His first job was as a paperboy, in his neighborhood.
The following year saw Mecca and the Soul Brother, the first of two full length albums, released to critical acclaim and hailed as a classic by many. During this period, Pete Rock began to produce songs for other acts such as "Down With the King" for Run-DMC, and "The World Is Yours" for Nas, as well remixing singles for Jeru The Damaja ("You Can't Stop The Prophet"), Public Enemy ("Shut 'em Down"), and The Notorious B.I.G. ("Juicy" - the original of which was allegedly based on Rock's own demo). Pete and CL followed up Mecca in 1994 with The Main Ingredient. Like its predecessor, The Main Ingredient also received wide critical acclaim, however soon after the albums release the duo went their separate ways, with Rock focusing on production work for other artists.
In 1995, he formed the group INI, with Grap Luva, and Rob-O and released the classic 12" "Fakin' Jax". The trio recorded an album, Center Of Attention, which was heavily bootlegged and remained unreleased until 2003, when BBE Records picked it up for distribution. The release of this album was coupled with another mid-90s Pete Rock-produced album, DeDa's The Original Baby Pa.
Recently, Pete Rock has returned to greater visibility, mainly through a closer relationship with the Wu-Tang Clan. Their collaborations began with Soul Survivor, which featured Inspectah Deck, Method Man, Ghostface Killah and Raekwon on various tracks, and continued on its follow-up, which featured both GZA and RZA. He also has produced three tracks on Ghostface's release Fishscale and Nature Sounds labelmate Masta Killa's second album, Made in Brooklyn.
Pete Rock has cultivated a relationship with Brooklyn, NY based Nature Sounds Records. He recorded the song "The PJs", which features Raekwon and Masta Killa, released on the Nature Sounds compilation Natural Selection. He released an album entitled NY's Finest in February 2008, featuring Raekwon, Masta Killa, D-Block, Redman, Papoose, Slum Village and Jim Jones, among others, also on Nature Sounds. The lead single from the album is entitled "914" and features rappers Sheek Louch and Styles P. He is scheduled to appear on albums by Bishop Lamont, Cannibal Ox, Termanology, Freddie Foxxx, Royal Flush, Verbal Threat, LL Cool J, JoJo Pellegrino, La The Darkman, Cormega, R.A. The Rugged Man, and others. He is also working with DJ/Rapper Doo Wop under the name Tango & Cash (taken from the film of the same name).
His next venture, INI, was a group featuring Rock, his younger brother Grap Luva, Rass and rapper Rob-O. They released a single, "Fakin' Jax", through Elektra Records in 1995, before their debut album, Center Of Attention, was shelved by the label. The other two members continue to record solo material, albeit only sporadically. In an interview Rock elaborated on the situation:
Another mid-1990s artist, DeDa, also met the same fate with his album The Original Baby Pa, although both this and INI's album were eventually released as a double album package in 2003. Other associated artists include Meccalicious, who recorded a few songs under Pete Rock's guidance (sometime around 1997), before disappearing from the music scene altogether.
Rock has had some success, however, overseeing and jumpstarting the career of hardcore underground favorites The UN; a group featuring 4 MCs, including former Flipmode Squad member Rock Marciano. Rock premiered the group on the single "Nothin' Lesser" from his PeteStrumentals album, and they went on to release the fairly successful album, UN Or U Out, in July 2004, featuring production by Rock, Large Professor, and several others.
In their interviews during this period, it appeared as though a new album was underway. As Rock would explain:
The pair went on a short international tour culminating in their well-received show at London's Jazz Cafe, however, soon after this they declined to comment any further on the new album, which never materialized (although Smooth did make three separate appearances on Soul Survivor II). Eventually Smooth would confirm rumors of a rift in an interview with AllHipHop.com, in which he appeared angry and frustrated with his former partner, saying "I didn’t ask him to be a superhero" and "I’m not the problem." In an interview taken in December 2006, Rock ruled out any further collaborations with Smooth but stated that he holds no grudges against his former partner.
While this technique was applied long before Rock (on De La Soul's Three Feet High and Rising or the work of The Bomb Squad for example), Rock's work is distinctive for the way in which he uses samples to achieve a hazy, droning effect. He is also noted for his resonant basslines, horn samples, and gritty sounding drums. His beats will sometimes sound as though they were being played from an old vinyl record. Much of this has to do with the fact that he samples many of his sounds straight off vinyl records, as he mentions in this interview
Another trait of his, more so in the earlier part of his career, is the way he uses horn samples to supplement his grooves. With perhaps the most famous example being "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)" (on which he uses a horn sample from Tom Scott's "Today"), Rock has also used horns on several other productions such as "Straighten It Out", Public Enemy's "Shut 'Em Down", Rah Digga's "What They Call Me", and A.D.O.R.'s "Let It All Hang Out".
Along with Gang Starr, The Roots and A Tribe Called Quest, Pete Rock played a large role in the fusing of jazz and funk music into Hip hop. The aforementioned "Reminisce..." withstanding, Rock used many jazz samples on his album Mecca and The Soul Brother, such as Cannonball Adderley's "Country Preacher", for the song "Return of the Mecca", or "Capricorn" for the song "In The House" from The Main Ingredient.
Pete Rock's heavy use of intro and outro beats has also been widely influential. To introduce feature songs, he often plays a short instrumental excerpt, completely different from the rest of the song. Aside from their role as transitions, these are widely regarded as a way of displaying his large collection and as a challenge to other hip-hop producers to identify the records that the breaks come from. Mecca & the Soul Brother and The Main Ingredient use intro/outro beats on nearly every track to great effect, and the tradition continues to the present on Rock's recent releases.
He remixed Public Enemy's "Shut 'em Down" and "Nighttrain", in the same day, starting at 12pm and finishing at 12am.
Pete has a collection of about 90,000 records and digs for records at least once a week.
Other producers such as Kev Brown, and Kanye West, have also found themselves compared to Pete Rock, with the latter approvingly referring to himself as "the new version of Pete Rock" on Slum Village's "Selfish". Pete Rock has acknowledged his relevance to these artists, releasing an instrumental record with 9th Wonder (Class Is in Session), and recording his own remix of West's "Heard 'Em Say". Rock himself has named his main musical influences as being his close friend Marley Marl and soul legend James Brown.