Active Child Talks Classic Hip-Hop

Hua Hsu

By Hua Hsu

on 08.29.11 in Spotlights

You Are All I See

Active Child

With his strident falsetto and taste for grandiose, imposing production, it is easy to hear the influence of Pat Grossi’s training as a choir singer on his debut album, You Are All I See. What might be less obvious is the influence of 1990s hip-hop, a moment Grossi witnessed firsthand as the son of Priority Records’ Vice President of Sales. “(My dad) was the one who was somewhat wheeling and dealing the albums out,” Grossi explains, “back when people were actually buying physical CDs and albums.”

eMusic’s Hua Hsu talked to Grossi about some of the most memorable and influential records he discovered during his father’s tenure at the label.

Big L, The Big Picture

Grossi: [Priority] did a lot of distribution for other labels. This was through Rawkus. A lot of people know about him, but he’s kind of under the radar in a lot of ways. He’s still one of my favorite MCs out there; I was so in love with that record for a long time. His wordplay was just like nothing else out there. Once I heard “Ebonics”…pretty much anyone who heard that song was like, “Damn. Now I understand what these guys are talking about! That‘s what that means.”

So did your dad put you on to Big L? Would he get excited about these records and pass them on?

Grossi: By no means was my dad throwing on the Big L record for me. He’d probably be throwing on Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors. He’s the classic white dad [laughs]. It was definitely me being at the office at Priority and digging through his wall of CDs and vinyl. [In high school] I always had the shit before it would come out. I had Chronic 2001 in ’97, two years before anyone else was even aware of it. Any new Snoop album, I had that early. I remember I was at a house party and I played Tha Last Meal. All of a sudden the music stopped…some kid stole the CD and ran away with it. I told my dad and he was like, “Are you kidding me?” My dad would kind of give me this stuff half-heartedly and say, “Don’t burn copies!” He was definitely touchy, because it wasn’t like nowadays, when everything leaks.

I hope your dad didn’t have to break the news to Snoop that his son had leaked his new album.

Grossi: No, it’s funny though – I had always heard stories about Priority. The entrance had a giant bulletproof glass window, and a woman behind it who was a secretary. One time Ice Cube came in with a baseball bat, and he was all pissed off; he just went street and started clubbing stuff, breaking fax machines and shit. After that, they hired security and put up bulletproof glass. My dad recently told me he had a button under his desk, that was like, “If you’re ever in a situation…”

Dr. Dre, The Chronic

Grossi: I didn’t even listen to the Chronic until a few years later, when I was actually in Los Angeles. I must have been 12 or 13, and it was just really different because before that I was really focused on the East Coast stuff, like Biggie. It wasn’t until after I got to the West Coast that I became obsessed with Pac and the Dogg Pound and that more laidback style – not so cutthroat, I guess. The Dre album was just a different production style. It was real clean and beautiful. Really great interludes. Usually rap interludes are throwaway but the stuff on The Chronic…it was like a piece of art.

Master P, Ghetto D

Grossi: Ghetto Dope was just the rawest album. It had a lot of great songs on it. The album cover itself was just one of the more iconic things I’d seen in rap in a long time – a dude smoking crack on the cover – it was just raw. There were some songs on there that…”Make crack like this” (“Ghetto D”), “I Miss My Homies”…they were just really good songs, that could compete with “10 Crack Commandments” or anything like that. It was the first time I started listening to Southern hip-hop. To this day a lot of people snicker or laugh at Southern rappers but No Limit really took it there in a lot of ways. Mystikal. Silkk the Shocker had one of the weirdest styles, to this day, just super strange delivery. But Ghetto Dope: you can’t really fuck with “Make ‘Em Say Uhh.”

2Pac, Strictly for My …

Grossi: I love all of them, but Strictly was like…it was really early Pac, just kind of raw, shitty production in a lot of ways. I think the songs had more poetry to them. Not so much attitude and swagger, which wasn’t a bad thing, but I felt like he was at his best when he was focused more on his art and being a poet and kind of being romantic. There was a lot of anger on Strictly, but there were a lot of songs with more depth to them. That was one I used to play a lot in my car.

Were your parents ever concerned about what you were listening to?

Grossi: I think my mom was much more concerned than my dad. And then on top of all that, I think they were more concerned with me distributing this music to all my friends, and what their parents would think. It wasn’t a huge issue for my parents, but the issue became real when I was handing out CDs with people smoking crack on the front of them to my friends, and they were taking them home.

I can remember when Ice Cube put out Lethal Injection and for a promo thing Priority made tons of these pens that looked like needles. My mom was like, “You are not taking this to school.” But I snuck one in my backpack and I was using it. And before I knew it everyone was like, “Damn – I want one of those. Can you bring me one?” And suddenly I was handing out Lethal Injection promotional pens at school, and that didn’t go over so well.

Snoop Doggy Dogg, Doggystyle

Grossi: Can’t put a list together without that. That was actually one I heard before I moved to the West Coast. I think ["Gin and Juice"] was the most played video of my youth; one that really resonated on the East and West for a lot of people, and one that is to this day the best thing that Snoop will ever do, without a doubt. He’s prostituted himself to such a point that I don’t even hear him anymore. But that album was the shit.

You’ve chosen quite a few rappers with distinctive deliveries. Do you think this relates to how you use your own voice at all?

Grossi: I feel like, even when my voice is coated in layers of reverb and delay, I feel like it’s definitely unmistakable in a lot of ways. It’s not like listening to, say, a Washed Out song where it becomes an element of the music. I feel like it’s something that can’t be ignored, even if you want to ignore it [laughs]. It’s there and it’s falsetto.

Wu-Tang Killa Bees, The Swarm Vol. 1

Grossi: It’s got some really great moments on it. The song that always nails me is “Where Was Heaven.” It was a real emotional song that’s got all these weird Holocaust references, which are random. “Concrete Jungle” is another great track on here.

It’s like there was a surplus of Wu-Tang. They put out Wu-Tang Forever and it was like, “How do I soak all this in?” It’s almost worth at this point going back and rediscovering a lot of it. They were constantly adding people to the group and you were like, “Who is this guy? Is he even good?” You were trying to feel people out. And you look back and someone like Cappadonna was one of the sickest members, in my opinion.