The hip-hop world is a less than sensible place - lots of times, you're even required to clarify when bad means bad and when bad means good - so once a week we're going to get with a rapper and ask them to explain things. Something you always wanted to ask a rapper? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Week's Producer: Chris Rockaway
Note: Rockaway is a producer here in town. He's worked with everyone from UGK to Ron Artest. Now you're all caught up
Note #2: Rockaway very well may be kin to Andrew Dice Clay. Parts of some of his answers are offensive. If you were not planning on reading about anal sex, the Flintstones and Mormon, you might want to jump past this interview. Fair warning.
This Week's Subject: Crafting songs; Ron Artest's craziness; Fred Durst.
Ask A Rapper: What's the process like when you're working on a song with rapper? Does he come to you with an idea of what he wants the song to sound like, and then you build it from there? Or does he just show up to the shop and pick out a beat he likes from a catalog, like he was shopping at Walmart for fabric or something?
Chris: It's different every time. I prefer to work from scratch so the results sound like a real song and not just some rapper on top of some beat. Of course, some people like to get the beat first, but with people like Floss and Presto, it's usually from scratch. However, with the more "known" rappers I've worked with, they've just bought beats from my vast library. Swag.
AAR: Do producers have "shops"? Or is your "shop" a keyboard next to your twin bed in your bedroom?
C: Nowadays, with music production equipment getting more and more affordable and, as you mentioned, traversing to the arena of laptops, small keyboards, etc., it might make sense for me to keep a laptop filled with drum samples, fruity loops, and inter-species pornography next to my blow up bed.
However, since I utilize all sorts of live instruments (percussion, drum sets, real pianos, guitars, etc) in what I do, I have a fairly large studio for a beat-maker. In fact, I'm designing a second one as we speak. Cy Fyre and Dustin Prestige have already moved into two of the other rooms, and we've made some truly interplanetary arena rock in that studio already. Think Styx being buttfucked by Satan while eating a Flintstones push-pop. Winning.
AAR: Lots of producers like to mention who they've worked with. Your list includes Ron Artest. What was that like that? Did he, at any point, attempt any craziness on you?
C: With all due respect to Ron and the opportunities he's afforded me, one time we were bored in LA and I started rapping ESG's verse to Big Moe's "Maaan," as I was taught by my father and his father before him. Needless to say, Ron was impressed. He then gave me the task of making a whole album wherein I rapped and sang on every song. If you heard a pasty Jew rap "Hopping out a candy Helicopter," would you commission an album? Many times, he's remarkably level headed. But that was so batshit crazy (and he was very persistent), he could have been mistaken for a member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Basically, Mormon crazy. Whoa.
AAR: Not to needlessly harp on Artest, but he's not a very good musician, right? So when you're working with someone and they play their music for you and it sucks, is there pressure there to say that you enjoy it? How's that work?
C: He's really not the worst. In fact, I've heard some rather salient melodies come from him. I wouldn't say he's on the level of Stravinsky, but who i ...besides Shaq. Kazaam! In all seriousness, If I told Artest he sucked, he would probably stare and tell me he was starving and wanted some lamb chops.
To address your second query, it all depends on the artist. If I think something sucks, I try to take the approach of (the legendary) BBC DJ John Peel: I try to see it from the artist's perspective. There MUST be something redeemable about this music that I'm just not getting, and my job is to make people's music kick ass in the way that kicking ass exists to them. With that being said, I think I have pretty good taste in music --I mean, c'mon! I listen to Brian Eno!-- and if someone really wants me to be raw, I'd probably say something like "Well, there must be something I don't get about this, 'cause it sounds like donkey spuge to my refined ears."
AAR: Favorite track you've ever worked on?
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C: I really like 95 percent of the stuff I've produced. Last August, I actually got to, by total chance, contribute some minor ideas to Dr Dre in the studio while he was working on Detox. And the song was so fucking insane, I wake up sometimes sweating thinking about it. I hope it makes the album. As far as tracks that will see the light of day before the Rapture, this new Presto EP we're working on has several pieces of true based insanity. Also, the Floss stuff that people haven't heard yet, and some stuff I've done for the R&B group, The VX. All unreleased as of right now, will be released soon. Obviously, I have a difficult time picking faves.
AAR: Least favorite track you've ever worked on?
C: You know I can't just call boys out on these streets. That most certainly ain't trill. With that being said, anything that people make me do with distorted guitars, I typically hate. It's corny and shit. You're not Fred Durst, and I'm not his guitarist, dig?
Follow Chris on Twitter at @rockawayprod. Sorry if you got fired for reading this at work.