Your biggest hit to your career thus far is Nelly’s “Country Grammar”. How valuable has that song been to your career?
It’s been way important. It started off my whole career. That was my first album that I did. Ever since that it’s just been crazy, like a big rollercoaster. I’ve been meeting people and have just been collabing with artists and producers. It’s just been one big ride since then.
Did you think “Country Grammar” would be as big as it was?
No, no. Actually we were just hoping that that album would do, like, gold, so we could do another record. We never expected it to go as big as it did. That song was out in St. Louis for like a year before it even got picked up through Universal. People out here in St. Louis were loving it but we never expected it to do the numbers that it did.
You followed up “Country Grammar” with “E.I.” and “Ride Wit’ Me”. Those three tracks all have very different and distinct sounds.
I do a lot of music. I do a lot of rock. I do a lot of R&B. I do a lot of hip-hop. I just go off the wall. Every time I go in the studio I like to do something different. The “Ride Wit’ Me” track was an R&B track for a local artist. Nelly told me he wanted that and at the time it was kind of weird because I didn’t know about rappers rapping over R&B-type stuff. Even singing over it wasn’t really heard of at the time. But once he did it and you heard him on top of it, it was dope as shit.
What’s it like working with Nelly and the St. Lunatics?
Yeah. We grew up musically together. Those guys are just so off the wall as well. Nelly does a country record, an R&B record and a hip-hop record as do all of those guys and I do everything. We’re all real versatile when it comes to the music.
How is your relationship with Nelly today?
It’s all good. We rarely see each other because we’re all so busy, but when it’s time to do an album we all get together and I bang out some beats for the album. I see him from time-to-time at his house or at the club.
How involved are you musically with him today?
I’m doing a couple of beats for his record as we speak. Musically, we just get together whenever it’s time to do an album or there’s an artist he wants to work with and he wants to write some lyrics for him. Maybe he’ll use a couple of my beats for that. Plus he has the whole Derty Entertainment, which is all of his artists. He’s not always in the studio, but he’s always willing to jump in and do some stuff. But his schedule is so crazy that it’s tough for us to get down.
Are you happy with the musical direction Nelly and the St. Lunatics have been going in?
Definitely. Everything has been perfect for us. Maybe it hasn’t been perfect, but it’s been really good for us.
You also recently worked with Plies and Tank. How did that come about?
My manager hooked that up. I didn’t get to meet up with Plies. I just sent him out a beat CD and then he would mail me the song. I would do breakdowns on it and then I would send it back to him. Then he got Tank to do the hook and he would send it to me and he would send it back to me.
What other projects are coming up for you?
I did a couple joints on Murphy Lee’s record. I did something with Joss Stone that’s going to be on Randy Jackson’s record. That’s really good. Ali’s stuff turned out really good. There’s the Nelly record that’s going to be coming out. I did some additional production on Avenged Sevenfold’s rock album. I got a few other things out there as well. I got a bunch of new artists that are going to be breaking out with a couple of my beats. It’s getting back to flood the market time.
How does your approach change from working on hip-hop to a band like Avenged Sevenfold?
Avenged Sevenfold are good friends of mine. I met them through Good Charlotte. We have a production team with me, Benji and Joel Madden of Good Charlotte. M. Shadows, the lead singer of Avenged Sevenfold, I met him through those guys. They sent me the stuff and I pretty much laced them.
As far as hip-hop goes, your name doesn’t come up when people talk about producers who have done big songs and you also don’t scream your name all over tracks. Do you enjoy being in the background?
Well, at the time of “Country Grammar”, I was really young. I wasn’t really looking to be out on the party scene and mingling with everybody. I was just concentrating on the Nelly and the St. Lunatic records. I never got a PR rep or did anything like that to get my name known. I was just doing the Nelly stuff and all the other guys’ stuff and it paid off. Those records are really big and I didn’t really have to venture out. I just started out with one artist.
What direction do you want to take your production?
I just want to get bigger whether it’s hip-hop, rock and roll or R&B. If somebody’s working on a record, I want in. I love the music and I listen to it all and I appreciate it all equally. Whatever approach is needed, I take it. I just want in.
Can you take us through the making of a Jay-E beat?
I pretty much just go into the studio and lay down some melodies on the keyboard or I just bang out some drum machine hits like some kicks and stuff like that and I just go at it. I try not to do the same thing twice. Maybe I might use the same drum sounds but I never do the same drum patterns and whatnot and I never do the same melodies. I try to keep everything different and that’s the main thing when I walk into the studio. It’s all about having something new with the music game and being on the edge and doing something creative.
How do you stay on top of your beat game?
I just constantly am trying to outdo myself. As of right now I’m constantly trying to do a bunch of different things, like different styles of music. One day I might go in the studio and do a beat by myself and the next day I might go in with four live musicians. It just depends on the mode I’m in. If I just want to jam out, I’ll just go in there myself and I won’t even pick up the phone and call anybody. Then I can also call some musicians and we can jam or whatever. I think that has to do with me making on-the-edge beats and creativity. I get different aspects from different musicians.
What equipment do you use?
I have over hundreds of keyboards and synths and stuff like that. I have probably 10 drum machines from the MPC 60 all the way up to the 4000. My drum machine of choice right now is the MPC 4000 and my keyboard of choice right now is I’m doing a lot of soft synths, which is inside of the computer. So I’m using a lot of that stuff right now. I think that’s the wave of the future right there, everybody on their computers. I think a lot of it has to do with how easy it is and how convenient it is. Instead of going into the studio you can bang out a beat on your laptop and the sounds are amazing.
Is the criticism producers receive for using a computer to make beats justified?
Computers are pretty much the wave of the future. I like to do things differently and go to my old stuff but a lot of these companies are trying to do soft synths because it’s so convenient for producers to use. I like to do different stuff. As far as people hating on the soft synth world, I don’t know why they would. Maybe it’s the sound they don’t like or the convenience they don’t like. But I just feel that if you are a producer, you should be able to bang out a beat on anything.
What’s the next move for Jay-E?
The next move for me right now is that I’m actually back in the studio making more beats. I’ve been DJ’ing a lot. That’s what I did before I met Nelly and the St. Lunatics. I used to DJ house parties. Now the whole DJ game is crazy because people are getting paid like rock stars just to DJ parties. I went back to DJing and went back to my roots where I’m rocking a party and seeing what everybody is feeling. I’m taking that aspect to my music and combining it to see what people really like.