By Jimmy Ness and originally published at Passionweiss
DJ Burn One’s country rap tunes emerge from a cloud of smoke vapors to warm the soul. His blues and funk-inspired sound adds an acoustic dimension to Southern rap, one reminiscent of classic UGK and Dungeon Family records.
At 26, the Atlanta beat-smith makes the rest of us look like severe underachievers. Burn One sold mixtapes at a CD store during his mid-teens, hung with T.I in twelfth grade and later dropped out of college to spend two years touring with Bubba Sparxxx. He’s since used live musicians and his ear for impeccable beats to help launch the careers of Yelawolf, Gucci Mane, Pill, Young Dro and Starlito.
Burn One spoke to me from Nebraska during the 32 date Revival tour with Rittz. We covered several topics including meeting T.I in high school, white rappers, Goodie Mob’s new album, teaching Gucci Mane about mixtapes, Gangsta Boo, working with A$AP Rocky and more.
You’re from Atlanta originally?
Yeah, I was born and raised in Atlanta. Actually a spot a like a little bit south called Hapeville. I was raised there till I was like 10 then I moved out to the suburbs, so I got a little taste of everything in my upbringing.
Was your family musical?
My mom was really heavy into like all 80s music, pretty much everything you can think of. My dad was just heavy in country, that type of stuff. They put me in the choir when I was four. I was in the church choir for a couple of years but outside of that they weren’t really musical. There was always music playing, but nobody played any instruments or anything like that.
How did you come up with the name DJ Burn One, is it just a drug reference?
Man not even really. At the time I was putting mixtapes out around my school and I was looking to change my name, I had a really lame DJ name. Actually I worked in a retail store in Atlanta called Supersounds, a mom n’ pops shop, and we would get albums in early. Two or three weeks early, like real actual copies sealed from the distributor and this was before everybody got online and figured out how to download stuff early.
So when I’d be in school and selling these CDs I’d have them for like $20-25 dollars. I’d have like T.I’s Trap Muzik and stuff like that. I tried to sell them and say “hey I’ve got the new T.I album it’s $25 dollars” and everyone would say “oh man come on just burn me one, burn one, burn me one.” So literally as long as I would work at the CD store people would just tell me “burn one.” All day all I’d hear is “burn one.” No one wanted to pay full price or whatever. They just wanted me to burn some copies of it, so after a while I was like you know what? It’s kind of got a ring to it.
You met T.I in high school?
Yeah, he had a group, it was two girls called Xtaci. They were signed for a while to him and they were actually a couple grades above me and went to my high school. I was working at the CD store and one day they came back a couple of years after they graduated, it was the year I was about to graduate. They were like “we got signed to Grand Hustle” and I was like “it’s cool I’m doing tapes, ya’ll want to host a tape with him with me?”
And you know, they got some drops and from then on I started hanging out with Grand Hustle. That was my first real experience in the music game, just kind of being around there and watching them record. I remember being in Grand Hustle and seeing Big Kuntry (King) show me a Pro Tools file like a beat tracked out for the first time and I was like “yo, what are those colours up there?” And he was like “that’s a high end, that’s a snare” and I’m like “what the fuck is that shit?” I was just a fan of music you know. It was really just the beginning of me cutting my teeth, being around Grand Hustle and trying soak up game.
Were you star struck? That’s pretty crazy considering you were still in school.
T.I was still getting bigger, but in Atlanta he was definitely pretty established at the time, even though the album didn’t do well. He had already put out “24s.” This was right around when Trap Muzik came out. It was kind of like the perfect time. So it was interesting, just watching how people even treated me in my own high school before I did the tape with him and then after. I was still in twelfth grade when I did the tape with him. The people that were just kind of like “whatever” about me, it was funny just watching the human nature of everything once they see you hanging around with someone famous. A lot of new friends. It was cool meeting him and then through there I met a lot of different people up at Grand Hustle. I met [Young] Dro, P$C and everybody, Paul Wall, a lot of people through that so it was real cool.
You studied history for a year in college? What’s your favorite ancient civilization?
Yeah, I was a history major. Man, I’m just like a history junkie. I love just watching the History Channel all day. It’s either ESPN or History Channel. I just love learning about different civilizations and stuff like that man. I think the Romans were probably the most interesting. Just the empire, everything that went along with that whole period. To be around in that whole time would have been really cool.
But yeah, I studied that for a year and I realized I would rather go and see the pyramids in Egypt than sit in a classroom and talk about it all day. It really wasn’t my thing. I have a really shitty imagination. It wasn’t doing it for me. I’ve got to be able to touch it for it to be interesting. I had like an A average my whole first year. Then the second week in the next semester in the new school year, I was sitting there in class and I just thinking this shit is not for me. I just got up literally right in the middle of class and walked out. Two weeks later Bubba Sparxxx called me to go on tour and I was like “hell yeah.”
You also wanted to be president?
Yeah definitely. I still do, but I think I smoke too much weed. I’d be a great president though man. I’m a political junkie too. I’m definitely just a news junkie period.
How do your parents feel about you pursuing music? Do they understand the mixtape hosting etc?
They don’t understand any of that stuff. They are a lot more accepting now that I’ve been on the cover of Spin magazine, New York Times, been on TV a couple of times. They thought I was selling drugs at first. I was on the road. They didn’t know what the hell that was, I’m out there picking up a lot of money and they were like “where the hell are you getting all this money at?” The only way they know is from the streets or whatever. They have finally come around. I think for a while they were slightly disappointed cause I had a chance to be the first from my family to graduate from college. I kind of walked away from it, but that wasn’t my path anyway. They’ve always been supportive and they’ll mess with me. My dad will call me like “I see your boy Gucci Mane’s in jail again!”
What influenced your sound? It’s very unique, a bit bluesy and funky not just the typical trap sound.
I think a little bit of everything. The 80s stuff my mom listened to. Like the synthesizers, that’s what always stuck out in my mind. The melodies and song writing were really dope, but really with the synthesizers they were always looking to try and find new sounds. And my dad he would always play country music like Montgomery Gentry, Conway Twitty and stuff like that. Even if I didn’t like the music, I could appreciate the song because you could feel it. It evoked emotion, you know? It made you feel a certain way and I think just blues music period has always stuck out to me.
When I found people that were making music like that – Organized Noise, Pimp C, 3-6 Mafia, Dre with G Funk, the Funkadelic stuff back in the day, it just all made sense. I feel like all the music I make is just stuff that I’d want to hear. When I make a beat, I just want to make some shit that sounds cool that I’d want to listen to.
It sounds pretty simple, but I really don’t try to think too much. I feel like every time people say “I’m going to do a girl record or make a club song or this or that,” it always just ends up just sounding contrived. I just want it to sound authentic and natural.
What do you think of the trap music sound? Is it a fad that will go away or something that will endure?
It’s more than fad because to me, snap music was a fad. It had its summer like a year or year and a half and then it was gone. Trap beats, ever since Shawty Redd and DJ Toomp really started eight to 10 years ago that’s kinda been an Atlanta sound. It’s just now with these programs, which are so much easier to use like Fruityloops and stuff like that, everyone can recreate that sound a lot more. I feel like that sound is really stagnant right now because before you had people like Shawty Redd and Toomp that were pushing the envelope. It was trap, but they were inventing it as they were going. Every time they would do a record it would be a little bit different. Constant innovation.
Now it’s like a lot of people are just replicating what they’ve heard before, so it’s really stale. I feel like that’s where I come in, just to kinda give that breath of fresh air and to bring the live instrumentation. Everything’s not perfectly quantized. To me it’s more emotional. I want when you hear a record from me to walk away with a feeling. You can be happy, sad, mad whatever. You walk away and it evokes some type of emotion. You didn’t just hear it, turn it on, nod your head a couple of times.
How do you create your songs? Is there a live band playing?
I have a production crew. It’s me and three other guys. Walt Live, he was a producer and I used to manage him before. We met up through Da Backwudz Project. They were a group in Atlanta a couple of years ago. He did the Playaz Circle “Hold Up” record and “God In The Building” for Killer Mike. He plays keys, sings, raps, does a lot of the melodies and produces as well. Ricky Fontaine plays a lot of the electric guitar that you hear. He also played the main riff for “Party Like A Rockstar.” And those two guys together are called iNDEED. We put out an EP in January and people have been pretty well responding to it so we are working on a follow up. We all perform together, but as far as just an actual group, that’s their thing. They rap, do all the vocals and sing.
And also The Professor, he’s part of the production crew too. He plays bass, engineers and produces as well. So we all got together and spent like a full year getting it in, five to six times a week, 12 hours a day. Just getting it in and working on beats. The initial vibe was just me coming in and playing samples like this is the vibe I want, this is the feel of the music I love. I was playing 50s records, 70s records, whatever. I was playing a wide variety of stuff, but I just wanted to get all of us on the same page.
Tell us about working on Gucci Mane’s first mixtape Chicken Talk. How did that come about?
I don’t know if you remember, but Dem Franchize Boyz had the “White Tee” record out talking about snap music. There was a record label called Never Again that came out with a remix called “Black Tee.” It was like a response record. He was actually one of the guys rapping on the song. When I called to holla at him about who was on the song or whatever, he was the one that picked up the phone and met with me. He made the whole remix by himself with all these other rappers you know Bun B and all these people. Like took all the other guys off the song, which I thought was hilarious but he played me “Icey” that night and we just kinda got talking. I think he put out “Icey” and stuff was going good, then I think he ended up going to jail for beating up the promoter with a pool stick and all types of crazy shit. So he finally got out and just kinda fell out of love with the label he was with at the time. I was telling him about mixtapes, like “yo, you can book shows.”
So you told him about doing mixtapes?
Yeah, definitely. It was around the time 50 Cent and all of them were doing it. Drama was slowly building his name but he wasn’t like that around. Rappers knew about mixtapes but they just thought it was a song on a mixtape. They didn’t know they could do a whole original album and it put out themselves and get it to the fans. That right there was a new concept.
To them they only knew going to a label or putting out a real actual album just conventionally. I told him about doing shows and that kind of peaked his interest and like I said, when his relationship with the label soured he was like “yo, I’m ready.” So it took us like a month. He had a bunch of songs together already and I helped put it together like the tracklist. I even took the picture for the front cover. As a joke I put “Burn One Photography” in the background. So that was like the beginning of all that.
That mixtape really was the one that kicked off both of our careers. “Icey” was a big record for him but that made both of us like a household name. I can go to any hood, I can go anywhere and people will be like “yo, you did Gucci.”
What is he like as a person? He seems like such an interesting character.
He’s crazy as fuck. He’s like a modern day Rick James. He just does what he feels. I feel him on that too. He’s really fucking dope though, like a lot of people sleep on how dope he actually is. He’s a real lyrical guy. I’ve been in the studio with him and he’s freestyled, like pulled up a beat and rapped the entire length of the beat for four or five minutes. Not mess up one time freestyling and pull up another one and do it like six or seven times. Dropping amazing rhymes like you hear now, killing it. Very intelligent man, but he just flies by the seat of his pants kinda like how he feels in the moment too. So I feel that gets him into hot water sometimes. I’m sure we’ll definitely be chopping it up soon. I’ve been getting a lot of people hitting me up about doing something with him and I’m sure he’s been getting the same.
Gangsta Boo is featured on your Joints tape. How did you link up?
I met her probably like a year and a half ago. I was working with Jackie [Chain]. I gave him beat for that “Don’t Violate.” I came up with the idea to put the hook on there too and he had laid his verse and was trying to figure out who to get on it. He was the one that actually thought of Gangsta Boo. I think he had known her before and he called her to the studio. We just chopped it up. She was real cool man, she smashed it. I know she was just on Yelawolf’s album on the record with Eminem. Now I know she’s doing some mixtapes and other stuff right now, but yeah she was a big influence on me growing up. I loved all of 3-6 Mafia’s stuff, but definitely her first solo album was super dope.
Yeah she’s really dope. To me she’s probably my favorite female rapper. I mean there’s other talented ones, but I can’t think of one I’d rather listen to.
You also worked with A$AP Rocky for Live Love A$AP, what do you think of him emulating the South?
I think it’s dope, because I think with him it’s more of paying tribute and something he’s inspired by. Just like how I was inspired by 80s music or whatever else. It’s just where he drew inspiration from and I think that’s kind of what makes his stuff unique. If he was just hardcore on the hip-hop boom-bap shit who knows what we would we be saying right now. It’s just he found his way to put a twist on it. Some people say it’s biting, I don’t think it’s biting. It’s paying homage. He got real Southern producers, me and Beautiful Lou on the project. He reached out you know. If he had just done a bunch of East Coast producers it would have been whatever but I think its dope man. I really enjoy it. It’s a real enjoyable experience listening to the album, going to their shows. He’s just a real cool guy.
Cee-Lo reached out to you to work on the new Goodie Mob album?
My partner Cavi from LA, he’s actually working on it. He had played them some records I did for him and they really loved the records so I’m supposed to be going there with them pretty soon. That should be dope. I’m looking forward to that.
The other week you Tweeted “Cee-Lo said white people think 808s are offensive.”
[Laughs] That was just something I heard that I probably shouldn’t have Tweeted. But yeah man, that’s how it is. Probably to a certain point it is but I don’t even think it’s that deep. I think when you start thinking about certain sounds or whatever you’re just over thinking it. To me “Yeah” is the biggest white people song ever and that’s 808ed out, the Usher record with Lil Jon. Maybe its cause what they are trying to do now is totally different, like the live band, and I can respect that.
You’ve collaborated with a lot of white rappers: Rittz, Yelawolf, Bubba Sparxxx etc. What do you think of the increasing prominence of white people in rap?
I think the audience is just so much bigger now. There’s just so many kinds of audiences. I just think it gives more chances for more people to get their foot in the game and be accepted. In ’94 when gangsta rap was popular it probably wouldn’t have been as easy. There’s more exposure, hip-hop has become more mainstream, which just gives it a different audience. I think it’s really cool man, just gives the game more diversity.
What is Bubba Sparxxx doing right now? He kinda dropped off the map.
Bubba’s still out booking shows and he’s working on his new album now. I just talked to him probably about two months ago about doing some new stuff, so he’s probably going to lock in with me. That should be really dope. I think people really sleep on Bubba. I think it’s kind of a what have you done for me lately, kind of thing. He’s one of the dopest rappers ever to me.
Is there anyone in particular you are proud to have worked with or met?
Actually man, this is really a random thing. Have you ever heard of Dion? He was signed with Aftermath and he was on Game’s first album. He used to be signed with Hi-Tek. He was a singer. I’m going to say he’s from Detroit. He was on the “Ridin” song on 50 Cent’s first album, whatever the Hi-Tek record was on the second album. He’s done a bunch of other stuff. He was really one of the most gifted singers I’ve ever met. I truly think he has the chance to be the next Al Green, but I think he’s just floating around doing his thing right now. He’s amazing.
What is your Five Points brand?
I originally started it to be my production company just to do beats with and just to be our brand that we were pushing. But after the first year that we were doing beats together, Ricky and Walt would stay after our sessions and just do songs. One day they just played me like six or seven records and I was like wow this is really dope. You know, it’s different. I haven’t really heard it before. It’s definitely got its influences, but it’s an own thing by itself.
I ended up signing them as a group, as the first act on the Five Points music group. And then working with Scotty, I was kind of looking for a straight rapper cause iNDEED is definitely something different, they are instrumentalists. They sing, they rap as well but they do their own thing so I wanted just a pure rapper.
After I put out the Summer Dreams project with Scotty last August, just the vibe that we had, how people responded to the music, what the critics were saying, it was just a really good feel. It just kind of fit, like we were really a good match. I think he realized that too, so we decided to link up and have me come on as a producer and really take reins of his project too. So he’s in the family too. I’m not trying to be a big record label and sign everyone and their family, but I just really wanted to put out some stuff that I thought was dope and just kind of show the world my perspective of what I think is dope music.
What’s next after the tour?
I’m supposed to be going in with Big Boi as soon as I get off tour. Big Boi and Jeezy, those are like the main two I’m going in with. I’m sending more stuff to A$AP. They just reached out for his album. I’m working on Scotty and iNDEED, both of their new albums. Those are coming out crazy. We just dropped the SL Jones Paraphernalia project. I produced on that as well. After the Slumerican tour we about to start working on Rittz’s new album, which I am super excited about. Just stay tuned. We got a lot of new stuff coming. Oh, and I’m doing another instrumental album like The Ashtray!