I first met Wyatt Cenac when I moved to New York, several years ago. I was familiar with his work as a comedian and writer, but what intrigued me most was that I would always run into him at the illest music shows. If I saw him, I knew I was at the right place. His presence at a show was a litmus test for the quality of the music that I was about to hear. Now that we’ve gotten to know each other and become friends, I wanted to connect with him to talk beats, rhymes, and life.
Ant Demby: I always need to ask audiophiles this question–what is that one record you feel birthed your love for music?
Wyatt Cenac: Quincy Jones’ “Summer in the City.” Somebody once played that Quincy Jones record and it blew my mind because ‘Passin Me By’ by The Pharcyde had just come out and they had looped that song. It sent me on a quest for years to find that record, which was no longer available at that time.
I know you love to collect rare vinyl. What is the craziest thing you’ve had to do to get that one record that you can’t live without?
I haven’t had to do anything too crazy…yet. I think I’m still at a manageable stage as far as collecting. My biggest problem is that when I’m on the road, I’ll wander into a record shop and walk out with a bunch of records–and no proper luggage to carry them home.
What made you release your Netflix special BROOKLYN on vinyl?
I am a fan of comedy records and collect them. Most of those albums were recorded in small clubs where you can hear the sounds of the room. You can hear seats shift and glasses make noise as they land on the table. Everything about the sound really helps to illustrate the time, and I liked the idea of trying to capture an element of what it’s like to do a show in Brooklyn.
If there was one song that represented the gentrification of Brooklyn in your eyes, what would it be and why?
Roy Ayers’ “We Live In Brooklyn Baby.” It is a great song and an anthem of pride for people who were making a home in Brooklyn in the seventies, when it wasn’t a trendy place to live. And the song has been sampled by a bunch of artists, which could kind of be looked at as a kind of audio gentrification.
Do you ever use music to prepare for doing stand up?
I’ll listen to music before shows. I generally try to listen to mellow stuff, just to relax.
I know that you and Questlove are good friends. If I were a fly on the wall in one of your conversations about music, what would I discover?
That I do a lot of listening, by choice. Whenever I can get Ahmir to talk music, I just want to hear what he has to say. It’s like getting to sit with Gandalf or something. He knows so much and I just try to soak up as much as I can.
You and I are both disciples of Dilla. If he were alive today, who would you want to see him in the studio with?
So many people. I think it would be cool to see him in the studio with folks he’s already worked with like ATCQ and Madlib, but also it would be cool to see him work with somebody like Joey BADA$$ or J Cole.
You and I are both huge fans of Stevie Wonder and I know that you particularly really dig his album “The Secret Life Of Plants”. What about that particular album speaks to you?
It’s a cool album when you realize that it’s a score for a movie about plants. He’s scoring things that are being described to him and that’s amazing not only because of the degree of difficulty, but also because he makes it work.
Who are your Top 5 emcees of All Time?
That’s tough and I’m going to do it in a weird way because I think there are great duos who work together and play off each other so incredibly well that I can’t discount one for the other. For example, Andre 3000 is an amazing writer and emcee and so is Big Boi, but what works best is the interplay they have. They are stronger as a unit and it would be a disservice to ignore one in praise of the other. It’d be like only talking about Muhammad Ali’s right fist without ever realizing that he needs his left jab to properly get that right cross off.
That said, here goes (in no particular order):
A Tribe Called Quest
De La Soul