Beat Break: S1 Shares the Story Behind His 5 Biggest Songs - DJBooth

Beat Break: S1 Shares the Story Behind His 5 Biggest Songs

The only thing better than S1's beats are the stories behind them.
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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.

Building your name in the underground before catching your big break thanks to one of the best rappers of all time—it may sound like the stuff of fairy tales, but for S1 (aka Symbolyc One), it's the very true—and amazing—story behind his hugely successful run over the last few years.

After starting the rap group Strange Fruit Project with his cousin Myth and collaborating with the likes of Phonte, Skyzoo and !llmind in the mid to late '00s, the Waco, Texas native connected with Kanye West through their mutual friend Rhymefest. S1 sent over some beats, Kanye liked what he heard, and the two teamed up in Hawaii for one of the hardest rap songs of the last decade: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy's "POWER."

Since then, S1 has worked with everyone from Jay Z and Beyoncé to Eminem and 50 Cent while remaining a regular collaborator of Kanye (he also co-produced Watch The Throne's "Murder to Excellence" and Yeezus' "Guilt Trip"). But in a time where hit records are made over email—and in some cases, across continents—S1 was lucky enough to share a studio with many of these greats, collaborating as creatives and connecting as human beings.

With new placements on Drake's More Life ("Ice Melts") and Mike WiLL Made-It's Ransom 2 ("Razzle Dazzle"), as well as a potential reunion with Mr. West ("I just heard back from him like two weeks ago. His engineer hit me up like, ‘yo, Kanye wants to know if this beat—it’s an older beat from when I was really heavily working with him—is still available,'" he says), 2017 is shaping up to be another A1 year for S1.

Here are the stories behind five of S1's biggest songs.

Kanye West — “POWER” ft. Dwele (2010)

Co-produced by Kanye West, Jeff Bhasker, Mike Dean & Andrew Dawson

Samples: King Crimson "21st Century Schizoid Man"Continent Number 6 "Afromerica" + Cold Grits "It's Your Thing"

“When I gave [the beat] to Kanye, it was pretty much the foundation: the break beat drums, the chant sample, the siren. Those are the same drums [from ‘Crack Music’]. When I was around Kanye, he was like, ‘yo, you used the same drums that I used from ‘Crack Music.’ I was like, ‘yeah, I used the same break.’ Then he looked at me and was like, ‘but I think you did it better, though!’ I was like, ‘wow! Did he really just tell me that?!’

"I had the opportunity to fly out to Hawaii to work with him and to be a part of the album process. To be around to experience that and to see him work on all the songs, it was awesome. It was confirmation for me because that was my first big placement, so coming to that world, I always wondered like, ‘man, what are they doing? What’s their process like?’ So being around someone like him and seeing that, ‘oh, he’s just one of us. He’s just a creative individual.’

“I didn’t bump into RZA or Pete Rock, but I did see Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj and other artists. Producer-wise, I did see DJ Toomp and Hudson Mohawke. But man, it was mayhem. Everybody in the room, of course, is super talented, so it was crazy. Seeing him put things together and pull the right people in to do certain things, it’s really genius. He just knows what to do and how to accomplish it. He has great musicians around. Mike Dean and Jeff Bhasker were involved with 'POWER,' too. With them being as incredible as they are, they contributed and Kanye knew exactly how he wanted the beat to sound, so I witnessed him orchestrate all of them.

“[Basketball] was an every day routine [in Hawaii]. We played every day for conditioning and I kid you not, I thought I was gonna die on the court in the first week! I hadn’t been exercising, and the thing about Ye is, we play full court, no matter if it’s five-on-five or if it’s two-on-two. So every day, I got to the gym hoping that it’s at least 12 people. One day it was like six of us, we played three-on-three full court, and I thought I was gonna have to call it a day and fly back to Texas! [Laughs].

“I actually did the beat for Rhymefest. I had worked with Rhymefest on his album that had just came out, the El Che album. At the end of working on that album, he was already talking about another album he wanted to start. We had a vision and a theme for it, so when I made the 'POWER' beat, it literally just sat on my desktop for a few weeks. [Rhymefest] called me one day like, ‘yo I’m in the studio with Kanye, send me some beats over and if I get the opportunity, I’ll play them for him.’ So as I’m putting the batch together I saw that beat on my desktop and I was like, ‘truth be told, it’s probably gonna be a while before [Rhymefest’s album] comes out and I’ma have so much more new stuff.’ So I was like, ‘lemme throw this beat in the batch.’

“It was a blessing, man. It was one of those God’s timings things. Like I say, that was my first major placement and for [Kanye] to even bring me out and be around there and contribute and assist however he needed me, that was a blessing within itself. I have the utmost respect for Ye. In addition to him being an extremely talented composer and musician and producer, he’s just a really great dude and I love working with him. The thing that I love about working with him is, he always brings me—or whoever he brings in—it’s to do you. It’s not to do somebody else. He brings people in for being the best at what you do. There’s so much creative freedom in that.

“It definitely changed my life, it changed my family’s life. It really just put me in a different position as far as people knowing that I exist and knowing exactly what I do. Before I did 'POWER,' I was doing the same music, but to produce for an artist as big as Kanye, and a song and an album that was so classic, that all contributed to putting more emphasis on me and what I do as a producer.”

Beyoncé — “Best Thing I Never Had” (2011)

Co-produced by Beyoncé, Babyface, Caleb Sean, Shea Taylor & Antonio Dixon

“I met Beyoncé working on Watch The Throne in London and Australia. Because Jay was there, she was there, so I was able to build a relationship with her. We were in Australia, and she was like, ‘while I’m out here, I might as well work on my album, too.’ They built her a little studio on the third floor in this little media room and she would just be working on her album.

"One day she invited me up to her studio to listen to some songs. I remember it was one particular song that she asked for my feedback, and I was like, ‘man, this song is incredible, but I think the drums could be better.’ So she was like, ‘okay, why don’t you take the Pro Tools session down and rework the drums?’ So I took the session, went to my little setup and worked the drums. She came down and heard it and was like, ‘oh, I love it!’

“So a couple days later, we were eating at the table and she was like, ‘I would love for you to come out to New York and help me work on my album at the top of the year.’ And I was like, ‘man, just let me know!’ Literally, January 2nd, I got the call. That next day I wound up flying to New York and I stayed there for like a week.

“With that particular song, she didn’t write to the beat. When I went out there, she had like four or five songs that she loved, but she didn’t care too much for the production. So I took all five of those songs and reworked them. And ‘Best Thing I Never Had’ was one of them. One of my musicians, Caleb Sean, he was with me, too. We just reworked all the sessions. She was literally choosing from 75 to 77 songs for that album, so it was crazy to even make it.

“We actually did most of [the production]. I programmed the drums, Caleb did the piano and the strings on it, and then Shea Taylor came in and added some really dope stuff to it to make everything pop out more. I think Babyface did the original production, but we completely changed it. We would always be like, ‘we need something that’s very… memorable [like the Vanessa Carlton song].’ As we were playing Beyoncé’s vocals, my keyboard player, he played maybe like two things and the next thing he played was the main melody. Soon as I heard it I was like, ‘that’s what we’re building the song around.’

“That was one of the most stressful sessions I’ve ever been in [laughs]. Everything was so time-based. Beyoncé was super excited and anxious for us to get done with the record, but the next day or two, she was having these big listening sessions where she would have people come to the studio, so we were pressured to get done with the records for the listening sessions. We made it a lot of fun, but it was definitely stressful [laughs].

“It was incredible. It seemed so unreal—'do I really have a Beyonce single?' It’s all part of the dream. Even working with Kanye, this is stuff that I dreamed about. Five, six years prior, we would be in the studio remixing songs that we didn’t like from certain artists. Beyoncé was one them. We did this remix for ‘Single Ladies’ when it came out, and people started tripping like, ‘yo, this is incredible!’ It’s crazy because when we started working with Beyoncé, we played it for her and she was like, ‘I love this. In fact, I want to write something new to the beat.’

“[Being in the studio with her] changes everything. I wouldn’t have made the Beyoncé album if it was email. It was a lot of back-and-forth, her coming in the room, saying what she liked, Ty Ty being there and giving his input. It was a lot of that before we got the point where everybody was satisfied. When God starts to put you in these situations of what you’ve dreamed about, it’s an amazing feeling, man.”

Jay Z & Kanye West — “Murder to Excellence” (2011)

Co-produced by Swizz Beatz

Samples: Power of Zeus "The Sorcerer of Isis" + Quincy Jones "Katutoka Corrine"

“We did that in London. We went there to start the Watch The Throne sessions. There was me, No I.D., Ryan Leslie, Mike Dean. We had our little stations set up just making records. Kanye and Jay, after they recorded a song, they would look up at us like, ‘yo, what y’all got?’ This was an idea I had and as soon as I played it, I remember Jay looking up at me like, ‘what the heck is this?’ Then he starts mumbling, walking around the room. Literally 20 minutes later he’s like, ‘okay, I’m ready.’ And the engineer’s pulling up the song, he’s at the mic, and one-takes it. I saw him do it over and over again. It’s amazing.

“This one originally started as two completely different songs. My song was called ‘Black Excellence’ and the one that Swizz did was called ‘Black-on-Black Murder.’ We’re in the studio listening to songs, wilding out, and we’re listening to either my version of the record or Swizz’s. Kanye stops it and he’s like, ‘yo, I got an idea.’ He starts telling the engineer like, ‘these songs kinda sound similar. At this section, try to merge this song with that one.’ The engineer did it, we played it, and as soon as that section came on, the way it transitioned, we were all jumping around the studio going crazy [laughs]. He was like, ‘that’s it. We’re gonna keep it like that.’ Then they changed it to ‘Murder to Excellence.’

“The inspiration behind [‘Black Excellence’]? I actually did that beat around the time that I did 'POWER.' I was in my vocal chant, African vibe, so I was looking for a lot of samples like that. That actually came from The Color Purple. I heard it and I started chopping it up. [The drums] weren’t a break beat, but the way I chopped it, it made it feel like it was a break beat.

“When Jay walked in the room the first day we were there, I was kinda [starstruck]. Like, ‘yo, that’s really Jay Z!’ But Jay is so cool and we clicked immediately, so after a few days, it was like, ‘okay, that’s Jay Z’ [laughs]. You really forget who he is because of how he carries himself. It’s not like he’s up here and everybody else is down here. The conversation is like, we all one. He’s an incredible person. Building a relationship with him, that lead me to getting my Roc Nation deal through him and Ty Ty.

“I was [signed to Very G.O.O.D. Beats] for two-and-a-half to three years. I’m not anymore. Right when the 'POWER' situation went down, he was like, ‘yo, I want you to be a part of the team.’ So we worked that out over about seven or eight months. At that point, I was always working with Kanye. I was in New York with him and overseas for Watch The Throne, and he would call me certain places. The G.O.O.D. Music album, I was in those sessions. Going back to Hawaii for the John Legend album. Being in those moments, it really made me realize like, yo, this dude works like crazy. Literally no sleep.

“Being able to go to London and Australia to work with them on these albums, be a part of the conversations and contribute, it was amazing, man. I’m so grateful and thankful to them for allowing me to be a part of that. That’s something that not everybody will experience.”

50 Cent — “My Life” ft. Eminem & Adam Levine (2012)

Sample: Melvin Bliss "Synthetic Substitution"

“That was a beat I did at the crib, I think. I have those moments where I’m just knocking out beats and ideas, and that was one of them. To be honest, when I did it, I never really thought anything of it. It wasn’t something that made me want to shop it. But I wound up sending it to Tony G and Dré McKenzie—they were G-Unit A&Rs at the time—so I sent a batch of beats to them for 50. They casually hit me up and were like, ‘yeah, 50’s loving the beats.’

"A few months later, I go out to L.A. to visit the G-Unit office and I’m having a conversation with Tony G and Dré. Mid-conversation, they’re like, ‘oh, 50 wants these two beats. As a matter of fact, I think 50’s here.’ So we get up and go to this conference room where 50’s having a business meeting. They open the door and they’re trying to tell him that S1’s here, and he’s looking at them crazy like, ‘why are you interrupting my meeting?’ They pointed to me and he was like, ‘oh, snap! I gotta come back to this meeting.’ So he gets up, comes and was like, ‘I had an APB out on you’ [laughs].

"So we go into his office and he was like, ‘yo, I got these two songs. They’re incredible.’ He plays the beat and he spits the lyrics in front of me, and he tells me how the hook is gonna be. At that time, I didn’t even know there was gonna be Adam Levine or Eminem on it.

“After leaving there, I didn’t hear back from any of them. I would ask Dré like, ‘is 50 gonna use this song?’ He’d be like, ‘don’t sell it, keep it.’ Then almost two years later, I started hearing through the grapevine like, ‘yo, Adam Levine hopped on the record.’ Or, ‘yo, Eminem jumped on this 50 record.’ But I hadn’t been told anything from them.

"Then they started hitting me like, ‘okay, you got the next 50 single. Eminem and Adam Levine hopped on it.’ Normally, two years, two-and-a-half years, something will happen—a new song replaces it or whatever. So that one stood the test of time. I’ve been a huge Eminem fan since he first started. With him being the megastar that he is, I was super stoked when I heard that he jumped on it.

“That song did really well for the first few weeks, and then [50] just kinda went into something else completely—I forgot what it was—so the song just fell super quick. He has so much going on, so the music is not his main money machine. Hit or miss, he has other things going on, so it doesn’t really matter.”

Kanye West — “Guilt Trip” (2013)

Co-produced by Mike Dean, Kanye West & Travis Scott

“I made that during the Watch The Throne sessions. Kanye recorded to it, it didn’t make Watch The Throne, but he was like, ‘yo, hold this beat, I think I got a spot for it on [my next album].’ I think some more people contributed to it. I know Mike Dean added to it during Watch The Throne. It was us two that laid the foundation, and then when Kanye started working on Yeezus, I think he started to touch it, and then I think Travis Scott did something. Then it wound up making the Yeezus album.

“[My original beat] was the same. They redid the drums—my break is exactly the same, they just real drums with the same pattern—and that could have been a sample clearance thing. It was just one of those things where I was just making ideas, and that was something that came out. I wasn’t trying to channel anything at that point. [Kanye wasn’t working on any other Yeezus songs at that point]. Maybe ['Guilt Trip'] was the inspiration for some of the other songs.

"That was always one of my goals and dreams to work with him because he really was a big influence on what I did. From College Dropout, every album was amazing to me. Every time he dropped, I’d be like, ‘I have to work with Kanye.’ So when it got to that point where I was working with him all the time, it was incredible. I used to speak of working with him. It was truly a blessing to be able to work with him on three consecutive albums.

“With Kanye, people always talk about the ego, but looking at him as a creative, he knows how to bring all of the greats in one room to create the best work. You can’t have ego and pride to do that. At the end of the day, it’s not about what I contribute, it’s not about what he contributes, it’s not about what anybody contributes; it’s all about the song.”

Photo Credit: Instagram

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