FULL PLATE is a label built on friendship. Rapper, producer, DJ, and co-founder of the label Paten Locke describes many of those he collaborates with on the label as “his best friends.” This includes Dillon Maurer, the label’s other co-founder, and producers like Supa Dave West, Willie Evans Jr., and Batsauce. Locke has known many of the people that he works with on FULL PLATE for years. He’s slept on their couches, met their families. He’s recorded music with them, and now he helps distribute their releases.
Locke and Maurer created FULL PLATE in 2016. The two had known each other for years, and put together the Studies in Hunger album back in 2009, with Maurer handling the rapping and Locke working behind the boards. It’s a fun album about the love of music and food, and features appearances by artists like Akrobatik, Stacey Epps, Cool Calm Pete, and an interlude from rhyme animal Chuck D himself. The pair reunited to record their follow-up album, Food Chain (2016) and rather than shopping it to another independent label, they decided to create FULL PLATE to keep it under their own control.
Food Chain turned out to be one of the best hip-hop albums of 2016. They followed the album up with the supplemental EP Side Dishes, as well as beginning their “Clean Plate Club” series of instrumental releases/beat tapes. So far there have been installments by Locke, Willie Evans Jr. and Batsauce. All three have been trippy, free-spirited looks into the mind of each producer.
Like many independent record labels these days, FULL PLATE uses the Bandcamp website as a primary means to distribute their music digitally and sell physical copies of their releases, including a limited number of cassettes for each of their releases.
Locke has always kept himself busy making music. And he’s done it across many locales. The Boston native moved to Chicago where he began recording music. Then, after moving to Jacksonville, Florida during the ’00s, he became one of the founding members of the now-defunct Asamov (along with Willie Evans Jr., J One-Da, and Basic), the pioneering group that essentially created that city’s hip-hop scene and released the acclaimed 2005 album And Now.
Then he helped form The Smile Rays, a trio comprised of himself, soul singer Lady Daisey, and the aforementioned Batsauce (the German-born producer who is also Daisey’s husband). The group released two albums in 2007: Party… Place and Smilin’ On You for the Rawkus 50 project. He also partnered with Willie Evans, Jr. to form Dumbtron, an off-the-wall hip-hop duo known for creating bugged out music with an ill visual component; their video for “Stay Classy” showcases their talent and chemistry. And he stills records and releases solo material, notably 2009’s Super Ramen Rocketship album.
Locke has a lot on his…um…plate these days, with FULL PLATE and his other endeavors. The next project on deck is Paten’s hip-hop soul collaboration with Maestro under the name Stono Echo. He hopes to release a few more installments of the Clean Plate Club beat tape series soon, including entries for Supa Dave West, Maurer, and a couple other yet-to-be-determined producers. FULL PLATE will also release collaborative album producer/emcee albums with Maurer, first partnering with Batsauce and another with legendary D.I.T.C. producer Diamond D. Also on deck for the label is Dillon’s Lobsterdamus project, which features Dillon rapping under the persona of a talking lobster. Yes, seriously.
I recently caught up with Locke, and he discussed the challenges of helping run a label, his current and past projects, and why he’d sometimes rather just listen to instrumentals.
Jesse Ducker: So what was the inspiration for you and Dillon putting together FULL PLATE?
Paten Locke: It’s one of these things where we just both had so many things going on. I had been looking to sort of house my different projects and stuff all under one roof and the same thing with Dillon. He and I are best friends, and we’ve always just really worked hand-in-hand and had each other’s backs. I think it just came up we were doing the Food Chain record and we were like we should really go ahead with FULL PLATE and we should really just start making it a label.
JD: These days you hear about labels folding and not doing as well in the current market. Was starting your own label a difficult decision?
PL: I mean we had been doing so much. I was working with so many other labels that it just made sense. No matter how difficult it was, we had things that we wanted to put out and we didn’t want to wait to deal with other labels. We didn’t get into it being like, “Okay let’s make all this money.” Truth be told, we didn’t really even get into it to necessarily initially put out other things. We originally just were like, “Let’s just put out the things that we do and that will be that.” It just started making not only sense in our lives, but it also started making some money, so we were like, “Okay let’s be serious about it. At the very least it will provide us the opportunity to continue to put out things that we want to see out there on our own timeline.”
JD: So do you have a set idea of how many projects you want to put out each year?
PL: Yeah, I think right now we’ve actually been figuring it out. The Beat Tapes that we put out, those releases are going to come more frequently. Right now, we have three different producers working on that for us. I think we’re looking at putting out at least three more of those releases this year. I will say that Supa Dave West is working on one for us. Then we have a few cats that are definitely lesser known that it’s going to be a foray into this area. We’re going to use the “Clean Plate Club” series as a way of testing out our new producers that we’re working with. In all honesty before I even announce their names I want to make sure they turn in what they’re going to put out. I hate to say somebody’s name and then they start something and I’m like, “Oh we can’t put this crap out.”
We had worked to put out Willie, Super Dave, Batsauce, Dillon, and myself. I can say that, Dillon is actually working on one. People don’t know, but Dillon is actually a producer as well, he’s pretty good. Another thing we’ll be putting out through FULL PLATE is [Dillon’s] Lobsterdamus alter ego project. Let me tell you, he has an album. I love when he sends me out of the blue a new song, but he has a ton of songs already. He produces it all himself. It’s very much his baby, he produces it all himself, and he has a very specific way he wants to attack that, but we’ll be putting that out. We’re pretty excited to put that out. I will say this, his production on the Lobsterdamus album is very cohesive and definitely has a singular sort of sound that he’s been working on still.
JD: Any reason why a lot of the projects that Full Plate has put out so far have been instrumental?
PL: Ultimately, just because I think that they turn around quicker. I think the reason for that is that most of the producers that we mess with they make beats pretty intensely, like Batsauce, Willie Ev, and myself. It’s just like it’s not really so much of a struggle to finish a beat tape for the people we’re working with. It’s just a little easier to get done and just sort of get out there. It’s also something that we just do to set in digital, so the vinyl component at this point doesn’t factor into it. Although, we’re probably going to do a “Best of…” after five or six series and we’re going to take certain beats from each tape and put them on vinyl at some point. I guess just in general, in the world of hip-hop, producers are easier to deal with than rappers.
JD: What’s makes you say that?
PL: Rappers don’t ever know shit. Producers just tend to be a little more level-headed people, a little more work oriented and work ethic oriented and a little quicker to turn things around. Producers when they do instrumental stuff, they don’t need anybody else, but a rapper would need a producer for an album, so you’re also just dealing with this one person. I’m probably also just not as enthused about rappers. You know rappers generally speaking don’t get me as enthusiastic, but don’t get me wrong they do, but more few and far between. Like I said, Dillon’s also a producer. Although I rap and DJ and stuff like that, I love producing. I guess we’re a very sort of beat-minded label. Not strictly, but we just kind of gravitate there.
JD: Were you a producer before you were a rapper?
PL: No, I was a rapper first. That was the thing that didn’t cost anything. Yeah, I started rapping eons ago, but I was one of the cats who even when me and my friends was starting to rap in high school and all that, I was the one that ransacked my parents records and immediately when I was rapping, to me it was always about I want to make a song. I want to make songs and I’m interested in beats. I was rapping just because I loved hip-hop and I was like ‘okay, let me try rapping,’ and then it was like the whole thing was kind of hand-in-hand to me. I never looked at it as just rap, I was always interested in the beats. I always liked the beat side and just the idea of beats and hip-hop when I was coming up.
I was writing rhymes and co-producing records to hopefully one day get equipment to make beats. By doing that I started getting a record collection even before I could make beats. I was officially an emcee, then I was officially a DJ and through that I got my first beat machine, and I started making beats. That sort of solidified it for me because unless I’m performing and stuff, I’m a bit of a homebody. I like to be home. I’m a collector in general so the whole beat thing it was records and all that, it really speaks to just my aesthetic. Ultimately, I gravitate toward beats personally for sure. I’m way more into beats. I mean I really like rap, but I just love beats. I’m always down to hear beats, I’m not always down to hear somebody’s damn rap song. You know what I mean? They ask, “Yo you want to hear my beats?” I’m like, “Yeah shit, let’s do it.” He’s like, “Yo, you want to hear my new song?” I’m like, “Um, I think I got to…listen, I’ll call you back.”
JD: So who are some other producers that you’re checking for?
PL: I’m a big fan of hip-hop and music in general. I’m a very serious record collector. I’m not stingy with props for other people I don’t deal with. I was always a huge Large Professor, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Diamond D fan—the classic sort of digging producers. Madlib and Dilla are definitely producers I’m a fan of. To this day I still check for Madlib, I still check for Dilla’s posthumous releases.
These days, I also have to say that two of my best friends I think would make my top five out of anybody’s list. That’s Willie Evans Jr. and Edan. I’m lucky enough to be like those are my best friends. I talk to these dudes about my kid and stuff. I separate my friendship from just being a natural fan and honestly speaking, even if I didn’t know Willie and Edan they would be not only be in my top five producers, current producers, but they’d be in my top five current rappers too. Yeah, those dudes are crazy. I love it. I’m really lucky to hear their demos and sketches. I can call up Edan and be like what are you working on, he’ll send it to me just to put some other ears around it. Same thing with Willie; he and I have a group together called Dumbtron, so he’s always playing me stuff.
JD: So do you have other stuff in the works that aren’t instrumental albums?
PL: Absolutely. We’re going to put out the Lobsterdamus album. Right now actually the focus with us having already released Batsauce, we’re going to push that, but our very next focus is a group that I have called Stono Echo. That is, for lack of a better term, it’s hip-hop soul. In the group it’s me and this other dude and I do all the beats and my man Jay Maestro is a multi-instrumentalist and a singer. Just, overall, a very talented dude. Actually, he’s the dude that played a little bit of keys and any sort of instrumentation that was on the Food Chain album he was my friend that was playing. He basically was my instrument guy as a producer. He would bring his keyboard over and do stuff. Then one day he was just like, “You know I sing?” I was like, “I didn’t know you sing.” He was like, “I do. I sing way better than I do all this other shit you got me doing.” I gave him a beat and he blew my mind. He literally blew my and Dillon’s mind, and he and I just started very naturally just working on records and we ended up within a very short period of time having 30 songs done. Dillon finally got around to hearing it because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. He wasn’t going to allow me to put it out anywhere besides FULL PLATE. We’re excited about that.
Batsauce and Dillon have an album that will probably come out after that, called On Their Way. Batsauce did all the beats and Dillon is the emcee. Similar to the Food Chain aesthetic, just insert Bat instead of me. Their sound when they’re together is different. It has its own character.
The other thing we have, and a pretty big announcement, is that we have another Dillon project that’s done, we’re just working out the particulars, but it’s entirely produced by Diamond D. Dillon and Diamond D are very good friends. Yeah, I was very happy to hear that as far as I know Diamond D was down for us to also just run with it.
JD: So you seem to have an affinity for cassettes. On Super Ramen Rocketship you had the song “Auto Reverse.” Then you guys have released cassettes for nearly all the stuff on FULL PLATE. Why the affinity for tapes?
PL: When I did the tape song that was more of a novelty thing. I would tell people then that I laid the song. The hook is that I grew up on tapes. That doesn’t mean that I prefer tapes. I do collect tapes, but I think for us it made sense across the board. We’re a bit of a small sort of label and our thing is we always want to do physical product. As it turns out, that means we prefer to do vinyl for everything, but that is very costly so we can’t do vinyl for everything. CDs are just a little bit not as cool as vinyl or tape.
It kind of just boils down to we want to do physical [releases]. If we can’t afford to do a vinyl release, then we’ll definitely do cassette. If it’s anything besides a beat then we would do CDs. It’s just that we don’t get excited about CDs like that. As far as the physical medium, we just like to do tapes. This is just a little cooler in hand. Again, sets us apart a little bit. Other people release tapes and stuff like that, but it puts us into that whole tape market. I don’t know how big it is, but they do well for us.
JD: You’ve been part of quite a few groups and release music as a solo artist. How do you approach albums differently as a member of a group or a solo artist or just as a producer making an instrumental album?
PL: Everything I do has a sound that doesn’t necessarily compete with the other. The stuff I do with the Maestro with Stono Echo, it leans to a sound that’s a little bit more smooth. The stuff I do with Dillon may be a little bit more animated, for lack of a better term. The stuff I do with Willie may be a little bit more bizarre, a little bit more “I don’t give a fuck” sonically. The thing I do with Willie is our chance to do whatever the fuck we want to do. There’s really no real rhythm or reason to it. Neither of us do much vetoing of the other person. It’s sort of just like who can bug out the other person musically. We just kind of go with it. It’s a very open format, very comedy based, but it’s like dark comedy, whereas the stuff I do with Dillon is more like light comedy, situation comedy. My own stuff is just me doing whatever I feel, which is basically a little more of a knuckleheaded approach; very raw.
I mean, I’m always surprised too. I just make beats all the time. When it comes to the beats it’s just more like I’ll send them to these guys and they’ll kind of direct where we go next with it. I’m always surprised. Sometimes Willie will pick something that I would never expect, or with Maestro, it’s very hard hip-hop shit that he’ll sing over, or Dillon will want something that’s very serious. You never know. I have a certain approach to making music daily and I just try to make something different. Every time I make a beat I try to make it very different from the last one. I end up with a lot of different styles within my style.
All of these people we’re naming are also just personally really good friends of mine. There’s a common thread of I’m just making music with good friends. There’s a lot of trust and we’re all fans of all the incarnations of each other, but we all are very cool with each other.
JD: So it sounds like you prefer having a more personal connection with the artists that you record with.
PL: Yeah, sometimes that is the tale of tape, but generally speaking I tend to have a relationship with the people I work with. I have projects I’m also fully producing for other cats right now and if we weren’t friends we develop a friendship. Yeah, I just want to enjoy it so I tend to make music. The music I actually get done is probably because the person was a friend of mine. The less of friends we are, the more chance it’s going to drag on forever.
JD: Not that it happens too often, right?
PL: Well, unfortunately it does. I’m sitting on quite a few unmixed projects that are ready to go as soon as they get mixed. It’s hard to stay on it too when you’re miles away from somebody. You only talk to people…you know I’m busy, they’re busy, you might not talk to them. It’s hard to keep that spark, you know.
JD: So is there ever going to be another Asamov album?
PL: Willie and I are Dumbtron, and that’s essentially probably the closest we’ll ever get to Asamov again. The other two guys, we’re all friends, we were all friends for life, we’re all brothers, but as a matter of fact the other two guys are J-One-Da and Basic. But J-One-Da has moved onto the fashion realm [with Basic]. He and Basic own a clothing company called Bofresco, which does pretty well. Basic, again is also in the fashion world and he’s also just a heavy record collector and reseller. Neither of them, to my knowledge, actively raps nor makes beats or DJs.
Over time Willie and I have said, “Hey we would love to do this.” That was a group that was formed with four best friends together. It was the ultimate experience. I know I can speak for myself and say I would have loved to have seen it go further. I would have at least put out the second record that we had worked on, but life just kind of happened. And I can’t see either J-One-Da or Basic being [into it]. Basically, we even had an offer for a reunion show last year and we couldn’t do it because not everybody was on the same page. Unfortunately for Asamov, that’s probably it.
Willie and I feel the same: There was something really special about that. The thing is, there is no achieving the Asamov tone really without all four of us in a room. It was a real sort of meeting ground of where we all kind of met in hip-hop. All four of us are all a little slightly different, but we really came together on one sort of aesthetic naturally. That’s why even though me and Willie can do Dumbtron and even though we were the producers of Asamov and obviously half of the rhyming, our record isn’t going to sound nothing like an Asamov record. Might have inklings of it, but it’s going to be a lot more weird and a lot more other things that Asamov wasn’t.
JD: What about The Smile Rays?
PL: I never formed that to last forever anyways. That was just me having to do something. I always have to do something musically with my time and Asamov was starting to drag our heels, drag our feet. Batsauce and Lady Daisey…they’re a married couple who are like family to me and I was over at their house all the time at that era and I was basically like, “Well, I can’t just be over at their house eating their food every day and not be offering something.” I was like, “let’s be a group.” They weren’t really thinking about that. I was like you know, have Batsauce produce it, I’ll just arrange and write and Daisey will sing. We just basically were making songs and we were enjoying it. I just wanted to do something in the interim. We put out a couple things.
JD: You put out Smilin’ on You for the Rawkus 50 project, right?
PL: We also put out our real record which is called Party…Place with a label in Japan called Sub Contacts. We made like 30 songs in one chunk and we took all the sort of best songs and put them on the Party…Place record and took all the other songs and put them on [Smilin’ on You]. The Party…Place record is the definitive Smile Rays record. That was something just being best friends with them. We were together all the time it’s just like hey, toured Europe and did all that and then I got my solo deal. Bat helped me record it. I recorded Super Ramen Rocket Ship at their apartment in Berlin. Stayed with them for three months.
Also, after that, after three months of having this black dude stay in their tiny, tiny apartment, this married couple’s tiny apartment in Berlin and having been around the world and having done these two records I think we were all like, “Okay, let’s get some space.” I think that they needed their space to be married and I needed my space to not be a third wheel. Also, Batsauce knows this from the very beginning of Smile Rays, a lot of my reason for wanting to do it was to give spark to Daisey at the time. Daisey was so talented, and so was Bat, but she was so talented to me. She’s a graphic designer by trade so she does not need to make music to make money at all. I basically was like, “I know you don’t need to, but you’re so good, you should do it.” The whole idea of Smile Rays was to give her the spark. I always saw us not continuing as a group, it was really just a platform that I wanted her to springboard off of.
She ended up putting a record together for BBE with Batsauce. It was also for me to introduce the rest of the world to Batsauce as a producer. When Bat and I met, he wasn’t really a hip-hop producer. He was like a world music, slightly DJ Shadow kind of instrumental guy, but it wasn’t at all like what you hear now. I basically spent a couple of years with him playing Premier and De La and all this shit every day and just building with him as my friend and being like you’re so talented, but here’s what hip-hop sounds like. Get into this. Now, he’s a popular hip-hop producer. I’m proud of my role.
JD: You mentioned tapes. You must have made many a mixtape back in the day, so what was your favorite type of blank tape?
PL: Interesting. When I could get my hands on them I loved…oh, what were those tapes? They were like solid gray, they weren’t metal, but they were very high bias.
JD: You mean Maxell XL2s?
PL: They were straight gray. Like, a solid gray. You know it’s funny? I actually have some sealed ones but I can’t get to them because there’s literally a wall of boxes of records in front of the tapes, so I can’t even see them to see what they are. I know what tapes I hate. I hate those clear fucking TDK tapes, I know that.
[My favorites] I think they’re Maxell, something like that. Let me see if I have one around here somewhere. I’m sure if I opened up one of my master mixtapes and shit. Yeah, I used to make new covers for tapes all the time. That was my shit. Back when I didn’t have a day job, my day job was making covers for tapes all day.
Paten Locke’s 8 Favorite Albums of All Time:
Beastie Boys | Paul’s Boutique (1989)
Big Daddy Kane | Long Live the Kane (1988)
Black Sabbath | Paranoid (1970)
Miles Davis | Kind of Blue (1959)
De La Soul | De La Soul is Dead (1991)
The Meters | The Meters (1969)
Nas | Illmatic (1994)
A Tribe Called Quest | Midnight Marauders (1993)