I’m good, man. I’m good. I’m feeling a little under the weather. The weather’s kind of crazy right now. Other than that, I’m chilling, man.
You produced 4 tracks on Little Brother’s new album Getback. What was it like working with Little Brother on Getback?
It was good. To be honest with you, it was simple, really. I wasn’t in the studio with them when they recorded the songs, but it was just a pleasure to be on their album. First and foremost, I’ve always been a Little Brother fan since day one. Just them having me on the album and fucking with me and having so many of my tracks on it, it was definitely a good look. It was good, man. We just do what we do. I made some tracks that I kind of pictured them on and sent them over to them. They picked a few, recorded them and sent them back. The rest is pretty much history. That’s how it happened.
This is the first time Little Brother has ever had to look for outside producers. Were you trying to give Little Brother beats that would fit their older work or were you trying to take them in a new direction?
To be honest with you, on my part, I was trying to hit them off with something different. I really didn’t want to sit there in the studio and make some tracks that I could hear Little Brother on. I actually did the complete opposite. Little Brother has worked with 9th for the last two albums and they wanted to go in a direction where they wanted to do something different. I wasn’t sitting there doing “9th Wonder-esque” beats or whatever. I wasn’t doing the soul chops. I put my own twist to it and tried to give them my own flavor with it and it worked. The chemistry was definitely there. I was definitely excited when I heard they were messing around with Nottz, Hi-Tek and Denaun Porter. I was already familiar with their sound as a producer and I just went for it. That was it.
Anybody that produces for Little Brother will draw 9th Wonder comparisons. Has that happened for you yet?
You know what? I used to get that, believe it or not. People used to rag on me and say, “Oh, Illmind, this kid is like a 9th Wonder wannabe. He sounds like 9th Wonder with the soul chops and everything.” At the end of the day, what people don’t know is that I’m cool with 9th. We trade beats once in awhile and we chat on AIM once in awhile. People don’t realize that we actually know each other. People just make the comparisons. I feel like I have a completely different sound from 9th. But everyone has their opinions and it’s all good.
Can you take us through the making of the beat for Little Brother’s “Good Clothes”?
That was a beat that I did in late 2004, early in 2005. That’s actually a Rolls Royce sample. I was just digging through and I heard it. I didn’t have Little Brother in mind when I did that beat. I heard the horns and the idea came to me. I sat down and I laid it down. It’s really not that complex of a beat and it’s really not that crazy. I just tweaked up the drums and chopped it up a little bit. The melody was there already. Those horns, they spoke to me. I laid it down and I actually had an R&B joint in mind for that. I thought that was going to be an R&B hit, but it ended up being “Good Clothes” for Little Brother three years later and I couldn’t have asked for anything else. They definitely killed it and brought that beat to a whole ‘nother level. I never envisioned that for that beat and I’m definitely happy about it.
The 4 tracks you produced on Getback all sound different from each other. Was that a conscious decision?
Yeah. All four of those beats are fairly different from each other, but since the very beginning since I started making beats years ago, that was always the approach that I took with my beats. I never wanted to have just that one type of vibe and that one type of sound where every beat is just the same vibe every time and you get the same feeling off of every beat. When I approach my beats, I try to do something that I haven’t done before. The beat that I’m making now is going to be different from the last beat that I made. I’m always going to use different techniques to tweak my drums and samples and EQ everything. I think it was a pretty good representation of what I can do. There were no samples in the introduction except in the intro. It was a sample from Rare Earth, a ‘70s rock band. A lot of people thought those were samples playing throughout but they weren’t. I played those hi-hats live and EQ’d them to make them sound like that. That’s how I approach my non-sample beats and that’s a good representation of that.
“Can’t Win For Losing” was pretty much a sample chop. I don’t like to mess with vocal samples but that one sounded good to me and I liked what they were saying, so I messed with that. The last track, “That Ain’t Love”, that was actually a track that I did recently. I did that earlier this year and I had Little Brother in mind for that. I heard the sample and I wanted to bring it back to some slow shit. I guess the 9th Wonder comparisons are valid in that aspect because I had Little Brother’s classic sound in mind when I made that track. I guess that would be the most “9th Wonder-esque” beat that I have. It came out cool and they laid it down and that track I’m definitely happy about. That track seems to be one of the favorites out of the four tracks that I did.
Do you see your production becoming more non-sample based?
It’s funny that you mention that, because I haven’t sampled anything in the past year since I got down with D. Prosper and Sha Money over at Money Management. They just kind of brought my beats to a whole different level. Before I used to be sample-heavy and I used to sample everything. I was light on the keyboards. Really, in the past year, all my beats have been on the keyboard and with live instrumentation and experimenting, but I still try to keep that sample feel in it. I definitely see myself in the future doing more live instrumentation and working with musicians, but I’m never going to stop sampling. It’s going to be a combination of both, definitely. And that’s what I’m doing now.
How is Sha Money influencing your production right now?
A pretty big deal. Ever since I got down with Money Management, I did my research and I went back and I started listening to a lot of the G-Unit stuff. Before that, I was always a fan and I always thought their beats were banging. Those guys have an incredible ear for good beats. I was talking to Sha and they played beats for me. I talked to the other producers on the Money Management roster and did my homework and saw what direction they were going in. I definitely got motivation from that. Sha has definitely influenced my sound as of late, but I’m still keeping that funkiness and that grittiness in my beats. It’s a new direction for me but I like it.
Who do you want to work with next that you haven’t been able to work with yet?
To be honest with you, I couldn’t ask for more. I get down with Sha and he plays music for me of the bigger-named artists from G-Unit and others. At the same time, I’m working with some underground cats and people that you have probably never heard of. That’s really why I started doing this. At the end of the day, I just really want to make good music.
A good example of that is this crew I’m down with, Fortilive. It’s me, Mushmouf and Slo-Mo. These guys are two of the illest MCs I’ve ever worked with. We’re done with our album. We’re putting out a free mixtape for download online soon. I’m also working with Naturel. He’s an MC from Maryland. Definitely look out for him. There’s a balance and I just like to work that out. I’ll do pop records and at the same time, I’ll work with some of the most underground cats out there. I’m still messing with El Da Sensei and Akrobatik and some of the most underground artists out there. I try not to limit and pigeonhole myself. I’m just trying to do me.
You’re also working with Diamond D on his new record. How’s that coming?
That record is crazy. Shout out to Diamond. We all know that he’s a legend. That really humbled me. It was a real honor to be able to work with him. He was feeling my beats. I did Beat Society out in Atlanta about a year ago. It was me, Don Cannon, Nottz and Focus from Aftermath. Diamond D was in the building, just hanging out and I guess the shit I played really hit him. We connected and gave each other our numbers. A few months later we got down in New York. I sent him some beats, he picked a beat and rhymed over it. It definitely came out crazy. It’s definitely a pleasure to be able to work with Diamond D. I grew up listening to him and I never dreamt in a million years that I would be able to be on his solo album. It’s crazy.
You’re also working on Phife Dawg’s album. How’s that coming?
Big shout out to Phife. I haven’t spoken to him in awhile, but I definitely want to send my prayers out to him and his family and wish that he gets better. A few years ago I sent him some stuff and he worked on some stuff. We did a track. We actually recorded a track with Kay from Plexis. We did a track called “Down Syndrome” for his album. I’m sure Phife has been doing his thing and has been busy with some stuff. It’s definitely a pleasure to have been able to work with Phife and hopefully we can get down on some stuff in the near future.
You’ve worked with Supastition for awhile. How have the two of you impacted each other’s careers?
I actually just spoke to him last night about working on some new stuff. Every time me and Supastition get down, the songs just come out crazy. Supastition has this thing about him where he just sounds so good over my beats. I know he released his Leave of Absence EP online recently and he’s planning on working on another album. Not to speak on it too much, but me and Supastition sometime, definitely in the future, are going to be doing a whole album together. We’re really not sure of the concept on it yet, but he’s picked out a few beats and definitely look out for it in the near future. Hopefully in ’08.
You released a great album with the Pacifics a year ago. Do you consider that project a success today?
Definitely. I consider that project a huge success. I flew out to Chicago for three or four days over the weekend and we banged that whole thing out. It was one of the funniest experiences I’ve ever had out there. It was a good idea and musically, I think we hit it. They had the idea about the album and I tried my best to bring it musically to make it happen. We’re definitely happy about how it came out on the creative side. Big shout out to All Natural for backing the project and putting it out. That’s one of my favorite projects to date that I’ve worked on. I’m definitely happy with how that whole situation worked out.
You’ve also worked with 50 Cent on “Make a Movie”. How did that happen?
Last year, in May or June, the former Senior A&R of G-Unit, D. Prosper, hit me up and he told me he heard some of my beats and that he was interested in purchasing some for the camp. What I did was I sent him 20 or 30 beats and he hit me up a couple of days later, telling me he was fucking with me and wanted to sign me to be an in-house producer. It just shocked me, man. I was real surprised but at the same time, I was real excited. For me, that was definitely a big deal to have that type of position. It was all D. Prosper. I really have to give D a lot of credit for that. He really looked out for me on that and he has a lot of confidence in my sound. A few weeks later I met up with him and Sha Money in person and we spoke about my situation and we’ve been down ever since. It really was life-changing, to be honest with you, because before that, I didn’t know what direction I was going in, financially or musically. It was a big opportunity for me to get down with them.
How much of where you are today is related to your talent versus your hard work and grind?
There’s really a balance. There’s got to be both. Nowadays, there are so many producers out there who have hot beats and nowadays, it seems like anybody can make some hot shit. Granted, there is a lot of hot garbage out there, but there are a lot of cats with fire that aren’t getting placements right now. It’s all about knowing the right people. There’s definitely a balance to it all. I feel like in my situation, I really got lucky and timing was really a factor in a lot of things throughout my career. It’s also about building relationships with people and knowing the business side of the game and making hot beats in between that. To me, it’s a winning formula. You work hard and you stay consistent and it will work out for you, one way or another.
Are you ever surprised by the position you’re in in the game right now?
Yeah, definitely, all the time. Every day almost, when I’m in the lab creating, I just sit there and I think to myself how much of a blessing everything has been and how all of the hard work that I’ve put in over the years is paying off. It bugs me out because I know there are a lot of people out there who would aspire to be in the position that I’m in, but at the same time, I’m nowhere near where I want to be. I’m just getting started with everything. I definitely appreciate everything that’s been happening for me and all the success that’s come with it. It’s just motivation for me. I wake up every morning and I think about it and it keeps me going and it keeps me motivated to stay in the game and it motivates me to keep on pushing myself further and further. I know I’m not stopping anytime soon and things are really looking up. I’m definitely in a good position.
You also produced Skyzoo’s biggest single to date in “The Paper”. How far do you think Skyzoo’s “The Paper” can go?
That song is crazy to me. I love what Skyzoo did to it. That beat, we really just went for some hot shit. We didn’t go in there thinking, ‘All right, let’s make a club song’ or ‘Let’s make a real gutter street song.’ We just went in there and had fun with it and it came out crazy. I can definitely hear that song being in the clubs. A lot of people are telling us that it’s a crossover song and that it has a lot of appeal to it. I definitely think that’s true with the subject matter, the paper. It’s definitely a subject matter that people can relate to. We’re not talking about how we’re flossing and how we’re rich because we’re not. That’s definitely one of my favorite Skyzoo songs and it’s different for both of us. I’ve never released anything sounding like that. People couldn’t believe that I did it and that’s a good thing. And people were hating on Sky at first. But at the end of the day, we put out something different and it worked out.
What made you want to work with Skyzoo initially?
Initially I heard of Skyzoo through Khrysis. Khrysis was chatting with me online and telling me about Skyzoo. If it wasn’t for Khrysis, I wouldn’t be working with Skyzoo or maybe I would down the line, eventually. Khrysis sent me some of his songs that he did with them and they were crazy. I was immediately impressed. I was like, ‘Who is this dude Skyzoo?’ I found out he was from New York. After I heard that, I thought to myself that I definitely needed to get down with him. So I sent Khrysis some beats and he sent them onto Skyzoo and from there we definitely built a relationship together. Skyzoo was definitely feeling my beats and I was definitely feeling him as an MC. We got together and we did some tracks and that was it. That’s how it came about. Ever since then we’ve just been banging them out and it’s been great.
How far do you think can Skyzoo go in the game?
I think Skyzoo has the potential to be one of the biggest MCs in the game. Skyzoo’s hustle and Skyzoo’s business is on point. His team is on point and his hustle is on point. He’s on point. Skyzoo is definitely doing it right now. People might think he has a long way to go, but he’s there, to me. He’s right there. He’s a few steps away from being real big. And I knew that from day one. When I heard his joints and when Khrysis sent me his joints, I knew he would be big. Five years later, he’s working with Primo and getting shout outs from Kweli. He’s big in the South too. He’s not going anywhere soon. Big shout out to Sky. He’s definitely doing his thing.
Can you take us through the making of an Illmind beat?
Everything starts off with a feeling. I have to really be inspired somehow to sit there in front of the ASR and start making something. Whether it’s digging through samples or listening to some old records or listening to other music or from watching a movie…It’s anything, really. I get inspiration from anywhere. I’ll have a melody in my head and I’ll lay that down or I’ll lay down some keyboard riffs and I’ll chop myself up. I’m treating my live piano playing as a sample. I will just lay down some keys and chop them up and put them into the ASR 10 and just import some drums and start banging them out. It’s all trial and error in a sort of way. You experiment with different melodies and different drum sounds. It’s all really in my head. After that, it just comes down to rocking out with what I’ve got and seeing how the finished product sounds. The way I try to approach my beats nowadays is I try to make every beat a keeper. I used to make 6-8 beats a day but now I’m doing 1-3 beats a day but I’ll put a lot into each beat that I do so that I get that quality instead of quantity. That’s really my process right there, without giving away too much.
What equipment do you use?
I got the ASR 10, the Akai S20, the Motif Rack, the Akai S1000 and a few other sound modules and Pro Tools. That’s pretty much my setup. It’s nothing too crazy. I’ve been using that setup for years and I don’t think I’ll be changing that anytime soon.
Who do you want to work with next?
Pretty much the usual suspects. I would love to work with Nas and Jay-Z. One of the MCs I’ve always wanted to work with that I still aspire to work with to this day is Black Thought of the Roots. He’s in my top three list of favorite MCs. To work with Black Thought would definitely be blessing to me. And Common too. Common is crazy. The top two would probably be Black Thought and Common.
What’s the next move for Illmind?
The next move is just grinding and trying to make the best music that I can. I’m just trying to be out there, man. One day I really want to be that big producer and that household name that everybody goes to. Right now I’m working on the Fortilive mixtape and we got the album coming soon. I’m working with Naturel. Big shout out to Fuzion Entertainment. I got that and I’m still working with Little Brother and Big Pooh on his solo album. And there’s all the stuff I’ve been doing with Sha Money. I don’t want to speak too early on that, but things are looking good. So definitely look out for a nice handful of music from Illmind in ’08.
And big shout out to Completion, there another group I’m working with in New Jersey. I just want there to be a balance out there with everything. If I ever have a single with 50, I want you to be able to check out Naturel too. I want to have that balance between the commercial and the underground and have those crazy records out there that people appreciate.
I’m also working with Apl D Ap from the Black Eyed Peas on his solo album, which is coming in ’08. I’m keeping it moving. The music won’t stop. I’m definitely excited about everything coming up.
What advice would you offer to up-and-coming producers?
If you’re passionate about the music and you really want to make it, don’t give up and don’t let anybody stop you from your dreams. There are a lot of producers out there doing it but if you’re making good music, something good will come of it at the end of the day. And at the end of the day, these up-and-coming producers have to know that it’s a harsh business and you really have to know the ins and outs of how everything works and happens. Do your research and read a book and make beats every day. Stick with it and try to keep up with everything. Try to stay up on everything because it gets harder and harder every year to make it in the business. Just stay at it and you’ll get somewhere.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Just look out for Illmind. I’m putting a lot of work in in ’08. It’s going to be crazy. Please, please look out for my group Fortilive with Mushmouf and Slo-Mo. Look out for our shit because we’re coming. Look out for Naturel. And I definitely want to shout out Missing Linx Music, an independent publishing company. They’re definitely doing their thing. Shout out to everybody I’ve been working with. It’s been a great ride so far and I’m just getting started. Just watch out for my name because I’m coming.
Photo: Mark Hartman