Greyboy looks to make a name for himself with a new best-of compilation
There’s a platinum record on the wall inside the historic Long Beach home of DJ/producer Greyboy, but it doesn’t have his name on it. It used to belong to Ice Cube back in the troubled Ruthless Records days, which was just about the time baby Greyboy was first learning where a beat came from and how he could put together one of his own. And in the 20 years since, you’ve heard his music, whether you’ve meant to or not.
You’ve heard him at the cineplex (Get Shorty) and in TV commercials (Budweiser); you’ve seen him scratch and spin at concerts (with 20,000 of your closest friends before sets by Ben Harper and Jack Johnson) and the club (with a few dozen of your closest friends at Cheapshot’s or the Pike in Long Beach). You’ve felt the returning echo of the Greyboy sound in every classy-cool night-drive instrumental that smacks a smooth flute trill over a dusty J.B.s-style drumline.
He was the first person on Costa Mesa’s world-renowned Ubiquity label to chart on Billboard; he’s sold the most albums of anybody on Ubiquity to this very day. And he’s now one step closer to having a platinum record featuring his own name with the brand-new best-of compilation, Fifteen Years of West Coast Cool, which also marks a triumphant farewell to the label he helped build.
“I don’t think of it as an accomplishment,” he says now. “It’s just like a marker. I can tell where I was, and I know what I was thinking. And when I look at all the music I’ve done, I can always say that it’s been done on my own terms. And I feel good about that.”
He still works the same way he did years ago, when he went by the name Andreas Stevens and did everything in a San Diego bedroom: winding traditional jazz melodies such as Herbie Mann’s around hard-and-heavy Premier-style beats with turntables, ProTools, a synth and an MPC sampler.
As a blueprint for the Greyboy beat, it’s never been tampered with: pulsing low-end, a block-rocker snare/kick combo and slinky live instrumentation on top. Young Greyboy wanted to make beats for MCs, he says, but his hometown didn’t deliver. (“I was stuck on a deserted island,” he says now.) So he asked jazzbo friends such as Karl Denson—who would later splinter off with Greyboy’s live roster as the Greyboy All-Stars jam band—to honk, skronk and blow where an MC would have been rapping. It was just necessity, he says now, one that put him into the growing acid-jazz and rare-groove scene at just the right time.
That’s the story as it starts on West Coast Cool, which prefaces unreleased material and rare vinyl-only remixes with “Unwind” and rolls through such Greyboy staples as “Panacea” and the brooding “Whirlwind” before thundering into the guest-vocalist era—which was “a long time coming,” he says. With new fame came more fun, such as a fiery Sharon Jones on the Betty Davis-esque funk stomper “Got to Be a Love” and Runaway Slave’s AG on the golden-era percolator “Hold Your Weight.” The unreleased finishers link Greyboy with such new-generation Ubiquity artists as soul man Nino Moschella and precision instrumentalist Shawn Lee, whose collaborations both gently complement Greyboy’s prime moments and underscore the persisting versatility of a producer who says he’s most proud of what he doesn’t do: “Less,” he says, “is more.”
Now after 15 years at Ubiquity, Greyboy is taking another unexpected step by leaving the label to strike out on his own. West Coast Cool is an amiable goodbye—“A parting of ways,” he says. But if the release of his best-of is a chance to sit back and bask, he’s not taking it. Instead, he’s been working on his first full album in almost five years, to be released in 2009 on his own SoundLock label. He’s been diligently practicing on a line of five turntables in preparation for a record that he hopes will help push forward the turntable as instrument.
“The fine art of deejaying,” he says solemnly, “has yet to be really appreciated.”
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So what’s going to be the next landmark on the way to a platinum album of his own?
“Probably my 25th album,” he says. “If I make it! I feel like I’ve gone past everything I wanted to do when I was starting out. If I’m still on the same plane from here on out—I’m good!”
Greyboy deejays at the Pike, 1836 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 437-4453; www.pikelongbeach.com or www.myspace.com/thepike. Every other Mon., 9 p.m. Free. 21+. Visit Greyboy at www.greyboymusic.com or www.myspace.com/greyboymusic.