DJ Pooh has always been one of my heroes in this business, way before I even got in to it. His style was always raw and funky, going back to the days when he was producing for King T and especially those awesome St. Ides commercials. The track that made me a DJ Pooh fan for life though was the ultra-funky Nowhere To Hide featuring Threat. Let me tell you, I wore that maxi-cassette single out on my Walkman when it was first released! We all know his legacy though from producing for Snoop Dogg and just about everyone else on the West Coast, to his acting in bit parts that although are small, are very memorable. It was an honor for me to finally catch up with DJ Pooh in October of 2009 and it was actually an interview that was 4 years in the making, as I was first introduced to him backstage at a Power 106 concert in 2005 and first proposed the idea of setting an interview up. We start at his beginnings as a DJ and then go through the projects that he’s produced over the years. This interview was originally published on AllHipHop.com although it was lost to a server change. So, now that I’m here running the ship at Raptalk and I’ve been releasing throwbacks until I get some new interviews, I’ve decided to bring this one back. Enjoy!
Interview by Tim Sanchez
TS: Your West Coast Hip-Hop roots go pretty deep. Why don’t you let us know just how far back you really go?
DJ Pooh: It started back in the day with me just being Pooh – I was a little chubby kid. I am 6’3” and slim now but I was a chubby little kid and because of that, my family called me that name. When I became interested in DJ’ing, I just kept the same name. I guess I wasn’t thinking about one day being a grown man named Pooh (laughs). I started doing gigs with Uncle Jamms Army which was really the first source of a lot of urban music on the West Coast.
TS: A lot of people don’t know the history of Uncle Jamms Army and the roots it has on the West Coast. You guys used to pack the Sports Arena with 10,000 people with no headline act but your own.
DJ Pooh: I went down to a record store that Rodger Clayton a.k.a. Uncle Jamm had called The DJ Booth – it was the headquarters for the crew on 54th & Crenshaw in the hood. I went over there and gave him a little audition to show him what I had. We became friends and he gave me an opportunity to get on the stage in front 10,000 people along side DJ Bobcat, The Egyptian Lover, and the rest of the crew. Being in front of all those people inspired me to get deeper in to the music business beyond the dance promotion parties. Uncle Jamm started booking acts like Run-DMC to play at the Sports Arena when they only had that single, “It’s Like That.” Nobody had discovered “Sucker MC’s” on the B-Side yet. Run-DMC hadn’t played to a crowd of 10,000 people yet and they were nervous about going on stage. Uncle Jamm had a huge following regardless of whether they had a headlining act or not and I thought that was pretty impressive.
TS: Do you have a moment that stands out for you while DJ’ing for Uncle Jamms Army?
DJ Pooh: One that has always stood out in my mind was a show that we did with LL Cool J, The Real Roxanne and Kurtis Blow. In between the acts we would DJ and I was on the turn-tables when a massive fuckin’ fight broke out and it was complete chaos! I just kept spinning until Rodger stopped me and announced to the crowd that we were going to stop playing until things calm down. I was sitting behind the turn-tables watching 7,000 people in a super panic running left and right – guys were getting stomped and it was real crazy. That stands out in my mind because that’s what put a damper on the whole Uncle Jamms Army thing because people were afraid to come out and party – we had the terrible gang scenario that was growing in L.A.
TS: Legendary DJ’s from that era like yourself, DJ Bobcat and Dr. Dre were able to make that transition from being DJ’s to Music Producers. How were you able to make that jump?
DJ Pooh: I have to credit Dr. Dre for that. Back in the days when I was spinning with Uncle Jamm and Bobcat, on the other side of town there was another promotional group called The Wreckin’ Cru which Dr. Dre was a part of with Lonzo. It was a competitive thing back and forth. If we both had a party on the same weekend, we were all putting up posters and snatching each other’s down. Then Dr. Dre and I had met each other through a person that had record store booth inside of the Roadium Swapmeet. Dr. Dre was always there at the time making mixtapes. Through that he had begun to do his own productions and had gotten familiar with drum machines and other equipment outside of the turn-tables. He showed me the ropes on all of that and I had gotten bitten by the bug. I then had the opportunity to show some of my work to Russell Simmons out in New York. I went to Def Jam with a cassette tape of all the tracks that I had put together. I even went out there with the drum machine that Dr. Dre was using. So I went to New York and had a meeting and they listened to my tracks and they liked it. DJ Bobcat was out there already with his production partner Dwayne and they were already working with an artist named MC Breeze who was under Def Jam. It made sense for all of us to come together as the L.A. Posse at that time. From there we went on to produce Bigger and Deffer for LL Cool J. We were trying to get MC Breeze’s album out but we ran in to some friction from LL and a few others as they viewed it as possible competition. We moved the deal over to Atlantic Records and continued to produce for Breeze.
TS: A lot of people don’t know that a group of guys from Los Angeles known as the L.A. Posse played a big role with East Coast Hip-Hop especially when it comes to LL Cool J’s early career.
DJ Pooh: It was a difficult time but it was fun. We were working out of Chung King Studios which was the same studio used by Heavy D, Run-DMC, LL Cool J, especially most of the Def Jam acts at the time. LL was the biggest artist on Def Jam at the time and he had just come off of his debut album. It was a great opportunity to work on his sophomore album which cemented him but when we first got out there to New York, they actually referred to us as country. We were three guys from L.A. coming there with our own sound with songs like “I Need Love” and others. The album was successful and we were battling back and forth with the Michael Jackson Bad album at the time.
After the LL album I wanted to go back and help the West Coast out. The other guys stayed in New York to work with LL but I decided to come back home and work with King Tee. We recorded “Payback’s A Mutha” and I took that out to New York to try to get it spun. People were like, “I don’t know if we are ready to listen to this guy rapping but we love the track” so WBLS would only play the instrumental. I had been working with Ice Cube since the early NWA days when they were recording out of Eazy-E’s garage at his mom’s house.
TS: What involvement did you have in those early N.W.A. songs?
DJ Pooh: Dr. Dre and I had co-produced “Eazy Duz It.” Dr. Dre had a great idea to make and I came in to assist him on that record and learn as much as I could. After N.W.A. had broken up, I worked with Cube because I had known him more than some of the other guys. I was a part of a production company called The Boogiemen with DJ Bobcat and another guy named Rashad and we did Ice Cube’s Death Certificate album.
TS: Did that cause any problems with your good friend and mentor Dr. Dre?
DJ Pooh: Not at all because Dre and I have always had a respectful relationship. I have a great deal of respect for him. I looked at it as just working with Ice Cube and helping him accomplish what he wanted to do on the album. He had the whole concept of the Death side and the Life side already in his head. That was back in the day when artists made albums and it sounded like it was made by one person instead of a bunch of different people.
TS: You had to have been floored by the “No Vaseline” diss song to NWA when it was first recorded.
DJ Pooh: I was floored by it but I understood what was going on. I worked on that record alongside Sir Jinx. I put together the whole intro where it goes, “Here’s what they think about you. N.W.A. ain’t sh*t without Ice Cube.” It was never personal. If I am working with an artist, I am going to help them accomplish what they want. I wasn’t personally going after Dr. Dre, MC Ren, Yella or Eazy.
TS: You were asked to fill a role played by your longtime friend Dr. Dre as the main Producer for Snoop Dogg’s sophomore album The Doggfather, when Dr. Dre left Death Row. What was your approach trying to fill Dre’s shoes?
DJ Pooh: People looked it as me being put in a position to fill Dre’s shoes but I didn’t see it that way. I have such a great respect for Dr. Dre that I wouldn’t even tell anybody that I attempted to fill his shoes. What I did was try to do the best job that I could for Snoop Dogg and do something that he felt comfortable with. He was going through a murder trial at the time and we had to make records that wouldn’t be held up in a court room. It was a tricky scenario because for one having to step in to a position held by Dr. Dre and then produce something that we felt wouldn’t send Snoop Dogg off to jail.
TS: Weren’t you nervous at all or somewhat overwhelmed at the task?
DJ Pooh: Not at all because I had because I had been producing for a while and we all have our own styles and own ways of doing things. I wasn’t one to want to make an album that sounded like something Dr. Dre would do. That approach took a whole lot of pressure off of the scenario to begin with. I can’t mimic his style even though people that had become fans of Snoop Dogg during that time would want that and some producers would probably try that approach to please them.
TS: You then released your own person project called Bad Newz Travels Fast. What led you to do your own album after producing on so many other albums?
DJ Pooh: I had been working with so many artists and I wanted to give them an opportunity and a platform to get records made. Back in the day you could walk in to a record company with a great demo and get an artist signed. It wasn’t like today where it’s a matter of how many hits you have online or what mixtape you have out. It was more of the label feeling an artist and wanting to develop them. That was my way of developing artists – like Threat and The L.A. Zoo.
TS: You spoke earlier about the Ice Cube N.W.A. diss and how it wasn’t personal. Yet on your own album, you had a diss to Ice Cube by Kam called “Whoop Whoop.” That wasn’t personal too?
DJ Pooh: At the time I was working on the album, Cube and I had our differences about our movie Friday which was the first movie that we had co-written together. I also played a small character named Redd in the movie. We also had the same management. I felt that I was wronged on the Friday movie and we were young guys so I took it personal. I put the blame on Cube and that’s something that I probably shouldn’t have done. I went off on my own and felt that it was time to take care of myself. I went to work on the album and Kam had that song “Whoop Whoop” which was produced by DJ Tony G. I heard the record and I actually fell in love with it and not just the fact that it was a diss to Ice Cube. I loved the record itself and Kam was someone that I brought to the table with Street Knowledge back in the day. I took that record and just put it on my album.
TS: You went from DJ’ing to Producing to writing movies. That’s a huge jump. Was there anything that brought that about?
DJ Pooh: I learned a lot of the script writing process from Ice Cube and John Singleton. He had sat us down and showed us the ropes and the basic structure of screenplay writing. At the time I had an idea to do a movie that was based around Weed. I felt that weed could be as big a star in a movie as any of the actors in it. I came to Cube with the idea and we ended up co-writing it together. We had already done some videos together – one in particular called “Who’s The Mack” where I played a character in it. We had a fun time and it made us want to make films together.
TS: Friday had some great characters. How did you come up with all of the different standout characters for that movie?
DJ Pooh: A lot of that stuff were things that came from the neighborhood. Things that you saw or were a part of while growing up. The only movies coming out of the West Coast were things like Boyz N The Hood and Menace II Society. I had a vision for something else – me being the comedian that I am. It was life in the hood as for what it was but without focusing on the gang issues. We were able to out on a limb and try something different.
TS: You have to talk about that little “run” that you did after Deebo took the chain that your Grandmama gave you.
DJ Pooh: A lot of people took to that scene. I use that as an example for people that come to me and ask about taking small roles in films. I go back to the role that I played as Redd in Friday. It was a small role but it was a very memorable character in the movie. People remember it! I go to Disneyland with my kids and people walk up to me and say, “You got knocked the fuck out!” I don’t take it personal because obviously they are showing their support for the movie. I was honored to have our low budget project do what it did. There is a cult following for it.
TS: After Friday you ended up making a movie called 3 Strikes that you produced and directed. What was your idea on that one?
DJ Pooh: That movie came out during the time that the 3 Strikes law was passed in California. I believe in redemption and I believe that people can turn their lives around. Me being a person that has focused on comedy, I wanted to talk about that issue and bring attention to it through a comedy film. The story was about a guy who was released from jail who had 2 strikes on him and was thrust in to a bad scenario just by being picked up by a friend who had a stolen car. He had no idea that it was and it showed how easily his life could be thrown away over something like that.
TS: Your next movie The Wash had you teaming with your good friend Dr. Dre.
DJ Pooh: The Wash was our take on the 70’s Car Wash movie. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, myself and a few others came together and agreed that a new version needed to be made. I played the most incompetent kidnapper ever (laughs).
TS: You don’t seem to mind giving yourself roles in which you are made fun of.
DJ Pooh: Not at all. It’s just a movie. You can’t always be the guy with the cape on. Somebody has to be the person being rescued, or the villain. When I was younger, I got in to some trouble and I did some time. I was the guy that had everybody laughing in jail. I enjoy doing that.
TS: The last time we heard from you musically was on the 213 album with Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg and Warren G. Why did you step back from the music scene?
DJ Pooh: It’s because of the state that the music industry is in today. I sort of saw it coming early. I just feel the music industry is not about creativity or the artist. Now it’s about the hype and everything but the actual art itself. I am still a big fan of music and I still love to make tracks of my own when I am at home. I have a love for music that will never die but from a business standpoint there have been things that have made me step back from the music industry.
TS: Once again you were able to evolve and find another field to be successful at. I am talking about your foray in to the Video Game market with Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. How did you get involved in that?
DJ Pooh: I’m a gamer and I’ve been one since back in the day. I’m not just someone that was offered a chance to work on a video game. That opportunity came because I am a gamer and had interest in it. I was a fan of Rockstar Games and the Grand Theft Auto series. I spoke to some people at Rockstar and they told me that they were thinking about bringing the series out West. They wanted to deal with people that knew and understood the Los Angeles scene and that also had script writing ability. So I got involved and worked on the script for the game and also suggested people as characters for the game. I brought in a rap artist that I was working with named Young Maylay and he became the CJ character. I was blessed to get an opportunity to see all of the processes of video game making.
TS: Is there anything new that you are working on right now in the video game, television and movie departments?
DJ Pooh: I am working on a video game right now with Rockstar Games but working for them is like working for the C.I.A. If I talk about it, they will kill me (laughs). Also I am looking at developing a few more games myself. I have just completed two film scripts, but the film industry being what it is, I don’t want to give much info away on that either. Expect something along the lines of Friday. I am trying to do something that I’ve never done before and that’s work on a non-comedy. On the television side, I created a show called “The Life” which is sort of a Hip-Hop version of Entourage. It’s a take on the hip hop industry but I use Entourage as sort of a guideline. I took that project to Ice Cube and his partner Matt Alvarez at Cube Vision. We all walked it in to Comedy Central and they loved the idea so we locked in a television deal. I then brought on Aaron McGruder who I worked with on The Boondocks. I’ve got a great deal of love and respect for that guy – he’s brilliant. We just completed the pilot and script and we are getting ready to go in to casting for that project.
TS: You mentioned that you are working with Ice Cube again. How and when did that reunion come about?
DJ Pooh: It came about around a year ago when we started talking about this project. I ran in to Cube at a restaurant. For the longest time I felt that I had handled the situation between us rather immaturely. It was really about a manager that we both had at the time. It actually started at the Up In Smoke Tour in Detroit. I had been hanging out with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre discussing The Wash. Cube went on stage and I was watching him perform songs that we were a part of. It dawned on me that we had accomplished a lot together and maybe I should talk to him because I wanted us to have a friendship again. It is really hard to find good friends and good creative people in this business. We ended up talking and apologized to each other and decided that we weren’t even going to talk about that sh*t anymore. When we work together, there is always a good outcome.
I feel like a part of the hold back on the West Coast is attitude and guys not being able to grow. I think what would help the West Coast is that we all need to recognize that we need to grow up some more and be able to have an appreciation for each other and the opportunity we have been given. I respect the new guys like Nipsey Hussle, Glasses Malone and others. I support all of the West Coast artists – and the artists in the South and the East. I don’t want to regionalize Hip-Hop and I believe soon others won’t either.
TS: Is there any way we can convince you to get back in the studio to do one last project?
DJ Pooh: Yeah! I think me saying all of this is leading me to say that I am going to get back in the studio because I will be feeling hip hop and music a little more as I do it for a broader audience. Everybody has a story to tell but I think the more honest stories are the ones that are not just about representing where they are from – it’s really where you are at. Once the region and area shout-outs go away, it will be all about the music. At the end of the way we are all brothers trying to do this thing, no matter where you come from. The East Coast/West Coast thing drove me away from hip hop. I remember being in New York shooting the video for The Dogg Pound’s “New York New York” which I produced and we were shot at! The song was never intended as a diss but once that war started, that song was looked on as a diss. Shooting a video for that in the middle of New York wasn’t the safest or smartest thing to do at the time. I told myself that I had to take a step back from hip hop for a minute. I love hip hop but I love myself and I love my family too. It’s not worth it and people need to just back to making music again – and I see that more now which encourages me to step back in the game and make music.