Spectrum – Caleb Macken

My name is Caleb Macken and I am a dj, producer and audio engineer. I produce hip hop as DJ M-1 and run my own record label Ill Technique Records. My latest project is with Queens, New York MC Starvin B titled ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ and will be coming out on vinyl in the next few months.

I’ve always loved music. It’s always been my number one passion since as far back as I can remember. I used to jump around my sitting room with a tennis racket pretending to play guitar when I was a kid and my family would laugh and egg me on. At that stage I liked what was on the telly or what my parents were listening to especially my Dad. Dire Straits, Duran Duran, Genesis and Peter Gabriel, popular music of the early 80’s.

Throughout my teenage years I listened to mainly rock and metal and myself and friends would form bands and try to make music together but mostly music making was a hobby. I had heard hip hop in school in the early 90’s through the popularity of more rock influenced acts like Cypress Hill, Ice T and Ice Cube but it wasn’t until my best friend gave me a cassette of Wu Tang Clan’s debut album ‘Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’ that I really got hooked. It blew my mind. I had no idea what to make of it when I played it first. My friend asked me weeks later ‘do you still have my tape do you like it or can I have it back or what?!’. I couldn’t give it back I was totally fascinated. I gave the tape back eventually when I bought my own copy and any other Wu Tang related album I could get my hands on.

From that starting point I immersed myself in hip hop. I bought every album I could find. At this stage the internet was in its infancy so I had to read about it in magazines, ask friends if I could borrow tapes, if they could recommend albums or just walk into a record shop and buy an album solely based on it’s cover. I bought cd’s by A Tribe Called Quest, Krs One, Pete Rock, DITC, Jeru The Damaja, Common, De la Soul, Mobb Deep, Group Home, The Notorious BIG, The Beatnuts, The Pharcyde and many more. I managed to get myself a job in Tower Records and started to buy all the hip hop vinyl I could. I got out a loan and bought myself my first  set of turntables and proceeded to teach myself how to mix, beat juggle and scratch. I had taken my first steps into music production.

One of the groups that I had gotten heavily into was Gangstarr. They were a two man group consisting of vocalist Guru and dj/producer DJ Premier. When I heard ‘Hard To Earn’ I listened to how DJ Premier would scratch on songs and started to copy his style. I also began to pay attention to how he would put beats together, how Guru’s vocals would work with the beat and how all the elements would mix together. My ear started to develop.

DJ Premier went on to produce tracks for Notorious BIG, Jay Z, Nas and even main stream artists like Christina Aguilera. He is widely regarded as the best hip hop producer of all time. Rightly so. From my own perspective listening to Gangstarr gave me the blueprint to not only be a dj and beatmaker but how to produce a hip hop album. Fast forward to 2017 and I am now a fully fledged hip hop producer, dj and audio engineer releasing my own album with a US based rap artist on my own record label. One MC and one dj.

The album is titled ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’. Starvin B is a rap artist from Queens New York who I had become a fan of and thought would be good to work with so I decided to reach out to him and get him to rap on one of my beats. The first track we recorded turned out really well so I decided we should do a full project. I would make the beat at home in my studio set up and send Starv the guide track (a four bar loop with no changes looped out for three or so minutes so) He would use this guide track to write his lyrics to and when ready head to the studio and record his vocals. When it was done he would send it back to me. I would then re work the track adding changes, scratches and samples and mix the vocals and track. This is the basic process I used throughout the recording. I produced the whole project, mixed it, mastered it and even designed the art work. Part necessity but mostly because I wanted to make something that I would like to hear and look at.

I followed my instinct and produced music to not only suit the vocalist but to also convey what I had in my head. I let Starv come up with the subject matter and write whatever he liked. Some producers will give pointers on subject matter or theme and some rappers will ask for it. In my opinion as a producer you should be paying attention to the music and let the MC use their talent freely and without restriction. You should provide the perfect back drop for their vocals.

I released the digital version of the album on Spotify, Itunes and so on and started the process of sending to various dj’s and radio shows in New York without expectation and in all honesty being very happy I had completed the project I always wanted to. I was more then content with the outcome. Something I was proud of and something I would actually listen to and enjoy. You never really know how people will receive this thing you’ve made. It’s no reflection of your talent or the quality of your music if you don’t get much attention for it. Majority of the time it’s chance and luck. But as the saying goes you are you’re own worst critic.

A few days after the digital release I woke up to a message from Starv on Facebook telling me DJ Premier had played one of our tracks on his radio show in New York. I was very surprised and pleased to say the least. There is no higher compliment. I had approval from biggest influence.

You can find out more on Caleb’s website www.djm-1.com or the label facebook page at www.facebook.com/illtechniquerecords/