Producers are a lot like the offensive line of a football team. They can make the superstar quarterback look great, but rarely do they get the credit they deserve. Well, here at The DJBooth we say "No more." Behind The Boards is a feature interview series dedicated to giving producers their proper shine. Over the next few months, we will speak with some of the games most respected and renowned beatmakers about what it means to be a producer in 2014, and hopefully shed some light on just what it is producers do (and don't do) so that they can finally get the credit they deserve.
After kicking off this series with Illmind, we turn to the one and only Statik Selektah. In addition to being a renown producer, Statik Selektah is also a DJ. In fact, he actually considers himself a DJ. When I asked him about the point in time when he made producing his full-time career he he had this to say:
It [producing] is not my full time career. I've always been a DJ first.
Pretty crazy that a guy who has made beats for some of the rap game's most well respected emcees still considers himself a DJ first. You might think that going from DJ to producer is a logical, seamless transition, but even though he had all the skills, Statik had difficulty breaking through. When discussing the challenges he faced coming up, Statik highlighted that dynamic as the biggest obstacle:
A lot of people knew me as a DJ first without knowing my beats, so [the biggest obstacle] just getting everyone to understand that I was serious. I feel like I did that with he first couple of albums. They were like business cards.
I guess those business cards worked because since, he has worked with the likes of Freddie Gibbs, Brother Ali, Talib Kweli, Black Thought, KRS-One and even a handful of up-and-comers like Joey Bada$$ and Jared Evan. Very few DJs or producers have the widespread respect and admiration of almost every underground or authentic emcee like Statik. When you listen to his beats it's easy to see why. Statik is a sample genius. His samples range from the traditional soul chops to Persian classical singers and even video games. He once sampled the theme from Mike Tyson's Punch Out; it doesn't get any more diverse than that. Statik is a natural sampler, he knows just what to listen for and what will work and it seems like second nature, "The second I hear a sample I know if I will use it or not," he said.
But while sampling seems to come easy for Statik, it is also the biggest challenge he faces today; not so much in the musical aspect but on the business side of things:
Dealing with samples is my biggest challenge today. A lot of the major labels and artists don't reach out the way they used to because they are so scared of the samples and most of my music is sample based.
Think that's going to stop him for sampling? Hell no. If anything, it makes him work harder. In fact, I think he found a loophole. We got to discussing his new album, What Goes Around (set for a summer release), and Statik shared that it will be something unexpected because he uses more Jazz samples. Where you need signed, written approval before even thinking about touching a soul sample, Jazz samples are a little different.
It's different with Jazz because you can find a version of the song that came out in the 20's and you can use it without even worrying about having to clear the sample. My last album used a lot of gospel samples and some of those can be a headache when you are trying to get to the bottom of where to go to handle it. I don't always clear sh*t anyway, but some of 'em you have to. On Action Bronson's album coming out on Atlantic, I did a few songs and some of the samples are really rare soul samples. Atlantic is really going to have to do their research and sometimes it can get in the way of putting out the album you intended to, but with Jazz samples there is so much room to work with.
Just thinking about all the work that goes into the process makes my head spin. Samples are only just a small part of what it means to be a producer. As Statik explains there is much more that goes into producing than just making beats and clearing samples.
There ain't that many real producers, man. There's a lot of people who make beats but that doesn't make you a producer; the real producers are the ones who put the whole record together. Like Diddy might not be nice with an MPC but he knows how to put a record together and that's why he's known as a producer. Even with Dr. Dre, he might not have made every beat that he got credited as a producer for, but he put the record together and made it sound amazing; that's really what producing is. That's why DJ Premier, to me, is the best of all time because he does both. He puts the record together and he does everything on [it] from the scratches to the mixing to the beat. There aren't a lot of people who do everything; a lot of people need help.
When not digging for Jazz samples or hosting a dope mixtape like the recently-released Jamla is the Squad, Statik can often be found making albums of his own. He is one of the few producers who can create a full album and a large part of that is due to the company he keeps. His last album, Extended Play, features artists ranging from Mike Posner and Bronson (who actually appeared on the same cut) to Raekwon and Joell Ortiz. With a digital Rolodex as big as anyone's, I wondered how he picks the emcees who are lucky enough to bless his beats.
It just comes to me. I'll hear a certain beat and there will be a certain group of people I hear on it and I'll reach out to see who makes it work the fastest really. Usually when I make a beat I'll have someone in mind if I'm working on my album. If i'm shopping beats to people and they pick one it's different, but if it's my album, I usually pick who will be on the song
In a beautiful world, people would make hip-hop for free and never charge any other artist for a verse or a beat, but, this is a business. With names like the aforementioned emcees, you might think Statik has to reach deep into the wallet, but I came to find out, when you reach his level, it is quite the opposite; the currency is respect.
I don't pay anybody; it's always trade-offs. It's out of mutual respect, you know. A lot of these guys appreciate what I do on Sirius Satellite Radio and what I do with the mixtapes. There's not really too many people left who are supporting boom bap hip-hop. I've been on the radio since I was 13 years old so I've known all these guys for years and a lot of them knew me even before we met. With the mixtapes it was different, because people were down to do freestyles and different stuff but now I'm doing albums they don't have to look out but they do. And anytime they need a favor back I got 'em right away.
So a guy who produces, DJs, hosts mixtapes, and calls in favors from some of the best emcees around must have some advice for the up-and comers out there right?
Stay true to your sound and what got you into it. I meet people all the time who say to me, "Yo, I wish I could do what you do. I have to make this type of beat to make money or this to stay relevant." That's corny to me. You gotta stay true to what got you into it in the first place.
Back in our first installment of the new series, !llmind discussed the difference between a beat-maker and a producer. Producers go that extra mile and really pour their all into it where as beat-makers crate stuff like a factory for mass distribution. Statik is the perfect example of the difference. The man is hip-hop to the core. From DJing, to hosting mixtapes, to producing full-length albums, the Boston native can do it all and does so with the highest emphasis on the art of hip-hop. His music is so authentic because he lives and breathes hip-hop. It's why hes gotten the respect of emcees and fans alike and why we knew we had to go "Behind The Boards" with him.
Be on the lookout for his new album, What Goes Around. The jazz-influenced album is set to drop in August via Duckdown and Showoff. To quote the man himself, "It's gonna be different."
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net and RefinedHype. He does not have a beard. You can tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @Lgarrison88.]