You co-executive produced Prodigy’s new album HNIC 2. What exactly did you do for the album?
Well, me and P worked on the project for a couple of years and then for the last six months, we were together for 12 hours a night. So basically together we chose which records to use, which producers to bring in. I was pretty much like his right-hand man. It was a lot of just me and him working on the project.
With his upcoming jail bid, was there a sense of urgency to finishing this project?
Not really. We had started the project a couple of years back, but there was a sense of urgency for him doing the videos. He wanted to make it as hot as possible but he wasn’t really rushing it. The album was really done a couple of months before he went in, so for the last couple of months, he was just adding a last few touches and he was trying to promote it, really. That’s about it. He was also working on HNIC2.com. He was working pretty hard on that.
Are you happy with how HNIC 2 came out?
Yeah, definitely. I’m definitely happy about that. It’s a continuation from the first HNIC. It’s another chapter in Prodigy’s life.
How much of HNIC 2 did you engineer?
I mixed every song on the album and recorded other songs, but some of the songs were recorded on the West Coast and I was working on other projects, so I probably recorded maybe half of the album and maybe not even that many, but I did mix the whole record.
Do you do anything specific when you’re mixing for Prodigy?
Well, basically the best soundscape that I can possibly give each mix, whether it’s Prodigy or another artist. I have been working with Prodigy for 11 years. Most of the times, they know what I’m going to do. I give them their sound. We kind of have the same vision for what the music should sound like and then other people have ideas sometimes. But he trusts me and 90% I do on my own.
Being that you’ve worked together for so long, is there a trust there that you don’t have with new clients?
Yeah. With him and Havoc, when I mix the Havoc songs, he trusts me so much that I’ve done so many songs in the last 11 years that he doesn’t even have to show up. I do all the drops and the intros and we just kind of hear the same thing. I like that hard music with good clarity and he trusts me with what I do. And if there’s ever anything that we need to change, we’ll change it, but that doesn’t happen very often.
You’ve worked with so many big artists as an engineer. Do you ever fall into a pattern when mixing hip-hop artists?
The only pattern is really the technical side because when I start mixing or I’m in a different studio or I go down to Miami, then the technical side, I like to get everything working right and all of that. On the technical side, there’s a pattern to get it as best as we can possibly get it. But it’s really the song that speaks to me. I like to follow the vision of the artist and if they’re happy, then I think we’re doing a good job. Sometimes the artist will tell me to go crazy and bring in my own ideas and I’m a producer too and I’ll do most of the drops on there and change the bridge around. I even took a bridge and made it a chorus and they liked it because they didn’t hear it like that. Every artist is different, plus it keeps me interested too.
What happens when an artist isn’t happy with a mix?
Most of the times, we go back and forth and it’s good. It’s their vision too and they’ve been working on it for awhile and sometimes they get used to the way it sounded in terms of the demo or the rough mix and they want it to have that feeling and for it to sound better. Half the time it’s like that and now that everybody has Pro Tools, they want to do a lot of it themselves. A lot of times I’ll start from scratch with the mix and go crazy with it to just give it a whole new sound and to see what I can do.
Some artists are perfectionists and are great producers to work with and we’ll really go back and forth a lot. Alchemist is like that. On this album, he let me do my thing. He wasn’t too crazy on going back and forth. He just gave me a couple of ideas. On other projects, we went back and forth a lot. It’s fun going back and forth with him. Half the time I’m doing things myself and it’s good to have different opinions. When me, the producer and the artist like it, then we know that we’re doing the right thing.
You’ve done a ton of work with QB artists. Is that just how it worked out or are those your favorite artists to work with?
That’s just because I got in with Mobb Deep, really, and then everybody else was coming through, like Nas. I think the first artist I worked with outside of Mobb Deep was Nas. It just happened like that. And I’m from Long Island so I’m close to Queens.
Do you find that as you do more work that your reputation speaks for itself and you don’t have to advertise your services?
Oh, yes. You know, more so than the reputation, some of the songs, the mixes of the songs kind of speak for themselves. Someone will like what I did with Mobb Deep so they’ll want to use me for this. 50 Cent will say he like what I did with Mobb Deep and then we’ll work together. We recorded 50 Cent before he got signed to Shady. He did “Bump Dat” and “Clap Those Things”. Those were two songs he did and he wasn’t even signed. It’s the work that really speaks for itself. And each mix that I do, I don’t let the reputation get in the way. I just take it as one song at a time.
You’ve worked a lot with 50 Cent after he signed to Shady too. Do you find that once you have the relationships established, it’s easier to work with artists as they move up in the game?
Yeah. I think it has a lot to do with it. Me and 50 get along because I’m always pretty honest and give my honest opinion and tell him the way I see it. When I mixed those songs for him, I would tell him it would sound good but something wasn’t right. He would fix it right there on the spot. He was such a professional. We would then mix it and we went from there. I think the work at the end of the day and the final product is what he and another artist might like that keeps them coming back. They want to hear Sola again.
Do you use different mixing techniques when you’re mixing for a mixtape cut versus an album cut?
Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I’m sure you know a lot of the mixtapes are two-tracked, so there’s not much that you can really do. There’s a little bit that you can do, but it is a little different. It’s quicker and it’s more raw. It’s the feeling. It doesn’t have to be as polished. So it’s definitely different techniques. Half of it is about the same, but you have to go with what you have sometimes.
You also write music. How did you get into writing?
I started as a guitar player. I write music. I wrote “Struggle No More” for Tyler Perry’s movie. That really opened up a lot of doors too. That gave me a lot of exposure and good money, because it was the lead single to the soundtrack and it did really good at radio. So it’s a good thing for me. It’s a real good thing for me.
How does knowing how to play guitar help you as a producer?
Knowing music and actually playing in a band really helps. When someone loops a record, they loop it, but I was in a band and I know what a snare sounds like and I can give you the live snare if that’s what you want. And my rhythm helps me with rappers. I almost feel like playing lead guitar is like being a rapper because you have the flow and you have the innovation and that’s the same thing with being a lead guitar player. You’re in the lead and you’re doing different notes.
It definitely helps me as far as producing. And I don’t struggle with producing. It helps me not be just a beat-makers and I know how to tune the guitar. It helps me just be aware of the sonic quality and the vocals. Most of the time, whether I’m engineering or producing, it would help me out and help me get others a good vocal take. Sometimes you can fix it but sometimes it’s better to do it right from the beginning and it definitely helps me out. And sometimes I forget about that too because Havoc and Alchemist, a lot of times you have to forget about the technical aspect and just go with your feelings, so I do a little bit of both.
Are you going to focus more on producing in the future?
Yeah. I mean, definitely. A lot of it is producing now. I’ve been getting a lot of production calls now. I just did a song with 40 Glocc. I did one with Big Noyd. I’m working on a compilation and we’re still trying to work out the details as far as if it’s going to come out on my company or somewhere else. Big Noyd and Mobb Deep are going to be on it. Imam Thug and Infamous Mobb will be on it. I produced three songs on Infamous Mobb’s new album Reality Rap. That album didn’t get too much exposure from the record companies but I think that’s a good album.
Speaking of Infamous Mobb, it was reported that they split up prior to the album dropping. Do you know why?
I’m not sure if that’s really it. I don’t think they really split up. I don’t know the exact details, but at P’s release party, Twin and G.O.D. were onstage together and Ty Nitty was out of town. I just think that record company problems might have to do with problems within the group. The actual commercial exposure is kind of hard for them because they’re so underground but I feel like they’re good.
As you get more experience, how do you find yourself still growing?
Well, because last year, I was doing the R&B song “Struggle No More” and this year I was an executive producer. It just keeps me still looking towards the future and I love music so much that I was doing music when I wasn’t even making any money. I love music regardless. When I was working on Mobb Deep during the Murda Muzik era, I had a fever and Havoc was late. I was smoking and I did a beat and Havoc liked it and wanted to write to it. I wasn’t doing it to get a paycheck. I was just doing it for the love of it. It keeps me interested and in the changing times, you have to embrace it too. So it’s a love of music that helps me to keep growing.
Do you see a lack of quality mixes and less work for yourself now that more and more producers are mixing their tracks in Pro Tools?
It has affected me because of the quality. Only when I’m mixing, it’s a little bit harder because it’s not recorded as good, whereas 10 years ago, all the people that were recording were usually better. They were usually engineers and now, pretty much half of them are Pro Tools operators and they’re not really engineers. So it really is harder to get a good sound. But again, you still gotta get out a good product and at the end of the day, it’s still good. It’s a challenge and if people do more music, I get more mixing done. 10 years ago, I had to do a lot of the recording and the mixing, so it’s good. It gives me more time to mix more record and produce more. To me it’s good because I’ve changed. I’m producing more and executive producing and I’m doing the Prodigy Spanish album. I’m going to be executive producing that one too.
Can you explain the Voxonic language-translating technology for those who haven’t heard about it?
We can put the music in any language. We can do it in Chinese, Japanese, a lot of Spanish, French and we can put it in as many languages as there are. We can put it in 1,500 languages or even more. It’s really incredible. It’s a new territory. I’m so glad to be a part of it and be a part of Voxonic. As an engineer and as a producer, it’s crazy. It’s new territory.
What was your role in developing Voxonic’s language-translating technology?
I’m head of production at Voxonic. I’m making sure that anything that comes out goes through me. It goes through me so I make sure that it sounds right and that it’s the vision of the artist. They have the technology and they’re really in charge of the actual legal side of it.
Does anything get lost in translation when you’re putting the music in a new language?
It’s not that it gets lost. It might. It might. But at the same time, we are so persistent in getting the vision of the artist right that it’s important to us. My first language is Italian. I was born in Rome and came here when I was 12. So I’m bilingual and I know how important it is. We also want to get out what the artist is trying to say. We’re not literal in the translation, but it’s very important to get out what the artist is saying. It’s very important to me personally and to Voxonic, of course.
When I heard a Prodigy song in Spanish, some words were in English. Is that pretty common on most of the translated songs?
We call that a mash. His album is going to be mostly in Spanish. It’s going to be about 90%. We might change some of the words or some of the hooks. Some of the words that people would know in English, I would like to use just to give it that little bit of English in there, but it’s going to be mostly in Spanish.
Will you be translating a lot of albums in the future?
I think so. The market is wide open. We’re doing a whole Spanish album for Prodigy. We could do Nas in French. Just the possibilities are really endless. So it’s going to be a whole new chapter. I’m looking forward to it. It’s fun. It’s been fun. It’s been fun for the last couple of years. We did Kimani in Spanish and we did Fabolous in French. It’s definitely fun and interesting and I’m glad to be a part of it.
Have any labels expressed an interest in having their albums released in different languages?
Yeah. We are working with a few companies with that. We’re even working on catalogues and the details will probably be released very soon. We even have major, major companies on a worldwide level, commercial companies that aren’t even in music, that want the technology with the Vox voices.
What’s the next move for Steve Sola?
My main focus is definitely going to be on the Prodigy Spanish album, which is in the process. And I’m also producing for my own compilation. And I have a couple of engineers where if I’m doing one thing, they can be recording another artist. The 40 Glocc song that I produced, one of my engineers actually recorded him. I’m just trying to keep growing and if something else comes along, I’m a workaholic.