As part of SB.TV’s Producers House series, I spoke with Ski Beatz about learning from The Rhythm Fanatic, why DD172 is the new Motown and his notorious habit of throwing away beats.
LM. Are you working with some UK artists?
SB. Me and Soul Culture are dabbling, doing things in the studio bringing in artists putting together a little project. We’re keeping it under wraps.
LM. You’ve already done a Japanese version, do you have plans to turn it into an international series?
SB. We’re trying to reach out to the black belts in every country. Whoever’s a master of their style in the country, we get them in the studio and record them and see what it sounds like.
LM. So right now you’re looking for UK ninjas?
SB. I like that. I’m definitely looking for UK ninjas.
LM. Were you a fan of UK music before you came here?
SB. Honestly I didn’t have a clue about any artists from the UK but then I started doing my research. I went on YouTube, seen the Marvell boys – dope, a rapper by the name of Kano – dope, Wretch – dope, Terri Walker – of course she’s dope. There are a lot of artists that hopefully I’ll get a chance to work with.
LM. What makes the whole DD172 collective so special?
SB. I call it the modern day Motown because we sit in there and have our band, which is like the Funk Brothers. We have Dame or Berry Gordy, me I could be like Smokey Robinson if I wanted to right now. We just sit there, the artists come through and we just create all day. I’m upstairs making music, you got guys downstairs painting pictures, guys upstairs making videos, you got Dame in the back masterminding the plan; it’s ill. If I make a record with a stick and a can, ‘Oh that’s dope, let’s do a video’, so we put it out. It’s Woodstock. We are definitely hippies.
LM. You work with non-hip hop artists too. Does that display another side of your personality?
SB. Yeah I guess. It took me a minute to fall into that zone. I gotta give Dame all the credit for that because he’s always been pushing me into doing other things like, ‘Man, you just can’t do hip hop, you can do so much more’ and I be kinda nervous. But when I meet with any other different style of music artist, I always seem to click with them.
LM. You tend to use big band samples in your music.
SB. Nowadays I don’t even use samples, I just go in. The sample is always my foundation, I make a beat with the sample then I’ll take the sample out and have my band replay everything.
LM. Once you’ve chosen your sample and the vibe of your song, what comes next?
SB. I go through the sample and find bits and pieces that sound good. I try and treat it like a puzzle some times. I grab a bass from this part of the sample then a turn around from this part of the sample and downbeat from this part and this and that and put it together. Or sometimes I just loop it, depends on how I feel.
LM. What do you look for when buying studio equipment?
SB. I don’t do a lot of buying, right now I’m satisfied and this is gonna be my main set up for a minute. Abbleton Live and the Maschine and my band and a couple little secret weapons I have in my studio. If they make a new maschine or an update on Abbleton, obviously I’m gonna keep up to date with the updates.
LM. What qualities do you look for in equipment?
SB. If I was looking for something I guess I would love an all in one. If Native Instruments or Abbleton came up with an all-in-one thing where I could sample, chop, lay vocals and play instruments all in one box that would be the ideal situation for me. All I would need is just the box and computer and I’m good.
LM. How do you think technology has changed the artistic process?
SB. I don’t see any negatives, only positive changes. Everything’s easier, everything’s simple. When I was using the SP1200 or the MPC60, I would run out of sample time. I couldn’t create as much as I wanted to because the memory in my actual machine would run out and it would cost a lot of money to get updates and stuff like that. But with a computer, if I got 300GBs on my computer, that means I got 300GBs of space for samples so I don’t ever really run out of sample time. Plus being able to manipulate it and once you’ve got your wave in your software you can add plugins on top of it and reverbs that are professional quality that can enhance the production even more. Technology is definitely an enhancement, I don’t see it as a negative unless you got a slow computer that keeps crashing or you got a buggy program.
LM. What about for other artists and producers, do you think it’s too easy for anyone to make music these days?
SB. You still have to be creative. Anyone can learn how to use it, just like anyone can play the guitar and piano but everybody can’t play like… and everybody can’t make beats like… You still gotta have your own creativity to it that makes it stand out.
LM. The Rhythm Fanatic was an influential producer in your career, can you explain why?
SB. The Fanatic ordered the SP1200, it came to his house, I was there when UPS men brought it to his house. He got it out the box and was like, “I got it, I cant believe it.” He turned it on and was like, “You read the book and I’ll learn how to use it.” So I’m reading it and watching him do it at the same time. I’m watching him operate it and doing it step by step so when he goes to sleep, I get on it and start messing around with it, so now I know how to use it. Obviously he was the master of it at the time and I was influenced by him, he showed me little tricks and things with it that was crazy. Fanatic was definitely a big influence on my production.
LM. Do you feel that live instruments can be replaced by a sample?
SB. If you think about it, what you’re sampling is a live instrument; you’re sampling a band that went to the studio and made a song. All I’m doing is bringing that sound to now, bringing the technology to the same vibe but making the quality sound like now so everybody can understand what’s going on and feel it like they felt back then. People listen to a whole record when they’re young like that’s just an old record and don’t pay attention to it but when you listen to Pilot Talk 1 and 2, the vibe is just old music but it sounds new. You definitely can’t replace live instruments and how they recorded back in the 70s and 80s with analog, tape, a whole band in the room playing. You can never replace that with a computer but you can get close.
LM. Who would you most like to work with?
SB. I wanna work with J.Cole, hopefully one day with 9th Wonder, the whole North Carolina connection. Me, 9th Wonder and J.Cole, it would be a tribute to Carolina. 9th is from Winston but he lives in Durham, J.Cole lives in Fairville and I’m from Greensboro. It would be an interesting mix of NC producers and rappers doing it big for the state.
LM. What advice would you give to someone starting out?
SB. Be creative and jump out the box, it’s ok to be inspired by people but don’t emulate or copy that persons music; just find yourself. Whatever your inspiration is put yourself into the music and you have no choice but to become original like that.
LM. You started you career with newly established artists. Would you recommend that?
SB. Definitely, I never tried to go out and submit beats to big artists, I always heard something in somebody and was like, “Oh you can rap, lets make a song,” then next thing you know it’s an album and before you know it that would be Camp Lo or Jay Z or Curren$y. I never went out to try and do anything. I always felt for me it was more fun to produce your artist. As a producer you find your artist and you work together for one common goal. The outcome is better than you hustling and breaking your neck, calling labels saying, “Did you get my beat CD?” That takes the fun out of it. Just create and whatever happens happens. And if you’re really creating from the heart, you shouldn’t focus on selling records or getting record deals or whatever, you should just be making music because making music is just dope.
LM. I’ve watched you throw away two beats today, how common is that?
SB. I know those beats I was working on was cool but something inside my brain was looking for something else and I always know what it is when I make it. I’ll throw away 10 to 20 beats just to get to this one idea then I might go back and listen to the ones that I threw if that’s how I’m feeling but I’m always looking for one feeling. If I find that feeling then it’s it and I make the beat and the next day, one of the beats I threw away, I might feel like that one day so I’ll fix up that and boom, it turns into something. I remember the idea I threw away; it’s stored in my head.
LM. What’s the best known of your beats that was originally thrown away?
SB. Dead Presidents. I wasn’t sure about it at first but then I threw on the Nas sample and it was dope. What else was a throw away beat? Streets Is Watching wasn’t a throwaway beat but it took me forever. It took me about 2 or 3 weeks to make that beat because it was so complicated, I didn’t have the technology like Abbleton back then to get it on beat so I had to chop it until it felt right. It took me like a week and a half to chop it to get it perfect. Old records play a little bit offbeat, it’s not exactly on time, so I had to chop it in different places. It took forever but I finally got it and it was good.
LM. How long on average does it take you to make a beat?
SB. An hour. Streets Is Watching is the longest beat I ever dealt with because of the chop. The chop had to be perfect. Every time I would make the beat it would be off and I know if I get the beat right, its gonna be crazy and Jay Z gonna love it. That’s what finally made me good at chopping because I spent so much time trying to get the chops right. If you listen to Streets Is Watching its so chopped up with the strings, so it took me a long time to get that but at the same time it was training me, I was in ninja training school learning how to chop. Streets Is Watching taught me how to chop for real.
LM. Is that where the ninja concept comes from?
SB. No but that’s dope I like that. The whole dojo concept came behind the work ethic of the dojo. Its 24 hours and we literally never stop working. It’s all day, all night, let’s go, the karate school.