Your EP, First Born, is finally out. How’s the project been doing for you so far on iTunes?
I haven’t checked it. I haven’t checked it. I’m nervous. I’m happy to finally have something out though. It definitely feels like a major weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I’m really happy. It just allows me at this point to move onto the next one. That chapter is closed. So that’s basically it. I know it’s been selling because I always get a notice from iTunes every week and I know there’s some sort of activity happening because even on my MySpace page, you can click onto the link and it will send you to the iTunes store. I noticed that the traffic just grew by, like, 10 times. I’ve never seen that before. Once this was out and once I started promoting it, a lot of traffic has been coming to the page so I guess there is something happening there. I just haven’t looked at it yet.
For fans who don’t know, what exactly is The East Flatbush Project?
Basically it’s just a platform to highlight and to showcase new talent that I’m particularly interested in. It doesn’t mean that every person has to come from East Flatbush. No one on the project other than myself is from East Flatbush. I’m the one that’s from East Flatbush. So, like, guys can come from anywhere, all around the world. It doesn’t matter.
I guess the best way to describe it is using that whole Saturday Night Live brand. You have that brand and throughout the years you will have different comedians that are signing and blowing up off of Saturday Night Live. That’s the same thing I’m doing off The East Flatbush Project. I’m just branding the name and it makes it more easier for me to get the product out there because people say the name and they say, “Okay.” It’s synonymous with good music and they’re familiar with the name so I chose to keep that name instead of anytime I get a new artist and we change the name. They’ll be like, ‘Who the hell is that?’ But once you put “The East Flatbush Project” attached to it, they’ll say they know it now and they need to listen to it.
Oh, there’s somebody else that I almost had and it’s so funny because I knew his situation and I knew he went away and he came back and now he’s with Dipset. That was Hell Rell. I met Hell Rell probably back in, like, ’99 or 2000 when he was living in the Bronx. Matter of fact, it was the “Head to Head” that Rustee and Mirage are on, it was supposed to be Rustee and Hell Rell that was supposed to do that.
Hell Rell went to Connecticut to do whatever and I didn’t hear back from him. I think he got locked up and then all of a sudden he was with Dipset. I don’t even know if dude remembers me but I know he used to live off of the Grand Concourse around the corner from the Bronx Lebanon Hospital. And I haven’t seen him since. One day when I see him I’m going to tell him that story.
You remake a lot of your older tracks with new artists. How do you approach those tracks?
I think the “Pregame” joint, I just did that so people can remember that I did that beat. A lot of people don’t put it together that it’s the same person that did “Tried by 12”. I thought it would be hot if Stress and Dox got on it. I was like, ‘Cool, do that.’ That was basically it. And then the “Head to Head” joint, I guess there was kind of like a series of joints like EPMD used to do with “Jane”. So basically I felt that anytime I could get dudes on that and they’re spitting like that, I would call it “Head to Head” because that’s basically what they’re doing – going head to head.
“Tried by 12” is one of your biggest tracks to date. How do you look at that song today?
It’s funny because people always try to compare me or compare my production to “Tried by 12”. So it’s like I’m fighting myself, basically. And clearly there’s been a progression in my production, like there should be, since “Tried by 12”, but I think people get so caught up in the whole “Tried by 12” thing because it was such a dope record. Would people be that critical of comparing my production if “Tried by 12” didn’t exist? So that’s basically it.
It’s a gift and a curse but I’m glad that I have that under my belt. It felt good. To be able to take something from nothing and for it to still be out here 12 years later, that’s gotta be something special.
Why did “Tried by 12” do as well as it did 12 years ago?
The radio was totally different, man, to be honest. The radio was totally different. I remember I did that record and I gave it to Funkmaster Flex and he played it that night with no problem. DJs played records back then with no problem. With no problem. DJs today won’t play independent hip-hop on a major radio station. Not at all. Especially not in New York. I don’t know about elsewhere, but not here. If Flex was spinning it, other DJs say, “I’m going to spin it too.” That song caught on.
Some DJs still fronted on “Tried by 12”. They would say it wasn’t fresh but they just couldn’t stop it. I think definitely the game has definitely changed and that’s why I think that record was a success. It kind of just had legs of its own. It was a combination of it being a hot record and then you had DJs on commercial radio that were willing to give it a shot and I think that that era was it. You had Boot Camp, you had Jeru…It was kind of like a balance at that time. You still had De La and you had Tribe out. You had Biggie and you had Jay and you had Nas. You just had a different mixture.
Now it’s different. That’s why “Tried by 12” was successful. Can you think of any other records that were an independent record that blew like that? So I think it was just that the stars were aligned. That’s basically what happened.
How important was “Pregame”, the song you produced for Jay-Z and Sauce Money that was on the Belly soundtrack, to your career?
I got a gold record from that, man. It got me noticed. It got me in the door with Jay-Z. After a point when I met Jay, I played him a bunch of beats and he liked everything. I was trying to get on the Hard Knock Life album but he told me he had it done. I’ll never forget it. As soon as I walked in Jay was there and Dame was there and they was just vibing to the tracks and he was like, ‘You wanna be down?’ All right, cool. At the time, this is around the time when Jay-Z said he was going to retire and I asked him if this was really true that he was going to retire and he was really done with it. He said yeah. So I’m thinking to myself what’s the point of signing to these dudes if I can’t do any more joints with the dude that I wanted to rock with? You know what I mean?
So at that point they were starting to get that whole Rocawear thing jumping off. So they had that going on and I just felt like I was better off not signing. At the time I wanted a Jerry Maguire-type dude who would go to bat for me and I didn’t have that. I didn’t have that kind of support.
So it was between him and Eric Nicks, who used to work at Violator. Eric Nicks is a good friend of mine and it’s so funny because one day I went to Rocafella and Jay-Z was there again and Eric said I was down with him. Jay was like, ‘I thought we were going to do something.’ I didn’t even have no words to say. I remember I saw Dame Dash in the club one day and he told me to come see him and Jay on Monday. I was like, ‘All right.’ I ended up doing something for Memphis Bleek that was supposed to be on his first album but they never put it out for whatever reason. That was in October of ’98 and that was the last time I spoke with them. So I guess maybe sometime after that Kanye stepped in.
Do you ever look at Kanye and think that could have been you?
I could have been Kanye. (laughs)
Do you think about that a lot?
I don’t think about it on a daily basis but I think about it from time to time because it’s so funny. When I think about that song that he did off his first album, “Raise Your Glasses”, and he tells his whole story of how he hooked up with Jay-Z, I’m like, ‘That was me.’ I’ll never forget it. I was getting ready to work with a rapper and I got in the car and before I even played anything else, the rapper was like, ‘Hold on, I gotta play you something. You know Kanye got your spot, right?’ I don’t like to think about it but you might be right. I think at the same time Buckwild was supposed to be over there too. I think he was trying to get Buckwild but I don’t know what happened with that. That’s what it is and that’s what it was. I guess everything happens for a reason.
Do you have any regrets from those days?
I should have gone with them dudes. Had Jay-Z said, “Nah, I am going to still rhyme,” then I was like, ‘Okay, cool.’ But he told me, it came out of his mouth, that he wasn’t going to do it anymore. And my point was like, ‘What’s the use? What’s the point in me rocking over here and you’re not coming out with anything?’ I think at the time he just had Memphis Bleek. So I was rocking with them right at the time when Hard Knock Life dropped.
How frustrating is it having tracks with artists like Memphis Bleek and Foxy Brown that never came out?
It was a blow, man, because I had four or five things lined up in that year. I had the Sauce Money joint. Then I found out that it was going to be on the Belly soundtrack. And then I did a joint for Foxy that was supposed to be on her album. And then I was supposed to be doing a joint for Lil’ Shawn. I think he had just gotten a deal with Elektra before he got locked up. And then there was somebody else I was working with. I’m trying to think who else it was. There was somebody else but at the time I was supposed to have three things out and then it was a blow. Foxy decided at the last minute not to use the song. She decided to go with somebody else. And then Memphis Bleek’s team ended up using this beat. He wanted this beat for a long time and I finally gave it to him. Somebody else was supposed to buy it but I was able to give it to him and then it just wound up on mixtapes. That was it.
And then the one joint I did with Foxy ended up on Envy’s mixtape. And as a matter of fact there’s a joint with NORE on the hook. I forget what mixtape it was on. So between that and the politics, I was just frustrated. It was just like a nice setup for me and then for that to happen, damn. I just kind of stepped back away from shopping beats and I probably should have just kept going, but I was just like, ‘Fuck it.’
So I took a hiatus and then I hooked up with Rustee and did the Rustee Juxx thing. And then Rustee and Mirage did the “Head to Head” joint. And I think around that time I bought a house and got caught up in that. I had a family and by the time I got situated again, it was three years and then I got hooked up with Stress and Dox. As a matter of fact, Needlz is the one that got me hooked up with Dox. He had two artists that he wanted me to check out, one was Dox and one was Serius Jones.
I chose to hook up with Dox. After that I hooked up with Dox. He played me a mixtape that he did called Perfect Strangers and then I heard Stress on that. Then I got their numbers and was like, ‘I want to work with y’all.’ We just went in the studio and we knocked out some songs and one of them was the “Head to Head” and two other joints. But that was it. And I just think we worked so well. I think we’re a good match. That’s basically it.
How did you put your First Born EP together so that it represented what you wanted it to?
I tried to make the EP pretty much as consistent as possible. There are hard beats and hard lyrics, but that’s not all my production style. I felt that on this particular project, I think that’s where I needed to go because that’s what people are used to. So I wanted to make it consistent. The next time I come out it may be something different but I just wanted to bridge that gap. It kind of all fits together with “Hush” and “Tried by 12” and “Head to Head”. They all kind of fit nicely with one another. It just kind of jelled.
Is your main focus in the future going to be getting placements on other artists’ albums or doing more tracks as The East Flatbush Project?
I want to build a brand. I want to build up the name The East Flatbush Project. I just want it to be bigger than what it is now. The underground heads, they know about it but I just want that name to be bigger than what it is.
Can you take us through the making of a Spencer4Hire beat?
I don’t think about it. I just do it. And that’s something I just learned. Once you try to do something that’s forced or you try to do a beat that sounds like somebody, I don’t think people are going to feel it. I like going and working and approaching a track as an unknown, like, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to come with.’
What equipment do you use?
I still use the SP 1200. I use the MPC 2000. I play the keyboard and I play the keys.
Are we going to see an East Flatbush Project album anytime soon?
You know, you’ll just have to wait and see. I’m definitely dropping another EP in November. But before then I’m dropping a mixtape called Retro that should be coming out sometime next month. It’s pretty dope. That’s basically my whole thing, working on those two and possibly working on an album next year. I just want to see how the people respond to this EP and the next EP and I can go forward from there. I’m going to focus on the music and I’m definitely going to get back to shopping beats too.
Where do you want to be a year from now?
On that stage accepting a Grammy for Best Album. I definitely want to be more established and cemented as a producer and recognized and accepted as a producer and just having that East Flatbush Project name out there and just constantly working on good music at all times. Basically that’s all I do.