TIDAL Backstory: DJ Muggs

The game-changing producer talks Cypress Hill, House of Pain, Roc Marciano, Mach-Hommy and more.

by
Courtesy of Sacred Bones.

“I like to see my projects from the beginning to the end. I like to be involved with the whole thing,” says DJ Muggs, whose starkly psychedelic work for Cypress Hill and others has made him one of the most influential producers in hip-hop history. To further illustrate his point: You’ll pretty rarely find one Muggs beat on someone’s rap album. If Muggs is involved, he’s likely in it for the long haul, and his discography includes essential LPs across four decades.  

Born Lawrence Muggerud in 1968 and raised in Queens, Muggs moved to Los Angeles as a teenager and debuted in the 7A3 in the late ’80s. After making a name for himself as a member of Cypress and as a pivotal force on House of Pain’s self-titled album in the early ’90s, he adjusted his m.o. as the millennium approached. Following the production of his Soul Assassins compilations, Muggs wisely began a move away from the posse album and toward projects that he could helm himself in full and own; today he operates his Soul Assassins imprint. When New York rap came back to the forefront in the 2010s, he sought out its youngest and brightest stars, releasing full-length collaborations with Rome Streetz, Meyhem Lauren, Mach-Hommy and others. A&Rs don’t need to troll blogs for the next big act; checking in on Muggs’ production calendar should suffice.

In March, Muggs released a new solo album, Dies Occidendum, through the experimental/indie label Sacred Bones. The label approached him about making a rap record, but he saw an opportunity to work outside of his comfort zone. The result is far closer to the work of labelmates like David Lynch and John Carpenter than anything in the hip-hop world. It’s a spooky, haunted record filled with cavernous drums and synths that follow you after dark. Remarkably, it still manages to solidify Muggs as a crucial voice in rap music. He’s the rare producer able to transcend his success and style in favor of constant innovation. For this edition of TIDAL Backstory, Muggs toured his discography, providing insight into a wide range of his output.

DJ Muggs, Sen Dog and B-Real (from left) are Cypress Hill in 1991. Credit: Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives.

Cypress Hill
Cypress Hill (1991)

When Cypress Hill started, there was a crew called DVX that consisted of a few different rappers. Within DVX, me and B-Real were a group and Sen Dog and his brother [Mellow Man Ace] was a group. Later on, when we got his brother his record deal, Sen Dog came with me and B. Now, during that whole time I was already in a group called 7A3, and I was torn, because I was doing stadium tours. Like ’88, we was touring with Kid ’n Play, Salt-N-Pepa, Hammer, Tony! Toni! Toné! and people like that.

I was developing my sound, and B-Real always had a mad-unique writing style; his writing style was always different than everybody around where we lived [in L.A.]. A lot of dudes around where we were was on that Run-DMC shit, or whatever the records were at that time that were influential. But B was always on his own thing. I was helping B create his sound. I was producing the whole Cypress Hill. I didn’t make beats and then they rapped on them and then I mixed it. We were building it together. We did demos for a few years; they was cool. We had to put in work.

So after a few years, our shit just locked in one day. We did the song we got called “Real Estate.” We used to have this big giant radio with two double cassettes and four speakers in it. We would plug the mic directly into the radio. And we plugged the drum machine directly into the radio, the SP-1200, then we would just push record onto a cassette and that was how we recorded demos.

Revisiting that record is wild. It’s crazy when I hear it. Sometimes somebody will have it or whatever, I’ll hear it. Last time I was like, “Man, I don’t think I could even ... I couldn’t make that record again if I had to.” 

House of Pain
House of Pain (Fine Malt Lyrics) (1992)

I had no idea that it was going to be the hit that it was going to be while we were recording. I did that [“Jump Around”] beat right after we finished the Cypress album. I did that beat and I played it for a few people. I had the song called “Jump Around” already; it had the hook on it, the “Jump, jump.” Somebody else spit on it, and it wasn’t that good. Then I hooked up with Everlast. We did a couple songs that weren’t that good, then we finally got one. I was kicking it with B-Real and I was like, “You think I should work with this dude or what, man?” He was like, “Yeah, work with him. Get paid, man. Let’s go.”

So I had Erik [Schrody, a.k.a. Everlast] come back over and then I gave him the “Jump Around” beat. He wrote the chorus, “I came to get down, I came to get down. So get out your seat.” He added that but the concept was there and we shopped the deal. We shopped it at Priority. They offered us like $60,000 or some shit and we was like, “Nah, we’re good, man.” I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I was on tour with Cypress. I’m like, “This thing’s over there, and I’m over here.” If it’s bubbling or if it’s not, I wasn’t really paying too much attention. And then Tommy Boy hit us up.

Now, the interesting thing about Tommy Boy was that [groundbreaking music-business executive] Monica Lynch was up at Tommy Boy. She had me come up and I was talking to her. And she was Irish and she said, “You know what? This record reminds me of my brothers.” She goes, “They go to church, then they go to the bar and get drunk and fight.” And I looked at her, like, “Oh shit, she gets it.” So that was a big key for them, to have someone like that in their corner that understood the vision.

I hooked them up with [Cypress’] manager. I hooked them up with the person who did our photos. Then I hooked them up with the person that did the “How I Could Just Kill a Man” video [David Perez Shadi]. I already had the formula. I was like Phil Jackson organizing the triangle.

Muggs Presents…
The Soul Assassins, Chapter I (1997)

Running around trying to give rappers beats and all that, I had enough of that shit, man. If I click with you and we make a song and we’re cool, I’m cool. You know? So it’s about friendship and shit. But I was on a thing like, “Listen, man, I’m not going to be a work-for-hire. I’m going to own everything and I’m going to build my own franchises and I’m going to control them — from the merch to the tours to the name to the movie, the doc, all of it.”

I’m more into making projects and having a vision for the whole thing. Now I shoot my own videos. We’re attaching short films to our projects. So we move in that direction to keep it interesting and keep it fun. Soul Assassins was the beginning of setting that off. You see how strong that is now. Back when I did it, it was before the mixtape game. So then the mixtape game came in and I really couldn’t do a compilation. I could, but it didn’t matter at that point because motherfuckers are making mixtapes that are better than albums. And you’re getting all these people on mixtapes, people you would never get on albums. Then it was free — give it to motherfuckers for free. But when you go to make an album you got to start paying for clearances, you got to start doing shit that costs money. Certain labels don’t want to let other labels have rights to their artists for a single, because maybe they let the artist do too many features already or they had beef with that other label. I had to deal with all that. I was like, “All right, this game’s over — it’s mixtapes now.” I did it, then I figured it was time to move on. 

DJ Muggs & Roc Marciano
KAOS (2018)

It’s always a pleasure just to speak with Roc, just to kick it and talk shit. Then, we got to get in the lab and I had a nice vision for what we were gonna do. My kids went to college at that time, so I was able to focus entirely on this project. It was just boom, boom, boom — here’s the game plan. He was like, I’m with it. And we did it.

He came to L.A.; he came to my lab a few times. I went to New York, he rented a spot, we banged out a couple of joints. We banged out a couple online. I think he might’ve come back to my lab one more time and it was great. And we didn’t put it out for a long time. I think we had it for nine months we didn’t put it out. That’s why I was able to do all that extra shit and shoot all the videos and everything, because there was just time. One thing good about it, when you ain’t got a lot of bread, man, time’s your currency, boy, so you can get shit done. Roc and I get along because we’re all about changing this shit. That’s what we’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to inspire and take chances and take risks. That’s what it’s all about.

DJ Muggs & Mach-Hommy
Tuez-Les Tous (2019)

I met Mach-Hommy through Meyhem Lauren. We was just talking about health stuff, like herbs and acupuncture and different things like that. We were just chopping it up for a while. And then eventually we got in the lab. We actually put out two projects in a year.

He’s a very talented gentleman. With a record like that, you try to fit into their sound. Mach has such a unique style, so I tried to bring my best to highlight what he was doing. That was a fun project and I think it really resonated. It all started with getting our health up.

Mach has such a unique vision, too. Everything’s about rollout with records. You can make a great record, man, but if you don’t present it correctly, especially in these crowded environments, you’re in trouble. You need to present it to people properly so they understand what just happened. So we’re big on presentation over here.

DJ Muggs & al.divino
Kilogram (2020)

I might’ve ran into Al once or twice before our official intro, but the first time I met him was when he came to a party me and Meyhem had in New York at our classic car club in Manhattan. We did a record with our car club, so we had a release party and Divino pulled up and I was talking to him.

The first time I heard Divino, he was mad distinctive. And every time I would hear him, he would just stand out from the pack. So he came out to L.A. and came through the studio. We didn’t really get nothing done the first time he came, but the second time he pulled up, I think we did 80 percent of the record in that week. That record’s an instant classic, man — that record is so good. I shot the videos for it too. I wanted to do something different. He’s always dark and stuff. I was like, “How can I give it a pop appeal but keep it dark and gritty?” That was real fun to do as well. I love flexing all my different creative muscles. It’s dope when an artist I work with allows me to do that. That was a smooth, easy relationship. Al just knows what he wants and we worked well together.

DJ Muggs the Black Goat
Dies Occidendum (2021)

I had talked to a gentleman named Dean [Hurley, sound and music supervisor and David Lynch collaborator] over at Sacred Bones and he was interested in doing a project with me over there, some kind of a rap project. I was like, “You know what? I’m good with hip-hop. I got it all covered on our label over here.” They have a very particular aesthetic, and I thought I could match it with a different style of DJ Muggs. I was like, “But I got a couple of projects that I think would go well with your label.” It came from knowing that they put out the David Lynch records and the John Carpenter records. It was cool to tap into that style.

I played them some stuff and then we went through a bunch of tracks and picked the best ones. It was easy. It wasn’t really a plan, like, “I’m going to go make this instrumental solo record.” I’m not sure it would have happened if it was meant to be a rap project. But it’s a great feeling, because being on a label with artists like David Lynch and John Carpenter is beautiful. These gentlemen are legends that I highly respect. I’ve been a student of theirs for years.

For me, it’s all about having a good time and just doing cool shit with good people. Living life, bro, just enjoying this shit, having some fun, man.

Related

Mental Health, Blackness and the Bravery of DMX

Mental Health, Blackness and the Bravery of DMX

In hip-hop and Black culture at large, the late MC’s openness changed the conversation.

Essays  / DMX
DMX: 1970 – 2021

DMX: 1970 – 2021

Raw, real, intelligent and ultimately compelling, the MC born Earl Simmons set an unsurpassed standard for intensity in hip-hop.

Essays  / DMX
TIDAL Backstory: Royce 5’9

TIDAL Backstory: Royce 5’9

The Detroit titan and Grammy nominee reflects on ambition, gratitude, sobriety and a handful of his definitive recordings.

All your favorite music.
Best sound quality available.

Start Free Trial
TIDAL app