Anatomy of a hip-hop song: Local producers weigh in on what it takes to make a great track
Pretty much everything produced by Graffiti Black is tinged with his penchant for the funny. Each beat and component of a Graffiti made track is comprised of his love for soulful beats and uncanny adlibs -- not too different from a conversation with him, really.
Westword: What is your Graffiti signature sound?
Graffiti Black: Loud, drums, bass, just unique ear-catching shit that you wouldn't usually hear in a beat. I don't know where it comes from. I don't sound like anyone else when I produce and make beats, though. I have my own way of manipulating sound that comes directly from me.
Do you remember in the late '90's, when not matter who it was, the Neptunes were producing everything and you could always tell it was them? You say you don't sound like other producers, so in what ways do you sound like yourself?
Probably the samples. I've sampled a lot and it's not your typical samples. Most cats will sample the shit off a Motown sample. I like to dig in the crates, but I'd rather watch a cartoon or something like that -- Thundercats or something and sample that, something people recognize. I don't sit and think about the shit. Whenever I hear the shit I just go do it.
You're naturally a really funny guy.
That's what they tell me.
In what ways do you incorporate your personality into your music?
Because it's random, I don't want any beat to sound the same. I don't take it too serious. Some producers are so damn serious, and you can hear it in the music. I don't focus on it too hard. I'll just play around with the drums and different patterns, add hella claps and no drums or all drums and no claps to see how it sounds, and it's just freedom.
Where did you learn the process of producing?
I don't know. I just got a drum machine and started doing it. Watching YouTube videos and things like that -- Kanye, Alchemist, all that, and how they do it. Boonie Mayfield. Boone Doc -- that's how I learned how to chop, by watching his YouTube videos.
It's dope that you're learning from your peers. Are you giving any lessons these days?
I take a lot of lessons, actually one of my homeboys, Dave Boy, who won that battle [CO Unity Series] and he beat me in the battle, he teaches me a lot. I'm still learning. I'm not where I want to be as a producer just yet, so I'm listening to a lot of advice. Plus, I don't want to give all of my secrets out to these youngins coming up in the game [laughs]
Do you find that you do more blueprinting and creating the work? Or are you more of a director?
When I think of beat making, I think of people who feel like making beats or they make a gang of beats and shop them around. A producer has a certain artist in mind and a certain sound they want the artist to mesh with. When I make a beat that I want Midas on, I know how to make a Midas track. I'll get with Midas, and he'll know what I'm going to give him. That's producing, beat making is when you have a track and you offer it up for use.
So you've learned what the elements are to a Midas track?
Yes, but not just Midas. You can tell with every artist, depending on what type they are. You know your artist, you can go with their certain sound but you have to incorporate your own shit. I know how to step into the lab and make a track that sounds just like Mr. Midas. But overall, I can do that for any artist that I work with, as well as create something from scratch that gives them a whole new air to the music.
How do you use your equipment to continually raise the bar.
I got a lot of shit that I don't even touch. When you watch a video with Kanye or someone, they have a huge studio. You don't really need all of that. All I need is my turntable for the sample, my MPD for the drums and any programming system. For me, it's the simpler the better. You can beatbox a beat, really.
Who are some of the producers that you really admire?
I'd say Alchemist; I like that grimy, dirty sound. Kanye West, Dr. Dre, with his hard pianos, 9th Wonder, Dilla, of course.
In those that you mentioned, do you find that there that commonality of dopeness?
Definitely. Those are all legendary producers, and they have their own sound and method. A lot of these new producers like Drumma Boy and all of them, they're tight but they sound the same. Cool & Dre and The Runners all make sounds and music that sound the same, so I wouldn't really call them dope. You have to make something new.
Break down the physical components that a beat can't survive without.
In my opinion, a beat is nothing without bass or a kick drum. It also must have a catchy melody or well chopped sample that will make the track memorable, but you have to drop that boom on a beat if you really want it to be felt. The bass/kick drum is the heart of the beat
Do you prefer the hands on approach of beat making or the overall director's approach in a full production session?
I like to build a beat based on what I'm feeling at the moment. When that beat is created, I then try to find the right ill MC to rock upon it. I usually have in mind a certain way I want the song to sound and feel. It should vibe out when I'm making it, so I like to kinda push that on the artist. But at the same time, I like for them to do what they do first, and if I can work with it, then we just roll on from there.
Are there tons of beats just laying around that you don't use?
I wouldn't say tons, but yes, I have a nice healthy stash. Sometimes I may be in my zone just banging out beat after beat with no intentional of selling them or anything, just vibing out. Banging on a drum pad, creating all of that beautiful ruckus is quite therapeutic.
What are the key pieces to the best production team?
Creativity, understanding, creativity, good chemistry and creativity.
When you go in to make a beat, what is the thing you build first?
I'm a heavy sampler, so I like to build around a selected sample. It usually goes from there to the claps/snares. Then come the drums. After that comes the Dopeness.
What do you think producers who have worked on iconic albums like, Dilla Preemo, and Dre have in common that makes them great?
All of those producers named, and every other legendary producer are who they are because they were not afraid to make the type of music that THEY wanted to hear. Too many producers get caught up trying to make beats that they think everyone would like instead of just doing what the feel. Gotta step outside of the beat box and just be yourself.
So what are your three picks for the most eloquently produced album of any genre?
Jay-Z's American Gangster, Michael Jackson's Thriller, U2's Viva La Vida.