Tape Mastah Steph has been creating beats and producing hip hop since the early 1990s, when he was a teenager living in San Jose. Since then, his work has taken him from the Bay Area to Dallas, where he has collaborated with a number of local artists while still maintaining ties to the West Coast, including Stones Throw Records, arguably one of the most influential and active hip hop-focused labels. Christopher Mosley spoke with Tape Mastah Steph about his Bay Area roots, the difference between the Texas and the West Coast scenes, and how his approach, which still includes digging for floppy disks in his collection, has changed over the years.
FrontRow: What was it like producing the Dave Dub record? What does your process entail? How much back-and-forth is there between you and the MC when it comes to the production itself, or do you like to turn in a complete product?
Tape Mastah Steph: Unlike today where everyone predominantly uses the internet to transfer recorded files, Dave hand picked every beat I produced before he’d mastermind his lyrical concepts. Many hours were spent in my garage studio. So there was plenty of back and forth between us. I dug into my vast collection of beats on floppy disks and dusted off my battle station. Originally, we went under the group name E.I.M (Endlessness in Machinery). The idea was to have a post-apocalyptic environment where only scattered technology remained. The Treatment consisted of two events. The first movement, “94th apocalypse of lips” which included the treatment and later the second, “Experiment in Herb, Word, and Sound” delivered with a punk rock hip hop grassroots approach. I used my 32/8 Mackie straight to ADAT tapes recording beats entirely produced on the Ensoniq EPS along with minor drum programming by SP-1200 to add a little more grit. Fast forwarding to 2012, recreating The Treatment was finalized along with an instrumental mix companion piece to the EP entitled “Courtesy Flush.” Art designs by both Gustavo Eandi and Paolo Parisi became the icing on a cake.
FR: How far back do you and Dave Dub go? The Stones Throw site says you’re his “original collaborator?” So that was what era or year?
TMS: That would be the “Golden Era.” I was 19 when I met Dave through mutual friends in the spring of ’92. We spoke about Great Kings of the Earth and our lust for rulership through music and immediately began working on material. It was a no-brainer. Shortly after, I’d introduce Dave to Peanut Butter Wolf and approached him with various recordings.
FR: Your bio mentions growing up in San Jose and working with Peanut Butter Wolf really early on. That’s amazing. What is one detail about those days that sticks out?
TMS: Super Mario Bros, Pager codes, Digging in the crates, Searching for Animal Chin, endless nights learning and producing beats, crashing house parties, spinning at Baron Zen’s wedding, joking around with Charizma, and shatter-punching wack records with Wolf. We made a mess of things.
FR: On that end, What brought you to Dallas in 2004, and how does being involved in Dallas music compare with San Jose?
TMS: In summer of 2004, shortly after I left the West Coast to Texas for creative solitude, I met photographer and film maker Kché Pegram who would introduced me to The Dallas Hip Hop scene. I’d later team up with Neva Dug Disco in 2006 and bounce around performing at shows through other local event organizations and sponsors, such as The Recshop, Poor Vida, Rock Solid Foundation, and Art Love Magic.
I’ve also held several monthly and weeklys at venues like the former Minc Club, now Sandaga 813, “Recess” at The Fallout Lounge, as well as “Funkology” at The Crown and Harp. Currently, I’m a Resident DJ with Sissy Ross on Thursdays at the all new Swallow Lounge in Deep Ellum. We bring Guest DJ’s every week playing a variety of Acid Jazz, Funky Soul Disco and more. It’s really no different other than doing what comes natural to me.
In Dallas, it was a matter of meeting folks and seeking out what the scene had to offer. I found that music, along with Live Arts and the B-Boy culture, is abundant on multiple levels. The similarity with SJ and Dallas is you have community based organizations that thrive and contribute heavily into the scene by preserving the cultural arts. There’s no comparison between the South and The West Coast in terms of style. Hip Hop is everywhere. If you want a bird’s eye view on Dallas Hip Hop though, make sure you plan to attend any annual “Elements of Hip Hop” showcase.
FR: Is there any hip hop being made in Dallas currently that you’re into? Or any music or activity that you’ve found interesting?
TMS: I’m particularly impressed with production by Hologram Dagger, JT Donaldson, ISHI, the live improv Hip Hop band “CoLab“, and one of my favorite MCs, Kilo Artefacto of Grey Matter, to name a few. And there’s quite a handful of legendary DJ’s here in Dallas that have maintained that certain edge and momentum. DJ Love, EZ Eddie D, Sober, Nemeses, and Frantic are some that stand out to me. I’m currently working on a new project with “Year of the Ox,” not to mention sporadic colabs with other rhymers throughout the Metroplex.
FR: So you’ve been working since 1988. What do you think has changed the most in your approach? Or do you feel that you tend to value consistency?
TMS: Quality control is what keeps me consistent and my approach is always evolving. I’m always up for a good challenge. It depends on what mood I’m in and about having creative freedom to stay on my own version of non-conformity. I do whatever I want, really. With my funk band, it’s a collective decision. Every now and then there will be that self-produced track manipulated through live instrumentation.
FR: I noticed you mentioned having a booking person the other day. Do you have plans to start touring more?
TMS: Oh, definitely. It comes with the territory. This year alone I’ve been gigging back and forth from LA to The Bay, Las Vegas, Dallas, and even stayed a month in Austin. I participated in our first Isolated Wax Showcase at SXSW. And we filmed Dave Dub’s video in L.A directed by Chris Coats for Stones Throw. Life is good.
Photo by kché photography