Okay, it’s possible that Puffy and Fatboy Slim are musical geniuses. But I doubt it. In fact, what separates them from you and me is probably little more than a record deal and thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment. Don’t believe me? Check out Sony PlayStation’s new MTV Music Generator, a rudimentary sequencing program resembling what studio pros use — but packaged as a $39.99 videogame. After just a few hours of programming beats and tinkering with its more than 4,500 sounds and samples, I’m able to crank out credible hip-hop and dance tracks without much effort. Which gets me thinking: If Music Generator makes me sound this good, what would it do for a real track master? Enter Prince Paul. The producer behind studio triumphs like last year’s Handsome Boy Modeling School disc and De La Soul’s 1989 album, 3 Feet High and Rising, agrees to take Music Generator for a spin.
We meet at the offices of his label Tommy Boy Records, where Paul quickly grasps the basics, using the PlayStation controller to choose drum sounds and lay down a shaky remedial beat. But he has trouble getting the rhythm track in synch and soon gets frustrated. “Yo, this is insane,” he says after half an hour of fiddling. “I can’t even do a simple beat on here. This is so hard!” Eventually, he completes something approaching a normal beat. “All right, all right,” he says. “Whew.”
Another half hour and Paul, gaining confidence, adds a bass line and a few cheesy sound effects. “I might do a track on this [for] my next record, just to bug everybody out,” he says. Unfortunately, the finished mix is…well, let’s just say he won’t be chucking his real gear anytime soon. “If you’re a kid and you’ve got no money and nothing but time, this is excellent,” Paul says, impressed with how well the Generator approximates the sophistication of equipment 100 times its price. “Back in the day, when I was 14, 15, I’d have loved it to death.” But that was back in the day. What if this very track were sent to Paul by a neophyte looking for a deal? “I’d be like, ‘What is this?'” he admits. “Prince Paul would not be signing himself.”