Play-N-Skillz Interview

Play N Skillz
Artist:Play N Skillz
Label:Heirs Entertainment /G4
Next Project:Out Tha Box (Q1, '09)
Twitter:Play N Skillz on Twitter
Website:Play N Skillz's Website

The leaves are falling, and to true hip hop heads, that can only mean one thing: it’s time to start stockpiling hot beats for the coming winter.  If you want to keep your fire burning no matter the weather, look no further than Dallas, Texas production duo Play-N-Skillz, who have dominated the airwaves with scorchers like Chamillionaire‘s “Ridin’ (Dirty)” and Lil’ Wayne‘s recent hit single, “Got Money.”

In addition to their ongoing work with many of the biggest names in today’s music industry, Juan “Play” Salinas and Oscar “Skillz” Salinas enjoy a second career as artists.  On their upcoming second album, Out Tha Box (scheduled to drop in the first quarter of ‘09), the dynamic duo have teamed up with an all-star guest cast to deliver a celebration of all that’s good in hip hop.  Their fire-on-all-cylinders approach to hitmaking is exemplified on new single “1 Mo Gin,” on which the duo trade verses with Bun B and Krayzie Bone.

In an exclusive interview with DJBooth’s own DJZ,” Play steps in the booth to discuss the perks of winning a Grammy, why production is still where the money’s at, and the triumphant return of turntablism to mainstream hip hop.

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Play N Skillz 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 a Dallas, Texas-born, Grammy Award-winning producer who, along with his brother, has laid the foundations for megahits from Chamillionaire, Bone Thugs, and, more recently, Lil’ Wayne.  Please welcome Play of Play-N-Skillz – how you doin’?

Play:  I’m doin’ good, man.  I’m in the studio as we speak, and I’m about to get my DJ Booth on, right now.

DJ Booth:  Play, last we spoke was during a radio interview back in August of ‘05.  It was several months prior to you guys gearing up to release your debut album, The Process, so it’s been quite a while, my friend.

Play:  Wow, has it been that long, man?

DJ Booth:  It definitely has; three years have gone by rather quickly.  Since then, though, you guys have accomplished a lot.  What would you say is the shining moment for the duo of Play-N-Skillz over the last three years?

Play:  I would definitely have to say the Grammy would be – that’s a stamp, you know what I’m sayin’?  You get so much more with the “Grammy award-winning” at the front of your name.  It’s just a little different.  I use that when I go to dinner; when I don’t have reservations, and they’re like, “Hey, you gotta hold on!” I’m like, “No, no, no – it’s the Grammy award-winning Juan Salinas!”

DJ Booth:  Definitely, it certainly carries a lot of weight.  Play-N-Skillz’ production work was always on people’s radar, but then after Chamillionaire dropped “Ridin’,” your popularity soared, and your stock rose.  Then Wayne put out “Got Money” this year, and it went up again.  As the rest of the country has pretty much seen their stock plummet over the last few months, Play-N-Skillz just keep on managing to buck that trend and headin’ on upward – how are you guys doin’ it?

Play:  Tryin’ to stay recession-free, man.  Tryin’ to not watch what the hell’s goin’ on on TV with the stocks, and just stayin’ focused, gettin’ back to what everybody really loves.  See, people fail to realize that, even during a recession, a depression, or whatever it may be that’s goin’ on, the one thing that never fails is entertainment.  I don’t care if milk is $10 – people might buy a CD before they buy milk!  I’m not gonna say a CD; people will purchase music, however it may be.  Music and movies and stuff like that take you away from all the bullsh*t. 

DJ Booth:  Exactly.  During our previous conversation, I asked you if you thought there was more money long-term to be made in either production or on the mic.  You said, at the time, production.  Considering all the climate changes that the industry has gone through, do you still believe that to be true?

Play:  Yeah, absolutely, because I’m living proof – we’re doin’ okay, although the price of an A-list, in-demand producer is not the same as it was 2004, or 2005.  I wish I would’ve had as many hits under my belt back then that I do now, because I would’ve been able to get that Scott Storch and Pharrell money.  But nowadays, even the A-list producers are not gettin’ paid as much.  I stress to every up-and-coming artist, publishing, that’s money that never goes away – you’re just sittin’ at the crib, and the check comes, and it’s just a beautiful feeling, and, being a producer, you’re always gonna get 50% on the song.  As a producer, the money is always there.  Plus, when you’re behind the scenes, people can’t really get tired of you, unless you have a sound that is so distinctive that it can get annoying after hearing it all the time. Producers can reinvent themselves, they’re behind the scenes so you’re never tired of seein’ them too much, hearin’ them too much.

DJ Booth:  When you and Skillz are in the studio, concocting one of your next hot beats, are you thinking consciously, “We have to reinvent our sound,” or, at this point in your career, are you just goin’ in and makin’ music, and it is what it is?

Play:  Just makin’ music, man.  You know what?  There’s not one technique that we have ever had to make our music.  “Got Money” for Lil’ Wayne is a prime example; that track was made, was lost by the engineer in the studio, and remade again. I had actually no part [in it], as far as the actual playing of the instruments until the very end, ‘cause we did it all in one room in literally under five minutes, and I came in and rearranged the song, changed the drums a little bit.  Sometimes, like with the the first Play-N-Skillz single, “Checkin’ My Fresh,” I did all the production on that record, and [Skillz] came afterwards and added his touch to it. So there’s not one way to do anything, and, as far as reinventing sounds, one thing that we do try to do is keep our ears to the streets.  And one thing that we actually have picked up on is DJing.  We’ve been DJing a lot more now; that seems to be the new rock ‘n’ roll standard.

DJ Booth:  Exactly; what better gauge of whether or not someone likes something, than to play it for them?  Q-Tip, a long-time artist and producer, also is getting more into DJing right now, so it seems like a trend that might continue for the next few years.

Play:  Yeah, absolutely.  And at the same time, with all due respect to DJs, I just hope that the people who pick up these turntables, that at least [they] can DJ, ‘cause we don’t want everybody tryin’ to DJ, ‘cause then it’ll take away from the essence of actual DJing.  Again, we can get down with the best of them on the turntables – we did that.

DJ Booth:  You guys did that before you did anything else – a lot of people might not know that.  So your foundation was DJing, you didn’t just decide to pick it up one day…

Play:  Right, absolutely, absolutely – I mean, that’s how we got started: we threw parties, and me and Skillz, we got behind the turntables, when we had to carry the crates in the beat-up Camaro.

DJ Booth:  I don’t miss those days at all.

Play:  Right, right.  Now we just stick with a computer and we go.

DJ Booth:  Yeah; those crates took up way to much room, and, as a matter of fact, they’re still taking up too much room in my closet; I need to sell them all.

Play:  You know, I still keep my records, because I get sounds off of them.  You can’t take away that warmth on some of those records, that sound.

DJ Booth:  You’re absolutely right.  Play, last week I was reading a story on MTV and Lil’ Wayne announced that he’s going to re-release Tha Carter III with all brand-new material, and you guys were amongst the many producers he mentioned he’s going to work with on this, I guess, pseudo-new project.  Reveal what you guys have in store together.

Play:  I’m gonna be completely honest with you – I have no Earthly idea what the Martian, Wayne, has recorded or not recorded.  I’ll tell you that we worked very third-person – he stays in contact with Skillz, mostly – and we just send music to his private Email, and one morning we’ll wake up and we’ll get something back, and incredible body of work.  I have not gotten anything back, but I’ll tell you I’ve sent some really creative stuff – nothing that sounds like “Got Money” – so I’m excited to even hear.  I’m as clueless as you are.  I mean, I just found out about this Carter III re-release; I thought it was gonna be on Tha Carter IV.

DJ Booth:  He said it was goning to originally be on Tha Carter IV, but then the label decided that they were gonna re-release Tha Carter III as The Rebirth.  I have no clue either, I was thinking that you’d be able to provide some of those answers…

Play:  Yeah… I’m sorry, I don’t have any answers, man; I really don’t know.  But as soon as I do, we’ll get back on the phone and I’ll leak the information to you, ‘cause, trust me, I wanna know.

DJ Booth:  I’m sure you do, ‘cause it’s gonna be followed by quite a large check, I’m sure.

Play:  Absolutely, and history, man – right now, it’s a great time for Wayne, and we were happy to be a part of Tha Carter III.

DJ Booth:  I have a little bit of beef with you guys, ‘cause whenever I drive and I listen to “Got Money,” typically I’m putting myself in the position to get a speeding ticket. 

Play:  [laughs] I’ve heard that before, and I’m curious [as to] why – is it the energy?

DJ Booth:  Definitely the energy.  I just have a very heavy foot on the gas pedal when I’m listening to “Got Money,” so thank you very much ahead of time, should I ever get the speeding ticket.

Play:  Right.  It’s all good, man.  As long as they don’t turn into warrants, you’ll be all right.

DJ Booth:  So if I do get [a ticket], I can send it down to Dallas and you guys will pay for it, right?

Play:  Yeah, I’ll send it to Wayne.  Wayne’s got more money…

DJ Booth:  You’ve worked with quite a few big names thus far.  Name some artists who either you’ve been unable to reach thus far, or you’ve yet to contact, who you feel your sound would go great with?

Play:  I think everyone would love to say Jay-Z, just ‘cause he’s the greatest emcee of my era, I think.  I would love to just work with the Hov-man, ‘cause he’s so creative.  If there’s two people I’d love to work with, number one, I would have loved to have been on the Brass Knuckles Nelly project – I think I could’ve provided a hit record for Nelly; I don’t want to say, saved the project, but I definitely could’ve helped the project.  And Kanye West, ‘cause I would just like to get in an argument in the studio with him, ‘cause I know we would just butt heads, because our arrogance in the studio would be so crazy.

DJ Booth:  Well, that’s a very good list right there; hopefully you get that opportunity in the near future.

Play:  People ask us, which was bigger [for us], “Ridin’ (Dirty)” or “Got Money,” I would say “Ridin’ (Dirty),” ‘cause when “Ridin’ (Dirty)” came out, he was nowhere near the magnitude of an artist as he was when [it] was done, so I think that we helped propel that situation. 

DJ Booth:  Play, how does it feel to know that you and Skillz personally propelled an artist’s career?

Play:  I don’t know how it personally feels.  I can tell you that my bank account feels good.

DJ Booth: [laughs] You’re absolutely right about that. Well, in addition to your production work, you guys also have an LP dropping, hopefully quarter one of 2009, titled “Out Tha Box.”  Every producer, Play, that I’ve spoken with who was also an artist, they tell me the same, thing: do not put me in a box, do not tell me I can’t do both these things.  I assume that very sentiment is your inspiration for this project?

Play:  Yeah, and you know what?  There’s is a demand for Play-N-Skillz as an artist.  I just had an argument with my manager because of this.  He believed in the producer thing more than the artist thing, because naturally, [with] the producer thing, we were more successful, and it’s harder to be an artist, harder to be a Latin artist, at that, in hip hop, and be a producer Latin artist – that’s like two strikes.  Everything was against us, but when I’m touring locally and regionally and statewide, and there’s thousands of people that are singin’ to my songs, and my songs are on the top eight, on whatever countdown it is, in whatever city, all the way to Salt Lake City, Utah, or to Oregon, to Los Angeles, California, and, of course, in Texas, that’s not an accident.

DJ Booth:  When you have a demand in Salt Lake City, Utah, you know you’re doin’ something big.

Play:  Right.  Let me tell you, that’s one of our biggest markets. It’s strange, and not in a bad or crazy way – I’m not dissin’ Salt Lake, ‘cause I love Salt Lake City to death, I love the women there – but, all the way to there?  I could understand in Dallas, [since] it is our backyard, but way up there?  They don’t know us like that; they’re just basing it on the song that’s on the radio.

DJ Booth:  We already know, Play, that Lil’ Jon, Bun B, and Krayzie Bone are gonna be on this album, ‘cause they’re all featured on the first single.  Who else is gonna be joining you guys for this project, and, is it completely, wholly, self-produced?

Play:  As of now, yes, we’ve done the whole album.  I would like to work with different people, haven’t got around to it.  Mannie Fresh, very good friend of ours, I would love for Fresh to come in, and he wants to do some stuff.  Cool and Dre, they’re homies, too, I think that they’ll get down, Polow, but who knows, on the production side.  As far as guest appearances, Talib Kweli, Slim from 112, Yung Joc, Akon, Paul Wall, Slim Thug – man, there’s so many people – Sean Kingston, Ray J, Tego Calderon, my girls Nina Sky, Pitbull, Tum Tum.  There’s so many people.  It’s not a compilation, but it’s like…

DJ Booth:  You said it’s not a compilation, so what I’ll call it is, it’s a celebration of music – why not get some of the best the industry has to offer, and have them join you?

Play:  Right, and the critics, I don’t care about journalists, or some magazine reviewing the album and saying, “Play-N-Skillz didn’t rap on the whole album.”  Who cares?  We made a good song.  What does it matter?  And for me, it’s a win, ‘cause if you don’t like Play-N-Skillz behind the mic, then you’re damn for sure gonna like Bun B.

DJ Booth:  Well, hopefully everybody’s sentiment will be shared with you and I, and I’m happy that you guys are doin’ big things, and I hope you continue to do big things.  Play, go ahead, give everybody a website or a MySpace page, something so they can find out more.

Play:  Right, okay, I guess we’re gonna do MySpace:, and all our music is on there.

DJ Booth:  Play, I appreciate your time greatly.  Thank you so much for joinin’ me inside the DJ Booth, my friend.

Play:  Thank you very much, anytime.  And I want to thank all the fans and the DJs that support Play-N-Skillz; without them, there’s absolutely no us.

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