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In The Lab with Jahlil Beats

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Words by Eric Diep
Photos by Lauren Gesswein

Jahlil Beats stops our interview midway to take a phone call from Busta Rhymes, who is supposed to come through to his studio session at Stadiumred in Harlem. Although he’s in Atlanta for the weekend and cannot make it tonight, Busta is already plotting a full week with Jahlil when he returns to NYC. His “1001 hard drives” are in the city, and he has offered to buy hotel rooms for their entourages. For Jahlil, it’s nothing but a two-hour drive from Pennsylvania to New York, so he’s more than accommodating to book time with the seasoned veteran. “Busta’s crazy, man,” he says after hanging up the phone. “But that’s my dude though.”

Jahlil Beats prefers going to Stadiumred over other NYC studios because of the all-encompassing environment of Harlem. Once the home of jazz legend Ornette Coleman, the 125th and Park location has grown into a premier destination for hip-hop artists to venture uptown. On the walls are dozens of album plaques from the likes of Jay Z and Fabolous—a sign that timeless records have been created here. In 2010, the harmonic space expanded to include a “B” room specially made for superproducer Just Blaze, which he uses often.

In the large “A” room, the 26-year-old producer and his team are getting ready to shoot scenes for a documentary he’s putting together. In this particular shot, Jahlil will preview new tracks he has made with Meek Mill, before getting into an unfinished beat that he has been tinkering with. Dressed in an all-black everything look (with a hat similar to the late Jam Master Jay’s), and red adidas Superstars, his work uniform seems more in-tune with Harlem’s fashion-forward MC A$AP Rocky. But right now, he’s just zoned in on adding big layers to this track before heading out for the night.

Back in the studio’s lounge area, we sat and spoke about his process in the studio, why Swizz Beatz is his favorite producer, his relationship with Meek Mill, Bobby Shmurda’s incarceration, his upcoming projects, and more. This is how Jahlil Beats does his thing in the lab.

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On starting out as a sample-based producer

At the time, it was The Black Album that had everybody doing soul samples and stuff like that. Everybody was copying Kanye and Just [Blaze]. I started out sampling, so it kind of helped me learn how to structure my melodies and make my melodies. Just figure out what drums go to what. It helped me out a lot, but once I started to understand the game and how the business worked behind it, I’m like, “I don’t wanna pay nobody.” [Laughs] I don’t want to pay nobody more percentage than what I put in. You know what I mean? You might sample somebody and they want 80 percent of the record. And then I’m like, “Damn, I gotta eat.” I kinda shied away from it. I’m like, “Nah, I’m not sampling no more.” That was that.

It’s more creative for me [to build beats from scratch]. It’s cool to sample, but I don’t want to take nobody’s shit and put some drums over it and call it that. I love to create and I love to make my own shit. I love to innovate. I want people to see how I’m creating; you know what I’m saying? I use arpeggiators heavy. How my strings are moving. You know what I mean? I want to trademark. You can’t really make a trademark with samples.

On his dad encouraging him to do music

I would say my pop was the biggest supporter. He was the one that used to always tell me: “Yo, you really gonna do it. You keep at it, you can really do it.” I think he seen it when I really started picking up stream. I’m from Chester, Pennsylvania. I used to get the hottest rappers from Chester to rap on my beats and shit like that. He would see that I have songs and shit. “Yo, you need to start recording.” He gave me this old ass mixer board from the ‘80s and old ass mic. I used to have all the poppin’ dudes come to my room. I used to have a little studio in my room and I used to record all of them. That’s kind of how I got my name out there—you know what I’m saying? He set me up with everything. He changed my life.

My little brother is The Beat Bully. He did the intro for Meek and all that. He did “Stay Schemin’” and all that shit. This is my blood brother—same mom, same dad. I just taught him everything I knew. My cousin, he did “Donald Trump” with Mac Miller. He did “Make It Work” for Tyga. Sap was a big influence on me too. Both of them dudes are big influences on me.

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Growing up listening to Ruff Ryders, Cash Money and Roc-A-Fella

It was because I got three older brothers. That was really the only dudes that they were listening to at the time. They was hardcore Hov fans, hardcore X fans, you know what I mean? Listening to Shyne and shit like that. That was pretty much what I was listening to at the time. I think Hard Knock Life was the first time I really started listening to [hip-hop] music.

I remember my brothers were in high school when it came out. And they cut school. I was sick one day and I’m home. I run to my room, I had a little boombox in my room. So they went and cut school and bought Hard Knock Life. I came home and was blasting it. Left the CD in the boombox, you know what I’m saying? I started playing it and playing it again. I’m playing Playstation and banging Hard Knock Life. My older brothers were really into the Ruff Ryders and the Roc-A-Fella era.

I would say when I was a kid I used to listen to Puff and Ma$e and Biggie when they had it on lock in the mid ‘90s. I started to get a little older, so I started to understand the lyrics a little bit. They were just the dudes that I came up on. It just stuck with me. Now, that’s the era I am really trying to create for the East. That feeling again. Not doing the same thing, but that feeling of the streets and just coming raw with the street sound. We’re not doing lollipop stuff.

On his influences, Swizz Beatz and Manny Fresh

My favorite producers were Manny Fresh and Swizz Beatz. Swizz Beatz was my favorite producer because that was my brother’s favorite producer. Like I said, my older brothers, I was influenced heavy by my brothers. So whatever they listening to, I was just around. He used to kick me out the room and stuff like that. I used to always want to be around my older brothers. He used to always talk about Swizz. And this is before when people really cared about the producers. They would read the booklets and they see Swizz Beatz. They be like, “Yo, Swizz Beatz is hot!” Other dudes like Timbaland and Mannie Fresh, they were the dudes that they always talked about so that’s who I grew up listening to. I followed Swizz throughout his career. It was something about his sound that was just unorthodox. When they were taking everybody else’s hits and making them into hits, Swizz just change the game, just changed the sound. He brought it back to the original shit.

I feel like I came in at time where Scott Storch and all those dudes, they had that different sound. I came in and I feel like with “Ima Boss,” it was a start of [something new]. It was an East Coast sound. It was bringing the streets back. I look at Meek. I look at Bobby. I look at those dudes as some of the leading dudes in the streets right now, making streets music. I felt like when Lex Luger was running the game, it was just a breath of fresh air. It was something different at that time, especially for the East, we kind of like in a hard spot of trying to find our identity right now. I feel like I am the only one really trying to shape a new sound. You got some dudes out here in the East that’s really doing their thing. I feel like that shit is really traditional. Hip-hop is not about traditional shit. We don’t want to hear shit that sound like shit in the ‘80s. It’s all about elevating, but making hot shit at the same time.

I wanted to intertwine both of them dudes [into my style]. I love Manny Fresh’s snare patterns. I feel like he was the first dude I heard with the drum roll, like the real fast drums. Even his bounce [on beats]. When I first started really getting a buzz in Philly, doing records with Meek, a lot of my shit was party music. I just listened to his bounce and tried to take from his bounce. Both of those dudes just stayed with me.

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On other inspirations outside of rap

I like to listen to a lot of people’s stuff. I like to listen to oldies. I like to listen to George Duke. I listen to Blue Magic—just different shit to hear how they were composing their music. I might get a little idea from it and I try to build around it.

I’m a video game nerd, so I like to play video games. I play a lot of retro games and build inspiration and shit from there. I play Super Nintendo, Sega, shit like that. I got Dreamcast. I got all types of shit. I play PS1. TurboGrafx and shit like that. If you have been following me and you’ve been listening to a lot of my melodies, a lot of that shit is video game [influenced]. I like to watch old movies from the ‘80s. If you listen to “Ima Boss,” a lot of the synths are Rocky-inspired. Some triumph shit. I base a lot of my shit from games, old music, and movies. I’m like a nerd.

Studio equipment

I got an AKAI-MPK Mini and FL Studio. That’s all I use. And I got a MPD-28. I used to mess with Reason a lot. But I don’t really use it no more because FL Studio is so easy. I make a beat in fucking 15-20 minutes. It’s just so easy, I’m used to it. I’m not the type [who says], “Aw, I use Phantom or Motif.” Nah. I don’t use a MPC—none of that shit. I use everything Midi in FL.

My pop had got [FL Studio] from a friend of his. My pop is a producer too. He just had it lying around. He used Cubase. He was like, “Yo, I got this program called FL Studio. And you don’t need a keyboard or nothing. You can just use it from your laptop or your computer. All you gotta do is click the mouse.” I was like, “Yo, let me have that.” Nah mean? I was just messing around. I’m like 11, 12, just messing around with it. My cousin produced and he used to always make beats and stuff on there.

We really started on the MTV Music Generator on Playstation. It was a program to make beats on there. We started like that and we used to rap off them. Me and my cousin and his friend. And then, we went over to FL Studio and he showed me how to sample on there. Like I said, I started off sampling. He showed me how to do it. And the rest is history.

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Studio essentials

I need candy. And it’s crazy that I eat so much candy. I just left the dentist yesterday and I got a root canal and some fucking fillings and shit. I gotta have candy and I gotta have water. I gotta have 2K there. I play NBA 2K heavy. I’m addicted to Laffy Taffy.

On first meeting Meek Mill

I met Meek off of Myspace and this was late 2007 going into early 2008. He had dropped a mixtape called Flamers. Super big in Philly like everybody was listening to this. You not coming outside and hear somebody drive pass you banging Flamers. Meek was on the come up, but he was the biggest artist out there out of Philly. State Property already had their run. Everybody had their run. Cass had his run. They was just looking for that next dude. Meek was the one.

I just hit him up on Myspace like, “Yo, the mixtape crazy. Crazy.” And he heard some beats on my page. I had three beats on my page. He hit me right back like, “Yo, send me some beats.” I sent him three beats and he did all of them. One song was called “So Fly,” it was playing on the radio heavy. Cosmic Kev was playing at Power 99 like crazy. Then there was a joint called “Way Back” that made Flamers 2. All of them made Flamers 2. And then there was another joint that we did a video for called “Hottest In Tha City.” That’s how it really started. His peoples had reached out to me and was like, “Yo man, we fuck with you heavy.” His boy Coon.

Meek, he got my number, and he would just call me all the time from jail and shit. Meek had gone to jail right after that. He had a case that he was fighting. And he had gone to jail. I was like, “Damn, Meek locked up.” He was like locked up for a year. We would just keep in touch. He was like, “Yo, when I get out. We are gonna work. We are gonna go in.” As soon as he got out, he kept his word. I was going to his aunt’s crib. He was on house arrest and I just played him beats and shit like that. And Charlie Mack, our old manager, he used to book the studio out for us from 12 to 12 and shit. That’s how our relationship started. I was with him every day, just making music.

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On working with Meek Mill in the studio

What me and Meek got, it’s not a forced chemistry. It just comes together. My shit complement him the best. His raps complement my shit the best. I come in, I do me. I make my shit. I know he gonna fuck with it. He hears it. He goes in on it and that’s that. That’s pretty much what it is. He asks me: “Yo, send me some uptempo shit.” Alright, I got it. I send him some shit and then I make some other shit for the side. I know Ima see him in the studio, so when I come in the studio, I come to his crib or whatever. I play it for him. I look at me and Meek like destiny. That shit was supposed to happen.

The second day he got out [from prison in December], I went to him. He was at the hotel. We recorded some shit the second day. It got that bounce like “Ima Boss,” but it is more uptempo. The flow is kind of like his early Flamers stages. I know it is going to click in the clubs. I know it’s gonna murder the clubs. I know it’s gonna murder the streets. It hit hard. It’s an anthem. Soon as it comes on, the sirens come on. The low brass comes and then it got the bells. The shit is crazy.

On watching Meek Mill grow as an MC

I look at Meek right now and I think that with this album it’s gonna separate him. Or, it’s gonna be a hitter. But he’s in a position where he can separate himself from everybody else cause the street rap lane is wide open. There ain’t nobody rapping like Meek doing right now. I look at this year as takeover time if he wants it. We can really take this shit over. Most of the shit on the radio right now is really like a cross between real poppy shit. No disrespect to nobody, but that’s what it is right now. It’s really like poppish. And then there’s a lot of parody-esque music right now. So our lane is wide open. We just gotta take this shit over. I think this is really gonna be his year. Honestly, if he do it right, he’s outta here.

I don’t think people expect what’s about to come from him. I think his last album; he was giving people what he thought they want. Now, he’s like, “Fuck it. I’m gonna give ‘em what I want. What I’ve been doing.” This shit is gonna be crazy. I look at it as it is gonna be a banger and it’ll surprise a lot of people.

On working with Bobby Shmurda and GS9

Bobby, I kinda got that DMX energy, that’s what I got from him. He just don’t give a fuck. He’s such a cool, young dude. He’s just so passionate. For somebody from the streets, he is just so passionate and so into his music. I love that about Bobby. And he listens to [my music]. I know they got the Shmigo Gang mixtape coming with RichThe Kid, Migos. I bang with all them dudes. That shit is gonna be super crazy. And Rowdy, he’s crazy too. They crazy, but they dope. They stars. Them dudes is cool dudes and it is unfortunate that this is where we come from. It’s crazy that they wait until you become a star and try to pin you some bullshit on you. They did it to Meek.

As far as the case goes, I have no idea what the fuck is going on. I don’t even follow none of that type of shit ‘cause I am so into the music. Those dudes, I think they were like the answer to the drill music shit. I feel like they was bringing some shit with like some East Coast music but that type of twist to it so the young dudes can understand from around here.
Even with Bobby, we got some shit coming. Hopefully, everything work out with them so they can get out and release that shit to the fans or whatever. Hopefully, everything works out for them. Dudes got a bright future and I hate to see some dumb shit [happen to them].

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What’s next

I just signed with a company called AM Only. It’s like a booking agency. I’ve been DJing for like a year heavy. I love the culture, so I just started messing with the turntables and just DJing. I reached out to my guy Callender over at AM Only. “Yo, I’m trying to work.” I reached out to the owner Lee Anderson and he was like, “Yo, let’s get it.” I wanted to broaden my brand. I wanted to take my brand to the next level. They got Skrillex, they got AraabMuzik. They got Just Blaze. They got Baauer. RL Grime. I also love the EDM-trap shit. I think its dope. I just wanted to get into something different and make my brand bigger and come out there as an artist that way. I didn’t want to be a rapper so I wanted to make my music. I wanted to do festivals and shit like that. I played my shit in front of thousands of muthafuckas. And now it is like I’m an artist.

Planet 7 is the first step, the introduction [to me as an artist]. I did a couple joints with AraabMuzik on there. Hopefully, we can set up the tour with me and Araab. That’s what I think they doing now. Me and Araab got an EP coming too right after Planet 7. We are dropping a deluxe version [of the project]. We gonna have Boosie on there, Meek Mill. Hopefully, a couple other dudes. Kid Ink. And then I got a movie coming after that—like a documentary. We actually working on that shit right now. Just working like crazy.

I’m gonna shoot for the summertime for the Legend Era album. We gonna drop Planet 7 in March. And then we gonna drop the AraabMuzik joint probably around May and then we gonna give ‘em Legend Era album through Empire probably around like August. I’m working too, and this shit is really coming out. Everybody knows my mixtapes and all that shit comes out on time.

 

Prior to the shooting incident that left Beanie Sigel hospitalized in December, he and Jahlil had been working on a new mixtape/album called Still Public Enemy. Read what Jahlil had to say about that project here.

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