Producer's Corner: DJ Toomp
DJ Toomp has been raised on sound. His father, lead singer of The MVPs, had taught him the basic fundamentals of music at a young age. Lessons he adhered to and carried with him to where he is today; those same lessons that have encouraged his production to be appreciated globally.
Now, if the Grammy's go ahead, he will be there front and center once again only a year after grabbing his first for T.I.'s "What You Know". That missed flight really did have its advantages.
Through his patience and aversion to force, this well respected producer has the potential to change the pecking order that has dominated production for the last ten years. Just watch.
HipHopDX: Your history in the music game goes back a bit further than your work with T.I. which some people might not know.
DJ Toomp: Basically I have always been a lover of music since as I was a kid. My father had a nice record collection and then it got to the stage to when my parents started to trust me to work the stereo. I was about six or seven at this time and once I started listening to so much music I was interested in it. I noticed I was paying a whole lot of attention to how it was put together. You know certain things, you know from the break downs, all that caught my ear. Of course I didnt realize I was going to be a producer. I started out rapping first, then I learned how to deejay and once I watched the movie Wild Style, that was it, I just stayed with the deejaying side of it.
Around 1985-1986 I decided to go to the studio and learn. You know nobody ever gave me any lessons; but I always had an ear for music. Next thing you know things started to fall into place and the music I was putting together was making a lot of sense. I started to get a whole lot of compliments from other people and so I stuck with it. Now here we are.
DX: Was it hard for you starting out?
T: It wasnt that hard as there werent that many people doing it. I stuck out like a sore thumb. There was hardly anyone around here doing that, just like when I started deejaying; there wasnt too many deejays on the scene. Compared to the likes of New York and other major cities, there werent people doing tricks on turntables down here. I was ahead of my time. Even though I didnt know anything about publishing and that side of things I knew I had the power to create music and I was just excited to hear my stuff on the radio. It was later on that I started to get familiar with the building side of things. I put out my first record in 1985-1986 with a guy called Raheem the Dream. From there on I started getting a lot of notoriety. People were hearing my songs on the radio and the excitement of that made me want to stick with it. Just the excitement. [Laughs] Then later on I found out that you could get money for it.
DX: Well you came from that generation where it wasnt really about the money.
T: Exactly. Nobody was really caught up in the money, it was all about fun. People were more about the excitement, the love of Hip Hop and the love of the music. People were glad to get on the road and you had some people who would never have left their home town until they actually got on tour. It was a beautiful thing the music business around that time. It was just exciting and that was the thing, the excitement was in the air. Then it became a lucrative business, Kurtis Blow was the first rapper with an endorsement which was Sprite. He was the first one to have an endorsement and from then on you saw a lot of corporations pay attention to rap.
DX: Do you think there was a greater appreciation for the music back then when it wasnt such a vast money driven genre?
T: Oh definitely, you could hear in the music back then that all people were about was making good music and having fun. But some stuff, it has been whipped up in five or ten minutes nowadays. Not to take away from anyone but you can hear the difference. Back then it was wild, when someone brought real real music to the table. It does get to point at sometimes when it feels like we have lost.
DX: It was your work with T.I. that pushed you into the mainstream, made you a household name. Finding someone to believe in you and your direction, was that difficult?
T: Yes it took a minute. I had produced for a lot of different people, but you are right. It took for me to find that artist that I could really produce, where I could say, "Okay, you know what, I am going to introduce this music." It was the same tracks that I was shopping around to a lot of artists but it took for me to get my own artist to display my type of music. It was almost like fashion designer, you know you can have some nice pieces but you need to find someone to model those clothes, on the runways to display it. That is basically what T.I. did; he displayed a different type of production. I come from the Miami Bass era with Luke and all those people. Around that time, the game slowed down and the tempo, so what I did I just put all my energy into him and the next thing you know we changed the whole face of the rap game in the south. Of course you have people like OutKast who have been had their respect since day one, but it got to the point where people didnt think guys could get it to pop down here for real. They started to hear so much bass music and booty shake music; people didnt think we could rap down here. T.I. proved that there was a movement down here and there were a lot more other young cats down here who were just as serious as him in this game. That opened a lot of doors, as far as us having some great rappers, New Orleans, Louisiana, the whole south.
DX: Do you think to get the best work out of a producer and work on developing your style comes easier working with one artist?
T: Sometimes. It is funny in the way that it comes together. Sometimes it takes time for a producer to focus on a project, Timbaland proved that with Justin Timberlake.
DX: You wouldnt say yourself with what you did with T.I.?
T: Yeah and RZA did it with Wu-Tang, Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam did it with Janet Jackson, the list goes on. The record labels like to move you around with all these new artists but one day they are going to find that the most organic way to do it is to let the producer set the tone with that particular artist and let him oversee the album. He might not produce every track on there, but at least it should have that whole feel. I would say that weakens the strength and the impact that an artist may have if he works with a lot of producers.
DX: "What You Know" seemed to prove to the industry and Hip-Hop fans just how you and Tip had mastered that chemistry. Do you agree with that?
T: That was a great record and yeah I think it did show how far we had come.
DX: And it also earned you a Grammy.
T: Oh yeah. We had been nominated with "You Dont Know Me," but we got it with "What You Know." Now this year Kanye is nominated in five or six categories so we will be walking away with one again.
DX: You are being honored at the One Stop Shop producer conference this year. Now that award is coming from your peers, do those awards mean more?
T: From another producer? That means a whole lot. Yes. You know its like we really dont have to do this. I take that to the heart and that means a lot to me personally.
DX: Do you think giving back to those coming up, knowledge and advice is important to encourage some sort of positivity?
T: That is why I stay online on my myspace page, you know certain producers will ask certain questions and I will really entertain them if I can see that they kind of know what they are talking about. At the same time, I go to five or six different conferences a year, with no charge. As long as my transportation and hotel is taken care of, I will go and speak to producers all day. This is my love for it and I love to see people as passionate about it as I am.
DX: You had co-production credits on a couple of joints on Graduation. How easy is it to work along side someone who you are not necessarily familiar with, in a working capacity anyway?
T: Well you have some producers who are not good at working with another producer and then you have some who are. In this particular case, Kanye and I had a beautiful vibe. We didnt force anything. Everything you hear on that album just fell into place. That is one of my laws; I dont force anything. I put energy into something but I let the forces take over and do their thing. It ended up being a great project. I co-produced on two and did "Big Brother" by myself. It was really easy, as Kanye is a very well rounded producer. He knows music very well and he can even play; people probably think he can just sample, but he can play music too. He has a great ear, he comes from a singing background and so do I. My dad taught me when I was a kid. So when you have a real great gift for melodies and harmonizing and you get two great producers with that same background and who love those old school records that is the result you get. It was very easy working with Kanye.
DX: Last time we spoke you didnt mention working with Kanye, so how did that come about?
T: No. [Laughs] Had I forced that, it wouldnt have worked. What happened was I just happened to be in New York that particular week and Kanye was up there working. A friend of mine Gee Roberson and Big John from EMI, my publishing company, said I should stop by and see what Kanye was doing. See what will happen when we put both y;all heads together," and I was thinking it would be kinda interesting and boom I was in New York and I happened to miss my flight. So since I was in town for another day, I went down there and kicked it with him. The vibe was great and I only worked with him for about an hour but once he saw we had a chemistry, he made it his business to come to Atlanta.
DX: So he headed out to you?
T: Yeah he said he wanted to get the whole vibe down here. In his words he said, "I had wanted to come to the south to get some music and I figured you were the hottest guy down here." I really appreciated that. For months we worked, he would go out of town for a minute and do some shows, then come back and go back to the studio. We would take a break and go to the club then just come right on back to the studio.
DX: Will we see you working together again?
T: Yes a great chance of that happening, we talk all the time and we have the excitement of the Grammy's coming up.
DX: You have joined up with Bernard Parks Junior who is notorious for his work in hip-hop. How did your label NZone come about?
T: Well first of all, we have been knowing each other since 1981-1982, so we are childhood friends. He has been watching me from an early age. He was promoting parties when I was getting into deejaying and we always noticed each others hustle. We ended up going to separate high schools but we stayed in the same neighborhood. We would still see each other. He saw what I was doing on the production and I saw what he was doing on the management and people were telling us to hook up. But we never got around to it as he was doing his thing and I was doing mine, but we would always check in with each other. Then finally we decided to sit down and put our heads together and come up with a company name, a record label name and take it there. Like I said we were already great friends I knew he knew the business and he was good at what he does. He has a very strong legal background as both his parents are lawyers, so he was very smart. We have learned a great deal from each other and we have a great chemistry. Started the company and thats it.
DX: Do you think you need to surround yourself with people who know what they are doing, all the time and not just when you are trying to get on?
T: Yes, I mean you can put a few hours in around people if you are open to learn and then you have people who wake up every day and want to do nothing but be around you. But I always try to surround myself with people I am going to learn something from, even if it isnt music, if it just a lesson on health, life or politics, anything. I love to just say, "Damn I didnt know that." That is why I keep close knit with people like J. Brown and Jay-Z. when they invite me to go somewhere I go because they are making big endorsement moves, real executive grown men moves. Look at Jay-Z with 40/40, Kanye has endorsements and Jeezy has his endorsements with Boost Mobile and his clothing line. You know folks are doing different things right now on the corporate side and I am always thinking about what I should be doing next with my money. I try to surround myself with people who can teach me things.
DX: The more successful you are though seems to bring you more hate in Hip Hop though.
T: Well you do get the hate when you stick your head out there too too far or when you attract that type of energy. I try to keep myself real balanced, some people see me and are shocked that I am a regular person. You know I am not going to walk around and act to be a star, I am just going to be me. I dont leave too much room for people to try and hate on me. For someone to hate on me there would have to be something really really wrong. But at the same time haters do play their part. You have to have the negative along with the positive to add balance. That is what keeps us going, instead of leaving us open and vulnerable for anything to come along.