In The Lab with Meyhem Lauren and Buckwild
Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)
If you’ve been paying attention, then you already know that real New York rap music never left. It might not bubble to the top like it did in the late ‘90s, but it exists, and actually, it’s stronger than ever, thanks to dudes like Meyhem Lauren and Buckwild. Meyhem, a Queens MC and member of the Outdoorsmen crew that also includes Action Bronson and AG da Coroner, is no slouch on the mic. If you’re looking for tough, no-frills bars with subtle wit and heavy flow, he’s your guy. And Bronx producer Buckwild—whether you know it or not—is behind some of the strongest Big Apple-based rap records ever, like O.C.’s “Time’s Up,” Black Rob’s “Whoa,” Kool G Rap and Nas’ “Fast Life,” and Biggie’s “I Got a Story to Tell.” And that’s just a smidgen of his deep discography.
Well, Meyhem and Buckwild connected recently, thanks to an intro by legendary A&R Dante Ross, and this week, they released Silk Pyramids, a whip-ready collaborative album that knocks as hard as you’d expect it to (cop it on iTunes now). So to dissect their efforts, we hit them up for our latest In The Lab to discuss the making of the LP in-depth. Step inside the studio with Meyhem Lauren and Buckwild below to find out all about their studio chemistry, tireless work ethic, collaborations with in-house homies from Bam Bam to Troy Ave, and much more, including Buck’s memories of working with Biggie, Jay Z, and Nas, and Meyhem’s wild sessions recording Respect the Fly Shit in a hotel room at SXSW.
Buckwild: We practically lived in the studio for a while. When we first started, we started off slow. We were working out of Rubber Tracks, and we would get in whenever we could. We had conflicting schedules, and we went through the same bumps any two people go through [who are busy doing different things with their career]. Then, by the time we gained the momentum of two or three songs, and I got my studio in East Orange, New Jersey, we started locking in. Forty days, forty nights, camping out. Having bar mitzvahs and barbecues in the studio, just rocking out.
Meyhem Lauren: I would show up with a shopping bag, get there at seven at night, and leave at seven in the morning. We did that a couple days in a row, and just banged it out. Once Buck had his own spot, we’d go there and knock out whatever we could. We had the whole thing done in a month, really. We did two songs like a year and a half, two years ago, then did the other ninety percent of the album in a couple sessions in the lab. We got along. We really didn’t clash at all. It was a simple process.
Buckwild: I share my studio with my partner. On one side they do video, and I have a little setup for recording. It’s very sparse. It just has a glass vocal booth that you can see in, a basic Pro Tools setup with an Avalon [compressor], a Neumann microphone, my Akai MPC, a big screen, and a couch. If we’re recording or mixing a song there, Meyhem will be in the little kitchen/lounge area writing. It’s just the bare necessities. I don’t have the plethora of records and plaques all around. It’s what you need to survive.
It’s a conscious decision [to have a stripped-down setup like that], because before when I had studios, there were so many distractions. All these things around you distracting you from what you need to do. But when you come in, and all you see is the four walls, the only thing you can do is put up your MPC, put up your computer, and hook up your hard drive. It’s the bare necessities—that’s all you need.
Most of the beats [for Silk Pyramids] were made on a Native Instruments machine, or on the Akai [MPC] Renaissance, which is the computer-based MPC. It still has that feel like it was from the ‘90s. But I believe it’s all technical. When you’re a scientist of sound, you know what you can make things sound like. I’m one of those cats that’s like, “Everyone can sample, but everyone can’t flip a sample the same way.”
Buckwild: I only had one beat that was something that was stashed away, and that was “Silk Shirts & Yellow Gold.” That was a beat that I did for Beanie Sigel’s The Truth, that him and Styles P [rapped on]. Everything else is from around the time [we made the album]. There were beats that I made, I would present them to him, and he would like it, or he wouldn’t like it, like, “Nah, I’m not really feeling it.” It was typical of when you’re really locking in doing an album. It was nothing but brutal honesty and creativity going around.
I always sample off records. The only thing is now I put them on a hard drive. When you’re working with an artist, you’re trying to find a certain energy so you can have the best possible material. That’s why I said it started off slow. But once we got in and connected, the things that I was playing were more for him. The way you make records work is you have to get in the studio with artists. The industry fails from emailing beats. In a different time, you went into the studio with an artist, and if he didn’t like the first one or the second one, the more you’d be around an artist, you’d learn him and you’d feel who he is and his energy, and then it would be easier to create for him.
It’s like a car running. You hit 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, then 60, you’re on the highway, and it’s all cruise control. So once I was in Meyhem’s zone, I’d be going through loops, start to tap it together, and more than likely, he would like it. Or some joints he didn’t like, but the momentum kept me going.
Meyhem Lauren: After like one or two sessions, hour after hour in Jersey, everything he made was like, “This is it. We got it.” I don’t think there were any beats that I turned down since we were working together in the lab. All the fresh ones he made for the project [were keepers because] he understood me, and we just got it going. But even the joints I didn’t like for me, I liked. I had a vision for them, like, “This is dope. This might be good for Ghost.” Or, “I think Action would like this one.” There was nothing I didn’t like, just certain ones that didn’t fit. Everything was ill.
Buckwild: Meyhem just wanted the beats to fit him. He was like, “I like a certain style of beats that the people that like me like.” I might hear a record, and know how to dissect it and put it back together, and what type of drums to add to it and what type of feel [to give it to fit Meyhem’s style]. It’s a zone. Some things you can’t understand, but there’s a science to it. We felt that energy.
It’s not rocket science making records together, but there’s a certain energy that you two have to have. Look at Blu and Exile, when they did their albums, it was a perfect synergy. Sometimes it’s hard to explain, but with us, we were there together, and it fell together. Like Show and A.G., I was there when they did their albums. I know what it was like. It came together. Being around Biggie at first, he was like, “You got dope beats, but nothing I can rhyme to.” I started going to his house like every day, and after a while, I was giving him beats, and almost everything I was giving him he was feeling. As a producer, you find that energy. That’s why it’s important to be in the studio with the person you’re working with. I can’t emphasize that enough.
Meyhem Lauren: My brother Hologram, who’s my actual blood brother that’s on the album, he would take the troop out to Jersey and chill with me a lot. It was mainly just us, though. I brought Coroner to do a record, he actually came twice. And my man POST AOW, that’s my man, he’d just be in there doing outlines on paper, doing his graf thing. Him and Buck would be in the next room talking about kicks while I’d be working. But I don’t really like to overdo it with sessions. A lot of times, I go to people’s sessions, and it looks like they’re in the club. Bottles flowing around, random females walking around. I’m not like that. I like to go to work.
Meyhem Lauren: I like the basics. I got some trail mix, a couple bottles of water, a pen, a paper, some beats, and that’s really all I need to get focused. Me and Buck click well because I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and he don’t drink, he don’t smoke. I had a drink last night, that was the first time I had a drink in like three years. Not for any particular reason, I just don’t drink like that. We just got really focused, and I feel like that’s how we got it done so well. I seen dudes waste ten hours in the studio and get one verse done because they drank two bottles of Henny. I’m just there to get focused, put this work in, and hopefully put out something that will be looked at as classic in the future.
Buckwild: Only thing I need is music and peace. I don’t like a bunch of people around. I just need me and an engineer. Then I can create. Or when Meyhem was there, he’ll bring one or two dudes. I don’t like a million people in there. It becomes a distraction. You only need the bare minimum. As few people as possible.
Buckwild: If it was a day, it was a whole day straight. If it was two days, it was two days straight. However it was, it was constant recording, with little naps here and there. Of course you need cat naps to re-energize. I guess that’s what they call grinding, but you can’t grind without a purpose. And our purpose was to put the best records together as possible.
Meyhem Lauren: I’m one-hundred percent a paper dude. I feel the connection between the pen and the paper. If I’m out in the street, and I think of a line really quick or a thought for a song, I might write that in my phone, but other than that, I don’t like to write rhymes in my phone. I like pen and paper. I’m real authentic and organic with it.
In terms of the writing process, I feel I reached new levels on this project. One, I was working with Buck, and that meant something to me. I grew up listening to Buck, so it was like, “This is some real legendary shit. I gotta step my game up.” I really felt that in the back of my head. Also, I’ve been doing a lot of shows lately, solo and with Action. Being that I’ve done more shows recently than previously in my career, this is the first project where I wrote and consciously thought about performing these records also. I used to just write whatever was on my mind, and that was that. But now, I was thinking about the hooks. Like when I did the record with Heems, “Narcotics Anonymous,” when I wrote that hook I was like, “I can see whole crowds of people singing this while I’m rocking this.” Or the Thirstin Howl record, I could see us doing that live. This was the first time I ever considered that when I was writing songs.
Also, I was more conceptual. The two projects that I put out prior—Mandatory Brunch Meetings and Respect the Fly Shit—those were both mixtapes. A lot of people say, “All of those were original beats, why did you call it a mixtape?” Because it was mainly just beats and rhymes. They were dope, and I love those projects, but this was more conceptual.
I might have an idea for a song, or a few lines, or a topic, but I can’t write a full rhyme unless I write it to a beat. It’s impossible to me. To me, it’s about beats and rhymes, and the mesh between the vocals and the beats. It’s all about flow. You need the beat to make a rhyme. Anyone can think of ill shit to say, but it’s about fitting those thoughts into a flow, and finessing it. That’s how you become an MC.
Buckwild: I’ve had sessions with rappers where [recording vocals] was kind of crazy. But with Meyhem, it flowed well. He’s very particular with the way he likes his vocals. Sometimes you have to teach dudes how to say [their rhymes] and blueprint it for them, but these things that you have to do with other artists, I didn’t have to do with Meyhem. Maybe once or twice, we broke his vocals up on to two different tracks to give it a different effect, but I think that may be it. Everything else was pretty smooth, and run-and-gun once we really got it going.
There were a few days when we [recorded multiple songs in a row]. You can’t lock in for twenty-four hours and come out with [only] one song. We’re not doing a hundred piece orchestra or some shit like that. It’s stripped down. It’s what it used to be. We’re trying to restore the feeling. Back in the days, if you talk to dudes like KRS-One and Chuck D and them, these dudes were doing albums in a week. It takes these other dudes like two years to do an album, but in reality, it doesn’t [need to take that long]. They overthink it, and overdo it, but hip-hop is supposed to be organic.
It’s beats and rhymes. If you’re a dope rapper, you have dope concepts, you make the record, and you put up the next joint and keep going. Back in the days of two-inches, which is a lot harder to do than Pro Tools, people like 2Pac were doing three records a session. You had to track the beat, strike the reel—these things [took a lot more time] than putting it in Pro Tools. It was more back to basics working with [Meyhem], and that’s what made the sessions feel good.
Meyhem Lauren: The Bronson record, he was in the studio with me. He didn’t lay it in the lab with Buck. Originally, I wanted the record that Bronson’s on to be the intro to the album, which it was. But it was a solo record. I played Bronson like three or four records I wanted him on, and he was like, “These are cool, whatever you want.” Then I started playing him other joints, which is where I fucked up, and he was like, “Forget those. I need to be on this one!” I was like, “Yo dogs, that’s the intro.” He was like, “It doesn’t matter. I need this. I’m in love with this.” So I was just laughing like, “Aiight, cool.” And we knocked that out at a studio in Queens.
Troy sent us back the vocals. He set the tone for that track. That was the only record where someone did the feature before my verse. I heard the beat, and it sounded like Troy to me, so I was like, “I’ma shoot this to him and let him set it off, and then follow his lead.” I had started off so many songs on the album, sometimes when I get a feature, I like them to set it off. It gives you a different feel, and breaks up the monotony on the album. And Retch did his thing too on that, shout out to Retch.
I was with Heems when he recorded his verse [and his skit at the end when he was talking about exchanging his bars for drugs]. You gotta have fun with it, you gotta be creative. I take myself seriously. I’m a serious artist, and a serious individual. But you gotta have fun, too. A lot of people get too caught up in their persona and they don’t joke around. It doesn’t matter if you’re a killer in real life. Killers laugh. They have jokes, too. I like to have fun on records. I’m not gonna make a whole clown album, but I like to have fun.
Feature-wise, I really kept it in-house. Obviously, Action and Coroner, those are day one dudes that I work with. Hologram is my actual blood brother, that’s family. Heems is a friend of mine. Even Troy Ave, he’s one of the few artists I’ve met in the past few years that I consider my man, not just some dude I rap with. We don’t hang out all the time or talk every day, but our mutual respect is from more than just music. And Thirstin Howl, that’s like a big brother to me. When I first met him, I was fifteen, sixteen years old, and I wasn’t even thinking about rap at all. It’s funny how times change. I was talking to him, and he was like, “I remember how I used to call you ‘Knockout Man.’ You was the little stocky dude that looked like you would just lay somebody out. And now, you’re Meyhem Lauren.”
Buckwild: That to me is like a batting lineup. We know what felt like a first record, a second record. We’d take one record and put it somewhere else. We tried a few lineups until we felt that we had it right. Even with some of the names, the records were named differently, too. People are traditional where they want the name of the record to be something in the hook. But with music, it’s all a feeling. When you did jazz, they didn’t have names for the records. They just named it the name of the energy it felt like. So when Meyhem’s naming it “Salmon Croquettes,” it’s just something that he feels.
Meyhem Lauren: Especially with the “Aztec Blue” joint. Aztec Blue is a North Face color. It’s like a purple-ish blue. And I used to have a Gore-Tex mountain light jacket in Aztec Blue. I still got it. And I always loved that color. So when I did the record with Hologram reminiscing about when we were younger and running around in New York and all that, it reminded me of that jacket, because I had that jacket in high school.
I was on the radio the other day, and Statik [Selektah] was asking what a Silk Pyramid is. And I’m like, “Really, a Silk Pyramid is anything you want it to be.” Obviously, a Silk Pyramid doesn’t exist. But it’s like, whatever you want, you can have. A pyramid is a phenomenal structure, especially from the time period that they were created. And silk is a fabric, and it symbolizes some fly shit. So it’s like, we’re building pyramids with each song. We’re constructing something extravagant, and then covering it in something smooth.
I’ma keep it a hundred, me and Buck went back and forth on titles for so long that the project was untitled after we handed it in. Then one day, the label called like, “Yo, we gotta give this thing a title. We’re handing this in right now. We gotta press this.” And I was kinda like, “Yo, Silk Pyramids.” [Laughs.] I don’t even know why I said it or where exactly it came from, I just said it.
Meyhem Lauren: We did like seventeen, eighteen records, and some didn’t make the cut. So honestly, whatever thirteen are on the CD, those are my favorite joints. That’s why they made the album. Not that the other records weren’t dope, but they may not have flowed as well as these. Doing an album is about being cohesive. Not to sound like I’m feeling myself, but everything on the album is a personal favorite of mine. I really like every song, and I can listen to it straight through, and I hope other people can too.
Buckwild: I feel the same way. Instead of having one song [as a favorite], there’s nothing that you like less than the others. You can listen straight through. Other people might have their favorites, but I like it as a whole.
Meyhem Lauren: You know when I’ma get a favorite? When we start doing these shows. Based on the crowd reaction. That’s when songs start to become my favorite, when you get that love and that energy [from the fans].
Buckwild on Working with Biggie, Jay Z, Nas
Buckwild: Working with Jay Z and Biggie I’d say is the most parallel. It’s like almost working with the same person, because they’re two dudes who are producers in their own right. They produce vocals. But, they allow room for the producer to produce them.
They both used to do the same thing, back when there were two-inches. They’d spit a few bars, come back out, and let the four or six bars cycle with the rest of the instrumental to keep filling in the beat until they’d get to the end of the sixteen, or whatever. They weren’t writing. They wrote [in their head] to a flow. And they’d come out, and be like, “What you think?” And you’d tell them what you think they can change, and they’d go back in without a problem. [They were open to feedback], and that’s what makes them great. They’re looking for room to be better.
We can fast-forward to the lyrical dude, Nas. I can take you to the “Fast Life” sessions with him and [Kool] G Rap. He was very, very critical about his raps. And he’s another dude who wants to know. Like, “Is my shit really tight? Do you think this is the best that I can do? Am I doing something wrong?” When you hear his verse on “Fast Life,” it’s really dope. But it was like, “Yo, let’s try what we do with A.G., where you put one thing on one track, and one on another.” And he was like, “Aiight, cool. Let’s do that.”
They’re not like a lot of new artists that you can’t coach, or that don’t have producers in the studio. For me, working with these guys was like a blessing. To be elite, the best MCs—Biggie, Jay Z, and Nas—they were always open to criticism, and what they could do to be better.
The End of “I Got a Story to Tell”
Buckwild: He just looked for what to put at the end. Everybody there knew the song was dope, so it was like, “What can I put as a cherry on the top, as an exclamation point at the end?” When he came up with that, it was like, “Boom.” Now you’re talking to your dudes, telling them what happened, just kicking it like we’re kicking it in a room. And that’s what it was. He went in the booth and just kicked it. I was like, “Wow, that’s really crazy.” Most people would’ve been like, “I gotta think of some slick shit to say.” But he was like, “Nah, I’ma just summarize this shit.” And he would say things in the song [that would make you think], “Who’s he talking about? Is he talking about John Starks?” That’s another part of the greatness. B.I.G. to me was a like a genius. I called him simple but complex.
Recording Respect the Fly Shit in a Hotel Room at SXSW
Meyhem Lauren: That was madness. That was an environment that I don’t think we could duplicate. First of all, the adrenaline was high because there were so many shows going on, and every time you perform it’s an adrenaline rush. We made that album between shows, and sometimes there were two or three shows a day. So we were already completely excited and amped from that.
Bronson was smoking so much at the time that the hotel put a vaporizer outside our door. It almost looked like a proton pack from Ghostbusters. He had the whole hotel stinking ridiculous. It was non-stop smoke. I think they would’ve kicked Bronson out, but he was wilding so much with the room service that they probably were like, “Let this dude rock.” I remember one time he ordered like thirty ice cream sundaes up to the room. I’m like, “Why?!” He just started laughing, like, “Yo, fuck it.” We had boxes of barbecue around. It was actually the complete opposite of all my other studio sessions. There was no water and trail mix present here. There was a whole lot of drinking and smoking. I definitely had a contact high, because the way they were going in was insanity.
And, there were random dudes coming through. Smoke DZA came through, that’s how he got on the project. I met Boldy James that day, Dante [Ross] brought him through. Riff Raff. There were so many random people because we were all out there for a music festival. It was a dope environment.
There weren’t many concepts on that project. It was just a straight marathon rap. Three, four dudes in a room, beats are on, we’re all eating and wilding out, and just rhyming. Heems was in there. I wish I had some footage of it, to be honest. It was madness. It was almost like we were trying to finish the shows to run back and record.
Meyhem Lauren: The Muggs project is done basically. I’m waiting on him to mix it. We recorded probably like twenty records, and we’ll probably pick the best twelve and make that the album. I got a full project with [Harry] Fraud that’s also done. I don’t know the order of when they’re gonna come out. And in terms of Buck, it was an honor working with him, and we’re talking about doing a part two. So whenever he’s ready, I’m ready.
Buckwild: I’m putting together a project too called Urban Legend. I got the title because when I met Sway, he was like, “I never met you. You’re like an urban legend. Everybody knows your work, but they’ve never seen you.” I got one song with Fat Joe and Jadakiss, and I’m trying to get Pusha on it. I got a song with A.G. I got a song with a group, not [A] Tribe [Called Quest], but people have been asking for an album from them for years. Roc Marci already committed. I ain’t done yet, I’m at the halfway mark. It’s coming together nice.
Previously: In The Lab with Vince Staples | In The Lab: Blu on the Making of Good To Be Home | In The Lab with Sean C & LV | In The Lab with Harry Fraud | In The Lab with RATKING | In The Lab with The Alchemist and Evidence (Step Brothers) | In The Lab with Thelonious Martin | In The Lab with Troy Ave | In The Lab with Marco Polo | In The Lab with Black Milk | In The Lab with Oddisee | In The Lab with Pete Rock | In The Lab with Party Supplies | In The Lab with Mac Miller | In The Lab with Roc Marciano