The Song: “Check Yo Self” by Ice Cube
The Producer: DJ Muggs
The Science: Let me just state this up front: I am a HUGE fan of DJ Muggs’ work, particularly what he was doing in the early to mid-1990s. If I ever got a chance to chop it up with that dude, it’d probably turn into my own version of The Chris Farley Show. “Do you…uh…d’you remember when you, uh…when you made ‘How I Could Just Kill a Man’?” That…that was awesome.” He had a signature sound, a tremendous knack for picking out and matching up samples, fantastic SP1200 programming skills (don’t overlook this–his technical prowess is integral to his sound), and a great ear for composition. That first Cypress Hill album (which I’m sure will turn up quite a bit in this column) is a veritable master class in sample-based production.
But for this post, I’m not talking about a Cypress record, I’m talking about a record he did with Ice Cube for Cube’s The Predator album: “Check Yo Self.”
I’d bet that most people associate this song with the remix that was released as a single and got video spins on MTV — the one where Cube’s rapping over “The Message” (Grandmaster Flash, not Cymande). And that was a cool single, certainly a good move by Cube, but to me, the LP version was still better — better energy, better beat, better overall song.
On the production side of things, the beat is essentially Muggs breaking down the Sweet Inspirations’ “I’m Blue.”
Just as most people associate “Check Yo Self” with the remix over “The Message,” most people associate “I’m Blue” with Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shoop” (which, truth be told, is a well-produced piece of pop rap). But Muggs did a hell of a job flipping “I’m Blue” into an entirely different feel.
For the basic track, he looped up a two-bar phrase, then he filtered the bass line while cleverly keeping a ghost of the “shoop-be-doop” vocals in the background to add a bit of extra bounce, especially in the second bar of the loop — the “shoop-be-doop-be-doop-be-doop” part, which he even goes so far as to pan differently in order to add more of an accent. He also made good use of that little two-note horn lick to accent the start of the loop, and to punch up the hook, he added a second vocal sample (that ascending “whooaaah IIIIIII’m”), plus a little scratch of King Ad-Rock saying “check it.” To round out the beat, he added the signature Muggs hi-hat triplets and a Zapp-esque clap placed somewhat low in the mix, but just loud enough to keep the snares from being too sharp. It’s a masterful job of breaking down “I’m Blue” and hooking it up with that perfect 1992 gangsta vibe. And yo Muggs: If you ever want to come on the DJ Enki Show so I can stammer awkwardly at you, just holler.