"The Song Is Greater Than the Beat": A Guest Editorial by Lasanna "ACE" Harris

Fresh off a production placement on Lil Wayne’s 'Tha Carter V,' Ace Harris opens up about patience and balancing the worlds of production and A&R.
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Lasanna Ace Harris Guest Editorial

My name is Lasanna “ACE” Harris. I'm Liberian, a producer, and the director of A&R for Reach Records, but beyond that, I'm passionate about helping people realize their creative potential. Earlier this year, I earned a placement ("Famous") on Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter V. I believe there’s value in playing the background, a desire that is fueled by wanting to see more creatives become what 40 is to Drake. I invite you to journey with me as I reveal the most important lessons I've learned in my music career.

On co-producing Lil Wayne's "Famous" on Tha Carter V:

I produced “Famous” for Lil Wayne, which features his daughter Reginae Carter. I worked on the record with Sham “Sak Pase” Joseph and Sam Bruno.

I was signed to a production deal with Sham “Sak Pase” Joseph for a few years. Throughout this time, we worked on records for Kid Ink, T.I, and Nicki Minaj. Right before we started working on music for The Pinkprint, in 2014, we had the opportunity to submit music to Lil Wayne.

We sent him a lot of music. He ended up recording to three tracks. We were getting word back from his management team that they were really digging the music and we were sending files to go to mix. I was super hype. Wayne is one of the most influential artists in hip-hop, period, and has birthed so many offspring. His tenure is impeccable and sometimes understated.

About a week after we sent the files for mixing, Birdman and Lil Wayne had their public fallout. Lil Wayne’s infamous tweet went viral and Tha Carter V was shelved indefinitely. I was both very disappointed but also very much so detached. The music business can bring out the cynic in you.

At the time, I was producing full-time, so every beat made—and every opportunity for a placement—really counted! I would give forecasts to my wife about upcoming projects so we could budget for the household. To not have these three potential Wayne records see the light of day was a letdown.

Fast forward to 2018. I’m currently A&R’ing for Lecrae (and the rest of the artists at Reach Records) and also still producing. Out of the blue, we get a call from Wayne’s team. It turns out Tha Carter V is on the way and “Famous,” the record we did four years earlier, is slated to make the final cut.

At first, I wasn’t really phased because I know this business and I don’t get excited about an artist recording to a track unless I see a contract. The music business is the epitome of “hurry up and wait,” and artists of Wayne’s stature are known to switch up track listings at the last minute. There is so much pressure, so many decision-makers, and so much at stake to ensure the best body of work.

As an A&R, I totally get it. I’m not jaded anymore. The producers’ contribution to the project is often unfortunately at the mercy of the artists and/or their management and label teams. I’ve been there, done that, and I’ve learned to just keep your head down ‘til you come up. Work as hard as you can, and trust God for the results.

About a week before Tha Carter V was released, we got an email with contract information. At that point, I knew it was legit. It was really cool to be a part of a historical moment in hip-hop, especially in a busy year like 2018 with so many GREAT projects dropping.

I believe the record stuck around and made the final cut because the music and message are timeless. You can’t go wrong with a classic chord progression with pianos and a substantive message. No matter how much sound changes, those two things never grow old: message and melody.

On balancing being an A&R and a record producer:

I’m a better producer because I’m an A&R and I’m a better A&R because I’m a producer.

A producer has to see the song through. An A&R has to see a project all the way through. The two roles go hand and hand.

Currently, I oversee budgets, I listen to thousands of submissions, and I’m able to work directly with artists, which means I have a unique vantage point as a producer. And I’m able to share and translate that information to other producers looking to get placements here at Reach Records, or producer peers who are just looking to get more placements anywhere.

It is VERY tough to land a beat on a project. But I always try to encourage producers to think like an A&R, like a project manager. Don’t just be a beat-maker. If you can add value to the song and solve problems for the artists in a way that grows their careers, you’ll win.

Be a producer who is a project manager—add value to the song in a way that adds value to the artists’ career.

I was in a production deal while working on tracks for Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj, but I positioned myself not just as a beat-maker but as someone who was focused on enhancing the sessions, seeing the songs through, and adding value to the room. There were times when we would have sessions with multiple writers and other producers and I would just focus on making sure the best product came about, regardless of how much I actually touched the beat or wrote on the song. 

Even recently, when I A&R’d Lecrae and Zaytoven’s collaborative project Let the Trap Say Amen, I took the approach of fighting for great hooks, pushing for content and storytelling, but also just staying out the way and letting 'Crae and Zay do their thing. Even though Zaytoven killed it on the production side, my work as a producer helped when it came time to pick the right beats for this particular project.

This project style—with a macro-focused way of thinking—has helped me in my production career and allowed me to grow into an A&R executive. We need more 40s and No I.D.s in the world. It’s a role for which more producers should consider and fight. The song is greater than the beat, and the artist should grow greater than the song.

Be dope. Be patient. Be of service. Be memorable.

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