Exclusive: The Atlanta-based production trio also compare the evolution of Atlanta's Hip Hop scene to the West Coast, and describe the toughest part about being a producer in the technological era.
Everyday The Flush (p/k/a The Royal Flush) go to work, they’re walking in the shadow of super giants. Rick Walkk, Jeron Ward, and Go Dreamer clock into one of Hip Hop’s most renowned recording locales - Stankonia Studios - founded by cultural titans, OutKast. Big Boi and Andre 3000 acquired the unassuming boxy brick structure from Bobby Brown in 1998 and subsequently crafted two classics, Stankonia, and Speakerboxx/The Love Below. Every wall of the cardinal-colored hall are adorned with platinum plaques and now vintage images of the legendary duo looking slum beautiful. Every couch is exhausted, every cranny seeps unimaginable responsibility. As Stankonia overseers and Big Boi’s go-to production team, The Flush, as their view, are the protectors of timeless music - an undoubtedly heavy cross the Grammy-nominated trio bears ecstatically.
HipHopDX sat down with The Flush in Stankonia Studios during the recordings of their Stankonia Sessions - 2012 A3C Edition, the official A3C Hip Hop Festival mixtape. Rick, Jeron, and Dreamer describe their future plans for the series, preview Big Boi’s second solo offering, Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors, and why we shouldn’t “sleep on 3 Stacks.”
Go Dreamer: Sometimes the people that are kind of in that intermediate area, they come through with a humble mindset. Sometimes you have strong artists who come in not really knowing the situation but wanting to do the situation. You have to deal with egos and stuff. But we fought through it and at the end of the day, they just want to make a tight record. We got some pretty cool folks coming through as opposed to last year.
Jeron Ward: I think this time we had the benefit of having an example. [Stankonia Sessions: A3C Edition Volume 1], this was all just an idea. We had a really dope concept. We had a lot of things that we really wanted to do. But this time going forward, we can show an example of how we built this last time. We got video. We got music. We got content to show people this is what it looks like; this is what it feels like. I think we got a really great response from that. And like we were saying, it’s definitely been very progressive as far as the artists that we’ve been working with. We definitely see where it’s moving forward. I’m even looking forward to Volume 3, man. We’re gonna keep this going.
Rick Walkk: And [Volume] 4, and 5 and 6 and 7...
DX: That sounds like there is a broader strategic plan. Clearly it wasn’t an accident the first time you guys decided to do this.
Jeron Ward: Even in our longterm, we plan on taking this to other festivals like South By Southwest, CMJ somehow. This is something that we want to keep going. It’s a really unique concept but it’s dope because these festivals bring in so many different kinds of artists that typically wouldn’t get a chance to work together. Being that our music is pretty diverse - or very diverse - and we can cater to the heavyweight so to speak, or the up and coming. We can find that medium for everybody to just be cool. We’re very non-ego based producers. If you come in the door with all of that ego stuff - I don’t care who you are - take that outside. We’re here to make some good music and have a good time. That’s really what it’s all about.
DX: How would you describe Atlanta’s scene right now, the type of artists you’re working with, and the sound your putting out?
Rick Walkk: The scene that’s here now is gravitating back to that OutKast phase. It’s not just the typical you would say, “Oh, this is from [Atlanta].” The scene here now is branching out. HipHopDX, you give people more to want and to want to know from something else. So even me, if I want to listen to one rapper or one singer or whatever, I’m gonna hit that “Like” button or that button to download and listen to it. Now I can hone my music around that. I’ll still have this same ingredient here, but just add a little bit more to it. It’s growing. It’s actually growing and it’s getting back to real music.
Go Dreamer: Just the quality of it because, even me with the Hollyweerd thing and just seeing how movements work on a broader scale, we’re at a point where the independent is like the ruler as far as the dictator; as far what is the next sound. So we’re in a good finesse spot compared to last year. When you go to the West Coast, you have your [Dom Kennedys], your Thurzs, your Casey Veggies, your Odd Futures. You have that same finesse here, it’s just that it’s a situation where we’re just now publicizing it. Even from the production side of things with The Flush to the resurgence on the artistry side with Go Dreamer, Trinidad James, and Two9, and whoever else people are pretty much paying attention to. It’s there. We’re there. We’re just waiting for y’all to broadcast it.
Jeron Ward: I’ll piggy back off what [Go] Dreamer said. My take on it is that Atlanta is popping right now, man. We all are huge respecters of OutKast being from Atlanta. So, like Rick was saying, we’re like the generation that came from OutKast. So now that it’s our time and we actually have a voice and we have an opportunity to give back some dope music, our whole goal right now is to continue that legacy...
Go Dreamer: Bring it back to a La Face [Records] time when Atlanta music, the whole scheme of things, was on 1,000.
Jeron Ward: Because that’s what popped Atlanta off. When La Face was here, you had Usher. You had Toni Braxton. You had TLC. You had a huge diversity of squads. But at the end of the day there was a collective energy. Right now as The Flush, we feel like that’s our responsibility: To provide that bridge for Two9 to come into Stankonia because we’re the only producers here that are part of that generation. You can’t get access to Stankonia unless you come through us. Being that we’re gatekeepers, we have to make sure that we’re granting access to the right people. That’s our cross to bear. We’re keeping Atlanta going by using this building; by using Stankonia to protect the quality of music that goes on down here.
Rick Walkk: We are the protectors of timeless music. [Laughs]
DX: That is a heavy cross to bear.
Rick Walkk: And we carry it well, man. We carry it well, man. We’re not gonna stop.
Jeron Ward: It’s a huge lesson that we’ve learned, just maturing in what we’re doing. Again, we’re the primary producers up here. So if somebody does want to come in here and they’re not working with [Big Boi] or Chris Carmouche or some of the other producers that are up here, they’re dealing with us. I won’t say we’re more in touch, but we’re a little closer to the streets, so to speak. We know what the word of mouth is; what’s popping in the city. [Go Dreamer’s] performed at every place you can think of in Atlanta...
Rick Walkk: And everyplace you can’t. [Laughs]
Jeron Ward: We know the city in and out. Now it’s our time to be those gatekeepers. We’re gonna open up the doors for the right type of people.
DX: What’s the toughest part about being a producer right now? [Dreamer], you raised a great point when you talked about the independent movement [being the dictators], part of the reason that’s happened is because technology has caught up to where you can do stuff on your own. But is it difficult competing with anyone who has a Macbook and Garage Band?
Go Dreamer: Not at the end of the day because it all comes down to the music. If it’s a jamming product at the end of the day, it’s whatever you’re comfortable with. You’ll have a conversation with somebody who, “Oh, you ain’t using the [Akai] MPC?” That’s like a conversation between a Republican and a Democrat. But at the same time, the median is that they’re comfortable in what it is that they make. So at the end of the day it comes back down to the finished product and if it sounds like what you were trying to feed off.
Rick Walkk: The toughest part right now is getting paid for it. Making music is in your heart. If you just study music theory and you’re good at it and you’re dope at it, that’s cool. But today you have to be great at it. I’ve learned that. I’ve learned from my brother Jeron. I’ve learned from my brother Dreamer. If I’m being the weak link in the situation, nah. Step up. It’s gotta get better than ours and vice versa. If I’m the strong one and they the weak ones, step up. It gotta get better. That’s it. That’s it in a nutshell. You have to get paid.
Jeron Ward: It’s a cool time right now because with there being so much music out there and so much content out there, it’s a good place to where quality music is having the opportunity to shine more. There is so much random stuff out there. Our whole goal is to really focus on quality. We would rather put out five records a year that are outstanding and timeless than put out 20 that last for two weeks and don’t mean anything. That doesn’t fit our brand. That’s not what we’re about. We’re here to leave a legacy and to leave a stamp on the music game. It’s not hard at all. Our job is to make quality music and if other people ain’t doing that, it just makes us shine even brighter.
DX: How does that equate to getting paid, though? I heard a saying again today: “It takes 10 years to become an overnight success...”
Jeron Ward: It definitely does. The music business is set up in a way where your biggest investment is gonna be time. Whether it’s practicing; whether it’s sharpening your skill, honing your craft, being on top of your business game. It takes a lot to be your own machine when you’re competing against machines that have been machines for 20 years like the Def Jams and Universals. And they’ve got millions of dollars to make the perception bigger than reality. Coming from our place, I don’t want to say it’s difficult, but it is a challenge - especially from the business end. But, at the end of the day, when it’s your time, it’s your time. We can look at people like 2 Chainz. He had been running around here for 10 plus years. He’s been in The A forever...
Go Dreamer: ...Strategically making the right moves to where...
DX: He’s a 36-year old Rookie Of The Year.
Rick Walkk: Exactly. It took him his whole life. But he’s there and he’s using it to his advantage. That’s the biggest thing. Let’s just say Soulja Boy. Soulja Boy was a hit. But what Soulja Boy did with his time, he did it great. It may not be his time now, but that little bit of space that he used, he used it to the best of his advantage. That’s what you have to do. Now, some people take that time and they keep it moving, Like Kanye [West] and Jay-Z. They’re still moving. They’re climbing up the plateau. If you do that, you’ll succeed. This great thing that we have, this is our playground and we’re getting paid for it. We love it. This is what we love to do. We love to see people go, “Oh shit! Have you heard this shit?” That makes us go and make ten more that succeed even bigger than that and it’s fun, man! I love it. I love it. I wish I could package this shit up and give it away sometimes. Just that feeling. It’s great, man. It’s a high that we don’t get off of. But at the same time, we’re humble. We’re work horses. We work day in and day out, day in and day out. Sometimes, even [Jeron] will call me like, “Where you at? The studio? Man, you gotta get out.” If I’m like, “Nah, I’m at work,” he’ll come grab me like, “Let’s go out. Let’s get one drink.”
DX: For each of you, what’s The Flush track that you feel most proud of?
Jeron Ward: I would say it’s an upcoming record that we got on Big Boi’s next solo record. It’s entitled “CPU (Computer Screen).” That track right there, I’m very pleased with the outcome of that. We definitely did our thing. I think it’s going to be unexpected, the direction we went with it. And I think we were able to maximize that direction very well without really making it seem like a huge effort. It’s just jamming, man. It’s really really jamming. Like, really really jamming. That would be number one. Number two would probably be [Big Boi’s] “Mama Told Me” [featuring Kelly Rowland]. And then number three would be “Royal Flush” [with Big Boi, Andre 3000, and Raekwon].
Rick Walkk: I think it would be “Royal Flush” number one because that started us. Before we were The Flush, we were Royal Flush. For them to name the song “Royal Flush,” it gave us a stamp. It became, “Okay, you know what? We’re not there yet, but we’re walking into a great path.”
Jeron Ward: And it got us nominated for our first Grammy. [Laughs]
Rick Walkk: Number two for me is a tie. It’s “CPU” and “Mama Told Me.” It’s a tie for me right now. There’s another one in the works. I just cannot say it, but man, yeah. That one. The one that’s gonna be the surprise on Big’s album is probably gonna be my number one. It’s gonna knock “Royal Flush” out of there. It’s one that is not even titled yet, but it is fucking phenomenal.
Go Dreamer: My two would be “Have You Ever Made Love To A Weerdo” because The Flush is pretty much an infusion. I was Dreamer and that record was a solo record and that was my opportunity to work with [Jeron Ward and Rick Walkk]. That’s how we became a group, off of that one record we were working on, which The Flush pretty much put together. This is when I was finding my way. But it’s still a relevant song. “Have You Ever Made Love To A Weerdo” and the one that’s getting ready to come out, “[CPU] Computer Screen.” It’s definitely gonna make folks feel an OutKastic feeling when they listen to Big Boi so they’ll continue to ask that question, “Where is Dre?” This project that he’s coming out with at the end of the year is gonna be one to help folks bring the morale to like, “Damn, that OutKast album is probably gonna sound like nothing but something.” The magnitude is out of this world. But yeah, “[CPU] Computer Screen” and “Have You Ever Made Love To A Weerdo.”
Jeron Ward: I’m really looking forward to Big’s project, too man. I was listening to it with him for the first time all the way through, and just the sequencing of it. Big is very slept on just in the bigger grander things, with 3000 being so futuristic as far as the imagery goes. I think Big is - I wouldn’t say slept on - but it’s a weird dynamic there because he works so hard. He works tirelessly at what he does...
Go Dreamer: To continue that thing on a living situation. It’s not even on a legend tip yet.
Jeron Ward: The way he’s putting together this album is so potent, man. From just pushing “Play” you can sit back and enjoy the ride. He really is taking you somewhere. I can see the progress between [Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty]. I’ve been around the music, so I know the fans are definitely gonna appreciate what he’s doing with that. Even with the imagery. He’s got some crazy artwork. I think the fans are gonna be really pleased, and like Rick was saying before, we had the chance to contribute a lot more to this - with the direction, with the visuals. The songs that we ended up contributing ended up being centerpieces of the project. I’m proud, man. I think he’s doing a great job with it. I can’t wait until the people get a chance to hear it and see what their response is gonna be.
Rick Walkk: Even with us being here, a lot of times [Jeron] and I, we’ll sit back and be like, “I don’t wanna hear it.” With the last album, we heard so much of it that by the time it came out, it’s like “Damn, we heard it.” With this album, we’ve been hearing this album for a year and it keeps getting better and better and better and better. It’s like, “Damn, homie. You’re doing your thing.” This is a great album. When it comes out, I really wanna sit back and watch the nation’s response to this album. It’s a good album.
Jeron Ward: He’s on the Album Of The Year tip.
Rick Walkk: It’s a great album. It’s a great album.
DX: Is the idea of an OutKast project or an Andre 3000 project an idea that you are excited about?
Rick Walkk: Of course we’re excited about it. We as fans and producers and just lovers of the music and the art of it, we would love to see it. But don’t sleep on Stacks, man. That guy, he’s always thinking. He’s always thinking. He’s creating in his sleep. That’s the good thing about him and Big, both have the same work ethic. And it’s so far apart that it’s that much closer together. They just work. We would love it. You would love to hear it.
Jeron Ward: I think the whole world is waiting on that album. But that’s a testament to --
Go Dreamer: -- To artistry. Even on a Prince level. Prince took all his stuff offline just to show you how much the value of his brand is. The value of OutKast is at such a mystique. It’s a big situation. These guys turned down Oprah interviews. You just gotta pay respect to the relevancy and the mysteriousness. He can push the “On” button at any point. Not him, but them, in general. That’s hard to do. A lot of folks have came and gone. Them niggas been out since . There’s folks that have been here and gone and made their reappearances. But a persistent, cohesive and still the same guy that y’all [first saw] be a pimp - that’s what he’s been bringing since. When you see them live on stage, that’s what he do. We’d all get off to an OutKast album. Most definitely.
Rick Walkk: I think the stake that they have on music is like us wanting to see a Michael Jackson or Jimi Hendrix. That doesn’t happen in today’s Hip Hop. It doesn’t happen in today’s music world, period.
Jeron Ward: I think it’s cool because the last album they came out with technically was Speakerboxx/The Love Below. Of course you can count Idlewild, too. But the last official official, like, “Okay, this is definitely an OutKast album,” that was over 10 years ago. I was in [Los Angeles] a couple weeks ago and Love Below came on and it’s still jamming. They’ve been able to sustain being out of the public perspective for 10 years, and they still are revered as just as valuable as they were when Speakerboxx/The Love Below came out. We’re lucky that we get to work in the shadow of these giants, for the most part, and get to study. They are our mentors, so to speak. It’s been a huge blessing. Our biggest thing is that we want to be able to produce on this OutKast album. We want to have three, four, five tracks on that thing, and be a part of making that historic landmark. It’s gonna happen, man. These guys, they’ve been doing it since 1992-93. It goes a long way.
Go Dreamer: That’s the good thing about the artistry. They come from an older mold. Due to how technology has sped things up, Big and Andre understand the value, the time, the process of making something. It’s cool, though. When Dre jumps on stuff, he jumps on the right stuff. At the end of the day, if it’s Dre or Big, we’re working with OutKast. You can’t shake that.
DX: As people that have worked with Big for so long, there’s been kind of an evolution from album to album to album. How does that challenge y’all as producers as the evolution kind of stepped up differently this time as far as him wanting to get involved with Little Dragon and The Mumfords this time?
Rick Walkk: We loved it.
Jeron Ward: That one, in all honesty, we were a little bit of the source of inspiration for that. We’ve always been very progressive and into visuals just when it comes to the music. The cool thing about Big’s projects is that they usually start with our tracks. His last album, Sir Lucious Left Foot, the first record that he did was “Royal Flush,” which was one of the ones that we did. That kind of just gave him the direction for the project. This one here, “Mama Told Me” was one of the first ones that he started...
Rick Walkk: It was the first one.
Jeron Ward: ...And with that, we’ve always been suggesting, like, “There’s a dope new vibe that’s going on in the music game right now.” With Big being so legendary that he is, he can link up with a Little Dragon and it becomes epic because these people don’t normally link up with Hip Hop, period. But with somebody on that level, too, it makes it historic. That goes back to The Flush. We always, always, always are making a stamp on everything that we do. We’ve been blessed to come up with some really dope collaborations at the same time. The challenge on this was to just exceed what we’ve already done. We’re our biggest competition at all times. The biggest thing is to make sure that we see the progress first. Then the world gets to see it. That’s how it goes.