DJ Critical Hype Interview: Stepping Inside the Mind of the Blend Tape Master - DJBooth
“If something sounds good to my ear, I don’t think about it.”

DJ Critical Hype does the impossible: places our favorite artists in seamless conversation with one another. From Chance The Dropout to The DAMN. Chronic and More 9th, to his latest blend tape, Wu-Chainz, Crit is a master creative. Originally a DJ who took more to blending vocals than he did to creating mixes, Crit has been releasing tapes since 2008, but it was only in 2013 that he first thought of pairing an artist with a single producer.

“The Chance The Dropout one, I thought of that idea in 2013,” he explains. “I was working on it for a year, and when I was about to drop it, Chance was nominated for a GRAMMY. The GRAMMYs were right around the time I dropped the tape. Kanye, obviously, there’s always a buzz. That one struck a chord because Chance was getting so big at the time and the timing happened to work out perfectly.”

From there, DJ Critical Hype, who hails from Canada and calls Vancouver home, hit the ground running, with his most recent project even carrying the blessing of studio a cappellas. “You can’t really find studio a cappellas nowadays,” he begins. “So I’ll sit there and make them from scratch… Luckily, I got some studio a cappellas directly from 2 Chainz' management, so that made my life easier, not having to sit there and make a cappellas for hours.”

A cappellas in hand, which are the most daunting element of crafting a blend tape, the projects come down to the finest notes. “I’m paying attention to the smallest detail: how the rapper hugs the beat, or how they ride on the drums,” he breaks down. “If you move it over a split second left or right, it could change everything.”

Though DJ Critical Hype is obviously methodical, pausing between questions and speaking in a measured tone, he is equally as ecstatic about the work. While he has several goals for his future, nothing is more paramount than continuing to surprise and impress his audience with blend-tape concepts. “The greatest accomplishment is messing with people’s heads a bit,” Crit declares with pride.

DJBooth’s full interview with DJ Critical Hype, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

DJBooth: Where did the passion for blend tapes come from?

DJ Critical Hype: Back in the days when I started DJing, I gravitated to the idea of being able to take an a cappella and slip it on a different beat. I was naturally better at that than mixing two beats together and beat matching. I can beat match now, but when I started, I naturally knew how to blend vocals better than beats. I always thought it was super cool to be able to change a song up. Back in the days, they used to release a cappellas on vinyl. Nowadays, I have to make them myself.

Do you feel like there’s a different layer of creativity that comes with blends?

With blends, you’re changing up the song completely. I’m paying attention to the smallest detail: how the rapper hugs the beat, or how they ride on the drums. If you move it over a split second left or right, it could change everything. I’m really careful with how I place vocals on the beat, and you could place a vocal on-beat, but it still won’t sound right. You have to find the right flow for the right beat. There’s different layers to it. I think there’s a higher level of creativity to doing blends.

Walk me through the process of conceptualizing a blend tape.

Some ideas just come to me, while others take forever to figure out. The Chance The Dropout one, I thought of that idea in 2013. The idea and the concept just came to me one day, and I hit up Pat [Chance The Rapper’s manager], and he didn’t hit me back but it came to fruition years later [in 2016]. The Kendrick one [The DAMN. Chronic], I knew I wanted to do a Kendrick tape, but finding the right match was more time-consuming. I tried him on J Dilla beats, Flying Lotus beats, and [Dr.] Dre beats. At the end of the day, I thought the Dre ones would be the biggest. Believe it or not, Kendrick actually sounded better on Dilla beats than he did on Dre beats.

The thing is, if you think of an idea and you try it out, it might not actually sound good. Like, oh, Chance on Kanye beats? But you try it out and it might not work well. Usually, they do, though.

What’s the most daunting aspect of crafting a blend tape?

I’d say making the a cappellas, because that’s the most time-consuming part. You can’t really find studio a cappellas nowadays. So I’ll sit there and make them from scratch. Some of them are really quick! Like, “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” that one took me an hour to make. The Kendrick “Control” verse? I probably spent 10 hours just getting that a cappella done. Normally, I wouldn’t have spent that long on one, but because that verse is so classic, I really wanted it to be on there. That’s the most daunting, maybe annoying part of it. The scary thing is, spending so much time on a project and then the labels take it down. That’s the scariest part for me: the worry of you put the stuff up and it gets taken down two hours later.

Chance The Dropout was the tape that really broke you. Why do you think it performed so well?

The cover art is a big part of my projects. The visuals, I want them to draw people in. That was my first project where I paid extra attention to the cover, and also I thought of the idea in 2013, but if I would’ve released in 2013, it wouldn’t have been as big. I was working on it for a year, and when I was about to drop it, Chance was nominated for a GRAMMY. The GRAMMYs were right around the time I dropped the tape. Kanye, obviously, there’s always a buzz. That one struck a chord because Chance was getting so big at the time and the timing happened to work out perfectly. And the cover art!

How do you balance the voices and styles of two beloved artists?

I just try to find the natural balance. I don’t overthink it. If something sounds good to my ear, I don’t think about it. Sometimes it’s easier… The Chance tape, he just rolled over those Kanye beats so dope, most of the mixes sounded good right away. Whereas the Kendrick one took me longer to find the right matches. I try to use some of the producer’s famous beats and vocals that people know, and try to use unknown vocals and beats.

What lessons from your previous tapes did you take into account making your latest 2 Chainz tape?

I learned that the rollout is as important as the creative process. Actually planning and trying to be strategic with how I drop tapes is something I learned over the last few projects. Also, not being afraid to cut tracks. My last couple of projects have been shorter. If I spend a year working on a project that’s 23 tracks long, I could release a project in half the time if I cut it in half. Nowadays, people have shorter attention spans. So, yeah, I could spend the time and release a project much later, but I feel like I need to keep my name out there as much as possible. Which kind of sucks, because I like to make them longer, but sometimes I think for the balance and of things and for my career, it’s better [shorter].

In an interview with Pigeons & Planes, you mentioned that making the tempos match was one of the biggest struggles for The DAMN. Chronic. How did that go for Wu-Chainz?

That was definitely even crazier with 2 Chainz. 2 Chainz is typically rapping over trap beats, versus Wu-Tang, where they have a handful of beats but most of the stuff is between 87-110 beats per minute. That’s was definitely a huge challenge. I basically go through the artist’s whole catalog and try to find songs that… For example, with 2 Chainz, I tried to find songs that are a bit faster in tempo. It wasn’t that many, but there was a few! That was a bit of struggle because there were songs of his that I would have loved to have mixed, but they just didn’t match the tempo of the Wu-Tang beats.

The Chance and Kanye one was less of a struggle. Some producers are just more in one lane. RZA doesn’t have any bounce beats, but Kanye does. Luckily, I got some studio a cappellas directly from 2 Chainz' management, so that made my life easier, not having to sit there and make a cappellas for hours. Another thing I did: look for lesser-known 2 Chainz songs. He has some freestyles he did where he raps on faster beats, so I pulled a couple of those.

Greatest accomplishment from crafting Wu-Chainz?

Just overall, making it work and taking such an unexpected combination and making it actually sound great! Believe me, if you put him on the wrong beat… The greatest accomplishment is messing with people’s heads a bit. I can’t take full credit for this one. Mike [Walbert] from A3C, he’s the one who approached me with it earlier this year. The whole concept was his, and I’m not sure if I would’ve ever thought of that.

Your tenacity is admirable, but it makes me wonder: is there anything you’re unhappy with?

I say there’s always something. That goes for most artists, I’d say. It’s very much an artist type of thing, where you listen to something after and think about what you could have done differently. Generally, I’m happy with [my work] overall, but I still think, “You should have changed that little thing.”

I’m kind of upset that I didn’t think of [blend tapes] sooner. I released a lot of tapes from 2008 to 2012, but then I took a hiatus. Before, I used to take one artist and put them on a bunch of different beats. To me, it was more interesting to do that… I’m upset at myself because I did think of the concept years ago but I didn’t put it into fruition until the Chance The Dropout tape. It’s better to attach yourself to two different fan bases, so they will both listen to the project. I wish I had done that years ago. I wish I would’ve been more strategic back then.

How do you want to grow with your next project?

With the next project and all the ones to come, I always want to get better at what I do and I always wanna try to think of cool concepts. I’ve already used Dre beats and Kanye beats… Who’s on the level of Kanye as a producer? Dre and Kanye are so iconic, so finding the right combinations is going to be the most challenging thing for me in the future. I’m trying to also get into producing. The next step after that, I wanna get into A&Ring in the next few years, but I still want to release three to four blend tapes a year.

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