As the great twentieth century philosopher Marshall Mathers once said, "You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow." Corny as it may be, it is good advice, especially in the music industry. You never know who you might run into so you should always, always be prepared...or in the case of producer/rapper/singer/engineer/music scholar THX, be really high. Like super, crazy high.
"My production career didn't start until my first placement on Snoop Dogg's Tha Blue Carpet Treatment. Imani and Badd Lucc were working on some records with Snoop and they invited me out. They were working on some records and I was waiting for my time to shine and they started lighting up some good old fashioned medicinals and I had to join in. Who doesn't you know? Superfly was there and I was like, 'Ok. I gotta do this.' So I did...and I don't really smoke like that so I was higher than I had ever been in my life. But when I looked up the session was kind of closing and Snoop was about to run out, and I thought, 'Oh my god did I just miss my chance to give my beats to Snoop Dogg 'cause I'm stoned?!'Anyway, so I was like, 'What am I gonna do? What Am I gonna do?' And Superfly said, "What's up with them beats?" So I burned Snoop a CD... lightening quick...and about a week later I got a call from Lucc, who was like, 'Man, they cut to three or four of your tracks already," and the rest is history."
Well, it's not exactly history. After all, 2006 wasn't that long ago. Since that one beat, THX has gone on to produce for the likes of Chris Brown, E-40, and some guy named Jay Z, all while still taking time for solo projects and work with his group, Drop City Yacht Club. So he's not just some stoner "beatmaker" who ended up in the lab with Snoop by accident. In fact, though that's when his career started, it was in the works long before getting the munchies with the Doggfather. What stands out to me the most about THX is his formal training in music. There's often a competing discourse between school and music (see Kanye). However, THX went to college for music, and I think it separates him from a lot of the producers in the game today. Very few have a deep relationship with all kinds of music, both spiritually end scholastically.
"Everyone's path is different but for me I knew, for myself, I needed to learn music to be as great as I could possibly be. I've always been a fan of producers with a lot of musicality. The Quincy Jones', the George Martins, composers, and even the Dr. Dres and Timbalands, they all have great musicality. I knew there was no way I could be on the level of those guys without learning something. Some people, they are naturals, I wasn't blessed with that, but I was blessed with the ability to learn."
What lessons did you learn from studying music formally that you still use today? How does that formal education benefit you as a producer?
"The cool thing I got to do when I started doing ads and TV shows is I got to use some of that knowledge. In TV and movies and that area, they are looking for a hot sound, but more than that, what really sells products or moves the story around in a show or movie, is emotion.
So I finally got [a] chance to harness some of that classical training because that music is so sophisticated, as far as evoking emotions, so when I got the chance, I finally got to put those chops to use. That's been the most successful arena to me as far as placing tracks and being in the business. I'm having much more success doing those things."
In the music business, and especially in hip-hop, when someone says beat placements it's almost assumed they mean placing a beat on an album or single. However, THX proves that there is this whole world--almost an untapped market-- where beat makers and musicians can profit off their music without having to put their work in another artists' hands, deal with labels, and worry about credits. Being that "Behind The Boards" is all about the ins and outs of the production world, both the music and the business, I asked THX about how that world works and how dependent he is on what he calls "that other money" versus a standard record placement.
How did you get into that market?
"I was approached by David Banner about seven or eight years ago-we worked together and stayed in touch--and he stopped making music for a long time to act and stuff. So he reached out at that time and told me, 'Your music is too big for hip-hop, but it's perfect for this movie or a trailer....this right here, this is untapped.' It was a whole other way to get my beats off."
How do you get placements in that venue currently?
"It comes down to your relationship with who's in charge. If you are talking films and TV, the music supervisor is usually the one who places the music. So if you have a good enough relationship with them, they can break down what it is that they want. That allows you the opportunity to create the publishing and synchronizing side of the music.That side of the business has really exploded, because I'm not the only one who realizes that revenue stream. It's become highly competitive and a lot of those companies work really fast, a little more McMusic with it, like, 'We need this BPM. It needs to sound like this, this, and this and we need it now.' For those situations you have to have it on deck. Those can get you in the door, but ultimately developing relationships with music directors, you really have an opportunity to get creative and work hand in hand to make the best possible score. You know, see the clip, sync the music with it and get really sexy with it. Those are my favorite kind of jobs right there."
How does that compare with a standard beat placement in terms of revenue?
"They are very similar. Everybody's different, but I try to have balance. Last year was more a road year for me, it was my first real experience as an artist, so I wasn't doing as much producing and working in the studio. This year I'm not on the road as much so I'm in the studio more. You have to have the balance. Any opportunity can pop up at any moment you just have to have the level headedness and business mind to balance it all."
Classically trained in music? Emphasis on TV, movies, and video games? A mutual love for Chicago and it's pizza (yeah, we talked a lot about pizza)? I think it goes without saying THX isn't you average producer. Not only does he take a different approach to understanding music and profiting off of it, but he can also sing and rap. I talked to him about his most recent project, Red Eye to Tokyo, where he flexes all the guns in his arsenal.
"With "Red Eye to Tokyo" I produced all the tracks, I mixed all the tracks, I mastered all the tracks."
You also sing and and rap on there too...
"Oh yeah, that too (laughs)."
For a producer, I think it's rare to do that, can you explain your approach behind the mic?
"I like to record myself when I'm doing my vocals, but I actually got more into it as a member of Drop City Yacht Club. That kind of brought me out of my shell. I would do little bridges, little chants, and hooks and things like that o be more vocally prominent, but now with the lineup, we're a duo, I gotta pick up the slack as far as the vocal duties are concerned. I wouldn't consider myself a rapper or anything, but I've been around enough phenomenal writers and rap talent that I can regurgitate what I learned. I get by. I'm not where I'd like to be yet; it's more like a hobby.Hip-hop's in my soul, you know? There is no way you can grow up around it and not kick a freestyle with some homies over pizza or in between rounds of Mortal Kombat. That part about it is natural, but the technical aspect is something I'm still a student of."
He might be "a student of" being a singer or rapper, but one listen to Red Eye To Tokyo, and you'll see he's on the honor roll. While lately, he seems to be either working on his singing or you trying to get you excited for a new movie, he is still producing...a lot.
"I'm working with my group Drop City. I've got a few more commercials coming out; I signed non disclosure agreements so I can't tell you what they are for specially. I am producing on Thurz' new album, "The Blood On The Canvas EP," coming out with Red Bull. I'm working with the producer Rockstar, known for doing 'Fine China' for Chris Brown. I'm also working on another solo project, which is going to get back more to the producer side, inspired by a lot of funk and disco but hip-hop at the core."
As you can tell, personal relationships drive the business. Talent aside, it's no wonder THX is successful at carving out his own lane. Not only is he passionate, smart, and humble, but he is so personable. We talked about everything from what's currently in his personal rotation to playing "International Player's Anthem" at my wedding. We also talked about food for so long that his girl, near him throughout our call, thought I was one of his friends.
The music speaks for itself, but it's his personality and passion that's likely been just as important in his success. Oh yeah, and not getting so high he completely forgot to give Snoop Dogg some beats. That too. Be sure to keep a close eye on the man's work by checking his DJBooth Artist Page and/or give the man a follow @THXBeats.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]