Producer's Corner: Don Cannon
When DJ Premier speaks, people have a tendency to listen. So when he hailed Atlanta-based production giant [giant being used both figuratively and literally] Don Cannon as one of the hottest out right now, this Aphilliate is obviously doing something right.
The track that catapulted him to hot producer status was "Go Crazy" by the hometown trapster Young Jeezy. Yet there is a lot more to come from this progressive forward thinker who cites music as his reason for existence. OutKast's "Da Art of Storytellin' Part 4" and Freeway's "Walk Witt Me" have come more recently, only reminding us of the greatness that the Philadelphia-born deejay/producer is capable of.
Shining a light on the holes rappers dig, the importance of backing up and great expectations this nouveau production mastermind gets into it with HipHopDX.
HipHopDX: How did you get into what you were doing?
Don Cannon: I think it just came to me naturally. I never just started doing it; I was doing this from when I was five years old, so it is just kind of in you.
DX: What exactly were you doing from five years old?
DC: Well I was deejaying, and I have played with instruments all my life. Playing keyboards, drums and rapping even since I was real young.
DX: Do you think its important for a producer to keep moving ahead to have this knowledge of all aspects of music and not just sitting in a studio behind a mixing board?
DC: If you want to become a great producer, then yes, get as much knowledge of instruments, the history, like who did what record, the great records. Please make sure you know all that knowledge if you want to stay in this game. If you dont, you dont have to learn nothing as you can be a fly by night and make a whole bunch of money. If you are trying to make history, learn the history not just when it comes to Hip Hop, but in general.
DX: You came into the game with the other Aphilliates, Drama and Sense who you went to school with. How critical was having that foundation for you?
DC: Man that was really important, as each of us was individuals at the time but we brought all the projects together to make things bigger. You know you are walking around with people who have whatever you need and I had whatever they needed. It helps to make you move further when you have the help of your peers.
DX: Did you all know each other when you were in Philly?
DC: I kind of knew about Drama in Philly, as he was already doing stuff and he had a couple of people who went to his high school that were friends with me and the same with me. I never met him though until I got down here though, and the same with Sense. He grew up with people that I grew up, with but we never bumped shoulders until we came down to Atlanta. It comes with timing and I think it was just meant to be that we would all meet up down here.
DX: Taking it back to those days, does music have the same effect on you now as it did back then?
DC: Oh yes definitely. I think the most important thing to me now is music. I dont need anything else but music to be honest as that is all I care about.
DX: Your resume is progressing and the beats are getting hotter. What projects are you involved with right now?
DC: Right now I am just trying to take it to the next level. I am blessed as I am just a young Jordan in the game or a young LeBron, as every song I have done on an album has been a platinum or more record, and I am blessed with that [Editor's note: Don Cannon recently worked on Freeway's Free At Last, which did not achieve a plaque as of yet]. I am continuing to work with both little and big artists, as even the little artists can have big records. I just did two records with Ludacris which I am excited about. I was working with The Game and Nas. There are a couple of albums I am really excited about. Also I am working with a couple of young cats and that is what I am excited about and that is what keeps me going.
DX: The fact that you are associated with albums and songs that have sold millions, having achieved that, does it make you nervous in any way as that is what people may expect from you?
DC: It doesnt bother me as I work with individuals that just inspire me to keep going. You know some people might get carried away, "Youre working with this person, that person, Jay-Z is on your track, where as I just keep it regular. Jay-Z is my favorite rapper of all times, but to me, it is just another notch on the belt. It isnt any pressure for me as to me music is an art. Whether you splash it, like when you draw, you can say splashing and painting on a wall is art, the same with the music. It is all about how a person views it. You know some people draw and then some people might throw a bugger on the wall [laughs] but it is art to them. It is art to me; if a person comes to me, there is no pressure. They will either need this beat or not, I am doing me. I dont want to hear no conversation about, "I want a go crazy beat," or "I want a Cannon beat," or "I want a beat like you did for Fabolous," I am just doing music. There is no real pressure for me as it is up to the artist to take it to the next level and I am just happy to be working with artists that are able to take it to the next level.
DX: Nowadays are artists looking to dictate the direction of production to keep in the vein of what we are already listening to?
DC: I think certain artists are lazy now, now they just leave it up to the producer to give them beats. That is why you dont hear all these hot producers. To be anybody, people are just going to the hottest producer to get the hottest record and think that getting the beat is it. But no its doesnt work like that; it is a mutual thing to make a record and make history. You have to get out there and make those records. The deejay is nothing without the artist and the artist is never something without the deejay; it is never a one footed thing. It is a mutual thing where everyone has to get out there and work. A great beat and a bad artist still leaves a bad song just as a great artist with a bad beat till leaves a bad song. It all works hand in hand.
DX: Why do you think that artists have got so lazy then when production is so strong?
DC: I think artists go for big name because they want the quickest thing available that will get them to the masses. If that means getting a Cool & Dre beat, then thats what they do. If that means getting a Swizz Beatz beat, then that is what they will do. But "Hot Dog Man" over here might have the craziest beats in the world, but they wont touch his beats because everyone is looking for a name to associate. The more association with a name the more credit the artist will have. It will give more people a chance to pick it up. If there are a million people trying to promote their CDs, you might not look at one until you see a DJ Premier beat or something like that. This is no disrespect to the artists saying they are lazy, but people dont want to grind it out. They dont have patience these days and they dont want to strive for perfection. I give a person like Lil Wayne and a person like Lupe [Fiasco] credit. People look at Lil Wayne and think he might be the best rapper or might not be the best rapper, but one thing for sure is that he and Juelz Santana always mess with new producers. People never look at that though. Lupe Fiasco stays with new producers and one thing about Jay-Z and 50 Cent was they always worked with new producers too. They might have their Timbaland or Just Blaze sprinkled here and there, but they go with whatever sounds good, doesnt matter where it comes from and that is why those guys are greats.
Like 50 Cents record of the year was Apex [click here to read...], "I Get Money," and that was his first record ever. They are always looking for something fresh. You dont have to come out of the box with everything. It just takes great minds to think like that. Thats why I think artists are lazy because they would rather go and spend their budgets going to see Danja or so and so. Yeah they are going to give you a good record, but it is up to you to make it a big record. I am sure Swizz and all those niggas will tell you that also.
DX: Did you find that once you had your first big single, Jeezy's "Go Crazy," they were gravitating towards you more?
DC: Yeah they are gravitating towards me more but they realize I am not going to give them the same beat that I gave Jeezy. You know I am a producer, I make records and will put my input in but it is all up to the artist. I cant make Lil Scrappy; Lil Scrappy gotta make Lil Scrappy. I can give you the hottest beat in the world, but you have to make yourself.
DX: When is it that you think you might have made it as a producer, you know become content with yourself?
DC: I dont know man; it is hard to find contentment man. I know I am not content now as I am still on the rise. There is still doubt with everybody, from Timbaland to Dr. Dre, because if you dont have that banging record you are back to cold or lukewarm again as opposed to hot. It is just one of those things that you have to constantly make hot songs.
DX: What has been the most advantageous program or piece of equipment in your tenure as a producer?
DC: I would have to say for me personally, and I can only speak for myself has been Logic 08, which is like a producers program inside the computer. I pick that because I was able to transfer all of my sounds and my equipment in the box. Now I can just carry around a laptop and a controller and I have like the five or ten keyboards I have bought over the years, an MPC, an ASR plus a recording module and deejay program all in one computer.
DX: Tell me you back up your computer.
DC: Hell yeah, I am looking at five computers right now and I have about 19 hard drives.
DX: Yeah but you hear about people who have laptops stolen and the owners never backing up their computers and then losing years of work. Kind of crazy as well as unfortunate.
DC: I mean it happens sometimes as some people will sit there and forget to back up because they work so much. I constantly back up as I went through a stage where I lost 100 beats off a drive. That was probably the worst thing that ever happened to me as I honestly thought I was about to die. Thats a lot of beats..but it happens. You just learn over the years like I learned. Not only when you are high profile in the world but there are places you might take your computer, and then have it stolen. I have had mine stolen out of my car before and I am not the only one that has been through that. Plenty have gone through the exact same thing. You have drives crash. I just constantly back up and do what I have to do as I cant go through that heart break anymore.
DX: Like with any career though, you have to safeguard your shit.
DC: Yes you do, it is very important. The thing with Macs though is that they are so advanced in their technology that they have this program which I think is great for producers, called Time Machine, which will back up every five minutes so that if your computer ever crashes you can take it back to whatever date you want to take it back to and restore it back to that point. Producers need to have that.
DX: Has technology made it easier to produce with all the programs that are available today?
DC: Its not exactly easier but there are a lot of things around that have made it easier. Lets put it that way, all the programs available have made it easier but you still have to be skilled. You are not going to get these programs and become J Dilla or become Jazzy Jeff overnight. You still have to get in there and grind it out and make it what you want it to be.
DX: You were at the One Stop Shop the other week sitting alongside DJ Premier and No I.D. How did it feel to be sitting along side these guys who have educated so many of us?
DC: DJ Premier is my favorite producer of all time, and I grew up listening to him and I couldnt believe I was sitting there beside him. I crafted my style from that and that was big for him to say I was one of his favorite producers right now. That made me feel like I was doing something. [Laughs] I work with No I.D. all the time, and with Swizz and Mr. Porter and I go back and forth all the time on the iChat. Its good for us to trade secrets as you know as back in the day, people were fighting for the work, so they didnt want to trade no secrets. Now there is enough work out here for everyone and now they dont mind trading secrets all day. That is better for the industry.
DX: Did you have anyone guide you as you have come up in the game?
DC: I had cats like Focus, No I.D., Jazzy Jeff and that was it really. I really learned that stuff on my own and as I have grown on and I bumped shoulders with other people. But it is those people who have helped me a lot. I mean I have been studying a lot; I have studied every mixtape, as my dad passed away when I was 11, so Jeru the Damaga, Jay-Z and Nas were all like my pops, just as DJ Premier. These were who was sitting down with me at night when I was sitting on a machine as that was how I learned.
DX: Studying, no matter what the subject always yields better results.
DC: Well America is a slightly lazy world you know; if shit can be done in short cuts then that is what they want to do.
DX: Talking about mixtapes, what would you be your favorite mixtape of all time?
DC: Doo Wop's Live 95.
DX: [Laughs] Yeah Drama said the same thing to me.
DC: [Laughs] Yeah we talk about that tape all the time man. I actually had that tape, one of my fave tapes of all time; that and Trap or Die by Young Jeezy. That basically solidified mixtapes to the next level.
DX: Do you think mixtapes have helped producers as well as artists and deejays?
DC: Definitely. It is an ongoing struggle for producers giving away their beats and them getting on mixtapes as it is cutting off money but for the young producers that are coming out that is the best way to do it. People just need to shout out the producers when they get on it. I think producers are getting smart with that too, putting their own drop on beats so that when people rap over it they know where it came from.