One of the freshest producers in the game today, Doc Ish talks about his stellar debut album The First Treatment, putting an album of that magnitude together, producing for Eminem, almost producing for John Mayer, his health and much more.
The First Treatment has been out for over a month now. Are you happy with how it’s doing?
Not really. A lot of onus falls on your lap. You can’t point fingers as far as marketing goes, but there was a lot of stuff. I spent three months in the hospital and nothing got done. It took me a little while before the album dropped. I had lost so much weight the last time I was in. I was still weak and everything. I couldn’t get a lot of shit done. Everything’s starting to pick up now. Videos are getting shot. A lot of stuff that should have got done months ago are getting done now. Going into the album release, I didn’t know that it wasn’t going to take off like I had hoped it would prior. Not enough people knew about the date and I’m just glad that it’s out.
Health has always been something you battled and you titled the album The First Treatment, a medical reference. What’s going on with you?
Well, I have a heart condition, for one, and I have lupus, for two. And I have a cerebellum issue that results to a lack of oxygen getting to my brain due to a heart failure in 2004. It’s just a lot of “who’s on first?” type of stuff. A lot of times when you’re battling with multiple conditions, a lot of times doctors don’t know what it is at times. Is it this? Is it that? Is it the lupus? Is it a bug or the flu? To be honest with you, I still don’t think they know everything that’s wrong with me. It could be mental too. Who knows?
How does that affect your approach to music?
It’s definitely extremely difficult, just because my health is always a roadblock. It took me forever to get the album out because I kept going back and forth to the hospital. And financially, it murders you. I have no health insurance. I haven’t had health insurance my whole life because nobody wants to insure me because you can’t make money off of a sick person. That plays a bitter, big role in your life because financially, you’re dumping thousands of dollars all the time. You don’t even want to know what my medical bills are like. It does play a stressful part into when you’re trying to create. You can’t finish something when you can’t hold anything in or you got vertigo all the time. Imagine trying to listen to music or make something when you’re dizzy as hell and nauseous and feel like you’re going to pass out. It definitely has a humongous effect on what I’m able to do.
No doubt. You were still able to pull together a great album. Did you get everything you wanted for The First Treatment?
Oh, absolutely not! I mean, there was a lot of people that were supposed to jump on the album. There was a lot of clearances I couldn’t get. There was a lot of being at the right place at the right time that I was unable to do. I couldn’t get out to Cali and I couldn’t get out to Detroit and I couldn’t get out to New York. It’s such a small window sometimes. When you’re trying to put a piece of a puzzle together and you’re trying to hear who’s on it and who would be perfect for this, if you don’t get them when they’re available, well now they’re working on their album or they’re doing a movie or something.
It sounds like you had a huge vision for the album.
You know what’s crazy? It’s actually the opposite! I had a big idea for the album but it first started off as Arbitration. That was the original title. When I came back from Detroit, I lost literally everything. My hard drive had crashed and I had no backup. I had a backup that was sitting right there in the studio, I just never opened it up like an idiot to back everything up. I learned my lesson the hard way. I had to restart the entire album and by that time, Relapse [by Eminem] came out. “We Made You” was already out. At first I was going backwards. You know how they say never go backwards, always go forwards? That’s hard to do. I was trying to redo what I did and there were a lot of artists that weren’t being as cooperative as they were before and there were a lot of people that were impossible to get with that were now a phone call away. It was actually a good thing.
And it was crazy because it just kept building bigger and bigger and then more and more people just kept submitting the same songs. That was the problem. I couldn’t fit everybody on the same songs or I would have had 15 minute songs! It was difficult. I’m very happy with the project. It seems like everybody was trying to outdo each other on it lyrically. That was the main thing that I wanted to get and I feel like I got that. I got people to hear Mic Geronimo again, as if he just came out. There was just a lot of people…He’s such an underrated MC and to hear him again and to hear what he’s spitting on “Skies are Grey” and “Scriptures of My Life” and then to hear Joell Ortiz rip it followed by “Is it a Dream” with Joe Budden, Talib Kweli and Sean Price. There’s a couple of remixes for that song too. And then Crooked I and Billy Danze…It was a good mix. I really felt like there were a lot of people who had hit me up and tell me that was the hardest verse they’d ever heard Joe Budden spit and that was huge to me because Joe Budden has a lot of ill verses. For people to say that, it feels good that on your project that you have something that stands out more than on any other project.
I got a physical CD coming out of it and I got some bonus songs that are going to be on it that I did not put on the digital album. I got some treats for people. I didn’t know that there are a lot of people that still buy CDs. There are a lot of people who won’t buy the CD on iTunes. They’re CD people. I just finished up another interview earlier today and the person that I was talking to said the same thing. That’s what he’s doing. He’s waiting for the CD to come out because he likes to read the credits and everything. I thought CDs were like tapes, where they’re obsolete and people don’t buy them anymore. There’s such a huge demand for it and I had to do something extra. I put three or four bonus tracks that are not on the digital album that are going to be on the physical one.
What stands out as the track you’re most proud of on The First Treatment?
It’s hard to say because I remember when I did “Animal Grammar” with KRS-One. That was just a collaboration track but it was such an honor to work with him and that was such a huge hit and everybody was banging it in their whips and the DJs were telling me that they couldn’t wait for it to drop and what else did I have. And that was when I just started working on The First Treatment. I think “Cut My Throat” was probably one of the funniest collabos to me because when I first was working on it, Ransom and Joe Budden was beefing and they were going back and forth on mixtapes and YouTube videos. They both knew I was working with the other. They know I don’t take sides and shit. I’m a producer and I just love making music.
What’s crazy is that Saigon already did his verse. It’s crazy because I was working with Joe Budden and that’s how I found out they were beefing, and this is before all the YouTube and mixtape stuff started popping. So that was already on there and after the XXL article came out with the top 100 MCs and Joe said something about somebody from Wu-Tang and then Joe and Deck started going at it, it was crazy because the listeners thought I put a song with all the people he beefs with on one track and ironically they were all together on the track but “F Me F You” has nothing to do with Joe Budden at all. But it’s crazy because everybody’s write-ups and talks were saying that. But Joe knew that too and we’re cool as hell to this day. But that type of collaboration, to me, was kind of funny because who else would have thought that I would have put a song like that together in that order, in the exact same order of the people Joe beefs with, like Joe beefs with Ransom first, Saigon second and Deck third, and that’s the order of the song. That’s the bugged out thing to me!
What’s the hardest thing about putting an album of this magnitude together?
There’s a lot of headaches! I said I wasn’t going to put another compilation together again! Certain people didn’t get along with other people and I had to take certain people off and put certain people on. There were certain people who wanted to get on other stuff and I had to take verses off. It was just crazy. And then sometimes you do multiple sessions before you got something done. It’s definitely a lot of hard work. I’m not gonna lie. It’s not an easy thing and I know that I’m not the first producer to do a compilation with multiple artists on it so I take my hats off to the Pete Rocks, Statik Selektahs and 9th Wonders because I can say I relate to your stress.
You also produced “We Made You” for Eminem. Did you know you had a hit on your hands with that beat?
No, not at all. It was just a regular beat. It almost became a throwaway beat because nobody wanted it. When I first made it, it was when I was making Arbitration. I liked it because I thought it was different but everybody that I was pushing it to, they didn’t like it and I can understand that because it didn’t fit them. There’s certain production that I wish was on The First Treatment but it’s not because the artists that’s on it don’t like that type of production. You can’t force it on an artist like they have to take it. I went through, like, five or six different singers and writers for the hook of “We Made You.” It was actually called “Rock Star.” That was the original name. For the life of me, I didn’t like anything that people were doing and I kept having this Sleepy Brown hook in my head that I just thought would have been dope, to have Sleepy Brown on the hook and OutKast on the song. That was my vision and that’s what I saw and obviously I couldn’t put that vision into play. Charmagne Tripp was on the original and the final version. I thought it was a dope-ass record but I was so focused on my project that I didn’t really pursue anything with it. When I was down in Atlanta I was trying to pursue OutKast and other people for my compilation.
Then Bizarre recorded to it and he said he wanted it for his album and I thought it was going to be a big record for him. I always believed in the record even before Charmagne was on it, but that definitely was not one of my hottest beats ever, at all. That was just one of those joints that you just make when you’re in a zone and you just make a beat. I was in another world that day and just made that beat. I’m on the East Coast and a lot of the rappers out here, they don’t like that stuff. They like the boom-bap stuff.
Were you with Eminem when he recorded the song?
Nah, nah, nah. They got wolves and gatekeepers to keep people away from Eminem at that time. He had just gone through his detox stage of sobering up. Even Bizarre and D12, it was hard for them to get around him. They kept him very isolated during that timeframe and they didn’t give me the chance to work with him.
You won a Grammy with that song. What did “We Made You” do for you?
It was like a gift and a curse at the same time. It was something that I felt happened too fast and all the expectation levels shot through the roof. Everybody in the family thought I was the richest man in the world. “This summer, we’re going to the Cape. And Doc’s paying for it, right?” And I guess because I never really got a chance to get my true credit on it that I never really felt, like, truly a part of the song too. I guess in that sense, it was kind of the curse of it. A lot of people, to this day, still think Dr. Dre produced it because it says “Dr. Dre” so why would they lie?
What’s your creative process like when you work on music?
It’s really based off of my mood and what type of mood I’m in. A lot of stuff I’ve been doing lately is more like “Skies are Grey.” It’s more musical in a sense where there’s a lot of live percussion and instrumentation, like a live guitar player, some live drum parts mixed with MPC drum parts. Before I didn’t have the time to do a lot of that stuff. Like, when I sit down and I produce, you would think that after all this shit, you would think that I have more time to produce but it’s completely the opposite. If you look at The First Treatment, it’s produced by me. You see that it’s mixed and mastered by me and my engineer. All the videos and all the marketing is my label with Universal. There’s so much business. Everybody says it’s 90% business and 10% talent. Unfortunately I don’t get the time at all to make beats. I’ll make a beat in between a session. I’ll be doing a session and I’ll start a beat and then 30 minutes before the artist gets here to the studio, do the session and then afterwards, finish the beat and start on another one and leave the MP on all night and come in in the morning and finish it. It’s weird. Now I’ll start a lot of stuff and I got a good team of players too. I got two guys on my team, Bruce Zimmerman and Adam. They’re both dope as hell and they both can play out anything I hum, tune or chop up the samples. I’ll chop up a sample and I won’t want to go that route because the melody in my head, I can’t take it that far with the sample but they can. Hopefully after this, there’s a lot of projects that have opened up since The First Treatment has released. Hopefully I’ll be able to spend a lot more time producing.
I also have to push The Abnormals. They’re next and Mic Geronimo’s album is coming up next. I got a 16 year-old that’s nasty as hell too. LJ, he’s an R&B singer. He’s done Broadway stuff. I think he’s going to blow Justin Bieber away. He can sing and dance. He’s an amazing kid.
Are you working on placements at the same time as well?
I mean, it should be and it will be, but unfortunately I don’t have a manager. I didn’t have a manager when I did the Eminem song. I haven’t had a manager in two years. Imagine that. All the people that are on the compilation, I did that by myself. I had help on the way, a little help here and there from intricate people, but as an artist, it’s hard to shop to other artists unless you have that relationship with them or unless you have a manager or publisher that just gets you linked up. And I need a manager badly. That’s definitely going to be one of my 2011 check-off list of things to do is to get a good-ass manager because I don’t trust anybody. That’s my problem. I didn’t trust anybody to deal with my business. I tried a few people out and they just kept fucking shit up. Or they would do stuff, like I remember when “We Made You” first came out and I was getting hit up by a bunch of people and this dude said we were charging $50,000 for a beat. What are you doing? I got one big song out. I’m not Timbaland. You’re killing me. I appreciate what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to get me money, but I don’t want to be that person. I want to be the person that works with people of all budgets. I’m not Hollywood. I like to work with people that struggle and people that got big budgets and people that just love music. I’m trying to find that manager and once I find that, you’ll know when I start getting on big projects because most people reach out to me.
What artists do you want to work with next?
We could be here all day! (laughs) There’s too many to name. Me and Nipsey Hussle, we have started working together. I would love to finish that. And I would love to work with Common, Nas, Jay-Z, The Roots…I want to do more with Mos Def…J-Cole…I like Gnarls Barkley. They’re out there. There’s a lot of people. John Mayer, we’re about to do a song together. It was weird because he’s from Connecticut. They didn’t want to work with me because of what Eminem said on “We Made You” and I told them, “I’m just a producer. I can’t say, ‘No, Em, don’t say that. Take that back.’” His manager is real cool. It took me awhile to get through his camp. He’s got a camp like Eminem has a camp. They’re like walking corporations. Right when I was going to work with him was when the Playboy article came out and that just changed everything. There’s a lot of people that I would love to work with. Jay Electronica…who else? Redman, Method Man…I mean, I could sit here all day and write up all kinds of people that are supposed to be on the comp and that I still want to work with. There’s a lot of top-notch people that I would love to work with. I know there’s a lot of people I’m probably not even thinking of. I’m the type of person where I would love to work with everybody. Pretty much the purpose of The First Treatment is that I like working with a lot of people. I like working with a lot of artists and I appreciate their music and their style and their craft. Music is music to me and it doesn’t matter what genre you’re in. I want to work with you.
What is your favorite equipment?
Akai MPC 2000.
What projects are you focusing on next?
This spring be on the lookout for The Abnormals. They got a single with Ne-Yo. That single is killer. Abnormal Reality is coming. I love their music. That’s why they’re called The Abnormals because they do hip-hop, rap, rock, basement, backpack, crossover, pop…You name it, they do it all. It’s a lot of fun to work on a project like that because they’re really left field in a lot of ways and they’re not scared to try new things. They’ll let the production take them to a different place. I think the first single is “I Don’t Wanna See the Whole World.” That’s coming out first and the video to that is ridiculous. That’s a dope video. To be honest with you, a lot of the first parts of 2011 I’m still going to be working on the compilation The First Treatment because I still have a lot of videos to put out. I just worked out a situation with MTV to release my next single “Skies are Grey.” I’ll be on MTV2 and MTV Jams. And “Fuck Outta Here” has become an underground request so we’re shooting that video next week. That’s from my group The Abnormals. I have a remix for “Is It a Dream?” coming out and then I got the physical CD coming out. The first part of 2011 is going to be a lot of The Abnormals and The First Treatment. I’m also working with another producer named Tar Boy who did a lot of work for T.I. and J-Kwon’s “Tipsy” and Nelly’s “Air Force Ones” single. He’s a producer signed to Def Jam and his album is coming out. He’s like rock. He’s like B.o.B/Travis McCoy…He reminds me of Digital Underground a little bit too. I know that sounds like a weird concoction. I’m co-executive producing his album.
I’m working heavily on Mic Geronimo’s album. I got three movies I’m finishing up. I’m in two of them and the second lead in one of those. One of them is about a rapper from Rhode Island and it sounds like it’s another one of those movies but it’s really different. The writer and the director really came up with a creative approach to that.
And then I’m doing a movie in Chicago where I’m playing the detective and I’m scoring both movies. I know Freeway and Kerry Washington are supposed to be in those movies. It’s about a lady who owns a hotel who buys it from a man who loses it and he lost money to a kingpin and the kingpin from Chicago comes to her to let her know that she just inherited this man’s debt and she says she has nothing to do with it and she turns the hotel into a madam hotel where people can come and get their shit sucked off and hit off and all that. She gets into this whole underworld world of criminals and actions that she’s not used to and she becomes this powerful person. It’s crazy. That’s a good-ass film.
And then I got this other one that I just finished up scoring on. It’s coming out through Lion Gate. It’s about a girl who falls in love with her father’s murderer and she doesn’t know that it’s her father’s murderer. I just love all of that. Years ago before I got sick, I used to be a movie critic for a newspaper. I had my own column and everything. It’s crazy because I love all that stuff. 2011 is going to be a busy year. The only thing I know that’s coming out for sure this year is the Rhode Island movie about the rapper who goes through all this craziness. That goes into production at the end of March. It’s definitely going to be a busy year. I pushed everything to the side so I could get my health in order and get my project out. And now that that’s out I can finally have the freedom to work on other people’s projects. I didn’t want to do it at the time.