Beat Break: Charlie Handsome Shares the Story Behind His 5 Biggest Songs

Meet the "folk trap" producer behind Kanye West's "Fade," Post Malone's "Go Flex" and more.
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Meet the "folk trap" producer behind Kanye West's "Fade," Post Malone's "Go Flex" and more.

Charlie Handsome is proof that major beat placements aren’t always reliant on brand name recognition. For a guy who gets mistaken for fellow producer Charlie Heat, the 30-year-old Atlanta native has worked with some of the biggest names in hip-hop including Kanye West, Drake, Young Thug, Travis Scott and, most frequently, Post Malone. Probably because he’s more interested in producing records than partaking in popularity contests.

“If I would have taken a picture with everyone I’ve worked in the studio with, I would literally have a picture with 80% of the people that are relevant right now,” he says over the phone. “But it’s not in my personality to do that. I’d have to figure out a creative way to market myself where I don’t feel fucking lame.”

If Charlie’s approach to social media is refreshing, so too is his musical background. A skilled musician and songwriter with an executive producer’s ear, Handsome blends folk, emo and hip-hop influences into a fluid “folk trap” sound that often utilizes his 17 years of experience playing guitar. But there’s one artist in particular who he credits for putting him on his current path: "If it weren’t for Kanye, I probably wouldn’t have made beats.”

Last year, Charlie got the opportunity to work with his idol (on The Life of Pablo’s “Fade,” which he goes into detail about below). A Kanye collaboration almost seems like fate when you consider one of the first producers he met in his adopted home of Arizona was “Mercy” beat maker Lifted, who made him realize a career in music was possible. Lifted soon introduced Charlie to former G.O.O.D. Music president Che Pope, who gave him the confidence to quit his steady construction job in Scottsdale, AZ and move to LA to produce full-time.

A college high school dropout with the right amount of arrogance to power his dreams (he still went back to school and got two degrees, though), Charlie could write his own “Last Call” if he wanted to. With upcoming records with household names and exciting newcomers alike—including Khalid, Nav, SAFE, Bobby Raps and Corbin (aka Spooky Black)—his story is only getting started. “It sounds crazy because I’m a realist at heart, but I want to be a top five producer in the whole game,” he says. “I believe I have the skillset to do that.”

Here are the stories behind five of Charlie Handsome’s biggest songs.

Travis Scott — “Drugs You Should Try It” (2014)

Co-produced by FKi

"I’m thinking, ‘okay cool, it’s going to be a Big Sean record.’"

“I liked listening to emo music back in the early ’00s, they had crazy melodies and there was a lot of arpeggiated guitar riffs. [‘Drugs You Should Try It’] is two chord progressions: an arpeggiated guitar riff that follows C#m, A, G7, but I’m playing it note-by-note. Then I ended up layering another single note lead over it to make it move a bit more. For the bridge, I just played power chords—I strummed an A, C#m, F#m, E. I put some distortion on that and ran the whole thing through CLA Guitars plug-in stacked with your basic RVerb and H-Delay plugins.

“For this particular one, I started doing drums and just wasn’t really feeling it, but I had a session with FKi later that week and they were writing a bunch of weird, left-of-center hooks at the time. So we went into a session and pulled up four or five different ideas and they wrote hooks to all of them. The ‘Drugs’ record was the standout. It wasn’t the exact same lyrics; what Travis changed it to is stronger than the initial idea, but the melody was still there. Then I told the guys to throw drums on it ’cause FKi has a very specific drum sound. They did and it sounded super fucking hard.

“For the actual placement, I was with Lifted one day and we went to Big Sean’s house and were playing a bunch of tracks. Sean was like, ‘Yo, throw this one on a hard drive, I’m going to write to it.’ I’m thinking, ‘Okay cool, it’s going to be a Big Sean record.’ Then I got a phone call from Lifted one day and he’s like, ‘Yo, go check out Travis’ mixtape, your track is on there!’ And I’m like, ‘What the fuck?’ There was no warning, no production credit, we hadn’t done splits, I hadn’t gotten any bread from it. At the time I didn’t have an attorney and I didn’t really know how to get in touch with Travis, but I loved the record.

“The crazy thing is, Travis never had any stems. He basically had the mp3 and EQ’d it so that the vocals were low-passed. And then he sang the exact same melody over that and put his lyrics on it. So Markous from FKi’s vocals are also on the track, you just don’t really hear them.

“[Later that year] A-Trak was throwing his Fool’s Gold thing and I knew Travis and Vic Mensa were performing. Vic’s the homie so I went backstage with him, I broke off to go find Travis and when I walked up to him I think he thought I was a fan ’cause I was like, ‘What’s up man? The ‘Drugs’ record is my shit.’ And he was like, ‘Oh thanks.’ I’m like, ‘No, it’s literally my shit. I produced that.’ He looked really confused and then some of his people came up to talk to me ’cause they didn’t know what was going on.

“It was a little weird at the beginning but we ended up working everything out. Now, I think Travis is about to throw a verse on this new Young Thug ‘Me or Us’ track which I also produced. We got some other shit in the works, too.”

Lil Dicky — “Pillow Talking” (2015)

Co-produced by Jamil “Digi” Chammas

"When you hear that main lead...that’s actually an audio file of whatever the fuck space noise is. For all we know, that’s aliens talking or some shit."

“I met Lil Dicky when he was doing a session with somebody else. I got a phone call and they were like, ‘I did this beat but he doesn’t like the drums. I don’t know what to do.’ So I went in at like 2 a.m. and flipped the drums for him, did what he asked for. So he was like, ‘Yo, let’s get in and do a session.’ [Dicky is] a fucking genius when it comes to his vision, he knows exactly what he’s trying to do and how he wants to execute it.

“For this particular record, it’s actually kinda weird. There was this article I had read—I read random shit all day—where someone had intercepted a satellite transmission supposedly from deep space and there was a link to the actual audio file. So I listened to it and basically, [it] sounded like a fluttering buzz. Me being a fucking weirdo, I ripped the audio, put it in Fruity Loops and slowed it down by like a thousand percent. And when you slow it down, it creates a pitch. So I took that pitch and started chopping it up. When you hear that main lead [on ‘Pillow Talking’] it almost sounds like a fluttering staccato synth—that’s actually an audio file of whatever the fuck space noise is. For all we know, that’s aliens talking or some shit.

“Once I had that sound, we were at sitting at 105 BPMs. Dicky was like, ‘You know what? Let’s make the pocket like [OG Maco’s] "U Guessed It," keep a lot of space between the 808s and snares and everything.’ So I started programming the drums and he kinda freestyled the whole time. I brought my boy Digi there and was like, ‘Man, just add some melodic, nuanced shit.’ We were trying to make it theatrical because there’s this whole idea: you hook up with somebody, what do you talk about after you guys have sex but you really have no interest in the person?

“So Dicky’s freestyling and at one point he said, ‘Do you fuck with the war?’ And we all started laughing ’cause it’s so stupid. We ended up going home and he called me a week later and he’s like, ‘I wrote a little more than we expected.’ I’m expecting like four minutes; shit’s 11 minutes long. He sends it to me and he’s like, ‘Have you ever heard of anyone doing an 11-minute single?’ He would go on to shoot the video with his collaborator and long-time friend Brain.”

Kanye West — “Fade” ft. Post Malone & Ty Dolla $ign (2016)

Co-produced by Kanye West, Anthony Killhoffer, Mike Dean & Benji B; additional production by DJDS & Noah Goldstein

Samples: Mr. Fingers "Mystery of Love" + Hardrive "Deep Inside"Barbara Tucker "I Get Lifted (The Underground Network Mix)"Rare Earth "(I Know) I'm Losing You"

"I remember when I played my [version of ‘Fade’] in the room, Rick Rubin was like, ‘yo, this is it.’"

“Che Pope is the big homie, he’d look out for me and play my beats for Ye. I get a phone call from Che one day and he’s like, ‘Yo, your boy Post is here in the studio with Kanye. Where are you at?’ Kanye was working out of Shangri-La, which is Rick Rubin’s studio out in Malibu, super cool spot. I got the invite to come out and work on some stuff. Like I said, I wouldn’t be making beats if it wasn’t for Kanye so when I was outside the studio I was like, ‘Man, I’m about to be starstruck, I’m probably going to be acting weird. I’m meeting my idol, this is crazy.’

“But when I walked in it was like, ‘Oh, he’s just a regular dude.’ I shook his hand and I remember he had a big smile on his face. I noticed that everyone in the room seemed like they were just trying to hang out and be around Ye, so I pretty much immediately said, ‘Hey, I’m here to work, what song ideas do you have? Where can I cook up?’ And he just smiled and told Noah [Goldstein], ‘Man, let’s load him up.’

“Kanye had all these samples he wanted to use for his project. He had the Mr. Fingers sample, the Hardrive sample. He also had a rough mix idea for it with a basic kick snare. Him and Post were writing so I went into the next room and cooked up. I chopped the ‘Deep Inside’ vocal sample slightly different to how I heard it and started experimenting with a whole switch up section because in every song I produce I make sure there’s two different themes or two progressions.

“So I found this really abrasive, high-pitched riser sound and played it over the sample chop. Then I took a bunch of drums from my kit and tried different patterns. I did a synth bass mixed in with 808s. I used what I call the bike chain—it’s literally a mic’d recording of a bicycle chain as it spins and slows down. I recorded that shit a couple years ago. People probably think it’s a hi-hat roll, but it’s not. I actually wrote a really interesting chord progression as well but they didn’t want all the chords, they just wanted the other sounds—the riffs, the drums, the 808s—so I cut it in. Where the beat switches up, my parts come in there.

“It’s kind of a competition when you’re working on Kanye records because he likes to call in a lot of people. I’m working on a song and in the next room you’ve got James Blake or Mike WiLL [Made-It] and I’m thinking, ‘fuck!’ You never really know what Kanye’s going to fuck with until the last minute. I remember when I played my [version of ‘Fade’] in the room, Rick Rubin was like, ‘Yo, this is it.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Shit! If I got the Rick co-sign, I’m definitely on the record.’ And then a couple weeks later Kim Kardashian tweeted something like, ‘all music should sound like this,’ and it was ‘Fade.’

“Juicy J mistook me for a runner. I went outside to take a little break and Juicy was standing there with some of his people. They were like, ‘yo, can you get us some waters and cookies’ or something like that. I’m like, ‘What? Nah, I ain’t doing that shit.’ And he’s like, ‘My man, can you go do this?’ And I’m like, ‘Yo, I don’t fucking work here. I’m here producing. Why do you think I work here?’ And he goes, ‘white dude with a beard and long hair.’ I started looking around and I swear to God everyone who Rick Rubin employs as a runner is a white dude with a beard [laughs].”

Post Malone — “Go Flex” (2016)

Co-produced by Rex Kudo

"I could be wrong, but I want to say Post was sleeping in a closet at the time."

“Check this shit out: I wrote the instrumentation for ‘Go Flex’ in 2007. It used to be called ‘Stars and Space Weapons’ and it was kind of like a folky song about being in a relationship and holding onto someone no matter what happens. I had recorded about two or three different versions, just me on the guitar. Me and Post were in Rex Kudo’s studio a lot and we would jam on acoustic guitar outside by the firepit.

“That song came into my head one day when we were working on new shit. I jumped in the booth and was like, ‘I got a progression I want to lay down.’ I wrote two chord progressions on acoustic guitar with nylon strings, which is my main guitar that I put on everything. Those reverb vocal melodies you hear in the background, those are the melodies from the song that I wrote way the fuck back. The song is played on Capo 5 and the verse chords are F, C, G, Am. The hook and bridge chords are Em, F, C, G.

“Once I put that down, I started messing with the drums and the 808s, and Post started writing to it before we finished the beat. I love his bars on there, like ‘pusha gas, get a motherfuckin’ nose bleed.’ That goes over most people’s heads.

“So Post was writing and he came up with the ‘Go Flex’ concept, it was super dope. I remember him saying, ‘Hulk Hogan with the flex’ and I was like, ‘Fuck that. You can’t say Hulk Hogan on the flex because phonetically, it sounds weird, too many syllables. Second, Stone Cold Steve Austin!’ Post is a wrestling fan too and was like, ‘Oh shit, Stone Cold!’ And it’s got a double meaning. That’s the only thing I can say I contributed to lyrically.

“Rex Kudo recorded it and put his mix on the vocal. He brought in a really dope violin player and had him layer up the bridge—you hear it come in on the bridge before the last hook. Then he threw the stomp/clap loop in the hook and bridge, and he may have added an extra guitar layer on it, too. It filled it out really nicely.

“I met Post at the end of 2014. He was chilling at this house with like 20 other people and I feel like nobody was paying rent. I could be wrong, but I want to say Post was sleeping in a closet at the time. But every time I would go to the house, me and him would chain smoke fucking Marlboro Reds, drink Bud Lights and talk shit. Eventually, I saw that Bob Dylan cover he did but he had never said anything about it. I was like, ‘Yo, you’re really fucking good. We should start some new shit.’

“We ended up locking in at the end of December for like two months and basically did the whole [Stoney] album. It changed later once the label got involved and we got more people involved, but a lot of the songs that have come out were from that time period, like ‘White Iverson,’ ‘Tears,’ ‘What’s Up,’ ‘Holyfield, ‘God Damn,’ ‘Leave,’ ‘Go Flex.’ For the labels, that’s really when they were like, ‘Oh, you can put albums together, it’s not like you just make beats.’”

Young Thug — “Me or Us” (2017)

Co-produced by Rex Kudo & Post Malone

"Originally, we thought Frank Ocean was going to get on this record."

“We started that idea at the Kanye sessions. Basically, Post and Kanye were having a little jam session and Post picked up an acoustic guitar. Post, for some reason, was playing other people’s songs and I remember him specifically playing a Fleet Foxes record, then he played ‘First Day of My Life’ by Bright Eyes. Kanye maybe did or didn’t know that these were already songs but he was freestyling over them. Rex Kudo was recording it on a voice note and came into the next room like, ‘Yo, check this out.’

“I remember on the Bright Eyes one, in particular, Kanye had this cool melody/hook concept called ‘Gangster Love’—that’s what we were calling it anyway—and it sounded super crazy. [The voice note] was about an hour long so there was probably 10 ideas to choose from. I think we ended up fucking with two of them, including the Bright Eyes one.

“I interpolated the guitar—there’s no sample on the record—and did a similar chord progression. Then I came up with a humming melody over it. If you listen to the background vocals on that record, that’s actually my voice. There’s a couple melodic points in my run where I was probably pulling from Conor Oberst [the lead singer of Bright Eyes].

“There was one of Rick Rubin’s synths in the room and because I thought it was going to be a Kanye record, I was like, ‘Okay, for the switch up, I’m going to do some 808s & Heartbreak-type shit.’ So if you listen to the second half of the record it goes into this moving synth part where it’s a staccato synth bassline and then a lead synth. That’s supposed to be a rough idea of an 808s Kanye-type riff.

“Fast forward to ‘okay, Kanye’s probably not using it,’ Rex Kudo called me one day like, ‘Yo, I’m going in with Young Thug, we should have Post come up there too.’ We pull up to the session and knocked out four songs, but it was Rex’s session so the first two or three I wasn’t involved in. But I remember having that beat idea open on my laptop because Thug was late and I just wanted to work on the drums anyway.

“At some point, Rex was like, ‘Yo, play that one’ and Thug was like, ‘Oh shit, cool, I got an idea.’ He goes into the booth—he’s super interesting how he records: he turns off the speakers so you can’t hear him when he’s recording. Essentially, you can’t vocal produce Young Thug—he’s in there for like an hour and pretty much writes all the lyrics, picks the melodies and comps it together while he’s in the booth. The only person who actually heard Thug cutting his vocals was Alex Tumay. He's Thug’s engineer and he mixed the entire album. Alex and I actually met way back when we worked together at Travis Scott’s house.

“I remember [Thug] came out of the booth, I was sitting down at the boards and was trying to move parts that I liked and didn’t like. I felt Thug standing behind me, it was a weird energy. Somebody tapped me on the shoulder and they were like, ‘Yo, you should get up.’ And I was like, ‘What?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, he doesn’t like people messing with his vocals. He knows what he wants to do.’ I was like, ‘Oh. Alright, cool.’

“Originally, we thought Frank Ocean was going to get on this record. We were really hoping for Frank, but I don’t know if his schedule didn’t work out or whatever. Post actually cut melodies to it too, but then he had to leave to the session early to go to New York or some shit. I think right now Thug’s going to have Travis Scott cut a piece to that and re-upload it to Spotify so that’ll be really cool. Look out for 'Me or Us 2.0.'”