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.
Nez and Rio have their own word for a hot song: "SLAM!" If dunking a basketball is their metaphor for making beats, then this pair has been throwing it down like Blake and DeAndre for the last five years.
After meeting in the fifth grade, Nez (real name Nesbitt Wesonga) and Rio (aka Mario Loving) have turned their life-long friendship into a dynamic production duo. Inspired by everyone from Quincy Jones and George Clinton to Juicy J and Organized Noise, the Chicago natives spent years producing for local acts—and working crappy jobs—before a chance studio session with Kendrick Lamar led to their breakout placements on ScHoolboy Q's 2012 album Habits & Contradictions.
Since then, Nez and Rio have become two of Q's go-to guys, bringing their "beautifully hard" beats to both Oxymoron ("Man of the Year," "Gangsta," "Fuck LA," "Californication") and Blank Face LP ("TorcH," "Str8 Ballin," "Tookie Knows II") while working with the likes of A$AP Rocky, Wale and Tinashe. Their clientele may be small, but what Nez and Rio lack in quantity, they more than make up for in quality.
With "some real good stuff" coming with ScHoolboy Q and their own project as artists on the horizon, 2017 is shaping up to be another slam dunk year for Nez and Rio. Here are the stories behind five of their biggest songs.
ScHoolboy Q — "Druggys Wit Hoes Again" ft. Ab-Soul (2012)
N: "That's one of my favorites right there."
R: "That beat was actually made a long time ago. We were living in two different places at the time—I lived in Atlanta and Nez lived in Chicago—and we were sending beats back and forth, like half-done tracks. We were actually working on a mixtape for ourselves and that was one of the beats that came out of it. Then we had an opportunity to play records for Kendrick Lamar."
N: "Our homie J Script, he's cool with the TDE fam. He was bringing Kendrick in town for a show and we felt like we could play some music for him. J Script kept his word, invited us to the studio and that's when we met everybody."
R: "It was a lot of poker faces, it was very professional. I vividly remember seeing a lot of red. It really felt like an LA vibe had walked into the room. It was us and a bunch of other producers, we were just playing beats. We got songs with Kendrick, they're just in the vault. ScHoolboy Q was in that session and we ended up placing that beat with him. It's a very random way of getting to Q [laughs]."
N: "That beat was influenced by what we were listening to at the time. To me, 'Druggys Wit Hoes Again' has some Chicago house vibes, some electronic vibes. We listen to a lot of different stuff so a lot of the music that you hear is really a culmination of what we love. At that time, Rio was going to MJQ in Atlanta, which is this dope club that plays a bunch of stuff, so he was coming back like, 'yo, I heard this La Roux joint!' [Laughs] We were even listening to stuff like Portishead. I was here in Chicago, he was in Atlanta and a lot of the beats from that era—from 'Druggys Wit Hoes Again' up to Oxymoron—was inspired by that type of stuff."
R: "We were already familiar with Q because of Kendrick's 'Michael Jordan.' Q had a verse on that song and we loved it so much that when we had the opportunity to meet him we were like, 'yo man, we don't wanna skim over you. You're dope, too.' It just so happened that's how everything worked out. Q laughed about it too because, you know, everybody always focuses on who's popping at that moment. Q's stuff was right around the corner but nobody really knew it."
N: "You never really know how big anybody's gonna be. We felt like [TDE] were gonna blow up, though. It was something about how they were rolling."
R: "It was very official. It felt very together and planned out. We knew that whatever we were involved in with them was going to be a good move. I don't know if we necessarily thought that years later, we'd be talking about that moment like this. But we definitely knew that they were gonna make noise when they put out major projects.
"For me, [producing for Q] felt like I was finally able to tell people about music that they heard before. This is the first song that we produced—on this project—that I could talk to someone that I didn't know who, if they were listening to independent music at the time, they probably heard the songs that I did, which is a big deal for a branded producer."
N: "The same sentiments, man. At that time we had worked with a lot of people locally, but when you're starting out doing music, it's kind of a hard sell to tell people like, 'yeah I make music and it's dope!' [Laughs] When no one's ever heard of what you're doing, they kinda write you off. That was like the beginning of us crossing over into a more mainstream vibe where we could see people reacting to your music at shows. It was super dope."
SaveMoney — "Seppuku" ft. Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa, Towkio, Caleb James & Kami de Chuckwu (2013)
R: "We had known Vic and Chance and the whole SaveMoney crew for a while at that point. Who did we give that too, Nez?"
N: "It was Caleb's song at first, and then he took it over to them like, 'I need to get all the homies on this one. This beat is dope.' We heard it and we were like, 'aw, this is hard!' All of them can rap, man. Those are some rappin' ass dudes. To hear all of them go crazy, trading off and spitting their hot verses, that was a cool moment."
R: "People don't understand, they're like Wu-Tang or something. I know that's a big statement, but as far as the talent level they have as a group, they're all super talented. It was a fun experience for us because not only were they so dope, they were so young, too. I remember them doing that kind of stuff when they were like 16 and 17. None of this is a surprise to me because they were all crazy talented when they were in high school."
N: "We were with Vic like yesterday. I was with Chance like last week in Chicago. They're always around, they're still accessible. The dope thing about them is as much as they've gained success, they haven't forgotten their roots. It's still all love when you see them, even if you haven't seen them in a little while. That's fam.
"When you have friends who are creatives, you have to be in the same space. So even thought you might be cool with somebody, creatively you gotta have synergy in order for it to work. I definitely could see [a Chance collaboration] happening in the future though, for sure."
ScHoolboy Q — "Man of the Year" (2014)
Sample: Chromatics "Cherry"
"It's a weird experience to be like, 'okay, I'm nominated for a GRAMMY, but I'm working in a retail store.'"
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N: "We were listening to Chromatics at that time. We had just moved to LA and we started getting into DJing. We're always trying to find new dope music, so we were skimming YouTube, I came across that sample. I loved the strings so much, I was like, 'that mood is crazy.' This is another time where me and Rio were in two separate places—both in LA but like 15 minutes away from each other—so that beat came about by us ping-ponging it back and forth via email. We were literally sitting on couches at our cribs making the beat."
R: "Q's a really funny dude."
N: "He's very ugly."
R: "Super ugly in person [laughs]."
N: "But yeah, Q's funny, man. It's like hanging out with your cousin. He's not pretentious or anything like that, just super chillin'. There was a lot of weed in the studio. A lot of silly jokes and all that good stuff."
R: "['Man of the Year'] was actually the last one to get placed on the album. As soon as we sent that one, he knocked it out that night."
N: "We had thought about [giving it to Q], but we just sat on it. We didn't send it right away. We didn't even know if it was that dope. You don't really know what beat's gon' be the one. Anybody who says, 'ahhh, I know this gon' be the one!'—they lying. So we sat on it for a couple weeks. And then we were just like, '... send it!'"
R: "I remember us having a conversation about it. We were like, 'should we send it? I guess the worst he can say is no' [laughs]"
N: "We sent it and next thing you know, it's a huge record."
R: "[The GRAMMY nomination] was great, but it came at a weird time in our lives. A lot of people don't know that when working in the music industry, your publishing and all of the money in your deal—outside of your up front deal—comes later. At the time, we were working regular jobs, trying to hold out for a [publishing] deal. We were literally working during the GRAMMYs! It's a weird experience to be like, 'okay, I'm nominated for a GRAMMY, but I'm working in a retail store.'"
N: "We could have gone, but we had work. Our bosses wouldn't let us take off. That's crazy, right?!"
R: "A lot of people say, 'oh just take off, it's the GRAMMYs!' Yeah, but I have rent next month, I have to eat [laughs]. You're not instantly rich when the song blows up."
N: "That's also true if you don't wanna take what I call a shitty deal. Some people might not wanna [work a regular job], so they'll just take some money up front from some company that's gonna take half your ownership of your records. A lot of people aren't well versed in the business to know that it might make sense to hold out for a little bit, and own all of your percentages and not be in debt to any of these labels and companies that sign you over for a little bit of money and take all your shit."
R: "On top of that, you definitely don't want to go back to that shitty job [laughs]."
A$AP Rocky — "Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2" (2015)
N: "We were at Rio's crib getting ready to go to a party, you know, drinking, taking shots, just hanging out."
R: "You were actually making that on the laptop with headphones on and a small keyboard. It wasn't even like a production set up. Just a laptop with a portable keyboard."
N: "I was just playing around and then I called Rio into the room and was like, 'yo, check this out.' He put the headphones on and was like, 'aw, yeah!' He added something to it and then it just became a slam. Now we knew that one was hard! Somebody's gon' take this! Brocky [Marciano] told me not too long ago he played it for Young Jeezy and he was like, 'man, you stupid if you don't take this!' Brocky was the one that was most active as far as trying to place it.
"Before then, we had met Rocky at SXSW. He remembered that we did the 'Californication' beat. He was like, 'aw man, that's very rare.' He made sure we got his contact information. He was mad cool. [When we got in the studio], he had already recorded the song. It still needed some parts added, Rio was doing some backgrounds on there. We definitely had a good time finishing it up and got the vibe right with Rocky. A similar vibe to Q where he's super chillin'. He's just about making good art."
R: "The kind of artists that we work with are usually the ones who want to make something that sounds different. I think today people are making great music, but a lot of music is people aiming for the best version of the same song. We love the era where people were creating new styles and approaches. Those out-of-the-box thinkers were our favorites. The artists we've worked with thus far are the ones that really enjoy doing that as well. Rocky and Q are both very much in tune with everything that they like—from how things look to how things are worn to who's making the music."
ScHoolboy Q — "TorcH" ft. Anderson .Paak (2016)
N: "That was a fun time in our creative process because that's when we really started working closely with Q as far as starting from scratch, going to his house, spending a lot of late nights vibing. We found out that was going to be the intro later on in the process. We knew we needed to build the beat up more, so Q brought in a guy who actually played the guitar on top of the melodies and stuff. It just made that beat bigger."
R: "For that album, our process was basically coming over [to his personal studio], he would give us a vibe that he wanted to create that night, and we would start working from there. We'd set up, put in countless hours of figuring out what that right sound was and then create it. A lot of times he would sit in, other times he would go in the other room and play video games or whatever. Then he'd come back in or one of us would peek in on him and say, 'hey man, I think we got something, check this out.'"
N: "We didn't actually [get to work with Anderson .Paak on that song]. He did that on another day. I think after we made the beat, Q was writing to it and took it to Anderson at a different time. We definitely gotta connect with Anderson .Paak though, he's dope."
R: "Those sessions were really good fun, too. There's been times where we've been in the studio for like two days straight—and I mean, straight. Like, I'ma take a break for two, three hours just to shower and come right back to the studio."
N: "There were a couple that were pretty classic sessions. To me, they get more funnier as they go. We don't even smoke anymore but man, you can't help but get a contact from being around all that [laughs]."
R: "We ended up really making some classic records during that time."