A Producer In The Rough: The Sounds & Impact of Don Cannon - DJBooth

A Producer In The Rough: The Sounds & Impact of Don Cannon

Don Cannon is so much more than a part of Gangsta Grillz lore; he's also a pretty outstanding producer.
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Euphoria washes over my ears as the drums roll and the horns blare at the beginning of Jeezy’s “Go Crazy.” 11 years have passed since the song was released, and I’m still enamored by the rich texture of sound that is delivered mere seconds into the classic record. It’s similar to the first bite of an excellent gourmet meal and being overwhelmed with a swirl of taste that leaves you craving another bite. “Go Crazy” is one song that you can’t resist once it starts; you must play it from start to finish.

Tucked in between The Impressions’ “(Man, Oh Man) I Want to Go Back” soulful sample and a woman’s voice there’s a subtle, “Cannon… Cannon” producer tag. It happens for a brief moment, the song explodes seconds after, and you’re completely wrapped up in clothes that smell like blow and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Jeezy and Jay are outstanding, a rap performance worthy of an Olympic gold medal, but the song as a whole wouldn’t be the same without the production; the world wouldn’t have gone crazy without Don Cannon.

The name Don Cannon has always taken me back to the days when Gangsta Grillz and The Aphilliates were the biggest thing happening on the mixtape circuit. If you ever wondered who was taking over the underground, who was one lucky hit away from ruling the mainstream, Don Cannon, DJ Drama, and DJ Sense were the guiding lights to who was next. Blame it on mixtapes not coming with a booklet full of credits, but throughout the years it never occurred to me that Don Cannon’s role went deeper than DJing and artist discovery. His beats are tagged, but the “Cannon.. Cannon” always felt more like a DJ drop than a producer leaving his mark on records. Retracing my steps through his history of production revealed a producer who was not only actively making big records, but had balanced being a supplier for both the known and unknown.

Growing up a fan of Jeezy, there’s just some producers that make magic every time they align with the Snowman - Shawty Redd, Drumma Boy, and Don Cannon. Jeezy and Cannon together are a treat because their union is a rare one, only one song throughout an entire album. The two followed up “Go Crazy” with “Mr. 17.5” from Jeezy’s sophomore set; instead of the exploding horns, it was electrifying chords greeting ears while the Cannon tag faded into the background. This wasn’t a record for radio or the clubs, but a more intimate soundscape that allowed Jeezy to talk the talk fans found so captivating. The infectious horns would return on their next collaboration, “Circulate.” Once again Don pulled Jeezy into a new terrain, a sound that was outside his zone of comfort, but the end result is fiery and soulful. Cannon's sampling of Billy Paul's "Let the Dollar Circulate" reminded beat heads of "Dollar" by Steve Spacek, which found the late J Dilla doing the same thing. Don Cannon spoke briefly about the two songs on his CDR interview. The release of “Holy Ghost” in 2014, nine years and four albums between collaborations, further proves the two can go years without working with one another and continue to impress. Even the “D Boyz” that can be found on Trap or Die 2 is a must have in your collection of Snowman bangers. If there’s one producer that can bring out the best in Jeezy, Don Cannon is the one.

Cannon” by Lil Wayne isn’t discussed because of the production, but rather Wayne’s lyrical assault delivering quotable after quotable. A brutal beating transpired the day Lil Wayne stepped into the booth to record the track for his second Gangsta Grillz tape. In the big book that will be written about Lil Wayne’s legacy, Don Cannon will be included for supplying a pleasant punching bag for Wayne to wreak havoc upon.

Outkast is destined to have their own book engraved with their story, and “The Art Of Storytellin’ Pt 4” will be included in the pages as a song that was released during a time when the Atlanta duo only came together for remixes. Somehow DJ Drama and Don Cannon were able to get the pair to record a new Outkast song for their Gangsta Grillz album, a huge leap forward from releasing mixtapes on the web. To see the two together was a huge deal for fans who spent years waiting for a reunion, and the end result has left countless listeners rejoicing and yearning for more. Jeezy, Outkast, Wayne -- even though he was born and raised in Philly, Don Cannon’s mark has forever been left on the south.

Freeway, 50 Cent, Fabolous, Lil Scrappy, and Busta Rhymes have all received heat from Don. After Release Therapy I wasn’t checking for Ludacris, but the Cannon-produced “Undisputed” was a huge moment in 2008. Luda was throwing punchlines like he had something to prove, Floyd “Money” Mayweather was speaking the same arrogance that he’s famous for, and a banging thumper that I’m surprised didn’t become a freestyle favorite was delivered. I can think of a dozen emcees who would have wrecked that blazing banger. Even though his signature tag is absent, Don is credited on Pusha’s “Numbers On The Boards.” The beat is minimum, sparse, but the stripped down instrumentation was perfect for Pusha T to have listeners hanging on to his every dexterous rhyme. “Numbers On The Boards” was the last time Cannon had a major placement, but he has ensconced his name in the underground.  

Asher Roth’s The GreenHouse Effect Vol 1 was a huge mixtape when it first dropped, helping to showcase a skillful writer. Asher’s debut Asleep in the Bread Aisle didn’t receive the same acclaim, but the Cannon produced “La Di Da” was met with praise. The Cool Kids impact on the internet and beyond has been documented countless times since their emergence in 2008. Even though the two best friends are looked at as strictly a duo, Don Cannon had his hands on the boards for a handful of records from their 2009 Gone Fishing mixtape. Similarly, before Big Sean’s first album, Don Cannon produced two records and hosted the highly-praised Finally Famous Vol 3.

Logic’s “Nasty” and Dave East “Nino” are more recent records that Don has touched. “Call Log” by Jace shows that Don is able to paints some of his colors onto the trap sound. The keys are heavy, the drums are hard, and Jace’s flow is an attention grabber; it’s one of my most favorite recent beats. Out of all the young artists aligned with Don Cannon, Lil Uzi Vert has been the prospect who has received the strongest push. Lil Uzi hails from Philly, just like Cannon, so I’m interested in what brought the two together. I may not know why, but the result of their union has helped push Uzi into his current position as one of the biggest emerging rap rockstars. Whatever that may be.

After over a decade in this industry, Don Cannon is aging gracefully in a business where the old can easily be obsolete. The years of producing and hosting mixtapes, as well as his position as Def Jam’s VP of A&R since 2013, has kept him both in the background and in the foreground. Recognizing what he’s done has only made me more excited for what he will do next. Don has been able to adapt and push forward through the changing eras without losing his passion for breaking the new and bringing the best out of the old. He is truly a diamond in hip-hop's rough. 

By Yoh, aka Yoh Rocket Launcher, aka @Yoh31

Photo Credit: Instagram

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