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Adrian Younge composes new music through the filter of '90s hip-hop culture

Musician and producer Adrian Younge, right, at his Linear Labs studio in Highland Park.
Musician and producer Adrian Younge, right, at his Linear Labs studio in Highland Park.
Linear Labs Studio

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Musician and producer Adrian Younge is based in the rapidly-changing Northeast L.A. neighborhood of Highland Park.

Younge and his wife operate The Artform Studio — a combination hair salon and record store. Behind the shop, through a warren of doors and hallways, is Younge’s studio, Linear Labs.

It’s where he produces a wide range of musical projects with artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Common and Wu-Tang Clan. He recently scored the Marvel series “Luke Cage” on Netflix, along with Ali Shaheed Muhammad — formerly of A Tribe Called Quest.

Younge is the rare hip-hop producer who prefers live instruments over sampling techniques. He records without the use of computers — often playing all the instruments himself. In doing so, he tries to emulate classic R&B music and film scores from the early ‘70s, as well as sounds he’s harvested from a lifetime of collecting records.

I started realizing when I was sampling — these Ennio Morricone records, these Curtis Mayfield records, these King Crimson records — that the music that was inspiring me the most was actually these records. Then I started realizing the limitations that sampling was giving me. So I decided that in order for me to be the best, I had to learn how to play instruments, I had to learn to record like these engineers. I couldn’t do that with the computer. It had to be on tape.

Younge's upcoming album, "Voices of Gemma," is out March 30. It merges the spacious jazz harmonies of vocalists Rebecca Engelhardt and Brooke deRosa with with Younge's signature breakbeats and lush orchestral textures.

The Frame host John Horn recently interviewed Younge at his studio.

Interview Highlights

On creating new music based on hip-hop conventions:

I stopped sampling 20 years ago. I make music that is based on the scope provided me ... understanding the break. The break is the hottest part of the song that hip-hop cats want to sample. But when you can look at music through the break perspective, and then open up chords and melodic structure through that, you can make a new kind of music based on the filter that hip-hop culture provided. That’s what I do here. I still believe in sampling because the sampler is an instrument. However, there is no limitation with instruments; there are limitations with sampling.

Adrian Younge's Linear Labs Studio in Highland Park.
Adrian Younge's Linear Labs Studio in Highland Park.
Linear Labs Studio

On Ennio Morricone's influence in his work:

What I actually love is that Morricone was a person who stood as a symbol [for me] of, Hey, you can make hip-hop kind of music with a full orchestra. You could actually compose and make crazy melodies and do jazz and do psych and all that. You can actually do that because people were doing that back then.

On synthesizing the influence of many artists and seeking the soul of his music:

My new album — “Voice of Gemma” — has a song called “Silhouette Dreams.” And all of this music really represents what I love. I love the whitest of white music and the blackest of black music. I love psychedelic and progressive rock. But all that stuff comes from jazz. It’s the "white" way of doing it. Listen to Vince Guaraldi’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” you have this beautiful jazz composition and you have a bunch of little white kids singing on it and it works so damn well.

You listen to Sly Stone, you hear the blackest of black with the whitest of white. You listen to Jimi Hendrix, you have the blackest of black with the whitest of white. This is synthesis that I love — when you mix all these worlds and you just find the soul in it. And what I want to do with this album is continue to push that envelope.

Adrian Younge's Linear Labs Studio in Highland Park.
Adrian Younge's Linear Labs Studio in Highland Park.
Linear Labs Studio

On the unique sound on "Voices of Gemma":

On my new album with the jazz vocalist Rebecca Engelhardt and opera vocalist Brooke DeRosa,  I wanted to mix the feeling of Vince Guaraldi "Charlie Brown" jazz with the psychedelia of David Axelrod, but then mix that with  — somebody that grew up listening to hip-hop. I wanted to make an album that continues the journey that Axelrod and Morricone started for the rest of us. People don’t even fathom the fact that you can not only make that kind of music, but you can make it better now.

On the current direction of hip-hop:

Nothing excites me about where hip-hop is going because I’m somebody that needs cultivation. Every generation is a derivative version of what came before it. Jazz dudes didn’t like the funk dudes, the funk dudes didn’t really like the boogie dudes, the boogie dudes didn’t really like the New Jack Swing dudes, the New Jack Swing dudes didn’t really like these '90s R&B guys. It’s a cyclical process, especially in black culture. Once you leave something you never come back.

I am an honest victim of that. The difference between me and a lot of people is that I can articulate why. It doesn’t mean that my opinion is objective, it’s a subjective perspective that I have. The best artist is somebody that creates art and pays attention to detail and it’s cultivated and there’s intelligent thought behind it. Right now? There ain’t nothing different. It’s the same thing.

Adrian Younge and collaborators from his Linear Labs Studio will perform on March 28 at The Lodge Room in Highland Park.


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