DJ Toomp: Self-Made Legend

What qualifies a Hip-Hop producer as a legend in the game? Is it the longevity, the groundbreaking material, the awards, or the records sold? If it’s any of the aforementioned, DJ Toomp is undoubtedly a contender. Toomp doesn’t carry the flashy media image that some track wizards boast on their resumes, and you won’t see […]

What qualifies a Hip-Hop producer as a legend in the game? Is it the longevity, the groundbreaking material, the awards, or the records sold? If it’s any of the aforementioned, DJ Toomp is undoubtedly a contender. Toomp doesn’t carry the flashy media image that some track wizards boast on their resumes, and you won’t see him dancing or profiling in music videos. But if you look closely at his production credits, you will notice some of the largest commercial hits, as well as the gritty album cuts that have rattled trunks for decades.

DJ Toomp has crafted beats for many heavyweights in the game, including Kanye West, Young Jeezy, Young Buck, 8Ball and MJG, and Slim Thugg. From his early days in the Miami Bass movement, to his current involvement with Southern Hip-Hop, Toomp has remained a pioneer in the ever-changing world of production. In talking with Toomp, we discuss his legendary status and his heavy involvement with grooming artists – especially the likes of T.I. Armed with a Grammy and a production label, NZone Entertainment, Toomp has proven his brand can stand the test of time.  Having put in all of this work, how did it feel to win a Grammy for “What You Know?”DJ Toomp:  It felt pretty good. I look at The Grammy’s like The Super Bowl.  Like, we made it to the playoffs. We made it to The Super Bowl. And we were actually nominated with some of the biggest artist in the world it was definitely an achievement. Would you say you discovered T.I.?DJ Toomp: Well his cousin introduced us, and when I listened to him, he had a demo that he played me with his production.  I told him, “I see how great of a rapper you are. Let me handle the production and you focus on just writing songs and watch what happens.”  What I did was just start working with him. I took him to the studio and we cut like four songs and I ended up bringing Jason Geter in for management, and then “boom!” every thing went from there, man. What was it about the chemistry between the two of you that made it work?DJ Toomp: Well, it was the fact that I had a new form of music. I stopped using the SP1200 and I started working on the MP [C ]. I started working on the keyboards and playing more music in my songs.  But just for the beats that I was programming, I was shopping them around in Atlanta, but it was only a few people who was actually digging them.  I knew that they was hot, but I was like “it’s just gonna take the right person to get on here and rap to it.”  I went through a few artists, but when I ran into TIP, that was my man, that was who I needed, who could really bring my sound to life.  You produced T.I.’s biggest commercial hit, to date, and you have a long history with him, so why are you not present on his latest release T.I. vs. TIP?DJ Toomp: On this particular album, it was just so much going on, on both of our ends that we really didn’t just get to link up and do it like we really wanted to.  So I said, “Hey man, you know what, I’m [gonna] let you do this one.” It was a certain sound that I guess him, or the label, was looking for. We were talking about it back when we did the King album, that we were gonna do a TIP and Toomp album, where I would handle like 80 % of the production.  So that’s what we’re about to start working on right now.  Have you heard the new T.I. album?DJ Toomp: What do you think of it?DJ Toomp: I didn’t listen to it thoroughly yet though. The first single was pretty right, but one thing I can say and give him his props for is, like I said earlier, being an innovator and getting out and trying something new.  [T.I.] was saying, “Hey man, I kind of want to try something new with this album and we gonna see what happens.” You have a very extensive history in Hip-Hop. You started out as a DJ for MC Shy D back in the ‘80s right?DJ Toomp: First I started off deejaying for Raheem The Dream, an artist that’s from here. Then I started doing production for him-that was like in ’85 [or] 86. That was during the time I was in high school. When I graduated, that’s when I got with Shy D and moved to Miami and started touring with him and producing for him. I did that Comin’ Correct album with “Shake it.” A lot of producers started out as DJs. What is it about deejaying that allows those people to also be successful in the world of production?DJ Toomp:  Just from being a good deejay, you have to know the BPM (Beats per minute) of songs.  Once you become a professional DJ you can just tap your feet for about 10 seconds and know the speed of that record. When you are mixing a record, you’re basically like an engineer/producer because you’re getting two records on beat.  If you notice, it’s a lot of DJs out there, of course not all of them are cut out to be producers, but I would say 75 to 80% of them can really do it. You’re part of an elite class in Hip-Hop. Not many artists or producers have been able to last through three decades.  What has been your secret to remaining current in the game?DJ Toomp: Well really man, just keeping my ears and my eyes on the street, you know? And just physically going to all the hood clubs, bourgeoisie clubs, strip clubs- anywhere where I can get the true feedback, the true opinions of true consumers; Like, not your friends, just people that understand what good music is.  During your time span in the game, what would you say has been the biggest change?DJ Toomp: That’s a good question. I’m gonna tell you that booty [shaking] took over, man.  When I first started producing, it was really just Hip-Hop music. I was kind of mimicking Rick Rubin productions when I [worked with] Raheem the Dream.  When I did the Shy D stuff, we was still kind of mimicking New York records at the time, using samples. The fastest song we had on the album ended up being a song like “Shake it,” and a few other up-tempo songs, but we still had like slow tempo records.  But once 2 Live Crew came out, Florida just took over the whole industry out of the South for a minute.   You started seeing girls in the videos- we were the ones who brought that. It was a crazy change. Luke and them went through their little controversy.  Once all the politics started playing a part in it, that’s when people started sounding out like, “It’s something going on down there.”  So moving into the South currently, and coming from that Miami Bass movement, how has your production style had to change to stay in the forefront?DJ Toomp: Just being from here, being a part of the movement, I definitely made a mark when I was in high school as far as being the first one really around here winning DJ battles, messing with drum machines. I was kind of ahead of my time, but I ended up moving to Florida because it was more active down there.  So by the time I came back, the music had definitely changed because that’s when L.A. [Reid] and [Babyface] had moved here and you started having OutKast, TLC, and Goodie Mob. At that point, the bass movement kind of slowed down. I did some work with Lil’ Jon. That’s when I did that song “Shawty Freak a Lil’ Sumtin.”  That might have been the last bass record that I had produced.  Even after that song came and did what it did, Lil’ Jon slowed it down and the whole tempo of music just started slowing down. You started having the “Southernplayalistic” sound, the Organized Noise, which was a lot of live, funky instruments. It changed, it slowed down, and really that’s what Crunk [music] was- really just slowed down bass music. It still required the same elements, you know, 808 drum sounds. A lot of the elements were still there, but it just changed the tempo and started slowing down and putting more bass.  A lot of producers I speak with stress the importance of having your own artists. Tell me about your company NZone Entertainment.DJ Toomp: When a producer steps into that arena, that’s the sign of a producer who’s got balls; that’s the sign of a producer who really believes in what he has. Me and my partner, Bernard [Parks, Jr.], we just decided to start NZone. We figured, we’ve been plugging out hits for guys, boom! let’s do our thing and see what happens.  The first guy we have is called Jack Bona. We put a single out on him and he got a nice buzz. And then we tried it again with this kid we got [named] Suga Suga called, “Do It With No Hands,” and that ended up catching like fire.  Why is it important to have your own artists?DJ Toomp: It’s important because it actually shows that you do more than just sit around and make beats.  It shows that you can actually take somebody from the ground up and just build them and just change their life.   How did you get down working with Kanye West on his new album?DJ Toomp: Well what it is, a dude named Big John that I work with, a publisher at EMI, he was up in New York working on some stuff and he called me and was like, “Yo! Kanye’s in the studio down here at Sony man, go down and see what he’s doing. I’d love to see what ya’ll could come up with.”  Within a hour and a half, me and him just started playing around with stuff. But what happened was, [Young] Jeezy had a song called, “I Got Money,” on his album, featuring TIP, but he wanted to do a remix with Kanye. Kanye had put some extra music on top of it, but Jeezy wasn’t really digging what he did to it. So me and Kanye was like, “Hey man, I think this is some 2008 music. I think the dude might not understand it yet.”  Later on, Kanye flew down to Atlanta for a weekend and we just sat in the studio and chalked out like four or five songs. So far, I think I got three on his album.  We just started doing stuff together. He pulled out the “I Got Money” remix and he was like, “Man, I cant believe dude didn’t like this.” And we were like “Hey let’s make a real song out of it.” We changed it around and put some strings in it so he took it and put some extra in it and he just started putting his verses in it. And the next thing you know, “boom!” a masterpiece. No egos when you guys worked together?DJ Toomp: Aw man, it was beautiful man.  I’ve been knowing Kanye since the Trap Muzik album.  When I met him, people didn’t even know he could rap yet. He was like pulling me to the side when we was working on Trap Muzik like, “Hey man, listen to this verse man. Tell me what you think. You think that sh*t hot?” I was like, “Dude, it’s real hot.” I didn’t have no idea the dude was gonna come out selling three and four million records.  I guess for me, just meeting him in the beginning stage, even before his rap career jumped, and just the respect that we both have for each other as producers, once we got in the room and started working together, nah the ego thing, we left that at the front door.