“It Seemed Really Natural to Me”: Count Bass D on a Lifetime of Musical Miracles
The veteran producer discusses learning to drum at age 4, dealing with the poor commercial performance of his debut album, and his transitions between live instrumentation and sampling.
Many beatmakers and producers discover a passion for making music in their middle, high school, or college years. Count Bass D’s experience was a bit different — he started his musical apprenticeship at a mere four years old.
Before launching a lengthy career that includes records with MF Doom and Snoop Dogg, Count’s journey began as a pre-kindergarten child attending one of his pastor father’s church services. As he sat in the pews with his mother watching a visiting choir perform, he vividly remembers feeling a desire to try his hand at the drums. “I looked at what the person was playing and I said to my mother, ‘I really think I can do that,’” he tells me. “I remember this clear as day.”
As the service wound down, the musicians decided to give the curious young Count a chance to play. “Towards the end they gave me an opportunity to try and I was keeping a beat,” he remembers. “This is the reason why I haven’t really abandoned Christianity as my spirituality. I continue to musically experience these miracles that can’t be explained, that are really supernatural.”
“I’ve never had a big head based off of my abilities in hip-hop because I can roll into any church and just get squashed if I’m not careful.”
When asked to elaborate on how he was able to pick up drums so quickly, Count admits that his abilities felt innate and almost defy logical explanation. “It seemed very obvious to me that I should be able to just pick up and start playing, but other people thought it was really fascinating,” he says. “It just seemed really natural to me.”
From his initial experience at that fateful service, Count went on to master a toy drum set until he was old enough to sit at an adult one. His advanced talent at a young age led to regular church gigs and before long it seemed like percussion was his chosen path. Then another opportunity for a different musical miracle presented itself when the organist at his father’s church left.
Count’s dad was on the verge of an extended church-related trip and in dire need of someone who could pinch hit for the former organist. “My father — who’s originally from the Caribbean but spent a lot of his time in England — had to go to England to do a crusade,” he explains. “So he pulled me out of fourth grade and told me that the way that I taught myself how to play drums, he thought that I could teach myself to play piano.”
“I continue to musically experience these miracles that can’t be explained, that are really supernatural.”
His father’s perception of Count’s abilities proved to be spot on. “For six weeks I went to London with him — I think this was ’82. By the time I came back from fooling around on a piano I could play all my triads, all inversions, and play the 1, 4, 5 progressions in all twelve keys,” he says. “I just figured this out in fourth grade, in six weeks. That was just another supernatural thing that happened to me.”
Though learning to play organ for your father’s choir as a 10-year-old traveling overseas is an atypical childhood experience, Count remains thankful for the opportunities the church provided him. “I’m grateful for my upbringing,” he tells me. “I know it’s not for everybody. But still to this day, that’s the only people that keep me humble — my church players. Because they’re the ones who destroy everybody.”
Keeping these largely unrecognized musical geniuses in mind helps Count stay grounded when assessing his own abilities. “When cats like Cory Henry and all the guys in Snarky Puppy do cross over, people’s minds are blown in the secular world,” Count says. “But if you roll up in certain churches in Houston and all around this country, you’ll see guys who’ll just blow your head off. I’ve never had a big head based off of my abilities in hip-hop, because I can roll into any church and just get squashed if I’m not careful.”
“I’m just grateful because I don’t really know how to please people with this music. It’s not really something where I knew my sound was gonna fit in.”
Despite keeping his talents in perspective, transitioning as a musician from the church world to the rap game hasn’t always been easy for Count Bass D. When Count dropped his Pre-Life Crisis debut in 1995 on a now defunct subdivision of Sony Records, it failed to resonate with a wide audience despite critical acclaim. The fact that it utilized live music over more traditional sampling methods did not endear him to many potential fans. “That was illegal when I first started,” he says. “It was The Roots and myself — and that was it. At the time, as soon as you brought a live instrument into the mix, the Timberland wearing, camouflage wearing guys would be breathing down your neck.”
Though the poor commercial performance of Pre-Life Crisis led to an eventual parting of ways with his label, Count continued on his journey undeterred. He purchased an Akai S-3000 and MPC-2000 sampler, mastered the art of sampling, and eventually released the underground classic Dwight Spitz in 2002.
Since then he has been a consistent and prolific producer, with a Bandcamp page that boasts 28 releases to choose from. Count experimented with different methods of instrumentation and sampling over the years, with his most recent projects leaning heavily on his skills as a multi-instrumentalist instead of samples — a transition he’s more than comfortable making. “I was doing this before Pro Tools, before you could chop yourself up and fix it,” he says. “You had to just be able to play.”
“It seemed very obvious to me that I should be able to just pick up and start playing, but other people thought it was really fascinating. It just seemed really natural to me.”
These days he feels fortunate that major players in the rap game have sought him out despite his resistance towards crossing over or chasing trends. “I’m just grateful anytime somebody hears my sound and says, “You know what? I want to work with this guy,” he says. “That’s how it was with MF Doom, Snoop Dogg, and a host of other people I’ve worked with. I’m just grateful because I don’t really know how to please people with this music. It’s not really something where I knew my sound was gonna fit in.”
With regards to Snoop, their collaboration happened after the rap superstar identified himself as a fan and asked Count to send him some tracks. Not long after their initial communication they cut the single “Too Much Pressure”, a seminal moment in Count’s lengthy career. The unexpected opportunity to work with the west coast legend was a healthy reminder to stay the course and stay true to the kind of music you want to make. “I just tell people all the time, ‘Sometimes you just have to be concerned with staying true to the game, being your best self that you can possibly be, and hoping that the chips fall where they may,” says Count.
It’s clear Count Bass D’s journey is far from over. Despite all of his accomplishments he still has plenty of ideas, inspiration, and music left for the future. Though it’s uncertain what kind of blessing will happen to him next, he seems content to create his kind of music and trust the process.
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