Dubbed as one of the UK’s favourite reggae and dub producers, Prince Fatty is known for his heavy-weight vocalist features, and his newly-released album In The Viper’s Shadow hasn’t been spared the Prince’s touch. It includes dub and reggae legends Marcia Griffiths, George Dekker, the soulful melodies of Shniece McMenamin as well as long-time collaborators The Horseman and Big Youth. As a vinyl mixer myself, I have a deep appreciation for his technical approach to producing – which was insanely interesting to discuss – alongside his many collaborations throughout his career, and where he sees the future of producing and art of vinyl going.
Calling him from my makeshift office-bedroom in eastern Germany, Prince Fatty picks up with an animated tone. He sounds excited, saying he’s currently waiting for Omar – “you know Omar, the soul singer?” – to arrive at his house. With a light chuckle, he informs he’s currently working on a secret soul vibe. This isn’t surprising from a producer whose career has seen him dabble in reggae, dub, hip hop, pop, and more. These multifaceted attributes have certainly helped develop his eclectic style overtime.
“I think it’s working with musicians, as I look at recording everybody live. That’s one thing most people don’t do when they record: when they record, they tend to record one by one, one musician at a time, and layer it like that. Whereas I like to get everybody in a room together and then we just do it. And I think that’s where the good feeling comes from.”
“A lot of the time people don’t realise that, if you see what I’m saying. It’s like the difference between something being microwaved and being in the oven. When you taste it it’s good. But the microwave thing, it looks good but it’s not the same. So, for me it’s kind of like the slow-cooking way of recording. Shove everybody in a room and have fun.”
It soon becomes clear this style of producing is heavily influenced by what he grew up listening to, and those Prince Fatty would later go on to collaborate with: “I used to work with J Dilla and people like that, and they were master editors with the machine. It was all done manually, it wasn’t done with automatic software like it is now. I think that [his live recordings] is what gives people that old school feeling, if you see what I mean. And the hip-hop that I loved was like that as well, it wasn’t all cut up by computers.”
Nowadays, Prince Fatty’s live recording process is evidently quite niche in an age where digital bedroom DJs spring up on the daily. But this doesn’t seem to faze him, as he recognises it as a completely different approach to producing: “Digital is cool, but digital also makes you lazy though. Maybe, like taking a picture. Some will take a picture of the sky and think, “that’ll do” and change it later. But, actually, why don’t you take it again and make sure it’s perfect?”
“I look at recording everybody live … I used to work with J Dilla and people like that, and they were master editors with the machine. It was all done manually, it wasn’t done with automatic software like it is now”
This reminds me of when I was learning to mix on turntables. People always said: if you can figure that out then the switch down to CDJs will always be easier for playing out. But touring with vinyl? That’s a whole other ball game.
“All these things, turntables, vinyl and analog, are like physical things, so physics comes into it. Like, vibrations: if you want a good sound, you’ve got to mix it, so need to make sure the turntable doesn’t vibrate. Again, CDJs you can put them anywhere and you can play the music but, with turntables, they’re more sensitive so you’ve got to be smarter. That’s why road DJs don’t like the turntables. It’s not because they don’t like the sound of vinyl, they love it, but the amount of times we go out to play live and they put the turntable somewhere really bad, where it’s picking up loads of vibrations. So, then the turntable starts to feedback or shake when the guys on stage are dancing, and the needle pops.”
Recalling a particular moment while on tour, Prince Fatty starts to laugh again, and says, “So, you can imagine, Horseman’s a big guy, he’s like 6 foot 3 or 4, and sometimes the stages are trampolines. So, I can see why people switch to the CDJs because of the practicality and safety of it. Once you’ve had a couple of your record bags lost on planes, that’s a freak out too. So, I get it. But definitely, as far as my own personal music, vinyl is where it’s at. Even when I go to sleep, I’ve got vinyl playing”.
When asked what his go-to sleeping tracks are, there’s a real love for jazz and old soul, with honorary mentions of Ann Baker and Jackie Wilson. He goes on to share that he “loves to go back to go forward”. This sentiment is one you can feel in Prince Fatty’s release earlier this year – a dub rework of The Last Poets’ Understand What Black Is.
“The original album is very deep and rich, so I wanted to strip it right back and make it as raw as possible. The drum and bass on the vocal version were kind of kept in the background, with this jazz feeling that was rolling over the top. So, the way my rework album [Understand What Dub Is] had come about, I thought, let me strip it back to the raw drum and bass. This added a special effect on the vocals, it kind of made the song sound more powerful. Sometimes less is more, if you see what I mean. That’s why the Dub Trilogy thing is so strong. It’s full of lovers of the bass.”
“I grew up listening to King Tubby and all the 70s and 80s reggae …. That’s where I go and what I love and what I’ve listened to, and has always been my reference point. Working in the studio, I’ll take out double hours just to test out the speakers”
It’s no surprise that the album was also mixed traditionally: live with analog mixing desks and no automation. His voice starts to take on an endearing tone as he shares, “because I grew up listening to King Tubby and all the 70s and 80s reggae as well, that’s what I do when I go to make reggae because that’s naturally how I try and make it sound. Not on purpose, just subconsciously; that’s kind of where I go and what I love and what I’ve listened to, and has always been my reference point. Working in the studio, I’ll take out double hours just to test out the speakers”.
I bet some of you are like me, with a true appreciation for sound and always find yourself gravitating to music and sound systems that can deliver. But Prince Fatty definitely schooled me on sound testing, with insight into the best and worst music to test with. Old school reggae productions would have the full spectrum of the super subsonic bass mixed in with the high frequency details too. For these reasons, dub and classical music is great to test with, but rock’n’roll and dance music isn’t dynamic enough as there’s not enough low or high frequencies.
We soon start chatting about the earlier days in his career. I’m amazed to find out he left school at 16-years-old and started working at none other than Congo Natty’s recording studio, who was known as Rebel MC at the time. Prince Fatty starts to laugh because it was only the other week when he was playing in Bristol with him at Love Saves The Day, “So, you can imagine, been exposed to this since I was 16 and people like that being cool with me, it’s crazy”.
“São Paulo is crazy, but if you can get past the traffic then, wow! It’s really, really amazing. There’s art, culture, and music, and all of it feels really special”
He’s an incredibly grounded man; there’s so much sincerity in his tone as he reflects on those who supported him so early in his life, before he even knew it was going to be his career. Whilst working at Delicious Vinyl, Brand New Heavies’s vocalist N’dea Davenport took a liking to Prince Fatty’s recording style and insisted on him travelling to America with her to record her solo album. It was in these spaces, with producers like Rick Rubin next door, that developed his career and love for recording and producing.
“It was in the mid- to late-90’s, and, like I said, I was just a kid, man. I didn’t really expect to stay there and was just very lucky that the boss liked me and kept giving me more work, and then I ended up staying there for nearly three years. Working with Delicious Vinyl was amazing. The Pharcyde and J Dilla, producers like J Swift, that was a whole other thing too. And me being a hip-hop fan, you can imagine— like, it’s pretty crazy, coming from England and then you’re in this studio in America. It was a big trip, it was cool.”
With decades of experience under his belt now, Prince Fatty is no stranger to working abroad. Last year he travelled to Brazil to make an album with Monkey Jhayam, an MC from São Paulo. Once this was released, he had the extra perk of touring around Brazil. He travelled from Santa Catarina in the south to Salvador in the north, buying records everywhere he went.
“The sun was great and being there for Carnival was amazing. I thoroughly recommend it! São Paulo is crazy, but if you can get past the traffic then, wow! It’s really, really amazing. There’s art, culture, and music, and all of it feels really special. I think that has been a big influence, and now I’m planning on going back in October  for more shows and working on the next follow up.”
“The way Prince Fatty talks about hardware is inspiring; it makes you want to take any random thing home and play around with it until something clicks”
Touring abroad must also have its limitations. I wondered how a man who presumably works with an abundance of hardware would prioritise what gets taken and what is left behind. And who knew the answer was in a hardware kit made by SSL.
“You know what, my favourite thing is doing the live dub shows. So, I do it all live and I have this little mixer. On YouTube you can see it in any live dub videos that I’ve been doing. I use this mixer that, funnily enough, SSL makes. It’s just a little 8-channel X-Desk, and I love taking that and some delay units and stuff, but that little mixer is the one I can’t live without.”
“It’s an audio mixing company, so they don’t really make equipment for DJs, although stupidly they should. I kept breaking everything that I had before that within five minutes, and the sound quality was never good enough, so in the end I’ve found that this was the best compromise. I can blag it with different effects units and stuff, that’s okay, but I always want my multi-channel, bad boy, leng mixer – just shove it in your rucksack. So, I’d recommend it for anyone who wants to do live dub mixing.”
The way Prince Fatty talks about hardware is inspiring; it makes you want to take any random thing home and play around with it until something clicks. And then do the same with the next bit of tech, until you’ve accumulated a notable collection that feels as personal to you as honey is to bees. Fortunately for him, he was born in an era where people were replacing their vinyl collections and large, high-tech equipment for something compact and new. Friends and family were happy to give away their goods, to be quickly replaced by CDs and portable equipment. By the time he was 15-years-old Prince Fatty owned all the Eek-A-Mouse records.
“When I was a kid, I started copying cassettes for everybody and charging people for it. I had a few complaints because it wasn’t sounding so good (laughs) so I would take it back and try to figure out why”
“And I was lucky again: people switched all the hi-fis over, you know, the big 70s ones. Nobody wanted them, so I was collecting equipment and all kinds of stuff that was just being given to me, and me trying to figure it out. I was really into cassettes, and I think that’s how I learnt about re-recording properly. When I was a kid, I started copying cassettes for everybody and charging people for it. I had a few complaints because it wasn’t sounding so good (laughs) so I would take it back and try to figure out why, you know, and make it better. It comes from issues and problem solving, I think that’s what it comes down to.”
Nowadays, we can also see the same thing happening as the digital world begins to offer newness that was previously incomprehensible. Like the press industry and print, it’s hard not to see how this push for digital has massively impacted vinyl production and the depreciation of music sales. But, with his latest album In The Viper’s Shadow, and his Record Store Day release of Be Thankful For What You Got earlier in the year, vinyl and record stores still hold a significant place in Prince Fatty’s heart.
“Yeah, I think the people that like vinyl are there, I don’t think they’re going to go anywhere. If you make vinyl, it’s hard to make money from it unless you sell it direct, but then that also has its own complexities. So, I think that’s the hardest thing. It takes a long time to order, so then you have to pay for it and wait two months before we then get it back and can sell it. All those things make vinyls difficult to do.”
“In England, people have got used to records being so cheap. And that’s what they don’t understand – we’ve been spoilt, basically. Second-hand records are too cheap here, and everyone’s competing with the chance to sell a record, so they drop the price right down. But that doesn’t leave me much room to kind of re-invest, if you see what I mean? If you went to your bank manager and said, ‘Listen, this is my vinyl strategy…’ they would reply, ‘why are you doing that?’. It’s a lot of effort for not much return when you actually factor in what you’ve got to put out.”
“But we don’t care, we still do it because none of us business, money isn’t really the point. But I think in the UK, what we have to be careful of is if people can’t make money from making vinyl, then they’re just going to stop. And that will be a real shame. So, I think that’s why there’s not so much pressed things. I still press things, but even me, I would press more. I’ve got loads more music than I can actually afford to press. So, you kind of have to prioritise a little bit.”
The more we touch on In The Viper’s Shadow, it’s evident how much Prince Fatty’s respect of traditional methods is at the core of his producing. It reminds me of when we would look into the costs of pressing vinyl for Saffron, Bristol’s first womxn recording label that I work for. It makes you think harder about it, and the reason must always be more than making money.
“Exactly! And with the internet as well, everybody has got everything, so nothing is special anymore. Everything is so easily accessible. So, even the rarest songs, they’re all online. That’s why I’ve said to myself, I want to be able to play things that nobody has, and that’s kind of where it came from.”
“This last 18 months I have been reorganising and doing a lot of touring abroad, but since September there will be releases coming out every couple of months. All the stuff I have been releasing recently are all the versions I recorded for when we play out live; like the collab features with Big Youth and George Dekker, from the Pioneers, on the .45 Get Ready rework of the Temptations. Sometimes it will blow people’s minds, and they will come up to me like ‘I’ve been trying to Shazam this shit but it doesn’t come up anywhere’, unaware that for the last two hours they have been listening to unreleased music.”
“Even the rarest songs are online, but I want to be able to play things that nobody has … Sometimes it will blow people’s minds, and they will come up to me, unaware that for the last two hours they have been listening to unreleased music”
It’s especially poignant because we are in an era where exclusivity and inclusivity are eagerly being utilised. Authentic representation is increasingly being demanded of the music industry, with access for women being a main focal point. However, as I begin to ask him what his opinion is on the growing movement for inclusivity in the music industry, Prince Fatty is notified that Omar has just arrived.
As our interview begins to wrap up, he only has time to share a quick answer: “The digital thing is all cool – the access it gives is amazing. But, again, the digital world means you’ve got to have like a million streams a month if you want to actually be able to do anything, and then that involves advertising. When I first started my internet things with my sample libraries in the early 2000s, it was easy. The internet was so open and free. But now it’s all about what you can put behind releases, and people expect videos, it’s getting rough.”
But, polite all the same, he says, “Thank you again for your nice comments on the Last Poets, I could talk about sound all day long”. Followed by a string of apologies about the interruption, he makes a final note of reminding me to check out Monkey Jhayam.
So, I proceed to do just that, and I am not disappointed. But after an afternoon in conversation with the mastermind that is Prince Fatty, this doesn’t surprise me.
Artist2Artist is an original series by Nocturnal, an interactive magazine using the Arts to creatively address social and cultural issues.