Everything’s good. I’m feeling great. I’m a little under the weather, but besides that, I’m great. Nas’ album is out and people were feeling those tracks on HipHopGame. I turn the radio on and they’re blasting the joints I did on Hot97 and Power105. I feel good.
Are you happy with how Nas’ Hip-Hop Is Dead came out?
I’m loving it. I love how the album came out as a whole. I’m loving being able to see a title like Hip-Hop Is Dead on the Top 200 list and sitting on top of the Billboard. That’s crazy.
You did the first track, “Money Over Bullshit.” What did you want to give people with that beat?
Nas called me up at the last minute. He was like, Yo, L, I need something real hard. I need something real, real hard. I need more street stuff. There’s not enough street stuff on it. I called up Wildfyer, who I work with, and we banged out that joint. I was like, Yo, I got something for you. I came back to the studio and at first, what happened is that I did three remixes for the Dre beat with Game on it, “Hustlers,” because we thought that record wasn’t going to make the album. We did three remixes because we loved that track, but finally Dre responded back and said he was going to mix it and send it through the next day. We were like, Phew, because I really liked that record. That’s really kind of hard to remix a Dre record. We did like three different versions and we needed something hard to start the joint.
When I played the beat for “Money Over Bullshit,” Nas said he had to go in on that. He said he needed something street, hip-hop and dark. If you know me, I was always one of those producers throughout my career who made great album joints that were hard. Besides the club records I made, I made a lot of great street records that everybody knows.
You had live instrumentation on “You Can’t Kill Me.” How was it making that beat?
Me and Al West have always worked together. We worked together a lot on Nas’ I Am album. Working with him here was just like a reunion. It’s always fun when me and Al West are in the studio. We were adding stuff and playing around with it. Nas had already two-tracked it so we had to go in and change it. It’s always fun and the energy is always there because we’re feeling the same things. We just go back and forth on it, asking if we should add something or change something else. That was a no-brainer getting that track done.
How does live instrumentation help your music?
I always used live instrumentation because when I was down with the Trackmasters, I sampled a whole bunch. They showed me what live instruments can do for a track. Just being around them for almost half a decade just brought out the whole track, the whole big sound that you didn’t even know was in the track. If you play a live sample on top of the track, it just brings the whole feel out and it’s just incredible. Being around them and watching how they add live instrumentation to the track just makes the track sound so much bigger and better.
People used to always say, “They just sampled and they don’t know what they’re doing.” Nah, those dudes are in there adding stuff you didn’t even know you could add. Using live instruments definitely makes it sound good, but you have to have the right guys playing the live instruments. You can’t just get with a keyboard player or a bass player. They have to know what the vibe is and how to pick out the right sound to use. Me and Al always have a great time with that.
When you made the beat for “Black Republican,” did you see Nas and Jay getting on it?
You know what? I didn’t really see Jay and Nas on the track, but I did hear it being a big track like that. I didn’t really see Jay on it. That’s wasn’t my vision to put him on the track. I wasn’t one of those producers trying to submit tracks for Nas and Jay. I know when Nas thinks that’s the right track, he’ll definitely bring it to the forefront. I was one of the dudes that was just giving Nas beats, but I did hear it being a big, big record because it was a big sounding-type sample. I wasn’t looking at it like, Yo, this is going to be the joint with him and Jay.
I gave it to Nas and he was writing to the beat and some of my homies came to the studio. We were just talking and vibing and we talked about what was going on. Then Nas got a quick idea and he just started writing. He said, “Oh, shit, I have a fucking idea for a story.” Then he wrote a whole verse and did the hook. Then he kicked it to me while the beat was playing. I was like, That’s dope, yo, lay it down. He said he couldn’t until the story finished. The next day, he said he was going to be in the studio early. I couldn’t make it early because I had some things I had to take care of with my family. I was picking my kids up and going over their homework and I got to the studio later that night. I got to the studio probably around 8:30. I was coming from Long Island. I get to the studio around 8:30 and he was already done. The track wasn’t even up. He was working on something else, and there was an empty bottle of Petrone. I was like, Damn! The Petrone is gone already? It’s 8:30! What was going on in here?
He played me the joint he was working on, then he was like, I have to play you something. The assistant cut the lights off and he played the beat for “Black Republicans.” You hear the “I know you can feel the magic.” I thought that voice sounded familiar. I was looking at Nas like, That’s such and such? That’s why there was that empty bottle of Petrone. Jay had just come through to say what’s up and Nas was still writing the second verse to that song. If it’s a story track, Nas has to finish the whole story before he lays it down. Jay walked in the room and wanted to hear how it was going and that was it from there. I guess Jay must have heard it and was like, This joint is crazy. Let me go in there. The next thing you knew, those niggas made history. When I heard “This must be magic,” I was like, This is definitely magic here.
How does it feel to be a part of history?
I don’t really look at it like that. I’m so humble about it. I guess I’m still in a daze about it. I was on his first album, which is his classic album, with “Life’s a Bitch.” That right there, as far as that, that was just unbelievable. I was like, Why is everybody asking about L.E.S? What about DJ Premier, Q-Tip and Large Professor? I’m still trying to shake that one off. It definitely feels good to do it, but at the same time, it’s still like I don’t really believe that that’s me or that that really happened and that I’m really a part of it.
To go to the mall and have people tell me “Black Republicans” is crazy and all that. I guess what it is for me as a producer, I’m in the studio and I’m not the dude who says “I did that. I did that.” I’m not one of those people who needs that fame and for people to recognize them. It definitely feels good, but sometimes I’m just like, Ehh, this is cool. But then people are like, You did that! It’s pretty cool though.
How did the early leak of “Black Republicans” happen?
Oh, man! I don’t even know how that happened. I don’t even know how that happened as far as how the track got leaked out. Nas called me one day and was like, Yo, such and such just played the track. I said, “You have to be fucking kidding me.” He said, “Give the nigga a call and see what the fuck is up.” I know that as a DJ, everybody wants to be the first person to play any big record, especially a Nas and Jay-Z record. We knew that once it got in anybody’s hand, they were going to go with it. Fortunately it was somebody that I knew. People will usually call me and tell me they have the track before they play it. That’s cool.
This one DJ that actually had it, when I called him, he didn’t actually answer his phone. When he played it, his phone was ringing crazy and he knew his phone would be ringing crazy. I thought we were cool enough where he would answer his phone. The version that he got wasn’t even the mixed version. I think that some DJ’s are just a little too thirsty to play things. We were trying to hold that as long as possible. I think the way it leaked out wasn’t really the way we wanted to leak it. If you’re going to leak it at one time, every DJ should have it. I think that record should have been spread out throughout the universe at one time the same way Jay-Z’s first single came out. When that came out, everybody had it at the same time so it was more of an impact. That’s what I was feeling.
Some DJ’s are too thirsty and sometimes it hurts the DJ. It doesn’t help them come up any better because some people don’t like them now and they can’t get a favor when they need a favor. If you’re going to be a part of the industry and play the game, you have to know how to play the game. If I had a Jay record with Just Blaze, I would call Just Blaze and let him know I had the record and that I wanted to play it. I would let them know if I was about to let a joint go. You know, that’s just how it is. Everybody’s trying to be that next DJ, that Superman DJ. Back in the day, a lot of DJ’s would get punched in the face for putting niggas’ records out. Maybe we need to go back to that.
How did that leak hurt the project?
I don’t know how it hurt the project, but I think that it definitely should have been put out there better. There should have been the original, mixed version out there that sounds more clean and crispy. I can’t really say how it affected it. I can’t really speak like that, but I guess it did what it did and people are still playing it to this day. Still, three months later that record is still playing. We’ll see what happens next. Hopefully we’ll get a video from it and we’ll see where that takes the record to.
Whose fault is it that the record leaked?
It’s not the artist’s fault, because with Nas, nobody takes CD’s out of the studio and we don’t play with the internet sending songs out so people can hear it. I want to blame either the record company because I think when they get something, they’re so lacks with it. I think when they get something, they might call the studio. We don’t leave drives in the studio so it would have to be authorized. But they’ll leave the drive on their desk not knowing that you have interns around. You have people that work at your company for free and don’t think that those kids are not going to want to go home real quick with something worth millions of dollars. I just think that everybody’s a little careless with their stuff. Nas’ first album got leaked when he left his CD inside a cab. That’s how his first album got leaked. He took a car service home every day.
You’ve been with Nas for a long time. How has he changed in the studio over the years?
Nas is just incredible. Everything always goes with him and nothing is really pre-planned. There’s always something in Nas’ head that he wants to talk about, so if you play the right track, Nas is going to get it out. He challenges himself. Once he talks about something on a track, if it doesn’t work, the track and the rap is gone. We get all these lost tapes records. He puts them both on the shelf to go back to later. He just really, really goes in hard. He does a lot of writing and he comes up with a lot of different ideas. It’s just natural to him. I’ve never seen anybody like him in the studio work the way he works.
Does Nas work fast?
Once he spits it, the way it comes out is the way it comes out. If he’s slurring or if he’s drunk, that’s just the way it comes out. If the engineer misses that punch, you do not want to be him. Nas does not want to be in that booth for long. If he likes it, he’s out the booth. As a producer, if you know what you want from him, you have to tell him because he gets out of that booth so fast. You have to really move quick with him.
How is Nas at taking constructive criticism?
With me, it’s always good. I think other producers are intimidated by him. I can tell him I didn’t like the way he spit something so he’ll go back in and do it again. If another producer who just came in said that, he might question him. If Swizz said it, he would do it. I’ve been with other producers and they don’t say shit. Nas does what Nas wants to do. When he’s in the studio, I’ll tell him he didn’t say a certain line or word right. He’ll usually listen to what I said.
Usually producers and MC’s grow apart over time. Yet with you and Nas, it doesn’t seem that way. What is it about you that has kept you with Nas on every album except God’s Son?
I don’t know. I guess we stay in our own zones and communicate. We hang out in the off-season. His kids play with my kids. A lot of dudes get in their pesky mode. A lot of dudes can be a pest at times and I guess he realized that I was here. If Nas doesn’t use one of my tracks on an album, I’m not going to get mad and not come around no more. I didn’t make God’s Son. I know when to leave him alone, when to talk about music and what to do. When you know someone long enough, you know how to ride. You know when to talk and when not to talk. I’m a team player. I rocked with Trackmasters and I’ve rocked with teams. I know how to play the game.
Did you ever see “Just a Moment” with Nas and Quan being as big as it was?
Yeah. That was one of the records that I knew would be a big record. When I made that record, Quan came up to my studio. He had that record done already. He had done three verses on the record. I worked with Quan like I would work with Nas. We played instruments on it and everything. It sounded real crisp and clear. Nas was working on his Streets Disciple album. Nas called me from Miami and told me to come down and come through. I came down there and I told him I had this record I had to play him, which was Quan’s record.
When I played the record, Nas was like, Who is this dude? I want to sign him now. I’m putting this record on the album and I’m jumping on the second verse. After that was done, it was a wrap. I knew that it being on the album, an album that had about 22, 24 records on it, I knew that there was a chance that that record was going to be a single. As soon as they put that record out, it was just really, really great. That’s a great record. I just knew that that was a great record. As a producer, you know what records are hits and you know when you have hits under your belt. You know when you throw it in your car what joints are hits. You get that little goosebumps feeling that lets you know this is a hit. That’s the vibe I got from that.
How’s Quan’s album coming so far?
Right now, Atlantic is moving their feet a little slow. Nas called me yesterday and told me we had to get these records done on Quan. Right now, we have to really see what’s going on with Atlantic. We’re really ready to go with it but they’re moving slow on it. They were expecting Quan to be on Nas’ new album, but it just didn’t work. We had him on a couple of joints, but the song topics just didn’t fit the album. Sometimes it’s like that. Atlantic was just looking for that and this wasn’t the album that Nas was trying to do that. He was just trying to get his viewpoint out. He didn’t want to push an artist off this album. I guess Atlantic was looking for that, but we got a bunch of records with Nas and Quan already and we got some new ones coming. Hopefully we can start on that and get that finalized and have Quan ready for that last quarter.
That’s got to be frustrating.
It is because they’re not really giving him or me a chance to go and get in with him. I’m the one who knows his sound and I know what he needs and I know that he needs certain tracks and certain notes that blend with his voice. I know the chemistry that he needs. I have the chemistry that he needs. We laid a couple of joints. These labels want to depend on these artists to drive them, that’s why most of these artists don’t have lifelong careers because they live off another artist. Quan is one of those artists that doesn’t need Nas all the time to be there. It doesn’t always have to be Nas and Quan. Quan can lead himself and he’s a big enough artist to be able to do that. These labels don’t want to do it that way.
When fans talk about the new class of MC’s, Quan’s name doesn’t always come up. Should it?
He should be in the new breed of rappers. It should be Quan, Mims, Jae Millz, Saigon and Papoose with some others because Quan is right up there with them, if not ahead of them. He’s up there with them, definitely. He should be recognized for that. Quan led the “Just a Moment” record. Nas was only on one verse. Quan was singing the hook and had two verses on that record. Most rappers can’t do their own hooks. Most rappers can’t do that. Everyone is so used to the trend of getting other rappers to rhyme on tracks and use it as singles, the industry is just so used to that. I’m not even stressing it because I know Quan is going to strike and when he strikes again, it’s going to be like, Wow!
You’ve done a lot of important tracks for young artists, like AZ’s “Sugarhill” and Fat Joe’s “Envy”? What do those tracks mean to you today?
Those tracks are fucking solid tracks. I think everybody knows it. It’s just that I’m not one of those producers who wants their name yelled out at the beginning of the track. I think people who do that have shorter careers. I’m not out for the fame. It keeps me on point. When artists see me, they always have their hands open, so I don’t really stress that shit. My mark is made in the industry. People know. Right now, we’re in the digital game and a digital world and back when you would buy CD’s, you would have to read the credits to see who produced the track. Now you have to listen to the track to see who produced it.
Could you be bigger if you had artists shout you out on the intro and you made yourself more visible like a lot of the bigger producers do today?
I don’t really care. I don’t stress that shit. I don’t say, “Nas, say my name on the track.” I like being low-key and letting people figure out what I did. Sometimes it’s cool like that. Maybe I’ll have Nas shout me out on his next album. (laughs)
Are you going to do more work with artists like Fat Joe and AZ?
Yeah. I submitted some tracks for Fat Joe’s last album, but I guess he was just looking for a different sound at the time. I gave him some crazy ones. I’ll definitely work with AZ again. I have to get up with him. I definitely love to work with him. I submitted some stuff for Busta’s last album but it didn’t make it. I’m still giving tracks to artists, it’s just a matter of picking the right tracks. A lot of times, the artists have their own direction that they’re going in and they know what they want. They know when they hear a track if it will be dope for them. That’s cool. I have a couple of people on my list that I’m trying to get with. I have a couple of tracks that I think they will definitely feel.
I definitely want to get with Saigon and I definitely want to get with Papoose and Jadakiss. Me and Jadakiss speak all the time when we get up but we’ve never gotten a chance to get it in. I would love to get up with Styles P and Sheek. I would love to get something to Eminem because him and Nas are similar artists where they both talk about a lot of stuff. I have an idea for his people that I think would definitely be dope. I’ve worked with almost every artist out in the industry.
Your discography is amazing. Looking at that, why don’t artists like Styles P and Papoose beat down your door for beats? Are you too low-key?
Not really. I don’t know. The game’s been a little funny lately with everybody being mad at everybody and it’s all about who you’re with and who you’re around. There’s more tension on the streets and you don’t know who’s really on your side. I spoke to Sha Money and he was like, 50 is about to start working. Send me some joints. I think what it is is everyone wants you to send beats. I got in the studio with AZ, Fat Joe, Busta, LL, Punisher and NORE. It wasn’t sending them a beat-CD and letting them pick a record. It was about playing them something and talking about it after. I think it’s the process of everybody MP3’ing tracks. It’s that whole process right now and you can’t get to some people. Everybody’s schedule is busy. I think that’s where it starts at. I think it’s a process of people not being around and people not being able to get to an artist. If you can get to them to tell them about your joints, it’s better than sending stuff.
I sent some stuff over to Fab and his people asked me to send more joints. I thought the joints I sent them were crazy. I don’t know if they were listening. Sometimes you have to shoot the idea over to them too. That’s just what it is. I think sometimes being able to get with the actual artist is hard with everybody’s schedule and what everybody’s doing because everybody is in their own little zone with their own little camps.
How much is the process of MP3’ing beats and half-finished songs back and forth hurting the music?
It’s hurting a lot. You’re not there. By the time you get your track back, it’s already recorded. People say they like a certain joint, but I already sold it and they did a song to it. They say, “How come you sold it?” I say, “How come you didn’t say you wanted it?” We could have done a deal then. Everybody wants to try it out first and what happens is that by the time they’re done trying it out, somebody else comes and wants the beat and by then it’s too late. That’s why the MP3 thing hurts. There was even a track that Nas wanted that a producer had. He didn’t get a chance to make Nas’ album because he sold it to somebody else. I’m pretty sure whoever he sold it to, the producer would have loved to have had a Nas track on his resume. Who wouldn’t? If some people don’t come to the table with the business first, bad things can happen. Sometimes it’s hard to not play somebody else a track because someone else is feeling it. When someone’s not giving you the money for it though, sometimes it’s hard. You have to take the cash sometimes instead of waiting six months for somebody to make a decision on a beat.
50 Cent is known for MP3’ing tracks back and forth. You worked with 50 Cent before he blew up. How was 50 in the studio?
50’s a beast in the studio. I was with Trackmasters. He was up there for at least a month. He was in the studio everyday. Sometimes he would beat us down to the studio. We had the houses up there. He was in one house and me, Tone and Poke were in the other house. We would have breakfast in one house and he would have already recorded two records with the engineer before we got down there. He’s a beast in the studio and he listens. He has ideas on top of ideas. When you have that, you’re guaranteed to come up with good tracks. I played him the “Corner Bodega” track and he came up with the idea. I was like, That’s dope. He’s a beast in the studio and I’m pretty sure he takes direction from Sha Money and he’ll listen and take it wherever he has to take it. He’s a beast when it comes to writing because he works so much.
Are you still working with the Trackmasters today?
I haven’t spoken to them in awhile, but they know our agreement. If they ever call me and tell me they need joints, I’m there. I was never exclusively signed to them. I was non-exclusive to them. Whatever they need at any time, I’m there. It’s not like I’m not working with them. I did some of my best records with them and sometimes working with a camp keeps you at your best. Tone would play me something that would be dope, then I would have to play something dope and we’ll all be building. That’s how we were doing it. Everybody was on their A-game. When you’re down with a team, you’re trying to outdo everybody while working together. Everybody’s trying to add their two cents to it. They can call me any day of the week and I’m there.
You’ve done your most commercial tracks with the Trackmasters, like Will Smith’s “Miami” and Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Real.” How do you balance the commercial tracks with the hard, street tracks?
I don’t know. For me, it’s easy because I’m a producer and not a beatmaker. Some people can just make beats and they don’t know what the beats are for. I can tell an artist when a beat is hard or that if J.Lo sings on this, it can be a big pop record. That’s where a producer comes in. A producer is a person who shoots the ideas around and brings the whole topic to the beat. That’s what I do as a producer. If I make the grimiest beat, I can say, “If Joe was on this record, it would be crazy.” I had an idea and shot it to Joe. It was this dark beat. He jumped on it and it was on his And Then… album. That’s just how it is. I know how to go into different zones and make beats that work. I made this beat for Chrisette Michelle and it’s dark as hell. I don’t know if she’ll use it but she picked up on it and the track came out crazy. We just have to see where everything is at.
Do you see yourself doing more R&B work?
Yeah. I love that feel. I’m a live instrument dude and I love that stuff. I love getting with the right writers and getting that right chemistry going. It’s fun. I have a lot of good things going. I have this one kid I’m working with, this R&B dude. I have a female I’m trying to put together. It should be fun. It should be interesting.
How has your production techniques changed over time?
I’m a producer so I can change with the times and change with the sound. I’m very technical. I’m very into my programs and different sounds that come out from my computer games. Whatever comes out that’s new, I’m going to try it. I’m always changing my keyboards and try to stay up with the times or be ahead of the times. I have a few South beats that are crazy that I’m trying to get to T.I. and maybe Rick Ross. Hopefully they’ll pick up on them. I’ll probably showcase more of those on Quan’s album since he’s from the South too. They’re the hustling, hard South sound. You should hear some more of that. That should be dope.
And I’m always staying up-to-date with the Pro Tools, Reason and Logic. I have to be. I’ll spend my last dollar on that. If I ever got to the last dollar where I had to pay my car bill or buy a new piece of equipment, I would but the piece of equipment because if I got one off, that could pay my car bill for the next five years.
What new artists would you be excited to work with today?
I would definitely love to work with Papoose, Saigon and Tru Life. Tru Life reminds me of that Mobb Deep street sound. That’s all day for me. I definitely would want to work with Rick Ross.
I’m also working with this kid Johnny Cash. He’s unsigned and down in Virginia. He’s real dope. He’s really got it. He’s got a lot of talent in him. He’s down in Virginia but he’s in Queens and his parents live in Uptown now.
Would you ever do an instrumental or compilation album from you?
People have been calling me, telling me to do an album. I think I’m going to do one. I think I’m definitely going to get in there and do one. I don’t see them selling much anymore. I thought Khaled had a real good album and I don’t think that he really sold that many record. He might have done well for Koch. I don’t know what they spent on it, but I know that he had a huge, huge first single. I would definitely love to do a producer compilation album. I don’t even know if the labels are excited about that anymore. I know Clue just dropped one and I don’t think that did well. I know DJ Absolut is supposed to have one going on with Koch. There are a couple of other dudes like Pete Rock who I think is putting one together. I have to see where it’s going to fit at and see what’s going to make my album any different and what’s going to make people want to buy it more than they bought other producer albums.
What’s your focus going to be for the next couple of months?
I’m trying to get these beats out to these artists, work with Quan and work with Tre Williams. Nas is about to go back in the studio again to maybe do a late-summer release. I’m going to try to get these tracks out. I also did some work with Jay Rock, who’s signed to Warner Brothers, and Haze, who’s signed to Interscope. I’m just really trying to get more of these beats out to some of these new artists that are already out. I’m also trying to get tracks to Jadakiss, Busta, Styles P and Jay. Hopefully Jay gets back in. That’s really the plan now.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming producers?
You have to stay producing. It’s hard because everybody is producing. Everybody has Reason or Fruity Loops and guys are making really good beats off of them. The competition is really there and you have to be ready to get yourself out if you see an artist or a manager. You can’t be scared somebody is going to steal your music. If you never give it out, nobody will ever hear you. You have to believe that God will guide you to the right people. If you’re doing good music and you’re doing good things in your life, the Lord will give you a chance to shine. He’ll bring it to light.
You also have to keep your drum sounds tight and current. Definitely go to clubs and see how the club sounds are hitting. That’s why I’m out there DJ’ing today. I’m DJ’ing in New York and Virginia.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Thanks to all my fans, especially everybody that’s hitting me up on the MySpace. Thanks for sticking with me and recognizing my talent. I’m just giving y’all the music that you want to hear. Thanks for being there all the time. And I’m here for y’all. I’m here for y’all. I’m making it for nobody else. I’m making it for the fans.