Some things naturally complement each other; tight rhymes over thunderous beats are only the beginning ingredients of the Hip-Hop hit recipe. Before elements can be gathered and mixed properly, the right beat is mandatory. For a rapper, strong production can secure a single, or prove the variable in a hit or a flop. While newjacks and veterans squabble over the difference between a producer and a beat-maker, there’s one certainty: you won’t last long as either if you can’t make heads nod.
AllHipHop.com recently had the chance to speak with five producers with various hits under the belt. All of these ambitious producers have proven themselves with a variety of artists, as all aspire to reach that upper-echelon – whether in the DJ Premier street realm, or the Dr. Dre kingdom of radio.
Amadeus, a Bronx-bred producer, broke out with “It Is What It Is” on 50 Cent’s popular mix tape series, has also worked with Lil’ Mo, Jim Jones, and Talib Kweli.
Bosko, an L.A. and Atlanta based producer has worked with platinum selling artist T.I., Kanye West, and E-40 has most recently worked with K-Fed on his debut disc.
DJ Nasty most recently put in work on Luda’s platinum-selling Release Therapy, has also worked with Fat Joe, Lil’ Wayne, and Juelz Santana.
Exile, producer and DJ, has worked on Mobb Deep’s Blood Money, and also dropped jewels for Kardinal Offishal, Ghostface, and Slum Village on his latest disc The Dirty Science album.
Panik, one third of Chicago underground production team The Molemen, has provided production for some both of Hip-Hop’s best MCs on their latest CD Killing Fields featuring Saigon, Kool G. Rap, and Rhymefest.
These five producers, with varying backgrounds in Hip-Hop, know one thing for sure –
there is no one way to get your sound out there.
Los Angeles-based producer Exile distinguishes himself by trying new ways to make the old new. “I have different things that I do. The way I echo out vocal samples so they sound real thick. I put it on poly on the MP3 so that it repeats on top of each other. I chop really, really finely. I’ll chop really tiny notes and refreak it. I like to take samples that a lot of people use and make it sound different. I flipped Al Green’s ‘Love & Happiness,’ but no one said it sounded like it.”
A distinct voice in production is considered a producers calling card. Amadeus, who counts Deric “D-Dot” Anglettie as one of his mentors, learned that versatility is one of the keys to success. “One day I can be feeling like New York, next day West Coast. I might want to take you down South and snap. I create off of feelings. That separates me because a lot of people have one type of sound. I’m not knocking it, but sometimes a track comes on and you know who did it. You can’t do that with me. Every joint I did sounds different.”
Panik, founder of the annual Hip-Hop event Chicago Rocks, knows the importance of having a sound that gives an MC a voice. “I like doing all sorts of different beats. I’m not limited to a certain style. Some people say you sound a little New York or a little Crunk. I make Hip-Hop beats and don’t care about where it’s coming from. I’m more concerned about the sounds. When I think about the MC rappin’, I think about it more like an instrument being added to the rest of the instruments that make a whole song. I’m looking for a certain vibe or sound. When I heard certain beats then I say to myself who would sound good?”
Once the beat is complete, the next part of the work begins. Being able to network within an industry that isn’t welcoming requires one to follow industry rule number 4,080—record company people are known to be a little shady to newcomers. Who you know, in addition to what you know, is an important part of the game. “Sometimes you have to play the political role,” says DJ Nasty. “If you sample a Biggie record, you can’t give that record to Weezy and think it’s going to get cleared. Puff is Puff. At the end of the day, it might get cleared, but it might take a long ass time. They might want a lot of money for it. If you give it to one of his artists, it’s automatically cleared. It’s a lot of politics with it.”
Once connections are made, the chances of a producer sitting down with an artist to hash out details for lawyers to finalize are slim to none. According to one producer, that’s simply a not done. “You don’t want to sit and have that discussion with an artist,” Nasty states. “You want to leave the business for the lawyers. In Hip-Hop, you want it to be fun, but at the end of the day it’s business. Sometimes you don’t want to talk that business with people that you are cool with. You really don’t want to talk business with your artist. There has to be something in the beginning but you don’t want to put anyone in an uncomfortable situation.”
Being able to handle your own business and not leaving it totally to others can be the difference between eating and not eating. Bosko, of E-40’s classic “Sprinkle Me,” couldn’t agree more. “I did a song for Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and I never got publishing on the record. I called Sony, I called Ruthless, and an old attorney who had ties with Ruthless. He gave me another attorney’s number that he knew was handling it. I finally got in touch with the person who was handling the estate and finally got my publishing. This process took me about a year and a half and maybe 100 to 150 different phone calls. If I hadn’t pursued it, I wouldn’t have been paid. I was just another bill like the telephone company. One of the best things I got going for me is a college education.”
According to Nasty, having proper legal representation doesn’t offer any guarantees. “You have to know the business side. Even if you have a lawyer it can happen. It is your responsibility to get the terms that you want. If something isn’t there, you have to be able to get your lawyer to put it in.”
Having an ally within the business can be the difference between being paid and never seeing a dime. Amadeus, who learned the hard way, couldn’t agree more. “One situation was on the Cradle to the Grave Soundtrack. I produced a track on there for Foxy Brown called ‘Cradle to the Grave.’ I didn’t get the proper information and do the proper paperwork. At the time I didn’t have management. I called wondering when I was going to get paid and the paperwork be completed. They told me it wasn’t going to come out for another month or two. I was walking past FYE, and I kept hearing about the album being released. I walked in the store and there it was. I bought it and opened it up. It said. “Cradle to the Grave’ produced by Gavin Marchand and Amadeus.’ Gavin took it upon himself to put his name on it and get credit as if he produced the track. No one could have warned me about that but I do wish that didn’t happen. At the end of the day, not really having the right representation there was nothing I could do. It’s my word against Gavin’s word. Foxy is signed to Def Jam, her brother is with her, and they have better relationships up there than I did. It’s my word against there word and there word wins. I’m just some cat that said they produced a joint. You live and you learn.”
Between trying to avoid getting played in an industry known for taking advantage of the uninformed and handling industry politics, success also means time you need time to hustle. Who wants to make beats and not have them be heard eventually? But the art of getting your sound out has to be part of plan. Creativity alone just won’t cut it in today’s market. “Sometimes I will just out to clubs,” Exile says. “I know where bros are going to be and I’ll hand them a CD. It can be easy and it can be hard.” Amadeus takes a more direct route. Working without a publicist, he gets on the phone to create his own buzz. “I’m one of the most hustling dudes out. It’s not just about sitting down and making beats all day. You gotta get out there and network and meet with people that appreciate your music. You gotta get on MySpace and get that feedback. It’s hard to get in the game so hustling plays big important part. I’ve been Scratch three times, on BET four times. Being seen matters too. I go online and hit up people. I’m so and so, this is what I’ve done, what’s up with a feature? Sometimes I get a ‘Yes,’ sometimes I get a ‘We’ll keep you in mind.’ There is a million ways to get it poppin’. Too many guys get caught in having a hot track and then getting on, but relationships are equally important. I’ve always been a people person.”
Although DJ Nasty and Bosko both have there own teams behind them working to get their music out there and into the right hands, both agreed that forming personal relationships with artist can work just as efficiently as any A&R or internal team. “Most of the records that I place, it’s me bonding with the artist,” Bosko mentions. “They would have either heard something that I did in the past or know that I have worked with an artist they respect, like Kanye or E40. If they want to hear what I have we’ll hook up in the studio. I’ll try to play a beat that I think will appeal to that particular artist. Play music, see what they like, get a feel for the direction, and collaborate for the concept of the record, and then go from there,” says Bosko. Without working directly with the artist, too many things are left to chance. “I don’t like to just give them a beat and let them go. I’ll talk with them to try and come up with what the direction of the song should be and be specific. Otherwise you leave it up to chance and it’s too important to let it go down like that. ”
DJ Nasty, whose affiliation with Miami’s DJ Khaled got him his first production credit, still knows that it’s always good to have a friend who has a friend. “The first real record I did under Nasty Beat Makers was on Fat Joe’s Jealous Ones Still Envy. We met Fat Joe through Rated R, and from there we kept bonding. I gave the CD to DJ Khaled. He sent the CD to Joe, he loved it, got Xzibit on it and it went from there.” Starting his career as a DJ also helps Nasty to continue to make those connections, both in person and through associates. “It’s all about relationships. I’ve been down with a lot of people who are engineers or they run studios. It’s all about who you know because you can’t sit down with every artist. When you haven’t worked with an artist, it helps to know someone.”
So is that all it takes? Talent, networking, and industry political savvy? Not according to these versatile producers. Staying relevant in an ever changing industry is also a piece of the success puzzle. Being inspired to create something never heard before, putting hometowns on the map, and finally getting those long overdue props means just as much to this group of producers.
“I want to be remembered for the music that I created and being original,” says Bosko. I want to be known as a producer who thought outside of the box by creating my own music, playing instruments, [and] singing hooks. I can be a team player and play the team. I’m a renaissance man of production. Bosko music is original music.”
Knowing when he got started in this business that he wanted to take it as far as he could helps Amadeus see way past his job as a producer. “I want to be someone that’s respected musically in the game. I want to be a mogul. Someone who came in and changed the game.”
For producers without aspirations of being on the top of an A&Rs Hip-Hop go-to list, dreams run simpler. Wanting to be remembered as someone who was, “into what they were doing and having fun” was how Panik described how he’d liked to be remembered in a game that so easily forgets. Doing it for the love of creating seems motivation enough to keep folks at the boards like someone working the graveyard shift. Being a producer is like working in a one man beat factory that operates twenty four seven. It’s a job that attempts to create a one of a kind signature that says here is my creation. Here is my art. Here is my contribution to Hip-Hop history. Here is my one thing that will let the world know I am, and was, here. Hear me.