Producer's Corner:

posted October 13, 2008 12:00:00 AM CDT | 24 comments

Dead prez
, the socio-political rap duo from Florida, has established their reputation with raw rhymes. So when Nas was putting together Untitled [click to read], his conceptual masterpiece album about the black experience in America, he knew who to call.

Even though, half of dead prez, had a limited production resume that consisted mostly of group work and beats for other artists on their label, he and Nas meshed so well musically that three of the pairs songs made it onto the album. In an interview with HipHopDXs Producers Corner, talks about the new dead presidents that Nas has to represent him.

HipHopDX: When did you first start producing?
I still consider myself a beginner producer. Ive got such a high respect for what I consider producing that I know that Im a beginner. All my life, since I got into Hip Hopfifth grade, sixth gradeIve been listening to music and studying not just lyrics, but the sounds and the arrangements and things. I listen to a lot of Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones, because of the arrangements and the sound. To me, thats a big part of being a producer is listening. Not just making music, but listening.

DX: As far as Ive seen, youve only produced on your own records before all your songs on the Nas album. Had you done a lot of other work?
Yeah, I had. I did stuff for Erykah Badu, for some of our artists in our camp like the A-Alikes. I did a lot of shit over the 10-12 year period that weve been out. Big Pun, different little shit here and there. What Im talking about isnt really the industry, per se, about releasing records. My boy Abu had an ASR-10. And I used to rap, but I didnt make my beats. He said, Why dont you get in here and try to use the board? I was like, I dont really make beats. I dont know how to play keys or nothin like that. But hes like, As an emcee, if you can figure your own sound, who can do that better than you? He basically taught me to be one of those emcees who makes their beats, and thats a culture in itself. Theres some great emcees that dont touch equipment, and some great beatmakers who cant write a day in their life. He introduced me to the idea of guys like Devin The Dude [click to view], who are producers as well as emcees. As far as my production credit, I feel like Ive been getting my feet wet and building myself up to be able to release professional things to that degree.

A lot of time, people would say, Youre a producer because you do stuff with dead prez. Im like, Nah, Im not a producer yet. I do beats so we can save money, but that doesnt mean Im running around thinking Im some big producer. Im just trying to rise to the occasion and do something decent enough so we can get the point across. But in doing that, I had a lot of experience working with musicians, and being able to pull in different people to help out on different parts theyre skilled at. In that sense, I found that I have a real rapport with directing musicians to my vision. I play keys, I program drums and things like that, but I think its about putting in the right team members for a particular sound that youre looking for, too. Knowing how to edit, knowing how to give direction. Like I said, Im baby stepping.

DX: How did you start working with Nas for this album?
We knew Nas for a minute, [since when] we were on Columbia. This particular time, he just reached out. He actually reached out to M1 [click to read] and askedI dont even think he knew who did our beats. M1 hit me and said that Nas wanted us to come to the studio and hang out, write, produce, whatever, do some collab work. But he wasnt real specific on what he wanted us to do, so I assumed he wanted us to rap on something. Just cause thats what people usually use our brand for, because of what we have to say.

So I went out to L.A. with my pad, ready to rap my ass off with one of my favorite emcees. [Laughs] He was totally like, Yo, I want yall to produce this. Do yall have any idea how you could develop this particular thought? I want to get at Fox News, got any beats for that? I found out over a few days that he wasnt really interested in us rapping or being featured, but he wanted a sound and he wanted some help in conceptualizing his ideas. Thats pretty much what I do with dead prez, so M1 just sort of fell back, like, Knock it out. Make the beats happen. Thats pretty how we got into the mood. I ended up doing five or six things musically that he wanted for his record. I think he ended up choosing three. But it was good. Hed say, Heres a concept, and we just started building on it. Id play some tracks, I made some shit on the spot. Some stuff I produced, like the Untitled song, Nas hit me two days before his deadline. He said, I need some shit about [Louis] Farrakhan. Hook me up with a track, nigga. [Laughs] I did something that I felt, I wasnt sure if he was going to fuck with it or not. I sent it to him, I hit him late that night, and he was like, Its done and mixed. Before I even heard where he was going with it, it was mixed and ready to go. You know how industry shit goes, sometimes you dont always [record music] in the same room at the same time.

We did Sly Fox [click to read] in the same room same time, and Untitled I did in Atlanta. The Youre Not Alone record, as far as all the singing and the beat, I was working on it for the dead prez Information Age album. But I thought, Nas would kill this shit.

DX: With your production catalog not as expansive as those of others, Nas working with you so heavily was almost on some 70s shit. Two artists just working together based on liking each others material, not on whos hot. Do you think you two have an older mentality as far as how you create music?
Yeah. I think we have things in common as far as the music we like, with old school music. Nas is a Hip Hop fan a lot more than I am, as far as raps and keeping track with the latest Hip Hop. I definitely dont be on that. Im the type of person to buy Curtis Mayfield CDs two, three times a year. Thats my fault. But I noticed in his career, hell come with the [DJ Premier] shit, the stuff he had on the I Am album, just dope beats with a good feel to it. Like Mastermind [click to read]. Im into that west coast shit as far as Hip Hop per se, like The Game [click to read], as far as a record that I would buy. Or Scarfaces album [Made] [click to read], I collect his shit. I like a street sound thats musical. My first love as far as music is Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, all that Soul shit with a message. Thats my baby. When Nas did that joint Get Down [click to read] how he was spitting over that old school type of shit? Thats my favorite way to hear Nas.

DX: What were you guys studio sessions like?
It was exciting for me. I was in Cali, doing it big. [Laughs] Im working with one of the greatest emcees in the game. It was real professional. Im a workaholic, so from the time I walked in, Im creating and trying to take advantage of every second in terms of doing the best job I could do. If someone calls on me to make something happen, to me, thats everything. I want to give all of my attention and my best ideas, so thats how I took it. We just vibed and talked about politics, where he wanted to go with his records, the negative press he was getting because of the Nigger title, and we got to work. I called in some of my peoples in L.A. on some guitar strings. I was on my job, thats how I looked at it. But we did develop a relationship of respect, exchanged some literature and DVDs. It was a mutual respect.

DX: Given the content of your previous music, what was your involvement in Sly Fox? That really felt like a and Nas song, I almost expected you to put a verse on it. Nas
came with that idea. He said, I want to get back at Fox for trying to put me out there like Im a murderer, and taking my lyrics out of context. He had the title for it and everything, and he was like, I want you to help me build on that shit. We just started throwing back ideas and phrases. He got a notepad and started writing down things Id say, things he would say. I think [M1] was in there for at least some part of that, in the general conversation. We didnt have a beat for it, we just had some ideas. I had this beat I was doing for a martial arts movie. Something just said, Play him that. I had some little [bass] rumbling low in there, and I was like, That sounds like some news shit a little bit, lets see if thats the vibe. I really didnt think it was, but I was just like, Let me see. When I played it, and he was just like, Thats it! Im like, What, that beat aint really ready! But if he likes it, let me see what I can do to make me feel like its on point. I called in the guitars to bring it more where I thought where it should be at.

So we get the notepad full of ideas about Fox. Im like, Searching like CBS, and I see B.S., track us down with GPS. He came with, Red Foxx, only fox I know. He would scribble it down, but not in a rap format, just dope little pieces. He goes in the booth after I get the beat all up, but what you hear on the song, he spit that. He had a certain method of what he wrote down and how he spit it. So Im like, How can I be productive? Let me think of a hook, so we can stay focused. I wanted to do a million songs, I didnt want to be stuck on one song forever. So I write the hook that you hear on the song, and when he comes out the booth, I go in the booth and lay the hook down. When I get halfway done with the hook in the booth, he stopped me like, Come out. Ima say that hook. I leave the pad in the booth, and he goes in there for one take and spits that shit hard. We work it out, keep working on the song and tweaking it, and thats how Sly Fox came about. It was co-written and a collaboration, but it was his idea and his genius.

DX: Even though it didnt make the album, I thought that one of you guys standout songs was Association, which he put on the The Nigger Tape [click to listen]. On the hook, Nas says, Association breeds similarity. Do you think artists come to you just because of the message you have in your other records and the aura theyve had, despite your lack of extensive production experience?
Well as Nas has told me, hes a fan of the musicality in our beats, not just what were talking about. Nas has his own thoughts, ideas and opinions, and if youre a fan of Nas, you know that. I dont really think it was just that, I think he likes the sound, and that it would probably be a good marriage for the message and the theme of this particular record. Weve done things with him in the past that havent been released yet, but this time it worked out.

I think that people assume that if youre going to work with, that youd have to make a political record. That couldnt be farther from the truth. I think everything is political, dont get me wrong. But to work with me, thats not a requirement. To me, its about being an honest expression, and helping you bring out the concept that you have. To me, thats an art within itself. People talk about records like Laffy Taffy [as negative], but I look at that record as a producer and say, Wow. Thats a dance record where they rap not only as Laffy Taffy in the hook, but in the verse, theyre talking about tootsie rolls and yada yada. They stayed on their context. I think thats a good song in terms as a songwriter. I dont think its prolific or our generation and all that shit, but I dont judge everything by the same standard. Its a talent to make a dance record, its a talent to make a pop record, its a talent to make a street record, its a talent to make a political record. I respect all of that, and my goal is to be the kind of producer that can be in all of the genres. Not contradicting my own personal beliefs, but at the same time, being a vehicle and expressing my musical direction and my ability to bring concepts to life. Not to be known as, Come to me for the political, yada yada. But, if you come to me for my sound and my soul, and my drums, and my ability to bring a concept to life, thats what I want to be known for as a producer.

DX: Anyone else youd like to work with?
Id definitely like to work with The Game, a lot. I think hes a dope brother on a lot of levels. Hes very talented lyrically, hes strong with it, hes got a lot of wit. I like his gear for the music he chooses, and I fuck with his movement. I dont know how he feels about it, I never met him. But I like how he represents himself. I wanted to work with Curtis Mayfield, but a lot of the people I really wanted to work with expired before that could happen. Like 2Pac. I got to work with The Outlawz though, still am working with them. Im into singers, too. M.I.A., were reaching out to her for our Information Age album. Im interested in working with Sade, thats a goal of mine. As out of the box as that may sound, Im going to try to get Sade to sit down and vibe.

DX: One criticism that Nas has had throughout his career is his beat selection. Is that something you had in the back of your mind while working with him? Something you felt you wanted to dispel?
No. I havent liked every song Nas ever put out, so nobodys above criticism. But I think its hands down that Nas is one of the best in the game from the songs hes made. People can say what they want to say if they didnt like this particular [selection], but Nas is definitely that dude. I [witnessed] it watching him get in the booth, scribble some shit on a piece of paper and masterpiece that shit in one take with no adlibs. Its a level youve got to respect. And people always say that, but I thought Nas has made very good choices about his production throughout his career. If he hadnt, he wouldnt have been successful. Hes been making good choices. I think him and Salaam Remi [click to read] are a great match. The What Goes Around (Poison) shit. One of my favorite Nas albums is Gods Son [click to read]hes got the Warriors Song, hes got the Dance, I Can. To me, crazy records and relevant records, and dope and musical and lyrical. Another thing I love about Nas, some people call it a contradiction. I always love and related to, and saw myself in that hes like, Im from the streets, Im intelligent, Im pro black, but Im bout my money! And Im not going to apologize for that. I live in the real world, and business and strategy are definitely a part of that. You can hate on me, you can Hate Me Now. But Im not going to be that emcee thats got all the respect from the critics, but Im not on top of the hustle out here in the real world like a big boys supposed to do it. I always respected that, and when Im sitting over in my room with my pad, I felt the same way. Even though we bring a political analysis and we bring that energy to the game, you have to have business and capital to be your own boss, make your own decisions, and sustain out here. I think he does a good job at letting people know you can be intelligent, you can be about something, and you can reach for the success you want in your life. Everybody doesnt have to drive a Corvette if that aint what you want, but if you want a Corvette, who am I to hate on you because thats what you want?

When we say Its bigger than Hip Hop, were talking about life right now. Were talking about men, and their decisions, and their philosophies. Were not just talking about records and record sales, and thats a beautiful thing. Where else do we have the floor, if not Hip Hop? This is a culture, and Im just glad to put in my little two cents.

Share This

one moment...
Reply To This Comment

Got an account with one of these? Log in here, or just enter your info and leave a comment below.