Montana Macks Breaks Down Ingredients to "Original Recipe"

Photos by  Julien Carr

Photos by Julien Carr

Producer and rapper Montana Macks appreciates an overlooked era of Chicago hip-hop.

While many emerging artists in Chicago’s rap scene will cite Kanye West, Chief Keef, or Chance the Rapper as primarily influences, Macks claims Common and No I.D.’s 1994 classic LP Resurrection as one of his favorite albums of all time.

On Montana Macks’ new release, Original Recipe, the Evanston-born double threat strictly uses flavors that were prominent in early-to-mid ‘90s hip-hop, including a few of the same samples from the aforementioned Common classic.

“I’m a huge fan of golden era hip-hop,” Macks said.  “Anybody that knows me knows that. You listen to any beats I’ve ever made, you know that. Even if I make something that has like trap-related drums, it still sounds like, incredibly soulful, from the Golden Era style. So the concept behind this, is I’m using the ‘original recipe,’ or the original ingredients of what it is to make a classic hip-hop song.”

Macks wrote, produced, performed, mixed, and engineered Original Recipe. While Macks did a bulk of the project solo, those who did assist him with it are major players in Chicago’s music scene and beyond. The nine-track LP was mastered by Grammy-winning sound engineer Elton “L10MixedIt” Chueng, who Macks met several years back as an intern at Classick Studios.

Rich Jones, Vic Spencer, Philmore Greene, JedSed (of O.R. They?), and El Da Sensei (of The Artifacts) contribute features, while Shazam Bangles provides cuts throughout the record.

The main premise of Original Recipe is to pull samples and techniques used in the golden era of hip-hop. Macks said every sample used on the project has a special connection to him, so we asked him to break down each track on the project.

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1. “Freestyle Intro”

Song being sampled: Jackie McLean - “A Ballad for Doll”

When you first heard this song: “I was first put on this record (Jackie's Bag) by either my friend AD4 or Viard (taught me how to make beats). They both are huge jazz heads. These days, AD4 is a serious record collector. He runs an all jazz broadcast radio show out of Houston, Texas.”

Why you have a strong connection to this sample: “I used to see this album cover at the record shop all the time when I would be looking at used CDs and records. It was impossible to miss, it looks like one of those old envelopes that report cards used to come in. I finally broke down and copped the record. It's got an all star line up and ‘A Ballad for Doll’ is my favorite track.”

2. “Back in the Day”

Song being sampled: Art Farmer - “Chanson”

When you first heard this song: I first heard this song searching for some untouched David Grusin samples. David Grusin is a well known sample goldmine, and he plays the keyboard on this song.  His song ‘Either Way’ was sampled for Biggie's ‘Everyday Struggle.’”

Why you have a strong connection to this sample: I felt an immediate connection when I heard this song. It reminded me of a particular summer when my friend Jeremy purchased an old Cadillac Brougham. We would ride around smoking blunts and trying to holler at girls. It was a carefree time.”

3. “If You Really Love Me”

Song being sampled: Grant Green - “If You Really Love Me”

Why you have a strong connection to this sample: When I was in 8th grade, I began going to the record store with more purpose, and my friend Viard put me on the Grant Green record Shades of Green. This was my introduction to Grant Green, and the beginning of many collaborative trips to the record store.”

Production techniques: “At the time, I was still in the process of learning how to make beats and this song informed me that there are often many renditions of the same song. In this particular case, the Stevie version had a lot going on and was difficult to sample cleanly. However, Grant Green's version is purely instrumental and was simple to sample. It was a work smarter not harder moment. I recreated this beat 15 years later for this project.”

4. “Maintain the Party (feat. JedSed)”

Song being sampled: Whatnauts - “Why Can't People be Colors Too?” (Breakbeat)

When you first heard this song: “This breakbeat inhabited much of my childhood. I first heard these drums on the album Midnight Marauders. Shortly thereafter I recognized them on Common's "Maintaining" and Smif-N-Wessun’s "Bucktown.”

Why you have a strong connection to this sample: I received Midnight Marauders from my sister's friend, Hannah, when I was 9. It was a birthday gift, and it was one of my first CDs. I only had a few CDs at that age (I still had mostly tapes), and I must've played the song ‘Oh My God’ a million times.”

5. “Moonlight (feat. Philmore Greene)”

Song being sampled: Stanley Cowell - “Brilliant Circles”

Why you have a strong connection to this sample: I was listening to The Pharcyde, specifically the song ‘On the DL.’ I remembered the sample for the song was ‘Traveling Man’ by Stanley Cowell. I was looking for inspiration, so I thought maybe I should listen to Stanley Cowell's catalog. This particular track is on a record on the Black Lion label (reissue) and they have a good reputation. As soon as I heard it, I bugged out because it reminded me of Nas' ‘It Ain’t Hard to Tell.’”

6. “Taxi Confessions”

Song being sampled: Archie Whitewater - “Sea Coast”

When you first heard this song:  “I must have been 16 when I found a copy of this record. I grabbed it at Second Hand Tunes in Evanston.”

Why you have a strong connection to this sample: “I would imagine that most folks know my favorite album is Common Sense's Resurrection. It was like the soundtrack to my childhood in many ways. There's a song on that album called ‘Chapter 13’ that I loved as a kid. The sample NO I.D. used for it is Archie Whitewater ‘Cross Country.’ I grabbed a copy of that self-titled album when I was told of the sample by a friend. I still listen to both albums all the time.”

7. “Too Far (feat. Vic Spencer and El Da Sensei)”

Song being sampled: Cleveland Wrecking Co. - “Superfine from Behind Lady” (Breakbeat)

When you first heard this song: “In a way, I would say I first heard this song when I was 11. I had just gotten my hands on ATLiens, and I heard it on ‘Decatur Psalm.’ But this break had a much larger impact on me when I heard ‘God's Bathroom Floor’ (Atmosphere).”

Production techniques: “The sample I didn't mention in this breakdown is a jazz variation of a traditional Greek song. This track features Vic Spencer and El Da Sensei. I met Vic through The Dutchmaster. We hit it off and have a lot of unreleased material. I grew up a huge fan of The Artifacts (El Da Sensei is 1 of 2 members). Their album A Rock and a Hard Place was very influential in the graff scene growing up.”

8. What Happens (feat. Rich Jones)

Song being sampled: Larry Ridley - “Never Can Say Goodbye”

When you first heard this song: “I heard this version of ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ while I was in college at Columbia College, back in ‘05. My roommate, Danny Jay, and I were both producers, and we would stay up all night looking for samples. We would research record labels and their catalogs to try to find untouched samples. We would then compete to see who could flip the samples better.”

Why you have a strong connection to this sample: “I grew up listening to the Jackson 5 rendition of this song. It has always been one of my favorites. I was put on the label Strata-East by my boy Viard back in college. I was able to locate everyone of their releases digitally (vinyl rips). I went through them all and I was pleasantly surprised to find this instrumental version by Larry Ridley. I never flipped it then. I decided it would be a good idea to showcase it on this album because it fit within the soundscape.”

9. “Just Figured”

Song being sampled: Weldon Irvine - “Softly”

When you first heard this song: “I first heard this song 13 years ago. I remember it clearly because I was head hunting for  Weldon Irvine albums after Memphis Bleek's ‘Dear Summer’ came out.”

Production techniques:  “I wanted to end the album on a positive note and with a love song. It took me a while to track down this song in my head. At first I wanted to sample something like ‘Elegant Soul’ (Gene Harris) or ‘Polka Dots & Moonbeams’ (Wes Montgomery). I think this sample was a better option because it doesn't sound too old, and I was able to use it in an upbeat way.”