In order to enter Charity Evaughn’s dojo of home production, first you need to step through the garage.
The garage is ordinary in some aspects and majestic in others. It is draped with numerous pieces of memorabilia in praise of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Evaughn’s father will remind you, as will she, that this is Steelers Country. A small piece of black and yellow exists in a house a few blocks away from where DJ Screw made his bones and held court. You may get roped into a conversation about Prince concerts at the old Hofheinz Pavilion with her father, but keep your focus. He’ll then pick out the best particular musician of each band on his mind. You may get wooed into a two-hour conversation but again, keep your focus. Only once you venture past the gym equipment, the yellow banners and more are you welcomed inside. You head upstairs, make jokes and small talk about the weather, Beyoncé and so on before you land where Charity Evaughn, producer and one of the city’s more familiar names rap-wise, creates.
There's a keyboard stationed near a pair of turntables, a large iMAC monitor with a second keyboard positioned in front of it. On the floor, multiple crates of records from The Manhattans, The Dramatics, Oran “Juice” Jones and Leon Russell sit underneath. “If I’ma dig, I’ma grab stuff that nobody has,” Evaughn says about her modest collection. “But I still like to dig.”
Here is where she started sketching out the ideas for many of Dante Higgins’s 2016 records, including “Black Lives Matter” and “Netflix & Chill.” It’s also here where her contributions to Doughbeezy & Q. Guyton’s Cold Summer tape began. Higgins, one of her father’s favorite rappers because of his lyrical content, readily assures me, “You need to talk to that girl. She’s a producer.”
Evaughn is not alone in her creating. She and Nate Coop befriended one another out of sheer competitive spirit, she the native Houstonian, he the outsider who had just moved from San Antonio. They are two of the final winners of the now-defunct Space City Beat Battle, one of the nation's few production-battle events. Even though Nate won the first battle they had against one another, Charity eventually gained the upper hand, becoming SCBB’s final winner in January 2015.
“Charity and I just happened to be on similar waves as far as where we're at in our careers and where we are trying to go,” Coop says of their bond. The two eventually began traveling to various production competitions, whether for iStandard or someone else. The constant travel almost made the two kindred spirits in regards to crafting music together. “We thought, why not collaborate for the competition? The goal was to make the best music possible,” Coop says. “So we ended up grinding out tracks in about a two-week span. And won the competition together.”
Coop and his crew had already conquered Texas State before moving to Houston. His nature is constantly to work with others, collaborate and build.
When they’re apart, they make certain to bring up one another so that nothing gets left out. Even though Evaughn has produced multiple projects solo, she and Nate Coop are a team through and through. Not even Batman and Robin, they’re more Batman and Batman. When Evaughn reflects on their initial battles, she recalls knowing how big of a threat Nate would be. Coop eventually won the first go-round between them. Evaughn would take the next round, specifically with the intent to beat her new friend in the finals.
“Nate’ll be in a whole different world. And I’ll be in mine. But when we’re together, we click,” she says of their union. “It was totally different when we won competitions. My thing is samples. His thing is big on being different. My thing is ‘feeling.’ When we bring it together? It’s like, ‘Oh snap, what the hell was that?’”
How does Charity balance an initial interview? Posing a question about your life. “What album describes the past few months of your life?” You may try to answer with John Mayer’s Continuum, but she’ll challenge you and ask why. It takes a moment before you deliver a satisfactory answer. She’ll ask you about your weaker days as a producer, when you played a break beat while your old college roommate strummed “Voodoo Child” on his guitar. You admit that you were sloppy and she laughs at you. “It’s all about training your ear,” she says. Don’t worry, she’ll admit that her earliest days as a producer were just as rough; years before she’d be making entire soundtracks for Dante Higgins. Long before her, Nate Coop and Dallas producer Sik-Wit-It gave the 2016 XXL Freshman class the soundscapes they needed for their proving ground freestyles.
As a woman, she can't avoid the conversation about the lack of representation in her particular field. Or as a DJ. “If you can DJ, I know you want to dabble in producing,” she says. “But it is time-consuming. I don’t know what it is, though. At times, I know I just want to be normal. I wish there were more female producers, especially here around Houston.”
Evaughn’s ear can be attributed to a number of things; her time at Prairie View surrounded by future musicians such as Kirko Bangz — whom she’d always see with his headphones on, rapping quietly to himself — is one of them. Then again, she was part of the same world in which Soulja Boy dominated parties at Toc Bar and Pink Monkey, when the Heisman Trophy pose and Supastar’s “Halle Berry” were big. “Kirk would rap his butt off,” she says. “He’d come into this studio that another friend of ours built in the Phases. It’s so funny how Kirk turned out. The scary thing is, he can actually rap.”
At PV, the future graduate found herself drawn to Fruity Loops, the online program that helped launched notable beatsmiths such as 9th Wonder, Lex Luger and more. “I was a clicker,” she says about her initial production. As she wheels around and begins discussing Q. Guyton & Doughbeezy’s Cold Summer project, she snaps her fingers and exhales. “I’m mad they made [Future’s] “March Madness” with a BST. I actually used that for “Diamond Chains”! I been made that beat awhile ago and then “March Madness” came out. There’s…” she trails off. “Diamond Chains & March Madness.”
The released version of “Diamond Chains,” however, sounds nothing like what Future & 808 Mafia created. Evaughn isn’t flustered by the change, though. Producers and replicated sounds are nothing new in hip-hop. Last month, J. Cole’s “Déjà Vu,” from 4 Your Eyez Only, was released with the same K.P & Envy sample of “Swing My Way” and drum pattern as Bryson Tiller’s “Exchange.” “Déjà Vu” producers Vinylz & Boi-1da feuded with “Exchange” producer Foreign Teck for a few days over whether or not the original beat was stolen.
For both Coop & Evaughn, crafting together and apart has yielded some of their best results. While Coop began collaborating with other noteworthy local producers such as Trakksounds, Tony Dark & Risko Funk, his best material came with Charity. Together, the two of them eventually released a full-length project, C O L O R S, an experimental mix of trap, hip-hop and pop. Since they couldn’t necessarily come up with an actual duo name, they merely paired their names together. As a duo, they’re Nate Charity, and every beat from C O L O R S makes you think you could at least trade a 16-bar verse with somebody.
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Even though they’re apart when we initially talk, they reconvene at a later date, hammering out ideas for 2017 and beyond. Sometimes they’re working around elevated drums, moody piano keys and laid-back bass lines. It’s a far cry from iStandard showcases and making sure they finish turning in beats for locals.
Evaughn looks over at her calendar, tacked onto the wall so that she’ll never forget it. “I got the idea from Cardiak,” she says. “I’m still working on it, still trying to get in a good routine.” The notable piece of information on the calendar aside from studying sound theory and inspirational greats from Dr. Dre to Maurice White? On Sundays, she’s stenciled in “THANK GOD.”
She smirks. “If I don’t, then what is all of this for?”