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Denzel Curry Interview

Denzel Curry Interview

Originally published at Complex. Photography by James Harrison

Denzel Curry’s psychotropic world is a fluid concoction of 90s rap, Adult Swim cartoons, and illicit activity. The 20-year-old flows effortlessly over multi-coloured production ranging from Yeezus era beats to murky lo-fi. Within the same breath, he’ll recall experimenting with LSD, eulogise fallen comrades and shout-out Super Mario Bros. Raised in Miami’s infamous Zone 3, Curry’s music reflects an upbringing peppered with the innocence of a good home and the eye-opening violence that surrounded it.

The self-styled “Aquarius Killa” posted his debut mixtape on SpaceGhostPurrp’s website in 2011 and was invited to join Raider Klan while still in high school. His confident double-time raps and retro Memphis Horrorcore aesthetic quickly gained attention, but his parents insisted he focus on school. Curry released three projects before leaving the Klan to pursue a solo career and in 2013 dropped his debut Nostalgic 64. This year, Curry followed up with double EP 32Zel/Planet Shrooms, which bangs front to back. The projects also serve as a dedication to Denzel’s brother who was killed by a policeman’s taser and his friend Tiara Grant who was fatally shot during recording.

We caught up with Denzel before he tore shit down at his London show last week. The undeniably passionate MC discussed getting a million plays on Soundcloud, mixing art with music, why he keeps his collaborations in-house and how personal tragedy impacts his content.

Your family is from the Bahamas. Did you grow up with that culture?

I grew up in South Florida. It’s like a cultural melting pot where I come from, but my people’s are of Bahamian descent and I have cousins in Nassau on the other side that stays in the Bahamas. It’s both Bahamian on my mom and dad’s side.

You’ve been open about not being a gangsta. Your lyrics are based on your environment as well as people you know. What kept you away from the streets growing up?

My parents. Even though they had disputes and they had their problems, I would say yeah, they’re good parents. Like my moms is very independent, my father is very independent and that’s pretty much where I get it from. They always stress that you should make something [of yourself]. You don’t want to stay in the same crib until you’re like 23. I’m not trying to do that.

Summer mixtape

southern rap

Here's a playlist I originally created for Passionweiss 

“Welcome to the land where it just don’t stop. Trunks pop, tops drop, and the front-end hop.” I like to imagine summer is a lot like the world Houston rapper Fat Pat [RIP] describes on “Tops Pop,” where the music is funky, the cars have impractical modifications and the barbeques are forever blazing.

London’s non-existent beach culture and grimy urban backdrop can put a damper on any sun loving spirit, but listening to the tracks assembled below helps ease the chill. The loose criterion for these tunes is good vibes, the odd cheesy synth and choruses that inspire singing when friends are out of hearing range.

I’ve recently begun digging through classic Southern rap and while most pioneers from the East/West Coast have reached international acclaim, there’s a plethora of talent below the Dixie that hasn’t reached foreign ears. For this reason I’ve included Big Mike, Z-Ro and Dead End Alliance as well as B. Bravo for being one of my new favourite funk producers, The Dream for releasing his best material in a long time and Pimp C for being Pimp C. So lean back, sip your favourite brown liquor, push play and lend a thought to those of us not surrounded by summer dresses.

1) B.T. Express- Give up the Funk (Let’s Dance)
2) Juicy – Sugar Free
3) B. Bravo – Energy
4) Fat Pat – Tops Drop
5) Big Mike ft Pimp C– Havin’ Thangs
6) Slim Thug ft Z-RO– Summertime
7) Big Krit ft Devin The Dude – Moon and Stars
8) Undergravity – Goin’ Live
9) Ghostface Killah ft John Legend – Let’s Stop Playing
10) Chuck Inglish ft Vic Mensa and Killa Kyleon – James Harden
11) Slick Rick ft Outkast – Street Talkin’
12) Dead End Alliance ft Lil Keke – Sun hit the fade
13) The Dream – Outkast
14) Don Brown – Don’t Lose Your Love

15) Kool & The Gang – Heaven at once

Click here to listen. 

Kevin Gates update

kevin gates ymcmb

Originally published at Passionweiss.

Kevin Gates is so good at rapping that the XXL Freshman ’14 cover could have been a close-up of his face. Few MCs combine lucid crime recollections, vulnerable introspection and speaker knockers quite like the Baton Rouge renegade. While the Passionweiss squad works on converting the site into an unofficial KG focus group, I’ve taken on the enviable task of sharing with you a few of his latest releases in the lead up to Luca Brasi 2.

Fellow Southerner Trae The Truth featured Gates on “Dark Angel,” and released the video last week. Despite a cameo from Lil Bibby instead of Jessica Alba and trying a little too hard to be cinematic, it’s worth a watch. KG starts off with a lengthy verse that covers more interesting topics in two minutes than many artists do on a whole album. Gates performs a soliloquy referencing belief in a higher power, struggles with drug use and trying to sate a mourning family’s loss with money. The 28 year old also boldly admits to sexual inadequacy, which is something even less heard in rap than stringed instruments. Although it doesn’t have the same emotional impact, Trae’s verse shouldn’t be ignored either. He does an admirable job of following up Kevin’s powerful testimony, delivering solid tales of struggle with his trademark rapid-fire flow.

Next up is the video for “Posed To Be In Love,” which was included on this year’s mixtape By Any Means and may or may not have been shot using an iPhone camera. Some listeners felt Gates’ decision to discuss domestic violence glorified spousal assault, but the track is more complex than the knee-jerk reaction it inspires. It’s fair to assume with an artist as self-aware Gates, that he includes nuances to the story for a reason. Kevin mentions stalking and an obsession with his female counterpart to cement his character as a deranged lover rather than someone to be revered.

While not the best decision to release visuals for a tale of battery when he could have chosen another single, the clip does further distance KG from the story. He’s seen as an observer in the video rather than the protagonist. Like many great artists his lyrics are capable of inspiring a range of emotions including shock, awe and sometimes revulsion.

Thankfully Gates also left us with a few gems before hitting the road and he’s yet to show any signs of creative burnout aka “Mixtape Circuit Syndrome.” Listen below for his menacing OG Bobby Johnson freestyle, the threatening croak of “Nothing” and finally the hypnotic “Cut Her Off” freestyle. You’re welcome.


Edit: Gates' new track with Lil Bibby included above. 

Don Trip - "Wake Up"

don trip rap

Originally published at Passionweiss

Don Trip’s latest single “Wake Up” was released the other week with minimal fanfare. Along with Starlito and Kevin Gates, he’s one of several young artists that dispels the conservative rap coalition’s claim that rap isn’t lyrical anymore. Like the aforementioned MCs, Don Trip also hasn’t fully made an impact with the kids. Despite appearing on the 2012 XXL Freshman cover and working with Dr “iRich” Dre, mainstream success eludes him for now. Luckily, this means we get to enjoy unfiltered street rhymes while bubble-gum rap fans are busy debating if Iggy Azalea writes her own music. This is an obvious blessing and the Memphis rapper has delivered a hustler’s dedication with bars upon bars.

“Wake Up” serves as both a motivational anthem and a forewarning for those who were sleeping on Mr Don Trip. The 26 year old spits over frantic production and sticks with his grimy drawl rather than jacking the Migos flow as per almost everyone else in the past year. The track’s hook sounds elementary on paper “wake up, wake up, it’s time to get me some money, got to get off my ass, you can’t get rich for me,” but it’s catchiness combined with the adrenaline pumping beat makes for wall-punching music. There’s not much here beyond moneymaking metaphors, but sometimes we all need a song you can frown and nod to. Now how about releasing that Step Brothers 3?

100s Interview


Originally published at Passionweiss

100s (pronounced “hunnids”) was born in the wrong era. The 20 year old has been fascinated by the ‘70s since being exposed to American Pimp, Iceberg Slim’s autobiography and nuclear levels of hair spray. His parents moved him to the Ivory Coast due to failing grades and his last two years of high school were spent in a three-bedroom house with 15 others. During this time, 100s heard Mac Dre’s “Gumbo” and decided to make music for pimps, pushers and paper-chasers.

Three years after returning home to Berkeley in 2010, debut album Ice Cold Perm was released. With the same stony-eyed stare and a cover inspired by Snoop Dogg’s Tha Doggfather, 100s embraced his influences with rhymes about running game, retro cell phones, Cali beaches and floor length jackets.

He quickly gained a fan-base and Fools Gold records picked him up after noticing the music industry was missing immaculate hair. Earlier this year, 100s followed his debut with the purple-tinted IVRY. The eight track EP focuses on retro R&B crooning and synth-heavy production, but still packs the essential freaky raps.

I spoke to the half Black/half Jewish rapper about whether he prefers The Mack or Superfly, his musical heroes and why he’s open about never actually being a pimp. Despite being quite reserved during our conversation, 100s mentioned his time in the Ivory Coast was one of his favourite things to discuss so we also covered topics including culture shock, catching Malaria, and realizing how lucky Americans were with their living conditions.

What made you decide to go a little more melodic with IVRY?

I guess, it’s just growth. I’ve always liked more melodic music than traditional rap so I guess it was just a matter of time. The more you do something, the better you get at it. There’s just different kind of songs that you learn how to do as you get better at what you do. I aimed to kind of do that [make more melodic music.] I have this whole concept behind IVRY. It was actually a concept album. I never really explained the concept.

Can you tell us a little about the concept now?

It’s kind of abstract of course, but it chronicles this person in this other dimension in the future or in a different time or whatever. It was meant to be almost like a story. If you really listen to it all the way through and you change the tracklist around it would have been a different story with different events in life. It just takes you to a place, to a time.

You were talking about a project named Sex Symbol, before IVRY dropped. Are they the same thing?

Nah, Sex Symbol, I need to chase down everybody I said that to. That’s no more, that’s not happening. That was just a phase. I was kind of hot off some shit, but that’s not happening. I guess, what it would have been is now IVRY.

You often collaborate with Joe Wax. Can you tell us about him?

He’s been producing for maybe five or six years. We went to the same middle school and we both got sent away at the same time. He got sent to some boarding school in the middle of nowhere and I got sent to Africa, so we bonded over that. Then we came back and started making music.

Even if he’s not necessarily producing the song or whatever, he helps me create. He’s my guide and my homie. He’s always involved in what I’m doing. He has really good taste.

You like to be heavily involved in the creative process?

Yeah, IVRY was the first time I’ve co-produced.

We’ve talked about some of your rap influences, but what about other artists that had an impact on IVRY? Prince?

Yeah, I love Prince. Hell yeah. Prince, Rick James, all of these people.

Rick James had quite a flamboyant style as well.

Exactly, he was a genius you know. If you really listen to his catalogue, the stuff that not everybody knows. If you really dig, he’s a genius. He probably played bass and fucking electric guitar and whatever, super talented dude.

What do you love so much about the 70s-80s? What exactly drew you to that era?

I don’t know, I don’t really think it was a conscious decision. Ever since I was younger, I was fascinated with that era and identified with it.

Do you prefer The Mack or Superfly?

Honestly, I would pick another one. I would choose Willie Dynamite. I really like Willie Dynamite. I guess after that film, I like The Mack better than Superfly. I’m a movie guy.

You’re influenced by people like Too $hort, Mac Dre, Snoop Dogg etc. But can you also tell us about Dre Dog?

I’m big fans of them. Dre Dog, who is now known as Andre Nickatina, he’s a Bay Area legend you know. I mean he’s a legend period. It’s hard to describe what he is and what he sounds like, you’ve just got to listen. He’s super different.

Have you met any of your musical heroes?

I met Andre Nickatina. I brought him out in San Francisco. That was some dream come true shit, know what I’m saying? [laughs.] I’ve been a fan of his since I was about 13 year’s old. I opened for Snoop one time but I’ve never met him, this was like a while ago.

You’re a comedy fan as well, who’s your favourite comedian?

Eddie Murphy. Well Eddie Murphy now, ahh you know… but Raw or Delirious Eddie Murphy, that Eddie Murphy.

Do you think your interest in comedy also effects the music? A lot of people said the video for “1999” was pretty tongue in cheek.

I guess since the music is a reflection of me. I enjoy comedy and that’s part of me, so maybe it does bleed into it, but I wouldn’t say I purposely do that. I take what do seriously, you know. It’s about perception, some people get the music and some people don’t.

As a 16 year old, were you scared when you landed in the Ivory Coast? That’s quite the culture shock.

Yeah, now that I think about it, it’s kind of surreal. It’s like, did everything happen? But it did. It was hard to adjust because it’s like night and day. When you’re over there and you think there’s this whole other world, it’s like another planet exists.

You had Malaria five times? What’s that like?

I probably had it more. When you’re from America or whatever, you’re fragile. You’re not conditioned for those types of diseases. Back there people are conditioned, but when you didn’t grow up with it, your body doesn’t know what to do. How I would describe is like you’re cold and you’re hot, your body aches, you have nausea, no appetite. It’s just like… shit. [Laughs] It feels like “this is the end.” It’s horrible. I feel like as you get it more you get over it faster though.

Did the Ivory Coast change your perception of the world? I bet you came back with an idea of how lucky you are with the living conditions in America.

Yep, one hundred percent. One hundred percent. I tell my friends that all the time and I always try to get that across. The same way that Jewish people have a birth-right to go back to Israel. I think African people should have that too. It gives you a wider understanding of what’s going on and makes you realise that all the petty shit that you worry about or deem important really isn’t.

I’ve heard there’s a lot of internalized racism over there and white people get special treatment over their own culture.

Definitely, of course. That’s just part of it. I don’t really know what it stems from, but you always see that. It’s maybe because they were colonized by white people or whatever. Some African people think that white people are better. It’s really insane.

How long did it take you start making music after you returned from the Ivory Coast?

When I came back, I wasn’t really fucking around you know. I had so much time to think and visualise what I wanted to do when I was there, that when I came back I didn’t waste my time.

Have you been back?

Nah, I want to go back. I want to go back soon. Hopefully I go back soon. I think there’s a festival over there next year so I’m going to try go to that.

You’re proud of your African heritage, are you equally proud of your Jewish side?

Yeah. I would say that I’m not as in touch with my Jewish heritage as my African, but I am proud of it.

Ice Cold Perm was a reasonably polished project. Were you working with labels behind the scenes at the time?

Hell no! [laughs] It was me, my friend Joe and our friend Oliver, who is Joe’s big cousin. He has a website called, which initially put it out. Me and Joe just recorded it in his bedroom. We would all talk about what would make it and what wouldn’t ya know, and then we just dropped it.

What made you decide to sign specifically to Fools Gold? I’m sure there were also other labels that approached you.

I just liked what they had going on. I knew that I was moving towards that kind of melodic sound, at least at that time. It felt like a good fit.

Were you nervous about performing on some of your earlier tours? You gained an audience quite quickly.

Not really. I recall I was nervous the first show I ever did. After that, once you kind of realise that this is your passion, everything comes out on stage. As soon as you touch the stage and you realise that this is your time, you forget about everything.

I know you’ve toured Australia before, how was that?

It was amazing. It was weird for me to just see that I had reached people out there and they embraced me. It was super cool, I loved it and would love to go back.

Where do you see your sound going next? Maybe into Funk?

Ah… no. I guess that will all be revealed in time, but I am working on new things. I’m working on a lot of stuff. I’m not going to talk about specifics, but it is coming and you’ll see.

Have you collaborated with Danny Brown?

No, it hasn’t happened yet.

You’re in an iPhone 5C commercial. How did you get involved with that?

My friend the same guy who put out my mixtape, Oliver, he was doing the casting. I wasn’t going to do the ad. I was trying to help him find people to do it. I think it was last minute and he was like: “Dude, I can’t find anybody. Just send me a picture of you or some shit. “ So I sent him a picture and they liked me, so I did it. It was fun.

When did you start growing your hair?

Shit, I would have been 10 years old or something. It was Fifth grade.

Why did you do it?

I don’t really know. A lot of the people I was fans of had long hair. Whether it was from rock music or whatever. I used to really like wrestling when I was younger and all these old wrestlers had long hair, so that’s what I wanted to do.

How would you rate your hair in comparison to DJ Quik’s on Rhythmalism?

Ah, I don’t know if I’ve seen it on that particular album cover. He’s got a hell of a perm or whatever it is [laughs.] I mean it’s nice or whatever, but I like mine more.

I watched some of the Hollywood Shuffle film you sample on “My Activator.” What’s your favourite type of Activator?

[Laughs] I don’t even know any different types. I don’t know shit about them. I just love that movie.

You obviously like the 70s look and you’ve got the hair, did people ever call you gay?

Of course [laughs]. Of course. Yeah. I’m not an insecure man. I’m chilled. I don’t get caught up in that shit. If you want to call me gay or whatever you think, that’s your opinion. I can just be me. I keep it moving. I don’t think anybody necessarily is meant to be understood.

I heard a rumour that some classmates of yours claimed you were pimping girls at 16 years old at Berkeley High?

Ohhh no. No, what the fuck! [laughs] See I didn’t even go to Berkeley High.

Sorry I’m asking some tougher questions.

No, it’s all good. I like these questions. I get tired of the weak-ass ones.

You’ve also said previously when you’re talking about “hoes,” or whatever, that doesn’t necessarily translate to real life and real people. Can you tell us about that?

To me it’s clear, but I’ll explain it. Not every record is necessarily about a pimp and a hoe or whatever people think it is. It could be anything. It could be a metaphor, it could be taken however. That’s why I said it’s not meant to be taken literally. If I’m talking about that, it could be something else. It could be what’s going on in my life or whatever. It’s just abstract as it comes. When I’m writing I’m not always thinking about that type of shit.

You’re pretty open about admitting you have never been a pimp and you’ve never claimed to be one. What do you think about people who criticise your authenticity?

It’s only an issue of authenticity, if you view it as one. If you view it as expression and it’s not meant to be taken literally, there’s no issue of authenticity. When it comes down to people judging it as if it’s meant to be taken literally, then yeah the issue comes into play. If it’s pretty much any genre other than rap, then people know not to take it literally. It’s just an expression, you don’t know what the fuck they [the performer] are talking about. On some level, I would compare it to that. Of course I’m open about it [not being an actual pimp], because I don’t want you to take it literally.

You see yourself as a performer and musician first?

Yeah, one hundred percent. Honestly, I have two projects out and I’m always growing and doing stuff, so people will see what everything turns into.

Undergravity - Believe Me (Paystyle)

undergravity group

Originally written for Passionweiss

Along with Passionweiss’ favourite Dixie trippers The Outfit, Tx, Undergravity are moulding a sound outside of trap’s limitations. Earlier this year, Atom Bomb and Mastermind After Cash released Southern rap throwback “The Freshest MCs” with fellow Houston MC Dante Higgins. The album featured summer-time production as well as fun rhymes for those of us who prefer car stereos and barbeque sessions to MacBook speakers and screen glare. This time around however, the duo issues a more serious statement of intent.

Despite being purveyors of the vintage Southern sound, the underdawgs show their versatility by ditching the organs and giving funk a quick breather. Instead they rhyme over the sparse drums of Lil Wayne’s attempted comeback track “Believe Me” featuring your favourite Canadian child actor. They’ve dubbed it a “paystyle” rather than a ”freestyle,” to let you know their focus is on the cash. As long as it’s better than the original, they can call it anything they like.

“You already know who you ain’t fucking with, manoeuvring in the coupe, sitting crooked like the government.” Undergravity rhyme with furrowed brows and vehement brags. M.A.C plays quarter back like Any Given Sunday’s Willie Beamen and Atom Bomb is getting picked like a plum tree. Undergravity knows they’re overlooked, but they’ll keep working without your consent.

Eiffel 65 Interview

I interviewed Eiffel 65 famed for their hit “Blue (Da Ba Dee)." Why? Because it’s funny and also because it’s interesting to see what happens to artists after a brief run of success. A lot of people known for being one hit wonders become public laughing stocks. They'll do multiple trips to rehab, appear alongside other lesser life forms on reality TV or wallow in obscurity. Often it seems like it's better to have no hits than one, which is weird considering it’s a form of success many underground acts strive toward. Of course, it doesn't help the music is frequently terrible and their success is often accidental. Lead singer Jeffrey Jey seemed like a pretty nice guy though. Read the full interview here. 

Twista Interview

Twista Interview

Like a rap Roadrunner, Twista has the verbal velocity to spit several hundred words in under a minute. His lightning quick verses scored him a record deal in 1992 on the newly formed Loud Records as well as a Guinness World Record for Fastest MC.

Despite encountering industry resistance mostly due to his rhyme style and Chicago roots in a largely East/West dominated era, Carl Terrell Mitchell has remained relevant for over two decades. You’ll know him for several hits including the Kanye produced “Slow Jamz” and “Overnight Celebrity,” but he’s also preparing to release his 9th solo album The Dark Horse.

During our chat, the enthusiastic 40 year old openly discussed his musical origins, almost quitting after his second album, hanging out with Dame Dash as well collaborating with Lady Gaga, being labeled a novelty and why he’s never left Chicago.

Tell us about the impact of Chicago house on developing your double-time delivery?

Really just the way the beat moves. I can do my lyrics to my Adrenaline Rush album or a lot of my songs I can actually rap them to the tempo of a house beat. So I think in that aspect, just growing up to the music and it holding me to a certain tempo or feel of the music I liked. It was just natural for me to develop to a rap style that was in that same rhythm.

Chicago DJ Fast Eddie rapped over a lot of house tunes and was one of your early influences?

Yes that’s one of my buddies right there from the past. Fast Eddie was definitely a big influence on me. I remember looking up to him like “wow, it’s an actual rapper from Chicago.” So Fast Eddie is definitely one of the guys that played a big part in me first hearing rap and house music.

Winter Playlist Series

Written for Passionweiss. I organized this feature and there's plenty of other great sounds ranging from Blaxploitation soundtracks to electronic so check them out. 

This mix defines my winter tastes pretty well – grumpy old and new raps combined with soul and funk. While I’ve been listening to beats and rhymes since before the Willennium, booty-shaking riffs and smooth grooves are something I’ve only properly investigated in the past few years. However one has inevitably led to the other – Kanye is a big Curtis fan, Three-6 Mafia put me on to Willie Hutch, and RZA blessed his crew with several Stevie Wonder samples.

Many of these classic tracks contain some form of social commentary relevant to whatever era they were recorded in. This makes them both uplifting and gritty, which is a lot like the season where you are just as likely to spend all night in a toasty bar as you are to get hail flying diagonally into your face on the way home. Push play and pray for summer.

Also as per last season’s mixes, thanks to BJ Beatson and Aaron Frank for helping me put these together. Link after the jump. 


1. Big L – Danger Zone
2. Vince Staples ft Schoolboy Q – Back Sellin’ Crack
3. Joey Fatts – Picture Me Rolling
4. Jay Z – Can’t Knock The Hustle
5. Boldy James – Optional
6. The Beanuts ft Big Pun and Cuban Link – Off The Books
7. Elzhi – Memory Lane
8. Big Pun – Punish Me
9. Droop E ft Nite Jewel and J Stalin – ‘N The Traffic
10. Willie Hutch – In and Out
11. Curtis Mayfield – Wild and free
12. Stevie Wonder- Living For The City
13. The Manhattans- New York City
14. Marvin Gaye – What’s Happening Brother
15. Curtis Mayfield – We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue
16. Kool and The Gang – This Is You, This is Me

Devin The Dude - One For The Road review

devin the dude one for the road

Haven’t written a review in a while… this one was originally written for Passionweiss.

Devin The Dude is the kind of rapper you want to hang out with. He’s a chilled out guy who usually rhymes about what he loves most: beautiful girls and the finest kush. The Dude never reached the same mainstream status as other O.G rappers during his 20+ year career, but he seems to like it that way. His introspective and sometimes self-deprecating lyrics coupled with his sheepish grin make him a likable rap everyman. Just like fellow THC enthusiast Curren$y, Devin Copeland’s seems like the kind of person who would buy you a beer instead of denying you an autograph.

Scarface has previously said that an artist should keep remaking the same album and carve a lane for themselves rather than trying to do something new. Despite that not always being true, Devin definitely followed this formula and his 8th album, One For The Road is exactly what a long-time listener should expect. The 43-year-old doesn’t stray too far from his niche laid-back vibe, yet he still knows what works. This is smoke and ride music.

Opening track “Getting Blowed” sets the scene with the extremely relaxed Houston native rhyming over a breezy saxophone about how he never goes out, but you’ll probably catch him in the supermarket with the munchies. The Dude is at his best when he’s showing some humor or conveying his humane side.

Six tracks on the album have a motivational theme which eventually wears a bit thin and “Reach For It” is a little preachy with a generic “hustle hard” message that dime-a-dozen rappers have been drilling down our earholes since the beginning of time. In contrast, Devin’s take on giving money to the homeless on “Fresh Air” works well because you can empathize and there’s no sign of the forced sincerity that plagues young rappers like J.Cole.

“I hope we don’t get too drunk,” features Devin alongside his Odd Squad group mates Jugg Mugg and Rob Quest, who you should know for their excellent and largely ignored debut, Fadanuf Fa Erybody!! The trio bounce off each other and it’s a fun listen with old school production. Compulsory weed track “Herb The Nation” also follows this retro vibe with Copeland clearly paying tribute to some of his influences.

If you were in high school when Chronic 2001 came out, your first experience with Devin The Dude was probably on the classic “F**k You” alongside Dr Dre before headphones and Snoop before trips to Jamaica. Unfortunately there’s nothing as tongue in cheek on here, instead the Houston vet delivers the break-up track “Probably Should Have” and the overtly sexual “Hear The Sound.” Both tracks are decent in their own right, but not quite as special as their sleazy predecessor. There’s a snippet during the album’s third skit for a track simply titled “F**k You Down” which has potential and the “comical” announcer says is coming out soon, so let’s hope he’s being serious.

While this project isn’t particularly innovative, it’s not trying too hard either. Devin wrote and produced most of the tracks and many of them have The Dude’s listenable charm. His topics are humble and attitude is too. It’s a rare thing to treasure in the age of self-proclaimed musical geniuses, leather pants and artists who fight their own fans.

Noah Goldstein ( Audio Engineer for Kanye West, Jay - Z, Nas, Ryan Adams) Interview

kanye west audio

By Jimmy Ness and originally published at Passionweiss.

Since graduating from Philadelphia’s Temple University in 2006, Noah Goldstein has engineered, mixed and occasionally produced for Nas, Jay-Z, 2 Chainz, Snoop Dogg, Patti Smith, The Mars Volta and Ryan Adams.

But his most interesting client might be Kanye West, who he has worked closely with since 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He was there when the tracks were laid down for Watch The Throne, Cruel Summer and most recently Yeezus. It’s his responsibility to protect material from leaking and Jay-Z even shouts him out on “Who Gon Stop Me” during his final verse.

Due to privacy obligations regarding the recording process, he was unable to answer any questions about the making of Kanye’s albums. Noah only gave this interview hesitatingly, as talking about any of the artists he works with could jeopardize his career. Luckily, we did still find plenty of stuff to discuss: his love of 2 Chainz, David Bowie quotes, recording with Nas and his thoughts on the role of the engineer.

Is it true you decided to get into this business after seeing Dr Dre on Behind The Music when you were 17?

Yeah, that and I was a DJ for a long time. Since I was 16 until about 25, I DJed. I was always into music and when you DJ it sort of becomes part of you. You start listening to the music really closely and finding the details in it and reading about your favourite records and how they were made. There’s a lot of things to learn. It was just like, I want to make records man. 

Tell us about the early days working in West Philly, I heard those were pretty rough times.

It was, it was. I mean basically when I started I was like 19. When I was engineering, I got my start in a studio in a really rough neighborhood and it was not uncommon to stop the track and hear gunshots on the mic. But it wasn’t all bad either. It was a great learning experience and made me realize how there were so many different facets of the music industry. I left there and moved to this other studio that was much more rock based and it was a really nice place, very comfortable and that was how I started to learn to make more proper records. Then I left there and moved to Iceland for a little while because I was really into Bjork.

After interning in Iceland you got a job at the famed Electric Lady studios in New York, built by Jimi Hendrix. How was that? That’s an amazing place to start out.

Exactly you just said it, amazing. I got super lucky getting in there. It’s really hard getting a pay-check in a New York studio.

How was working with Patti Smith when you started there? That’s such a big start, you must have been nervous.

Oh fuck, yes. For real. Patti Smith man, come on that shit is crazy. That was the first session I ever did at Electric Lady, I had never been in there before. So I got hired and during my interview while I was sitting in the studio he said “I’ll give you two weeks to get acclimated before I put you on a session” and “I’m like okay that sounds great.” Twenty four hours later he was like “I’m hiring you but I can’t give you that time, I need you here in the studio for the Patti Smith mix session.” So I’d never been in the rooms before ever, it was completely new for me and working with somebody like her – she’s like a punk rock goddess. For me, I love Patti Smith’s music so I was super amped. I got in and Emery Dobyns this engineer, super awesome guy, he was like a year older than me and made me feel like everything was cool. Every time I was fucking up he was like “Nah it’s cool, I got it don’t worry.” She was like the nicest person ever and she was also very tough, just how you expect even though at the time she was 60. It was nuts, but it went really well. I would work with Patti again for sure.

You went from Temple University to working with some of the world’s most famous artists in just six years. How does that feel?

Oh man, what can you say? Living the dream, you know.

Tell us about the first time you recorded with Nas.

That was cool. Nas was like one of my all time favorite artists. He was an extremely nice dude and extremely skilled on the mic as everyone knows. It was a super chilled session, I never really get nervous when I’m working because that doesn’t really help with the session to be nervous, but I was definitely like “holy shit, it’s fucking Nas.”

What was it like recording something as racially charged as the Untitled album? Was there tension in the studio, how was it being involved in making a project like that?

I didn’t work on a lot of the album. I worked more on the mixing and everything toward the end. But I’d say when you are in a situation like that, everyone understands what the message is and everyone that’s going to be in that room is open minded enough to appreciate it. There was no tension in my opinion because everyone there is about the cause.

You’ve worked with Jay-Z and Nas, two of the most respected MCs of all time. What were the differences between their sessions and how they write?

You know what, I should not answer that one because that would be disrespectful of their process for sure.

I read that to stop any album leaks, the draft versions of Watch The Throne were kept in fingerprinted copies locked in suitcases?

(Laughs) somewhat true. Not entirely true, but we kept them close for sure.

Were you the main person in charge of looking after the album? That must have been a 24 hour job. Were you nervous?

I mean, everything in the music industry is a 24 hour job. Was I nervous? Yes, but at the same time I look after files for every client that I work with. Yes, it was incredibly demanding and I really need to do a good job, and I did the best I could. It’s also like once you’ve worked in this business as an engineer, that’s part of your job – looking after people’s files and making sure nothing gets out to the best of your human abilities.

You worked on 2 Chainz’ album Based On A T.R.U Story and I heard you think he’s one of the best rappers around?

Ah he’s super fucking cool man, I love 2 Chainz. That’s all I can say about him, I love 2 Chainz. He’s the shit. I appreciate his raps. I just think he’s super clever. I like his style.

What’s your favourite 2 Chainz song that you worked on?

I gotta go with the one I worked on the most “Birthday Song.”

What do you think of the video?

Fuckin’ hilarious, it’s amazing. You can tell in his videos he’s got a sense of humor, definitely.

What’s he like as a person?

Absolutely nice guy. Hilarious. I don’t know him super well so I don’t know if I should comment on personalities because I don’t know him like that, but I do know him well enough to know that he’s very funny and very nice, at least to me. Cool guy.

How was working with Ryan Adams?

Man, Ryan Adams is the shit. I loved it, we had a really good time making Cardinology. It was really fun. I’ve talked to him since then and he is like a really really good guy. I haven’t spoken to him in about maybe a year, we kept in touch for a little while after that record was over, but you know I moved into a different genre. But yeah, one of my good friends works with him sometimes.

You’ve done a lot of pop/rock and rap music, are there certain principles you take from one and use with the other or vice versa?

You know what, there’s like one quote I know that my old boss Phil told me. If not I’m mistaken he told me a story and it was David Bowie who said it to him, and it’s seriously like the best principle. It is “Turn up the good shit, turn down the bad shit.”

How creative can you be as an audio engineer? Are you essentially just following orders or is there room for creativity?

I just think it depends on the people that you’re working with and how much they trust your instincts and what their doing, and what they’ve created. So I think it really does depend on your client, if people are more hands on or they just want you to be the technical guy that gets shit done. It really varies between client to client just how much you do.

Ali from TDE is earning a name for himself and Kendrick Lamar has shouted him out on several records. Do you think there’s room for audio engineers to get a little bit of recognition or do you think they’ll always be the silent partner?

I think more so now than before, engineers are kind of being noticed more. Maybe because there’s so many people that record in homes and what I gather is that people that record in homes have realized that it’s not easy to make records that sound the way they do on the radio or like their favorite album. So when they are sitting there trying to do it themselves they realize that it’s a difficult process. It’s something that takes practice, work and dedication just like anything else you become good at it. So I think that’s why we’re hearing how Drake shouts out 40, Kendrick and his engineer, even 2 Chainz and his engineer KY, Jay and Young Guru who is an amazing engineer. To answer your question, I think there’s more room for engineers to be in the spotlight but at the same time, most of us don’t have that kind of mentality. We’re not looking for that. Hence the reason, I don’t really care about doing interviews for the most part. I’m not really looking for it.

It’s more about doing a good job?

I don’t really care about being in the spotlight, it’s always been about the music. I just want to make the best music possible, that’s it.

Jay Z also shouts you out on “Who Gon’ Stop Me” doesn’t he? [“Extend The Beat, Noah”]

Yeah, that was cool.

Did you actually extend the beat, was it planned?

I did extend the beat earlier. It was planned.

Why is your production often uncredited?

It’s not about getting the credit as long as the song sounds good.

Obviously you’ve worked with a lot of big names is there anyone you would have loved to work with or that you see as a musical idol?

Oh man, I wish I could have worked with Otis Redding when he was alive, that would have been awesome. I’m open to a lot of different things. I love all kinds of music and I’m really happy where I’m at right now. I’m not looking for other people, I’m really happy with what I’m doing right now.

Do you have a favorite song that you’ve worked on?

Oh man, that is a hard question. I don’t know, I don’t know. That’s an incredibly difficult question to pick one song. I don’t have one particular favorite in reality. I like lots of different ones for different reasons. Any song that I’ve worked on pretty closely will remind me of a moment in time. It might just remind me of something that happened at that moment so it will be sentimentally my favorite. I don’t know.

When you did the soundtrack to The Man With The Iron Fists, did you work directly with RZA?

Briefly, yeah. He was a really nice dude to work with and it was crazy meeting him for sure. He’s one of idols. I mean Wu Tang is my favorite rap group of all time. I’ve also worked with Raekwon, who was also the shit. I mean come on Cuban Linx!

You worked with Big Sean early in his career and now recently too. How do you think he’s changed as an artist?

I think every artist, Sean included, as they keep working and especially when they start performing more live that’s when they start coming into themselves. Honestly he’s always been awesome. I think Sean’s a great rapper, he’s a great personality and super charismatic. I think he’s only getting better. With performing live, his shit is tight now, not that it wasn’t before but he just keeps improving.

Does each person you work with write completely differently?

Yeah, to each their own you know. Each person has their own process and we just try to respect that process as much as possible.