Way Out

For Hydroponic Sound System, mixing hip-hop with everything else is just Routine Insanity

Routine Insanity was a long time coming for Wade, who has been involved with hip-hop, in one way or another, since the late 1980s. His first taste of hip-hop came while he was in junior high and he picked up a copy of Run-D.M.C.'s first album. "I was just like any other white junior high kid," Wade remembers, laughing. "I bought bad heavy metal, too. I had AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and all that shit. And then about the time LL Cool and Eric B and Rakim and Public Enemy started coming out, as far as new music as I was getting into, it was all rap. And by the late '80s, it was all rap."

Soon after, Wade, who taught himself how to DJ ("It's pretty easy to pick up," he says), began hanging out with like-minded hip-hop fans in the area. They were people like him--many from the suburbs--who preferred the more dynamic East Coast style of the Ultramagnetic MCs and De La Soul and Boogie Down Productions over the more popular reality raps of N.W.A. and their followers. They'd get together at clubs like Tropical Exodus, where many of the more popular national acts would stop during swings through Texas. Everyone from Eric B & Rakim, the Geto Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, and De La Soul appeared there in the early '90s, before the club suddenly closed in 1994.

Most of Wade's new friends performed there as well, and so did Wade, when he began serving as DJ for Sons of Soul. This, in a way, is where the roots of Hydroponic Sound System began to take hold, as Wade came in contact with more people and fully immersed himself in the local hip-hop community, both as a performer and as a journalist. Wade first met Cold Cris and Skwod X and many of the other performers on the record when he was covering the local hip-hop beat for a magazine called Vibe (no, not that one) a decade ago.

Jeff “Skinny Fresh” Wade, left, and Ruben Ayala make music for themselves, no matter what you want to call it.
Stephen P. Karlisch
Jeff “Skinny Fresh” Wade, left, and Ruben Ayala make music for themselves, no matter what you want to call it.

"That way, I met Baby G," Wade begins. "Baby G's in Austin now, but at the time, this was 1990, G had just won the DMC [DJ Championships], which was a really huge deal. The guys who'd always won that thing were from New York or L.A., and this guy from Irving, Texas, wins it. He was in IGP, which went on to become Mad Flava, and that totally reinvigorated the local scene here. I met him and just started meeting people through him." He pauses. "I never really thought I'd be in a group or anything. I just thought I'd make beats or whatever. I just went along for the ride, you know? It was a lot of fun. We toured Texas a couple of times with House of Pain and did some stuff with Naughty By Nature when they'd come through. Really, I was a fan, and so it was kind of a dream. Like, 'Wow, I can't believe I'm getting to do this.'

"At the time, because the style was more East Coast-influenced and Dallas didn't really have a whole lot of people into that, the people that did do it, everyone sort of bonded," he continues. "Shabazz 3 was around back then, but they were in Decadent Dub Team. The guys in Skwod X were in a group called New Brigade. Mad Flava wasn't even Mad Flava yet. There were about 20 or 30 guys that all knew each other that were into the same stuff, and we all still know each other."

Wade stayed in contact and still supported local hip-hop when he could, but he slowly started to become dissatisfied with hip-hop in general. He had recorded some with Ayala, who at one time was head engineer at Goodnight Audio and is a graduate of the University of North Texas' music program. Ayala began to involve him in more and more projects, and Wade found himself focusing more on making beats rather than mixing records. Pretty soon, he was a full-time producer, and Sons of Soul was a band he used to be a member of.

"I guess I got bored," Wade says. "I started to get more into stuff like [DJ] Shadow and just different approaches to hip-hop. I kind of got bored with, you know, 'We need a chant chorus here,' and those kinds of things. And so I told the guys I was in a band with, 'Look, I'm basically just going to start producing. I'll be happy to produce for you, but I don't wanna be in a band anymore.'"

Since then, Wade and Ayala have been getting together at Ayala's home studio a few times a week, each bringing new ideas to the mixing board. But don't get the wrong idea: When Wade said he didn't want to be in a band anymore, he meant it.

"I guess Hydroponic Sound System isn't really a band," Wade says. "It's just whatever me and Ruben want to do and whoever we want to involve in that project. We want to keep doing records--you know, Hydroponic Sound System records--involving the same people we involved the first time around, maybe adding some people from outside the city on some stuff. It's kind of like the Chemical Brothers if they were doing hip-hop: It's producer-based. It could be instrumental. It could be vocal. It could have someone singing on it. Whatever. Whatever it needs to be. Hip-hop got to the point where every song had the same little formula, and it just got boring. It wasn't exciting as it was when I first got into it."

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