Good, man. I’m trying to get this popping. You know it’s raining up here.
How was it working on “Gotta Understand” with Jurassic 5 on their latest album Feedback?
My manager has really good ties with those guys. I’ve known Chali for awhile. We’ve been giving them tracks for awhile. The song that I got on there, they picked that out two and a half years ago. It was a Curtis Mayfield sample. It’s funny, because they picked it out so long ago that I almost forgot that they had one of my joints. I was super-excited when they were using it, and then I had to send them the sample clearance information. I didn’t write down the song though, so I sat in my room for two weeks trying to find the sample. The day they were about to give up and were like, Screw this guy, I finally found it in the most obscure part of the song. The sample is in the craziest place. It took me two weeks to find the sample.
It was great to be a part of that record because they did a really great job of making that record current and staying true to the J5 fanbase.
It had to be dope working with Dres of Black Sheep on 8WM/Novakane.
Out of all the records I’ve done, that was the one that was most personal. He came out and stayed with me quite a bit. I went out to New York and worked with him out there too. I got to go on a tour with him. That’s fam. That was the most personal one. A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing was one of my favorite records from back then. For him to hit me up and be excited to work with me was crazy. When I think about how I make music and for him to call me and say that, it really reiterated how I feel. I learned to do it from listening to them and breaking down Primo beats. Then for him to hit me and say, “That’s that shit,” I must have done it. Working with him was amazing.
You’ve also done some good work with the Living Legends. How was that experience?
That was another one where my manager sent out the joints. I was hip to them. I met them at a show and I know they recorded that joint in Hawaii when they went out there to live for the making of the album. I didn’t get to go to Hawaii for that, but that was the first time they used outside production for the record and it was great to be a part of it.
It’s probably hard enough working with them being there’s so many of them, but it must be even harder when you’re not in the studio with them.
Right. I think the music got to them and that spoke volumes, so that worked out. What also came of that is now me and Luckyiam are going to do a solo record together. More good came from that than just doing a record. As soon as Lucky is not busy enough, we’re going to knock out a record.
You’ve also been in the studio with Supernatural. What’s he like?
This dude came and stayed with me for a week and basically came out to finish his album. He came out to work with me and Vitamin D. We both have studios in separate places. It’s different than any records I’ve done because this guy will really just start freestyling in the middle of his written shit. It was a new experience for the both of us. The freestyle element added to the project’s freeness, oddly enough. It was interesting. I got to work with him in the studio and that was cool. We arranged the record and the interludes, so that was definitely a more personal one.
Supernat is renowned for his freestyling ability. Does he need a lot of takes when he’s recording?
He wrote the whole record. I told him he had to do a song where he battled himself, so he’s got this cut on there where he’s battling himself. He’s got his alter-ego Grimlock and he did that freestyling. The rest were all songs and he would just be doing his written raps while freestyling. It would mess up his bar count. It was funny that him being such a freestyle artist to switch him into written mode.
You also did X-Clan’s Professor X tribute. What does that song mean to you?
It’s been crazy. From J5 to Black Sheep to Supernat to X-Clan, it feels better than money because I’m getting to work with people that I looked up to. Hands down, doing a tribute to Professor X, if I could turn that into a plaque, I would hang that on my wall. That’s a stripe that’s beyond any dollar amount by any means. Anyone’s going to say this and it’s true, but to be able to work with people you looked up to is bigger than a dollar amount any day. You need your dollars too, but I’m much more appreciative of what the stuff I’ve been able to do is instead of a new Bow Wow track. The money’s great in that, but I’ve been able to work with MC’s who see the artistry in it.
Where do you draw the line between working with crappy artists with money versus working with broke artists you respect?
It depends on people I want to work with versus people I feel I need to. I have 750 beats in my iTunes and only 100 of them I feel like they’re my children. The other 650 are runaways. I care about them, but it’s not the same. I’m not as worried about them. The game is terrible and I’ve spent so much time in music that I couldn’t find a regular job now. The Gap wouldn’t even hire me. A lot of stuff I have to weigh, but at this point, if anybody comes at me with cash, I’m liable to say, “Okay.” I think I realized that you have to be able to settle for less until you get what you want. You can’t act like you’re a boss until you’re really a boss. I can’t say if I don’t want to work with someone yet. I have to get in the zone and establish myself, and then I can make those choices. The music I make just happens to speak to the right people.
Your beats have an upbeat, soulful vibe to them. Is that a conscious decision when you’re working on them?
Naturally, I’m going to do the feel-good stuff. I grew up on the Beatles and soul music and stuff that makes you feel good. In a lot of respects, hip-hop is an extension of that music. In a lot of forms of music and especially hip-hop, those feelings are lost. It’s all about what’s hot right now, but a Pete Rock and CL record is going to be slamming when I’m 90. The thing about emotions and stuff that’s not trendy is that they’re forever.
Plus my stuff is all over the boards because, to me, I don’t have a sound. I’ll make a track and Vitamin will hear it. This guy’s got the best ear in the world in my opinion and he still can’t identify all my tracks. I don’t have a way I do things or a formula for how I do stuff. I guess my formula is I listen to a record and whatever jumps out at me I go with. I do a lot of stuff, but the soulful, uptempo stuff is what I prefer to do. I also like to make all different types of records because one record can’t define you. You have to have a mix of all of it.
Seattle’s not known for having a huge scene. How do you work with fellow Seattle producers Jake One and Vitamin D?
Not too much now. We’re all trying to establish ourselves right now. Vitamin and I worked on the Supernatural project and the Black Sheep project. Out of the three of us, Jake really just makes beats and Vitamin and I mix and edit records as well. We all got beats, but I’m probably the most intricate at editing as far as interludes and crazy echoes. Vitamin is the most immaculate mix guy. He’s a mixologist. If you got us all together, it would be a takeover scenario because of all the different elements we bring.
Is it hard trying to get your beats heard coming from Seattle?
It’s awareness. For years, I’ve sat here and it’s like, Why aren’t these cats messing with me? Getting further into the so-called game, I realized it’s all about relationships. It’s not about what kind of heat you got. Most of the times when artists picked my beats, it’s because they liked the beat. They didn’t even know me. It’s real hard because selling CD’s locally is tough. They don’t believe in talent out here. It’s not like San Francisco where they’re becoming millionaires selling CD’s out of the trunk.
It’s been a real blessing that Jake and Vitamin got a lot of love. That’s helped me out. When I was with Dres and Clark Kent in New York, Clark recognized Seattle because of Jake One. There just isn’t a market or industry out here.
What do you have to do to succeed coming from a smaller city?
It’s hard to say. It’s almost like you have to leave and go to where it’s happening unless you’re trying to pave your own route and you have a team that can do it. You have to go to the clubs where the rappers go and build the relationships with them. Relationships seem to bridge the gap between making money and not making money. I’m actually looking for the answer to that question.
Can you take us through the making of a Bean One beat?
I can give it a shot. Really, I sit down and put on a record and roll a joint, or vice versa, and then really I just listen for whatever jumps out in my head. I’ll put on any genre of record and I don’t sit down with a vision of what I’m going to make. I let the vision happen. I’ll listen and maybe start with the drums and then move to whatever other element comes in. I usually work with the ASR but they’re so fickle. I have three broken ASR’s. I’ll take a sample and then I’ll chop it up in as many pieces as I can and then I’ll add as many elements myself as possible so I’m doing the work.
Some beats I make, I’ll try to do something different. I try to do as much different shit as possible and still keep it hip-hop. After 2000 and all these computer programs came out, having a dope beat is not a problem. What’s hard is having a beat that embodies that hip-hop feel, that “it” factor. There’s programs where you can hit five buttons and you have a dope, chopped-up beat, but does it have that “it” feel to it?
How do you know when you have that “it” beat?
It’s just that feeling that comes over you. It’s the same with mixing records or finishing a whole record. I just keep smacking away at it and trying different things until I have the feeling right. Sometimes with a beat, I know it’s not going to go anywhere and I put it in another pile. Some of the most fantastic, best tracks happen in five minutes.
What’s coming up for you?
Right now I’m working with these three young cats named Dyme Def. They’re three young guys. I heard them through a friend and I liked what I heard. They were really sharp. It just bugs me out that there are cats that are 20 and they have that “it” to them. Them having that classic Run-DMC feel or that classic EPMD feel really intrigued me. I’ve been doing so many records with these cats and I’m 30, trying to pay bills and raise four kids, so working with these kids is an extreme risk, but these are young cats that have energy and a willingness to listen to criticism. I’m really pushing those guys right now.
I’ve just realized that I can’t just chop beats. I got to work with a lot of cats, but for me, it’s not moving fast enough. I’m really trying to brand myself as a producer rather than a beatmaker. I’m working with these guys on a whole project. I’ve waited so long to do this, but we’re starting a label, Space Music Recordings. I only waited because everybody has a label, a website and a business card. I really wanted to wait until I got a group that I wanted to work with. I’ve been trying to do this by myself for so long and I just realized that I can’t do that. You need a team of people promoting your music and taking meetings for you. You can’t do it alone necessarily.
What’s the most challenging aspect of working with new artists?
These dudes, I wanted to work with them. They were more excited that I wanted to work with them because I have a name out here and they’re kind of new on the scene because they’re so young. There’s a lot of people who come into the studio and tell me how they’re in the zone and how they don’t have to write anything down and they come out with crap. Just because Jay did it doesn’t mean you have to do it. I like to work with people who are extremely serious about their craft. I don’t do nothing but this and try to keep my wife from kicking me out of the house. I just want whoever I work with to have the same ambition because we can go a lot further that way. I’m definitely going to test these kids to see how willing they are to do this shit.
It takes a lot of out of you to do whole records and not go out to the clubs, but in order to get a quality product, that’s what has to happen. I don’t know if I really answered that question. It’s a real natural process for me when I work on songs. These guys have never been in a studio. They’ve been recording on a Janet Jackson microphone for five years. I’m real cool and casual working with them and building a personal relationship with them. I’ve seen a lot of people turn off artists or they’ll come to me and tell me how the last producer they worked with didn’t even feel their music. There’s a way you have to do this. I’m sure certain people get away with blasting people, but I don’t do that. I wouldn’t even want to work with someone if they’re wack.
What advice would you offer to producers coming from small cities and towns?
I think it’s the same for me, Vitamin and Jake. You have to do you. If you’re hearing someone and you try to emulate your beats to sound like someone else, that beat could be three years-old and you’re trying to catch up to three years ago. I grew up on Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Black Sheep, Rakim, Diggin’ in the Crates and Ultramagnetic. That was about chopping records and that’s what I learned to do. It’s about developing a sound that’s unique and is your own. On the industry side of it more than the music side of it, have a team of people who believe in your music because the music is becoming less and less powerful as far as getting you where you want to be. That’s an obvious statement as far as what music is being played right now. If I were to figure out how to do all this hoopla, I could probably get in, but I want to get in on the natural side of it where people realize I actually have talent.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Thanks for checking me out and keep your eyes open. I’m definitely just trying to bring goodness to every single genre of hip-hop. I do underground music and popular music. I’m trying to make underground music popular the way EPMD did. “Underground” is a term you can put in many different fashions, but it doesn’t mean you have to be broke. I’m trying to make quality music that’s accessible to everybody. Kanye did a real good job at that. I know I probably didn’t answer the question, but keep your eyes open.