Music has always been a big part of my life through skateboarding, and it seems to give me the energy to skate,” says pro skateboarder Chad Muska, who also just happens to be a character in the Tony Hawk video game.
“About eight years ago, I started listening to electronic music and wondering how they did this stuff,” he says. “So I got myself a couple of computer programs and messed around with them. Then I got into the MPC2000 and started sequencing on that. Then I got into Cubase and Reason, and now there’s no turning back. Whenever I’m not skateboarding, I’m working on music.”
Always on a skateboarding tour, Muska missed having access to a studio. “I was going crazy because I couldn’t make music,” says Muska. “So I got a PowerBook, the PC300 USB-connected keyboard and Cubase.”
Muska got turned onto Cubase by SuperDave Roen. They met in 1999 while Roen was running the recording department at Sam Ash in Hollywood. Roen had studied music theory and composition at UC Santa Cruz. Together, they soon started 1212 Records, an independent record label.
In the summer 2002, Muska decided he wanted to produce a hip hop record featuring the all-time greats of hip hop. So, he used his connections and persistence to recruit Biz Markie, Afrika Bambaataa, Raekwon, U-God, Melle Mel, Guru, KRS-One, Jeru, Prodigy, McLyte, Special Ed, Ice-T and Flavor Flav to sing on tracks for his first CD release, “MuskaBeatz.” All but three tracks were recorded on a PowerBook during a two-week period in Muska’s room at New York’s Soho Grand Hotel.
Muska’s career as a pro skateboarder enabled him to build his studio, to promote his name and to recruit the artists. He pitched the artists by pointing out that the project could introduce them to a new generation of kids who might not know about the impact that they have made on hip hop music.
One of Muska’s original goals for the “MuskaBeatz” album was to fuse hip hop with drum and bass, but he and Roen had so much success contacting hip hop legends that the project evolved into a classic hip hop album.
“Once we got one or two people for the album, they all came around because they realized it was a legit project. We got Biz Markie first — Dave ran into him here at the Hyatt when he was DJing out for the Oscars. Dave told him I was making an album and he’d played the video game where I’m one of the characters, so he agreed,” says Muska.
“The recording was all done in a two-week time period,” says Muska. “We had the beats ready, so they’d come in and pick a beat that they liked — I had a bunch for them to choose from — and then they’d sit down and write their lyrics right in the room. And when they were ready, we would record it.
“The vibe of this record is about the artists — the people — and what they’ve done to create hip hop and take it to the level where it’s at now,” he says. “So it was basically, ‘What are you about?’
“Each song is its own world, and you go into it through each artist, and kind of live through what they’re about, what their mindstate is, and their musical styles. Each song on the album is different, just as each artist is an individual, influence on hip hop music.
“Hip hop isn’t about what’s on the radio today and what’s on MTV,” says Muska. “Hip hop is about bringing people together for a common cause. They all come together to feel good and listen to music that makes them feel good. And it’s self expression, through graffiti, through breakdancing, through MCing, through the way you dress, through everything — that’s what hip hop is.”
Muska and Roen used a Rode NT2 microphone and a Sound Devices USB audio interface to record vocal tracks alongside Muska’s instrumental tracks that were laid out in Cubase. They also used a Mindprint single-channel voice strip box with a compressor and a microphone preamp, a DAT backup system and a Mackie 1402 mixer.
“What we did musically for this album shows what can be done without a million-dollar studio — with a laptop, a microphone, a good little MIDI sound module and a good compressor. We set up a complete recording studio in our hotel room,” says Roen. Plus they videotaped all of the rappers recording during the sessions and cut a video using Final Cut Pro.
“It was a dream come true, straight up, I can’t lie,” says Muska. “These are all people who I grew up listening to, never imagining that I would work with them, or even see them in person, let alone make an album with them. So, it was definitely a blessing.
“And it was a big learning lesson, because I was coming from being mainly a beat maker, and wasn’t used to working with other artists,” he explains. “Once you get into recording vocals and such, it’s a whole other world. But Dave’s been in music for a long, long time, recording, mixing, engineering. I was learning from Dave every day. The way we work as a team is just really, really cool.”
“The sound that we got from the hotel room and hallway was really good,” says Roen. “If we told people we did the recording at a pro studio in New York, they wouldn’t be able to tell.”
Muska continues juggling his pro skateboarding career alongside music. But while he’s out on tour, Dave handles business, from editing skateboarding videos, to music videos, to websites, magazines, shoe designs, clothing designs, t-shirts plus running the 1212 record label.
They get promotional help from a global street team network of about 650 kids who put “MuskaBeatz” posters around their neighborhoods. They built the street team through the Internet.
“Skateboarding and hip hop are not just American things,” explains Muska. “They’re all over Japan, Europe, Australia, Brazil, Canada… everywhere. We’re trying to communicate with kids that are into what we’re doing and bring them together. We try to hook them up with each other in their own community, and bring them together to help promote our label and our music and get the word out there for us. They’re stoked to do it.”