As Zilla Rocca gears up for next week’s release of his anticipated solo album, Future Former Rapper, we revisit June’s Career Crooks album Thieving As Long As I’m Breathing. That project included remixes of tracks from 2017’s Good Luck With That, by producers including Small Pro (aka the other half of Career Crooks), Fresh Kils, John Morrison and Shane Great. We recently spoke to several of the major players to find out how the project came together. Read on, and if you missed Thieving As Long As I’m Breathing when we premiered it earlier this year, catch up here.
Zilla Rocca on how the idea for a remix album came about:
It started with Small Pro just remixing a few songs off the album to stay sharp. I think it was 3-4 he just emailed me one day. I know Least Important, Most Important (Trapped in the ’90s Mix) was in there after Smalls was listening to a lot of Reasonable Doubt. Probably Career Crooks Theme (Dario Mix) was in there too. I was in love with them and it inspired me to want to remix Newlywed to pay homage to Check Your Head era Beastie Boys.
After that, Small Pro and I talked about making it a full remix project like Black Moon’s Diggin in Dah Vaults, where it was a continuation of the album too. We talked about getting outside producers but we really stressed the need for only working with people that fit the aesthetic, or had close ties to our crew. We purposefully did not want to load it up with big names because those projects never have a vibe, just a marketing gimmick or disjointed sound to either get new listeners or show off a bigger budget. Since Small Pro and I both make beats, and Career Crooks is really based off our chemistry, we valued chemistry in other producers first.
Shane Great on his Crook With a Deal remix:
With listening to the original track, it had kind of a menacing feel with the bassline and the break loop. I went for a similar feel but with a different tempo, so I chopped up this sample with guitar and string melody on the MPC. It was an intro to this Spanish ballad from the 70’s. The sample had just enough elements where I didn’t really need to add anything except for a bassline and some one-shot sounds to fill out the space.
I played some string and piano sounds that I was layering over the sample but decided that it would be too much so I took em out. Kept the drums pretty simple too so you don’t get distracted from the hilarious punchlines lol. Definitely a nod to DJ Premier or Stoupe of Jedi Mind Tricks with the raw, stripped down production. Something for the DJs to juggle and the listeners to nod too!
Fresh Kils on his Steve Martin remix:
Damn it Zilla!! You gotta send me the 140bpm joint… really? Of course. I mean, I guess I should’ve taken it as a compliment, in that, who else could handle it? Roni Size could handle it, Aphrodite could handle it… enter the Fresh Kils lol. Typically with remixes, you wanna try to take the song in a different direction than the original, but with a tempo that fast, there’s not a lot of places you can go. I didn’t want to keep the rhythm the same, but doing halftime trap wasn’t going to work, and a drum and bass approach was a little outta my wheelhouse.
In looking for inspiration, I went to the one place that’s never failed me, the funk. It’s the foundation upon which all greats things are built imo, and in that spirit, I forged ahead. I specifically channeled early Chemical Brothers material; dirty funk breaks with flashes of lushness. Truth be told, I threw everything but the kitchen sink at it, but that’s what stuck. And thank god, because between wanting to do my homie right, and showing and improving amongst the other heavies throwing down on this project, I was craving a ‘W’; DeRozan to Vanfleet for the game-winner. You’re welcome.
John Morrison on his Angel Dust remix:
Initially, I reached out to my man Small Pro and asked if I could take a swing at remixing Angel Dust as it was my favorite song from the Career Crooks album. After he sent the vocals, I immediately knocked out this real trippy, psychedelic version. Kinda like when Scooby Doo and Shaggy would find themselves inside of a spooky Carnival or a house of mirrors. After sitting on it for like a week, I scrapped it and made the version that was released on the remix album. It’s more of a floating, ambient feeling piece, like The Orb, but rugged. It’s called the Philly Love Boat mix cuz that’s what folks used to call Angel Dust back in the day; “Love Boat”.
And finally, Small Pro on his various remixes on the album:
Escapism – This instrumental exists in its natural state on the 2017 Career Crooks EP Take What’s Coming. If my memory of this beat serves me correctly, Zilla sent me a recording of some tv show he was watching with his son and I flipped it into this, partly for Career Crooks purposes but also to show off, like Jordan shooting free throws with his eyes closed. Technically we should get a co-production credit like they used to do back in the day, but this ain’t back in the day.
Crook With A Deal – This beat was made tongue in cheek, as I actually sampled the original 50 Cent/Mad Rapper song for the baseline (it’s a song about stealing, duh) and added tons of stuff on top as I usually do. I didn’t originally intend for this to turn into an actual real thing; I remember playfully suggesting the concept of us re-doing this song to Zilla who then simply said, ‘send me the beat.’ So, I made it and the rest was Career Crooks history.
Least Important, Most Important – When I did this remix, I wanted to go the opposite sonic direction of the original. The line about being trapped in the 90’s always stuck with me, so for the beat I tried to put down some Reasonable Doubt flavor (which also inspired the cover art). The original beat is a straight up banger, but this one seemed to bring out some of the emotion in Zilla’s bars, as well as providing a good contrast to his hyper-than-usual energy level.
Corrupt Novelist – I called this one the SP Revenge mix because it’s DJ Manipulator’s fault I flipped some James Brown for this. He used JB for cuts on another track and I always thought it went so well with the Good Luck With That aesthetic that I brought it back here. Even the sound of his voice is a hit.
Career Crooks Theme – Both Zilla and I like the original beat so much (also originally on the Take What’s Coming EP) but this one was really just an excuse for me to flip the drums from the end of The Infamous Date Rape by ATCQ.
Midnight In The Garden Of Good & Evil (Interlude) – This track was simply meant to be the bridge between my beats on this project and the other producers featured. I’m not sure why I made it about Adam & Eve but in their story, they do some thievery and that’s what we’re all about, right? Zilla came up with this title, it’s ridiculous.
Thieving As Long As I’m Breathing is out now on Urbnet. Future Former Rapper drops November 9 on Three Dollar Pistol Music/POW Recordings. Pre-order it here. Follow on Twitter: Zilla Rocca, Small Pro, Fresh Kills, Shane Great, John Morrison. Interview by Grown Up Rap Editor Ben Pedroche.