DJ Speedy Talks Dungeon Family Work, Says He Has Grammy-Worthy Material With Waka Flocka Flame
Exclusive: The veteran producer with the Harvey Miller alias admits, "They gotta understand that this ain't about who the best rapper. It's about who the best at making a hit, and Waka proved that."
Who is DJ Speedy? The question is a bit harder to answer than you may initially think because there are two very distinct sides to the South Carolina-bred man born Harvey Miller. At first glance, DJ Speedy is a producer with a long discography filled with the likes of Young Jeezy, Outkast, Goodie Mob and Beyonce. While "DJ Speedy" is his day job and the side most people are familiar with, he's been moonlighting the past few years as . . . well, himself: Harvey Miller, the self-described “Gangsta Nerd” who loves to entertain, performing with a band and a sound that leans more to rock than the gangsta beats Speedy has long been known for.
While DJ Speedy has recently been providing artists like Killer Mike, Big Boi and Waka Flocka Flame with more heat, padding an already stellar list of associated acts, his alter ego has been rapping about pocket protectors (there are two kinds, as you'll find out in “Gangsta Nerd”) and charming audiences with an urge to entertain in a way rarely seen since the early days of the "golden age." They're two acts aimed at two different demographics, and sandwiched somewhere between them is where you'll find Harvey Miller the person, a sonic architect obsessed with production who's responsible for the music that powers both acts.
Last week, HipHopDX spoke at length with DJ Speedy by phone so he could break down each artist for us. Additionally, Speedy revealed just what it means to be a “gangsta nerd,” that he kept the two personas separate to fool A&R's, and that he always happens to be on the right record.
HipHopDX: I was checking through your Twitter and I noticed you were recently working with Waka Flocka Flame again. How'd those sessions end up going?
DJ Speedy: Oh man, I've got some Grammy-Award winning songs that I think are gonna show [another] side to Waka [Flocka Flame], because, you know, I'm a producer producer – I do music, so when he comes to work with me, he gets a whole other range of music.
DX: Are these tracks that you were working on with his project definitely in mind, or was he trying to work on your project?
DJ Speedy: No, with his project in mind, because my project is just – you know, he always loved the stuff I did, so that was easy. I was just trying to figure out what to take him to so he'll keep the same audience and the same fans and they'll love him but he'll grow.
DX: What's your method typically like? Do you start with a track and see if he likes it or are you building tracks from scratch while rappers are in the studio?
DJ Speedy: No, most of the time I already have the idea and the beat already done. He just tells me he likes it and we go from there.
DX: And then just set the tracks down, maybe add a few things here and there?
DJ Speedy: Yeah. He has to go into the track and and loop stuff and take stuff out and arrange it to what he want to arrange it to so we do that along the way.
DX: In addition to Waka, who else have you really been working with recently? I mean, I saw that you had the spot on Killer Mike's PL3DGE, but is there anything else coming up in the coming months?
DX: Speaking on that, I had noticed that you're pretty receptive when people ask you on Twitter about your beats. Does that come from a curiosity with working with different artists?
DJ Speedy: Well, you know, I've been [producing] for a long time. I didn't have those outlets, Twitter and all them different things to help me, so I kind of like trying to give back to the community as much as I can and talking to people to see what's going on. I'm not Hollywood, so you know, I get on Twitter and I actually talk to people.
DX: Even on your site, you're very open about people contacting you about beats. It doesn't seem like it's any mystery if people really want to work with you. It's just a matter of reaching out.
DJ Speedy: They may be surprised that I actually answer my phone, that it actually be me. [Laughs]
DX: [Laughs] Yeah, like you said, not Hollywood at all.
DJ Speedy: No, no.
DX: So you try to to make sure you meet people on that human level and not allow any kind of celebrity to get to you? To keep it about the music?
DJ Speedy: Yeah. I learned that from dealing with Outkast and Goodie Mob, because they've always been like that. When you see them on the streets, you can approach them and talk to them. I think life imitates art, so if you've got music that's wild, crazy Waka [kinda music] – I hate to use Waka, but Waka tells about his life, and people think that he's still doing that now. That's why he be getting into fights and all kinds of stuff, because they be trying to bring what he did in the past to what he doing now. And me, I've always been the same person forever, so when someone approach me, it's not like I got all the jewelry on and I'm talking like a gangster or nothing like that. I'm just a regular person.
DX: What's the current status on Anomaly, your upcoming project. Where's that at?
DJ Speedy: Man, I keep at it. I keep doing newer and newer songs and I just keep – because like, the Killer Mike song “Follow Your Dreams,” that was on my album but he wanted it so bad I gave it to him because by day I'm a producer. I've got to help feed my family and survive. By day I'm a producer but at night I try to do my artist thing. I'm just trying to juggle it because I want to still produce for people and do the artist thing, so I've just been trying to make it work.
DX: And Anomaly's a Harvey Miller project, right?
DJ Speedy: Right. Harvey Miller's Anomaly. [With] DJ Speedy, I don't know what I'm gonna call that record, but I've got a song with me and Killer Mike, it's called “Make It Look Easy.” And then I've got one with me and Waka that I just did. It's crazy.
You know, I've got records with everybody and they mama as DJ Speedy, but [with] Harvey, it's hard for people to relate to me. I have to get certain people to do stuff. When I made “Gangsta Nerd,” I knew Waka loved the record and wanted to get on it, so I was like “Waka can do this urban version and then I'm gonna go in and turn it into what I want to turn it into.”
DX: What are you trying to accomplish with Harvey Miller and the Harvey Miller persona compared to what you do as DJ Speedy?
DJ Speedy: Well, DJ Speedy is urban. He does the urban crowd and Harvey Miller tries to captivate the women, the ladies and the suburban crowd – the college, suburban, white-collar crowd. That's really Harvey's thing, because he's got a band and he's just on that happy music. The urban crowd is gonna relate to DJ Speedy more because DJ Speedy is really known for urban production, but when Speedy produces for Harvey, he taps into what I really like to listen to in my personal time, in the clubs that I go to in my personal time. I go to white clubs. I go to bars. In my personal time, I do that, but when I hang with Waka and them, I'm in their environment. It's like “Gangsta Nerd” – I'm a gangsta and a nerd, one foot in the industry, one foot in the streets.
DX: So the two different personas are definitely aiming at different crowds and radio formats.
DJ Speedy: Right.
DX: With that said, when you're working on music and you're trying to produce for Harvey Miller or Waka, do you make the music then come to the conclusion of where it fits or do you always go in aware that you're making a Harvey Miller track or you're making a track that's gonna be more DJ Speedy?
DJ Speedy: Actually, every beat I make, I make for me. It doesn't matter if it's Harvey or DJ Speedy. I make a track to my liking because I have mood swings. If I'm in a bad mood, I make one of those hood tracks. If I'm in a good mood, I'll make one of those Pop tracks, and then [everything] in between. [If] I'm in love, I'll make an R&B track. If I'm thinking about a show or I'm on stage, I'm scoring a movie or something, I'm making those kind of tracks, so everything I make, I make it for me.
I have over 10,000 tracks I've made, and I make them every day. I wake up in the morning, I've got a studio in my bedroom, or I go downtown to the studio. I'm always creating, because that's my God-given talent. I can't stop making beats. I don't care if I'm out on stage doing a show. When I get off stage, I'm going to my hotel room and I'm producing. I've got to produce after a studio session or something. I'm not gonna do an after party. I'm gonna do an after studio session.
DX: What would you say your average daily output is then, because with 10,000 songs, it's gotta be pretty regular.
DJ Speedy: Yeah, well, it's over the years. I've been sitting in the house, perfecting my craft over the years and making stuff, so I've probably got more than that. I've got cases full of hard drives with all kinds of stuff. Back in the day, I used to do like 30 beats a day. That's all I did – sit in there and make beats. I didn't need to worry about the business or none of that. I was just perfecting my craft.
A lot of people used to tell me I was before my time. Big Gipp from Goodie Mob used to be like “Man, Speedy, you're before your time. You always ahead of the game.” With production, I knew that Pop music was gonna be popular, so I started making Pop stuff and researching classical music and European music and music from Japan. I was always ahead of my time. That's why, unless you read the credits to see who produced it, you would never know that I produced that beat unless somebody said my name on the beat, because I do any kind of beat. I play keys. I know how to work Pro Tools. I'm an engineer. I do it all.
DX: Do you think that side is missing from production nowadays, that people aren't multi-talented like that any more?
DJ Speedy: Yeah, it's really missing, because now technology has made it easy with Fruity Loops. But you know, technology changed the game, man. I can't knock technology, but I still – I use the old ways and the new ways together.
DX: I guess it sort of goes both ways, because you allow people greater access to create, but at the same time, you're gonna have a lot more people who come in with a limited ability compared to those in the past who really learned the craft and had to pay their dues.
DJ Speedy: Right, and it's not really the beats. People need to understand that anybody can make a beat. I can teach you how to make a beat. Anybody can make a beat. It's not hard to make a beat. It's about what you do with the beat after that. You have to sell it. You have to get the beat in the right hands. You have to do all the extra stuff that goes along with it. That's where people skills come into play. You have to be a people person, have people skills and know how to go to somebody and say “Hey, I've got some beats. I produce.” Or “Listen to my beats.” You need to know how to approach people to even get to the next level, so making a beat is half the battle. That's why people on Twitter be hitting me, telling me “Oh, I produce. I produce. I do this . . .” and I have to let them know “Yeah, I produce too. And?” [They're] talking about “Oh, listen to my music,” and I'll go “Okay, I'll listen to your music, [but what am] I gonna do?” When I listen to their music, they say “Can you help me get on? Can you help me get it to Waka? Can you help me get it to this person?” – I'm like “I gotta get my own stuff to him,” you know what I mean? They don't understand that. But see, I be trying to teach them that a producer needs to find these rappers and then join forces, not a producer finds another producer or a rapper finds another rapper. It don't mesh right.
DX: Did the Harvey Miller persona come out of feeling bored with Hip Hop, or was it more of an outlet to showcase your interests in a vein other than just a Hip Hop or urban sound?
DJ Speedy: Well, no. See, actually, Harvey Miller's my real government name. My real name is Harvey Lee Miller, Jr. I used to go to A&R's and artists and ask to play beats and songs and stuff. Some artists would be like “Oh, man, this beat's dope! Who's that?” and I'd be like “That's me.” They'd be like “Get the hell out of here! That's dope, man. That's crazy. You need to put that out.” You get that enough and then you start feeling confident in your music, but then I went to A&R's and was like “Give me a deal. Listen to my music. Blah blah blah” they'd be like “Ah, Speedy, man, stick to making beats, man. Just stick to making beats.” They start trying to bring you down, saying maybe [your] stuff ain't jamming enough. But then some people would keep it real and be like “Speedy, they want you as a producer because they can make more money off of you and they need producers.”
I created Harvey Miller not letting people know that it's my real name. When I did interviews, they'd be like “What you working on?” and I'd be like “I'm working with Waka, I'm working with Gucci, and I'm working with this cat named Harvey Miller.” Then they'd be like “Let me hear some of this stuff,” so I'd play them stuff like “Gangsta Nerd” and they'd be like “Oh, this is jamming! What the guy look like?”
DJ Speedy: You know what I'm saying? Then I finally tell them it's me. They'd be like “Get the hell out of here!” So now it's a whole different aspect of it. They're like “That's a good idea. You kept it a secret and let people judge the music for what it is, then let them know so they can judge you.” But they can't judge me because once they hear the music, it's jamming, so [it's a] catch-22.
DX: Yeah. That's funny hearing you say that. When I was looking through some of your past interviews and you're shouting out Harvey Miller, I thought it was a way to poke fun at the fact that you were both DJ Speedy and Harvey Miller. But you're saying that was a way for people to look at what you felt they wouldn't have looked at otherwise?
DJ Speedy: Right.
DJ Speedy: People don't understand that Eminem did it [too], but he did it a different way. He's three different people: he's Slim Shady, he's Marshall Mathers, and he's Eminem. That's my favorite artist, him and Andre 3000. If you hear all three different styles of music that that boy does, it shows. Slim Shady is the funny cat. He'll pick at people. He's the funny dude. Eminem is the rapper, the lyrical rapper, and Marshall Mathers talks about his life, his kids – he talks about his personal life. Nobody ever realized that. All the songs like “My bum is on your lips, my bum is on your lips,” those funny songs, that's Slim Shady. Nicki Minaj is trying to do that with different personalities, but I don't know how that's gonna play out.
DX: Yeah, when you're one album in, it's hard to see if there's long term viability there.
DJ Speedy: Yeah, but that's how Harvey is. Harvey is the real artist in me, and that's how he became who he is, but Speedy – I catch myself talking in third-person anyway – Speedy and Harvey together – it gets crazy. I do interviews like that too – I'll be Speedy and Harvey. Speedy's the rapper. Harvey's not a rapper. Harvey's an entertainer. I entertain folks, but it just so happens that I do so rapping over rock-style beats with a band and the music sounds good. Speedy's the producer/rapper. He's got a big ego and [he's a] don't-give-a-shit kind of guy. All the urban cats love him. They love when I do DJ Speedy, man.
You know, we'll see how it pans out this year. This year, I'm gonna really go for it and I'm gonna step things up and see, because I've got some records that make “Gangsta Nerd” sound like – you think that's nerdy. Man, I've got some that'll blow things right out of the water. I've got one called “Days of Our Lives” that's crazy.
DX: Was the Harvey Miller live show you just expressing yourself or was it reactionary, sort of a way for you to show what you wanted to see more of in Hip Hop? Actually, do you even categorize Harvey Miller as Hip Hop?
DJ Speedy: Yeah, I do. I do categorize [Harvey Miller as Hip Hop] because I started as a deejay. I was a deejay before I became a producer, so from that era, every rapper that was successful in Hip Hop music used to dance. People don't realize – they gotta do their [research]. Every rapper used to dance. Big Daddy Kane, Scoop & Scrap [Lover], Heavy D, Run-DMC. . . Everybody would dance. Even all the way up to LL Cool J doing his lickety-lips and his little dance, and Doug E. Fresh, but today's rappers don't dance because they think it's too hard, [that] it's not masculine. But you have to be entertaining at your show. You can't get on stage and stand in one spot and be like “Yeah, move to my song.” That's why they don't make no money. That's why the music is not fun any more. So I have fun dancing and bringing my showmanship. I like to entertain folks. I'm gonna dance around the stage. I'm gonna rap my songs. I'm gonna play with my band. I just like entertainment because I don't like the way Hip Hop music is just gangsta, gangsta, gangsta, “I'm hard, you not. I wear my jewelry.” That's not entertainment to me. That's why I don't buy so many people's CDs any more.
DX: You want more entertainment and you're sort of putting your money where your mouth is. You're doing it because you'd like to see more.
DJ Speedy: Right. It's the music business. Entertainment business. I mean, people gotta entertain me. That's how I feel about it. [Laughs] Because I meet rappers that can rap their ass off. Rap, rap, rap, rap, rap. Okay, make me a hit song. I'll wait for you to make me a hit song. They'll be like “Oh, Speedy, let's freestyle. Let's freestyle. I'll battle you. I'll battle you.” I'll be like “Look, go to your studio. I'll go to mine, and then bring me a hit record and let's battle. We'll play record for record and see who got a hit record.” They gotta understand that this ain't about who the best rapper. It's about who the best at making a hit, and Waka proved that. Waka proved that. Every song Waka dropped was a hit. He can't rap a lick. He can't rap a lick! He'll tell you that to your face – like “I ain't no rapper.” Waka can't rap a lick, but he make a hit every time.
DX: Yeah, I mean he was really able to tap into that energy and put it out on a record.
DJ Speedy: Mmm hmm. Entertainment. See, Waka really entertains the crowd, no matter what he doing – something crazy, shaking his head or whatever, it's entertainment.
DX: I noticed in another interview that, when you were asked about who you'd like to work with, you listed a handful of artists I wasn't expecting at all. Among those mentioned were Evanescence, Kid Rock, Maroon 5 and Britney Spears. I'm just curious why you went with those choices. My initial thought was that you'd want to work with people more in line with who you've been working with, people along the lines of say a Jeezy or a Killer Mike, but you went in a much different direction. I'm very curious why you chose those four.
DJ Speedy: Well, the lady from Evanescence, Amy Lee . . . I love her voice. I haven't found nobody with that voice yet, so I really, really, really, really, really, really want to work with her on a record with her voice. And then Kid Rock – Kid Rock is a deejay, rapper, country artist . . . He does it all, but he comes from DJing, so Kid Rock is one of my favorite dudes. I love him. Maroon 5 – Maroon 5 is straight Harvey Miller, because Maroon 5 does the alternative rock vein. And Britney Spears – she's the underdog, you know what I'm saying, shaving her head and all that stuff. People thought she couldn't come back, that she couldn't bounce back, just like me – I went from being a deejay to being a producer to trying to be an artist. I want to have my three rings like Jordan. I want to be successful at all three of those things, and I want to work with the underdogs.
Now I understand how Kanye West felt when he was trying to do it. See, Kanye West always wanted to be a rapper, so he was producing to get to the rapping side. I always wanted to produce, but I want to be a rapper because I've got something to say and I want to perform and give the world my energy. If I don't rap, it's not gonna be the end all be all, but I'm gonna try hard to do it, and I've got some good music.
DX: With your willingness and desire to try and cross over, do you think a lot of producers don't necessarily think with that cap on, that they look at it from a Hip Hop-only standpoint and don't truly think about branching out at some point?
DJ Speedy: Well, I done been around every producer, and I ain't talking about fame. I'm talking about the kids that actually do any kind of other music. That's just being honest. Most of them are not producers. Most of them just make a beat and knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody. I actually have to go out and make my beat, meet these people, sit down with them and prove myself through all these years. Still, to this day, I get in the studio and prove myself, because a wise man once told me “Speedy, you not on everybody's record like you supposed to be, but you're always on the right records.” I said “Huh?” and he said “Think about it – you always on the right record.” Before anybody becomes who they are, I always produce for them. You think about that. Nobody knows that I did Outkast. I moved to Atlanta in 2000 [and] I did Big Gipp's solo song “Steppin Out.” Goodie Mob's [One Monkey Don't Stop No Show] album when Cee-Lo left the group – they didn't know what they was doing; I did all that stuff. B.G., then I got with Gucci. Waka – I was the first person to give Waka a CD.
Still, I'm around. I gave Killer Mike a song. Everybody . . . Beyonce – I did the “Irreplaceable” remix for her. Nobody knows that I'm always on the right stuff to keep me relevant, to keep me going. B.o.B. – I gave B.o.B. some beats. I'm not on everybody's album, but I'm always on the right people's albums.
DX: Does that ever frustrate you?
DJ Speedy: No, because that's in God's plan. I don't go to church every Sunday, but I'm a religious person. I believe in God, and that's God's plan. When God's got a plan for me, he never fails. I'm always like “Man, I want to be an artist. I want to do the artist thing,” and it's not time yet. It's gonna be time. That's why I just sit in the studio and keep doing what I do, and when my time comes, it's gonna show. It can never frustrate me. I'm cool with it.
DX: Lastly, we've touched on it, but can you break down for me what it means to you to be a “gangsta nerd”?
DJ Speedy: My definition of “gangsta nerd” was because I look the way I look – I wear glasses [and] people think I look like I'm a nerd. But I hang with the gangsters, so I broke it down musically. You know me for doing a lot of urban, gangster beats, from the Jeezys, the Guccis, the Wakas – all the gangsta production. But hey, I also do nerd stuff! I also did Beyonce. I also did Goodie Mob and Outkast. I also worked with Flo Rida and other stuff on the nerd side, because when you cross over, you're considered white collar, a nerd.
Gangsta nerd is me. I'm hood. I'm street. I carry my pistol, but I look like a nerd. I'm a comedian. I can hang with the white folk but I can hang with the gangsters. But I look like a nerd, so you wouldn't expecting me coming when I come.
DX: I think your line on “Gangsta Nerd” – “In my shirt, I got a pocket protector / And on my waist line, I got a pocket protector” – sort of sums it up perfectly.
DJ Speedy: Yup.
DX: You never hear people mention pocket protectors in tracks like that, so I was happy it got a shout out.
DJ Speedy: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah – oh, you got a pocket protector too?
DX: No, no, I'm just glad it got some shine on a track.
DJ Speedy: Yeah. I mean, there's a whole bunch of stuff in there. I show people how to spell . . .
DX: [Laughs] You do, you do.
DJ Speedy: [Laughs] All kinds of stuff. If people really listen to what I be saying, I'm rapping and saying some crazy stuff but it makes sense.
DX: Anything else you want the fans to know before I let you go?
DJ Speedy: Just let everybody know that I'm a down-to-earth person and you can reach me and talk to me. I do whatever I have to do to help anybody in the music industry – return a favor when a favor is needed back. That's it.
Follow DJ Speedy as DJ Speed (@DJSpeedyGA) and Harvey Miller (@whoisharvey).