You picked Artisan as the winner in your HipHopGame/WeGoinIN Official Beat Contest. What is it about Artisan that stood out to you?
I would say it’s just the instant feeling I got when I heard him when I was going through the different submissions and stuff like that. I just kind of gravitated towards him. It was the voice and hunger that I heard. I didn’t just listen to the lyrics and analyze it line by line. It was a combination of things and there were a lot of good submissions. I just thought I could do something with that combination and the lyrics from the song. We could probably make something good together.
What do you listen for when you listen to a new artist?
Definitely with a new artist, the first thing I listen for is creativity. It’s gotta be something instant about that person or artist that attracts me. Then I listen to voice and if that person sounds believable or not. Those three things, I pretty much just listen for that and then everything else you can kind of build around or develop over time. But if the artist isn’t believable or you just can’t hear it or get moved by it, then you can’t do nothing with them. With new artists, you just have to feel it some type of way. That’s what I usually look for, and then the overall content and what that person is talking about and if that’s relevant today.
Do you find that your tastes in hip-hop are changing over time?
I would say it is and it isn’t. My tastes are changing with the time but I still believe that the style that I’m accustomed to and the music that I like is still developing too. There’s still old groups coming out and doing performances and it’s good to see that. That gives me the feeling back that I enjoy but at the same time, working with E and the Doppelgangaz, that kind of brings back a refreshing memory of that sound but still be relevant in today’s time. It’s not really retro but it’s still giving you that same feeling. I think my tastes are changing a little bit but they’re still not changing for the worse.
What made you want to work with The Doppelgangaz on a bigger level versus just being a fan and supporting them that way?
The first thing was just the overall hunger and creativity. I knew that at the time when I started working with E Pillz, this might have been six or seven years ago when he was 15 years old. I think with him I was just attracted to his hunger and he really wanted to do it and he asked a lot of questions to develop his skills. And I appreciated his appreciation for people who came before him, like me and others. They really did their research and then when they started creating their music, you could just see them grow over time. That’s really what attracted me to them at that point and now, a few years later, I think they’re still developing today. I can see that everything they learned paid off and I think more and more people will appreciate them as they get out there. They’re keeping a certain standard of hip-hop going.
Are fans for those standards getting smaller every day?
It might seem like that just because of how technology is and the way we communicate right now. Everything is so instant and it seems like commercial rap is killing off real hip-hop. I think it’s still out there, at the same time it’s just harder to find it and it’s just not as accessible as commercial rap is today. It’s not dying down and the standards are still there. You can still call an MC wack today, it’s just that today they have more outlets to keep going. Back in the day you could call MC Hammer or Vanilla Ice wack and it stuck. Now people have different outlets to create a perception but it still doesn’t stop though.
You’ve been working with more younger artists than established artists today, like The Doppelgangaz and more recently Derty Den. Are you more inspired working with the younger artists?
Again, I only try to work with the newer guys that I genuinely like and the guys that have appreciation for the music. Yeah, that definitely keeps me going and letting me see how my knowledge that I’ve gotten over the years affects the guys coming up. It’s not just kind of like the old dude messing with the new dude. It’s me having that each one teach one attitude and passing on my knowledge and trying to speed up the process of the guys that I genuinely like.
But it’s definitely harder to work with the established acts today because you can’t be in the studio with them and I don’t think they want you in the studio with them. They want to produce themselves nowadays and that’s the reality that we’re faced with. You can go in with the younger guys and produce a higher quality record. I was talking with Buckwild about that the other day. Some of the established producers have to start producing more and get with the artists that you feel and make those quality records and the music will continue.
How much quality is lost when you can’t get in the studio with an artist?
I think probably 100% of creativity is lost because once you send a track out to an artist, it’s kind of like you’re passing the torch on. They’re getting it and they’re running with it and you don’t know what direction they’re going to go with it. Overall production is a process and without being in the studio, there’s no process. You’re just giving them the track and they’re doing it. It’s an incomplete meal. You need someone in the kitchen telling you how to cook it up and the ingredients to put in and the ingredients to take out so y’all can collaborate and make this big dinner. Without that it’s just something real fast and real bland, to go with my analogy.
It’s real hard because even if you was in the studio too, you might not be able to even communicate with the artist to tell him what to do either. I guess that’s the other side of the double-edged sword. But it hurts me even more because I feel like I can get in there and make a beat and then go in the studio and work with the artist to make sure the artist is doing what they need to do to make the best song possible. Without doing that we’re just cutting that out. The big time artists out there have experience in making songs. That’s why they feel they can cut you out but a lot of them don’t know how to make records and they need that producer to have ideas to bounce off. They need the actual person who made the music so we can explain to them how we can take the song to the next level and that’s what’s being lost. You don’t need the manager or A&R there.
Do you mind not being in the studio if it’s an artist like 50 Cent, like what happened when you produced "Many Men" for him?
You try to be in the studio as much as you can. I wasn’t in the studio with 50 for “Many Men” but I had communication with him. We had several conversations about it over the phone so that wasn’t so bad. But nowadays, you try to get in the studio as much as you can with the artist but it’s really impossible because everybody is really on the go but it just hurts the process. That’s kind of why I’m working on my own album. That’s one of the reasons because I wanted to be able to put my music out there and have more control over the music.
Are you insisting that the artists get in the studio with you as opposed to emailing beats and verses?
Yeah. It’s still the same process. I’m trying to get in the studio with other artists as much as I can and I am sending some beats out to artists but the way I’m doing it is I’m pretty much coming up with the concepts myself and trying to communicate with the artists as much as I can about what I want on the songs. It’s a longer process because I might send it out and the artist doesn’t do what I needed him to do, but I can send it to the next artist and get it done. I’m trying to not make it a compilation and make it a theme as much as I can.
There really haven’t been a lot of good compilation albums to drop lately. Have you been feeling the more recent compilations that have dropped?
Honestly, I look at it as that. It’s a compilation. You get what you give. If you want an artist on your album and they throw you a song and you accept that, you’re going to get what you put into it. As a producer I’m not a fan of that. As a DJ, I think that’s the only way they can do that. DJs can do compilations but they’re using their name to sell it. Most of the DJs aren’t producing their records and even if they do, they’re not producing it to the point where they want it to have a concept to it.
And the process is not really how I want it to be. I would want to have artists come to my studio and sit with me for a few days and do as much as we can for the song. I do think when people see those names on compilations, it should be hot when in actuality it’s all about having a couple of names on the record with no type of direction. That’ what I ‘m trying to do – keep as much direction as I can because of my resources and hopefully it will turn out as closely as I envisioned it to as possible.
Can you still call on artists you worked with awhile ago, like Cam and Jay-Z?
It’s a bit difficult. It’s not hard to ask them to do it or to get confirmations for them to do it. It’s just hard to get them to complete it unless you’re just chasing them around every day or calling them every day. If you don’t do that then it won’t get done. I would actually rather be in this position. I would rather be chasing the artists around to be on my project than chasing them around to give them beats for their project.
Why do you think artists over-promise on delivering verses on such a consistent basis?
I think that’s part of the industry. I think that a lot of people get used to, I guess, that kind of attitude or you just kind of go with the flow and tell people you’re going to do it. It’s just part of the game and I accept it and just keep it moving but I think that there's a light at the end of the tunnel and when I get this project complete people will enjoy it and see that light.
How far along are you on your compilation?
I would say I’m about halfway done right now. I have some joints on there with Donny Goines, Emilio Rojas, J-Live, Stat Quo, Jim Jones, Trey Songz, of course the record I got with Torae, Skyzoo, Stimuli and Chaundon and Big Pooh. I have some records. I’m still working on some new records. I’m about to work on a new record with Camp Lo in a few days. I’m reaching out to people I genuinely like. No one on my album is going to be someone I don’t like. That’s one of those things. With compilations, people just pile on the names just to get the record done and they trade stuff just to make it look like it’s the biggest thing and that’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to get people I actually like.
Is that why you didn’t ask me to be on the album?
Actually I didn’t know where I could fit you in at but I really do like you so I guess you do have a spot on there.
I’m going to hold you to that.
Okay. Well, we just talked about how people say, “Yeah, I got you.” So now I guess you gotta hold me to my word.
If I gotta call you every day I will.
Is that what it’s going to take?
Nah, not with me. I’ll either tell you yes or no to end it. You got a yeah out of me, so I guess it’s a go.
What do you want me to do?
I guess we gotta figure that out. What are you good at?
Not much. That’s not my problem though. You’re the producer.
Well, since you put it that way, we gotta think about that because I have to put people on there that the public will like. I’m not sure if you might fit into that scenario.
So now you’re taking the offer back?
(laughs) I gave you a maybe now. I mean, I’m a producer but I can’t work miracles.
Let me at least get on a hook.
All right. We might be able to work on that. Let’s work on a hook.
Maybe for your second album I’ll spit a verse.
Well, I think right now, the verse will probably be a no-go.
But you might possibly be able to get on a hook. Possibly.
At the very least do I at least get a shout out in the liner notes?
At the very minimum.
That’s cool but I really want to be on this album.
Well, we have to see how you’ll perform and what type of hook you’ll do and what type of song you’ll do and if it’s “industry ready.”
What? “Industry ready”? I thought we didn’t like the industry so why would I have to be “industry ready”?
You don’t like the industry? So there you have it. If you don’t like the industry, that gives you the answer right there. I guess you can’t be on the hook. You can’t be on the album. This is going to be an industry album.
So you’re selling out, basically?
Yes. I’m selling out.
In that case what makes you think I would want to be a part of your crappy old album?
(laughs) I guess you’re right. You’re absolutely right. I never thought about it like that. Your standards are way higher than I thought. How could you be on my album? That would be ridiculous.
No one’s ever gotten my hopes up so high only to deflate them. I hope you feel good about yourself.
I do. I feel great.
How do you know everyone else isn’t working with you just because they’re bored? They probably don’t even want to do it.
Put it this way – if I tell them that you’re not going to be on the album, then they’ll definitely be on the album.
I’ll not only wage war on you but on everyone who’s on the album like 50 did Fat Joe and Jadakiss.
I think that will probably be a great idea. A great promotion.
That’s a risk you’re willing to take?
Yeah. That’s quite a risk. I’m pretty sure everyone would be willing to co-sign that.
It’s war on you and all the losers that roll with you.
That’s great. I’m going to send that album out to everyone potentially on the album. And everyone that I’m still chasing, that’s going to be my email message to them – that you’re not going to be on the album.
I had more respect for you until we started talking. By the way I love your Twitter posts even though I hate Twitter.
I try to post whatever’s on my mind at the moment. That’s what it is, like a micro blog. I try to let people see my personality as much as I can. Through Twitter I think it’s pretty good.
One post talks about how you’re not feeling The Blueprint 3 tracklisting. When you post stuff like that, are you ever worried about negative reactions to it?
Nah, not at all. Anybody that has a problem with that is probably going to be the first person to tell you that your shit is wack in the first place. It’s their opinion against mine. I know Jay-Z personally but what are the odds of Jay-Z being on Twitter or caring what I think? I just look at it like these guys are the “top rappers.” Jay-Z has the top producers on the album and if the stuff is coming out wack, I think people should say that it’s wack because when you have an unsigned artist trying to get on and they’re saying that it’s wack, you have to hold the bigger artists to the same standards. Even today people are saying that you gotta listen to Jay-Z’s lyrics and his wordplay but since when are people actually listening to songs and giving an artist the benefit of the doubt? If I gave somebody a Doppelgangaz song are they going to say that the lyrics are hot but the beat is wack? They’ll just say it’s wack. That was just my view on that.
If you were A&Ring The Blueprint 3, what would you do differently?
To make it a classic I would probably eliminate most of the producers on there. Not the ones on there, per se, there’s just too many producers on there. I would only have one or two people on there producing the album. If it was Kanye and No I.D., I would just have Kanye and No I.D. to make sure the vibe continues throughout the album. And also you’re just picking the best songs from those people instead of trying to pick songs from the best work of different producers.
That’s not Timbaland’s best work that I’m hearing but Timbaland’s on it because he’s one of the “best” producers. I think you can alleviate that problem by having one or two producers on there. If you have the right producer you can make the right album. Me, personally, I know that I’m capable of producing the whole album and it wouldn’t sound the same because every song wouldn’t sound the same but it would still have the vibe to it. but I didn’t hear it yet. I just heard all of the leaked records so far.
Are the days of one or two producers handling an entire big album done?
I think so. Until some producer does it, then those days are gone because no one is, how should I say it, there’s no one willing to actually do that. I don’t think there’s no producers on that level. Now on the underground level that can happen all the time. 9th Wonder will produce a whole album and whoever, but on a commercial level, like Jay-Z and Lil’ Wayne, their egos, I believe, won’t allow somebody to produce an entire album except Dr. Dre and I don’t think Dr. Dre would ever do it because he takes too long to produce an album.
What do you think of younger artists like Kid Cudi and Drake being on The Blueprint 3?
I think on one hand, they’re the new artists that are coming up and Jay realizes that and he likes that and it’s putting him in a position to kind of bring the old with the new. But as a fan of Jigga, I just don’t like it because I feel like Jay is good enough to make an album without many features on it and two, I don’t believe that them dudes have paid their dues enough to get on an album of that stature. I believe that if Jay was working on an album in 1999, they wouldn’t be on the album because at the stature that they’re at right now, those artists wouldn’t be on a Jay-Z album. They just wouldn’t, I believe. Maybe Drake because of the hype that’s built around him, but none of these dudes have put out an album yet or sold any records. They’re doing shows and stuff but I think they wouldn’t have been on the album. They would have been growing in the underground until they reached that point but things change and it is what it is. Hopefully it’ll work out for Jay.
How do you feel about the new class of artists rising up?
Honestly, to be totally honest, I really don’t listen to any of the dudes to that point. I might have heard one or two songs from these artists like Drake, Kid Cudi and J. Cole. But nobody has excited me to the point where I’m like, ‘These are the next dudes.’ It’s just the media that’s saying that. With dudes like Wale, I just don’t really hear what other people are hearing. That’s just my opinion. I don’t know what it’s going to take but I’m not hearing it. I’m not excited about any of these dudes.
Who are you excited about today?
Outside of The Doppelgangaz I like Pac Div and that’s pretty much it. Those are like the only two groups that I can actually play their CD or play their music. I can play it! I can play it without me actually thinking. I can play it as Digga the Fan. Some of the music that I’m hearing today, I listen to it as Digga the Producer because I have no choice. I think this is it? This is where I’m supposed to get inspiration from? These are the next dudes? I don’t really get that.
Is it harder selling beats today on a large and independent scale than it was a few years ago?
Oh, it’s way different right now. There is no selling beats anymore as I knew it. Before if somebody wanted a beat then you had to be in the studio. Today, as far as just selling beats, there’s no such thing to that point because I think the artists have created a way of just pretty much sending beats out or giving people beats and now that they can have Pro Tools and just record to it and put it out there, everything is done for free until somebody is willing to pay you and that’s on all levels, from the underground all the way up to the top rappers.
Everybody is going to try to do all of the music for free and the producer is the one that’s getting jacked or gypped because the artist is the one that’s coming up. So when people do these mixtapes with the original music, the artist is going to take those and basically profit off of your music and it just happens across the board. Even with somebody like 50 Cent, to that point, I did beats and gave him beats that are on his mixtape, but that’s not going to guarantee me a spot on his album and I think it should. It doesn’t.
How do you decide who to give free beats to?
Well, it just goes back to me just loving what I do. I love music and hip-hop but I still only give out my music to people that I’m genuinely interested in working with or I think is going to create an opportunity for themselves and me. That’s really it. First of all, I don’t really make a lot of beats and when I do, it’s just to an artist I believe is going to do right by them, like somebody like Derty Den. I know he’s on his grind and it’s going to benefit us in the long run. If I give him good music and he’s on his grind getting his good music out there, eventually people are going to catch on and it’s going to spread. But outside of that it doesn’t really benefit me to do beats for anybody.
Have you thought about starting your own label?
Yeah. I mean, that’s kind of where I’m headed with The Doppelgangaz. They’re going to be the first on the label and that’s just really it. They’re pretty much self-contained but what they do, that’s one of the reasons that I really like them because I know E is doing the beats and he’s always working on new stuff and they’re going to always create their own niche and their own sound. I have them and an artist named Antonio from Little Rock, Arkansas. I’m just working with artists and trying to do some real artist development and take it slow. I’m trying to provide an opportunity but I’m not just trying to say I have a label and people signed because that’s going nowhere.
How do you think your production techniques are changing over the years?
Of course it got a little bit easier with the technology. A lot of the stuff I can kind of do on the go with software but it’s pretty much the same. I’ve grown, of course, because I learn stuff every day with my website OnlineBeatTutor.com. That’s one of the reasons why I created it because I know there’s a lot of people out there that need help. They go to Guitar Center and get themselves some equipment and think that’s going to be it and then when they go him they’re frustrated. I wanted to create a spot where they can watch my videos and tutorials and learn how to do it. But I have to be in a creative mood and it just comes out.
I’m glad you mentioned your site OnlineBeatTutor. A lot of big producers don’t like giving out advice. What’s that experience been like for you?
It’s been a great experience. I love it. It’s been good being in contact with people. I’m a firm believer in each one teach one. When you get that blessing, this is the only thing that’s going to keep me going is if I pass on knowledge to the next generation of producers. I think that’s what people are supposed to do. It’s like a basketball player. You dominated and won but now a young dude is coming in to take your spot. You could be frustrated or you could help the young dude and have that be your legacy when you leave. I’m still working and doing what I need to do but I think a lot of the producers are appreciating my music now when they see what I’ve put into it and they see how much I know. I think it’s helping me across the board with my members and my fans and just with my whole experience.
You also volunteer with the kids teaching them about music. What prompted you to start that?
I created a music program and curriculum where I pretty much teach kids about making beats and I teach them about the business of making music. That’s just been a wonderful experience too. I have 26 Mac computers, Pro Tools and everything I need to record with the kids. It’s just a good thing for them to start early because all of the kids are interested in the music. I think it’s good that they have someone like me to help them do it instead of running out there like a chicken with their head cut off. They can absorb the knowledge and that’s another thing that I think I was set up to do, just to explore the education part.
There’s a real crab in the barrel syndrome because everyone wants to sit up there and think they’re the best or they just have this talent. But everybody is gifted with a certain talent so it’s just what you do with it. I think that’s why I’m here and other producers dance in videos. I choose to educate.
Do you see a lot of talent with those kids?
I have a few. I have one kid that was in 8th grade last year, he started doing everything from producing his own beats, writing his own songs and recording his own songs within three or four months within me working with him. And he didn’t have access to anything and he didn’t know how to count his bars and within three or four months he was understanding what he needed to do to make records. It was just rewarding for me to see his process because he graduated and I know he’s going to be on his way. It’s going to be up to him to put that extra effort into it and he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with very soon.
What’s the most rewarding part about being Digga today?
Honestly I really do enjoy just educating not only the kids but anybody who actually needs help. I really get enjoyment out of that and passing on the little bit of wisdom that I know. It’s just rewarding. Working with artists is cool, but it’s not rewarding at this point. If you’re not on a big artist’s album, you’re not going to make the money and you can’t get in the studio with them and the people, on a larger scale of things, people are more concerned with the “A-list” producers than some of the producers who are really trying to produce and do their thing. So you have to deal with that. I’m really getting most of my rewards from speaking to people and people tell me how much they appreciate me doing the site and how I’m a down to earth dude for emailing them back and answering their questions. I’m cool with that too.
Out of your extensive discography, what are you most proud of producing?
There’s not just one song. Honestly I have different feelings about each song but I would say the “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” by the Young Gunz, that song, I guess I just had a special feeling about that. I did the beat in 10 minutes and I knew that I had to just keep it the way it was. I knew not to add anything to it. I knew it was it right there and just to leave it like that. To be honest I sent that beat to Jay. I forget for what album but it was supposed to be for Jay but the Young Gunz ended up doing the song to it and that ended up being the song that pretty much launched their career.
How do you know when a beat is done, like that one, as opposed to laboring over the reverb on a snare for three days?
I think that’s what you develop over time. That’s the difference between working today and years ago. Today, I try to, when I create a beat, I try to produce the beat all the way to the point where it’s to completion. I try to make it as tight as possible if I’m sending it out to 50 because I want him to hear it totally complete where he can only put his voice on it and know that it’s going to be done. That’s what I try to do today. Now see, years ago, you could make a shell of a beat and add stuff to it after the artist was on it but those days are over. It’s a talent now. You have to be able to listen to music in general and figure out what elements are in the music to make it complete. Once you have those things figured out you’ll understand what you’re hearing in the beat and you’ll know what to add when you’re making the beat. And those things develop over time.