So here we go with the second installment of my interview with the mighty K-Def. This time around we talk in more depth about how his creative process has changed over the years with a particular focus on computer technology, an overview of how The Article EP (what do you mean you haven’t downloaded it yet?! Get on it!) came about as well as reminiscing over some of his extensive back catalogue. I’ve also thrown in one of his lesser known cuts in the shape of Mic Geronimo’s ‘For Tha Family’ for your listening pleasure, a beautiful slice of K-Def orchestral phatness.
Just to give you an overview of things to come from the K-Def camp, these are the releases pencilled in for 2008:
Beats From Da ’90s (Instrumental)
Collard Greens (Instrumentals with some guest MCs)
Analog Past (Instrumental)
Digital Future (Instrumental)
Rest assured that as soon as I know more about them, so too will you. Enjoy the rest of the interview and check in on Friday for a beat deconstruction that focuses on one of my favourite K-Def produced joints of all time: see you then.
From Da Bricks: You’ve spoken a lot there about new technology. How has using Logic and other digital programs changed the creative process for you? Did it take a complete shift in mindset?
K-Def: I can tell you this much. If I hadn’t jumped on the computer in ’98 I wouldn’t be doing tracks no more, I would have just been known as K-Def the producer from the ‘90s that did these hits and that’s it. I wouldn’t have did Ghostface, I wouldn’t have did the KRS One or the UGK or the Diddy, none of that stuff would have ever come out. I would’ve given it up because the computer and Logic taught me how to play. I don’t know how to play a whole full song but I know how to program play. I can actually hear what I’m listening to and replay it back which I couldn’t do when I was on the MP, it just wouldn’t allow me to do that. Now everything is keys and I get to hear music better now and I get to see my music better now and do complex things that I could never do on my machines. I love it, I love it to death. I feel like I’m a Logic expert now, I’ve been on it for twelve or thirteen years now since it was version 2.5 and Cubase since it was version 3.0 and I just love the computers man. I love the technology, I love the virtual instruments. They’re making great, great sounds now, they’re getting better and better and the more you learn how to play the instruments the better they sound when you record them so it’s really great.
That gives me all the happiness in the world to be able to turn on my computer and know that I can produce a track that day. I can have EQs, I can have compression on my tracks, edits, I can have it mastered and mixed. Those are things I couldn’t do when I was on the MP unless I went upstate to Marley’s studio and get on the SSL board and waste a whole bunch of electricity, and all that just to make a beat that probably wouldn’t have ended up on nobody’s album. There was a whole bunch of extra time that was being taken that I don’t have to take no more and I get better results than I did then. I’ll never go back. I use the MP for drums every now and again or when I’m in the mood for an MP beat I’ll do it but anything that I produce is going to be pretty much on the computer. I’m sold on that. That keeps me going, it keeps me happy and helps me not to have to rely on having a band or getting hired musicians. I got everything I need in my own little studio in my house and I can do anything that my brain tells me to do. I couldn’t pull that off before, I’ll be honest with you. It was just too expensive and too time-consuming.
FDB: Are you happy with the changes they made for Logic 8?
KD: Logic 8 is actually great. They did a lot of overhauls to it. Put it like this: the way it looks for a new user it’ll be great because he doesn’t know, but for me, coming from the earlier versions, Logic 7 Pro is actually a lot more stable than 8, but 8 has the greatest plug-ins of all time. I did the American Gangster album through Logic 8 as far as the final mixing and mastering and it definitely makes a difference in sound. The sound is a whole lot better than Logic 7. The compressor plug-ins, the EQs… they are fantastic, I love ‘em to death.
I use Logic for the more complex stuff, but then I use Cubase if I want to sound like my old stuff from my MP days. Cubase is more my analogue funk machine, whereas Logic is my digital composing machine. I use them both as tools, I don’t pick one over the other and I know them both on expert level. The best thing about Logic is that when I get my mixes done they really sound good compared to any other program, even Cubase doesn’t sound as good as Logic when I get to mixdown. Logic is my inspiration, but Cubase is like my tool when I want my drums to sound funky and MPC style, with quanitzing and the right fills and those really intricate loops where if I was on a machine it would take a lot of edits to get it really tight. On Cubase it’s just a case of warping or time stretching where it just snaps everything right to your beat where you don’t even hear it. It’s the best. Cubase is my main program for making the hot beats. UGK was done in Logic, KRS One was done in Cubase as was Diddy’s ‘We Gon’ Make It’, Ghostface’s ‘Over’ was done in Cubase, Jayo Felony’s record was done in Logic. It just varies: anything that came out was one of those two programs. Believe you me, I’ll never turn back man. They make me happy and wanna keep on making beats everyday. I don’t knock anybody who uses what they use but I just think that with technology that those two programs are the best of the best. If it wasn’t for them I would have stopped making beats a long time ago.
FDB: Let’s talk a little more about The Program project with Dacapo. How did you guys hook up?
KD: He came through from a friend and he was telling me his story; he’d be working with a bunch of guys and they’d go into the studio and it would seem like it would never get to him when it was time to record and he wouldn’t get a chance to get his songs done. The first time I heard him he reminded me of Large Professor, this guy reminds me a little bit of C.L. Smooth… he started reminding me of too many guys who I used to like and I was just like, I got a lot of soul records, I got a lot of breaks and a lot of stuff that would fit his style so we decided to work on something. We did a song and he sounded pretty good man and I thought we could do something together. For some reason, he just had an ear for the tracks he was hearing and was like “I want to do that… I want to do that,” and my style of music just fit his style of rhyming.
We wound up doing an EP that we’re gonna have for free download and we have an album also that we just finished completing. It’s looking really good and we’ve actually started on another album as we speak, we’ll probably be recording again this week. We just gonna keep movin’ because I just feel like he’s a dedicated guy and he really loves his craft. You can tell he’s been into hip hop and the real essence of hip hop, the songs that made a real difference in his life and has influenced him as a person. All I try to do is just complement him by giving him tracks that make him sound the way he would want to sound and not somebody else dictating to him what he should sound like. He’s got the freedom and the opportunity to kind of pick what he wants to pick and that gives him the chance to do it the way he wants to do it. I’m really pleased with that, and I think in time he’s gonna get better. He’s a young guy, this is new for him and hopefully with my guidance and coaching and him having the understanding to make a great record we’ll have a couple of hits under the belt soon.
FDB: I think it’s great stuff. With the downloads you are obviously addressing an online market. Is that something that excites you or worries you?
KD: It excites me more because the physical products are very tough to sell now. I look at some of the biggest artists like Kanye and 50 Cent, and if these guys are not selling no more like that… I’m not even on that level they’re on. I feel like there has to be a better way where the music can get to the people without them having to physically go to a store and buy it. Those days of going to the store and going to buy vinyl and all that… the DJs are always gonna do it, but most people are lazy, everybody got credit cards now so pretty much everybody wants to sit at home and browse around on their computer and see what the can find and have it mailed to their house. Everything’s got so simplified now.
I look at it that it should be a plus as far as I’m concerned, because as far as selling CDs and vinyl through major labels, there’s a lot of red tape involved in that and you have to wait a really long time to see any profit or money back from that, when everybody else is trying to get paid before you do. I think that there are just too many people involved in projects that have to get paid before you get paid and then if the project doesn’t really fly off then you don’t get paid. That’s the part that scares me more, dealing with those companies that don’t give you that 110% push where you can see a little profit and you can look forward to having a second or third album with the company. It’s not like that anymore. At the moment you’re lucky if you come out with an album and if you do, they’re only looking at pushing one song off the album. For me personally, if I got the digital downloads and people are buying it I don’t have to pay all these people out. If it only generates 5000 sales, that’s 5000 sales that came to K-Def, not 5000 sales that came through the company and have to go to this person and that person… by the time it gets down to you, you’re looking at pennies. I think it’s a better way to go and I think it’s only gonna get better because there are more and more big companies getting involved in it and I really want to take advantage of this moment before it gets too big and they figure out a way to rob the artists and the producers online. I don’t want to be on the outside looking in. It’s hard to get into record labels now with deals and everything because they’re not signing any groups or giving any deals out and that’s destroying the future of hip hop and the music. Online is definitely the way to go.
FDB: What about your label Ghetto Man Beats, us that just a vehicle for you to release stuff or do you have other artists signed as well?
KD: Definitely. It’s there to let people know that I have a company, I put stuff out and I love to do joints with other companies that are doing stuff. I take it seriously and I have skills that are just more than just making beats when it comes to the music. Me having a company solidifies that. There’s graphic design in this company, there’s photography, music, DJing, editing, mixing, mastering… pretty much everything involved in the music the company Ghetto Man Beats can get down and do. That’s one of the main focuses right now, having the company stand on its own and be able to do things other than just K-Def making beats for the company there are other things that can transpire from it.
FDB: Jersey is obviously your home and you still live there. How do you think it has managed to establish such a strong sense of its own identity regarding hip hop when it is in such close proximity to New York?
KD: There’s an old saying that states that although it started in the Bronx, hip hop made money in Jersey. Jersey was around the money makers and New York was more the culture end of it, you know what I’m saying? The cultural aspect of it was New York bound and Jersey took that culture and figured out how to make money and a profit from it. That’s what I’ve been around. I was around the Sugarhill Gangs and I saw all that era and for me, I’m not from New York but I got footprints all over New York. From day one when I was a kid when The Rooftop and the Latin Quarter and Union Square and all those spots was open I was a young kid and that’s where I learned a lot as far as the culture. When I came back to Jersey I was looking at the bands and rappers coming in and they were actually doing records over that were really breaks at the time.
Now that hip hop has turned so big the way it is today, people forget that even though I’m from New Jersey, don’t think I’m country, don’t think I’m corny, don’t think I’m lame, don’t think I don’t know what time it is because me and my peoples were only ten minutes away from Manhattan. Going to Manhattan was just like going to another town: it was nothing. I learned a lot, you picked up your dos and your don’ts, street codes… New Yorkers feel like we were trying to be like them or better than them but I just want to clarify that I’m from Jersey, but everybody from New York lived in New Jersey so don’t talk about it, be about it. If you gonna represent New York then go live in New York, I represent Jersey and I still live here. I think I know as much as any other New York guy with producing and DJing and everything else, I just happen to live in Jersey. I wasn’t dumb enough to stay in Jersey all my life, I did get out. That’s the difference: I got out when I was a kid. I got put in situations in New York where I was scared for my life, and from that point on it made me realise how seriously I had to take hip hop and the culture. I don’t think a lot of these new cats understand that. I was at the Raising Hell tour at Madison Square Garden where I saw people get cut and stabbed and beat up, and that was at a rap concert! I was there when KRS One threw PM Dawn off the stage at Sound Factory. I’ve seen a lot of things that show that the only way you get respect is not where you from but actually how nice you are doing what you do and where you at to do it. I felt like if I was as nice as I could be I could show New York that I could do it as well because I was in New York every other day, be it record shopping, being down in the Village, the Bronx, Queens, wherever it was, I was always a part of seeing how they looked at the culture. I vibed from that. There’s not a lot of people in Jersey who could be how I am. As far as I’m concerned you might as well say I’m from New York because I spent my share of time over there.
FDB: When you look back over the last 15 years or so, what do you identify as the best records that you’ve made?
KD: The best records to me? I would have to say the Real Live album. The early stuff, I didn’t look at myself as a producer because I was young, it was going so fast and I was doing so many projects, and it was only when I did the Real Live that I got serious about being an artist and taking on a lot of the business responsibilities that I didn’t have to take when I was just making beats for everybody else. I would say that the Real Live project was a real good project. I don’t have too much to say about the early ‘90s stuff because I really wasn’t paying attention like I am now. My mind wasn’t even set as like being a producer because I was under Marley Marl’s wing at the time and I was really doing everything for the company and not really for me. The Lords Of The Underground and Da Youngstas and the Tragedy, the Sah-B, the World Renown, I was just looking at it like whatever, to be honest with you. It was only when Real Live came into the picture and you know, Jayo Felony, the Ghostface and all the newer stuff I was doing gave me more seriousness in making it happen. I felt good about everything I did after I left Marley Marl. I felt good about those projects because I was on my own two feet doing it by myself and it felt better having been underneath somebody else for so long and not getting the full recognition that I should have got. The Real Live made me feel good because I’d never done a full album except that one.