Beat Break: Like of Pac Div Shares the Story Behind His 5 Biggest Songs
Beat Break is a new series in which we interview our favorite producers about five of their biggest songs—what inspired the beat, how the collaboration came about and the impact the record has had on their career. Really, it’s just an excuse to get nerdy about production with some talented people.
For a guy whose stage name is Like, Gabe Stevenson doesn’t always get the love he deserves. “I’m so underrated,” he says justifiably, not arrogantly.
Although he’s best known as one-third of Pac Div, the West Coast rap group and internet darlings who are set to end their five-year hiatus this year (more on that later), Like has established himself as a silent assassin behind the boards, quietly producing some of your favorite album’s best joints—most notably Kendrick Lamar’s “Sing About Me” and Anderson .Paak’s “Room In Here,” both of which earned him GRAMMY nominations.
Continuing the legacy of his heroes like J Dilla, DJ Premier and 9th Wonder, Like has an ear for gorgeous sample loops and a sun-soaked sound he describes as “versatile, melodic and nostalgic.” Perhaps soured by Pac Div’s strenuous time on Universal Motown in the late ’00s, Like’s approach to collaboration is fiercely independent. “It happens on its own because I don’t have people pitching my music,” he says. “All these are personal relationships.”
After releasing his debut solo album last year, the aptly-titled Songs Made While High, Like is looking forward to another fruitful run in 2017. He produced “Babylon,” off Joey Bada$$’s upcoming album All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$, and is set to drop collaborative EPs with fellow beat wizard Iman Omari and Portland rapper Myke Bogan. But there’s one project, in particular, that’ll make you cruise through the city in a booger green pacer: a new Pac Div album.
“It’s done, it’s about to come out. We’re thinking spring time. We got some heaters on there. We got myself on production, we got [DJ] Dahi, we got Swiff D, we had KAYTRANADA, but we’re gonna save that for another project, and we got esta. from Soulection. It’s called ‘First Baptist.’ It’s 10 cuts on there and we’re gonna give away a song, too. Man, we’re excited. There’s a lot of high energy songs. It’s like we never left.”
Until then, here are the stories behind five of Like’s biggest songs.
Pac Div — “Posted” (2011)
Co-produced by DJ Dahi
“That’s a collaboration, that’s me and DJ Dahi. He was the culprit behind most of the beat, I came in and I sprinkled a little bit of percussion on it. Actually, we did that song over a whole other beat by this producer named Kyle — I forget his production name — but he worked with M.I.A. a lot. His original beat was crazy. It was slower, it still had some sort of cultural-like chanting in the background and had a little more 808 to it, but it wasn't as colorful.
"[Kyle] ended up selling it to someone last minute, so we needed to make a beat the day before we turned the album in. So I spent the night over at Dahi’s crib and we made the beat. I was kinda coaching him on the style we wanted, the tempo and everything, and he cooked it up. Like I said, I just sprinkled a little bit here and there. [Dahi] had the sample in this pack. We started to play around with some drums. I found some drums. Actually, once he found the sample, I sequenced it. I was on the keyboard chopping the Indian sound and then he put drums around that.
“Man, [I didn’t know the song was going to be so big for us]. We were into the first [beat] so much that we heard that and were like, ehhh, it’s ok. But then we did the video and the more we played it, we were fucking with it. Then we performed it and it was over after that. Every time we performed it, it was live. I remember us performing it one time [on Mac Miller’s Blue Slide Park Tour] and it was a mini riot! That was the goal: to make something high energy. We like it now, we like it a whole lot [laughs].”
Kendrick Lamar — “Sing About Me” (2012)
“I made that on Mac Miller’s Blue Slide Park Tour, on Thanksgiving [in 2011]. I sent it to Kendrick as soon as I made it and he responded that same night. He was loving the beat. I actually made it for myself. I was starting to [rap over the beat], but I mostly just had it sitting there. So I was like, 'who else can I can send this to that I can trust will body it?' He was the first one that came to mind. I was listening to Section.80 at the time, I was impressed.
“[I made that] in the hotel in South Carolina. I always wanted to use that drum break and Dahi gave me the [Grant Green] song. It wasn’t even titled, he gave me the MP3 and it just said, ‘track two’ or some shit. Shazam didn’t work so I had a friend find out what it was and that was crazy in itself. It turned out to be Grant Green, it was a Blue Note record.
“I didn’t think it’d be on [good kid, m.A.A.d city]. A month later they hit me and told me that it’s gonna be on his project. I sent him like five other beats and he recorded to them all, too. I’d still like to hear those! He played ['Sing About Me’] to me one time at SXSW at The FADER Fort. He put the phone to my ear and was playing some other songs that I made beats to.”
“What’s crazy is that Pete Rock hit me up on Twitter like, ‘who made this beat?!’ I was really honored by that. I just love chops and manipulating jazz songs to make them sound like completely different records and that’s exactly what I did with that. That’s not new to hip-hop, obviously. It was just a feeling. I was rocking with that. The drums fit perfectly with that sample. It’s something I can play in the car, like on a beat tape, and let it ride through. It’s just soothing.
“Pac Div used to do a lot of shows in L.A. [Kendrick] and a lot of the TDE guys used to open up for us. I remember Ab-Soul and ScHoolboy—all of them with the exception of Jay Rock, because he was the one at the time, Kendrick was just trying to get on. I remember [Kendrick] coming to the green room and introducing himself. He was fucking with Pac Div! And vice versa. We just kept that relationship open.
“I was just excited to be a part of [the album]. I would’ve been more excited had we won [the GRAMMY] and not lost to Macklemore! But you know [laughs]. I’m not a fan of politics in general and this industry has a lot of politics that turn me off from it.
“A lot of people still don’t know I made that beat! I’m so underrated, people don’t even put two and two together. This year somebody was like, ‘oh my God, I didn’t know you did that!’”
Ab-Soul — “Just Have Fun” (2014)
“I produced the first part, the 808-driven one. That was the plan, that’s why I mentioned versatile earlier. I can do all types of shit. The soulful stuff is easy to make, but Ab had actually wanted something more upbeat, more performance-driven, I guess. He loved it the moment I played it. We were at Mac Miller’s spot. He heard it and he recorded to it, and that was that.
“I made that on an iPad. I borrowed it from Apogee, the interface company. It had a ton of apps, so I made some of the beats with some of the apps on there. Also during that time, I was working with Soulection a lot, so it kinda fit that vibe where it was more electronic hip-hop, electronic soul.”
Anderson .Paak — “Room In Here” ft. The Game & Sonyae Elise (2016)
Sample: Ahmad Jamal "Beautiful Love"
“I made that beat in 2014. It actually came out on a beat tape that I dropped on Bandcamp called LightWork. I sent it to [Anderson] a year later—before ‘Suede’ dropped—and he really liked that beat. He recorded to it the next day!
“I sampled Ahmad Jamal ‘Beautiful Love.’ I always look for different piano textures than I can manipulate, and I found that little four-second, five-second loop, and I was like, 'oooh!' Then I just put drums to it. It was dope because what he sung over it was super melodic and it really brought out the piano really more.
“As soon as [Anderson] finished the song, he knew. He was like, ‘yeah, I’m about to get The Game on this.’ He was moving really quick. He was recording every day. In fact, I ran into him at Dr. Dre’s studio—the first time I went to Dr. Dre’s studio was his first time, too—and he was recording some songs for Dre. He had one over a Premo beat that was crazy, it ended up being on the Dre album [‘Animals’]. He actually has a whole song to that, it’s just him on it.
“The L.A. hip-hop scene is a small scene. Him and his band, The Free Nationals, they played band for one of our live Pac Div shows from, like, 2011. That was a dope experience. We always kept in touch. He would send me his music, back when he was Breezy Lovejoy, and I would send him feedback or I would send him beats or whatever. We kept that going for years. Now, he’s finally on and he deserves it all because he’s always working.
“When they first posted the song, they didn’t even put my name in the credits for producer. You know how SoundCloud will be like, ‘produced by Hi-Tek’ or ‘produced by DJ Khalil.’ Well, when they dropped that song, it didn’t say ‘produced by.’ That’s been my story so far and I’m just trying to get out of that.”
“Man, [the GRAMMY nomination] felt really good. It let me know that I’m moving in the right direction. To know that my work is not going unnoticed in that regard. Nominations are always cool. But I just keep going. I’ma keep getting more!”
Like — “Mission Road” ft. Anderson .Paak (2016)
Sample: Roy Haynes "Wonderin'"
“Yeah, it was a quick little one verse. I didn’t really use the collaboration with Anderson .Paak for, I guess, radio or anything like that. He actually heard that song and was like, ‘man, this shit’s crazy.’ I was like, ‘hop on it!’ He was like, ‘cool.’ He did it and he sent it over to me, and I thought that was dope.
“I made ‘Mission Road’ in Cali, but I did like half the album in Africa when I was living out [in Ethiopia]. I brought my little USB mic, I was making beats and I had a lot of time to record. I was inspired by the city, by the culture. I was in a good place, but also a dark place because I just broke up out of a bad relationship, and I wanted to channel that into making music. It was a really good experience.
“Q-Tip used the same song for another part of the sample on his first album [Amplified]. ‘Higher’ has the sample, Roy Haynes ‘Wonderin.’ I found that song on accident. I was like, ‘oh, Q-Tip used this.’ And I was like, ‘what didn’t he use?!’ Then I let it play and I was like, ‘oooh, there’s a whole other part to it.’ And that’s when I ripped that.
“I wasn’t high at all actually. I didn’t smoke during that specific song because when I made it, I didn’t have the album in mind yet. It was just a verse that I had, but when I mixed it I was really high [laughs].
“I’ve been doing this new thing where I start going to some of the dope records in the past that were sampled and seeing what they forgot to sample or what they didn’t take. It’s kinda clever, right? So like, MF DOOM used this, but he didn’t take this part. Let me fuck with that. Now I’m using Ableton a lot more and you can change pitch without affecting the sample, so it really gives me a lot of room to discover.
"That’s the beauty of hip-hop."