Interview: Amos Larkins II

Party Rock with a Miami Bass Pioneer

Cocaine and strippers have rarely been as musically influential as they were on the genesis of Miami Bass. According to Amos Larkins II, whose early productions helped launch the nascent genre, the double trouble of Colombian rock and Liberty City legs were the primary inspirations for his biggest hits, from Double Duce’s “Commin In Fresh” and MC ADE’s “Bass Rock Express” to Import #1’s “Set It Off (Party Rock)” and Gucci Crew II’s “Gucci Bass.” Larkins got his start as a jazz bassist, both upright and electric, but his classical education proved meaningless once he moved toward Bass - you don’t need to master notation and articulation when you’re throwing the D.

With his father an artist manager at Henry Stone’s legendary TK Records (later Sunnyview), the younger Larkins was working as a session musician by the time he was 16, gradually absorbing modern production influences and eventually hooking up with the Bee Gees at their Middle Ear Inc. studio, where he had enviable access to a mountain of advanced electronic gear. With Henry Stone’s encouragement, Larkins began to produce more frequently, quickly proving adept at spinning local trends into hits.

During Larkins’ purple patch in the mid-‘80s, he was releasing an average of three to five records weekly under a dizzying number of pseudonyms, producing essential Bass hits before the genre had even acquired a name. In this interview, the outspoken and profane Larkins digs into the origin stories behind some of his most important contributions to Miami Bass.

Amos Larkins II

You’re a classically trained bass player. How do you think that sort of musical education impacted your productions when you were making Miami Bass?

I started out as a jazz musician. I studied with a guy named Jaco Pastorius when I was a kid and used to do workshops with Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Jean-Luc Ponty, Lenny White, those kinds of people. I started off playing upright bass in junior high school. I was able to study at the University of Miami, doing workshops and stuff like that when I was 15. I had my first studio session at around 15 or 17, at a studio called Miami Sound, where the Miami Sound Machine came from.

I went in and I had all this technique down. I was like Stanley Clarke Jr. This guy stopped me. He said, “Listen, you’re a great bass player, but I want you to take the night and just go listen to the radio, listen to some Top 40 stuff, and come back in the morning.” I did that, and I came back the next morning and I made my first $300 in like five minutes. He goes, “That’s it! That’s what I want you to do!” So I started getting these inspirations from Top 40 songs, a lot of Motown stuff.

Nobody was calling it bass music, nobody was calling it nothing. We were calling it “drop.”

After I did that session I started hanging around people who were into clubs. Instead of hanging around people like Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke, I started hanging around these pimps and singing groups and shit, people who were on the streets. I learned more from the streets that helped me later on in Miami Bass.

You were saying that people weren’t calling it “Miami Bass.” What were they calling it before, and do you remember if there was a specific song or situation that triggered people starting to call it Miami Bass?

First there was “Computer Funk” with P.B. Floyd. It wasn’t called bass then, but that’s when I first saw the 808. It just had a thump to it. That was cool, so that’s what got me into the 808. Nobody was calling it bass music, nobody was calling it nothing. We were calling it “drop.” “Oh, that track got that drop. Oh shit, listen to that shit!” Block parties and skating rinks were popular for a long time, and they were calling it drop. It wasn’t Miami bass, it was called drop. “That track got that drop, that track got that drop, it’s thumping, it’s thumping!”

Der Mer - Fall Out (Rap)

What were some drop songs that you remember being especially popular?

One drop song that really inspired me and stuck with me and made me want to appreciate the culture and the art form was – and I’m not prejudiced, it was just a great record – the one from King Sporty called “Fall Out,” by Der Mer. Also, Partytime Records, “What Are We Gonna Do?” by Ultimate 3 MCs. That track was a popular one.

Arthur Baker, Afrika Bambaataa, all that stuff was thumping. That’s what we was jamming to back then, but the beat was a little faster. Pretty Tony would do some thump too. When I saw Pretty Tony doing that 808, I said, “Oh shit, I got to get me one of them damn machines right there. This motherfucker sounding great. I got to make some damn hits with this.” Pretty Tony records was jamming, those were very inspirational back then. That was right before I started doing my thing.

Let’s talk about your own productions, then. What was the first track that you produced that you would classify as Miami Bass or proto-Bass, for example?

You asking the wrong person what I thought was Miami Bass. I used to call it drop, we didn’t have a term for it. We weren’t trying to create history, we was just making records. I didn’t say, “Oh, I’m going to go in the studio, and there’s a gap here, and the people are looking for something to do, and I’m going to call it Miami Bass!” That shit did not happen, okay?

When “Coming In Fresh” came out I fucked around and left the bass too long. I was paying attention to the pussy too much.

I did that Double Dose record with Mighty Rock at the Bee Gees’s studio. Barry told me, “Let me show you something, mate. I can’t quite figure out what’s going on here. Let me show you this room.” He showed me this room full of all this equipment! This rich motherfucker got every damn machine, he didn’t know what to do with it. I started pulling out Fairlights and fucking Synclaviers and shit. Barry used to let us hold the studio at night. This was Middle Ear Studios on Miami Beach back in the day, like ‘83, ‘84. We would stay there all night long, just recording.

During that time I did the movie [Knights of the City], I met Mighty Rock. I said, “Mighty, come over here, man. Let’s make a hot-ass record.” Him and his boy named Manny G were bad-ass rappers back in those days. The Bee Gees weren’t interested in this shit, they were just letting me have fun, so I took the record over there to TK. Henry [Stone] released the record and said, “Wow, that record sold like 20,000 in three weeks,” or some shit. In Florida. At $5 a pop. Henry was like, “You know, kid, you can make a lot of money doing this.”

In my opinion, this was the first Miami bass record – not the boom, but the thump, okay? The drop. I’m talking about “The Beat Is Fresh.” That record was very popular. It was that one and “We Got the Beat” by Prime Choice.

Prime Choice - The Beat Is Fresh

What happened was I did “The Beat Is Fresh,” and then I did this record called “Coming In Fresh.” When I did “The Beat is Fresh,” I was making, every week, three to five records. I was doing stupid hits, regionally, you know what I mean? There’s spots that I didn’t even know until later because Henry would put the record in Missouri somewhere and sell 50,000 copies and tell nobody. I was making stupid money and didn’t even know it.

Henry was scared to tell me that I was making hits because he thought black people get lazy when they find out they make hits, so he wouldn’t tell me. He would give me enough money to go eat out, give me a couple of grand for a strip joint, rent me a couple of limos, that kind of shit.

When “Coming In Fresh” came out I fucked around and left the bass too long. I was paying attention to the pussy too much. The pussy and the booty – it was a mixture between the coke, the pussy and the booty. I was recording a master and the shit was too damn long. I remember playing with the bass and saying, “That sounds interesting.” But then I remember that this stripper started dancing, taking her clothes off right there, and I was like, “Fuck this man, I’ll come back to this later.” I recorded the shit, because it was getting late, and I’m playing with this chick.

If you listen to “Bass Rock Express” really closely, you hear my voice. It was not Adrian, it was me.

Anyway, when I went to the flea market to check out shit, Disco Joe passed that shit out. I said, “Fuck, I fucked up.” That shit was tearing speakers. It was very fucked-up bass. Trust me, I’m a technical guy, I’m a perfectionist. I like clean shit, even though I was a fucked up junkie motherfucker.

The guy who owned the shop put the record on because he saw me coming in, and when I heard that fucking record I said, “Oh, that’s fucked up, right?” Then people started going, “Hey, what’s that?” I go, “What the fuck?” They start lining up for the bitch. There’s like five people lined up to get that record right when I was there. I said, “Wait a minute. Y’all like that shit?” They say, “Oh, that’s the shit, man!” I say, “Fuck it, I’m going to keep making records like that.”

Why do you think so many people liked working with you during that time? What do you think it was that made Mighty Rock or MC ADE so interested to make tracks with you?

I must’ve been doing something with the beats that they liked. An executive producer would come to me, do a track and the kids would go in and go, “Damn, that’s fucking great. That’s hot, that’s hot shit!” That’s how I knew it was hot. I was a jazz major, man, I didn’t even like rap music. I did it because some old Jewish guy, Henry Stone, told me that it would make some money. I says, “I want to make some hits,” so I did rap music. I didn’t really like it. That’s what happened. The kids let me know, they were just digging what I was doing. I don’t know what happened. It was just fate, I guess. They was digging my shit.

MC ADE - Bass Rock Express

I’m interested for you to just tell the story about “Bass Rock Express.”

It was MC ADE’s [Adrian Hines] birthday. Frank Cornelius was cool, but they were jamming in my shit better. The kids was on my shit. His old man asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he said, “I want to make a record, but I don’t want Franklin to do it, I want Amos to do it.”

He was talented, he wrote lyrics and that kind of thing. He thought of a concept: “Bass Rock Express.” He thought of the words, but he didn’t know nothing about no music. He didn’t know nothing about no beats. I said, “Listen, just let me do my thing.” Billy Hines said that he wanted to use what-do-you-call-it, a sample from Green Acres. I used to do records from commercials and shit, from popular sitcoms, you know what I’m saying? That’s what helped make records popular. I said, “Okay, that’s all I need to know. Do not fuck with me. I want no shit.”

The way I did the vocoder was not with a vocoder back in the day, because the vocoder wasn’t clear. I developed a technique that made it clear. Battlestar Galactica was very popular. Do you remember the TV series Battlestar Galactica? You remember Cylons? The robots were called Cylons. They used to talk like this, “Humanoids over here. Humans are here.” See, that was not a vocoder.

That shit could not be done. If you listen to “Bass Rock Express” really closely, you hear my voice. It was not Adrian, it was me. He couldn’t do it. I taught him how to do it. I said, “Billy, this going to take all night. Let me go in there and show the guy how to do it.” Billy was the dad. I said, “Let me go in there, show him how to do it, and from that point on he will know what to do, he will know how to do this.” He said, “Okay.”

“Ghetto Jump” is the reason why Luke even started doing music.

I said, “Give me the words, let me do it, then you’ll know how to do it.” You’ll hear it. You’ll here me go, “Bass. Rock. Express.” See, that guy was on Ebonics, he didn’t know how to pronounce that shit like that. I said, “Fuck, that ain’t going to do it.” So I showed him how to accentuate and exaggerate his words and do it. That’s how it came up.

He’s a very talented kid, and he went on to do a lot of hit records– after I taught his ass what to do. Before me, Frank wasn’t teaching him how to do that shit, I taught him how to do that. His production pattern was patterned after what I did. It’s obvious in his production, you can hear it. After “Bass Rock Express,” then he started sounding like “Bass Rock Express.” Am I wrong, or am I dreaming, or you think I’m fucking in dreamland or something? Do you think I’m still hitting fucking cocaine and acid? Very talented guy, but not then. He did not have nothing to do with “Bass Rock Express,” but he wrote the bitch, okay?

Krush 2 - Ghetto Jump

I was also interested to know the story behind “Ghetto Jump.”

“Ghetto Jump” is the reason why Luke even started doing music. Luke didn’t have no interest in doing music, he was happy being a DJ, having fun, doing parties and shit like that. Let me tell you what happened. Luke was my dog, man. I would bring Luke records, he would hear them, and Luke got an ear like a motherfucker, could hear some music, okay?

I was in a skating rink one night with my boy Disco Joe. Disco Joe was at this club called Superstar Rollerteque, I’ll never forget how this shit went down.

Superstar Rollerteque was owned by two players on the Dolphins, right?

I don’t know who owned that bitch, man. Don’t asked me who owned it. I was too fucked up on cocaine and too pussy hungry.

We were at a disco and I saw people doing this dance. Within a minute of the song, 500 motherfuckers were doing this dance, like an African tribal mating ritual. I say, “Disco, what’s up with that shit?” He said, “That’s called the Ghetto Jump, man.” Make a long story short, I left the club. I used to go to check Luke at the Bass Station. They had a skating rink too, before Bass Station Records. I went over there to Luke’s place and the same shit was happening. I say, “What the fuck? Luke, that shit is hot, man. What’s up with that shit?” He says, “That’s the Ghetto Jump. Man, you do a record on that shit.” The guy said you should do a record about it. I ran to the goddamned studio and did a record. That same night I did the “Ghetto Jump” track. We released the record in South Florida first, we sold like 8,000 in like four days. That was between here and Orlando. That shit sold like hot cakes.

Did you ever produce for 2 Live Crew?

No, I never did anything with 2 Live Crew, but I did produce one record with Luke for Luke’s company. Me and Luke were really good friends. Luke helped me get one of my first really expensive cars, he gave me the money for that shit. Me and Luke was so fucking cool. I used to hang out in his parties, we started living in the Grove, we were all cool, man. Just to mess around with Luke, I would have nice looking girls come up to his door, really fine girls, and they’d have overcoats on. When he’d answer the door they would drop the overcoat and they’d be totally nude, shit like that.

Import #1 - Set It Off “Party Rock”

Could talk about “Set It Off (Party Rock)” a bit? How you produced that song, the circumstances around it, why you wanted to make it?

When “Throw the D” came out I told Henry Stone that shit was going to happen. I said, “Listen, all we got to do is write us a record called ‘Ghetto Dick.’ We’re gonna call it ‘Ghetto Dick,’ and we’ll cut his shit off, and we’ll fuck him up.” Henry said no. Luke starts putting out that nasty shit, “Throw the D,” and that shit just killed us. It killed our momentum, and it was over.

Things were changing. They weren’t going for my shit because Luke picked the tempo up to be different from me. Pretty Tony was going up, his shit was uptempo, so I say, “Okay, let me just take an uptempo route, let me do the uptempo jam,” and I just did a record that I thought was really jamming, and “Party Rock” was one of the ones. There was a hot record “Set It Off” by Strafe that gave me the idea to use the title, but it didn’t inspire me to do anything musically. I added “Party Rock,” so it would be different when the DJs or a programmer saw it. Basically, that record came up because times were changing and I had to do something different.

From all the tracks that you’ve made under all of these different aliases, which ones do you still really like today? Is there one that you love more than the others?

“The Beat Is Fresh” is one of my favorite ones because that was the first one that really got things off. “Bass Rock Express” was one of my favorites because that record was sonically so clear. I was able to slow down, calm down, and do a record like I wanted to do it. Henry had me put out records like I was a machine. “We need a record like ‘Ghetto Jump’ right now, because we got to pick up sales. We need a record like this.”

People like Jermaine Dupri, Lil John, DJ Craze, and Magic Mike, those guys will tell you what I did inspired them. I was one of their main inspirations back in the day. The sounds that you hear that reverberate to this day are pretty much derived from Miami Bass. You hear all these stories about the guy from Def Jam and Kraftwerk – trust me, bro, they played a little part later on, but not in the beginning. I wasn’t thinking about those guys back then.

We had an interview with Pretty Tony recently. Tony references some interviews you were doing for the Miami New Times. He says, “Amos was the biggest nerd in town. Amos didn’t go to any strip clubs.”

Yeah, I was a nerd. But I did go to strip joints. I used to frequent a club called Alley Cats, Stir Crazy, this club up north called Rolex. Rolex was right around the corner from the Bass Station, so I would hang out in the Bass Station until about 12, then head on to Rolex to finish my night off with a couple strippers. Pretty Tony didn’t even know me. He didn’t see that part of me. We had separate crazy lives. My life was crazy and his life was crazy, too. I’m going to tell you right now, Pretty Tony got some crazy shit. I was a nerd, but I was a pervert. I was a pervert nerd.

By Aaron Gonsher on October 22, 2015

On a different note