Salaam Remi: Made You Listen
When you talk to Salaam Remi, you may find yourself asking him to repeat himself often. The 30-something Miamian speaks softly, and so slowly that his words often seem to slur together. A self-professed recluse, Remi (pronounced Ray-Me) has always let his music do the talking for him. During his 20-plus year career, the multifaceted musicians has produced hit records for everyone from The Fugees (Fu-Gee-La) to Shabba Ranks, from Amy Winehouse to Kool G Rap, to extensive work with Nas (Made You Look, I Can, What Goes Around, etc.). In an interview with HipHopDX, Salaam Remi talks about musical lineage from pops dukes, Nas, and reputation.
HipHopDX: What all have you been working on?
Salaam Remi: I just completed Rush Hour 3, executive music production for the score. I just did some new songs for Nas Greatest Hits, started on some songs for his new album as well. A lot of up and coming artists out of the UK, like Nick Harrison, kind alternative rock flavor. Theres a lot of new artists that Ive been working with, just trying to move forward. Working on new projects with new artists, kind of seeing them from the feet up. With the success of Amy Winehouse, theres a lot of the same songwriters coming to me that Im working with now. I cant think of it all this moment, but a flurry of things between R&B, Hip Hop, Jazz, etc.
DX: You have an interesting catalog, youve worked with all types of artists. What did you listen to growing up?
SR: My dad was a Jazz musician, hes from the Caribbean, so I knew all that type of stuff. I know a lot of Gospel, my grandfather was a pastor. As a small child coming up, I was surrounded by different types of music. But then where I guess where I really connected was the Hip Hop generation, with [The Sugar Hill Gang's] Rappers Delight" and [Run-DMC's] Sucker MCs. Coming of age, I was pushing that type of stuff before I really got into producing myself. So it was everything under the sun, but definitely intensified with Hip Hop, because at the time to be a teenager, that was what to get into.
DX: What does your pops think of your music?
SR: He likes it now. When I was younger, he used to call me Looper Vandross, because I used to loop a lot of stuff. He wanted me to play more music than sample. But at this point, I guess Ive made my point as far as me having my own style and influencing what I want to do. So hes definitely proud of it, hes pretty proud of it. His ideas and things he started on are on another level because hes in the business route.
DX: How often do you guys sit down and just vibe out, or how often does he give you feedback on stuff you have?
SR: Were not that close. Certain times, he manages artists. He manages Allison Hines, who has a big Caribbean record called Roll It. I produced a couple songs for her album, so hell talk about things like that, but otherwise, he lives in Barbados so he sort of passes through Miami once in a while. Just sit down and listen to things that Im doing. The last thing he said to me a couple months ago was that when Im playing on multiple instrumentsbass, drums, etc.that it sounds like him and his brothers jammin a long time ago. Its like I have it in my blood that Im already in the same groove that they were when they were younger than me.
DX: Have you guys ever collaborated?
SR: Sometimes I get him to play something. Hes primarily a guitarist. He played on the first Amy Winehouse album [Frank], a couple songs. Every once in a while, well do something, but nothings thats too popular has been something that weve collaborated on as of yet. It can happen.
DX: How difficult is it for you to produce so many genres, without letting one breathe into the other?
SR: I think the fact that I listen to and work on different types of music keeps me fresh whenever I get back to whatever it is. A lot of the times, I create based on the project and the artist. Its not like Im just making it just for making its sake; sometimes I do that, but Ill get into Amy Winehouse, and I wont be thinking about what I did for Shabba Ranks. Its different, but say on the Amy Source album, theres a cover of Moodys Mood For Love, which is a Jazz song by James Moody and King Pleasure, and we made that into a Reggae song. So [with] me having different influences, I can mix it. But I also keep them separate just by working around the artists project at hand, whatevers needed.
DX: Thats another thing about you: you rarely just produce one song for an artist. You work with Amy Winehouse and produce the bulk of the album, or on Nas joint, and produce five or six tracks. Do you miss seeing artists collaborate with one producer more often?
SR: The way that I work better, in general, say like on Chrisette Michelles new album, I got two songs on the album, but I actually did five; only two made it. The way I like to work is to really to get in the groove with the artist. Because sometimes its not the key song that comes up when you go in the studio and make one song; sometimes it takes a couple to get it going, or sometimes there can be an idea that comes up over lunch that ends up being the real record that everyone remembers. So for me, I prefer to work in situations where Im really vested into it and doing more of a record that lasts. Because that one song here and there, its cool, and it does what it does, but I really get more out of the project when I work on it more, creatively.
DX: A lot of artists collaborate these days via Internet. When you listen, how often can you tell? Like, This is cool, but they definitely werent in the studio together?
SR: Theres people that have gotten to the gift of songwriting where theyre able to [do that]. I prefer not to. I hardly have time to just do tracks for tracks sake, and if thats the case, a lot of time itll be tracks that are left over from my actual session with an artist. I prefer to vibe directly off of an artist and be in the same room. Theres so much more that can happen when youre getting someones direct feedback. But to me, most of the music right now sounds similar because [artists] get it to sound great on MP3 before its even completed. Because of that, a lot of intros to the tracks sound similar, the way they move is similar, because youre trying to impress someone. You dont know what mood theyre in, what vibe is going on, whats going on in the room where theyre listening to it. For me, when Im creating, all that makes a difference. If my artist comes in in a bad mood, maybe well make a sad song, or maybe well make a happy song thatll change the mood. Its like a life reflection. I think we all want music thats some type of life reflection as to whats going on at that time. A lot of industry stuff is cookie cutter at this point. As much as the artists may come out and people say, Is Hip Hop dead or not, or Is R&B dead or not, or whatever else it is, the music is still going, and itll never stop. But we of course know that more creative times in the music [are in the past]. Everyone knows that. But at the end of the day, the radio doesnt come off, things keep coming out and we keep working with it.
DX: Youre in a real interesting spot. Youve produced hit records and you have a crazy catalog, but you still arent on as many top producers lists as other people may think you should be. Do you think anything has held you back from being a household name?
SR: I think its my personality, that I really wasnt trying to be a household name. My goal is not necessarily to be an artist, per se, on the level of if you walk down the street and see Salaam Remi next to Jermaine Dupri or Timbaland, people who have taken on the artist factor, rapped, and do different things. I prefer personally to be more in the cut, look at things as an old school producer. You know who Quincy Jones was, but Quincy Jones had years of a career before he produced [Michael Jackson's] Thriller and people on the outside knew who Quincy Jones was. I look at a producers producer type of career for myself, where Im able to work on many things. The fact is, I dont really say my name on the beginning of a record I produce, and the records I do produce dont sound the same, so youre listening to it and getting the artist more than me. So if you name all the artists I worked with or the songs I worked on, theyre like, Oh, I didnt know he worked on that. I didnt want you to know; I wanted you to buy that artist and buy the album. Thats just something I feel more comfortable with, working behind the scenes and making sure everything goes. As far as being rated, I think its cool, but the reality is that for whatever label presidents and people in the industry, Ive got a good grip on whos who and whats what. Ive been doing it for so long, most of the people who were interns during my career have seen the vice president spot. So Im cool with it.
I dont really mind. Whatever may be hot now may not be hot later. Im not a really trendy person; I dont mind not being a certain lists now, because I feel like it all comes back in. If you look back at the body of work, it doesnt move. Im not necessarily doing it for props; Im doing it to add to music as a whole.
DX: When did you realize that you and Nas had the chemistry that you have?
SR: The majority of records for Nas that Ive made, I make in front of him. Hell walk in and say, I wanna do blah blah blah, and well work on it. Or, we actually talk a lot, so itll be based on a conversation. With Made You Look, we were having a conversation about how Flava Flav looks in the [Eric B. & Rakim] I Aint No Joke video, when hes in the park dancing with the clocks on, thinking about what the music sounded like in that park-like atmosphere. If you look at the Made You Look video, they captured part of it when Nas is standing up in the Rucker Park and the cameras going on around him, its was based on that same energy. So, most of the records that we make are based off of conversation. This past weekend, we were at my house, going through records listening to stuff that we felt had a particular sound to it, and thats going to be the influence for his next album. Were music listeners first of all, and the more we listen, things just come out that have a certain energy to it. Of course, the root is still Hip Hop, the root is still Queens. We love [Public Enemy's] "Rebel Without A Pause" and certain records gave us that push and energy. But he also trusts me enough that if hes doing something, I can tell him to switch his voice or something like that. We have that type of relationship.
DX: A lot has been said about how reclusive Nas can be. I remember hearing DJ Premier say, You dont get in contact with Nas. He gets in contact with you. Would you say that?
SR: I guess to most people, yeah, thats realistic. If youre looking for him, youre not going to find him; but if youre not looking for him, hell come to your house, thats real. I personally keep contact with him a lot, but thats because were always doing stuff. Im also a bit of a recluse myself, so wherever Im at, its not lights camera action. Its somewhere quiet, in the cut, with a lot of music going on.
DX: Whats the craziest experience youve had with him?
SR: Its funny now, 'cause I guess its second nature to me at this point. Because thisll be our fifth album of collaboration. But at this point, what I see with Nas is that there are different levels are cool. When I work with him in Stillmatic [Studio], hes comfortable enough to come sit down in my studio, and I say, Try this try that. But like I said, we know a lot of the same people in a lot of the same areas. He was somewhat comfortable with me where our conversations were already there. Gods Son was another level of, Aight cool, whats up, inner circle. But then the albums keep going down, the circle keeps getting smaller and smaller.
In general, from what I see, Nas can be anywhere and be cool. I was in L.A., and he pops up at the studio in a Ferrari. Im like, Oh snap. He was by himself. A lot of times, you dont get that. A lot of people who are on his status, or have barely gone platinum have to have an entourage, four bodyguards, etc. Hes just a rare dude, who just walks wherever he wants to walk, when he wants to walk there. Hits the mall to buy something, goes in public or whatever, supermarketjust a regular dude. He knows how to move, and he enjoys his life. Most of our experiences would be just the fact that he goes anywhere and doesnt really care whatevers going on when he feels like it.
DX: Who havent you worked with yet that youd like to?
SR: What Im open to at this point, and looking forward to, Ive been really inspired by the combination of, say a Gnarls Barkley project. Im happy I was able to work with Cee-Lo on the Rush Hour 3 Soundtrack with Nas, but I was inspired by the fact that most of the records that I look up to and listen from the '60s and the '70s were a lot of similar musicians, but they would mix and match bands. My thing that I want to do is get with different people and put together an album. I was thinking about something today: a Tweet and Bilal duets album, or another type of music might be interesting. Just projects where you work for a couple weeks, and you come out with an album and call it a different name. I told Busta, Lets just do the Dungeon Dragon album. Who is Dungeon Dragon? There is no face on it, but they may know the voice. We just knock it out in a week, and its done, thats what it is. You can benchmark a stamp on time by getting out and doing things like that. Pretty much, just going in and trying to create something that hasnt happened before.
I think theres a wealth of talent, but theres a lack of talented executives. And thats one of the things that can really spoil this, being able to create albums and then just put them out to the masses. A lot of the times, youll have a great song that cant come out due to label politics. Its kind of ridiculous. Its really about switching up things and keeping all this talent going, because thats where the next forward movement of music is going to happen. So we have Cee-Lo, Danger Mouse is doing his thing with Gorillaz, The Grey Album, etc., and him and Cee-Lo gave us Crazy. As a creative person, we all needed something that had a different, eclectic mix of sound. So thats what I look forward to. I cant think of a particular artist in general, but any artist whos talented who just really about