Large Professor spoke with Okayplayer about scoring All The Streets Are Silent, a new documentary that explores the intersection of hip-hop and skateboarding from 1987 to 1997.
For close to 30 years, hip-hop and skateboarding have ascended from street corners and half pipes to become multi-billion-dollar industries. Rap music first began outselling rock music in the United States as early as 2017, officially becoming the most dominant genre of music in the country by the end of the decade. In 2020, skateboarding was made an Olympic sport, and the foundational skate and streetwear brand Supreme was sold to the VR Corporation for $2 billion. The amount of money and influence generated within both scenes has exploded in recent years, and the documentary All The Streets Are Silent, which made its premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, seeks to reinforce the relationship rap and skateboarding have shared from the start. Directed by Jeremy Elkin, the film examines the intersection of both cultures from 1987 to 1997, focusing on a handful of binding agents: the nightclub Mars, DJs Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Garcia’s legendary New York underground hip-hop radio show, the infamous skate spot Brooklyn Banks, Larry Clark’s 1995 film debut Kids, and the life and times of the late skater Harold Hunter. Streets covers a lot of ground in just under 90 minutes, and composer Large Professor was tasked with providing the soundtrack to bring it all together.
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A rapper and producer who began his career as the leader of Main Source, Professor was approached by Elkin during Streets‘ production to get his blessing on using a handful of old songs in the film’s soundtrack. Eventually, it turned into Pro composing brand new songs for the movie.
“It started out as a slow process because I had to watch the movie and really settle into the task,” Pro said. “It was kinda easy after awhile because it became like playing beats for rappers.”
Large Pro’s reverence for boom-bap flows through the mix of samples, live instruments, and modern embellishments that dot the score. Breakbeats shuffle behind footage of rappers, producers, and DJs reminiscing about the many musical floors of Mars. Live drums and cymbals crash as old skate footage plays and bails are executed. One of the score’s most interesting moments comes near the end, where Pro unleashes a beat combining the rhythms of the past with the bombast of the present over footage of up-and-coming skaters Tyshawn Jones and Beatrice Domond. It isn’t ultra-modern, but its attempts to bridge generations are as sincere as the film’s.
“After the premiere, I went to the A-1 record store the next day and was digging through the cabinets. This kid came up to me and was like, ‘I was at the premiere yesterday. That was dope,’” Large recalled. “He had a skateboard with him and everything, so that was kinda cool.”
Okayplayer spoke with Large Professor about his relationship with music in film, crafting the score for All The Streets Are Silent, and keeping hip-hop’s legacy alive for a new generation.
What are some of the first memories you have of rap and skate culture intersecting? I imagine Main Source and “Live at the Barbeque,” specifically, were pretty big hits with skaters at the time.
Large Professor: Absolutely. It was the soundtrack. We didn’t have Walkmans and things [like that] when I was on skateboards. You’d just hear the music outside. I was in the city at the time where I’d see guys like Harold Hunter and it would be crazy. He’d be skating by and he was hip-hop to the bone.
Was there anything specific that you drew from skating culture while you were first establishing yourself in hip-hop?
The moving fast part of it inspired me. That, coupled with the breakdancing and the death-defying feats that everyone had to try to perform. That kinda set it up for what I wanted to translate through the music. “Live at the Barbeque” moves at a skateboard tempo. It’s not really a sit back and chill, count money tempo.
Talk to me about your relationship with film scores. Were there any in particular that stuck out to you when you first heard them?
I loved all the Isaac Hayes film scores coming up: Truck Turner, Shaft, Black Caesar. It was special because all of this stuff is happening at the same time. You got records, skating, hip-hop — all of this stuff. When I’d see a soundtrack, it was set apart from the rest of the records. It’s the music that’s in the movie so it had a different appeal, especially the soul joints.
When were you first approached about making the score for All The Streets Are Silent?
My friend Vinny Ponte had reached out to me and said, “Yo, I got my friend [Jeremy Elkin] who’s working on a film. Check him out.” He called me up and sent me the film. It started out as a slow process because I had to watch the movie and really settle into the task. It was kinda easy after awhile because it became like playing beats for rappers. You sit there and play the beats and they sift through until they find what they want.
What was that process like? Did you have a specific sequence in mind for these songs, or did Jeremy have more control over that?
It was a combination of the two. Jeremy already had a few songs he liked from my earlier projects that he wanted to use. Then, he wanted some filler beats in there. We sat down, went through a few tracks, and coupled it all together.
Had you ever scored a film before being asked to work on All The Streets Are Silent?
It’s my first time working on a movie score. I’ve had songs in movies before: White Men Can’t Jump had “Faking The Funk,” Boyz n The Hood had “Just A Friendly Game of Baseball,” and in High School High me and Pete Rock had “The Rap World.” I was over actually seeing the movie and hearing my music, but now to actually inject the music into the movie — that was a new process. It’s kinda the same thing but we’re just presenting it in a different way.
What was the first step you took when creating the score?
I had to watch the whole movie to make sure I liked it. After I watched it, it was all the times I remembered going down to 8th Street and just seeing these guys skateboarding. They also had all these clips of The Stretch & Bobbito Show. It warmed my heart to see that, so I had [to be a part of it] at that point.
A significant portion of All The Streets Are Silent focuses on the nightclub Mars, where many a rapper and DJs across genres cut their teeth. How much, if at all, did the music coming out of Mars influence the way you approached making the score for this doc?
I never really veered from that way of making music so it was just different machines and tactics. But it was beautiful to see the footage of Clark Kent, Jaz-O, JAY-Z — that early stuff, man. It was so many floors at Mars. One floor would be jazz, this floor would be some crazy punk. Yo, that place was crazy, man.
Much of the compositions you created use samples, drum breaks, and live instrumentation. Was it challenging combining all of these different elements to create something cohesive?
It was smooth, man. I love that era. I was just going with the flow and just modernizing it a little bit. What would boom-bap sound like for the kids getting into it today? That was pretty much it, man. Making it modern while preserving that rough, rugged sound. How we like it in New York — that rugged boom-bap.
The film ends with “Large Pro:Verbs,” a song from your 2009 project The LP. Why did that song feel like the proper closer for this movie?
That was Jeremy, man. He was like, “We have to end this movie like this.” I was kinda befuddled. He had a magic to him that you don’t question, especially being the director. For me, I like to hear my songs a certain way. To see this movie and sit there and think, “What makes this guy think this song should go here?” Then, when I watched it, it worked. It was a lot, especially how they wrapped the movie up with the money and politics behind skateboarding and things like that. [“Large Pro:Verbs”] at the end amplified the meaning of what we were trying to get to.
Both rap and skateboarding have grown to become some of the most dominant forms of pop culture in the world. Skateboarding was just made an Olympic sport last year. As someone who played a huge role in crafting the sound of rap and skateboarding, what do you feel is the legacy of both artforms nearly three decades later?
The legacy is skillful, gladiator, rough, street. Just all of that stuff combined but moreso the skill part of it. These people built on — and continue to build on — that skill with the rap and the skateboarding. These dudes did it at a high level and kept elevating it. That’s the legacy right there.
I’d add that both rap and skateboarding are all about making something from nothing. Skateboarding had a stigma around it to the point where you couldn’t ride your board anywhere.
Exactly. Something from nothing. I’ve had my gripes with where hip-hop has gone myself. Like, it’s over here and then the architect of this shit gets shut out. That’s part of the game once you start to get into big business. But we’ll always have the core of what this is, somewhere, somehow. That’s why [All The Streets Are Silent] is great because even though the Olympics got it now, this is where it came from — this something from nothing culture.
Dylan “CineMasai” Green is a freelance writer, host of the Reel Notes podcast, and general geek at large whose writing can be found on Pitchfork, Audiomack, DJBooth, BET, and Complex, among other sites. He believes that Bow Wow walked so that we could all fly. You can follow him @CineMasai_