“It’s Just Insanity”: Revisiting the Mixing of “Wu-Tang Forever” and “The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel” with Scotty Hard
Veteran engineer, musician, and producer Scotty Hard first cut his teeth in the music industry as a member of the Vancouver alternative and punk scenes from 1978–1988. That all changed, however, when he heard the unmistakable saxophone sample at the beginning of Public Enemy’s “Show ’em Whatcha Got” during the summer of 1988. Transfixed by the groundbreaking Bomb Squad production emanating through the speakers, Scotty decided to roll the dice, head east to New York City, and be an active participant in the rapidly evolving genre of music he’d just fallen in love with.
It didn’t take long for him to make his mark, as he quickly worked his way up at Chung King House of Metal and Calliope, two iconic studios of rap’s golden era. Scotty worked with a remarkable array of artists during his three to four year stint at both venues, including the Jungle Brothers, PM Dawn, Jazzy Jay, Fat Joe, The 45 King, Ultramagnetic MC’s, Brand Nubian, Prince Paul, Black Sheep, De La Soul, and Stetsasonic.
When reflecting on Scotty’s remarkable 28-year career in the industry, it’s easy to focus on his early years while overlooking his contributions to projects by BROOKZILL!, The Crash Test Dummies, Baby Elephant, Chris Rock, Medeski Martin & Wood, and countless others. It’s a slight he’s more than happy to call me out on during our interview. “All you motherfuckers just want to know about is shit that happened in the 90s,” he quips with a laugh. “You know, I have been making records for twenty years after that.”
“He made us take the tapes back to the apartment every night. The studio manager was insistent that the vault was safe but RZA was like, ‘Fuck that, I don’t trust anyone.’”
Despite his good-humored annoyance at my fixation with his 90s catalog, Scotty is more than happy share some amazing stories and experiences, including the time RZA reached out to him to work on The Gravediggaz’s second album The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel. After first connecting with each other while working on the group’s debut 6 Feet Deep, RZA was eager to enlist the services of Scotty’s keen ear again on their followup effort. “I got a phone call from RZA saying, ‘I want you to come out to LA, I’m gonna mix the new Gravediggaz record and the new Wu-Tang record at the same time,’” he tells me.
Scotty, who was already living in LA at the time, decided to take on the gig. Joining him was Carlos Bess, another seasoned engineer who was tasked with mixing Wu-Tang Forever while Scotty worked on fine-tuning the Gravediggaz project. “We went out there and met up in this Oakwood apartments place,” Scotty explains. “RZA found this studio that was owned by Ray Parker Jr., the guy from Ghostbusters. His band was called Raydo and the studio was called Ameraycan Recording Studios.”
From the very first day it was apparent that would be somewhat of a test of mental endurance. “The first week I was in the studio on the left with the Gravediggaz and I mixed like four or five songs,” he tells me. “Carlos was in the Wu-Tang studio and he had the same fucking song up all week, just waiting for those guys to show up and do their vocals.”
“Everybody was like, ‘We’re getting the fuck out of here. Gotta get out of LA.’ It was a completely destabilizing event. It was like shock waves.”
When the two engineers stopped to compare notes at the end of the week, the difference in progress was painful. “I don’t even know if he got one song mixed that whole first week,” Scotty says. “I mixed a third of the record that first week, I was probably mixing a song a day.”
Adding to the challenge of dealing with Wu-Tang’s disorganized workflow was the fact that RZA wanted the project under constant lock and key to prevent bootleggers from getting their hands on it. “RZA was also super paranoid about stuff leaking,” Scotty Says. “He made us take the tapes back to the apartment every night. The studio manager was insistent that the vault was safe but RZA was like, ‘Fuck that, I don’t trust anyone.’ I was like, ‘You really think the reels are safer thrown in the fucking trunk of a cab?’”
Though Scotty can laugh about it now, the process of hauling all of the tape reels back and forth was a stressful and time-consuming process. “We were putting 15 or 20 reels of two inch tape in the trunk of a car,” he says. “It’s not like you were carrying around a hard drive like nowadays. I think after the first day Carlos was like, ‘Fuck this shit.’ He went to a hardware store and got a hand truck.”
“All you motherfuckers just want to know about is shit that happened in the 90s. You know, I have been making records for twenty years after that.”
The headaches and hurdles only continued from there. One time a group member gave Carlos and Scotty a ride back to their apartment, kept the tape reels in their truck, and didn’t come to the studio the next day. Then there was the time the two engineers switched places so Carlos could have a chance to work on the Gravediggaz project he’d helped record. The decision was not well received when RZA and the other Wu members arrived at the studio.
Despite the sometimes difficult-to-navigate terrain of recording with a massive group of MCs like Wu-Tang, Scotty understood that it was part of the process — likening the experience to working with a rock group with 9 guitarists. “I did sessions with these guys where I’d wait around for them for 11 hours and I’d be getting ready to leave and they’d walk in and expect to work for another 11 hours,” he says. “It’s just insanity. And it was always like that. It was definitely a slice of life.”
Sadly, the frustrating and funny memories from this time are bookmarked by a tragic event, one that is forever ingrained in the collective memory of hip-hop fans all over the world. “I was there, I remember, the night Biggie got shot,” Scotty tells me. “I was hanging out at the studio waiting for everyone to come back because it was after some awards thing.”
“I did sessions with these guys where I’d wait around for them for 11 hours and I’d be getting ready to leave and they’d walk in and expect to work for another 11 hours.”
Once the news broke, the group wasted no time leaving LA. Although many rappers now say that the idea of bi-coastal beef was largely exaggerated by the media, at the time it seemed like a very realistic possibility that more violance would follow the deaths of 2Pac and Biggie. “The next day everybody left, like bam, back to New York,” Scotty remembers. “Everybody was like, ‘We’re getting the fuck out of here. Gotta get out of LA.’ It was a completely destabilizing event. It was like shock waves.”
As remarkable as the experiences of working on Wu-Tang Forever and The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel were, Scotty hasn’t wasted a minute feeling self-satisfied in the 20 years since. Even a February of 2008 car accident that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down couldn’t prevent him from working on his craft, as he successfully returned to the studio after an eight month absence for physical and occupational therapy. He continues to mix and produce records in a wide variety of genres, from underground rap to British stoner rock, with recent projects including BROOKZILL!’s 2016 release Throwback to the Future and Tulipa Ruiz’s new album.
After dropping a retrospective album titled The Science of Sesh — from Iceland to Africa over the summer and the recently forming the Underground Producer’s Alliance with dub producer, composer, and educator Raz Mesinai, Scotty is busier than ever. Though he may never have another creative endeavor quite like the side-by-side mixing of two Wu-related projects, there’s no doubt he’ll continue expanding his already impressive discography for many years to come.
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