MAURICE JOSHUA IS A Chicago native that’s been circling the limelighted House block since his pupil-dilating classic anthem, “This is Acid” in 1988. Hot Hands Hula’s vocals on the track, “Once you hear it, there will be no going back,” foreshadowed the launch of Maurice’s no holds barred career.
He went from learning tips and tricks with Steve Hurley and E-Smoove to a Grammy Award-winning colleague that would redefine the way people remix music. From R. Kelly, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Justin Timberlake to Kim English, Curtis Mayfield and CeCe Peniston, for years he’s been a go-to-guy for major labels to break their mainstream artists into the House dance clubs.
And walking next to the baby powder and sweaty dance clubs of the House world while juxtaposed to keeping one foot in the door with the movements of pop music eventually led to his 2004 Grammy award for remixing Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love.”
One Sunday afternoon we caught up with Maurice for an interview. Check it out to read why “The King of the Remix” became the king of being fashionably late for the Grammy’s, why DJing in the summer rain tops long walks on the beach, and the one remix project the king could never challenge.
I think you have a unique vantage point, having one foot in mainstream music and one foot in soulful House. How do you see the two interacting?
After the mid 1990s, House Music died out and hip-hop took the main stage. But now hip-hop is so stagnant – people aren’t liking where it’s at right now. I don’t think hip-hop will ever leave, but everyone is talking about the same thing – I got this type of chain, this type of car… It went to that bling-bling stage and now people want some validity to their lyrics. They want to hear about what’s really going on right now in the world – the struggle, the economy – and not about bottle service!
We need to bring this House Music thing to where it needs to be. I just think hip-hop and R&B got too mainstream, and because of that, a lot of people that are coming to the club are not hip on the House Music scene these days. Back in the day the clubs used to dictate what was on the radio. Now it’s the opposite. It’s terrible and it’s terrible for House, but I think there is a resurgence happening.
The chance for House is perfect right now because I’m seeing the trend where you have hip-hop, R&B and pop artists trying to do House material. They can call it R&B or whatever, but it’s still House Music. Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige – they’re all making music with a faster tempo. And no matter what genre name you cover it up with, it’s still House Music.
So the mainstream is venturing into House music – what are House people doing with House music?
I’m glad that there are more vocals and soulful records coming out. For the past number of years you’d hear a little sample chopped up and a snippet of a vocal and you didn’t know what record it was. But now people are coming out with new ideas, though we need more people educated on what House Music is.
People still love the old classics so now we have to make the new classics. We have to create artists, brand it and keep it strong. I think we are missing key artists today, like the CeCe Penistons and Crystal Waters that understood dance music but had crossover appeal. We need to develop our artists and then I think it will definitely come around.
On the events side, a lot of promoters and club owners out here want a night to develop in a month’s time and don’t understand the branding in House music. Of course you can do a one-off night where you put a whole rack of artists on the bill and it will be great, but we need that great night every week. A lot of club owners don’t want to put down the money that it takes to make it happen. It’s more, “Ok, I want to see how many people are drinking…”
Chicago should have a great House night on a Friday and Saturday, or on a Thursday like back in the day.
In the commercial realm, is there still a high demand for the soulful remix sound, or do you feel you have been changing your style to bend with music fads?
It’s definitely like that. I love the soulful stuff, but I was talking to this one A&R person who said to me, “Look, we love the soulful stuff, but why would we take a soulful mix when the radio station won’t play it?”
They go for the progressive or harder stuff these days. Like our local station 107.5 WGCI; the mix show guys play House, but if I do a soulful mix, they can’t fit it in their format. They are told what to play. They’re going for the progressive type of mix. So I always give the A&R person a variation – a soulful version, a dub, a tech house type of mix. I’ll send them three different types of mixes to see what they bite at.
But being a dance producer is a catch 22. If you have an R&B artist do a House track, he’s considered a “producer.” But if you have a House guy that makes House, he’s only known as a “House producer.” So no artists are coming to them asking them to do a hip-hop remix or something.
For example, with Janet Jackson’s track, “Feedback”, Rodney Jenkins produced it. And you know “Feedback” is going at 120 BPM – that’s a House track. So people say Janet did a House track with producer Rodney Jenkins. But if I do it, they want to say I’m a “House producer.” They won’t say I’m just a “producer.” So it limits what people perceive that I’m capable of doing.
But you’ve still found ways to extended beyond the House producer role as well?
Yeah, people don’t know I do jingles and stuff for commercials. I’ve worked with Coca-Cola, McDonalds, video games like Dance Dance Revolution.
What’s the biggest change in the remix industry you’ve seen lately?
Back in the day the labels used to call us up for a remix to take that particular artist to a different level or market. Let’s take Michael Jackson. They call him the King of Pop and he’s known around the world. A lot of things MJ was doing were not being played in the clubs. So the A&R person would call. They knew the dance scene in Europe was big and they wanted to take the record there, so they’d have us step in to make it appeal to those dance floors.
And mind you, back then the remix was done with a tape – not an audio or wav file. Before we stepped into the remix game it was the Larry Levan, Tom Moulton days where they’d take the track and extend it to make it more DJ-friendly. Then we came into the game and changed it all. We took all original beats and took the accapella – sometimes recorded it – and put it with new music.
These days it’s different. Major labels don’t have a dance A&R person, they just hire a consultant. And the format for a whole 12″ was that they would cater to all sorts of genres. Now you get a CD and it’s half-dozen versions of a song with nearly the same type of remix. The consultants are not reaching different audiences.
There are different types of House clubs – progressive, techno, trance. You have your straight clubs, gay clubs, white clubs, black clubs – and no one is catering to these people in the club atmosphere. The remixes are all done in the same genre.
A lot of people have lost their jobs with the label cut backs, so no one wants to try something new because they’re scared to lose their jobs. They only care about what’s mainstream – everyone’s playing it safe.
So since you helped redefine the remix, how’d you feel when P. Diddy came out with his “We Invented the Remix” album in 2002?
[Laughs] Hey man, when you did it like he’s done in the industry, you can say whatever you want! You know, though, he does remixes on a whole different level. I remix on the other side, which is the House dance stuff. You can’t compare the two. So I had no problem with that. There’s too much stuff going on to be worrying about who says their king of the hill.
Your signature sound inspired many other producers – but who inspires you?
It’s a lot of people out there, man. Growing up I was a big Steve Hurley, (David) Morales, MAW fan. Right now there’s a lot of people, too many to name. Production-wise, I’m a big Quincy Jones guy, and Earth Wind & Fire have to be one of my main influences. DJ-wise, it was definitely my brother Xavier who got me into DJing, then Farley Keith and Steve Hurley.
Then what was it like to go on to work alongside Steve Hurley?
It was very exciting. For me it was a big accomplishment. Steve has taught me a lot about arranging. When I came in, I was so underground I wasn’t into arranging completely. It was lovely how it came about. I was just getting off my stint with fame from “This Is Acid”, and things were slowing down, so once I decided I wanted to do it, it worked hand-in-hand. Nothing came easy, though. I had to be the coffee guy for the day and learn new tips!
Do you ever get “heat” from your peers for having gone the commercial House route?
I never heard anything like that. You’d be surprised at some mixes I do. But it’s all about a feeling. The key for me is that you definitely have to be open to change. You gotta go with what’s happening. That’s how a major label thinks.
But House is what made me. I can never turn my back on that. It’s a love I have. It’s natural for me just as pop may be natural for someone else. I started out as a House DJ and that’s my love. I’m a Househead for life. I can definitely do hip-hop type of tracks, but my main focus is on House and trying to get it more mainstream.
And with that “Crazy For Love” Beyonce remix that won the Grammy, it looks like you’re doing that.
Definitely. That particular remix was a quick one for me. It was done in a couple of hours and it was one of those things where I got into the zone and it just came about. I wasn’t trying to put a lot of effort into it – it just came natural.
I read that you had an interesting experience when you received your Grammy?
Well, I had been nominated a number of times before 2004, so I was going to this awards ceremony all casually. The driver at the time was checking underneath the car for bombs, and we had to go through a security check out front. When we were done, everyone was hurrying us and yelling out orders so when our driver pulled away, he got confused and took a right instead of a left, and pulled back out into the LA traffic. We had to go all the way back around the block and missed the announcement by five minutes or so. When we walked in, I was with my wife and Steve Hurley. We went in and right when we walked up there, there was a gentleman from Chicago who was a trustee with the awards ceremony and he was like, “You just won – they just called your name!”
We rushed around, running around the building, trying to figure out where to go. We went to the back to take pictures and do the whole media thing and that was it. We didn’t have time for anything. It was really crazy.
How did receiving a Grammy affect your career?
Sometimes people won’t call you any more because they think your price went up or that you’re too busy. But you gotta stay on the grind and negotiate. It helps you at some point because that’s going to be with you for life. And when people say it’s not that big of a deal – it is! It’s great because these are all your peers that voted for you on that.
So making music if your full time gig? And what’s your day-to-day like?
Yeah, this is my life – I’m a hustler. If you can make a living doing this, you’re really blessed. My main thing right now is putting out great music and remixes across the board. And my day-to-day? Tomorrow I’m doing a mix for Kid Rock. Once I finish that I’m doing a Barack Obama mix for a independent label in Chicago. I’m also finishing up a John Legend remix.
But it all comes at you quick. Sometimes they contact you Monday morning and want a finished product Monday night. After that, you wait weeks and weeks for them to give you the yes or no.
How long does a remix usually take you?
It really depends on the vibe of the song. Sometimes I can do a track within an hour and have it mixed within the day. Sometimes it takes 25 minutes and sometimes it takes two or three days. Back in the day I would do three or four types of mixes to satisfy any possible direction the label would want to go.
What’s been one of your greatest DJ experiences?
Ah, there are so many… That’s a hard one. But I’d have to say when I was DJing in Chicago at Grant Park. They used to do a the SummerDance festival on Wednesday nights. This was three years ago and it was people out in the park, just loving and dancing. Then it started raining and people didn’t leave and were still dancing. The city eventually had to shut it down because they didn’t want people to mess up the grass and flowers. But before that everyone was out there just partying. I had my daughter and my son, friends and family cheering. It was amazing.
Is there remix project you’ve turned down because you thought it was complete in of itself?
One we turned down back in the day was CeCe Peniston’s “Finally.” We thought we couldn’t even touch that. They wanted us to do the remix but we passed, so they gave it to Frankie (Knuckles) and Morales. I just felt that all of the elements were already there.
Interview conducted by Brent Crampton