For a producer whose music is synonymous with street rappers like Meek Mill, Rick Ross and Lloyd Banks, Cardiak's rise is a testament to the power of the internet. In 2008, the New Jersey-born producer landed his first major beat placement ("The Soul") after tuning into Joe Budden's Ustream and hearing him ask for beats. Since then, many of his biggest looks have come about through online networking and were created over email.
“Back in the day, you had to be in these studios and these rooms with the artists. But now, the internet has changed that," Cardiak says over a Skype call, natch. "Of course, producers still want to get in the studio ’cause it’s a better experience; you can really sit down and explain your vision. But you can still do that through email."
Cardiak's track record is proof that magic can still happen over Gmail. With an aggressive yet soulful sound that often incorporates speaker-smacking drums, lush string tabs and his signature flatline (which will be making a comeback this year), Cardiak's standout collaborations include Lloyd Banks' "Start It Up," Rick Ross' "Diced Pineapples" and Eminem's "Groundhog Day," the latter of which earned him his first GRAMMY award.
On the rare occasion when Cardiak does get in the studio to work with artists in person, it's the stuff cool grandad stories are made of. Like that Slaughterhouse session he had with !llmind, araabMUZIK, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and his idol Just Blaze ("That was definitely one of the top moments in my life"). Or working on Dr. Dre's blockbuster album Compton out in LA for more than a year straight.
Here are the stories behind five of Cardiak's biggest songs.
Lloyd Banks — “Start It Up” ft. Kanye West, Fabolous, Swizz Beatz & Ryan Leslie (2010)
"A few weeks later, that’s when I got a call like, ‘yo, this record’s gonna change your life.'"
“That was the beginning of everything. I was following this guy on Twitter called Tony G, he used to be an A&R at G-Unit. He would do these Ustreams where he’d play people’s beats and give them feedback, and if he liked something, he would play it for 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks and whoever was on G-Unit at the time.
“He came across my beats and liked my stuff. The first beat I submitted was the Lloyd Banks track ‘Take ’Em to War,’ that was the first beat I placed with them. So he was like, ‘yo, send me another zip.’ I was going through old beats, seeing what could work and I sent the ‘Start It Up’ beat. I was like, ‘he's probably not gonna like it.’ It was sitting on my hard drive for years. When Tony heard it he was like, ‘yo, why did you wait so long to send this beat?!’ But the reason it took me so long was because I had already rapped to it.
“I do [have a copy of my version] actually [laughs]. It’s funny you ask that ’cause I was on IG Live the other day and one of my friends sent it to me and was like, ‘remember this?’ Once I heard it, I was like, ‘oh shit!’ and turned it off ’cause I don’t want nobody to hear it. It was so corny, man [laughs].
“Fast forward a few months, [Tony] told me, ‘yo, Banks used it, he’s thinking about getting Fab on it.’ I was like, ‘cool, that’s what’s up!’ A few weeks later, that’s when I got a call like, ‘yo, this record’s gonna change your life. We just got Swizz Beatz and Kanye West on it!’ So I was like, ‘oh wow!’ Originally I heard the record and it was just Lloyd Banks and Fab. The next time I heard it 50 Cent was on it, he had a hook. Then I heard [the final version] over the phone and was like, ‘wow, this joint’s gonna be crazy.’ Next thing you know Funk Flex was dropping bombs on it on Hot 97.
“I happened to be at my mom’s house so I told her, ‘mom, come here, listen! I did the beat to this song.’ And she was hyped too. I felt like I had accomplished something. That was one of my main goals to get a big record, and that song solidified me making the right moves towards my career. Since then, everything’s taken off.”
Rick Ross — “Diced Pineapples” ft. Drake & Wale (2012)
“I built a relationship with the A&R for Maybach Music, his name is Spiff TV. I got cool with him so I submitted beats to him. [‘Diced Pineapples’] happened to be one of the beats that just stuck. That beat and the ‘Amsterdam’ beat were in the same folder. That was pretty much through email and communicating back-and-forth with [Spiff]. He told me like, ‘yo, this record is gonna be big.’
"Once Drake hopped on it, I knew it was gonna be a monster record, and sure enough it was. It was everywhere when it came out, my phone was going off crazy. That was another big moment for me.
“Actually, I [made that beat for Drake]. At the time I was working on beats to send his way, but I didn’t really have any outlets to Drake. I was also working on beats for Maybach Music at the time so I threw that beat in the batch, not thinking that they were gonna use it. I felt like it was too, I dunno, mellow. So when I sent it, I was surprised Ross liked it. And then Drake ended up getting on it anyway, so everything worked out.
“[With the minute-long intro], Ross had changed it for Wale to do some spoken word in the beginning. That was a good call ’cause my version was like four-eight bars and then the drums came in. But I like how Ross switched it up. That was dope.
“That song just kept me elevated. It allowed me to keep working with different artists. It inspired me to keep going. After that, I had a few other big placements that year.”
Eminem — “Groundhog Day” (2013)
Co-produced by Frank Dukes & Eminem
"I was actually thinking about Slaughterhouse [while making that beat] ’cause they were on fire around that time."
“Again, [that came about from] me networking through social media, doing my research, looking up A&Rs. I came across Dart Parker, he was Eminem’s A&R. I met him at an iStandard event so he already knew who I was at the time. We built a relationship and I’d send him beats. Me and Frank Dukes, who I used to collaborate heavy with, he sent me a few samples and that [‘Groundhog Day’] sample happened to be in the batch.
“I flipped the sample and sent it to Dart. He loved it and said he’s gonna play it for Em. A few months later he was like, ‘yo Eminem liked this beat, he’s gonna record something to it.’ Frank Dukes hit me up a few months after that and was like, ‘yo, we got an Eminem record!’ I was like, ‘for real?’ But I didn’t want to get too hype over it until everything was confirmed. And sure enough, Dart hit me up and was like, ‘yeah it’s done. Eminem killed it, it’s going on the album. Be ready.’ And when the album came out, it was crazy. That was one of the hardest joints on the album.
“Even when you flip a sample, the process could be long or it could be short. It just depends on what you hear. Everybody works different. My process is different every time, but with that particular sample, I still had my work cut out for me. It still took some time to build, but once I did it, it was cool. I was actually thinking about Slaughterhouse [while making that beat] ’cause they were on fire around that time. I sent it to Dart and once he told me that Eminem wanted it, I was like, ‘wow, that’s what’s up.’
“[The GRAMMY win] felt great. Every time the GRAMMYs come around, it still hits me like, ‘yeah, I’ve won a GRAMMY before.’ Winning that GRAMMY just solidified me making the right choices in life pursuing music and producing tracks for these artists.”
Dr. Dre — “For the Love of Money” ft. Jon Connor, Jill Scott & Anderson .Paak (2015)
"He gave me hell with my snares! After that I was kinda nervous, like I don’t want to fumble in front of Dre again."
“2014 is when I made my move from New Jersey to LA. Prior to that, I built a relationship with Dr. Dre’s A&R, Tyhiem Cannon. I met him at an iStandard Producers event and since then we kept in touch. So when I moved out here, he brought me to Record One, which was Dr. Dre’s studio. He had me in there working every day.
“Eventually, I met Dr. Dre. We vibed, I played him some beats and he was loving everything. It would just be me, a producer named Focus… and a few other guys. We’d be in the studio every day just working on his album. Out of that came ‘For the Love of Money’ and I collaborated with Focus…, DJ Dahi and Dem Jointz on ‘Deep Water.’ It took a year and some change and then the album came out.
“[‘For the Love of Money’] means a lot to me. That was one of the first beats that I made out in LA. I flipped a Bone Thugs sample, made a dope beat out of it and played it for Jon Connor, who happened to be in the studio at the time. He wanted to use it for his project and said he was going to get Dre on it. When Dre heard it, he loved it and hopped on it, and then asked Jon if he could use it for his album. That was a crazy play.
“Oh man, working with Dr. Dre was crazy—in a good way. I learned so much. He’s a perfectionist so if he don’t like something in a beat, he’s gonna tell you and stay on you until it gets right. There was this one track we were working on and he didn’t like the snare in my beat. I’m like, ‘that’s cool, I’ll change it.’ But when he heard it again, he was like, ‘you ain’t changed the snare? It still sounds the same.’ He gave me hell with my snares! After that, I was kinda nervous, like I don’t want to fumble in front of Dre again. That track ended up being scrapped, but then I did the drums on ‘Deep Water,’ and [Dre] was like, ‘yeah, this what I’m talking about!’ I made my way back; I was confident again.
“When I started working over there, I pretty much knew that Detox was over. It’s not really my place to try and explain it, but all I can say is that I was there to work on music. Working with Dre, he’s a perfectionist and music is his passion. He was working on the N.W.A movie at the time so I guess it sparked an idea like, ‘yo, I wanna do a soundtrack.’ It came organically and was kinda like spur of the moment."
J. Cole — “Immortal” (2016)
Co-produced by Frank Dukes & J. Cole
Sample: Frank Dukes "Pianoparts"
“I used a Frank Dukes sample and sent the beat to my guy Money Makin Matt, he works with J. Cole heavily. This was in early 2015, I believe, so Cole had that beat for a minute. He started working right after Forest Hills Drive. I actually forgot about it until Matt hit me up in November 2016 like, ‘yo, Cole still wants to use the beat, he’s dropping an album soon.’ I was like, ‘hell yeah!’ Sure enough, the album came out in December and [‘Immortal’] was one of the most talked about tracks on there.
“I can just hear a sample and know who it’s good for. I normally start with either a sample or playing piano, hearing some chords, and once I get a concept going, I pretty much have an idea of who I hear on it. So once I finish it, I’ll try and get the beat over to that person.
“I wanna bring back those [breakdown] videos. In the beginning, back in 2011, 2012, those videos really helped a lot of aspiring producers. To this day I have producers come up to me like, ‘yo, I still watch your videos, they inspire me.’ That just shows me that I’m doing something right. The more placements I get, I’ma start doing more tutorials and beat breakdowns. I just want to help out and give back.”