Meet G Koop, Your Favorite Producer’s Secret Sample Clearance Weapon
Underground hip-hop enthusiasts rejoiced when Drake’s Nothing Was The Same album featured production from the immensely talented Jake One. The producer laced the Toronto golden child with a beat that felt old and soulful, gentle and elegant, intricate and transfixing—by far one of the best on the album. He didn’t do it alone, though. The track's creation was a group effort, as told to NPR in an in-depth interview after the album was released.
The sample used to make “Furthest Thing” came from an unknown gospel record that Gene Brown sold to Jake. Gene is even more underground than Jake, an independent record collector who built a name in the shadows for outsourcing songs to producers—he sells the WAV files from his private collection. A problem arose during the sample clearance stage, however, and the owners who had rights to the song requested a ridiculous amount of money which put the record at risk.
Luckily, Jake had an ace, someone who could save the record and save the label money: G Koop, an Oakland producer who specializes in replays of songs. G Koop works quickly, able to send you a new version of the song that’s almost identical to the original, but is protected due to it being a studio-created interpolation.
Jake and G Koop's relationship began as student and piano teacher but would evolve into so much more over time. As a Berklee College of Music graduate, G Koop has a deep background in music theory and passed his knowledge down to Jake. His love for the past and his collection of old instruments like the Fender Rhodes, the Clavinet, and a number of old Fender Guitars brought the two closer as colleagues. Jake would teach him about making beats, and it completely revolutionized how he thought about production. What Jake saw in G Koop was someone who had the ear for sounds and the skills to replay them on the right instruments to keep the original feeling of the source material. He had stumbled upon a diamond when he was only looking for a piano teacher.
"Jake would send me samples and I would reinterpret them, learn them, listen to them, try to replace all the sounds, and he would chop them up and make beats. He would send it back to me sounding nothing like the sample. He would change the hell out of them. As my name got around as someone who could do this type of thing, I would get artists and labels reaching out to me. If they can’t clear the sound, [are] not sure what the sample is, or if the sample [costs] too much, they would ask me to reinterpret the music. I would listen with the goal of getting down to the essence of what it is, dissect it, and put it together backwards. If the notes go up, I would take the same notes and go down. If the chord progression goes this way, I would go that way. I pretty much reverse shit."
Understanding the instrumentation—figuring out each instrument used—is what makes what G Koop does amazing. Ear training was taught intensely at Berklee, and it’s a skill that he uses to reinterpret samples. Hearing records, hearing melodies, and being forced to sing them back drilled in the necessary prowess necessary in his line of work. It’s more than just recreating, you have to understand the essence of the sample.
He told me during our conversation that finding the instrumental's vibe is all about the instruments used. Once you find out what creates the sound, you can recreate the feeling.
"When I finished school, all I did was sit around and listen to Miles Davis records and play the trumpet solos on my guitar to the point I couldn’t tell the difference between me and Miles. I wanted to hear that as one voice. I learned to copy, and as a result you soak up the phrasing, you soak up the melodic movement. You soak up the rhythms and feels. The deeper you go into an instrument, the deeper you go into music theory and the mechanics of music in general, you’re going to have a deeper understanding to how you create music. All tools that you add to your arsenal. The point of this story is I studied my ass off to master my craft."
The dream of a life in music tends to begin at an early age—a single moment of pure, magnetizing magic that sends you down the path of an artist. G Koop remembers being a child enamored by The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, where the vast sea of musical details lassoed around his ears and pulled him in. Music was always around him—his father had a huge collection of records—constantly filling up his eardrums.
The legend that his parents love telling is the story of how his first word was “doobie,” a request for them to play The Doobie Brothers' album he loved so much. When he got older, his first job was working at a record store. Naturally, being immersed in music created a desire to make his own. He grew up believing that he would be a guitar player, following in the footsteps of his heroes Eddie Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix. The future he foresaw was a life in a band, a life as a singer, a life as a songwriter—working in music was always the end goal.
There’s a vastness to the music industry, an endless number of roads that can lead you to an unexpected destination. “I didn’t know what beat-making was, I never thought about this as a way of making a living,” he told me honestly. Adapting has allowed him to stay afloat in this ever-changing industry. Originally, he moved to California in 2002 to start a jazz band, the first one was called The People’s Quintet. If you're familiar with Blue Note Records and jazz from the '50s and '60s then you’d be familiar with G Koop’s drummer, Donald “Duck” Bailey. Sadly, having a jazz legend who played alongside Jimmy Smith and John Coltrane didn’t change the fact it was a dry period for the jazz era. No one was hiring bands, so once the group disbanded, G Koop bought his first computer and dove into Pro Tools and Reason production software. Being exposed to various kinds of music and learning to play an array of instruments all prepared him for the next stage of his career.
G Koop’s name shouldn’t be new to fans of Atmosphere, Jake One or Brother Ali, he’s been working with some of the underground's most acclaimed darlings for years. But with the boom of “Bad and Boujee,” you might notice his name in the production credits alongside Metro Boomin. He also appears on Future and Jay Z's “I Got The Keys” with Southside of 808 Mafia. When that song first hit the web, he wondered if it would be his commercial peak. Of course, months later Migos and Metro helped him secure his first No. 1, the biggest song of his career.
What I found interesting is how G Koop was able to get co-production credits. It’s a fascinating process:
"A few years ago, I started to do stuff in this lane where I’m in the studio just creating ideas and melodies. I had this super strong network of heavyweight producers that are making all the heavyweight songs and getting all the big placements in the game that fuck with me. I would send them stuff, they’d sample it, and it would be in the record. We would share the credits, share the production, all that. The sample pack for 'Bad and Boujee' was one that I did in January of this past year. I sent it to Metro Boomin and from that sample pack we did 'Bad & Boujee,' and also 21 Savage’s 'Ocean Drive' from the 'Savage Mode' album. My elements to those songs were made in the same week."
Both “Ocean Drive” and “Bad and Boujee” were created using the same sample pack. I wonder what else was created through this form of collaboration? Since G Koop is creating original compositions, labels and producers don’t have to worry about sample clearance. The musical beds he creates for producers to make into masterpieces could very well become a new way into the game.
Koop lays down the foundation for others to build a house upon, but he does this with specific producers in mind. Having a large Rolodex of producers, he’s able to reach S1, Southside, Metro Boomin and countless others. With the explosion of “Bad and Boujee,” I'm sure fists are pounding on his door. After ten years in the game, this is his time. The best thing you can be in this business is an asset. If they need you, your phone will never stop ringing. Labels need him to save them from sample woes, and producers will soon see him as a hit-making assistant.
"We find the right people to use the tracks. I’m able to be me, and be free in my own space and my own time. The game kind of comes to me on a certain level. It’s such a blessing. I’m so grateful. I’ve helped a lot of people save a lot of money on these clearances. I’m like the Wolf from 'Pulp Fiction.' I help situations move along in the way that they should. Ultimately, I like to make great music. There’s really no rules. Try shit. I've been blessed to try things and a lot of it sticks."
The heart of G Koop’s story is about one man’s love for music and how he was able to turn that love into a promising career. It all starts with wanting to be a guitar hero and going through the highs and lows of life without losing the passion for music. From being a record store employee to graduating from Berklee, every step moved him closer to being the creator he is today. Samples have been a huge part of hip-hop, but they've also been a huge roadblock in other cases.
Hip-hop needs great ears and talented musicians who have the kind of knowledge to assist in getting past the red tape. The skills he’s acquired didn’t come easy, and they didn’t come quickly, but through years of molding. Mold your talents and become someone who is bringing to the table what this industry needs to move forward.
In 2012, G Koop produced a bulk of the music that appears on the third solo album by Gift Of Gab, entitled The Next Logical Progression. I see what G Koop is doing now as the next logical step for producers who are gifted with strong ears and a comprehensive understanding of music theory. He didn’t become the next Van Halen or Hendrix, but G Koop is slowly reaching a position where he has an influence on today’s sound. He wants to make guitars a more prominent sound in hip-hop, to make that the sound of the mainstream. The fact he’s even considering this a possibility shows the power you can have despite playing from behind the scenes. If he can pull it off, his heroes will be proud.
Moral of the story: study your ass off, become an asset, and the game will come to you.
By Yoh, aka Yoh The Storyteller aka @Yoh31.