Kenny Dope On Game of Thrones, 45s and Growing Up in Brooklyn | Essential Ibiza
Published by essentialibiza.com, July 2014
With a career spanning three decades and a famously encyclopaedic knowledge of music, interviewing legendary DJ Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez is an intimidating prospect. Luckily we live in a world that’s united by a love for Game of Thrones and so before long we’re sharing theories about Daenerys, Tyrion and Arya, and comparing favourite box sets. There are no boundaries when it comes to TV shows. Eventually the conversation moves from how growing up in the hood in Brooklyn, New York, inspired him, to how the creation of his iconic track ‘The Bomb!’ was actually an accident, and touches on his upcoming collaboration with Ocean Beach Ibiza on Seamless Recordings. A compilation that includes some of his own tracks as well unreleased material, Ocean Beach The Debut is out on July 14 and is set to be the soundtrack to the summer. Sit back and listen to the wise words of a Master At Work…
Would you say your knowledge of music stems from having an inquisitive mind?
Oh yeah, I’m one of those people who wants to know what came before. I’m very interested in the past and how things work – I want to know how we came to this point in our lives. I can look at a building or a car and wonder how they were built. With music I want to know how things were recorded in the ‘60s and ‘70s. And I might have a record from say, De La Soul, and they’ve used a sample I don’t know – so I research it, and then I find the record and read the credits and there’s a piano player I’ve never heard of, so I look for his stuff.
You collect 45s. Is there something special for you in owning something physical rather than just downloading music?
I do download but yeah, there’s nothing like having the original piece of music. Especially 45s. They’re real intricate and a lot of them are one-offs. In the States there were certain labels that had a certain sound from certain cities. You know, you had Stax from Memphis, which was deep soul, then there was Motown – everybody had their own sound and vibe.
You’re an oracle when it comes to music of the past, but who or what are you listening to at the moment?
There are a lot of one-off records, but not necessarily bodies of work. I like Deetron, and Dennis Ferrer is a friend of mine who always comes up with good tunes. I think vocal stuff is coming back slowly. The whole resurgeance of deep house is being embraced at the moment and it’s putting these records back on the radio, which is important because the kids are starting to hear this stuff. I’m gonna be 44 but I feel like I’m starting over because everybody I played to for the last 24 years has grown up – they’ve had children, they’re doing other things. Now there’s a new generation and I’m happy I can stay relevant by making music for them while teaching them at the same time.
Do you think things have gone full cycle – you’re as relevant now as you were in the ‘90s?
It’s absolutely a cycle – and right now we’re in the ‘90s. The kids are trying to emulate what we did before which is cool. They’re trying to understand and figure out what machines we used. It’s so easy now to make a record, whereas years ago you needed to have $40,000 worth of equipment in your house or have a studio that was worth half a million dollars. But staying relevant is about putting out records – once you stop the gigs dry up. So it’s about putting out the music and getting in front of new people. I’ve been fortunate because I’ve been able to play in front of this new generation, and at the same time I’m able to show them it’s not about syncing the music – I’m playing the music. It’s not about turning up with something that’s pre-mixed. You can tell sometimes that you win them over 100%, but other times you can see they’re listening and they’re learning. I feel like I’m blessed to still be here doing this. A lot of guys don’t have the strength, the ability, the mind-set to be able to adapt.
When you look back at your body of work so far, is there anything that stands out to you as your greatest achievement?
Wow, the greatest achievement? I guess ‘The Bomb!’ – The Bucketheads record. That record was kinda mad. I just picked up a bunch of records and some samples to make a B-side for a 12-inch – it wasn’t even for the A-side. But the reaction to it, even today, is amazing. It wasn’t meant to do that. The intro was a mistake; that whole build up was because I missed the sequences with the drum machine and it felt good so I just left it going back and forth. I didn’t know it was going to do what it did and it changed my life completely – financially and everything, because it was such a big record. That’s one achievement for sure. Another one is Nuyorican Soul with my partner Louie Vega. We worked with a lot of musicians whose music we’d listened to while we were growing up, and when we did the photoshoot with them I was sitting there looking at all these legends and I was like ‘wow, this is for real right now’. It smacked me in the face.
You’ve experienced so much success, was that something you expected when you started out?
What’s crazy is that I knew at a young age I wanted to do music, I knew at a young age I wanted to DJ, but I never thought I’d have travelled to all these countries, met all these people and made friendships worldwide. When I started this wasn’t a profession – you did weddings and sweet 16 parties and people got paid $200 to do this stuff.
What would you like to be your legacy?
I think it’s there. I want to be known as a music lover and somebody who’s genuine and helpful. For a long time there was a perception that you couldn’t talk to me but I think that’s what will stick in people’s minds that know me.
Why was there that perception do you think?
Years ago I was never in the forefront. Louis did the interviews because I didn’t really care for it. I was really into the music, my friends and my family, I wasn’t really into talking about what I did or how I did it. You’ve got to realise that early on everybody wanted to do what we [Masters At Work] were doing and sound like we were sounding, so I just took a step back and thought ‘you know what, I ain’t telling nobody shit’. And you know it was kinda good and bad. By me stepping back I kept my skill and production to myself and let everybody figure it out themselves, but it also separated me from the media and from people knowing who I am and what I’m about, not just being one half of Masters At Work. Then a friend of mine said to me ‘you know, you need to go out and do some things by yourself’, and little by little I got more comfortable talking.
You’re revered in the industry, but who do you admire?
I look up to other entertainers. Like 50 Cent, he’s a really smart dude. And Dr Dre, he’s a guy who started like I started – in the hood. And they’ve been able to take every opportunity. Sometimes I’ve been in places at certain times and not paid attention at what could have been the next step. And I look at those guys and they took advantage of every opportunity that came their way. To be somebody from the hood, to be 50 plus years old, and sell something you’ve been involved with for $2.5 billion, that’s crazy to me.
Do you think there’s something about coming from the hood, about the similar environment you all grew up in, that instilled a sense of wanting to succeed in you all?
Absolutely. 100%. It’s like, I knew people whose parents were wealthy and the kids could’ve had anything they wanted, whereas we gotta learn it on the street, and we gotta make mistakes to get to the next level. You got this kid over here – he’s got a family business, his father’s straight and is like ‘here’s $200,000 to start a business’, and the kid sticks it up his nose. Meanwhile over here, we’re working step by step. I grew up with kids that dealt drugs, got locked up, some of them are dead, some of them have been in jail for 20 years. I didn’t want to be around that shit. Coming from that and having as little as we had and then turning it into something, it makes you wiser. It makes you use what little you have to create, and that’s reflected in the music.