Key Tracks: Arabian Prince on J.J. Fad’s “Supersonic”

808s and Dr. Dre’s broken Mazda window: electro royalty Arabian Prince tells the story behind one of his biggest hits

Aaron Rapoport

I think the first time I saw an 808, we went to a store to buy some needles or something like that, and someone was playing it. Now, I hadn’t known at the time where that “BOOOM” sound had come from. I was like: “How did they get that ‘booooom’?” And I finally found out which drum machine it was. So we bought one, and started messing with it, and then we found out…

Dre had an old beat up Mazda ‘87 with no back window. We used to get on the freeway and drive out to these girls house. With no back window in the freezing cold to see ‘em.

Well, I’ma tell you guys a secret for those who don’t know. You probably already know, or you don’t use it anymore ‘cause you can get it as a sample. But the click sound that most people use, that Kraftwerk click, is from the 808 or some old analogue synth. But with the 808 we figured that if you take the pulse out that you use to sync up other devices – and ran that into a mixer – you get this kind of clicking sound. And if you accent it, you get this kind of rhythmic electro-click thing. So we used it for all of the clicks in all of our songs. No one could figure it out. People were taking like hi-hats and trying to EQ them, but unless you use that 808 click it never sounds the same.

My 808 was kind of temperamental. I don’t know if you can hear it, but my 808 had a phantom clap. Every now and then it would clap on its own: “Clap [pause], clap, clap. Clap [pause], clap, clap, clap.” Like these little echoes, I think mine was broken. But it was cool, they only clapped on beats, so I kept it. We could actually run it into a sequencer at the time, so it was kind of cool. But you know, you lose that live feel. Some of the keyboards are played a little sloppy here and there, but that was part of the sound and part of the feel. ‘Cause I think for me, one of the biggest records I ever did was by a girl group called JJ Fad, and I spent $400 dollars on it. “Supersonic” had a 808 and I think a Juno 60, and that was it. It was the first record to go gold on Ruthless Records. Even before the NWA and Eazy-E stuff.

J.J. Fad - Supersonic

Me and Dre used to date two of the girls from J.J. Fad. At the time, Dre had an old beat up Mazda ‘87 with no back window. And we lived in L.A., and these girls lived in a city called Rialto, which had to be about an hour away. Being as young and naïve and as broke as we were, we figured if you got girlfriends, you drive a long way to see ‘em. We used to get on the freeway and drive out to these girls house. With no back window in the freezing cold to see ‘em.

At that time we were still doing the electro funk thing. They would always tell us, “We can rap, we wanna do songs.” And we’re like: “Nah, we don’t think so.” We got them to rap for us and it was pretty bad. Anyway, they started doing this jump rope thing, like “Samma Samma Sue.” And we’re like: “That’s cool.” So I went to the studio one day where I was doing something else, and I made this beat and just had ‘em rap on it and do that thing at the end.

J.J. Fad - Anotha Ho

So they thought they were big time rappers and wanted to do another rap dissing Roxanne Shanté and The Real Roxanne, who were really good New York rappers. So they wanted to do this song “Another Ho” and we’re like, “Fine, whatever." And it was pretty bad, ‘cause they can’t rap. They wanted to make it the A-side, so I’m like, “OK, fine. Just let me put ‘Supersonic’ on the B-side.” And just as I thought, as soon as the DJs got it, they flipped it over and started playing “Supersonic.” They didn’t even care about the other thing. So we had to go back and repress the song by itself without the other one on it, and that’s when it blew up and became a big hit.

I made the song by myself, and I put it out on another label company called Dream Team Records with some other friends of mine from back in the electro day. They had just had a big hit with a track called “Rockberry Jam.” And so they were hot and I was like, “Well, here, let me throw this out on your label.” My own buddy tried to rip me off, he wouldn’t pay me. It started selling and he wouldn’t pay me, so we took it back and when we started Ruthless Records, we re-released it on Ruthless. And the rest was history on that.

By Arabian Prince on March 24, 2014

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