You have an album Dedication coming in March. What can you tell us about the album?
The album has 14 or 15 songs on it. I have Busta Rhymes and Lamont Bishop on my first single “Shine”. I’m seeing if I can get my girl Marsha from Floetry on my album. I have Stat Quo and Chino XL on the album.
How did you put “Shine”, which features Busta Rhymes and Bishop Lamont, together?
We were talking about doing a record together anyway. “Shine” just happened. I always wanted to do a song with Buss. It was originally supposed to be me, Busta and Q-Tip and then Bishop heard the beat and he was like, ‘I gotta get on it.’ We were all hanging out together and it was a no-brainer.
How did you go about choosing your guests for your album Dedication?
Honestly, I only wanted to work with the people that I really worked with. The album just came together. There would be a track that I liked and I would be in the studio with Raphael Saadiq or Ya Boy or people like that. They just happened to be there and when they got on the song, it was just a no-brainer, like, ‘I gotta do this one.’ The album just came together very quickly.
How close are you to being done with the album?
The album’s done. The album’s finished. I’m going to be putting it out in mid-March. And I’m putting it out for free.
Why put it out for free?
Well, No. 1, everybody knows that I do production, but they don’t know my stuff and everybody thinks that just because I work for Dre, everything is great. It’s great to work with Dre, but I really want my music to be heard. I am putting this music out there so the fans can hear who I am and what I can do and then I’m going to drop another album that’s going to be heavier than this one. And I’ve already got the people lined up for the next one.
Can putting Dedication out as a free download affect your future album sales at all?
No. You have to look at it like this – most of these kids are downloading anyway, so the best thing to do is to give them something so that they come back for more and I’m going to make sure that there is a lot of quality on this next album and hopefully they’ll follow it. Hopefully they’ll follow it and they’ll want to be down with the album.
Does the average hip-hop fan know who you are and what you can do?
I really do think that a lot of people believe, and I don’t know where they get it from, but they believe that I’m a ghost producer for Dre and that’s the furthest thing from the truth. I’ve been working with Dre for six years almost and Dre has never asked me to do something for him and then he’s taken the credit. He’s never done that.
What are your goals for Dedication?
I’m just really trying to get my production out there. I want people to see that I’m a valuable producer and mainly that I’m not just with Dre. Dre is my mentor and a great person to work for and his legacy is Aftermath and I’m blessed to be a part of his legacy, but I can definitely stand on my own two and my legacy is about to be just as strong, if not just as powerful, as Aftermath.
For those who don’t know, how did you first get down with Dr. Dre?
I was brought into the camp through two people. My main contact was Mike Lynn. He used to work for the company back in the day. And there was another cat named Mone. I was actually producing a kid named Daks and Mone and Mike Lynn brought the demo to Dre and then they liked the production. And then Dre asked Mike and Mone about me and that’s how I came into the whole picture. Dre was looking for new producers at the time and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Was it a pretty easy decision for you to get down with Dre?
Dre was my mentor. And still is my mentor. Whenever you get an opportunity to work with your mentor, that’s the first thing you want to do. You want to jump all over that. When I first met him, he was with it and we’ve been working ever since.
You already touched on this regarding yourself, but what do you think of the accusations that Dre just uses a bunch of ghost producers?
Just like you said, it’s accusations. None of it is true. I’ve seen Dre in the studio and I’ve seen how Dre works. And yes, Dre does work with people. He brings them in and they definitely, together, are a super-team. They’re incredible. But Dre knows how to play instruments and Dre knows what he wants and Dre’s a true producer in the essence of the word. I could never turn around and say that I’ve seen Dre take something from somebody and put his name on it. And that’s being honest.
What’s it like working for Dre?
Dre always lets me do me. He never asks me to do anything less than who I am. He asked me just to focus on Detox so I’m taking about five days to myself just to get my brain right because I’ve been working with Marsha and I’m just getting myself prepared for Detox. It’s not going to be me and him in the same studio. I work in my place and he works over in his.
Do you think Detox will actually come out someday?
Yes. It’s unfortunate that it became an urban legend. (laughs) But Dre’s a perfectionist and he’s not going to put something out that’s going to let his listeners down. I love that conviction and I love that he’s that passionate about his music. He’s doing what he loves and he’s been enjoying himself. He’s excited about the project and I’m very excited about that.
Have you heard anything off Detox so far?
Yes. I’ve heard a couple of songs. Right now, I’m more excited about hearing the final product. I’m still a fan of Dre. I’m not going to get a promotional copy. I want to go to the store and open that cellophane. I want to go through that euphoria. I like what I heard and I like the new Dre. Dre has definitely evolved and he’s going to make this the one to be remembered by.
How do the songs you heard compare to Dre’s most recent album 2001?
Dre is going to have his listeners understand that growing up is not being uncool. The whole “30 is the new 20” movement, we’re just trying to show that you’re not getting wack. You’re not getting uncool. The thing about it is that everybody is afraid to get older and there’s nothing you can do about that. But Dre has his finger on the pulse of the world and he knows what’s going on and we’re going to show that with his new maturity, his new music is crazy.
How has Dre made you a better producer?
This is the honest truth – he taught me just how to be a perfectionist. I’ve always been anal, but he taught me that being very particular about how you want something to sound because it can make the difference in your beat. A lot of the things in my head, it was very difficult for me to do it and Dre taught me how to tap into those things. It wasn’t Dre holding my hand and telling me what to do. I had the chance to be there and watch what he does. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. He gives you the arena to definitely better yourself. It was just easy. I got to see him work and I got to see the things that he’s working on.
Can you be more specific with what you’re saying about being a perfectionist?
When I am making a beat, there are certain things that I need to hear. I need to hear the bottom, meaning like the bass of the song. I need to hear the thump of the song. I need to hear the crack of the snare. I need to hear the hi’s in the proper place. I work with an engineer and my partner, Oscar Ramirez. And he understands my sound so well that honestly and truthfully, I don’t think I could work with anybody else. There are certain things that I need to hear because they help me with my vibe. And I don’t produce from the standpoint that I’m trying to make a million dollars. No, I produce from a point where I’m inspired by the vibe. Being a perfectionist, you definitely want to make sure that every beat gives you that same feeling that you felt making that perfect beat. I don’t even know how to put it in words. I feel like I’m rambling right now, but that’s what it is.
When you sit down to work on beats, what’s the first thing you do?
As far as hip-hop is concerned, I try to get my drums right. I build all my kits from scratch. I get all my drums in there and whatever and then I just start looking for various things. I’ll go through some records for sounds or I might have an idea for chord progressions on the piano. I normally try to build from the bottom up. I try to build the drums up first.
How do you know when you got your drums right?
That’s easy. I know by everybody nodding their head! (laughs) My brother and my engineer are always there. Once I get the drums kicking in a certain way, I’ll see everybody nodding their heads and I try to run with that.
What equipment do you use?
My favorite machine and the thing I work the most on is my MPC 3000, but right now I’m going to keep my MPC 3000 and I’m going to go virtual because a lot of the stuff that we’re using right now is all in the computers and I need to make that switch over because I still have a lot of keyboards. But I love my MPC 3000.
How closely have you been working with Bishop Lamont on his album?
Me and Bishop are going in pretty hard. We were working in the same studio. That’s my boy right there. Anytime he heard a beat, he would run up, grab it and run in the back and do the song. We call it a party when we work together. When he comes to the studio, it’s like a party vibe. He loves making music and he’s a great person to be around. He has a great energy and it’s nothing making great music.
What kind of potential does his debut album have?
Bishop is a rock star in his own right. I feel if everything goes according to plan with Detox, and I told him this too, I feel from my heart that he can be what Snoop Dogg was. Snoop Dogg’s biggest platform was being on The Chronic. Then he came out with his album. If Bishop plays his role, he’s going to have a cosigning role on one of the biggest albums in rap history. I really feel that he can be that big.
Were you surprised at all by Joell Ortiz’s decision to leave Aftermath?
No, I wasn’t surprised. And that’s because his project and the way he rhymes is so New York. I’m from New York and I knew that it wasn’t going to be the same here. The grind in New York is early in the morning and late to bed. It’s an all day thing. Out here, it’s much different. When you get a New York grind, sometimes it bumps heads out here because the music out here is more laid back. It’s only aggressive when it comes from an aggressive place and they don’t have too much to be aggressive out here.
Did Joell make the right decision?
I can’t really speak on that. I know that if it works for Joell, then that is the right decision. I know that if Joell ever needed me, he could call me and I would work with the dude because he’s a great person, but I can’t really speak on that and I don’t know if that was the right or the wrong decision. Nowadays, you want to get your music out there when you can get your music out there and if he’s going to get his music out there quicker, then he made a great decision.
You signed Epik, a rapper from Cleveland. What made you want to sign Epik?
I love his grind and I love his hustle and I know that he wants his music just as bad as I want it. I just watched him and I wanted to see if he was going to be the kind of person that just wanted to be down with me because I was signed to Aftermath and he wasn’t going to do no work and he was just going to complain. It wasn’t none of that. As soon as he got down with me, he turned his work ethic up even more. He doesn’t sit around and wait for me. It’s easier for me to work with him because it’s like that.
How’s his project coming?
We’re basically about to get started on it. I kind of just got locked in with Marsha and with Detox and with finishing my record. He’s definitely on my album, but as far as his project, I want to sit down with him and take a whole month and just do his whole album with him. He’s getting the things that he loves together and hopefully when I go in with him we’ll do five or six songs. I’m really trying to figure out how to make him a mainstream artist. It’s hard to build a rapper and I’m not going to build it off the fact that he’s white. I have to build it off of something substantial.
You’ve lived in a lot of places and you work with rappers who are from different places. How do you balance all of the regional sounds and styles when you produce for artists?
Honestly, I just go for what I feel. I can’t even lie and say that New York or Atlanta, because I’ve lived in Atlanta also, it’s all affected my music, but it’s just a feeling and if it all works out then I just go with it. I know that my main sound has a lot of the aggressiveness of New York and it has the bounce of a down South and then it has the smoothed-out attack of the West Coast. It’s all blended very well for me and it’s helped my career.
How important is that versatility to you?
I think it’s very important because a lot of people are becoming regional and they only think that it’s about where they’re at and it’s not. There are so many other places doing different things to make them have more mass appeal. I think it’s very important. I don’t think it’s so important to listen to the radio, but listen to world music and stuff outside of your boundaries and see if it affects your music.
What kind of music do you listen to on a daily basis?
On a daily basis, I listen to Earth, Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder and this Brazilian artist named Simone that has some incredible material. I listen to a lot of rock music like System of a Down. I like a lot of the things that are different. I hate listening to the radio. I can’t deal with it.
What’s the next move for Focus?
I’m going to put out this album. Hopefully the people gravitate to it. I’m really looking to put my label in a great place to where I can make this a beneficial place for artists. I’m not trying to gain control of any artist and I’m not trying to get their publishing or any of that. I want to put out great artists and do great music. There’s enough money out here where everybody can be paid and everybody can be in a fair situation. I’m really ready to sit down with someone and formulate a great label. I really think the best bet for me is to go digital. I’ve been talking to a lot of people. I’m really looking to be the first label where artists want to be there and I don’t have to keep them there.
And I’m going to be putting out a couple of mixtapes for my fans. I’m putting one out of 15 instrumentals that people can use. And I’m going to put out a drum sound CD with the actual sounds that are EQ’d the way we use them.