Producer's Corner: Mr. Porter
2006 was a year that Detroit and Hip-hop suffered losses which to this day remain unfathomable. One man who lost not only his bandmate but two of his closest friends was Denaun Porter.
Kon Artist or Mr. Porter, depending on which hat he is adorning at the time is a man that has absorbed the loss of his brethren, he will never come to terms with it, but in this interview with HipHopDX, you get the distinct impression that he has, since their passing, been laced with nitro. Focused and determined to make sure he does his part for Hip Hop and his home town he has been keeping busy.
Executive producing possibly one of the most acclaimed albums of 2007, Pharohe Monchs Desire and allowing up and coming artists the chance to spit over his beats through his online portal MrPorter.com, this producer/rapper/fan/webmaster and self proclaimed student is still enjoying wearing his vast array of hats like he was back when he first started out, the only difference being that those hats are more custom made today. Well when you have achieved the success he has that is inevitable.
Talking beats, brothers lost, battles of a political nature and that five letter word that is often thought of as the urban legend within Hip-HopDetox, this is how life is for one of the most promising producers in the game today.
HipHopDX: Where did your love of music come from?
Mr. Porter: Well my father is into music. He is a Gospel singer and it pretty much started there. Growing up in church and seeing my Dad and my uncles sing with all this feeling, that was where I got my start, but I didnt take it serious for a long time.
DX: How does your Dad feel about your involvement in Hip-Hop? As I have talked to many rappers and producers who come from a church background and whose families do have an issue with them being involved in what some deem the Devil's music.
MP: My dad is an open minded dude and you know he never kept me to bay when it came to what I wanted to do. They encouraged me to do what I wanted to do. You know he wasnt mad or anything but there was times when he would say that music wasnt real loyal to me as I was to it. He is just very open minded and he doesnt really mess with the Gospel music any more anyway.
DX: Coming up in Detroit there is an overabundance of talent in both performing and production. How influential was the vibe in Detroit in encouraging you to become the producer you have become?
MP: It is more important today as there were always different musicians and things of that nature. There were all different people that helped and being here certainly played part. Coming up under Dilla and Eminem and then moving over to Dr. Dre, it was like different extremes. It plays more of a part today being from Detroit as I can cope with a lot of the kids of the musicians. Being able to work with them, I think it is better for me to be here as there are so many struggling musicians that have been left here. More so now than when I was younger.
DX: Obviously just touching on J. Dilla, Detroit lost two of its most coveted artists within a few months of each other in Proof too. How hard was it for the Hip-Hop community to bounce back from that and have you even bounced back from it?
MP: We are beginning to now. A lot of the people that are actually doing a lot today, Guilty [Simpson] [click to read] and Black Milk [click to read], they were around when I was getting on. You know if I got work, I would put Black Milk on and Guilty is like my best friend, just the growth of what they have done and the bouncing back of it has been hard. It was hard for me as Proof was my brother and J. Dilla was a very good friend. I introduced him to Dr. Dre; you know just being in the same room as them. To me, I am just now bouncing back. Me being in Arizona [at the One Stop Producer's Conference] was the first time I felt like I was getting back to being serious with the music. Personally I am just bouncing back now and the Hip-Hop community is getting back on it, Trick Trick, Black Milk, Guilty, Royce [Da 5'9"] and D12. We are all back working together and everything does feel like it is starting to come back together again. But I would say it has been a couple of years to move past it.
DX: Do you think the media made it harder on you to deal with the loss, as I know everyone was looking for you to talk to you about it?
MP: Well yeah you know I shied away from a lot of that kind of thing. Fame is one thing, but something of that nature, people can be real cold. You have to understand that people took it as Eminems best friend died, not really looking at it like [Proof] was a part of D12, and I think D12 took just as big a loss as Eminem. The media attached Em with it, and the media threw it in his face a lot. It was hard for everybody, but yeah the media did make it worse and being in Detroit, I was very disappointed in how they started portraying it in Detroit, making out that Proof was this really bad dude. But all those people that were there, they are alive and no-one ever really told the truth. If anyone gave a fuck about Proof, then people would have looked for the truth and that to me was the worst part of the media.
DX: You guys are back in the studio now, recording as D12. That had to have been tough when you went back to recording?
MP: Well the first month we did pretty good, but you could tell we were really at a loss with what we wanted to say. I got the point where I wanted to focus on certain things and showing a growth as that was what we were going to focus on anyway with this record. That was hard as hell as some days you just know he wasnt there and then there were some days where we just knew we had to do what we had to do and everyone was strong. Then there were the days where emotionally we werent feeling anything. It was just hard all around. We didnt go in think, "Oh we are going to make some money," we went in with the intention of rapping like we were rapping at the Hip Hop Shop. We didnt consider what people wanted to hear as that was what Proof taught us. He taught us to be who we are and not what people expected. I think today things are so cynical and so messed up that we missed that part, we got lost in it as I felt that I was trying to make certain songs. It was tough because he wasnt there. You never forget the message, you just get confused and wonder what we did so wrong to lose one of our own again. This isnt the first time, this is the second time.
DX: Are you happy with the direction of the album?
MP: I think if I am able to actually do what I want to do with the record, which would be move to be executive producer on the project, it is hard when you are dealing with friends. I did the Pharoahe Monch [Desire] [click to read] record, and I didnt even get to put my foot all the way into that, but I will with this record and all the things I am able to do, it is hard to show your own group that. Sometimes I think they have to move outside of me being this little kid that we came up with to this guy who knows how to do that. I am happy with it though yeah.
DX: Why couldnt you do what you wanted to do with the Monch album?
MP: I will say it like this; we did a lot and we had so much more. But it became political and when it started to become political with him and his label and I think the A&R at his label. I met Steve Rifkind, and he didnt even know that I was doing the record. I mean I am sure he had a lot going on, but it kind of showed me how important the project was to him. I am not a loud, flamboyant dude who likes to tell people he is good at something, but I just let people see that I am good at what I do. That I believe is what my problem was, he didnt know and when it stated coming down to it, there was a lot of legal stuff that wasnt taken care of and things not done right and not just on my behalf as my business was together. We are actually working on another record and I guarantee this one is going to be better than the last one. It just became political with management and A&Rs and it became tough for me because a lot of the changes they were trying to make were things that I wasnt really going with. Not that I was looking to make commercial singles, but I knew where we should be with those singles and I wasnt able to make those decisions as I was overshadowed by an A&R.
DX: Do you think labels actually understand the importance of who really exective produces an album?
MP: I think they are starting to get it, but I just hope it isnt too late. I mean I would have Eminem exec produce for me, but its not like you would just use anyone as it really is an important role and you have to be able to listen to suggestions. There are a lot of producers now just saying, "Fuck the labels, I am going to go get my artist and bring you a whole finished product." That is really the way it should be.
DX: You sang the hook on the joint, "Look At Me Now" you did with Young Buck. Did you get cussed out for that as well as that was something different for you?
MP: I made that song for Buck when I was in New York finishing a track for D12, and he was down the hall and he needed a record. What I did was I went and did my research like I do with everyone I work with, something I love to do. Buck is just raw. I like to make songs that fit a person, and that track fit him. People gave me flack because I was singing. You know they would ask, "Why you singing?" and I would be like, "Because I know how." [Laughs] I mean I started singing before I started rapping. I am always learning with this, you know I ever went to school for this, nothing like that. But you know I gained a lot of love in the south from that. Me and Bun B [click to read] are close friends, me and Pimp C had a mutual friend in jail and we were going to work with each other and that was before this track. People are very shallow today yet I do get to reach people with the message and the right people and I think it made it easier for me to go down south and say, "DJ Drama [click to read] I want to do a song for you," or "Devin the Dude [click to read] I want to work with you."
DX: You have launched your own site MrPorter.com which allows general fans to buy beats that you have worked on over the years. What inspired you to do that?
MP: I was looking at all the music that I had. I was out in L.A. and when I came back from L.A., Dre looks for certain things and certain ideas and I think what happened was I would get frustrated. You know I would make all of this music but we didnt use it all; so it got to a point where I was getting a lot of e mails and fan mail from people and they were looking to work with me and it was hard to go in the studio with a guy who is just starting when you have a career to uphold yourself. Sometimes I do that if someone hits me with some shit, but a lot of these guys need work and this was a way for me to spread that love to these people without having to say, "Come back after you got five more songs." Now I have made this site where I have put a lot of the music up there. You know this is stuff that I have sitting on hard drives, not quite sure how many I have. [Laughs] There was just a lot of music sitting there and I thought it was a waste. Some of these kids dont know how to negotiate prices for beats so I set it up where they can go to the site and if they like a beat, they can take it off and put it on their own album. They negotiate their price and in doing so they have to learn about producer agreements and about licensing. It just turned into a great tool to work with artists around the world. I really wanted to do it for those artists in the UK and in Australia and places like that. They love us over there and I dont want to have to wait for a tour to have to do something with people over there. I hate that as I love being over there. It just made so much sense for me to do this and that s why I got into it. I felt like all this stuff would go to waste and it is really great stuff, you know the stuff labels will be afraid of. The lack of communication and the fact that I am a person that likes to do things for everybody that made sense to me. I wanted to help all these people but I knew I had to figure out a way to do this without having to be in a million places at once and it just made sense.
DX: Do you think that artists coming up nowadays do need that big name producer behind them to get attention nowadays?
MP: Not at all, but its like this. When we did the first D12 album, I felt like I was doing great but then I would rap over my own beats and then Eminem would come with a beat that I could rap over. But when we got to Dres studio, and we started working on his stuff, it was staggering. You know get a beat here or there from a different producer and it's nice when you are in the hood saying, "I got a beat from Mr. Porter," I never had that chance when I was coming up.
DX: A lot of producers like the whole working in a studio experience with an artist. Do you think tat putting your beats out there or any other producer putting their music out there in this way takes that aspect away from recording and creativity?
MP: No because Swizz Beatz [click to read] doesnt get to work in the studio with everyone he has worked with, [DJ Premier] doesnt get the chance to work with everyone who wants to work with him, and nor do I. The people that are going to go to this site are those people that don't have $15,000 in their budget. So it is different; to some if they have a thousand bucks its like $100,000 but if they get something they are looking for, it will make their album or project different. If you are talking about major artists, yes it does take away but for these kids, this is something that they have to look forward to. You know they could get a deal off this. A guy got a ring tone deal after taking a beat from the site. You know it was some drums and a wacky kind of sound and he called me up and told me that a ring tone company gave him $50,000 or something.
DX: Producers are about paying it forward.
MP: Me and J.R. Rotem, I told him the ropes of certain things and he ended up with an artist, Sean Kingston [click to read]. I have yet to work with Sean Kingston, but I know I can call Sean Kingston and have him write a hook. There are different connections that you make through helping people. I am not bitter about a persons success or happy about their failure, I feel like I was one of those people. Like at this years One Stop Shop, everyone on that stage, like Preemo and Swizz, I am not at that level yet. I know I have a long way to go but everyone in the audience is just like me. I dropped out of school, I lost my scholarship for playing ball and everyone is the same. You know we all have opportunities and by helping the next person you are really helping yourself.
DX: But a lot of people dont understand that.
MP: Well yeah but thats because they are afraid of the next person taking their job. I am not scared of that. Dre could turn around and say to me, "Thanks Denaun but I like this guy's stuff more, great knowing you," but I would be like, "Thats what it is." I am not scared of no one taking a job that I have as it happens. You have to be really good at what you do.
DX: Detox...dare I mention it? [Laughs]
MP: You know what I dont even know what I have on there now. [Laughs] I mean he might like a song one day and then hate it the next.
DX: How hard is he to please?
MP: What? [Laughs] How many records does he put out a year that is how hard he is to please? It is all worth it as when you are doing something for him if he doesnt want to use something then he will pass it on to the next artist. You have to take it in your stride, he is the hardest person to please, but when you hear him ask for you to give him some shit, you just think, "I really must be good," because if he didnt like what I was doing he wouldnt be taking it from me.
DX: That has to be the biggest accolade for any producer to work with him.
MP: I get a lot of flack for it as a lot of people say he doesnt do this, and he doesnt put records out and he is weird, you know what I am saying. But what these guys dont realize what he does. I mean I am on two sides of the fence as I am an artist and I am a producer. When I am a producer I hear, "Fuck D12, they are the wackest group ever." Yet we have sold plenty of records and its not because of Eminem like people say, as he never went out on a tour with us, we always did our own tours and our own work. So does that make us wack or is it a case of just that person saying that not liking us? Then when it comes to being a producer people say,"Fuck that you work with Dre, he dont put out enough records," but these are the same people that tell you in the same breath that they dont like you because you dont put out enough free music. Why do I have to put out free music? I thought this game was about doing what we do from the bottom of our hearts. You have these rappers that put out a million mixtapes and then wonder why their albums dont sell. If you put out so many mixtapes why would anyone care about your album? But then you have these producers that do the same beat over five or six times or they will sell themselves short for a dollar. I still havent sold myself short.
DX: Is it because there is no balance?
MP: Well you have to work and then you have to have fun. I know for a fact that when I watch Swizz Beatz do a beat, that nigga be having fun when he makes a beat. That makes me want to make sure I have fun when I make a beat. If people dont like it then so what, because I will come back and bust your head with the next beat because I am the real deal. I am not a fly-by-night producer, I do something and then I might go away again for a year and then come back and do something else. Just because I havent had a number one hit single, doesnt mean I havent done anything else. I mean I have worked with Sting, I have worked with Burt Bacharach, and I have scored a movie and done commercials. I love what I do and some people out there are in the game for the wrong reasons and all they do is make beats. They think it is about wearing a gold chain and driving a car. All I want is to be respected in what I do as I have fun, got a girl, have a chain and drive a car. I just want to get better.