As hard as it may be to believe, Camp Lo’s Uptown Saturday Night turns 15 years old today. I remember listening to this album for the first time like it was yesterday. And being able to take a trip down memory lane with the albums producer, the one and only Ski Beatz, truly made this a special anniversary for me.
This is one of those conversations that I wish you were there to hear because you are not able to truly grasp the love that Ski Beatz has for Sonny Cheeba, Geechi Suede, and Uptown Saturday Night just by reading it like I was able to during our conversation. However, Ski will take you back to the studio, tell you why the experience was fresh for everyone involved, why Camp Lo wanted the beat for Jay-Z’s “Politics As Usual,” why the videos were so dope and much more. Check it out!
Jeremiah: What’s good Ski? We’re coming up on the 15th year anniversary of Uptown Saturday Night and wanted to get your thoughts and memories on the project. You started making the album in ’96 right?
Ski Beatz: Yeah, it was around that time. It was in my apartment in Harlem in this building called 1199. They used to come up to my apartment – we had no idea we were working on the album…we were more or less just making a bunch of songs ya’ know.
Jeremiah: So you had no idea you were making one of the top albums of ’97?
Ski Beatz: What’s weird is only two of the songs that we made at the time actually made it to the album that Profile put out. But we had another whole album of 10-15 records that actually captured the interest of Profile Records. After we captured their interest, we went in for real and started creating the songs for Uptown Saturday Night. So there was the demo then the actual album.
Jeremiah: When you guys were putting the actual album together what would you say was the biggest challenge?
Ski Beatz: Singles. We had the album done or we had the gist of what we wanted to do with the album and Profile was like, “It sounds good but we need a single, we need something for the radio.” And you know, at the last hour, the last song that we recorded was “Luchini.” So I guess the biggest challenge was coming up with a song that the radio was going to play and I was blessed to find the Dynasty, “Adventures in the Land of Music” sample for “Luchini” and I let the guys hear it and you know, it became what it became, the biggest record man. I sat at the crib for like a week just digging through the crates trying to find that perfect beat.
It’s crazy ‘cause at the same time I made “Luchini,” I had made “Politics As Usual” for Jay-Z and Camp Lo heard the horns and loved them. They were like, “Man c’mon, how you gonna give that beat to Jay-Z? You know that beat is us.” That was always the problem I had working with Jay and Camp Lo at the same time…I would play a beat for Jay-Z and be like, “Yo Camp Lo about to kill this!” and Jay would be like “Man c’mon, you know that’s my beat.” It would go back and forth with them. So for me to find a horn beat that turned into a great single for the guys was great…it worked perfect, everything worked perfectly.
Jeremiah: That’s funny and not a real bad problem to have! Besides “Luchini,” what were some of you favorites on the album?
Ski Beatz: “Sparkle,” I love “Sparkle” because it was all live instrumentation. We had the bass player, we had the keyboard player, [and] we just put together a musical piece. I love “Krystal Karrington,” I love “Black Nostaljack,” I love “Black Connection” it’s one of my favorite records of all time…I love that song. The whole album to me was just dope…it was different. It was ahead of its time…it was so refreshing and fun to do because it felt like we were doing something new.
Jeremiah: Definitely it was something new. I was looking at the top Hip Hop albums of ’97 and a bulk of the other albums on the list had very similar sounds where Uptown Saturday Night had a very unique sound to it. You guys came up against some heavy hitters too….Biggie put out Life After Death, Busta, When Disaster Strikes, the list goes on. What was the thought process like…how did you come up with such a different sound?
Ski Beatz: I feel like we came up with such a different sound by not listening to what everybody else was doing. Me personally, I wasn’t all into the radio. I wasn’t listening to what was hot or what the trend was. I was just trying to create something new…something original. Being different is always something that I wanted to do. So when I worked with Camp Lo, it gave me the opportunity to really step out the box…them guys didn’t really care what was going on…they were in their own world. That whole 70’s blaxploitation, the fashion, the slang, the whole imagery was dope, it was just different…I definitely felt like when the world caught on to what they were doing they were going to have their own little lane anyway. I wasn’t really concerned about what Biggie was doing, what Jay or Busta or anybody was doing at the time. It was just Camp Lo ya’ know.
Jeremiah: I feel ya’. Take us in the studio…were there specific tracks that were a lot of fun to work on in the studio or anything that wasn’t so dope? Was there anything that you wish you would have done differently?
Ski Beatz: The studio sessions were fun man…it was new. I had been in the studio before but it was a brand new experience for Suede and Cheeba so it was fresh, it was fresh off the street, it was fresh doing the whole studio thing. Actually Suede’s first session – before they were Camp Lo, I was working with Suede, it was ahh, I forget his name, I think it was Divine before he was Geechi Suede, he was young, he was 14 or 15 whatever – I took him to [DJ] Clark Kent’s house and did a record with him called “I Heard You Could Rhyme Kid” and that was his first actual experience and this kids eyes light up when he heard his voice clear on a record ya’ know. I know when I first heard my voice crystal clear on the mic, I was like, “Whoa! This is dope!” So to see them in the studio when they got to hear the finished product, it was dope man. They had a lot of fun, I had fun with them while making it and it was just crazy man. The vibe was always good, good energy – it was a healthy environment, everyone was positive. We had some good people, my man Will Fulton, the A&R with Profile Records, the guy that actually signed them was always hands on with the project. He helped me get whatever musician, whatever I asked for the album, he made sure I had it. He had a big hand in the album…he co-produced “Black Nostaljack” with me. It was one of those moments in time where it was perfect, everything was working out perfectly.
Jeremiah: What about “Coolie High?” You remember working on “Coolie High?”
Ski Beatz: Yeah, “Coolie High” was originally produced by the homeboy Jocko. When Jocko did it, Profile said it was cool but it was missing something so they made me go in the studio and actually redo the song. What I did is, I took the sample out, got the live girls singing, [and] got the keyboard guys…I just switched the whole record up completely.
It was really dope actually…my first experience working with live musicians was on this Camp Lo album. On Jay-Z’s album, I had a bass guy come in here or there but nothing like the Camp Lo album. Some of the records on Uptown Saturday Night were completely reworked with vocals and instrumentation and just rebuilt.
Jeremiah: How about “Black Nostaljack?” What went into that with Ill Will Fulton?
Ski Beatz: Will came to me like, “Yo man, I’ve got this dope sample, it sounds so much like Camp Lo man, I promise you if you flip this sample, it will be dope.” So I listened to the sample and fell in love with it…it was crazy. I chopped the sample up and the guys came in and did their thing on it.
What was cool was the video…I think the video is what made me fall in love with that song even more because I’m a big time fan of Good Times and JJ [Jimmie Walker] you know…that whole 70’s sitcom era that I was into as a kid. So for them to actually have some of the cast members and to have the video look like it was in the apartment…it was just amazing, I loved it. It just sealed the deal as far as who Camp Lo was…as far as that whole retro 70’s slanged out type of Hip Hop group.
Then at the end of the “Luchini” video there’s a song called “Swing” featuring Butterfly…that was a cool experience too because, you know, I was always a Digable Planets fan because I love the whole Jazz fusion with Hip Hop. So for me as a fan, for him to say, “Yo, I love this beat” that was just an ill co-sign for me. And he did his thing…it definitely sealed the deal as far as the visuals on the video also ‘cause I was not expecting Butterfly to pull off his mask and be driving the van at the end of the video…that shit was dope!