Behind The Boards: Pop Wansel on Major Label Connects, Being Overlooked & More [Interview]
Producers are a lot like the offensive line of a football team. They can make the superstar quarterback look great, but rarely do they get the credit they deserve. Well, here at The DJBooth we say no more. Behind The Boards is an interview series dedicated to giving producers their proper shine. Over the next few months, we'll be speaking with some of the games most respected and renowned beatmakers about what it means to be a producer in 2014, and hopefully shed some light on just what it is producers do (and don't do) so that they can finally get the credit they deserve.
While our previous interviews featured Statik Selektah and !illmind, two producers best known for their work as indepedent mainstays, Pop Wansel is a full-on major label producer, crafting hits for the likes of Trey Songz, Big Sean, Wiz Khalifa, Usher, Nicki Minaj, Miguel; the list goes on and on. So I was excited to dig into some new territory and find out what the process of collaborating with a major label artist was like.
Placing Production on Major Label Albums
I imagined a very impersonal route - the producer gives the beat to some A&R who does all the set up - but, in fact, it is quite the opposite. Who you know personally plays a crucial role in getting a spot on a blockbuster album. I asked him about the process of getting placements for the likes of Usher and Nicki Minaj.
"People always ask me, 'Yo, how you get your beats to Nicki?' and it's like, 'dude, I know her'. I've known her for sometime; going on eight years. Some of these super big projects are super political. It's not done through an A&R, it's not done through the label or the manager. You gotta know somebody who knows that person for real.
At this point, for me, I've gained the right relationships and I know the right people for the projects I want to be on and I can text them personally or I know their right hand personally."
Speaking of personal relationships, you really have worked with Kanye. What was that like?
"Everything I have done with Kanye thus far we have done in the same room. I'm always sending Kanye beats. Shoutout to G.O.O.D Music, I love them! They are always really responsive and good towards me. It's a great feeling when the guy who is arguably the genius of our time wants and responds to something of yours. When he thinks it's good enough for him, it's an honor and a privilege.
The outcome of the record was great; what he did to the song and how he built it up. What Hudson Mohawke and Travis and all the other great guys who were part of the record did, you know, their contributions made it larger than life. "
Is that the way it works with a super collab like that? Every [person] adds something to the track?
"I guess that's how Kanye does it. It works for him and what he does with G.O.O.D. Music. I'll be honest with you, the end result, what you guys ended up hearing is better and bigger than the initial beat that me and Oak had. He made it a movie. Real s**t. Kanye took this beat that me and Oak did that was really good and made it great."
Was that experience typical of how you usually work?
"90 percent of the time, the way my songs happen, I'm not in the room with the person; not that I don't have the opportunity to. Nine times out of ten I have been in the room with them at some point, but the song they ended up taking were the ones that I didn't do in the room with them."
How does it differ creatively? Is it harder?
"No. For me and my team it's easier because we're not under no kind of pressure. We're not sitting there worrying about if they liked it or if it's good enough, all the stuff you have to be concerned about. We don't have that same pressure by being in the room with them. We are gonna do our best and do what's comfortable, naturally because ain't nobody in the room but us and we kind of just wig out."
You have multiple credits on a few albums (Elle Varner, Miguel). Does your approach change when only producing a single track versus multiple songs on an album?
"Well, you never know how it's gonna to happen. Usually the one song happens because I already had the song and it just so happens they heard the song and took the song. The multiple songs happen when I have a relationship with the artist and we have a chemistry. That's when you start hearing the multiple songs on an album, the multiple songs on Miguel, or Nicki, or Elle Varner, or Usher, whatever the case may be, because I have a real chemistry with those people. Creatively, though, it's the same."
Working With Major Label vs. Independent Artists
As you can see, this business really is built on personal relationships and networking. For the independent artist, getting the chance to work with someone like Pop would be a huge break. However, apparently some don't see it like that. After discussing the ins and outs of the major label community, I asked him if he was ever interested in branching off into the independent side. His response might surprise you.
"Absolutely. Here's something crazy though, people talk about the industry like the big labels are cliquey; that independent world is more cliquey than anything. They don't even want to work with you if you worked with a certain caliber artists because it might effect their cool or make them too pop or put them to far from that cool, independent world they are in. I love the independent world, though, and I am definitely looking forward to working with more independent artists and I've actually started that process."
On Being "Overlooked"
A Grammy nomination, a personal relationship with Kanye, and credits on tracks from Usher, Nicki, Trey Songz and other chart-topping artists, yet his name flies under the radar, so much that even artists overlook him. Just another example of this uncredited producer epidemic. I asked Pop about why he thinks his name doesn't ring out like it should.
"I think it's me. I think I've chosen for so many years to be under the radar and lay low because that's how I live my life and how I'm comfortable. I still like to go back to my hood and be on my block. I think sometimes you get to a certain point, you lose that if it gets to be too much. And it's not just about that, I don't like attention. I see a lot of producers that came in around the same time as me and have gotten a lot more publicity and a lot of people know their names more than they know mine, but they ain't done half of what I've done. That's because they yearn for that. They yearn for the fame, popularity and Instagram likes; the shit is high school to them. Me, I'm on my money [laughs].
But right now, I feel it's important for people to start knowing who I am , because I'm doing so many great things and more than anything I'm building an amazing team of producers and song writers that I feel like the world needs to know. And I think it's about time the world knows who I am too."
Is it something you think about? Does it bother you?
"Real die-hard music fans read credits and the ones that read the credits know me. They in my inbox telling me how I changed their lives with this beat or how I influenced them to keep going, or whatever the case me. That's a big reason why, at this point, I'm fine with it. If more people start to know who I am like that, than I'm fine with it. That's a great thing."
Getting to talk to Pop was an honor. It's not everyday you get to talk about Kanye with someone who actually knows him! You know, we probably hear the major-label, chart topping songs the most, but rarely do we get insight into how they came to be. We put such a divide between the independent and major, but some of the same principles - hard work, passion, love and respect of the art, and of course, networking - guide Pop too. When it all boils down to it, great music is great music and talent is talent, no matter how many radio spins it gets.
Oh, and of course I couldn't let him go without asking what;s next. Well, he's working with Miguel, Elle Varner and, "one of the best rappers of the generation". Who it is exactly, he couldn't say....yet. So stay tuned, but be sure to check back at the DJBooth and follow Pop on Twitter for any updates.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is "College Dropout", but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @Lgarrison88.]