Roots & Branches 11: Supreme La Rock
Danny “Supreme La Rock” Clavesilla is a producer and deejay with over thirty-five years of experience in multiple elements of hip-hop culture. He has co-founded and run the independent hip hop label Conception Records, been one of the official deejays for the Seattle Seahawks, produced many classic records, been a mentor to many young hip-hop producers, and continues to maintain a career as one of the most successful nightclub DJs working today.
He is also known as one of the most committed record collectors in the hip-hop world. When I asked him how many records he has, he gave a classic crate diggers’ reply: “I stopped counting records ten years ago, but with that being said, you can never have enough.”*
All of those experiences – combined with his previous international travel – made him more than enthusiastic for his Next Level residency. He was particularly inspired, he says, by people in other countries who go out of their way to build a connection with hip-hop’s American roots: “Everywhere I go around the world, they seem more into it than Americans do! They just seem real eager. They want to learn the history of hip-hop.”
He recalls being especially impressed on a recent trip to Tanzania, when a local MC wanted to perform as part of a show that Supreme was deejaying. “The promoter told him to submit a demo. And the guy had it to him in like a half an hour. He ran back to wherever he had to go and put his music on a CD and burned it, and came back and delivered it. This guy had the opportunity, and he did every step that he had to do to take advantage of it.”
Inspired by these and other experiences, Supreme’s approach to the Colombia residency went beyond simply teaching production techniques to helping them to develop the insight and strategy they needed to make the best use of their pre-existing skills and enthusiasm.
One of his strategies was to share the latest technology, but also teach the fundamentals of hip-hop production in a way that would still be applicable even as newer equipment develops. “All of the equipment we learned on and we left behind was all current new stuff that they will have access to,” he says. “I wanted it to work for them. But at the end of the day, honestly, all of this equipment does the same thing. No matter what you use. All samplers sample. All drum machines program. It’s what you do with it.”
On a more abstract level, he realized that an important part of what he could offer is the unique perspective that he has developed through years of playing multiple roles in hip-hop culture (a similar philosophy was expressed by J-Live in our previous edition). The insights that Colombian hip-hop artists could gain from that perspective, he felt, could help them to be more strategic in the way that they build their artistic careers.
“Being an artist and running a label, I’ve seen both sides of the fence. So I think that works for me because I can understand the business a little more than someone that doesn’t know the other side. I know a lot of artists are looking at labels, like, ‘Oh, they’re robbing me,’ and ‘they’re ripping me off”. Whereas me being on the label side, I understand why they do what they do.”
“Like, there was a point with my label Conception Records where one day I paid everybody out. All the artists had pockets full of money and I was absolutely dead broke. I had nothing. I literally had nothing – I didn’t know how I was going to eat that night. Because I wanted to take care of my artists and do what I’m supposed to do. So now, if I’m doing a deal with somebody, I understand the logistics of it. I can understand where they’re coming from. So I think it works for me. I think a lot of people shoot themselves in the foot [by not having that understanding].”
But perhaps the most important piece of wisdom he shared was also the simplest: “I told them, ‘You know the rule of hip-hop? That there isn’t a rule!’ It’s making something out of nothing, you know? And I told them, ‘What is hip-hop? It’s everything!’ It is country records. It’s easy listening records…It’s everything!’”
Supreme says he has “Nothing to promote other than happiness and well-being,” but you can still check out his activities at:
…and especially Soundcloud
*In the interest of full disclosure, Supreme is a longtime friend, and one of the main consultants for my book Making Beats…and when I was doing the research for that book twenty years ago, he already had over 20,000 records, so you can do the math on how many he has now…