Producer's Corner: T-Minus Explains Working With Drake From "Comeback Season" To "Take Care"

posted November 23, 2011 12:55:00 PM CST | 17 comments

Producer's Corner: T-Minus Explains Working With Drake From "Comeback Season" To "Take Care"

The Toronto producer who made Ludacris' "How Low," explains how he landed six songs on Drake's "Take Care" after reconnecting last year, as well as hits like Barb's "Moment 4 Life" and Wale's "Ambition."

When producer T-Minus was in high school, beats like Kanye West’s “Through The Wire” and Just Blaze’s “I Really Mean It” for Diplomats inspired him to cop the Fruity Loops production program and get to work. Now, he’s part of a production group that’s moving the needle of Hip Hop production in their own way. He nabbed placements like Ludacris #1 hit “How Low” through his own connects, but since linking back with childhood friend Boi-1da, he’s steadily crafted heaters for Drake’s growing collection of solo cuts and collabs. The Ajax, Ontario native seems to have a golden touch: Nicki Minaj’s “Moment 4 Life,” T.I.’s “Pop Bottles,” DJ Khaled’s “I’m On One,” Lil Wayne’s ‘She Will,” and Wale’s “Ambition” are all products of his work behind the boards. Perhaps most important, though, is his five-song portion of Drizzy’s Take Care, which was projected to sell an impressive 700,000 copies in its first week. Lounging in a Los Angeles hotel room after several studio sessions, T-Minus tells HipHopDX about working with Drake without him knowing; the close-knit production tandem of himself, Boi-1da and 40; and his friendship with Ludacris.

T-Minus Explains Working With Drake At The Beginning Of His Career

HipHopDX: How did you get started? First joint I know of that you did was “Replacement Girl,” from Drake’s mixtape Comeback Season.

T-Minus: My first major placement was Plies’ “Co-Defendant,” off of his Da REAList album, with Atlantic [Records]. I was sending beats out to a friend at the time named Brendan. He was accepting beats and submitting them to artists in the States, so he asked me for some beats and he sent them over. It was really quick, one of those X-Y-Z things. You give the beat to a person, he gives it to somebody else, and it’s done.

DX: When did you start working with Drake?

T-Minus: That was through a close friend of mine, Boi-1da. He’s a producer from the same town I’m from, called Ajax [Ontario], and we went to the same high school together. When I first got into producing, I met him in high school. We started collaborating together, learning things off of each other, and he taught me a lot about producing. We made the beat for “Replacement Girl” together, Drake got a hold of it...Boi-1da had the relationship with Drake, so that’s how that came about.

To expand on that, me and Drake later met in October 2010. He was in Los Angeles around the same time I was. He played me some beats, and ever since, he wanted to do some music together, and for me to be part of Take Care. We did the “Moment 4 Life” record together [from Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday], and I don’t even think he knew initially that I made that beat. I gave that beat to Boi-1da, and he gave it to Drake for me, and Drake gave it to Nicki. It went down the line of different people. We did that record, and around the time I met him in Los Angeles, I gave the beat for “Poppin’ Bottles” to Gee Roberson, and he gave it to T.I. When T.I. jumped on it, they wanted to get Drake on the record, so they called Drake around the same time. It happened so fast—me and him were collaborating on records, not knowing we were working together. Once he found that out, he said he wanted me to be a part of this album.

DX: Yeah that’s crazy, because I noticed you were on “Replacement Girl” but just disappeared on Thank Me Later. It seemed like you got into the fold so quickly after that.

T-Minus: I know, it’s crazy. We lost contact for a few years, but we reconnected that time in L.A.. Ever since, we’ve been working together.

T-Minus Explains Making Ludacris' "How Low"

DX: Last year alone, you had so many big records: Ludacris’ “How Low,” “Moment 4 Life,” “Pop Bottles.” How was that transition from having so few placements just the previous year?

T-Minus: It was an intense moment. [Ludacris'] “How Low” come out late in ’09, and it was garnering a lot of play in 2010. For months, I wasn’t in a good situation. That record came because of a relationship I had with Ludacris at the time, but I never had much relationships going on through 2010. But I reconnected with a lot of people, like Boi-1da. He helped me get some placements, and that helped me get the ball rolling again. Ever since, I was like, “I need to take advantage of all these opportunities I have.” That’s how everything just kept happening.

DX: “How Low” was #1 on the Billboard Rap charts, was nearly everywhere at that time. What’s the most memorable, weird, or awkward time you remember it being played somewhere?

T-Minus: You know what’s crazy? I met up with Ludacris when he came up to Canada, and he had a performance. Before the record was actually officially placed, cut and announced as a single, he told me, “We’re going to do something big with that record. Just keep your ears to the TV and to the radio.” It was funny, one day I was watching the BET Hip-Hop Awards, and all of a sudden, he came out and performed it for the first time, without it actually being released to radio. It was a crazy moment; looking back, when I didn’t have any big records, that was my first number one. When I was that, it was a surprise, a shock, and a blessing. I celebrated. I hadn’t even heard a mastered version of the record.

DX: How did you build a relationship with Ludacris?

T-Minus: That was through my old friend Brendan. He was sending beats out to artists, and Ludacris fell in love with a lot of the beats I was sending. He was like, “I’m coming to Toronto to shoot Max Payne, at the time, and he was shooting Gamer. “I’ll meet up with you at the studio if you guys are down.” I met him at the studio for the first time, and he was a really cool dude, real humble. He was in the studio with 9th Wonder at the time, and he was introducing me to him and giving me a lot of respect. He’s just a great individual. … He’s a great guy. Every time I see him, he holds me up and asks how I’m doing. He’s definitely not on no Hollywood shit, which is one thing I really respect about him. He’s one of the first big-time rappers I actually met. When I met him I was expecting a different character, but it’s nice to know there still people that are as down to earth and grounded as him.

DX: You’ve worked with Drake and Nicki, two artists who have really been legitimate stars built from the ground up. They have fan-bases, but they both have some of the most genuine fan bases I’ve seen in the past few years. What do you think it is about them that makes people gravitate to them so much?

T-Minus: Nicki is such a character, she just stands out so much. She’s not even just a rapper, she’s a pop star. And she has talent—she’s an amazing lyricist, and she knows how to put on a show. It’s all those things combined, she’s definitely the total package for what an artist or performer should be. With Drake, he’s so real that you can’t help but relate to his music and to him as an individual. He’s not pretending to be anything. He is who he really is on a record. And it’s raw talent as well. He just spits amazing bars, and the beats are crazy too. They’re incredible artists from the ground up.

DX: Before Take Care, you were collaborating with Drake but not directly. You were sending them out, and they just ended up in Drake’s hands. What is working with him like?

T-Minus: Well that happened with “Pop Bottles” and “Moment 4 Life,” but every record after that, like “I’m On One” and “She Will” , we collaborated on those together. My intent was to give those beats for Take Care, but they ended up on other peoples’ projects.

He’s an incredible artist. One thing I’ve found about Drake by working with him a lot is that has a great understanding of what he wants in a record, and he’s a great producer as well. He might not make beats, but he can hear something, know where he wants to go and know the direction. That’s where a lot of stuff from 40 came about, on the records I did. Drake would get a beat from me, and a lot of the time he’ll tell 40, “Take this stuff out, do this and that,” and it’ll come about this way. That’s because Drake knows what he needs in a record. It’s an art to him; he doesn’t just make records to make records. There’s a meaning to every record he puts out. It’s amazing to watch him work in the studio. His whole thought process, you’ll think, “Wow, this is definitely one of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with.”

DX: When I hear Drake’s music, especially Take Care, I imagine all of you—Drake, 40, Boi-1da, and you—sitting in a room, and hashing out how you want the album to sound and a message with the album. He’s really established his own sound within the past couple years, and the sound is so cohesive. How do you guys put a project like this together?

T-Minus: It’s crazy. How you said, it’s cohesive; that’s the same word I use to explain it to everybody. It’s so well-rounded. Everything is a work of art, and it goes well together. From track one all the way till the end of the album, it all works. Drake was in the studio mostly with 40. I wasn’t there all the time, but I was fortunate to be there a lot of the time. I’d be in the studio, listen to some of the records they were working on or some of the records that they needed, and it was Drake making a lot of direction of where he wanted to take the album. It was a really fun process at the same time. I was a part of the records where I could add my two cents and take things out or put things in. One thing about the production game, you’re just sending beats out to artists, and they do a record and that’s it. You don’t get to sit in the studio and be a part of the project. You give them a beat, and you hope they’re going to write something incredible to your stuff. Being part of the album was an amazing experience; I’ve never experienced something like that with an artist, where I was a part of the entire album. 40 was a key person in the entire album, as you can see in the credits—he’s pretty much produced or co-produced every record on the album.

T-Minus Breaks Down Working With Boi-1da And Noah "40" Shebib

DX: Between you, 40 and Boi-1da, what do you think that each of you does differently vs. all that you do the same?

T-Minus: We all have our own styles. 40’s sound is very lush and somber, he has a lot of R&B influence in his music. Boi-1da’s stuff is crazy knock, it hits so hard. There’s so much percussive presence in his record. I feel like I brought a mixture of both in some sense. I’m strongly influenced by Boi-1da’s sound; we grew up together, and he’s definitely been a big influence on me as a producer. We share a lot of sounds from producing together. I brought a little bit more melody to the records I do.

DX: It’s a pretty serious five-six song run on Take Care with “Under Ground Kings,” “We’ll Be Fine,” “Make Me Proud,” “Lord Knows,” and “Cameras.” What is your favorite song, or favorite portion, of the album?

T-Minus: My favorite song is “Cameras.” I couldn’t really explain why, but the whole vibe and the feel an the progressions that were used. The creative process that 40 used making the beat, he reversed the sample and it sounds it so crazy. Drake put so much swag on the record; it’s not even mad lyrical, but you get what he’s saying on the record. It just works. Another record I really like is “We’ll Be Fine,” which I collaborated with 40 on. He was a big part of the hook. I remember when I gave those guys that beat, they stripped a lot of it down. It was pretty basic at first, and I’ve been working on the record. 40 jumped on it, and he made the hook so crazy. I can remember hearing it for the first time in the studio, and I was in awe. It was nuts to hear that stuff. Those two records stand out to me. “H.Y.F.R.” has really grown on me as well, and “Take A Shot For Me” is another record I really like.

DX: What was the most memorable session that you were either part of or witnessed?

T-Minus: The most memorable would probably be when Drake was recording “The Real Her.” When I seen him in the studio that time, that’s when I really knew that he was something special as an artist. I remember him explaining what he wanted to say on the record, it was so much depth. It wasn’t just a record about a chick, it was something he really had to say on it. Just watching the process of him going in the studio and essentially freestyling the record, was amazing. The beat as well, 40 did his thing on the production. That was a time I really had a lot of fun watching the whole process. … I can’t speak on Drake’s entire process, but it’s like he just knew what to say on the record. He comes up with melodies so quickly and so easily.

DX: Were you able to witness any of the sessions with Stevie Wonder?

T-Minus: Naw, I wasn’t there for any of that process.

DX: Drake seems to use all of his producers with everything that he does. Whether it’s one of his records, or something he does for someone else, one of you three is there. In an interview recently, I believe it was 40 who said he mostly just works on songs for Drake. Where do you think that loyalty and trust comes from?

T-Minus: Honestly, man, I think we have a good understanding where he wants to go with these records. We have intentions of sending the records for whatever he wants to do—when I’m in the studio making beats for Drake, I’m just like, “This is for Drake.” And when he has the beats, he may feel, “Maybe this isn’t for the album.” I think that’s what happened with “I’m On One.” Just the whole dynamic of the record would never fit Take Care, so it’s something he’s willing to offer to someone else for their records. He holds onto beats, and he may use them for his album, or he may give it to somebody else.

As far as his loyalty, he’s a loyal dude. Everyone he keeps close to him is from his city and his home, so he’s trying to put his team on. I appreciate it, he’s definitely giving me a great look with all the records we’ve done over the past year. A lot of them were strongly influenced by Drake.

DX: Last year alone, you had so many big records: Ludacris’ “How Low,” “Moment 4 Life,” “Pop Bottles.” How was that transition from having so few placements just the previous year?

T-Minus: It was an intense moment. “How Low” come out late in ’09, and it was garnering a lot of play in 2010. For months, I wasn’t in a good situation. That record came because of a relationship I had with Ludacris at the time, but I never had much relationships going on through 2010. But I reconnected with a lot of people, like Boi-1da. He helped me get some placements, and that helped me get the ball rolling again. Ever since, I was like, “I need to take advantage of all these opportunities I have.” That’s how everything just kept happening.

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