Anatomy of a hip-hop song: Local producers weigh in on what it takes to make a great track
Dealz Makes Beats
Dealz Makes Beats (aka Hadley Evans) is not your average new school era producer. While he does incorporate the necessary technological pieces in order to keep relevant and fresh, he is, at heart, a minimalist at the foundation. For Dealz, there is nothing like digging ("tirelessly" he says, with much enthusiasm) for the rarest song to be used as a sample or even to spark that creative fire that births a tight beat in the first place. Not only does Dealz make beats, as his name suggests, he can most certainly hold his own around a freestyle cipher.
When we met up at Joe Thunder's house recently, one of the first things Thunder stated was that Dealz should be a rapper. There was uproarious agreement from those in the room who knew this to be true, particularly from his good friend, MC Mr. Morning After, who pointed out how much Dealz favored Jay-Z with his NY Yankee cap and leather jacket on.
Dealz took it all in stride, but before the night was over, he definitely made believers out of the few of us who had not heard him freestyle. He's a funny guy but takes his beat making and producing responsibilities very seriously -- well, as serious as possible, for a guy whose smile precedes his actual presence.
Dealz takes the standard questions on beat making and producing and provides his natural spin and tone that to give a new take on the old school approaches to making music.
Westword: What are the physical components that a beat can't survive without.
Dealz: Especially in hip-hop, a beat absolutely need drums. Clean, dirty, raw. kicks, snares, hi-hats. From lunch room tables to MPCs, drums are what drive the rhythm and emotion of the beat.
Do you prefer the more hands on approach or the director's point of production?
I enjoy both approaches. I like to physically find the sample, drums, extra sounds. With those sounds, I can create the setting for an artist. I also like being there as the artist forges ahead with their plot. The setting with the plot is like the bones with the muscles. I feel there's a duty as a producer to be there throughout all the processes from pre-production to post production.
How do you keep from making the same song over again?
TIRELESSLY DIGGING FOR ANY RECORD THAT SPINS ON A TURNTABLE! That and connecting with other musicians form other genres. Learning what tools they use and what they listen to is a great way for me to keep my sound fresh. I also listen to everything that passes my ears.
What is the first thing that jumps out at you from a song?
The first thing I notice is the initial feeling of the song. I try not to break down every technical aspect of the song. I just want to see if I'm getting the feeling the artist wanted me to catch. After that, then I'll find what makes me get to that feeling. Maybe the kick is nasty or the hi-hats are sharp. It really varies from song to song.
When you go in to make a beat, what is the thing you build first?
That varies from beat to beat and day to day. On an odd day, I'll wake up and throw on a record and let that wax spin until I hear something that makes me want to. Then I'll see if i can somehow give it my own take. On a good day, I'll chop up the record and then build the drums around that. On an even day, I'll chop some drum breaks and play with those on the MP until I either stumble upon a dope pattern or make some pretty ill drum layers. From that I'll play a record over the drums, or I'll play along with the record and chop it up from there. Whatever feels right at the time.
What is it like working with an artist during a production session? How do you balance your vision with that of the artist and still maintain the integrity of the record?
I have to build a level or trust and respect with an artist before we can even begin the session. My job is to draw the picture on the paper. It's the artist's job to color it in anyway they feel can help get their vision across to the viewer. Now if we use the picture as a reference for music, I have to make a beat that the artist can create his or her own world in. They trusted me to provide the music; I respect them enough to place the words where they feel right. With trust and respect, the integrity of the record is maintained and in some instances it gains more integrity.
What do you think are the commonalities in producers who have worked on (and will work on) some of the most inspiring and iconic albums?
I think one commonality between Dilla, Premo, Marley Marl, Hank Shocklee and every classic producer we can name, is they created sounds with no concept boundaries. Too many hip-hop "Know-It-Alls" try to place rules or laws over something as rebellious as hip-hop. These producers broke down those rules and laws, but respected what came before them. In turn they gave us what hip-hop, and music, as a whole, will revere as CLASSICS after them. All because they figured out new ways of making something out of a sampler or keyboard. In a way they went back to the future on everyone.
What are your top three most eloquently produced albums?
Amhad Jamal's Tranquility, Kanye West's College Dropout and Nas's Illmatic.
Do you think there is a technical responsibility to be had in production?
I don't believe there's any technical responsibility. But I do think there is a responsibility to never lose the meaning of making music. In my opinion the only education a producer would need is to know the history of hip-hop production. Go back, listen, become a fan again. As far as responsibilities, as long as the producer feels right about the music, the beat, the lyrics -- if needed -- the song itself; they've shown all the responsibility that a good producer needs