. Not to mention that a just released EP, Extinguished, complements its sire while re-upping Vocal Studies’ warchest of glitchines. Damn, I’m already passed my word count – go find info on his other project, Savath & Savalis, elsewhere.
Wadding up Herren’s voicemail for days with failed interview attempts, Prefuse finally connected with Life & Art to chat about his likes, such as Vietnamese films, and candid dislikes, including Common and a certain politician.
Q: How strange is it to promote and perform a record live that pretty much sums up a one-year breakup?
P73: Ah man, it was really hard at first, but the more I tour the more I’m able to make it something different, to think of the songs in a wider concept. But I definitely know what you’re saying. One of the things I’ve found helpful is seeing how the crowds, especially the last sold out shows in New York, have responded, how they felt the music personally.
Q: Sure. Here’s a less personal question. If you could extinguish one person or thing right now, who or what would it be and why?
P73: Bush, Bush, Bush…and his regime – one hundred percent. I have no compassion for anything he’s accomplished in office. Not that Clinton did too much either, but right now that’s who needs to be fucking annihilated for sure. [laughs]
Q: Is that why you moved to Barcelona?
P73: A little bit. I wanted to get away. But mainly because my father is from there, so I figured I’d go there and get some culture after growing up in Atlanta and New York my whole life. I just wanted a totally different pace. And it’s better than I thought it would be. Everything’s just so familiar and I’d never been before – it’s very sensual and weird.
Q: How’s the music scene over there?
P73: Pretty active. It’s cool because it’s just opening up, so everyone is kind of jaded and opinionated in the United States, whereas people there are so excited. Like RJD2’s shit, kids over there flip out over his stuff.
Q: Before One Word dropped, and after, there were a lot of comparisons to DJ Shadow. Both of you had to follow up albums that essentially laid down new blueprints for hip hop. Are there similarities and how do you feel about Shadow’s music?
P73: Pressure-wise, maybe, but on [any] other terms, everyone’s making their own [type] of music. And I don’t even know if Shadow felt the fucking pressure, but I did, honestly. I didn’t wait four years to drop another record. I had to get it out.
Q: Will there ever be a time when you decide to retire Prefuse as you did with Delarosa & Asora?
P73: Well, right now would be a really bad time to do that, [laughs] but eventually, yeah, because I always have new ideas. I’d rather kill the name and keep the dignity, than come off like Yanni.
Q: Turn some readers on to your favorite prefusion jazz artists. Not a lot of people know that era. Why does that music do it for you?
P73: Alice Coltrane is, like, the queen. Pharoah Sanders, Charlie Haden, the whole crew from that era. Spiritually and musically, they all took risks within an otherwise formulaic era of music, they went outside the entire realm of straight-up jazz, like John Coltrane did before he died. Of course, then it got totally exploited and ruined by Pat Metheny – jerk off guitar solo fusion shit. But for a time, it was an awakening.
Q: Your two LPs have some of the more memorable packaging in recent memory. What role did you play in One Word’s design and artwork?
P73: For this one I told GH (Graphic Havoc, a design firm based in Brooklyn and Los Angeles) that I wanted it to be on some straight girl shit – nothing hard, nothing that looked like hip hop.
Q: And you requested the cotton candy color scheme?
P73: I just wanted it to look really feminine. I don’t know, man, I just wanted to insert some feminity but without a “gay” vibe. Don’t print that because I don’t want to come off as homophobic, I’m not at all, but I needed girls to feel my record, not just a bunch of sweaty backpack kids. And so far, it’s been really dope [laughs]. If you’re not playing tough and you’re reaching out emotionally, more people will find it and be able to relate.
Q: What are two of your favorite hip hop movies?
P73: Probably Wild Style and Style Wars, I mean, to be as cliche as possible. [laughs] But it’s true you know?
Q: I know you’re interested in doing soundtracks. Is there a film you’ve seen recently that you would have killed to score?
P73: Man. Have you ever heard of a movie, I don’t know the director’s name (Tran Anh Hung), but it’s a Vietnamese director? One of his movies is Cyclo and another one is The Scent of Green Papaya. They are set in Vietnam, and really steamy and slow, but it would be so dope to score that shit. Just the pace of the films, it’s something you should watch with your girl or guy.
Q: Based on your political stance, I assume you’d like to score Michael Moore’s new documentary (tentatively titled Farenheit 9-11: The Temperature at Which Freedom Burns)?
P73: What? I didn’t even know about it man.
Q: It reportedly exposes President Bush’s family ties with the bin Laden family. He’s going to release it in theatres during elections.
P73: Damn! The government is going to fight that shit. That would be so dope! Yo, on another note, did Common just do a Coke commercial? You’d think that Common, after his last album, wouldn’t go do some shit like that.
Q: So you didn’t care for Electric Circus – the so-called hip hop Dark Side of the Moon?
P73: I mean, I give it an E for effort [laughs]. I wasn’t really feeling it. It’s cool that he got Stereolab to do some beats, but it came off so wack. And then he’s going to make a Coke commercial? I mean, go suck a dick man. [laughs]
Q: But you’ve done some commercials as well.
P73: I did a Foot Locker commercial with Graphic Havoc as a straight up collaboration – no product endorsement, no nothing.
Q: So you don’t have qualms with commercializing your music to a certain extent?
P73: I’ll tell Coke to fuck off, even if they offered me a million dollars. [laughs] There are just some businesses you cannot do. Like Nike, that’s a hard decision. I know mad people who have said no. I think Tortoise got offered like $100,000 and they said, “fuck off.” I was like “good job man.”
Q: You seem pretty tight with Dabrye now, and the songe you did together on One Word just slay. How’d you meet him?
P73: I met him at a Detroit music conference two years ago. He was playing before us as Tadd Mullinix and I was just like,” Fuck, shit, this is annoying the fuck out of me.” I met dude when the Ghostly crew were done, and they were acting really nerdy, so Lif, me and this guy Danny (from Miami’s Counterflow Recordings) just left. Later that night, I was listening to all the demos and laughing at them, and then I heard his – it was so dope! So, I called and asked him if he’d like to do a few tracks and he was like, “Yeah man, cool!” [helium voice]
Q: Would you ever do an entire album with him?
P73: I would, but now we’re getting into territory where he’s just crazy of something. I don’t know what’s up with dude right now. Warp (Records) has been trying to sign him for a minute, major money. Yo, off the record…(back on the record) but he’d rather stay on Ghostly and work at a record store.
Q: How’d you relax this summer?
P73: I only had one day off the tour, but I don’t know, by listening to my iPod and walking around alone. Just taking walks, getting away from people, listening to other music beside your own. That’s all you can do after shaking one million hands a day.
For more information on Prefuse 73 visit WarpRecords.com and EasternDevleopments.com.
This is the longer version of the interview, as originally published in The Miami Hurricane. If you like the graphic illustration done for this article, email Andrew Nazaretz of Contrabrand Clothing at email@example.com – he makes T-shirts that blow my mind.
Hunter Stephenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.