What can you tell us about your debut album The Death of Adam?
This is my upcoming debut album. The few fans that I have out there have been waiting for me since I was announced to be on the original lineup of the BBE Beat Generation series and that didn’t happen. The album is dope as hell and once it comes out I’m pretty sure it will be mentioned as one of the top 10 best albums. I think I’ll make a lot of people’s top 10 lists or even top five lists. I can tell you that the album is solely produced by me with the exception of three songs that were co-produced with outside help. The album follows a strict storyline of my man Adam and how he dies from chasing after the pussy.
Why did it take so long to put together an 88 Keys album?
Basically, well, what I attribute it to is the stars weren’t aligned properly or even more so it was just like it wasn’t time back then but God is saying that it’s time now so here it is. It just wasn’t time. I had two or three situations that I can recall where I was supposed to put out my own album and they all fell through, not through any fault of my own. The companies that stepped to me, for one reason or another, they all pretty much fell short so we didn’t do it. It’s pretty much getting done now and I’m getting ready to unleash the beast.
Why didn’t the BBE Beat Generation deal go through?
What I was told…I was told there was one producer who they winded up making a deal with wound up making off with $104,000 with them and because of that they could never fulfill their obligation to me for their funding.
A lot of people may not know this but the reason I had the opportunity is because I took the late, great J Dilla record shopping out in New York on one of his visits. We were really good friends. I took him to this one spot and we were just having a casual conversation about stuff and beats, rhymes and life. Not the album but our beats, rhymes and our lives.
He told me he was doing this project and that he was going to put me on with the dude. He was telling me how they got Pete Rock to do an album and he’s doing one and he said that I would be a good fit with them and that they were good people. I think within the next couple of days they reached out to me personally and they tried to set everything up. It would have been a good look but I’m glad everything panned out the way it did and everything’s a go.
What was it like hanging out with Jay Dee back then?
It was cool. Being that I’m born and bred in New York and, you know, he’s from Detroit, Michigan, we really didn’t get the chance to see each other a lot. I would say most times he came to New York was after I met him. When did I meet him? Man, I met him right before he started working on Beats, Rhymes and Life. Yeah. Or maybe it was the tail end of the Midnight Marauders album. I met him years ago and most times that he visited New York we would link up but we had more conversations over the phone or me going to his crib or him hitting me up or him hitting me up and stuff like that and him playing me beats over the phone and me playing him beats over the phone. This is before the internet and before Instant Messenger really jumped off like that. We were making cassettes and just mailing them out to each other. We would end up dropping the same samples in almost the same way but his drums were always knocking the same way as mine, which I was always jealous of, but I figured I would catch up to him one day.
That’s a really cool story. Getting back to your album, did a specific incident inspire Adam’s story and the theme of your album?
The storyline kind of all unraveled itself and put itself together. Basically I had an opportunity to do an album. I could do any album I wanted to make. So at the time my manager suggested that I just grab 12 or 15 of my hottest old beats and reach out to the usual suspects like Mos Def and Talib Kweli, slap them on the record and call it a day. I was totally against that. No. 1, I would rather make something new. My first record has to be more than a bunch of old, okay beats slapped together with the usual suspects.
So I started making fresh beats. The ninth beat that I made, which is actually the first keeper on the album, is a beat that says “pleasure” in it. Every beat I do is chopped up samples. I couldn’t get around the vocal samples in this one beat. It sounds real dope but it sounds real annoying because it’s just saying “pleasure” every two bars. I was just thinking, ‘Man, I need to give this a concept so it’s less annoying when people hear it.’ I was thinking about what brought me pleasure. It was my family, money and my Polo clothes. But then I got it. Pussy! Pussy, that brings me pleasure. So I was going to flip the concept and make that song about that. And that’s when God reached down and whispered in my ear that that was a great idea and let’s run with it.
All right. So then the very next beat, the next record that I picked up and I chopped it up and I sampled it, I rearranged the vocals on there and it too just so happened to pertain to pussy again from my own distorted view. I was like, ‘Oh, man, this is kind of about pussy too. Oh, shoot. You know what? I think I got something here.’ I ended up scrapping the first eight beats that I made and kept these two tracks as the blueprint for my album. I didn’t know what y album would turn into but I had to stick with this running theme because every beat that I would make would somehow wind up talking about that again and I thought it was more than a coincidence.
So once I got most of the production and once I got well underway with the production, I would say I maybe had nine beats prepared and I’m playing them for people and everybody is going crazy and I’m telling them what each song is about, once I had that, I made the remaining beats. I didn’t replace them but I reorganized them in a certain way so that it became a story. I was like, ‘Oh, man, this is a freaking story.’ I didn’t realize it until later that I had a story. It took me two years. I’m still working on this album today. It took me two years.
I actually have a session tomorrow with Kid Cudi. I’m doing the final tweaking on it but it took me about two years to polish this to get the record to where it is now to where Kanye West felt that he had to be a part of this record in terms of taking it to the next level because in his own words I made a hip-hop classic and now he wants to take it to the next level to where it will be a commercially-viable pop album.
What did Kanye bring to the project?
What he’s bringing to the table is he helped me reshape the album to where I always had a storyline and that was my main concern with it. When I finally agreed to have him executive produce it, I was really concerned with there not being a storyline anymore. So him and I, we rewrote the story and he moved certain things around because he felt certain songs would have a better impact on the album as a whole, just sequencing wise. He extracted a third of the album that I made at that point. He pretty much took out about seven songs and there were more ideas and he’s giving me some ideas for a couple of lines here and there that I should replace or that I should come up with something different for.
And the most important thing, well, not the most important thing, but one of the main things he did is he gave my album a completely different spin. The ending to the album and the meaning to the album has a completely different spin. It’s still, in a nutshell, about the death of man and the death of mankind and the chasing after the pussy, but the ending now is a completely different ending and I think it’s completely genius, man. I think a lot of people are going to get a kick out of it but I think it’s going to be a center of controversy. But it’s all in jest. Each song on the album has a definitely meaning and message and I hope people walk away with something from this album rather than hearing great-ass music with ill-ass lyrics and beats and just be happy.
You mentioned how you had to think about letting Kanye be involved in The Death of Adam. Most producers would jump at the chance to have them involved. Why were you going back and forth on that decision?
Oh, yeah. It all started too because he wanted me to play my album for one of his friends. Kanye, he was just as into my album and as amped about it as I was and everyone who’s come in contact with it and heard it. As I was saying, I was playing my album for his friend and I pulled Kanye to the side and told him I had an idea for my stage show because at the time, my album was already mastered at the time and ready to go. The intent of my album was going to be to be mainly instrumental and to have a few features on the album. I wanted people to really know my dynamics of making a beat and how my beats can tell a story without having any words from an artist. I told him my idea and told him I had ideas for songs with artists so when I performed I wouldn’t be restricted to only having a DJ on my set.
When I told him the concept for one of the songs he thought that shit was dope and wanted to know if I had another rap for another song. I told him my rap, which I was only halfway done with for another song and he told me I had gotten a thousand times better than the last one. And Kanye and I are best friends. We have been for the last six or seven years now. So I automatically saw when the light bulb went off on the top of his head. He had that look on his eyes that he was about to go into genius mode right now. He jumped out of his seat and into my face and was telling m what he thought I had to do for my album. I told him nah. I told him my album was going to be mainly instrumental. I told him this and he told me I needed to let him executive produce his album. I told him no thanks, I’m good.
We were going back and forth and he was hitting me with all his selling points and trying to convince me and I’m just like, ‘Mmm, nah.’ My whole thing is I spent two years of my life working on this album. I didn’t do anything else. I didn’t do anything else for two years, literally. I didn’t make any beats outside of my album with the exception of my mixtape. I wasn’t shopping beats or anything. I put all this into it and for me to give it up to him and have him change it all around, I wasn’t ready to do that. I didn’t want to do that at all. I told him I would think about it eventually.
I went home and spoke to my wife about it. She’s very diplomatic with me. We went through the pros and cons of me having Kanye executive produce the album. She helped me decide and then later on that night, eight hours later, I went back to his crib and told him, ‘All right it’s all good. I’m going to put my album in your hands. I trust you.” I trusted him from the gate anyway because we’re best friends and I know he has my best intentions at heart. But yeah, I told him I totally relinquish all powers over to him and any changes he wants me to make, just say the word and I’m just going to try to execute them to the best of my abilities. He definitely polished my album. Before it was super-dope. Now it’s super-duper-dope.
You’ve had success in both R&B and hip-hop. How did you balance the two genres on The Death of Adam?
For me, I just look at music one of two ways. There’s good music and wack music. I just made an album that was filled with nothing but good music. I heard a quote and I don’t even know who the quote is from directly. I always get confused if it was Duke Ellington or Cab Calloway or one of those jazz legends, but when they were asked about the different genres of jazz music, they basically said that music is highly opinionated and personal and it’s what you make of it. It’s either good music or bad music. I’ve always taken that theory and I’ve always adopted that theory and this is the first time I’m actually able to implement it on anything.
This whole album is just dope music. I got a song with a rock group and then I got a joint with Redman so you know what that’s going to sound like. And then I have a song with Bilal on there so you know what that’s going to sound like. Does it even matter that you’re not expecting it? Who even knows what to call Kanye at this point? Now people can just say they like that song by 88 Keys and that that song knocks. That’s my main concern. As long as the song sounds good then it’s going to go on the album. I really try not to put too much thought into what genre of music it’s going to fall into and as far as my target audience and stuff like that, there are certain songs on my album that I feel like they’re going to hit certain people more than others but at the end of the day my target audience is worldwide. I want people in Taiwan to feel it.
I didn’t put Redman on my album to say, “All right, I got my rap song. I got my song with Bilal so this is for all the Philly cats and people who like D’Angelo and The Roots and stuff like that.” I got all those people on the album because I love their work. I’m a huge fan of them so they did me the favor of jumping on my album. We just banged out great songs together. So far the songs that people have heard like “Friend Zone”, that’s actually an older version. There’s actually a newer version that people are going to be surprised about. I got cats that listen to straight hip-hop and say that that song bangs or that they love that song. So I’m just happy that people can get it. The people get it.
You have a very thorough discography. Do you have a song that stands out that you’re most proud of?
I would say all of them but specifically the Musiq Soulchild song called “Her”. I’m really proud of that because back in the days when I made that song, I have the original record to the song that the late, great J Dilla chopped up for Slum Village. Their song was called “The Look of Love”. I have the original to that and that’s what I used to chop up for “Her”. I played that for Jay Dee, Rest in Peace, back in the days before I played it for Musiq Soulchild. He didn’t recognize the sample whatsoever. I had to play it for him three times before I had to sing the sample from Slum Village on top of it. He was like, ‘Woo, you killed that shit!’ That was one of my prouder moments. He actually wanted me to send him the beat so he could listen to it. So I mailed it. I snail mailed it out to him. So that was one of my proud moments right there, to stump the late, great J Dilla!
And also just like the whole experience with working on Mos Def’s Black on Both Sides because what a lot of people don’t know is that I actually tracked about 12 songs for his album to the point to where Rawkus’ A&R at the time, who was A&R’ing Mos Def’s album, his name was Black Sean. One day when Mos came late to the studio, which was like very day, pretty much…Mos worked on his own clock. Sean pulled me to the side and he was basically kicking me out. He was telling me that I needed to chill out because Mos was picking all these beats from me and Mos was cutting me all these checks because this was in the era before Pro Tools and whatever. I was getting crazy dough and Mos was cutting these crazy checks and buying these beats from me and the A&R was telling me that I needed to not come to these sessions anymore. He told me to chill for two to three weeks and then come back with some new beats and then not to come back. I was like, ‘All right,’ but he never asked me not to say nothing to anybody else.
He left and Mos came in and he was like, ‘You got any new beats?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, but I can’t play them for you.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Because he said so.’ And then Mos was saying, ‘What are you talking about?’ I told him the whole conversation and Mos just flipped out on the dude and then it was back to business as usually and getting huge front-ends. The beats that made the album, they weren’t the prime cuts but we did so much superfly shit. And Dilla had a track or two placed on that album as well. It was for the album but it just never came out. I don’t know what happened. But yeah, there’s a few gems floating around out there. Hopefully those will see the light of day.
Do you think those will ever come out?
Well, one of the songs that I did got leaked by a now somewhat-famous DJ who shall remain famous who was interning over there and he wound up getting physically abused by Mos Def’s manager at the time, who also became my manager, the late, great Shocka Doc, who’s also Q-Tip’s manager. He took it upon himself to take the DAT tape and make a mixtape and put the song out. I just recently, a few weeks ago, somebody hit me with a link to the song on YouTube. It was a really bad copy of it or whatever but it’s there nonetheless. Yeah, the song was real dope. It just never made it to the album for some strange reason.
How do you feel hearing Mos Def’s classic Black on Both Sides today?
Man, it’s a bugged out feeling because I go back and I listen to it. Actually, I rarely listen to it but the few times that I’ve heard it, you know, or the last few times that I’ve heard it, it’s just kind of sent chills down my spine because I remember exactly where I was when I made those beats and I remember exactly what was going on when I did those sessions. I’m remembering my ex-girlfriend at the time and when I came across the record and how I was kicking myself in the ass because I couldn't figure out how to chop up a snare roll which is why the song “Speed Law” sounds the way it does. Like, I put the roll on top of the snare. You know me. I never came from a musical background. I taught myself how to make beats with no manual. I didn’t know that the snare roll comes before the actual snare hits so I put it right on top. (laughs) There was all sorts of shit. It’s definitely a time to remember.
Can you take us through the making of an 88 Keys beat?
It’s actually pretty simple. I don’t put a lot of thought into making beats. Basically I go record shopping or whatever. There’s some science behind that. I’ll pick out records. I’ll buy them if the cover looks dope. “Oh, this cover looks dope. $3? Dope.” I’ll do that a hundred times and go back to the crib and sit down with the record.
With me doing this album, my technique has changed slightly. I’ve learned a lot about myself as a producer and as a beatmaker and I’ll take my time as a beatmaker. If I don’t hear the drums or something else, I wouldn’t use it. Now I will just put the record on play and hear the whole thing. With me taking the pressure off of having to sell beats to artists, which I haven’t done in over two years because chose not to be a part of that world and I don’t want that kind of stress and pressure, now I work at my own pace. Now I don’t want beats that are just okay. Now I take my time and listen to the whole record and how to chop it up. I’ll spend a week working on one beat if that beat is gearing up to be something great.
And now I can tell which songs I should sample and if it’s coming out not so great or not to my liking then I’ll just cut the whole beat off and start from scratch instead of trying to put it on the side and salvage it later. I don’t do that anymore because that basically builds a wack catalogue and from this moment forward, from the time I started working on my album forward, I absolutely refuse to have anything that I find mediocre or weak in my catalogue which is why I’m not selling old beats for people who ask me for a beat tape. It seems like the word has gotten out that I have some shit and there has been two heavy hitters in the industry that have reached out to me, initially through my MySpace and then through my management, that are interested in getting some beats for me but I literally, honestly, haven’t made beats in two years besides my mixtape but I have hundreds and hundreds, actually thousands of beats, but to me, none of those beats represent who I ma and what I can do today so it’s like I’m not going to put my B-list, mediocre beats out there for sale because I know I come way better than that now.
So I’m telling everybody to wait until I get my new album out which is actually going to be my new calling card to the industry. Then I can consider getting beats for artists and working on my second album. I have, like, seven albums in my head. It’s just a matter of me figuring out what I want to do next. All those albums are in my head. They just need to be fleshed out. But yeah, I just sit down with my MPC 3000 and a bunch of old records. I have my daughter in my arms sometimes and now I have two daughters so I’ll probably have two daughters in my arms, playing around. And now I’ll have to teach them. I’ll sit down with the original record and sit down and chop it up as much as possible and make it sound dope as hell.
What equipment do you use today?
Man, the same equipment I was using since I was 15 years-old. The same exact ones, to be more precise. The Akai, the MPC 3000, created by the genius Roger Linn. I just use that and a bunch of old records. No Pro Tools, no Logic. I got my Roland DS-2480 board and a bunch of old records. No keyboards or anything. Actually I just got rid of my keyboard because I never used it. It was just collecting dust. It was a Yamaha. But yeah, that’s basically it. It’s the MPC 3000 and a bunch of old records and God to guide me.
When can we expect to see The Death of Adam?
The album will be out October 28 on Decon Records. I actually don’t have much to do on it. I have one whole song to complete, which, God willing, I’ll be able to knock out tomorrow with my man Kid Cudi. I’m trying to grind all the engineers and have them turn in their final mixes to me. I actually have another song where I’m trying to get somebody to resing the hook. I’m trying to get in contact with LaToya Williams or Erykah Badu. I sent the song out to Erykah Badu. I don’t know if she’s going to do it or not but I’m mostly trying to reach out to LaToya Williams and have her take a stab at doing the hook. That’s pretty much it. I need a hook done on one song and I need to be in the studio with Kid Cudi on one song. Other than that everything is just piecing it together. And now it’s basically getting all the files from the engineers and basically mastering it.