Exclusive: Grammy Award-winning producer Needlz recalls how he linked with The Lonely Island for its new single and speaks on upcoming projects.
Producer Needlz had no idea that The Lonely Island's "YOLO," which premiered on a recent episode of "Saturday Night Live" as a digital short, would blow up so fast.
During an exclusive interview with HipHopDX, the Grammy winner said that the group reached out to him roughly six-to-eight months ago asking to submit beats for the track, which was originally supposed to feature Katy Perry. A week and a half before the song premiered as an "SNL Digital Short," the trio placed Maroon 5's Adam Levine and Kendrick Lamar on the record. The reaction was immediate, with the song shooting up to the top of iTunes and the clip racking up more than 26 million views on YouTube.
"I’m definitely thankful for it and a lot of people didn’t know I produced it," says Needlz. "Overall, for me, it just kind of broadens my scope, coming from doing real hard stuff to R&B stuff to Pop stuff to now. This kind of stuff has been dope for me. It’s something I want to get more into as far as the Pop side of things."
The musician, whose real name is Khari Cain, has spent the last decade building a resume rooted in Rap, supplying beats for 50 Cent's "Piggy Bank," Drake's "I'm Goin' In" and Lupe Fiasco's "Hurt Me Soul." But more recently, he's been trying to dip a toe into Pop, co-producing Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are" with The Smeezingtons. It signifies a shift in his tastes, as he's digressing from what he considers as formulaic Rap music.
"Rap, to me nowadays, is a little funny. I’m not as big a fan as I used to be," he explains, noting that he would rather collect checks to buy time to do more satisfying production. "It’s kind of like for me right now, doing stuff that will pay the bills will afford me to do my passion projects, the kind of Hip Hop that I would like, such as [with rapper] Honors English. I mess with a lot of indie cats still. I’m definitely shooting for the mainstream artists as well, but it’s just not as important as it was year ago."
Though he's hoping to get more into Pop, Needlz might appear in the liner notes for a few upcoming major Rap releases. He recently submitted beats to Kanye West, Eminem and B.o.B for their solo albums, and is trying to get some instrumentals for Jay-Z's next LP. Needlz, who was "real close" to placing a beat on Rihanna's Unapologetic, is excited about the possibilities, but prefers working with artists for the entirety of a project.
"I’ve been in the game for a minute, but the ones to really pop off are the ones that command a project [and are] responsible for someone’s career," he says. "You have Kanye and Just Blaze, they did four or five songs on [Jay-Z's The Blueprint]. 9th Wonder came up with Little Brother. Even with Missy and Timbaland, they had artists they were associated with. That’s what I kind of what to do. I’ve done stuff with 50 [Cent] and a lot of the major artists, but at this point, I really want to get my own artist going. That’s a main concern."
For Needlz, that means focusing on his artist Honors English, for whom he produced the entirety of last year's State of the Artist. The pair is remixing the album with new guest verses from Joe Budden, Freeway, Killer Mike, Phil Ade, dead prez, Mickey Factz and more. This year could be even bigger for Needlz, but he isn't spreading himself too thin.
"I’m definitely in the running for some dope records and big things," he says. "I just did something for the Jordan brand that just dropped a second ago. There are so many ways to make it as as producer in the industry. I just like to dabble in all kinds of stuff."