What inspired your latest instrumental album 'Drum Machine'?
Wow. I just had so many different places to dig for inspiration on this instrumental album. Just life experiences, you know, everyday experiences of things I see when I walk outside my door. When making the album I just took all of those images I saw, positive and negative, and just threw it into the album and it just came out as a really beautiful album. I’m very satisfied with it.
When we talked about your previous instrumental albums, you said you made them from older beats you had lying around. Is that the case here too?
These are my more recent beats. These are updated versions of my production sound. It’s still me but it’s more of a 2008 version of ‘Tollah in the music.
The beats on Drum Machine sound much bigger than the beats on your older instrumental albums.
I’m just coming into my own. I’m trying to find a nice comfortable sound that I feel is what I can consider my sound and I think I did a good job on this album, Drum Machine. There’s 22 tracks of just beautiful music.
Are you still improving as a producer today?
Yes. Yes indeed. Every day. Every day. Every time I do a new track, every time I produce a new track, it’s more of a challenge. Every beat is a new challenge. You gotta stay sharp. (laughs)
How do you continue improving as a producer when you’ve been doing it for so long?
I mean, me, personally, I just listen to music. I keep myself around people that are like-minded with the music and stuff. Even the conversations I have with other people about the music, they have to be like-minded. So I kind of keep myself around open minded individuals and we talk about music and we learn from each other and it makes the music sound better overall.
How did you sequence Drum Machine so it would tell the story you wanted it to?
I mean, I don’t know. I just took, like, two days. I had all the tracks that I was going to use for the album. I took two days and I just listened to all the tracks in order and the final sequence of the album, I was real comfortable with it. It felt real right when I listened to it from beginning to end. It felt like a final sequence. It was like a beginning, middle and end for an album. It was just perfect, the placesments of the tracks on the album.
Is this your favorite instrumental album that you’ve released so far?
I might say so. I might say so. I have a new one that I’m working on. The world hasn’t heard it yet but when they hear it I think they’ll even dig it more than Drum Machine. But my personal favorite album that I’ve done so far, I would have to say Drum Machine is up there with the top three instrumental albums that I’ve done. It’s definitely in the top three.
For other instrumental albums like Listen and Now Playing, you had less beats and they played for a longer time. On Drum Machine you have more beats that play for a shorter time. Why make that switch?
Just to give the listener more. It’s cool to give them longer beats but I feel like I can shorten the length of each track and put more tracks on the instrumental album and give them more of a variety. You kind of cover more ground for your listeners and stuff. You cover everybody’s wants and needs when you give them a variety on the album so that’s why I shortened them.
Do you listen to other instrumental albums for inspiration and ideas?
As of late, there’s this guy from Detroit named Amp Fiddler. Amp Fiddler, I’ve been tuned into him. I dig his music a lot. There’s a couple of other producers that I’ve tuned into. Some of them you may not know. I have my favorites but he’s, right now, I’m tuning into him and hecking him out. He’s pretty dope.
You haven’t had a lot of tracks come out with MCs on them. Do you prefer releasing instrumentals over songs with MCs?
It’s not that I can’t get the artists on the tracks. It’s just that I like to work fast and at my own pace and when I work with other artists, my pace sort of slows down because of their schedules and I would like to just do the instrumental to eliminate the wait and get a project completed without waiting for any other artist to get on the project. I don’t like to wait as far as projects are concerned. I just want to complete them and put them out for everybody to enjoy.
Why do you think more producers aren’t releasing instrumental albums today?
I don’t know. I wish I could answer that question for you but I don’t even know. Maybe they’re the kind of producers that exclusively want to work with artists. I do that but at the same time I’m doing something different. I’m trying to do something a little bit different. I really don’t want to have to rely upon the artists. I really want to put the music out there and let it speak for itself.
Have you ever had a bad experience with an artist where you’re selling them a beat and the song they make over your beat is so terrible?
Yes I have. I’ve had that maybe, like, twice that I can remember having that happen. I won’t name the artist or anything but it’s happened. I’ve given the artist or group the beat and they’ve purchased music from me and I assumed the song would go one way and it went a whole different way and it’s cool. They’re artists and they can do what they do but I just wasn’t pleased with certain endings of the projects, like the sogns. I’ve had some experiences but it comes with the business. It comes with the business.
Where do you draw the line between releasing the music because the check is right or walking away from the project and leaving money on the table?
I haven’t really had to draw the line. I have never been in that position where I’ve had to do that because I’ve been blessed to work with so many talented artists throughout my career. I’ve never really had to put myself in a position where I’ve had to feel that way. I never had to do that. And I guess you could say I’ve kind of been blessed with the artists that I’ve worked with that I haven’t had to go about it like that. It’s cool. I’m kind of happy about that.
Cormega said that he’s working with you on his new album. What kind of tracks did you guys make?
I don’t know what songs are on the album. I mean, if I heard the songs then I could tell you. But I haven’t heard the songs as of yet so I really can’t speak on that now. I gotta listen to the songs. I don’t know the tracks. I’m pretty sure they’re dope though but I just haven’t heard them. We’ve recorded so many different songs. I don’t know what songs you’re talking about that are on his new album so I can’t comment on the song. I haven’t heard it. I’ve been recording them but I don’t know which song it is.
Why do you and Cormega have such good chemistry together?
You know, I guess we’ve kind of seen and been around the same things. We’re both from Queens. We’ve just seen probably different things going on and stuff and all that stuff comes out in the music and we’ve probably seen or been around the same kind of situations and stuff and we both just kind of put it out in our music when we make songs together. When we make music together it just kind of clicks and that’s a special thing right here. It’s all about the chemistry and we have that.
Do you think you and Cormega will ever come out with that EP you guys used to talk about?
I would love to. I think it’s past due doing an EP now. I think we should just do an album, a full-length album from beginning to end. An EP would be great but I think the lisoteners want more than an EP at this point. I think they want a full-length album and me and Cormega have recorded so many different songs. I think me, personally, I just want to create a whole new catalogue of songs for this new album so we could really, just really, really put out a great album. But I definitely would like to do that with him, man, but he’s got a busy schedule and I got a busy schedule. When the stars align we’ll definitely put it together.
You produced Ms. Fat Booty for Mos Def. Will we see you and Mos making music together again?
I would love to. I would love to work with Mos again. We just haven’t crossed paths yet but I’m pretty sure when we do cross paths again it will be on like it was yesterday because I definitely want to work with him. A lot of people ask me the same question and when we’re going to connect back and do some more music. I wish I could tell you because we made so much dope material before! (laughs)
You’re also producing a whole album with Thug Angelz, which is Hell Razah and Shabazz the Disciple. Hows’ that album coming?
That’s going to be something special. We connected and we vibed with each other and the next thing you know we’re doing an album and we have a label involved and now we have a Thug Angelz album out. Hell Razah is dope and Shabazz is dope too. They’re dope lyricsts and I’m like, ‘Why not do a project together?’ We did it and I’m pleased with it.
How did you guys work on the songs together?
We hit the empty studio, had beats and we just do what we do. It’s the chemistry. It’s what we do. We let the music do it. We played the beats in the studio and we sat down and the next thing you know a couple of mintutes later or maybe an hour later we got songs done and we’re ready to record. It’s hard to explain. There’s really no order. It just happens. When you’re in the studio you have to make something happen and that’s what we do – we make stuff happen.
A lot of producers famous for sampling have been getting away from samples and working more with musicians. Do you see yourself making that switch?
I’m not really going to the live insturmentation thing, not that I can’t. It’s just that I choose to go about creating my music the way I want to create my music and I’m comfortable with it. I’m open to those doing that but that’s not where I am right now mentally, doing live instrumentation and stuff. I want to keep it hip-hop. I want to keep it real hip-hop and that’s where I’m at.
Do you lose some of that hip-hop feel when you bring in live instruments versus a sample?
To me it kind of does, but it brings something that the sample can’t bring to a song. To some it helps and to some it doesn’t help, it takes away from the music actually. Me, personally, I think it takes away from the raw energy of the music and of a track but I guess it all depends on what producer is producing the track. I don’t know, really. I really don’t know, but me, I just like hands-on approach to making music.
That being said, do you still rock the MPC?
Yes indeed. Yes indeed. And it’s working. It’s really working. It’s doing what it has to do. It’s still making great music. It’s still making great music.
Can you take us behind the making of an Ayatollah beat?
It’s a lot of records. It’s a lot of listening to music and just being really creative and not being afraid to do something different when you’re creating the tracks. You’re just really, truly going into yourself and going into the most interesting material that you can and that’s what you do with samples, programming, beats…That’s what I do. (laughs) I try to challenge myself with every beat that I make and every track that I make I try to one up myself and I’m doing it, which is really crazy.
The fact that you haven’t been on other artists’ albums isn’t indicative of the talent you have because I think you could be on a lot of artists’ albums. Have you just not been pushing your beats for projects?
I consider myself an artist at this point in my career. I’m not really pressed to work with artists because I feel like I’m an artist myself, which is why I do the instrumental albums myself. I’m just trying to expand on that.
Are you happy with where you are in the game?
It’s cool. If I could get on a lot more albums, that would be great, but if not, then cool because I’m an artist myself and I’m creating my own lane of music. I’m trying to create my own following of listeners and fans and I think I’m on the right track, no pun intended! (laughs)
What’s the next move for Ayatollah?
Maybe some videos. I’ll be working with some artists. I won’t go into who they are. You’ll hear them when they come out for the surprise element. I got a couple of things going on, man. I got some more instrumentals on the come up as well. I’m really pleased with what I’ve been doing so far. Musically I’m really pleased. I’m dropping two instrumental albums in one year and that’s pretty impressive and cats can’t even do one album with artists. So two instrumental albums in one year plus working with artists in the industry, that’s pretty impressive. And I’m on my fifth or sixth instrumental album and about to put out the seventh so I’m just trying to do something different but I still enjoy what I’m doing.
Do you ever hear beats that you wish you had saved for an MC instead of putting on an instrumental album?
All the time. All the time. Sometimes I hear tracks on the instrumental album and wish I had held it for somebody but I just put it out and let the fans get it. The fans deserve it. I have enough beats anyway. I mean, I got beats for years, man. A lot of my friends and artists, when they meet me and they hear my tracks, they’re like, ‘If the industry knew what you had, they’d be like, ‘Man!’’ It’s really something. (laughs) It’s really somertihng, which is why I’m doing the instrumental albums.