Don Cannon Interview
|Label:||Cannon Music, LLC.|
|Next Project:||Working with Asher Roth, The Cool Kids, Lil' Scrappy & Juelz Santana|
|Twitter:||Don Cannon on Twitter|
|Website:||Don Cannon's Website|
Upon hearing a great hip-hop record, the vast majority of mainstream listeners are content to attribute the track’s success to the talent of the artist. If you’re visiting this site, however, you know better – when a cut truly comes together, half the credit (and often more) must be given to the man behind the curtain, a.k.a. the producer. Though the musical trends and changes in fashion constantly taking place in hip-hop may seem artist-driven, those who look a little closer will note that the beatsmiths behind the songs they love are often the individuals chiefly responsible for driving the genre forward. In the course of 2008, DJ Don Cannon has been busily leaving his fingerprints on some of the year’s hottest cuts, and there’s no question that he’s angling to expand his influence even further in the year ahead.
Don Cannon’s recent résumé has found him working with some of the biggest names in the game today, from Jeezy (“Circulate,” off The Recession) to Busta (“Light Up a Fire” off the forthcoming B.O.M.B.), to Luda (“Everybody Hates Chris” and “Undisputed” off the recently-released Theater of the Mind), and, fortunately for us, his future plans don’t include slowing the pace; in the coming months, listeners can expect to hear his production work on brand new material by Asher Roth, Lil’ Scrappy, The Cool Kids, and Juelz Santana.
In an exclusive interview with our very own DJ “Z”, Don Cannon steps into the Booth to discuss his production mentors, what the future holds for those in his line of work, and who he considers today’s “Undisputed” champion of production.
Listen to the Interview
Don Cannon Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on, everybody? It’s your boy “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is one of the most in-demand producers in the game today. His crafty work behind the board landed him two records on Ludacris’s newest, Theater of the Mind as well as a placement on Jeezy’s recently-released The Recession. Please welcome a Philly native who is a tastemaker in the truest sense of the word, DJ Don Cannon.
Don Cannon: Yessir, I’m in the building – what up, Z?
DJ Booth: Not too much, my man. You’re actually gonna be in my hometown, I hear, pretty soon.:
Don Cannon: Definitely. I’m leavin’ A-Town 7:05 AM, and will be arriving in Chicago at 9:30 AM. I will be in the building, Chitown.
DJ Booth: I hope you are packing your parka, ‘cause it’s freezing here.
Don Cannon: That’s what they tell me. I just went and got some long johns today. They’re hard to find in Atlanta – we don’t get the long john weather – but I’ve got a jacket already. I’m actually making a promo run, I’m goin’ to Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Philly – you know, those are the coldest cities out right now.
DJ Booth: Well, growin’ up in Philly, you know all about making sure to stay warm during the winter, so I have no doubt you’re going to smartly pack.
Don Cannon: Of course, of course.
DJ Booth: Don, I was told that you’d prefer not at all to discuss your amicable split from the Aphiliates Music Group, and the subsequent signing to Ebony Sun, and I completely respect that. I have two related questions for you, that I hope you’ll answer. First, Chaka Zulu was quoted as saying, “As a leading producer in the current and future sound of hip hop, Don Cannon has a diverse style, and I would put him in line with producers such as DJ Premiere and DJ Toomp.” Don, how do you feel about the compliment, and has your new situation built up any unrealistic expectations?
Don Cannon: I doubt that it’s built up any expectations. I know people love me for what I do, and I know a lot of the music I’ve been putting out has a lot of my heart in it, and I think that’s what everybody expects. I did put it out there that I don’t want to speak about the situation, but I don’t want to speak ‘cause it’s not negative – I’m still close friends with the boys over there, we made nice decisions, but wherever you go, no matter if you’re family, no matter if you’re business partners, sometimes you have different visions for things, and you don’t wanna be like, “Your vision is wrong!” You just be like, “Well, you do your vision, I’m gonna do mine, and hopefully we’ll get back up and do some other stuff later.” I know a lot of people compare me to Premier and Toomp – Toomp is one of [my] homies, and I just met Premiere earlier this year. For him to say that he was lookin’ at me as one of his favorite producers kinda made me happy, ‘cause I grew up listening to Premiere. I actually started out making beats like Premiere, and growin’ into my own style.
DJ Booth: Meeting Premier, talking to these guys, seeing what they’re doing, knowing what you’re doing, has this whole situation for you, over the last let’s say two to three years, been surreal?
Don Cannon: Nah… With those guys, just bein’ around them, I think every possible producer, every person that writes songs, every artist needs to be under somebody, with that type of guidance, no matter how much success you have and no matter how many songs you’ve had chart at number one, you always still need that mentor. ‘Cause me, as a creative person, you still get down on your craft, even though everybody in the world loves you. You just don’t know where to go next. When you have somebody that’s just as strong as you and has been doin’ it longer, you can always reach out and survive with them, get your creative juices flowing on another level, it always helps out. So I always want to keep that kind of stuff around me, whether it be Bangladesh, whether it be Premiere, whether it be 9th Wonder, Focus, or No ID. We trade secrets back and forth, [and] we always look at it as a brotherhood.
DJ Booth: So you guys are just in one great big fraternity – that’s what it sounds like.
Don Cannon: Basically, basically. [laughs]
DJ Booth: If you guys are interested in making some real nice cash, I suggest going to a network, pitching that as a reality show, and then moving 10 of you guys into a house. What do you think?
Don Cannon: That’d be crazy! Actually, I know somebody that’s doing one like that. I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag, but they’re doing one for DJs. You’ll be able to see the life and how they work as DJs. I know people out there are curious about DJing, and there’s a show coming out. I can’t say if I’m gonna be on it or not, but it’s comin’ out. Maybe we can do one with producers – that’d be cool.
DJ Booth: Yeah, and instead of living in a house, we’ll just put you guys all in a production studio.
Don Cannon: Sh*t, that’s where we live anyways. [They could] make one big studio mansion with 50 rooms in it! [laughs]
DJ Booth: Exactly! Don, the list of artists that you’ve worked with over the past few years reads like a who’s who of the industry – of course 50 Cent, Fabolous, Outkast, and the names that I mentioned in the open. What production up to this point has been your shining moment?
Don Cannon: Oh, man… There’s a record from a crew around here called Slick & Rose, who are signed to Japan Virgin – I did my first major record with them. After that it was Young Jeezy, “Go Crazy” ft. Jay-Z. That was one of my biggest records, because Jay-Z has been my favorite rapper to date, him and Biggie Smalls – wow! My first bangin’ record out; where am I goin’? Jay-Z’s on it! Where do I go? It showed me what I’m supposed to be doin’ in this game. You know, I grew up not havin’ a lot, and just always doubtin’, “Am I supposed to be doin’ this?” ‘cause you’ve got a bunch of older cousins, uncles and aunts tellin’ you, “Don’t do music – get a job!” or “Don’t live your dreams! We don’t have no dreams! It’s all about makin’ money and takin’ care of your family!” I chose to follow my dream, takin’ a route like Kanye West. I wasn’t a real school person. I dropped out and really lived that life, like, there is no plan B. So bein’ in those heavy productions like that made me feel like I’m supposed to be here.
DJ Booth: Absolutely. I will not disagree with you at all. Speaking of business, over the last few months I have had discussions with some of your industry brethren: Play-N-Skillz, Tricky Stewart, Kerry Brothers. We talked about the direction the industry is headed in, and the effect that it will have on producers. So, based on your success up to this point, in the current climate of the industry, Don, forecast for me 2009 and beyond. What do you think’s gonna take place?
Don Cannon: I feel like the industry is gettin’ smaller by the day. They’re eliminating job titles, they’re eliminating characteristics of a person’s job – like, if you’re A&R you’re more than likely the VP and the marketing person now, so it’s too much for a person to juggle and try to develop artists nowadays. In the coming years, there are going to be a lot of artists being developed by the producer himself, and producers picking up producers who can’t build a name for themselves and puttin’ them under them, so they can get work done. I think that’s just gonna be the direction of the game. It’s just really hard to be out there as a regular artist.
DJ Booth: You mentioned that the industry has shrunk in size. How grateful are you that you’ve been able to slide in and establish yourself like you have now, before it gets any smaller?
Don Cannon: I really, really count my blessings every day, and I keep a lot of faith in God. I read a lot of magazines, and I look at these people that don’t have outlets. I know I built myself as a person, as a producer, built my brand, but at the same time it’s so hard to get out there and just stay in this game, so you’ve just gotta be able to run when your brand is hot, and bring as many people in as you can, ‘cause if you don’t, if you’re a selfish person and you come in and don’t do nothing with nobody, if you turn around and you’re down, nobody can help you. If you fall, you slip, or you break your ankle, somebody’s there to pick you up at all times, ‘cause you helped them get some money, or you helped them get to a situation that you were supposed to be in.
DJ Booth: You are certainly branding yourself, and that is thanks in part to the two mentioned records that you placed on Ludacris’s album – “Undisputed” and “Everybody Hates Chris.” I’ve spun both titles. First, who do you feel, right now, is the undisputed champion of production? You can’t answer yourself – that would be the obvious choice.
Don Cannon: I wouldn’t answer myself anyways. Right now, Kanye or Drumma Boy.
DJ Booth: Okay. If you had to choose one, between those two, who would it be?
Don Cannon: I would say Drumma Boy, ‘cause Kanye is more of an artist than a producer now. So I would say Drumma Boy just off that, ‘cause he’s just gettin’ it in right now – he’s all over everybody’s projects, he’s staying consistent, 75% of the songs are good in my book.
DJ Booth: It’s nice to hear you mention someone other than Dre. I’ve asked [artists] this question before, and it seems like everybody, no mater what, says Dr. Dre, even though the man has not placed a record on anyone’s album in a very long time. So, thank you for the refreshing, honest answer.
Don Cannon: Yeah – I mean, of all time, Dr. Dre.
DJ Booth: We’re talkin’ right now, though.
Don Cannon: Dr. Dre wouldn’t be in there ‘cause he hasn’t placed any records. Now, he is, by far, one of my favorite producers ever – him and J. Dilla, DJ Premiere, and Timbaland.
DJ Booth: That’s a good class right there. Second question: The [topic] of hate has seemingly become one of the most discussed themes in music this year – what are your thoughts on the glorification of being hated on as something positive?
Don Cannon: I think the “hate” word, it’s gone too far. A lot of people say they hate something, and really they dislike it. If you take Ludacris, for instance, he might say sometimes, “What do you think about this? Why is everybody talkin’?” or “Why are people against me, and I’m doin’ all the good stuff? You think they hate me?” Just write about it, write a song about it! If you’re doin’ this just to make a name for yourself, then make a name and do it for love. There’s only two reasons you can do it: you can do it for the love, or you can do it for money. If the hate is disruptin’ both, you don’t need to be doin’ this!
DJ Booth: At the end of the day, if no one is profiting from it, you’re absolutely wasting your time. Well, I know that you don’t like to waste your time; you’re in the studio with a lot of artists, so who have you worked with, Don, over the past few months, who we will hear from at the top of next year?
Don Cannon: I’ve been working hard with Asher Roth, a new artists out of Philly, The Cool Kids, I’m definitely workin’ with them heavy, I worked with Scrappy, helped him get his career on the right path, I’m workin’ with Fabolous, Juelz Santana. Hopefully I can get into the pop scene a little bit, too, ‘cause I’ve got a lot of records that could win for Gwen Stefani and Leona Lewis, and I’m just workin’ right now, putting together a bundle for when they call, to go in and be like, “Look: this is what you need – boom.”
DJ Booth: You mentioned earlier in the interview that working with Jay-Z on that Jeezy record was kind of an unbelievable career starting point for you in terms of popularity, but who would you like to work with in the industry who you’ve yet to work with, who’s on that same plateau?
Don Cannon: See, I’m a little bit spoiled by my mom. She kinda spoiled everybody that I really, really would [like] to work with, ‘cause I’m still young, and the people that I really admire and I’d really want to do a record with have faded away, or are a little too older, or [aren’t doing] music anymore. Stevie Wonder is one of my favorites. I know Busta Rhymes just got a chance to do a record with him – I was jealous! I was like, “Argh!” I’d like to work with them young cats and get it poppin’ for them, but they don’t really have an outlet; they don’t have the budget, the paper, for these superstar beats.
DJ Booth: Absolutely. Well, I called you a tastemaker in the truest sense of the word in the open. You’re makin’ me look good for complimenting you like that. I’m gonna let you get out of here on this last one. I read that you co-own the clothing company – and I hope that I’m pronouncing this right – SK8TIQUE?
Don Cannon: Yeah, like “boutique” and “skate” put together.
DJ Booth: It’s a streetwear and skater lifestyle brand. So, was this decision to get involved in the company purely entrepreneurial-based, or, secretly, are you a skate fanatic, Don?
Don Cannon: I’m not gonna lie, I’m definitely not a skate fanatic. One of my closest friends, Stevie Williams, is a big skateboarder, and he owns a company called DGK, Dirty Ghetto Kids clothing line. We were always just comin’ together like, “How do we make hip-hop and my field go together?” and we couldn’t figure out anything else, outside of just doin’ mixtapes every month. Why not build a store, sell the clothes in there, give away free mixtapes, and throw shows for hip-hop fans? And, you know, most of the people in skateboard land, they’ve got their certain core artists that they listen to. We want to bring something together where we can bring maybe Young Jeezy and Lupe to do a show, or we can bring E-40 and The Cool Kids, you see what I’m sayin’? It’s business at the end of the day, but it’s not entrepreneur-based. It’s just branching out and trying to get lifestyles crossed over.
DJ Booth: Well, there’s certainly an audience out there for it, you’ve just gotta go out and find it, and that seems like exactly what you’re doing.
Don Cannon: Exactly.
DJ Booth: Smart move. Go ahead, give everybody a website or a MySpace page, so they can find out more about what you’ve got poppin’ off next year.
DJ Booth: Don, I appreciate you taking the time to join me inside the DJ Booth, and I wish you nothing but the best of luck, my man.
Don Cannon: Thank you, Z. Good lookin’.