Producer's Corner: No I.D.
Longevity is to Hip Hop what change is to the Republican Party, yet both Hip Hop and the Republicans are familiar with the idea and romanticism of "Back in the day." For some reading this, you get that Hip Hop is as driven today by politics as much as it was lyrics back in the '80s. Its incomprehensible how people can stay relevant in the industry without falling prey to the infestation of bad business and the urge of reinventing oneself time and time again. But there are those that do.
A prime example of a person who has weathered the test of time and continues to maintain a balance of passion and responsibility is Chicagos anointed "Godfather" producer/rapper No I.D. It was this man that holds title as Kanye West's mentor, the mastermind behind Common's first three albums and a producer behind Jay-Z's most acclaimed work of late.
His most recent attack on the charts was the high-brow "Put It On Ya" by Plies. In this exclusive HipHopDX Producer's Corner interview, No I.D. addresses how producers cant be responsible for the lyrics that lace their beats, his and Common's reunion, and working with Mr. West on 808's & Heartbreak.
HipHopDX: You are hailed as the Godfather of Chicago Hip-Hop which is quite a prestigious title. What are your views on Chicago Hip-Hop today?
No I.D.: I kind of just stick to work because sometimes, when you start paying attention to those things, you are taking your focus off what you are supposed to be doing. I definitely see it still rising - although it is not a unified effort just yet, everyone is not really doing their part.
DX: Why do you think it is not a unified effort, as I often think of Chicago being very unified...
No I.D.: It is unified? Oh no, no, definitely not. What it is, especially with me living in Atlanta now, you can blatantly see the difference, and that is not to say that a lot of other cities are not the same way, well let me ask you what you think it is?
DX: Well you see artists such as Naledge, The Cool Kids, and Kid Sister to name but a few showing so much unification, working together when they need to.
No I.D.: See I am from a different era, and I definitely know that the younger kids are totally unified, but when you look at the established veterans, it is still quite separate.
DX: Okay, but what about you, Common and Kanye, isnt that unity?
No I.D.: Yeah, but think about how long it really took for us to work together. You know we still havent worked on a Common [click to read] album together but we are about to, but this is 20 years [deep]. I am just saying that the mentality in Chicago is to not really help unless necessary and once someone [forces you] to help, that is usually when people get together.
DX: People even now say your name and automatically think of Common, how was it when you two decided to go off in different directions?
No I.D.: Well it was cool because it helped us all grow. It is always cool when you're grown and it turns out good. It isnt cool when it turns out bad, so at that moment we were doing it out of the necessity. That's what we were doing, [and it] was not bringing us the success we needed, or just that we wanted to try a lot of different things, and again being that we are from a different era, when we started doing records it wasnt like anyone shopped beats to each other. I just worked on Common. I had other people asking, but in my mind, it was like, "I work with him," like [DJ] Premier did with Guru [click to read] and Pete [Rock] [click to read] did with CL Smooth [click to read]. It wasnt really until [Nas'] Illmatic that people thought of using a lot of producers.
We were young kids just trying to learn the game without any teachers.
DX: Now fast forward 20 years, you working with him again is like coming full circle?
No I.D.: Yes, and I think it is going to be great. I am happy for all the good and the bad things that happened, and I am happy that they did happen because it was a lot of lessons learned and also a lot of history made and to be made.
DX: So who reached out to whom?
No I.D.: It wasnt even like that, and I am not going to put it out there in that fashion. I would just say it was a mutual desire to do it. I had reached out before, he had reached out before, and I dont even know if we were even ready to do it. This is someone I have known since we were nine or 10 years old; so you know it isnt just a music thing. Even with me and Kanye [West] doing a lot of work together, even though we havent actually worked together, I may have helped him do beats and so on and so forth, all of our egos have got to a place where we can do a lot of things together and help each other.
DX: Talking about growth, I remember reading somewhere that with your two tracks on American Gangster, that it was your first shot in the spotlight and I was quite shocked or insulted at that with your history. Did you agree with that?
No I.D.: I understand it. You can look at it like you did when you know what I have done, but I look at it like most of the producers from my era when I came in are not here anymore. They are not even doing records, I am one of a few, and I can count on one hand those that make records now for the mainstream artists. So that means to me that a lot of media and fans are totally new people, that dont know. It doesnt bother me, it makes me feel motivated, as sometimes you can get complacent when you hear, "You are a legend, you are this, you are that," and you need motivation you know, "There is a new group of people that dont know, let me show them real quick." I dont get offended at it.
DX: Touching on the track Success, how did that actually come to be?
No I.D.: Well I was in the studio with [Jay-Z] [click to read] and Jermaine Dupri [click to read] and another guy LRoc [click to read]. Jermaine was actually helping work with Jay.
DX: Was this in New York?
No I.D.: Yeah this was at Roc The Mic, Jays studio and I just came in to play my Steve Nash role and I was literally just sitting in the corner with my laptop, as I make beats on my laptop. So Jay kept saying he needed a specific type of record and kept shooting down everyone that was bringing in records, so I just started working on it in the corner and he kept looking over. I think Beyonce was in there and I was stomping my foot and she was asking what I was doing, and someone said, "Oh, he makes beats like that."
On the funny side, when I thought of the idea I just stood up in the middle of the room and crossed my arms and looked at the board and he asked me what I was doing and I was like, "Oh yeah, I got it." We were cracking jokes back and forth and he was like, "Yeah right, dont lose it," and I was like, "You dont lose the raps." It was just on the spot and that was like a Hip Hop type moment for me. I have fun doing music, it is not just about the money, and it brought the fun back for me.
DX: So basically it was a magical moment.
No I.D.: Oh yes definitely.
DX: Do you think there are only certain artists that you can have that moment with though?
No I.D.: Yeah, because with certain artists, there just isnt that interesting a story. It was interesting through the whole history of everything and even though I have worked with him before I have never really worked with him.
DX: Was that your first time working with him on a track like that?
No I.D.: I mean I have been in there with him before but that was the first time where it was me working. I mean I am a sit-in-the-corner type of guy; you know you could meet me and never know it was me if you dont know what I look like. You know I would let you talk about me to me and then tell you. Me and him, we arent close, but I remember being at the "Sunshine" [click to read] mixdown that he did with Babyface, which he did way back on Volume One and I am a quiet dude. I dont jump in the room and try to be a star type of guy.
DX: Do you feel that there is an overabundance of music and that is why we arent getting a lot of ht albums anymore?
No I.D.: In my opinion, it is because people dont know what they are doing. They are just making songs and hoping that something fits. They dont have a sound or a direction or a theme and that is one thing I like about when Jay does an album, he knows what he wants to achieve. He will do 15 [songs] for his 13 [that make the album]. But then again, I was talking with someone yesterday that told me when Quincy Jones did [Michael Jackson's] Thriller, they did 15 songs and picked the three singles out of that, and then did another 15 and picked the three singles, and just threw what was left way. It just depends but at least they knew what they were doing.
DX: You have three tracks on 808's & Heartbreak do you think he is coming out of left field with this album?
No I.D.: Yes, but I understand where he is coming from now and I think it is either going to connect or not going to connect, but that is all you can ever ask.
DX: Are you saying you understand it better now after working on it, listening to it? Do you think it will have the same effect on fans, you know it might take a minute for them to understand it?
No I.D.: I think it is going to make new fans and I think the fans that it doesnt grow on, maybe it isnt for them. You know, it isnt even rap music. You cant expect a rap fan to like anything because they like the way he raps. But that doesnt mean they wont like it either. You cant pay attention to that; you just have to keep doing what you do. At the end of the day, he is just trying to do the best music he can to improve his shows and his performances and I think this album was a good move in that sense as it is going to expand his audiences and his base. It is cutting edge and people say about the T-Pain [click to read] [auto-tune use], but T-Pain doesnt have songs like that. He might use that one effect. There is a lot of propaganda, but you just have to do music and keep it moving.
DX: But thats Hip Hop isnt it, propaganda?
No I.D.: Yeah it is just a bunch of talking you either like it or you dont, you are either going to play it or you are not. Kanye still does the "Swagga Like Us" stuff but this is just a different album.
DX: Do you ever think that producers such as yourself should be held accountable for lyricism and good content for your tracks?
No I.D.: No.
DX: Why not?
No I.D.: Because if I make a plate, I dont care what you put on your plate and eat, I make plates, just like I make music. I dont write the songs, but if I do write the songs, then I am responsible for what I say, I am not responsible for what anyone else says, and it took me a while to figure that out. I am a producer and if that is the case where I am accountable, then people who make cars should be responsible for those people who run people over. You cant control everything, you cant control where you place your money, that is just a different stance. Its like if I want to make a stance on what is being said I dont do it with my music, I do it with my voice. I think it is my responsibility to be a responsible person, I cant control what people do with my music just like I cant control what the companies who sell my music do with the money they make.
DX: You said it took you a while to get to this point, why was that?
No I.D.: I am from the "keep it real" era where people say certain things. There are no choices to have people say something positive, you might be able to control the lyrical content, and I am not saying this in reference to the Plies record ["Put It On Ya"], this is just in general. What it made me see and do is as I am a producer, I am going to make the best beat and music I can and hopefully it will encourage my ability to make change in other places. Lyrics are lyrics, and they definitely affect people as rapping probably affects people more than religious books right now, as people listen to these songs - they memorize them and they live them and they dont even do that with a Bible. This is just the time we are in and I can only do my part and stay relevant at that.
DX: Is there any chance of more albums from you where you are the rapper and not just the producer?
No I.D.: I dont think so, but you never know. But this is just the perfect example of what we are talking about. When I rapped, I would say things what I wanted to say and I wasnt going to change that for nothing. I am never going to say lyrics that dont represent who I am and what I believe in as a person and that is why it is easy for me to say, "This aint for me," as the time for when I could have did it has passed and people dont want to hear that so I am not going to say it.
DX: So why do you personally think we have got to that point?
No I.D.: It's just cycles. You know it was all positive to the point where N.W.A. couldnt get nothing going because they were negative and now it is all negatives and it will eventually go back to all positives.
DX: But is it negatives or just nonsense now?
No I.D.: Well it was all negative at a point and you know it could be all swinging back. It was like an event when "Jesus Walks" [click to read] came out; that actually had people going, "Wow," when really there shouldnt even be a wow, it should just be a song. Thats what I mean by all negative or rather lack of positive. You look crazy if you are making a song that is saying something, you know nobody wants to hear that. I dont have a reason to rap if I am not saying something and to be honest I am not interested in rapping just to rap.
DX: What are you working on right now?
No I.D.: I am working on some songs for some artists, and I have been working with a songwriter on songs. I am waiting for Kanye to get back off tour and we are going to work on some more stuff and I have been working with some unsigned artists too.
DX: Is that important for you to do that, more than with signed artists?
No I.D.: Well I keep it balanced; I think it is important to transfer the energy from both. You get hungry working with the unsigned artist and then you get energy and life and momentum working with the big artists. I really just feel that working with new artists is how you solidify your legacy, not from placements. You dont become a real producer in history from just getting placements.
DX: I am surprised that you havent actually ended up behind a desk at a label actually.
No I.D.: I was going to take one, and I do want to do it but I am not interested in playing the political game. I dont have to do that, I dont need to do it as I am a music guy either these companies are going to understand that I know and put me in a position where I can control what I do or I will create something. We are going into a whole new era anyway, where the whole record company model has to be changed. So either they will change it and understand who the best people are to run it or they are going to keep playing their political games showing favoritism and things that dont have anything to do with making the best product and what is going to happen is they will phase out.
Def Jam was created by young guys who had a vision compared to the old system at that time. Now it is the main Hip Hop label along with Interscope, so I am saying I know exactly what I am doing. I wont beg them or do something that I dont need to be doing, because at the end of the day I am just giving back into it.
I lost the passion for it because it was so not what I got into it for and really now me and Kanye are working on his album and the Blueprint 3 has re-inspired me again. It started with American Gangster [click to read] but I am in full fledge mode now, I am on fire right now with inspiration and music. I am ready to tackle it all again where as before I was just talented enough to make records to make a living.
DX: Why did you move to Atlanta from Chicago?
No I.D.: To get out of Chicago and me and Jermaine Dupri had formed a new relationship and I felt that I had some things that I had to learn from him and some work that I needed to do so I just made the move. I like it down here.
DX: A bit warmer right?
No I.D.: Yeah. [Laughs] No snow, you cant be mad at that.