Deezle: The Ear Next To The Mouth

posted June 25, 2008 12:00:00 AM CDT | 5 comments

If the rhyme book is the blueprint, and the emcee is the architect, then the producer has to be the foundation that any song, or album, is built upon. Darius Deezle Harrison has been that foundation for many of the hottest artists in music today, and he plans to continue building on his sound and his brand. Born and raised in New Orleans, Deezle became a part of the integral musical heritage that the city has been built upon. Birthing an eclectic array of industry luminaries, from Louis Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson, to Harry Connick, Jr. and its newest favorite son, Lil Wayne, Deezle is the newest recipe in the simmering, mellow pot of goodness that is boiling over in the Big Easy.

Classically trained in music since childhood, and studying the greats who have come before him, Deezle displays a complex mix of humbleness and confidence that is sure to continue to propel his career. And that career will only rise higher, as he and the afore-mentioned Lil Wayne have concocted the biggest album in the world right now, Tha Carter III. Not limiting himself to any specific genre of music, Deezle has been lending his Midas touch to scoring movies (Right to Return by Academy Award winning filmmaker Jonathan Demme) and producing artists, including old school songstress Teena Marie, Queen of R&B Mary J Bilge, Hip Hop young gun Flo Rida, and fellow New Orleans native and Jazz phenomenon Donald Harrison. Deezle is very fond of his relationship with Harrison, who also mentored another young musician while living in Brooklyn in the late '80s. His name was Christopher Wallace.

The road to stardom hasnt been easy for Deezle. As he and his family survived the tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina, the producing wiz had to start from scratch. He created Drum Major Music, a movement he feels will help ignite a faltering music industry, and shed light on unheralded talent. Evidently, BET Networks agrees, as it has teamed with Deezle and his management company, The League, to produce Blaze the Stage. The event, which will be held August 9th at New York University, will officially launch the Drum Major brand, and begin finding artists to develop. While Deezle is content traveling the road to the riches, he is gearing up for his ultimate drive: the road to being a legend.

HipHopDX: Give us a little bit about your beginnings, and how that influenced your choice to create music...
My family was like street musicians, and I got involved with music at the age of nine. It was kind of troublesome for me because my family were musicians, my dad didn't think my interest in music was serious, and he didn't want me to do it. At nine years old, I had to stand up to a grown man for the one thing that I loved in my life at that time, which was music. Finally, he conceded and brought me a saxophone which I played for 13 years, studying classical music and playing in symphonies and my high school marching band.

My high school band played at the Super Bowl when I was 15 years old. After that, I ended up becoming the drum major of the band my senior year, and that's obviously why my company is called Drum Major Music. That's where the influence came from, because I held that leadership position, and I feel like that's what my company's going to do for these next few years in the music industry. We're going to be leading the band.

DX: Do you remember what Super Bowl your band played in?
It was like '90 or '91, it was in New Orleans [Editor's Note: Super Bowl XXIV]. I'm not a football fan man, so when I was there, I didn't realize the magnitude of where I was until a few years ago when that whole Janet Jackson thing happened. I realized how big of a thing it was to the world, then I was like, man, I was on that stage too! I can't even remember who played [San Francisco 49ers defeated the Denver Broncos], that's how much attention I paid to the game.

DX: Growing up in a musical rich city such as New Orleans, how did that affect your musical style?
It gave me options musically. I'm able to embed Caribbean rhythms into R&B, and it doesnt come off as a Caribbean song, or I can put Funk in a rap song, but it's still a rap song, it doesnt turn into James Brown, you know, things like that. It gave me a lot of musical tools, not necessarily physical tools as in instruments, but it gave me tools as far as mentally. I can put Jazz in Hip-Hop, and it doesnt come off as Jazz, it comes off as a new sound for Hip Hop.

DX: Who was the first artist that you worked with while trying to break into the industry as a producer?
The first artist I ever worked with was a guy who was doing Country music in the studio. That was the first project I was able to be a part of in a major studio for a session. I was in training, and I saw a bunch of instruments I had never seen, because at that point, I had never played Country music. It was a learning experience for me. But the first artist I worked with that you would probably recognize or could look up that I worked with is Aaron Neville, from The Neville Brothers. They probably have been recording music for close to 50 years. Then after Aaron, it was Donald Harrison. Donald and I met because the guy who was the chief engineer [at the studio] didn't want to do the session. He was like, It's a session coming in, do you want to do it? I was like, Yeah I want to do it, but who is it? He was like, Some dude named Donald Harrison. I was like, What you mean, some dude named Donald Harrison; you don't know who that is? This dude is a legend who played with Sarah Vaughn and Miles Davis, toured with Art Blakey. The New York Times talked about this man. If I couldnt walk, I'd make it to that session." When Donald and I met, he loved me, and then he found out my last name was Harrison too. We really started to research where our family is connected at. The relationship grew and developed, and we became like brothers. He mentored me in a close fashion like he mentored [The Notorious B.I.G.]. He was really integral in Biggie's early career. He had this cat learning Charlie Parker solos, and he was doing me the same kind of way. It's been really interesting, man.

DX: So, youre related to Donald Harrison?
I am related to Donald Harrison, where, we don't know. I know that he's my mentor and a brother to me, not a blood brother, (even though) we are related somewhere down the line. We haven't figured it out yet, but all of our family members look alike. I have co-produced Jazz records and Smooth Jazz records with Donald. I also had a part in some Jazz records that were deemed classics by the Jazz critics, and it was because of Donald and his appreciation for my talent. Donald is definitely a big part of my life, still to this day. Matter of fact, he does workshops with kids over the summers at his Jazz camp, and I get involved every summer and teach production for a day or two. He is really a motivating force in my current development and a very positive mentor in my life and my career.

DX: Speaking of the young musicians coming up today, how do you think the Internet has changed the process for a producer to get his work out to the masses?
I really think it gives cats false hope. Take me for instance, people get my e-mail address and send me tons of e-mails. First of all, I value my hardware and my computer, so I'm not going to open an e-mail from somebody I don't know. I don't want to get a virus. Then some cats will send me the same thing 10 or 15 times so I can notice it. Thats aggravating, because you're filling up my inbox with the same thing over and over again.

In some ways it has advantages though, I can't look at it totally negatively. At the end of the day, I think it's about building relationships. If my manger says you're going to send me something, then Im looking for you to send me something. But if you send me something, and I dont know who you are, I could get it confused with any kind of e-mail, "Make a million dollars in 10 days!" I could get it confused with that. I think that once you have the relationships you need developed, the Internet can be your strong tool. That saves me from spending $25 at Fedex for overnighting something, and I could get it to you the same day.

DX: Can you describe your creative process when you are making music? Are there any quirks or routines you go through when composing a beat?
I have one routine, and this is a quote from Donald Harrison, he said, "The music will tell you where it wants to go." That's my routine, I let the music talk.

DX: Being that youve worked on films, what's the difference between scoring a movie and producing an artist?
When scoring a movie, the picture is there. It's easy to match the sound to the picture, and match the feeling of the music to the picture. But it's more difficult, and you have to be a lot more in tune, to match the music to how the artist is feeling on any given day. I like to create for the moment, not the cookie-cutter, Ill send you a beat and you do a song, because if you're not feeling it, the song is going to be wack. It's a lot more variables in it than looking at a picture and seeing it's a sad situation, okay, the music needs to be sad. With a human being, you're guessing.

DX: Moving on to the biggest album in the world right now, Tha Carter III, how did you link up with Lil Wayne?
I've been working with Wayne [click to read] for the last seven years. Tha Carter III [click to read] was a given, because I'm on his last two albums. I recorded the whole Carter I uncredited, and I recorded and produced on Tha Carter II [click to read]. On the DJ Khaled [click to read] mixtape, Like Father, Like Son, six of those records on there were mine, and they were all supposed to be for Tha Carter II. But some samples couldn't get cleared and stuff like that. Time got away from us, and they ended up not making the record, so they put them out right after the album, as [if it were] Tha Carter II, Part II.

The relationship between Wayne and I started when Ronald "Slim" Williams found me from asking around who was the best engineer that people knew in the region, and my name came up. I got a phone call from Slim one day telling me they needed an engineer; I thought somebody was playing on my phone so I really didn't take it seriously. Needless to say it was him, so they invited me to the house and we worked the next day.

When Wayne came through, he was starting on Tha Carter, and obviously it was produced by Mannie [Fresh] primarily. Then they found out that I produced, because I didnt tell them. I was doing my own thing and I was determined to keep doing my own thing. I ended up with six records on Baby's Fast Money album [click to read]. Wayne was on two of my records on that album, and after that he just really started loving my music because it was a change from the norm. It had all of those elements that we talked about earlier in this conversation. It was allowing him to stretch as an artist and to see different things, because the energy was different in the music, and he was able to go different places and explore. For Tha Carter II, I was supposed to have three singles off that album. Two of the songs we couldn't get the samples cleared, and one of them got leaked; somebody lost a disk or something. Needless to say that was a disappointment, but it was also a blessing. For Tha Carter III, we linked up and the chemistry has been there, and we went in like five or six months straight and came out with that album.

DX: Take us through a studio session with Wayne. Is he a difficult or easy artist to work with?
D: Wayne
is very easy for me to work with. When I'm working, I end up having to wait for the computer, and Wayne is like that. Wayne moves really fast, with his mind going, running, racing; the dude is a genius. When you're working with a cat whose mind moves that fast, you gotta be moving that fast. If you and your boy are running from the police, and y'all are not running at the same speed, somebody is getting caught. So, when you're working with Wayne, you got to be running. Your mind has to be ready to go change and go to a different zone. Its exciting for me, I love working with dude. I don't get bored, because if Im chilling and waiting for an artist, at that point I'm bored. Going back to working with Wayne; I've heard people say, Man, he's so hard to work with. But, they just obviously aren't at the level that he's at.

The beautiful thing about Tha Carter III is that a lot of the songs on the album were songs that were done in one night at the studio. Wayne would have an idea, and 30 minutes later the track is there and his ideas are flowing. It's fun man! Its what music really is, people coming together and making harmony.

DX: With Tha Carter III being one of the most anticipated albums ever, did you and Wayne feel any extra pressure in the studio?
You know what, I only knew about that because that's what my friends told me. No offense to the magazines, but I don't have too much time to read magazines, or watch too much TV, so I don't find out about these things until they're happening. One of my boys kept calling me like, When is the [album] coming out? I told him, We're still working dude. He was like, We've been waiting for this shit, come on man! [Laughs] I was like, Man, y'all waiting like that? He said the whole world was waiting. Then he said hell let me finish working.

DX: When the album leaked, did it bother you that your name was one of the many floating around linked to the leak?
I didn't know my name was linked to the leak, because they kept calling me to come to work! Anybody who thinks I would leak my own songs is a fool, what sense would that make? I love music and I do this for a living. I'm going to leak the songs from the most anticipated album in a few years, that I know is probably going to go platinum? So I'm going to risk losing at least a half-million dollars? You do the math.

DX: Is there any more work with Wayne in the future? Who do you see collaborating with in the future?
[Wayne and I], we working now! This is what we do. I just got out of the studio with Sean Garrett. I got a lot of things bubbling that I don't want to speak on yet. I hope this doesnt come off as cocky or arrogant, but when you're in the position that I'm in right now, everybody calls you; even the people who don't want to.

DX: Going back to your New Orleans roots, how has being a survivor of Hurricane Katrina affected your life?
I lost everything, man. When I got back to my home to check it out, I had three classic cars that were under 13 feet of water. My home was destroyed, and my dog, where it was chained to the leash, it was just the bones. The only things I didnt lose were my family and my equipment, and that's because I took those two things with me. Imagine starting life as a baby, but you're a grown man with responsibilities, that's what Katrina was for me. Now I have the number one record in the world, thank God. So I call it a blessing.

DX: Any there any offers from the majors to distribute Drum Major Music?
Yep, I wont say who, but yes. Also, I am looking for artists, so you can put that out there. I have several people that I'm working with, but nobody is on paper yet.

DX: As a label head looking for artist, what would be your advice to any producers out there trying to break into the industry?
For cats trying to break in, my advice is to give yourself a deal. If you dont give yourself a deal, nobody's going to give you a deal. Buy yourself some equipment, buy yourself a studio, send yourself places to work with people. It's called paying dues. If you don't pay dues, you won't be around.

DX: What do you want your legacy to be as a producer?
Well, I don't do this for myself. I used to, but now I do it for people. Donald [Harrison] told me in order to be a great musician, you have to love people. We do it for the people; we can't do it for ourselves. At the end of the day, I'd like to know that at least one person will sit down, and gain something positive from my music. Whether it's an instrumental, or somebody rapping or singing over my music, that they will be able to connect that in some way to something higher. I hope they realize what's real, and that life is bigger than just homes, cars, work and themselves.

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