You’ve been on the grind for a long time and your name has always come up as a dope producer. Do you feel like the hard work is finally paying off?
Honestly I don’t. Not yet. I’m still putting out a lot of free music so nothing’s really paying off but I do want people to enjoy the music before my time is up. We all know that these producers are getting younger and the sounds are getting different and I’m pretty much old school. I really do love getting my music out there and I’ve been really blessed to see that people are gravitating towards what I’m doing.
Why do you think it’s taking so long to get the respect you deserve in the game?
It’s not to discredit anybody in the industry but I’m not doing it like anyone else. I’m not willing to work with an artist I don’t believe in and I’m not willing to sit in someone’s videos and you don’t see me at all the parties and stuff like that. For some reason that’s the stuff that’s so important to people’s careers right now instead of just the music like it used to be. I just think that a lot of people don’t even know what I really look like. That’s been a real issue. I’m starting nowadays to get my face out there a little more.
When you mention producers getting younger and coming in with new sounds, do you think it’s possible for your sound to get outdated?
Yes I do. I’m not trying to discredit anybody but if you really look at it, the sound is getting more simple and they’re using less instrumentation and more drums. I like using a lot of instruments and having a lot of changes. A lot of these kids, they don’t want to hear that. They want it to just hit hard throughout the whole song.
Why do you think the beats have changed like that?
I just think it’s honestly because a lot of the new kids don’t know what it is to be a producer. A lot of them are beat makers and they might be great beat makers but they’re not producers. I can’t tell them about modulation or transposing or stuff like that. They don’t understand what all of that stuff means. They just know that they can turn on their Fruity Loops and turn around and do this. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a sign of the times. These kids are getting younger and they know how to make beats on their computer.
When you come across young producers, do you find that they’re oftentimes more impatient than the veteran producers?
You said it. They are impatient. There’s a few of them that hit me up and act like I owe them something and I have to really put them in their place. I don’t have to be accessible to anybody. You can’t turn around and hit P. Diddy on his MySpace or Dr. Dre on his MySpace. I would like to think that I could get as much respect as them. I might not be as inaccessible as they are but I believe I deserve the same amount of respect. A lot of these kids want that respect now. “Sign me. I’m the hottest thing out.” What makes them hot is that they’re not signed. (laughs) That’s the rational thinking.
What do you normally tell young producers when they hit you?
Every time that I do check out a producer, I try to keep up with him. I’ll give him my personal email and I’ll let them send me stuff. If they want me to help them place it I can send it out to a Sha Money or someone else because when it comes down to it I would rather know the new producers that are coming up than not know them at all. I’m not looking for any percentages or anything like that. I’m just looking to build relationships.
I don’t hear stories like that on a regular basis.
The truth of the matter is that I really like to set myself apart from a lot of the cats that are looking to get payola and all that stuff. When it comes down to it, I want to hear good music, of course, but I want to know these new kids coming up. I want to mentor them and I want to matter. I want to matter past my time. When kids hit me to ask questions, that shows that I still matter and I’m still relevant.
What can the great producers of today, like you, Just Blaze and Dre, do to not allow your sound to get outdated?
Reinvent. When it comes down to it, Dre hasn’t saturated the market like Scott Storch did when he was hot and he saturated the market with his sound. Timbaland is one of the greatest producers of our generation and he came with a new sound with Aaliyah and Ginuwine and then he reinvented himself with a crazy ‘80s-type pop sound. He reinvented himself and took over the industry again. You have to keep your trademark sound in there and just reinvent yourself.
Do you find yourself dumbing down your production today?
I can’t lie. I’ve been finding myself dumbing it down a lot. I noticed that when I put too much in a beat the people didn’t gravitate to it and the only people that really hear and understand what I’m doing are the other producers and I get more respect from the cats in the industry than I do from the people that I’m trying to work with.
I feel the same way with some of the interviews I do and it just seems like the majority of people don’t read too deeply into things today.
You’re right. It’s dope that you understand that there are bigger and better stories but these kids don’t want to hear that. If you look at what’s selling in rap today, Bow Wow does a song with Soulja Boy and now all of a sudden they have beef. They know that controversy is what sells raps. It’s unfortunate and back in the day people used to battle and it’s unfortunate that these kids don’t even understand how to have battles without having beef. It’s a desensitized generation we’re in, man. (laughs)
Do you ever see yourself getting fed up to the point where it’s just not worth it anymore?
Yeah. I’m already there. I’m already there. And if it was up to me I wouldn’t be doing hip-hop only because as much as people say that they respect me and they like hearing my music and so on and so forth, they don’t like to pay me what I’m worth. They don’t like to mention me when they do their interviews. There’s so much stuff where they don’t give you the respect that you deserve that you almost get to the point where you want to turn your back on them but I got love for this too.
Does it ever get frustrated when your name is mentioned and it seems like “Dr. Dre” and “Aftermath” have to follow?
Always. I never wanted to be in Dre’s shadow but when you’re in the presence of somebody that great, it’s going to happen regardless. There’s nothing you can do about it.
You’ve been doing a lot of work on Detox. Where exactly are you guys with Detox right now?
I don’t know, epically with all of the leaks that have been going on with the album. We’re probably going to go back to making our moves top secret until it’s ready to blow. One of the things that I loved about a Dr. Dre album was that I got it as a whole. Nothing leaked and I was totally surprised from the beginning to end. With the internet and everybody wondering about the album, it’s kind of setting us back. I don’t know. I’m really just hoping that the album still comes out.
Is there a chance that it might not come out?
I think Dre knows that hip-hop needs this record but if he can’t get it out without the support of the fans and these people are trying to find his music without him on it, they don’t understand that we’re doing this for them. I’ll find out where Dre’s head is at when I see him and hopefully we’ll get this album out this year.
Do you know how songs like “Topless” leaked?
No, I don’t. I’ve been in Atlanta for the past six months so I have no idea.
Was “Topless” meant to be on Detox?
I know that a lot of the stuff that Dre has been doing as far as those songs, these are songs that are contenders for the album, most definitely, but nothing is written in stone until he cuts the record. Until his voice is on the record there’s nothing that’s 100%.
Is there a chance that you won’t be on Detox?
There’s always that chance. There’s always that chance and that’s why we work our butts off, me and Khalil and Denaun Porter and Hi-Tek. We all work very hard because we don’t want to be overlooked and he doesn’t want to hear the same thing that we’ve been doing since he got us. And he doesn’t want us to do what he’s already done. He keeps us very new and he keeps us on our a-game at all times and that’s something that’s great about him. He doesn’t just accept what we do. I could give him my sound all day long but he wants better.
Back in ’99 and 2000, everything Dre and Eminem did had fans going crazy. Can they capture that same kind of excitement in 2009?
I think that we’re dealing with a different kind of teenager and we’re dealing with a different kind of young adult and when it comes down to it these kids will watch you for a certain amount of time and then they’ll move on to something else. These kids aren’t really diehard fans. Hopefully we get to cater to the audience that grew up with us but I don’t think it’s going to be what it was before. It’s kind of depressing but the record sales have changed.
I remember when I was in high school there were a ton of kids with bleached hair and could quote any song on The Slim Shady LP or 2001. Do you think these kids will think Eminem is as cool as past generations did?
No. That’s another thing. A lot of the kids from this generation, they think he’s cool but at the same time they don’t really have respect for pioneers. They don’t have respect for their elders. A lot of these kids are not looking at the music like we did. They’re not looking at them like we did. They’re looking at “this is the hot song” and that’s what it is.
With sales being down and the game having changed the way it has, how do you think Detox can be a successful project?
I think it’s going to be successful and a great album because of the content. We’re not putting out hype and that’s another thing. This album has so much hype about Dr. Dre coming out with the most anticipated record in the world and all that. We just have to take it as it is – A Dr. Dre album and not the greatest album of all time. We just have to make the great music and I think that’s going to make it a great album and make everybody turn around and gravitate to it. If you look at it, a lot of these artists are coming out with singles and they can’t put out a great album. That’s what we need to do. We need to put out a great album and I know that’s what Dre wants to do. He doesn’t want to put out a single that’s hot and then the album doesn’t fly. Dre’s different from that. That’s what makes us different from everybody else. We’re going for a great body of work.
Dre has always been a huge trendsetter in music from his N.W.A. days to his solo albums like The Chronic and 2001. What kind of trends can Detox set?
I think Dre’s going to teach people how to grow up. I think he’s going to show them that it’s not at all uncool to grow up and show that you can still maintain your swagger, if you want to use that word, which I really can’t stand but it is a word that they can understand. You can be grown and still be growing. You don’t have to be using the b-word all the time and you don’t have to turn around and curse. You can actually relay your thoughts and do all that in a mature way. I think Dre is being mature and seeing as much as he’s seen and doing as much as he’s done, I think Dre’s gonna be a leader now. This is gonna be something totally different.
Jay-Z tried to show that growing up was cool with Kingdom Come and “30 is the New 20.” Can Dre do a better job than Jay did?
If you look at that song, that’s a song that they did together. It still wasn’t as grown as I think that he can be because it was a 30 year-old telling me that he was the new 20. It’s still a mature guy telling me that he has to be young. If you turn around and look at it, Dre being the age that he is, he’s not going to turn around and say that his age is the new young age. He’s going to tell you his age and tell you that he’s still ahead of his time. I think that you can do it that way.
How do you promote maturity in music while still having it be cool and not preachy?
Let’s be real. If you’re going to do something like that, you have to be strong with who you are from the get-go. You’re not going to make anybody believe you if you’re weak about who you are in the first place. Now I know how old I am. I’m 36. I’m not going to tell nobody anything different. But when it comes down to it I don’t rap about Pixy Stix and effing my man’s girls and popping bottles in the club. I got real things on my plate. You can put that in songs and make it marketable without selling your soul. You can make your songs marketable and have songs with substance and the kids will gravitate towards it. They don’t want to hear 50 songs about a chain and 50 songs about money that you have that they don’t have and you’re throwing it up in the sky every time. They don’t want to hear that all the time.
When you make beats, how do you decide what you keep for yourself versus what you put on the table for Dre and the Aftermath family?
Well, everything that I do goes through Aftermath and Interscope and it stays there for about a month or a month and a half until they pass on it. And when it comes down to it, if I feel very strongly about something, I’m going to use it, whether it’s old or if I have to revamp it just to prove my point that I knew what I was talking about. No matter what, all of my beats and all of my songs, it goes through Aftermath before anything.
So if you make a beat for your artist Kida, it has to go through the Aftermath pipeline first?
Yes. That’s why I’m grateful I have the back catalogue that I do. I’ll send him the beat that I want to do with him. When it comes down to working on his album, that would have to happen after I finish working on Detox.
If your beats have to go through such a long process before they can get used, how do you keep them from sounding dated?
Well, to be honest, working with Aftermath, if you listen to our sound, our sound doesn’t get so much dated. If you look at the big beats and the big orchestra strings and stuff like that, there’s nobody that’s saturating the market like that so it doesn’t really get dated. We do it and then we disappear. It doesn’t get dated and it doesn’t get too much where people are tired of it. Dre makes sure that we’re ahead of our games and that we’re bringing our a-game so that our stuff doesn’t get dated because he never knows when he’s going to put something out. It just kind of works itself out.
Kida has gotten a lot of love from HipHopGame’s audience. What are your plans for him?
I’m going for a little more with the branding of his name and the branding of his likeness. 95% of the world is rappers and I need him to stand out. When I talked to him today I told him that I want his subject matter and everything to be grown and sexy. I don’t want him to be blending in with the rest of these kids because I really do respect him and I really am a fan of his work. I told him I don’t want him to be like everyone else. I want him to be a leader, not a follower. We’re grooming him and whatever he doesn’t have, we’re going to make sure he has it before he hits the mainstream.
What drew you to work with Kida initially?
His conviction. When he raps, no matter what he says, it sounds like he believes it and that’s a hard thing to find when you listen to a lot of these rappers. A lot of these kids are talking about money they don’t have and things that they never had. When Kida raps I believe everything he says and his drive and grind is crazy. All of that was just a great package for me.
Is Kida your main focus outside of Aftermath?
Right now my main focus, along with Kida, is everybody that’s going to be on my roster. I’m really, really happy to say that I’m moving forward on my label. My endeavor has been A-Fam for a long time. I’m building it and once everybody turns around and puts their name on the dotted line, you’ll see that there’s four or five great artists that we’re about to bumrush the industry with. We’re going to do so much great stuff.
I remember you working with this kid Epik from Cleveland a long time ago. Is he still in the game today?
Big shout out to Epik because he’s been doing a lot of stuff. He just recently became a father and you know, our big motto for A-Fam has been family first and I know that for him, he’s definitely right now doing different things being a father. It’s been kind of hard getting interest behind Epik due to the fact that everybody thinks that he wants to be like Eminem and it’s just because of his skin tone and it’s the furthest thing from the truth. Epik has his own way of looking at things and his own way of attacking things. I really hope that we can do something because Epik has been with me for a long time and I feel like I have let him down but at the same time he was in a place where he was and it’s not really easy to break a record for any rapper unless you want to sell out or you belong to a crew like Aftermath or something like that.
Just to use Epik as an example, I haven’t gotten any music from him in a long time. I know you said you feel like you let him down, but at what point do rappers need to take their own career into their hands?
When it comes down to rappers, they have to take their whole career into their own hands and when they come to me and they work with me, the only thing I can really do for them is be an advocate and speak about him and give him beats. That’s all I can really do. I can’t make them be hotter rappers or anything like that. I guess when it comes down to it Epik has taken his career than a lot of rappers have but he’s still gotta put that stamp on it and it still hasn’t been put on yet.
Will you do more work with Fokis?
Yeah. That’s my boy. Anytime he needs me I’m there. Anybody that’s not signed and they come to me with a cool attitude, yeah, you’re going to see me working with a lot of these kids putting out a lot of free music. Yeah. There’s still more to come this year.
You and Wyldfyer have been working together recently. How did you two link up?
(laughs) The thing about Wyldfyer is that when I first came across him, he was a part of a group that wanted to be signed to my label. I met Wyldfyer as part of the group and nothing ever really happened. We never really formed a business but he would check in with me from time to time and then when he started producing and I was reading his interview, which was actually a blessing to see, I saw that I was one of his mentors and I had no idea. His production is amazing and we actually re-crossed paths. I told him I would love for him to be a part of the company and he was like, ‘Hell yeah.’
It seems like rappers form alliances with each other easier than producers can with other producers. Do you think that’s true?
I don’t think it is. I think if everybody checks their ego at the door, we’ll be fine. I don’t ever take anything away from Wyldfyer and I don’t ever put my name on anything. If I ever do anything to his beat, that’s still his beat and I don’t think that just because I turn around and I put a damn clap in it I should get credit. I really do believe that he is the producer and that’s why everybody’s able to work together in my company. I don’t try to outshine anybody. I want them to shine. I don’t want to be bigger than them. I want them to be bigger than me. Wyldfyer is amazing. What he did with the Ludacris record, that has nothing to do with me. I’m not going to take that away. I’m working with him and another kid named Ceize. He’s an amazing producer out of L.A. Even Don Cannon and I, we turn around and send each other beats just to keep each other on our toes. That’s where we’re at.
You’ve also done some good work with Marsha Ambrosious from Floetry. Are you still working with her?
Marsha’s still putting together her debut album. What we did was we basically kept the excitement going about her name and about her alliance with Aftermath. It really did even more than I expected it to do. I didn’t realize that they wanted to hear what we were doing that bad. I knew they wanted to hear her but I thought they wanted to really hear her and Dre. She’s amazing. She’s a damn icon to me and when it comes down to it her music should be out now. There should be no wait. But she’s working on her album now and I really hope that it comes out this year.
Everyone says Dr. Dre is a perfectionist and that’s why projects take so long to come out on Aftermath. Is that the only reason?
The honest to God truth is that Dre is a perfectionist. He will listen to tracks that he’s already mixed and he will listen to it and scrutinize his own mixes. His mixes to the normal ear are perfect but Dre can hear if a high-hat is off or if the treble is wrong. He’ll call the whole mix off and go back and redo it. And that's how Dre is. That’s what makes Dre Dre. It definitely is a gift and a curse because the gift is that we get to be around somebody as meticulous as that and as close to perfection as far as production is concerned but at the same time we have to wait and see. We have to wait and see what we’re going to put out and how it’s going to go. That’s all.
What’s the next move for Focus?
Right now I’m about to fly out to L.A. tonight and go sit down and talk to Dre and find out exactly what’s gonna happen with Detox and find out exactly what we’re going to do and when we’re gonna do it. Pretty much I’m really just trying to build my name and build my company’s name and brand my company’s name so I can build my artists. I’m working on great music so I can get my legs under me. A lot of people know me as Focus from Aftermath and not as Focus the producer or Focus from A-Fam.
I also have more “Homages” coming. I did one for Dilla and I’m doing one for Dre and one for Daz and Soopafly. I have one coming in March for Pete Rock. That’s what I’m working on. And I just finished an album with Omar Gooding. It’s called Big Business.