You’re best known for producing Maino’s “Hi Hater.” How did you decide to loop Jimmy Spicer’s “Money (Dollar Bill Y’all)”?
Maino called me about that beat one night. I wanted to loop it a certain way and drop the bass on it and keep it funky and simple. I was thinking about chopping the beat up and trying something new but it was so classic and I loved it so much. Why touch it? I did it and the next thing you know “Hi Hater” was born.
Did you ever hear AZ or La the Darkman’s version of “Money (Dollar Bill Y’all)” flipped?
No. No. Not really. No. I didn’t hear it. The most famous person that I figured used the beat was Mary J. Blige.
How did you know just looping the beat would work?
It just sounded right. The thing about it is that beat was already a classic so no matter what you do to it, you can make variations and chop it up, you can kind of ruin what everybody loves about it. I wanted to just let it breathe and let’s just let it be and we would do us on it. We would take a classic groove that everybody knows and we would just do us on it. Maino did “Hi Hater” and came with that flow and it was out of there. People like what they know. Everybody loves that beat already and then the angle that was taken was dope. That was a classic beat and that’s a classic situation.
How do you know when you need to build around a sample and when you should just let the sample breathe?
It’s the vibe. It’s the vibe of the session and it depends on what’s going on. It might be an old soul sample that’s just got a good groove and some new snares and kicks and 808s would take it to a whole ‘nother level. And there are just certain records that move. It has a certain mood and it just is what it is. When I’m in the studio and just because I’m surrounded by a lot of sounds, it doesn’t mean I’m going to put all of them on one beat.
You’ve been working with Maino for awhile. How do you work together?
We’re like brothers in the studio. We argue and we put it all on the table. We don’t pull any punches. We definitely listen to each other. He listens and he tries. He’s not scared to take the risks. He’s not afraid of that. He’s not afraid to listen to how he can get better. Working with him is cool.
Maino has grown a lot in the past four years. What do you think of Maine’s growth from a producer perspective?
I tell him all the time that he turned the corner well. He’s a student of the game and he listens right. He studies what’s going on and he really gets into it. He’s not a one track mind. He goes in and he thinks about things. He analyzes things and the way he works and his work ethic is crazy. He’s always working and he’s always at it. He doesn’t take a day off.
How important is consistency to growing as an artist?
You gotta be in the studio all the time. Me, as an artist, when I’m working on my projects or when I’m working with somebody else, you gotta work 24 hours a day. There’s a lot of work that goes into a song. You still gotta put certain moods together. There’s a lot of work that goes into it.
What did you do with Maino on his debut album If Tomorrow Comes?
We did a song called “Dump Dick” with Ray Davis. We did “Let’s Make a Movie.” I helped with the hook on “Hood Love” and I did “Hi Hater.” So I’m on there a lot.
What other kind of beats did you give Maino?
“Dump Dick” is more of a hard-edged street party record and “Movie” is more of an up-tempo between the sheets song but it’s not dedicated to the ladies. It’s crazy. The groove is there. Just because I did a loop on “Hi Hater” that doesn’t mean I’m going to do that on everything. It’s whatever will make the record a hit.
What should we expect on If Tomorrow Comes?
A soundtrack to a true story. He’s telling his story and the music is the soundtrack to it.
You produce, write, rap and sing. Out of all your different talents, what do you prefer doing the most?
As long as I can stay creative with the music, I’m in love with it. This life is a privilege. You can’t really fill out applications for these jobs. You can’t just say you want to be a producer and do the things it takes to do it at a high level. Working on my album and going through the machine, there’s a side to me that I don’t always get to display. I might be producing or writing. When I’m producing that’s just another side because it’s just like method acting. I can become somebody else and the angles and I have different ways that I can attack a project.
Are artists that you work with aware of the different things you can do or are they ever surprised when you can sing a hook for them?
It’s funny. Kim said to me one time that if I do what I do for myself for other people then there won’t be any stopping me. When you are a producer and you’re doing records for yourself, there’s two different kinds of music. The music that I make for myself is different than what I would make for somebody see because I’m looking through their eyes when I’m producing and when I’m doing me, I do what I like. There’s two different worlds sometimes but at the end of the day, as long as I’m making hot music, I don’t care. As long as it’s hot! (laughs) As long as it’s hot and as long as it’s banging it’s good.
How’s your album Ghost in the Machine coming?
The album is coming along well. We just shot the video to “We Don’t Play That.” That’s me, Sheek Louch and Bully. That’s been getting spins all over. They’re liking the record so we shot a video to it and the video looks crazy. That should be online and on television in the next week or two. The single “Get Ready for Me” is gearing up and it’s looking good and it’s feeling good. The whole album, the way that the production is coming together, I’m happy. I’m just waiting to go in the studio. I got a couple of different projects and when it’s over with I just want to start the marketing so the people can understand what I'm doing. I’m not going to drop this album out of arrogance. I’m going to drop it when the streets are telling me to drop it. I’m not going to put a date on it. I’m just putting the album together as we speak.
Are you producing everything on it?
Nah. That’s the beauty of it. That’s the beauty of being who I am in the game right now. I have a lot of friends and a lot of people who are pulling for me so half of the album will be done by Coalition Forces and I’ll get two more producers. I’m not going to make it like a mixtape. I’m not going to do that. I’ll have a few producers on there and I’ll do the rest of the album.
How do you work with other producers?
I let the music play. It’s funny, my whole career happened in stages. I always rapped. That was the first thing that I did. There was DJing and rapping and that grew into beats and I started moving around and A&Ring and all of that stuff. I always felt that when I listened to tracks I listened as a rapper. When I listen I know what I’ll rhyme over and then I definitely switch hats. I have an A&R ear and I know how to put a song together well as a producer. I get to look at it from a bunch of different angles and nothing guarantees that I can make a really really strong choice on certain things.
When I’m in the studio with different producers I let them produce me. I don’t pretend like I know everything. I can’t wait to sit with producers like Dr. Dre and everybody. I’m always sitting and learning.
You also have a lot of connections with MCs. Will we see a lot of guest appearances on Ghost in the Machine?
Yeah. I got Sheek on there and Maino’s on there. My brother Reg Raw is on there. We got a few more. There’s going to be a lot more R&B features than rappers. The album is going to be about how I feel about things. The album’s not filled with features just because I know a million people. That’s not the whole point of my album and that’s not the whole point of me.
How did you link you with Diddy on his Forever album?
I’ve been working with Diddy since 1999. I met him through one of his choreographers, Divine Seasons. He heard some demos that I did for Divine’s company Up Front and ever since he heard that he wanted to work with me and we’ve been going in the studio and we’ve been getting it in. The first one we did was “Satisfy You” with R. Kelly and that got nominated for a Grammy and sold 2 million. We just kept it going from there. Most recently I helped him write “Come to Me” with Nicole from the Pussycat Dolls and that got us a BMI award. I like working with him because I learn a lot being around a dope producer.
How did “Satisfy You” come together?
I wrote that. Every record that I got in my discography, I didn’t do the beat. Some of them I wrote the record. I wrote the song and people fell in love with the song. I have songwriting and production. You never know. Sometimes I go to sessions and I don’t even bring beats. I just try to enhance the record and make the hooks or switch up the flows. I love producing records.
How do you write for other artists?
I definitely become them. I try my best to understand their wants and needs and I do my best to say what I think they want to say or if I hear what they’re saying, they might already have something and it might be like me helping them switch the flow here or there or go here. I jot a couple of things down and the people respect my opinion and I don’t come off like an asshole so it works out. Hit records take a group of people. Sometimes you can make them by yourself but it’s a team effort also so when I’m on projects I’m on projects. It’s not like I’m around for one song. I’m there to help them come along on every aspect of it.
What does Puff add to a song when you work with him?
He’s involved all the way to the end. He will push you and push you and push you and pull things out of you that either you didn’t know was in you or he’s just gonna push you until he feels he got the best out of you. He’ll make you make a record 10 times and mush ‘em all together to make one song. It’s out of control.
Does Puff not get the credit he deserves for being musical?
I think what it is that people have the misconception that to produce a record you have to make the beat and that’s not true. A lot of people make beats and can’t produce records. Quincy Jones didn’t play all of the instruments on Thriller but he produced it. It takes a vision. To make an album takes a vision, sonically. It’s a vision you can hear. Sometimes it takes somebody to make all of those moves happen. On the records me and Puff have done together, he tells me what he wants from the door and that’s what it is when you’re producing. You might have a guy who can make dope beats but that doesn’t mean he can make a record.
Do you still work with Diddy today?
Yeah. I saw him at the T-Pain concert and he said he wanted me to get up with him. He wanted to hear about what I was doing and where I was at. He always reaches out. I’ve been lucky. He reaches out to me for most of his projects and we get it in. I’m looking forward to getting it in with this album. I don’t even know what the concept is or anything yet.
You’ve done a lot of work with Lil’ Kim too. What’s it like working with her?
She’s one of the dopest female rappers of our time and she’s cool. She’s my homegirl. She’s cool and everything is good. We’ve just been cool ever since we met. When we get in the studio together we make some good music together.
Can Kim make a comeback today?
Yeah. Yeah. Kim could come back if she wanted to. If she wanted to right now Kim could go in there and do what she wanted to do. Who’s popping, for real? Think about it, who is popping?
From what you know about Kim and Diddy, do you feel they were portrayed accurately in the movie Notorious?
It’s a movie. It’s not real life. That’s what the people have to understand first. They were going to take things and make a story. I can’t say what was going on back then because I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there so I don’t know what the whole situation would be but that was a good movie and that was B.I.G. at the end of the day. But I don’t know about the whole representation.
Did you ever meet Biggie?
I met B.I.G. one time, in the club one time, and that was it. I never got to work with him or anything. I hate that fact that I never got to work with him.
Can you take us through the making of a Mista Raja beat?
Basically I start with my drums. I make sure my boom-bap is in tact. I start with my drums and make sure my drum track is strong. I might drop seven snares to make one. I make sure my bass is heavy. And then it depends if I’m feeling aggressive or laid back. That depends on the vibe and tones that I lay down on it. But I start with the drums. All day, I start with the drums and I get it in.
What equipment do you use?
The MPC 2500. A Motif, Reason, Pro Tools and a Roland SH 201.
Your mixtape Mista Raja’s Neighborhood was released for free download a few months ago. Did that project reach enough people?
I was talking to DJ Noodles about the numbers and it did about 70.000 downloads. Anybody that wants to listen to it, we got it on the streets. We gave out a lot of copies. I can’t even count how many copies we pressed up and gave out at Magic and places like that. It’s a building process. I haven’t even touched my peak as a rapper yet. I haven’t even scratched the surface. I think this next mixtape, No Country for Wack Rappers, will be the one.
Do you rock sweaters and have trains running through your living room like the real Mr. Rogers?
(laughs) Nah. Actually, no. But I do rock sweater vests at times and hoodies. When you see me in a suit you’re not going to ask me who died because I can rock the hell out of a suit. I got swagger, man. I can wear anything.
Have you ever been made fun of for your name?
Nah. It’s funny because my name is Raja and everyone thought it was Ra-Ja. No, it’s like “Roger.” “Raja” means “king” in Arabic. I kind of bugged out when I found that out and I liked it so I went with it.
You’ve never been hit with a Mr. Rogers joke?
Nah, not really. I hear shit like, ‘What’s going on in your neighborhood?’ but that’s it. It’s nothing too serious. I traveled a lot and I’ve been around the country but pretty much nothing. People call me “MR” and that’s cool.
If I change my name to King Friday can we do a song?
(laughs) Anytime you want to do a song, we can do it! But I watched that show growing up. Everybody watched it. That’s the funny thing when I was getting my name together to start branding it. The one thing about it is when you hear it it’s going to stick in your head. It’s hilarious. (laughs) The name, it’s something to hold onto.
Being that Maino is down with Grand Hustle, will we see you working with T.I. and other artists?
Yeah. We were talking about me working with different artists over there. Yeah, definitely.
When can we expect your solo album to drop?
I’m waiting for the streets to call for it. I want the people to get familiar with me as an artist like the industry is familiar with me as an artist and a producer.