What, exactly, does an executive producer do? The title sounds important—the credit a distinct honor—but for most music fans, there’s a blind spot when discussing the role of the EP on an album. From conception to release, albums pass through many hands, but the work of the executive producer, when done right, cannot be understated.
So, what is that work? Collaborating with Cousin Stizz, executive producing Trying To Find My Next Thrill, and being lead producer on “Perfect,” the prolific Lil Rich has our answer.
“When I’m executive producing, I got my hands on everything as far as personnel on a project, who else is gonna be producing, engineers,” the Harlem-born, Lowell, MA-raised producer tells me. “It’s super hands-on. Compared to producing, artists are just picking beats from a folder.”
For Rich, executive production is as much about control and creative pursuit as it is about selflessness. He has no agenda. All he wants is to pull the very best out of an artist and make the strongest records possible. In an industry where it feels like deceit is sometimes king, Rich’s motto of giving is a refreshing take.
“If I could summarize it, I would say, executive production is almost like Stizz featuring me because I had my hand on every single song,” he continues. “Even songs I didn’t produce. I touched the files, did mixing on those records.”
While the most challenging task Lil Rich faces is setting his opinion aside to aid the artist’s vision, the best part of executive production is the emotional, creative investment Rich gets to pour into the music.
“When I get loose placements, I don’t [have control over] how the song is gonna turn out, where it’s gonna fall in the tracklisting, or if it’s gonna be a single,” Rich explains. “When I executive produce, I have a say in all of those things. I feel like the project is more mine. I feel like I played a bigger role in it.”
Lil Rich’s passion bleeds through words, and his work with Cousin Stizz is ballistic. The pair are helping keep Boston on rap’s radar. Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: In terms of credits, you’re rather prolific, especially with Cousin Stizz. How did you first link up?
Lil Rich: Back in 2014, we linked through a mutual friend named Replay. He grew up with Stizz. I met them two the same night at some event in Boston. I didn’t have the real introduction with Stizz that night, so I had Replay link us via Twitter. [Stizz] was looking for beats; he probably had two records out at the time. The first two beats I sent him ended up being on his first project. From there, we hit the ground running.
What about him made you feel like you two were destined to work together?
He just had a lot of raw energy. The night I first seen him, he was performing. I heard his name through people in the city. At the time, there wasn’t much going on in the area for music. Once I saw and heard him, I thought it would be a super dope opportunity to tap in. I had an idea of where he was gonna head from the very beginning.
You produce, and you’ve executive produced Stizz’s latest project. Could you break down the difference between the two roles?
With executive production versus just producing records loosely for artists… When I’m executive producing, I got my hands on everything as far as personnel on a project, who else is gonna be producing, engineers… Structures of songs. It’s super hands-on. Compared to producing, artists are just picking beats from a folder.
When I EP’d Stizz, we already had chemistry, so it was just second nature how we worked. We damn near lived with each other through this whole project. We saw each other every single day and had serious conversations about where we want the project to go. I felt the project was as much mine as it was his, in terms of having a common mission.
If I could summarize it, I would say, executive production is almost like Stizz featuring me, because I had my hand on every single song. Even songs I didn’t produce. I touched the files, did mixing on those records.
What does a day of EPing look like for you?
It wasn’t super consistent throughout. He has a workstation outside of his house. For example, we made “Perfect” in his house. You figure that’d be made in a big studio, but we recorded that in his house, throwing darts at the board. Let’s say we’re in LA and we go to a big studio; we lock in. We recorded most of the project at the studio I mainly work out of in North Hollywood. Sometimes, we would start from scratch or build up songs we were already working on. It wasn’t a super consistent formula, but I know wherever we would link up, we would get good stuff done because we had that chemistry.
What about your personality makes you an adept executive producer?
I think I’m pretty selfless. When I go in, I want to help the artist get the best they could get out of the record. I don’t have any ulterior motives. It’s really for the artist, to help them come out with the best record they could come out with. That’s probably why artists like me, because they know I’m a team player.
How does your mindset change from working behind the boards to taking on the exec. producer role?
When I have an understanding with the artist, that’s gonna affect the music. For example, if Stizz is making a record about a friend who just made a bad decision and he’s gotta talk him out of it, I know the energy of that song and where it needs to go. Versus, I’m just making beats for whatever’s on my mind at the time. That would be the difference.
What’s the most challenging task of an executive producer?
Setting your opinion to the side sometimes in favor of the artist. Let’s say Stizz or somebody wants a particular record to go a certain way, and we have an understanding of where the project is gonna go, and I feel like something has to sound like this… Just because I have so much invested in the project myself, we might disagree. But then I gotta backtrack and think, “It’s his vision.” There might be times where we disagree, and that might be the hardest part, but it could be a case-by-case thing. Me and Stizz, we don’t disagree too much, and I always remember it’s the artist’s vision with their project.
Being in a lot of control over the outcome of the music. When I get loose placements, I don’t [have control over] how the song is gonna turn out, where it’s gonna fall in the tracklisting, or if it’s gonna be a single… When I executive produce, I have a say in all of those things. I feel like the project is more mine. I feel like I played a bigger role in it.
For creatives looking to get into working with an artist the way you work with Stizz, what advice do you have to take over the world?
Consistency is key. When me and Stizz first started, we didn’t stop. We’re starting to see the fruits of our labor. For a producer building a rapport with an artist they came up with, I would say keep going no matter what. You gotta build that rapport, and it will cut through. Grow smarter and keep making great music; it’ll only get better with repetition.