Chicago engineer Elton “L10MixedIt” Chueng goes after what he wants. Example: He wasn’t invited to the Dreamville sessions for Revenge of the Dreamers III, so he just pulled up. No ego, every move L10 made during the sessions came from a benevolent place. He simply wanted to lend his services to the sessions. So, naturally, he caught a flight at the first sign of the golden ticket invitations.
“I just showed up and kinda finessed my way in, like, ‘Hey, I’m Smino’s engineer,” he explains over the phone. “I just wanted to help out any way I could.”
According to Elton, the best part of the sessions was everyone operating in the same ego-free sphere. Egos were checked at the door in the spirit of collaboration. Engineers were up until four, five, six, seven in the morning working on songs that never saw the light of day. Packing out Tree Sound Studios, with its numerous rooms and rock wall, the spirit of the Dreamville sessions was one of camaraderie and storytelling.
“That was the energy that everybody brought to the rap camp,” Elton recalls. “Everybody just became friends. It opened up a lot of people’s eyes and perspectives.”
Though Elton has yet to fully process his risk-it-all trip to Atlanta resulting in him securing credits on the No. 1 album in the country—he’s too busy working on Chance The Rapper’s upcoming debut—when he does take a moment to reflect, he is damn near speechless. That right there is the true magic of the sessions.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Let’s start with congratulations on taking part in engineering the No. 1 album in the country. How does that feel?
Elton: Man! It feels incredible. I haven’t really let it sink in for real yet… The best way to describe it is, it’s more motivating than anything. Right now, I’m locked in with Chance [The Rapper]. [The No. 1] made me realize that if you wanna go do something, go do it. I wasn’t actually invited to the Dreamville sessions. I just showed up and kinda finessed my way in, like, “Hey, I’m Smino’s engineer.” I just wanted to help out any way I could. I flew all the way to Atlanta just for that.
I’m just so motivated right now because me being there and working on a handful of songs and two of the songs I actually worked on landing on the album, being No. 1, that’s a crazy, crazy feeling. This is my first No. 1. I’m at a loss for words.
Tell me more about the sessions. You just...pulled up?
[Laughs] um… Yeah! So, my lady stays in Atlanta, so it wasn’t too much of a loss if I didn’t get in, but I definitely pulled the Smino’s engineer card. In my mind, if there is a studio full of rappers and producers, the one missing element is an engineer being in those rooms. Granted, Tree Sound has a bunch of engineers, but so many rooms that weren’t studios got turned into recording situations [laughs]. I kinda used that to my advantage, in a sense.
So you merely wanted to lend your services?
Yeah! That was the energy that everybody brought to the rap camp. Everybody became friends. It opened up a lot of people’s eyes and perspectives. Let’s leave our egos at the door, and let’s collaborate. Especially in rap, it’s like we have our own situation, we only rock with these people. It was none of that when it came down to these Dreamville sessions. We left our egos at the door. It was: “Hey, what’s up, you wanna cook?” Producers were in the room making beats, several rappers come in, just start writing. Then we just start recording. The whole goal was to land on this album.
I became really close with [producer] Kenny Beats because he had the blueprint: “It’s great that we got all these people on this song, let’s try to get at least one or two Dreamville artists.” I understood that, and I wanted to make it sound as release-ready as possible. I didn’t mix an entire song on the project, but I did record songs. After the song was done, I would step out of the room and go into the hallway, set up my equipment, put my headphones on, and mix the song. Just so I would be able to get [the recording] to Mez, the Dreamville engineer, in clean and professional order.
For the sake of our readers, in simple terms, can you break down exactly what an engineer does and how that amplifies the listening experience?
This one’s very tricky because everyone has their own definition of what an engineer does. We’re basically the middleman between the producer and the artist. What we do is take those two worlds and glue them together to make a sonically pleasing listening experience for the rest of the world. I can get so technical and so descriptive with this, but that’s the best way to put it. We professionally put together a song and make sure it has quality control. We make sure the drums hit hard, the music is lush and grandiose, and the artist is the center of attention.
Talk to me about the two credits you have on the album.
So I mixed Smino’s vocals on “Sacrifices” and on “PTSD,” and I recorded Mereba, Deante Hitchcock. I don’t remember if there was sax on the final version, but if there was, I recorded Masego on that, too. The crazy thing about “PTSD,” is we recorded that in a room that had no ventilation. No windows. It was a six-by-eight room—super small. We found a mic and made it work; some way, somehow.
I was hanging out with my friend Cam O’bi, just catching up and stuff. Sure enough, Cam gets in the moment of creating that beat and people walk in like “What is this?” Cole walked in, too, and was like “Yo, this is fire. Send me this ASAP.” Cole was supposed to get on that one, but I don’t know what happened. Regardless, the song came out amazing.
What statement does ROTD3 make in the current hip-hop landscape?
This album is a time capsule of 10 days to two weeks in Atlanta. You have a bunch of people who don’t know each other come into a giant studio, pack out the studio, and work on songs together. For Dreamville to be open to do something like that, and for it to work out the way that it did, and to be No. 1, that shit is insane. What was the stat, 65 collaborative artists, and being the most collaborative project to hit No. 1? That speaks volumes as far as how well this album was put together.
In terms of understanding the gravity of the moment, did you recognize you were part of history during the making of this album?
Yeah! Definitely felt like I was a part of something… Damn near everybody in the music industry was there. I’m really standing shoulder to shoulder with a lot of different people. There goes Swizz Beatz. DJ Khaled just walked in, cool. You kinda take those people, and you scale it all the way to the smaller rappers and producers. From your A-list artists all the way down to “Where are you from?” artists. It was an opportunity for everybody to meet each other.
Everybody in Atlanta was like, “I’ve never seen anything like this, either.” No I.D. was there talking about this as a first of its kind situation. It was a super special moment, not only because of who was in there, but more so because of how well everyone worked together.
I want to end by getting reflective. When you first started fucking with music, did you anticipate a career like this?
Man, these questions, Donna [laughs]. In my head, I always knew I wanted to be something special in this world and in music. I’m just very grateful… This is beyond my wildest dreams right now, and I still feel like I’m just getting started. Man, that’s crazy. I’m thinking about it now; nine years ago I was in school not knowing what I was gonna do with my life. Man. That’s so crazy. I’m really having a moment right now.
I’m just really grateful… I’m very excited for whatever’s to come in the future. Having a No. 1 album that I worked on, on the Billboard charts, I haven’t taken the time to reflect on that because of how hard we’re working on Chance’s album right now, but Jesus Christ. That’s so crazy to me, to even think about… To even reflect upon… Man. I’m trying to find the words. I’m so tripped out right now!
I can’t even believe I’m friends with the people I’m friends with. The amount of hard work that was put into learning how to mix, and learning about music… interning, cleaning toilets, cleaning ceilings, walls, to trying to get clients in so I could eat the same day, to meeting Smino to Monte, to Chance… It’s been a long journey.