I’m doing good.
Before you started making beats, you were on the road for ten years as an internationally-touring drummer. What was that like for you?
That was amazing. I love to learn other languages and I can speak Spanish, French, and a little Arabic. I love traveling and seeing other cultures and getting into their music. I have instruments from all of these different countries. I can use a dumbek from Egypt or a Punjabi guitar or a djembe from West Africa. I can use all of these ideas and sounds that I’ve collected in my mind from all over the world. I feel incredibly fortunate and lucky that I’ve gotten a chance to play music in all of these different places.
What exactly did you learn about music from being on the road like that?
It sounds cliché, but I did learn how music is the universal language. I couldn’t imagine traveling to these places and not being a musician. Music just really opened up the world to me. Especially being a drummer, you don’t have to plug into anything. You can just drum on a table. There are drums everywhere. Every country has some sort of percussion so you can make that connection if language is a barrier.
How did you transition from drumming to making hip-hop music?
As a drummer, I was in hip-hop band Sankofa for five years. As far as beat-making, three years ago, I saw a beat battle in North Carolina. I got incredibly inspired by people up on stage, competing and twisting samples up. In my mind, it was a definite spark. I saw that I could easily play a bongo solo on top of something and that would blow people’s minds. There’s nothing that they could sample like that. I knew I could play something and it might win. I couldn’t sample though. That’s when I got the computer.
9th Wonder, at the time, was starting to bubble and make a name for himself, so there were a lot of producers around here who got inspired by his success and they started making beats on Reason and other computer programs. It started off as a hobby for me down here in North Carolina and then I went on to win a lot of beat battles. Really, it’s the beat battles that really inspired me to do the beats. And also being a drummer, I was a big fan of Questlove. Even before I made beats, I was into all genres and Questlove really inspired me. As a producer, I always want to think of ways to mash up sounds that make me different. I was thinking, ‘What if the Roots got up with Swizz Beatz?’ That was my approach. I wanted to bring the live aesthetic along with the commercial appeal of a Swizz Beatz or a Pharrell.
How important are the drums to a hip-hop beat?
I think the drums are the foundation of a beat. I think it’s the most important thing and it really lays the groundwork for the melody and the vocals. It’s really the foundation of the house, like if the drums drop out, the house is just going to collapse. The first time anybody hears my beats, they say that my drums sound crazy. For me, as a producer, that’s really the only thing I’m good at. Everything else I just guess at, like the melodies or the choruses. I usually bring in a lot of other musicians as well. I have friends that are keyboard players and bass players so I work with them as well.
You’ve entered a lot of beat battles. How do you approach each beat battle?
I approach it with a competitive spirit. As a fan, I love to hear what all of the other producers are doing. I love to get excited and inspired by what they're doing and see if they’re better than me or if they’re not better than me. And then I usually bring my beat CD and look at the crowd and see what they’re reacting to. I look at their reactions and see what to play. I try to take some risks. If you see me on any videos, you’ll see that I’m just really stupid and not really caring what I look like up there. I’m just feeling what my beat is sounding like. And I’m not a dancer at all, but for some reason, when I get up there I feel inspired to play the air guitar or jump around or whatever. It’s really not that planned out. I just try to have fun, really. It’s really, really fun for me. I never really thought that I would win like I have. Every time that I win, it’s definitely a surprise to me. I get incredibly nervous and whatever, but it looks like it worked out.
What’s going through your mind when you’re onstage?
Each beat battle has their own little twist on the rules. Some of them are more like MC battles where it’s a round of 16 and the best one wins. On the beat battles that I’ve been in, you bring a CD of beats that you made and you play them for the crowd and for the judges. Some people just stand there and some people go apeshit, like me. You try to do an intro and a drop and switch it up and all that kind of stuff. It’s beats you already made, so it’s probably not as spontaneous as an MC battle, but it still takes a little bit of strategy when you’re deciding what you should play and the order. You’re doing a lot of preparation in your studio before you get there as opposed to an MC battle where you’re just supposed to be freestyling and improvising onstage. By the time you get to the beat battle, you already have a plan for what you’re going to play. When I explain it to people, they say, “That doesn’t sound very exciting,” but you have to see one. It’s pretty fresh.
You’ve done some stuff with Geechi Suede from Camp Lo as Freebass 808. How did that come about?
Cheeba and Suede, both members of Camp Lo, moved down to North Carolina because Ski lives down here. Ski moved down here a few years ago. They moved down here to work with him on some new stuff. Suede actually saw me at a beat battle hosted by 9th Wonder. And he also saw me playing with this female singer, Purple St. James (formerly known as Yahzarah), as her drummer. Suede saw me in these two places and asked me if I wanted to try to do a track together. It’s funny because Mike G from the Jungle Brothers lives here as well. And he was trying to get in touch with Suede, so both of them were actually in my studio. Suede and I made a definite connection and we just started making tracks for the fun of it because we’re in North Carolina. What else can you do? From there, we got about four or five tracks done. Both of us had a desire to make a group and make an album with some eccentric, left field, galactic music. He had expressed to Ski and Cheeba that he wanted to do something apart from Camp Lo. As a producer, I really wanted to have an MC that I could work with and make a full album with instead of working for track placements on one person’s album. The creativity was really working for us and we had a real mutual concept as far as what we were doing. We tried to do everything from Europop to disco-trash or whatever. (laughs) We just really tried to go as far into outerspace as we could with this album. That’s really how it happened.
You’ve gone from someone who was unknown and now you’re working with someone that most hip-hop heads consider a legend. Are you surprised at all by how fast things are moving for you?
Yes. I talk about this with my friends a lot. I realize how people would just kill to have these meetings with A&Rs, be in Scratch magazine and be working with groups like Camp Lo. On one hand, I’m very grateful for everything that is happening to me. On the other hand, I’m telling myself that I haven’t done anything and I tried to get a placement on Twista’s album and it just didn’t happen. You have these real feelings of hunger and drive and failure all mixed together. As many accomplishments as I’ve gotten, I still have this feeling that there were so many other things that were bubbling, like a Little Brother placement or a Britney Spears placement that didn’t happen. You have to deal with a lot of disappointment and you have to have perseverance. I guess that’s what gets you to this point in the game. You have to have a lot of hunger and a lot of drive. I do feel that it’s happened quickly, but I do have so many desires to fly further into the orbits.
Can you take us through the making of an Apple Juice Kid beat?
I start on Reason. I program some drums up or bring a sample in. I just kind of make a basic beat. Then we throw it into Cool Edit and I play some drums on the track. I try to give it that live element. A lot of times I’ll work with my bass player, Matt Brandau from the band Old Ceremony. He’ll put something on there so that there’s a live bassline. A lot of times I’ll have a violin player or someone else come over. It doesn’t have to have a live element on there, but if I really want to make this beat stellar or spectacular, I think it really adds the depth to the beat that’s missing in a lot of music. That’s really what sparks off a beat for me.
What equipment do you use?
Just a computer with Reason and Cool Edit. I use a Firepod for my sound card. I use a Shure SM58 and a GrooveTube for vocals. And then really, a bunch of instruments. I mean, my whole house is like a museum for instruments from around the world.
Where do you want to take your production in the future?
This is kind of interesting. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. Usually when you’re a producer and you’re submitting tracks and you’re trying to get something out on the radio, you’re trying to recreate the latest “Laffy Taffy” or “A Bay Bay” or snap music or you’re trying to do something different like Kanye and Pharrell do and you’re really trying to create a name for yourself. My thing is that I love soul. I love jazz and I love real instrumental music. I also have a real appreciation for what it takes to make a hit like “Laffy Taffy.” My whole thing is that I don’t want to put a genre or a label on it. I just want to create music to have people thinking in a revolutionary kind of way and get them as twisted as possible, like, ‘How did he fuse Nirvana with Outkast? How did those two things come together?’ or ‘How did he take something like live drums and make them knock in the club like we never heard before?’ My thing is that I would love to mash up everything in the pot and just come up with something new and be real aware of the influences that went into it. I understand that all music is coming from something else and I really just want to make the people dance and make the people go crazy and try to keep putting my vision and my stamp on everything. I just want to create a sound for the Apple Juice Kid and have a worldwide fanbase, not just one in my living room.
What’s next for you?
Obviously the main focus right now is Freebass 808 with Questone Entertainment. Rare Formula is another incredible group I am helping produce for La Universe. I’m also working on some stuff with Camp Lo and the Jungle Brothers. I've done some tracks with Yahzarah, who is now called Purple St. James. She used to be the backup singer for Erykah Badu. I’m also working with Little Brother and the Foreign Exchange. Another amazing MC and producer, O.Period, is working with 9th Wonder, Gav and me. I have a mash-up CD that I’m working on with DJ Blake. He’s really good at twisting records, so our entire concept is going to be me having my original hip-hop beats with him mashing them up. I have finished a Miles Davis remix album that I’m submitting as a score for the Miles biopic. I also have a band that’s called The Remix Project. We play what's current on the radio and remix it with drum and bass and house, and play sets like a DJ would, keeping people dancing. We have a mix CD out that a lot of people like. Fatman Scoop, who is perfect for my beats, is one of the first people that I’ve met in the industry and we are working on some tracks.
A lot of producers are out there grinding and trying to find new ways to get on. You’ve definitely taken a very creative route in terms of getting out there and getting heard. What advice would you offer to other up-and-coming producers?
Stop coming up to me trying to shake my hand. Stop drooling in my ear about how hot your beats are. Understand that when I nod my head and say your beats are tight, that means that really your shit is garbage. Go home and learn how to play an instrument and stop copying my dance.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Check out my website designed by Jpaulo. From there you can see the beat battle videos, photos by Hannibal, links to my groups and lots of music. If you need beats, you can contact me there. I want to thank all the organizers and producers at the beat battles in North Carolina for getting me my start, the ones in NYC like Prototype Entertainment for getting me into the industry and all of the musicians that have helped me on my beats. I’m just trying to get my music out to the world. I’m trying to make people dance and create a revolution or inspire other people to do it like all the other musicians and producers that have inspired me.