Pass Large Professor a mic, put Sir Scratch and K-Cut on the tables and as a collective, watch Main Source get busy over unknown tracks.
The fusion of Large Pro’s R &B soul background with K-Cut and Scratches reggae roots combined with storytelling lyrics instantly made the trio’s Breaking Atoms debut a classic when it dropped on July 23, 1991. Not only did the group bring a vibe, but they laced the 12-track LP with lessons in music history and were intent on paying homage to musicians that came before them.
With a list of production credits as a group and individually, the fellas of Main Source have been bringing music excellence to our ears for years. The East Coast-bred group have always been about the essence of music history and educating, not only themselves when it comes to sampling, but the listener. Music lovers who prefer to listen to music as oppose to just skim through it, may have noticed records were cut from Ike Turner, Johnnie Taylor, Melvin Van Peeples and plenty more to assist in their jazz-infused sounds and layered percussions.
“It was a thing to be creative and recreate something that feels right,” K-Cut expresses. “Understand the history of what you’re trying to do. That’s where the magic came from. You want to know what the artist is about. That’s what inspired us as musicians, producers and DJs. It’s not only about the sampling, it’s about the history.”
Large Professor who introduced the “God emcee” Nas to the masses when he invited the Queensbridge rhymer to lay a verse on “Live at the Barbecue”, adds “there are people who go out and there are historians. With us, the combination just came forward with going through historical records. It’s a gift from God.”
Breaking Atoms, the group’s only album, proved to be socially conscious and well aware with tracks such as the infuriated “Just A Friendly Game of Baseball,” which directed tension toward police brutality and came after Large Pro sat home and reflected on the tragic Rodney King beating; the anxious “Peace is Not The Word to Play” and “Watch Roger Do His Thing”, detailed decisions when navigating the street life. Adding to the laid-back sounds were Billboard chart toppers “Looking At the Front Door” and Just Hangin’ Out.”
Main Source brought a kinetic brilliance to hip-hop. It wasn’t just a dope beat with well-versed rhymes to get the crowd going. The vibrancy of three young cats, fresh out of school who were presented with the opportunity to hit the studio and create with intention to spark something special within the culture, illuminated throughout the project as a whole.
Now, decades later, the crew is back together for a special 25th anniversary re-release of their classic album Breaking Atoms on vinyl. In collaboration with Vinyl Me, Please, the group will also rock the stage at SOB’s in New York, February 1.
The excitement of digging through crates of records or thumbing through vinyls brings excitement while discovering new sounds, instruments and arrangements takes you to a space of cognitive and aural euphoria – Breaking Atoms still sends these vibes.
In conversation with EBONY, music architects, Large Professor and K-Cut detail Main Source’s history, responsibility as artists today and of course what to expect when they hit the stage tonight. Get in-tune with the science below.
EBONY: Man, Main Source brought a freshness with really smart samples, mixes and lyrics. What is your perspective on the politics and quality of hip-hop today?
Large Professor: There are people in the culture, that are just writing songs and they’re cool, but there are people who really do their homework and [have] knowledge about this. Just like I know about Miles Davis and all the predecessors, you have types. There are people who go out and they’re historians and with us, that combination just came forward with the records and going through historical records – the new, crazy bangers throughout history. It’s mind blowing and it’s a gift from God.
K-Cut: At the same time too, I give thanks to my grandparents who had those collections. When I was a kid, I was listening to those records and when it was our time to do it, it was a thing like ‘oh I remember those records, let me grab those up!’ So, it was almost like imprinted from when you’re a kid to listen to these full records and we’re in tune with those records. It was a thing to be creative and recreate something that feels right. I think that’s what we [Main Source] did. It would be something like Large Pro would bring a record that he already did, let’s say like ‘ Lookin’ At The Front Door’, and I’d be like, ‘ooh that’s crazy’ and I’d go back in and try to get something poppin’ too.
EBONY: Do you feel like that’s a lost art in terms of the current music that’s gaining major or mainstream attention?
Large Professor: In a way because it’s not as deeply rooted. When we were making records earlier in hip-hop history, we were actually already playing the people who came before us, like James Brown. So it was a history lesson. And this is what the world has become because you’ve got all of these Unsungs and these docs coming out now, and it’s a beautiful thing. I love to see that people are describing how the supreme rises to the top. That’s what’s happening right now. It’s becoming common American culture now. I love that.
K-Cut: I think with the now…I’m not going to lie to you, I DJ a lot and I play a lot of the stuff that’s happening now, but at the same time, too, I feel like the younger people now, they don’t understand their path. When we were digging, we were understanding and knowing everything about that artist. Today, if you ask these dude who are producing now, some of them might not know who Donald Byrd is – they just take the samples and say this is a dope piece, I’m going to use that and not even know the history. When we were doing it, we knew everything about the artist [from] who played drums, who played keyboard, strings. And then, like ‘yo, the string player, I heard him on another album, so I’m going to get that album. That’s how we dug. That shows you how in-depth we were with the actual musicians. Today, they just take samples, use it, and it’s a dope record. You know what I mean?
(*Editor’s Note: Donald Byrd was a jazz, R&B trumpeter from Detroit. Main Source sampled his song “Think Twice” in their classic “Looking at the Front Door.” Peep the 1:48 mark. )
EBONY: One of things in just studying the music and the culture, that intrigues me is the story behind certain albums/song or even what went down during the studio session. What do you remember about recording and coming up with the concepts for classics like ‘Live at the BBQ’ and ‘Fakin’ The Funk’ (one of my personal favorites!)?
K-Cut: I was a kid, so I think that was the dream. To be in the studio, making records and doing what we wanted to do. Being in the studio for hours and learning more, we were just into it.
Large Professor: Absolutely. And just now having the opportunity to add on to a culture that’s been going strong ever since. [When] it’s your turn you’re looking at it like, ok, we’re putting something out into the world that we want to represent us. So we’re putting our best foot forward and making sure everything is lined up right and tight. We’re putting this presentation out into the world – like it or love it. Like it or love it. And they was with it at all levels. God’s gift is a beautiful thing. Even the album cover. It was all science. The needle hits the record and the sparks fly. That’s exactly what happens.
EBONY: It’s very rare now to get an album where you can LISTEN from top to bottom. I feel like you all succeeded at that with Breaking Atoms. Lyrically and sonically, Main Source as a group and as individual artists have complemented a plethora of artists. What attracts you to a record? What elements do you look for to say something is “dope”?
K-Cut: I dig music. In terms of making music, for me, I put music together and I visualize an artist on it. So when I present the record to the artist, they’re like ‘ oh shoot, you got me dead on.” For instance, with Big Pun, Rashad (Cut’s cousin) put me on to the project and I did the record with him. I always liked Janet Jackson’s record, “Let’s Wait a While”, back to when I was a teenager and that’s the record I used for Pun. He loved the record and that’s how it happened. But it was just one of those things where I envisioned him being on that record.
Large Professor: One thing, when working with an emcee or rapper, you, yourself have to have that peacemaker quality. You have to have a certain standard and the bar has to be at certain place. You have to be able to hear the potential and know [how to move with this person]. That’s a blessing also. When you’re working with these artists, you witnessed the growth and everything. So it’s a beautiful thing seeing the different styles and even how they cut their vocals. I’ve seen G-rap, I’ve seen Slick Rick do his vocals. I watched Rakim. All of the greats, I’ve seen these guys lay their vocals and their processes. I watched Nas do his vocals.
K-Cut. And it’s history! You can never take that back.
EBONY: So 25 years – celebrating the album and hitting the stage together on Feb 1. First day of Black History Month! How is the show designed and what’s next for you all?
Large Professor: Exactly! That’s what I was tapping into. I was like let’s do the Black History Month thing, right there. Word!
K-Cut: We’re just gonna do what we do. Give people a show and give them a part of our history. It’s going to be a magical night.
Large Professor: It’s going to be a treat for people to hear those songs, loud and having the band right there, rocking live with the songs blasting loud out of the speakers and the actual dudes right there on the stage just getting loose. Coming through on the mic. That’s gonna be a treat, right there. And then to have Just Blaze…that’s my man. That’s the opening DJ right there. And he’s gonna do what he does. It’s official. Word.
EBONY: As pillars in hip-hop culture, what responsibility do you feel you have as artists?
Large Professor: You can take it in levels. We have a responsibility for our ancestors, to continue on and to continue blessing this world and showing the world a better way and how we can say it through music and people can feel it through music. That vibe. I have people that come and tell me – I’ll be finishing a show or we’ll be coming off stage – and they’ll be like ‘yo, that song changed my life.’ So it’s to inspire. If we can do it in such a way, where we’re preserving all of the elements of the beginning of the culture, like we’re using records and drum machines, we’re on the mic…that’s what they used to do way back in the day. And we’re still able to do that and inspire people. That’s the beauty of it and that’s a responsibility of it. We’re keeping the quality of our culture. This little street thing that we did from back in the day and then it grew into this thing where now, we can go to stages and we’re going out there and maintaining the integrity.
K-Cut: I’m really happy to say that 25 years have passed and people, to this day are like ‘yo that’s an incredible album.’ You talk about music today and you have songs that come out and are gone tomorrow, but, this shows you that the integrity and the seeds that we planted last 25 years and I hope it can last another 25. That really just shows you the seeds we planted in our culture.
Catch Main Source performing “Breaking Atoms” at SOBs. Ticket information, here.
*Bonus: First 50 guests of the show will receive a limited-edition ’47 CLEAN UP hat made in collaboration with sports lifestyle company, ’47.
LaToya “Toi” Cross is the Senior Editor of Entertainment and Culture for EBONY’s Print and Digital brand. You can catch this laughing creative sharing work, art and capturing life via her handle of @ToizStory on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.