Despite his association with disco, Kon's purview is much broader than a single genre. He's been a mainstay of Boston's hip-hop scene since the early '90s, and has recently started making waves in the world of house with a release on Soul Clap's label and an album, On My Way, on BBE that aims to showcase his far-reaching style. I caught up with Kon while he was over in the UK to talk about his early days in Boston, doing favours for Dr. Dre and the benefits of getting bootlegged.
Your latest release is on Soul Clap's label. How did you meet those guys?
They used to open for me back in the day. I've known them since they were young boys. I used to do this kind of bottle service place in downtown Boston. This was 2000. The format then was like Bad Boy R&B. Puffy stuff. I would do the whole '80s, rock, hip-hop [set]. At the time, they weren't even Soul Clap; they were NGP. They really used to play Bar Mitzvahs—the cheesiest gigs you could play.
I heard they used to play in a department store back then.
Yeah. It's funny because they were music heads and to a degree they were like my sons. I just remember we had a conversation one day and I was like, "What are y'all doing? You gonna do this wedding shit or are you gonna go for this?" Then they kind of got a lucky break and they actually kind of really started taking heed of what I was saying. "Follow your passion. Try it out."
They went for it and got that record on AirDrop then got down with the Wolf + Lamb guys. I think the timing was right, then they had a lot of success with the Jamie Foxx . And that was that… But we had known each other, I mean now, for going on 13 years.
Today? I couldn't tell you. I don't pay attention to new hip-hop. Not to say there's not good releases, but back in the day I was a graffiti writer, started in '83, I used to B-boy. I was definitely a part of Boston's hip-hop scene, maybe second generation. The second generation was me and my crew, we used to be called Mixed Nuts. I'd say about 1991 we made our first demo. Stretch & Bobbito used to give us a lot of love in New York. Jive Records was looking at us. We almost got signed.
I kind of stepped back, some personal things happened in my life. Anyway, we all broke up… The scene in the early to mid-'90s was great in Boston. Then it changed to, I guess, the climate of hip-hop right now where there's a lot of negativity, a lot of gun talk, just a lot of things that turned me off.
I've heard Boston's quite a rock city. Is it tough being a dance music guy there?
Not at all… I'll tell you the whole roots of it. In the '70s, my mother had me when she was 18. My parents split when I was four. My mother remarried to a guy that was in a band called Face To Face. Arthur Baker produced them. They had a huge Top 40, one of MTV's first groups, "10-9-8" was the single.
Growing up back then, when I was eight years old everybody in my house with my mum were Boston's top bands. They were all signed to majors. It was like Face To Face, John Butcher Axis, Spyro Gyra. I would go to practice with them. But before all that, my mother in '79, she used to take me to a club on Lansdowne Street, and they were tied to Studio 54.
Boston had the first record pool. A lot of history is there. There was a connection between New York with Arthur Baker. Tom Moulton's actually from Massachusetts. Dance music and disco was massive to me, but so was the rock stuff. In Boston you also had New Edition, Bobby Brown, Marky Mark, New Kids On The Block. I went to high school with one of the New Kids.
This is going to sound like quite a crude question, but I know you're a digger, so just how big is your collection?
I will say this: I want to downsize. I don't have a lot. It's quality over quantity. I have about 13,000 records. That's small in comparison to other guys I know. But when you think about it, if you got 60,000 records, you got a lot of shit. You got crap, and I know you do. I don't care who it is. Because some of these guys that have all these records and I ask them about certain records and they don't even know them. I'm like, "You Got 60,000 records but you don't know this record? What do you have?"
It never ends. It's the coolest medium. It's not necessarily what I like to play on when I travel, but I definitely still buy vinyl.
Do you simply find better music on vinyl?
Old music? Yeah. That over there, [points to a bag of records he found in an antique store] that's true analogue. There's a lot of people out there that are like, "I only play vinyl." But what are you playing? You're playing new music, right? You're playing house music... How did you make the house record? On tape? Did that go through an SSL board with vintage analogue stuff? No. You made it in Ableton. It's a digital wave pressed on a piece of plastic. You're not playing analogue. I think a lot of people don't understand the chain.
Yeah, you're playing vinyl but you're not playing the essence of what it's about. Vinyl is about tape being committed to the format. I wish there would be a warning like "This contains explicit lyrics". There should be a warning: "This is vinyl but it was made digitally".
I was interested to read that all kinds of people had called upon your expertise. Was that in the capacity of your collection? "Hey, can you find me a break?"
Well Kanye [West] called me because he sampled something and couldn't remember what it was. He sent me the track to figure it out. It was for a group on Capitol. But Dr. Dre, when he was at Aftermath, he wanted me to provide him with potential hits. I worked it out a couple of times and got paid, but I didn't really like the potential of what was going to happen. Because I produce myself, I'd rather work it up, ghost produce it and then sell it for a lot more money. I stopped doing it because I didn't like the premise. It was 12 songs on a CD; they would pay me a flat fee. But out of those songs, what if he took one and it became a hit. And that was that.
I hadn't always done them. I'd always been a fan of Danny Krivit, some of the dance music of the past, and some of the hip-hop cut and paste records… Steinski and that whole approach. A lot of the stuff I've done recently that's come out, I never wanted to release. The Cerrone one [Sir Own "Hooked"] was never supposed to come out. That only came out because someone bootlegged it from Gilles Peterson's show with his voice [over the top]. They ripped it off the radio! I saw it in a shop in the coming soon section and I was like, "Fuck that! We gotta put it out." We beat them by a week. That was a huge record for me.
And it never would've been released unless it was bootlegged?
Never. The Sylvester thing [Illvester "Feel Real"] that came out on Basic Fingers, that took off, too. A lot of the bigger, legendary guys were playing it. A shop called me up and they were like, "Yo, Derrick Carter just bought your record!" This was all stuff I'd done for myself, personally. Never with the intent of, "I'm gonna kill it." And that's the deal with the whole edits thing.
A lot of your edits are made with master tapes. How do you get access to these? It's not the kind of thing major labels give out readily.
Well there are a few of us that are in a little circle. The first sessions I got were some Warner Brothers and Motown things. I also had some indie things as well. The indie stuff I got from BBE. The major label stuff I can't reveal, for obvious reasons.
Some of the guys I deal with are super OG in the game. They've been doing it since I was a kid. I had a couple of sessions they didn't have and it just became a swap thing. Then that led to more. Then I started getting more [master tapes] from other things, and it just kind of snowballed. And I think now I've become friends with a couple of the [editors] that are at the top of it, and I think they respect what I do.
Can you say who any of those people are?
I'd rather not. I think if you do your homework you can figure it out. Let's just say one of them is a labelmate and if you do your research, he's OG.
Do you feel a sense of responsibility when you have access to that source material?
I look at it like you get a chance to play God with tracks that are already perfect. So it's real easy to fuck them up!
How are you going to better the best singer or arranger of his or her day? Barry White for example.
You got to honour the legacy of the artists in general. When you get love back from people that you've done edits of it's great. It gives you that boost that you're doing the right thing. I sent [his version of] "Good Times" to Nile Rodgers when he was sick and he wrote me back. He was like, "Man, this is awesome!" It never came out, but that was great. I mean, Danny Krivit hit me up two months ago and was like, "Yo! I need your stuff!" That and a bunch of the other DJs showing you love is a great feeling.
You've got a house record out now and you're playing more house gigs than you used to. Is that a style you've always been into?
Well I've always been into disco. Let's be honest: Chicago house, the first house records were emulations of disco records. The first hip-hop records were disco rap records, so all roads lead to disco. Now disco's huge, I feel that's a plus for me because disco's a comfort zone. I think it's cool to connect everything from my past to now because I've done all kinds of stuff.
One thing I notice when I DJ, because everyone's a DJ, I don't think there's a lot of guys in the house realm or within the nu disco realm that can really rock parties. I can go in, I can start playing rock, yacht rock, reggae, I could play hip-hop. I was with Axel Bowman and he was telling me that something happened that required him to play some hip-hop. He didn't want to play hip-hop, whereas for me I could jump right in and do it. It's nice when I do hear a dance music DJ slip in a rock record or a hip-hop record, and make sense of it. I like that. I eat it up.
Is it a challenge for you these days to play so many styles?
No. I think what the challenge has been is people knowing that I play [across the board]. "Oh I thought you were just a disco DJ" or "I thought you were just a hip-hop DJ." No, you thought wrong! If you think about it, someone like Spinna, someone like Kenny Dope, those guys have huge hip-hop backgrounds. They play it all. They encompass everything. Kenny puts out funk, soul, but he's still making house records. Those guys are in my age group. I think it's an age thing as well. Back in the '80's, hip-hop and house were hand in hand. You'd have hip-hop tracks with house mixes. I mean, De La Soul tracks with the Morales remix.
Is your album also a mixed bag?
There's some house, there's some nu disco, there's some boogie. The track I did with Ben Westbeech, to use his quote, is a "proper disco-soul smash." I don't know what that is, but I'd say it's a big mix of disco, R&B, house and pop. Pop used to be a good thing. '70s and '80s pop. The song I did with Georg Levin is a real song.
Do you think people are averse to songs in dance music nowadays?
Seems like it. Perhaps people just don't know how to make songs. Everything's a slow build up, a bleep and a blip and maybe a little sparse vocal. That's fine because it's all about a groove. You don't have to have a bridge in every song like traditional music, and that's what I like about house, that was also what I liked about hip-hop. Run DMC "Sucker M.C.'s": there's no bassline, no hook, it's just straight lyrics. Jazz, house and hip-hop all share that thing. But you can still make a good song without it, though.
So this is an original album. Does that mean you're leaving the digging compilations for a minute?
Well, I'm never going to leave it. But I don't want to be known as just a digger. I just want to be known as a good DJ and a decent producer. I'm not trying to change the world. I'm just trying to make music I like. The digging… there is a lot of us that dig. There are people that don't do music that have the craziest collections in the world. Old guys in the UK, guys in Japan—they'll blow us all out the water as far as collecting records goes. An acronym for me is "king of nothing." I'm not in it to win whatever the hell title there is… I just love music. I'm a fan first. It's really that simple.