You’ve done a lot of dope tracks in the New York underground but you’ve never gotten a lot of recognition. Why do you think that is?
I don’t know. I just think that it’s a matter of timing, more or less. Timing plays a big role in everything. There’s a couple of things I’ve done here and there, but at the end of the day, I think it’s all about timing and me pushing myself out there even more.
You’ve done a lot of work with Poison Pen on his mixtape Mark of the East. What’s it like working with Pen?
Me and Pen have that chemistry. I’ve been working with Pen for almost 10 years now. Being part of Stronghold and basically studying everybody’s flow and whatever, I know Pen just has that straight Brooklyn bully style. I had to really study his ways and basically try to get into his stuff. But definitely, I’ll be honest with you, the stuff I was making wasn’t really for him, but one day he did a song called “Lumber” and he liked that. Ever since then, I was there to make more joints that he liked.
Poison Pen definitely favors a unique style of beats.
Yeah, definitely. My style is pretty different, man. One record I might sound like this and the next record might be totally different. But it is the same producers. There’s no ghost producers or anybody. I try to keep it that way. Whatever people are looking for, I try to cater to it.
Is it ever hard to switch styles like that and still pull it off?
For me it’s not, actually. I just think that once you feel like…I mean, I appreciate all types of music. Once you and that artist have that vibe, that feeling, you basically understand where they come from. I like to sit down with an artist and see who they like and what kind of music they’re into and I just go from there for the most part.
You also recorded “It’s Nothin’” with Rakim. What was it like working with him?
It’s a crazy situation because I got that hook-up through Mattfingaz. I never really got to sit down with him, but I did get to build with him briefly and thank him for taking the track. But through Pro Tools, it’s hard to even sit down with the artist. Technology has made it convenient for artists and producers to work together even if they’re not in the studio. I kind of miss not being in the studio with the artists. If I had it my way I would take it back to those days where we could have that experience.
A lot of people thought Just Blaze produced Rakim’s “It’s Nothin’”. What did you think of that?
I’m going through that right now with that whole Rakim thing. A lot of people thought Just Blaze did it and I would like to thank him for coming out and saying that he didn’t do it. I don’t know who started that rumor but it happens.
I think another problem of that is that people don’t buy the hard copy. If you want to hide something from somebody, you just put it in a book. I heard that and it’s true. We have the internet and even sometimes the internet doesn’t give you all the facts. I thank the people for even doing the research to find out who did it and hit me on the MySpace. Good looking out.
Have you ever had artists record to your beats without you there and not liked it?
All the time! My problem with certain artists is that sometime these artists get these beats from the producers and they don’t even know who these producers are and they reach out and put it out and then the producer has to come hunting for them. I’ve definitely been in instances like that before and it’s upsetting at times because I feel that if I’m going to take something from you, at least I should ask before I do it. But the way the game is right now, somebody hears what you do and they reference it and then they make you look kind of bad. It’s not the vision that you had for that beat or for that song.
I got a lot of people who know my music and they pretty much know what my style is. I usually have people call me up and they tell me they heard a beat that sounds just like mine and it could be my shit. And then I look out for it and it’s mine. If I can’t get in contact with the artist, sometimes I’ll just put a blog up and just to kind of invite them to find out who I am. And once that happens, we talk about what they want to do. Maybe they’ll want to do a song together or maybe we just won’t do nothing at all.
Aren’t the beats that are put out without your consent more difficult to sell because other artists may think that beat has already been sold before?
Oh, it’s crazy. Thank God for having copyrights and legalities so that half of that comes to a halt.
You can also play a lot of live instruments. How important is that as a producer in 2008?
Oh, man, listen, nowadays, no one, man, wants to give up publishing. There’s certain people that you sample from that don’t like hip-hop and don’t want you sampling from them. If I can’t use it, what can I do? I feel like playing it is pretty dope. You have producers like Just Blaze doing that now and they don’t have to go and get publishing. But I can tell you right now that nothing replaces the feel of a sample.
As publishing gets more expensive, do you think samples will ever become extinct on a major level?
It’s possible, but as long as hip-hop is around, I don’t think that’s going go to go down.
You’ve also entered a lot of beat battles. How important have those been to your career?
Very important. I’m not going to front, if I never had anyone who believed in me to do it, I don’t think I would have done it at all. I look at music so differently. I listen to music like I was in school. I listen to rock bands like Boston and guys like Bob James. Being in a DJ battle, why not transfer that to people who like to make beats? I had to make a name for myself and at the end of the day, I couldn’t lose.
How do you approach a beat battle?
People like to laugh. And people like something pretty interesting that stands out from the norm. You definitely have to think along those lines and think about what people can relate to and you have to demonstrate how it can be flipped. So when I come to those battles, I have to treat it like it is a DJ battle. I take lines from movies that people will remember and you have to make people believe that your music is the shit.
Do you think we’ll ever see a Stronghold album in the future?
Oh, wow! (laughs) I know that question’s been asked. Let’s just say that anything is possible nowadays. I’ll just put it that way. Whenever they’re ready, I’m ready.
How difficult is it to schedule a recording session with Stronghold?
It’s all about timing. That’s the problem. It’s time. The time it takes to get them in the studio to lay these verses…People’s schedules are different and people have to be on the same wavelength when they hear the song. A two man crew is different than having six people have to be in one spot. It’s difficult as far as the timing and everyone’s schedules to be in the same spot.
You’re managed by Matthew Knowles, Beyonce’s father. How did you link up with him?
What happened is I met with this guy named Omar Grant and my boy Blackout put me onto Omar Grant. At the time I guess he was the road manager for Destiny’s Child. He let Matthew Knowles hear it. There was a song with Trinitee 5:7. I got a call from Matthew Knowles and I don’t know who this guy is. I’m thinking somebody’s playing a prank on me. I get a call from his assistant manager and he asked me if I was down to be managed by them. I was like, ‘Cool, as long as the contract is right, we can move forward.’
What has Matthew Knowles done for you?
Well, to be honest, not much. Not much that I couldn’t do on my own. I think it’s just the name. I think the type of music they make and the type of music I make, we don’t see eye-to-eye and sometimes I have to make beats for that genre of music.
How difficult is it for you to make beats that you’re not feeling?
Music is a feeling. If you wake up and want to make something poppy, then that’s what you do. I think that’s one thing, at the end of the day, you do what makes you happy and if the people are going to like it, they’re going to like it. But you can’t make everybody happy.
Producers I’ve interviewed in the past have said that the lines between hip-hop, R&B and pop are all blending together. Do you agree with that?
Yeah, because it’s all about that artist’s vision and how they see it. Even as a producer, sometimes it’s all about how you pitch it to them.
Do you want to make a transition into the pop world?
Yes. I would. I would still do hip-hop. Somehow, somewhere, I would fuse the both of them together.
Has Poison Pen ever asked you for Beyonce’s phone number?
Nah. I hope he doesn’t either! (laughs) That would be a sick collabo, Pen featuring Beyonce. But who knows. You never know nowadays. Anything can happen, especially in the world of Pro Tools.
I’d be afraid of what he’d say on the track.
Pen, no matter what, is always going to be Pen! No matter what. No one could duplicate him. He ain’t trying to sound like nobody else. That’s as good as you can get. As soon as you sound like somebody else, everybody is like, ‘I don’t know.’ But nowadays, with the way that people listen to music, they’re so quick to compare you to people.
You’ve also done some good work with Hasan Salaam and Hicoup. What’s it like working with them?
Oh, man, let me tell you something. Hasan definitely brings an element. He’s a beast. I like Hasan and Hicoup, Hicoup is a beast to me. He’s a beast. As soon as he hears something and I see his head bopping, I just know that he’s going to come with something crazy. It’s a vision. It’s the creativity that we bring together on the track.
Where do you want to take your production in the next year?
I really want to start doing scores. I really want to start getting into movies and world music because I just don’t want to be stuck in a box. I want to take it over there. I want to take it to Australia if I got to. This hip-hop stuff is worldwide and being the fact that I’m interested in other music too, especially things like film scoring, I could see myself doing that. At the end of the day, you don’t want to be stuck in one box.
A lot of producers are getting into scoring, video games and commercials. How important is it as a producer to branch off into those other avenues to sell your music?
It’s a great thing. I feel it’s a great opportunity to give producers a chance to shine besides just being in the studio. They have to understand how to really get themselves out there, whether it’s movies or video games. This has been a good thing. Hopefully it can help people get more shine.
I didn’t tell anybody, but I did the theme music for the Minnesota Vikings with Kel Spencer that they play when they run out onto the field. I never envisioned myself doing that.
Too bad it didn’t help their season.
(laughs) Yeah, but hey, it was an opportunity and hopefully I get more for other things.
Can you take us through your beatmaking process?
I’ll tell you this much – it all depends. The first thing I always say is that it all depends on the mood I’m in. Usually I start out with drums and then I start out playing something over. I like to take a shower. There’s something about the bathroom that gives me ideas. Once I hear it, I just run and start making something on the spot. It usually starts off with that and with sampling, a hot loop is a hot loop. It is what it is.
What equipment do you use?
I use the MPC 2000 and the 1000, the Roland XV 5080 and the Motif ES. I use Reason. Yeah, and Pro Tools. It’s pretty much that.
You also use Ariel Borujow to mix all of your beats. Why do you do that?
After watching Ariel do sessions, I saw that he knows music. After Pen introduced him to my music, he wanted to meet me. Ariel presents good chemistry with the artists when they work out of his studio, which is so important. Also, another engineer that I work with from time to time is Probe. I learn a lot from him as well as Ariel. They’re both great engineers.
Should all producers have an engineer on hand to mix their beats?
Most of them should. It’s a learning experience for producers and engineers. Producers should build a chemistry with engineers so that producers can focus more on the creative side and the engineer can do his part in making the producer sound good. At the end of the day, we can’t do it all, so make life easy on yourself if you have the right engineer for your sound.
What’s the next move for you?
Whew. I just want to have that sound out there. I’m not trying to come in the game and try to take over for anybody or try to say that I’m better than whoever. I just want to have a space of my own and I’m definitely down to work with people who bring that creativity to it. It’s all about that at the end of the day.