Nasa, Owner of Uncommon Records & Nasa Labs Mix/Mastering Studio, is a noted Recording and Mix Engineer. He was the head engineer at Definitive Jux from 2000-2005 mixing many of the labels most well respected works. In addition, he’s recorded or mixed tracks from artists as varied as K’Naan, Mos Def, DJ Krush, Saul Williams, Mike Ladd and more.
We had the pleasure of catching up with Nasa so we took the opportunity to talk to him about his extensive work as the owner of Uncommon Records, as an emcee, producer, engineer and most of all we discussed the gear that he uses in the process of it all.
You have a long list of goodness that you’ve worked on as either emcee, producer and / or engineer. Run a few of them down the line for us.
Some of the stuff I’m most proud of is the projects that I fully produced with emcees and artists. I’ve mixed them all as well. Projects like Lobotomy Music and Toxicology Music from Short Fuze & Nasa, From the Left by Karniege, Dark Weapons (from Mars) from Adam Warlock, this new album with Duke01 called Steroid Stereo. Plus all the stuff I’ve done with the Backwoodz Studioz folks and the joints I’ve done with Atari Blitzkrieg lately. Those make me the most happy. Getting ready to produce a record for Junclassic and work on a collab with Megabusive as well who is always a joy to work with.
Here at BBoytechReport.com we are all about the gear behind the artist. What’s your most dear piece of gear and what do you love about it so?
Gotta say my MPC 2000xl. It’s been my compadre from the very beginning. I had random gear before that, but since 1999, it’s been by my side. I’ve been able to go through several production styles all off the same machine over the years. Then borrow from all along the way to keep evolving. There aren’t many machines/instruments you can do that with.
I read somewhere that your wife bought your MPC for you. That’s something we have in common. My wife bought my mpc as a Xmas gift one year. Was it a surprise? What was that moment like for you?
I’m glad that info is out there somewhere because she deserves a lot of credit for my career. Not just for that but for all the support and encouragement over the years. I honestly can’t remember if it was a surprise, but I know she was working over nights in some kitchen in those days as a pastry chef and put together the money (which was considerable at the time) to make my dream happen. What more can you say about that? It was a life changing moment.
You’ve worked on loads of Def Jux records as an engineer. How’d that all come about?
I worked at the label from 2000-20005, I met El at a studio I working at previously called Ozone. I was involved in sessions for tracks like Patriotism and DPA and when Jux got started he asked me to come aboard as part of the new company.
How did you get into audio engineering?
I literally had no chance to go to college or intent to. I had a 67 average in High School, mostly due to not giving a fuck about classrooms, but I did graduate. My parents were struggling financially so it wasn’t happening that way either. It was suggested I look into trade schools. After some 16 year old research in a High School library I came up with Recording Engineering. I can still remember sitting in the next class after my break day dreaming about working in a recording studio. I interned in a studio at 17 for my last semester of Senior year in HS, then promptly went to the Institute of Audio Research in New York City.
I understand that uncommon is one of the first underground hip-hop labels to go all digital. What spurred the decision to make the digital leap?
Necessity. The whole music world was going through a huge shift when we started Uncommon in 2004. Pressing up CDs and selling them wasn’t effective anymore. In order to assure that we could deliver as many of what we deemed “classic” records as possible there had to be another way. We investigated all the independent digital distributors at the time (2006) and landed a deal with one. I personally thought the future was going to be wholly digital and that in time the majors and other powers that be would reign in piracy. You can see this starting to take shape now. That said, I’ve actually been taking half steps back now, embracing physical products as well. We’ve been doing short runs of CDs, making shirts and have plans for other products like vinyl and magazines. There’s a lot more that I have planned in this light that I can’t get into yet. But when we first started, when anyone first starts, you can’t afford to just go around pressing product and hoping for the best. That’s why it’s so important to support quality artists, even on a digital level, that’s where they can get the funding to start touring or pressing innovative products.
Have you heard about Akai’s MPC Renaissance and MPC Studio? What are your thoughts on this new line of products?
I don’t always keep up on the latest from AKAI. I get wind of what they do and for the most part, particularly lately, it seems they are on the right track of continued quality. I’ll always be an AKAI head, forget that other stuff. This Ren looks ill, you get what you pay for. AKAI stuff costs because if you do your research on what you need from them and buy the right piece, it will last. Had the same MPC since 99 with no issues myself. *knocks on wood*
Do you mix in the box or out?
I am currently in the box, that box being Pro Tools. Over time, Pro Tools has evolved to the point where you can do viable mixes in the box, particularly in the landscape of hip-hop. I also master in the box via Pro Tools as well. I used to be staunchly out of the box, but technology and financial restraints has certainly mellowed me on the subject.
What are some of your favorite plug ins?
Pultec always, I used to have real Pultecs at my disposal, I’m a loyalist to that stuff, love seeing it even in plug in form. Really like the Kramer HLS EQ, H-Delay gets used a lot. I’m a huge fan of what Massey does. Support this company, they make great products and let you have lifetime (slightly limited in function) demos before you buy the full version. And all their full version stuff isn’t absurdly priced like everyone else seems to be.
What is your preference between Protools and Logic?
Pro Tools lifer. I’m a super brand loyal person, in all aspects of life. Unless you do me wrong, I have your back as a manufacturer and Pro Tools has always had my back. I just love the ease in which I can arrange songs on it and the flow of access to plug ins, etc. I’ve used Logic before, hated the interface, then Pro Tools borrowed some of their features and I was disappointed. I’ve since gotten used to that, but I can’t mess with Logic.
What is your preference between Analog and Digital gear?
In a dream world, I’d have all analog gear. Most of it would be vintage EQ and compressors, even some old school effects racks. There are definitely tricks I used to use that I haven’t been able to do with some of the old equipment I had going by the way side. End of the day though, I’m an engineer at heart; it’s my ears, not the gear that defines me. I’m good with almost any situation.
What is your unicorn piece of gear? You know, the one piece of gear that for what ever reason you’ve yet to obtain.
I could probably list a ton of Keyboards here. I’d love to get myself an old Arp or original Moog. I’d also love to mess around with an SP 1200. Those would all be on my list.