A Listener’s Guide to Masterpiece Theatre with Willie the Kid
Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)
When the topic of underrated MCs in the game comes up, it’s a must that Willie the Kid’s name is mentioned. Even with a hefty amount of solid solo material, high-profile guest appearances on Lil Wayne’s Dedication 2 and Dedication 3 mixtapes, and features on DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz albums, the Grand Rapids, Michigan spitter still hasn’t gotten his proper show of respect in the industry. Those that know about him will tell you he’s one of the illest dudes out, but the problem is, the majority of folks are still unfamiliar with the depth of his rap talents. But it looks as though that’s about to change today with the release of his collaborative EP with The Alchemist, Masterpiece Theatre.
After initially being introduced to Willie’s music a couple years back through fellow producer Lee Bannon, Alchemist received a Twitter invite to rhyme on Willie’s The Fly 2 mixtape cut “Fucking Toxic.” From there, Alchemist laced Willie with a beat for his next project, The Cure 2, and Willie hopped on a song for Alchemist’s Russian Roulette LP. Willie says, “It was good to find someone like Alchemist that was able to appreciate my sound and my direction.” It wasn’t long before Willie got the invite to fly out to Los Angeles for a stay at Alchemist’s Venice Beach crib—affectionately known as Rap Camp—to record a project together.
What came from Willie’s trip to Rap Camp—which coincided with the recording of Action Bronson’s Rare Chandeliers and Roc Marciano’s Reloaded—was Masterpiece Theatre, a seven track EP produced entirely by The Alchemist. And off the strength of the project’s lead video for “Halal Tuna,” and the posse cut “Medusa” featuring Bronson and Roc Marci, it was crystal clear that Masterpiece Theatre was going to be something special.
To help enhance today’s debut, we got on the jack last night with Willie to guide us through our first listen to his new Alchemist-produced EP. Cop the project HERE, then follow along as he takes us back to Rap Camp track-by-track, and also describes each song in vivid detail.
1. “Opening Credits”
Willie the Kid: “This isn’t really a song. It’s just Alchemist getting busy. To me, Masterpiece Theatre is like The Great Gatsby, Blake Carrington, and Willie Dynamite, all in one. I even took a couple scenes from Dynasty and put them up on Vine, because it reminds me of that. The bitches, and the pearls, and the mansions. The opulence, and elaborateness. But it’s underlined by this menacing, good guy with villain wings theme. So it’s like, I hear Truck Turner and Willie Dynamite underneath this opulent soap opera theme. The contrast is beautiful. You get these water fountains in the middle of the dining room, but you match that with a mink dragging on the floor, on some Blaxploitation shit.
“So what Al did for the intro, it kind of sounds like Shaft or Willie Dynamite, but there’s this over the top, All My Children soap opera shit that messes with it. It’s just some beats and some samples and vocals coming in and out of there, but I don’t spit on it. It’s crazy. If this project was a movie, this would be the sounds and the feel to the opening credits of it. It sets the platform for the records to come after it. It’s the theme of the whole project.”
2. “Shake Dice”
“This is the first record I did when I got [to Alchemist’s crib]. Alchemist took one of those breakbeats, and then the way he chopped the sample to weave in and out of it is just retarded. I just blacked out on it.
“That was the first beat that Al pulled up [when I got there]. Al was cooking with Bronson, some steaks or burgers or something. He went into the room, pulled that beat up, and walked out the room to go to the kitchen to finish cooking. And it was already formatted, the way you hear it now. He was supposed to be playing me a series of beats, but I was like, ‘No need to go further. This the one we’re gonna start with right here.’
“So I’m writing and writing, and you know, it doesn’t take me too long to come up with this shit. He came back in the room, and we dumped it down. I do the verse, do the hook, and I come out the joint, and Bronson and Al and everyone’s sitting in there like, ‘Yeah. Keep going.’
“This song in my opinion will be the fight scene in the movie. The first scene. This is an action packed picture. This is the scene where someone’s getting thrown through the glass. Somebody pulls out the gat, gets disarmed and broke down and thrown through the glass. That’s what this is right here. And then when they go through the glass, they fall in the lake and drown. ‘Splash.’ Kna’ mean?
“After I did it, Busta Rhymes came through [to Alchemist’s crib randomly]. I was like, ‘Yo Al, let Busta hear it.’ You know, I gotta impress Busta. And I ain’t seen Bust in some years. When I first got into the business, I used to see Bust around, but I ain’t seen him in a while. So he heard it, and he was like, ‘Lil’ homie, you ain’t lost it. Your darts are still sharp.’ So that felt good. I got Busta’s approval. That gave me the momentum.”
3. “Halal Tuna”
“Similar to Alchemist’s Russian Roulette album, there are transitional beats on here. It’s almost like the song never [goes] off. The beat just takes a turn and it segues to the next record. So after ‘Shake Dice,’ the beat transforms and opens up a platform for ‘Halal Tuna.’
“That same first night we did ‘Shake Dice,’ later in the night, a little time went by, and Al played me three or four more beats. And maybe the third or fourth beat was the ‘Halal Tuna’ beat. And Bronson walked in the room, and reached over my shoulder to grab something off the board, and was like, ‘Yo, this the one right here.’ And I’m thinking the same thing, like, ‘This beat is fucking incredible.’ But [they’re all incredible], so it’s like which one to pick, the Benz or the Beemer? [Laughs.] But when he said that, I was like, ‘Aiight, cool.’
“I had my man [from Grand Rapids] with me too, who was like, ‘Yo son, this shit right here is probably the best beat I ever heard in my life.’ So I went in the booth, and when I came out, Al gave me that same look like, ‘You did it again.’ But he was like, ‘You gotta put a second verse on this and hit ‘em again.’
“I knew I wanted to do a video for that immediately, almost like Boardwalk Empire, 1920s era, Model T cars feel. But I wanted to add this ignorant rapper aspect to it at the same time. My man John Boros had done the video for the ‘Waste Not Want Not’ video I did with Alchemist, so I hit him like, ‘I want you to do this shit, too.’ And I told him I wanted to make it like a competition between me and another tycoon. But the more we started developing it, we said, ‘Nah, let’s make it more like a crime movie.’ But [throughout the whole plot and all the action], I’m not getting a grain of dirt under my nails. I’m in the garden sipping wine at the picnic with the women. I’m in the car getting chauffeured around sippin’ Hennessey. It’s no sweat for me.
“When I sent the video back to Alchemist, he was like, ‘Yo, we gotta press the green light on the project right now.’ That really lit something in him. We were able to make that video look just like the song sounds.”
4. “Bad Mistake” ft. The Alchemist
“Again, there’s a transition where ‘Halal Tuna’ goes off, and there’s this skit from Casino. It’s the scene where the guys [get busted for cheating at the table and sending signals], and they take [the one dude] to the back and break his hands. The song opens up, and the dude comes in, and Robert De Niro’s like, ‘You can get the hammer, or you can leave the money and go home.’ And he’s like, ‘I just want to leave. I made a bad mistake.’ And they’re like, ‘You’re fuckin’ right you made a bad mistake.’ And that’s when the record comes on.
“Oh my god, this fuckin’ villianous beat comes on, like a cloud coming over the city. It’s crazy. Masterpiece Theatre is a menacing ass project. It’s really villainous. And I just set it off, opened it up, and got the track bleeding or whatever, then threw the oop, and Al comes on. And Al’s verse is crazy! He spits on this crazy.
“When I did the rhyme, my man Planet Asia was there. Mind you, this is Rap Camp, so everyone’s falling through. And he was like, ‘Yo, this shit is wild.’ And I was like, ‘Yo Al, I want you to get on this one.’ I be pushing Al to rhyme, like Biggie [did to] Diddy sometimes. [Laughs.] To me, Al is so fucking nice as a rapper. His shit is so calculated, the mechanics of it.
“And as this echoes out, in comes another one of those transition beats. And this one to me is one of the dopest beats on the whole project. This shit is fucking beautiful. It’s these keys, and they have this incline, with this heavy bass that sort of looms. Shit sounds like a velour couch. That’s what it sounds like. All I see [when I hear this beat] is a bitch butt naked on a bear skin rug with the fireplace. You can get lost in it. And that opens itself to ‘Medusa.’”
5. “Medusa” ft. Action Bronson and Roc Marciano
“Al’s the master digger. He has all kinds of shit, as far as the crates are concerned. When that shit opens up, and you hear the woman’s voice, and the percussion ascends, by the fourth bar, I’m ready to go. ‘Marvel at the marble…’
“Al already had that beat. He went through a couple hard drives [playing beats for me]. I’m a funny cat when it comes to picking them beats. I don’t give a fuck, I can sit there all day long until we get the magic moment. Before we got to ‘Medusa,’ he played quite a few beats. I picked that, and [the last song on the project] at the same time. And while he was going through them, he had another room set up in the front with samples to make some new shit.
“There’s more. Me and Bronson got about three or four more records floating out there on hard drives. We got a few bangers. We got one that I got on with him for Alchemist, that will probably go on one of Al’s next albums. They asked me to get on it, and when it was done, we played it back a hundred times with everyone in the room. Bronson’s verse on there is incredible. Y’all gonna hear those soon. And me and Roc got some shit coming up too that’s incredible. But ‘Medusa’ is like the listener’s intro to what we do when we work together.
“Rap Camp is awesome. Some beers, some smoke, some shit on the grill, and the most elite rappers in my opinion in the whole game under one roof. You gotta imagine the energy. So when I came out of the booth, Al was [feeling it] like, ‘Yo. What the fuck.’ So I was like, ‘This gotta be a crew joint. I feel selfish to hog this one.’
“Nobody was there except me and Alchemist when [I did my ‘Medusa’ verse]. But I told Al, ‘I want to get Roc and Bronsolini on here. I want to make sure they both get on it.’ And that brings up another point that Al made. He said he didn’t want a bunch of [features] on this project. Of course Bronson and Roc, ‘cause that’s fam. But he said he didn’t want a bunch of [outside] collaborations, because there’s a lot of people who need to know who I am as an artist. He said, ‘People need to get a really good dose of what the fuck [you] do.’
“Bronson was working on Rare Chandeliers at the same time. So he was in the other room working on one of those records you heard on there. But this is where the magic of the whole process comes into play. He’s in one room writing Rare Chandeliers, and I’m in the other recording Masterpiece Theatre. And he comes in, stops what he’s working on, and writes a verse for my shit. That energy is incredible. It’s wizardry.
“This shit reminds me of the Hanging Gardens. Some vegetation, and some fly ass plants, some waterfalls—almost like [what you see in] the ‘Halal Tuna’ video. If you see the picture I put up [yesterday], that’s what ‘Medusa’ reminds me of. With the chick in the pool butt naked, and the dude on the poolside.
“I like when I said, ‘Reserved parking spots in the lot behind the annex, bands for the Buffys alias upon my AmEx/She beggin’ me to trust her on the hammock poppin’ Xanax/The money was the buffer that absorbed the most damage.’ That’s one of those things that if it wasn’t me and I heard another rapper say that, I would have to say, ‘Well, God damn.’
“And I definitely love when Bronson said, ‘If I was black, the waves would spin.’ That’s hilarious. That’s Action Bronson, though. That’s him. That’s his trademark. That’s a classic Action Bronson line. And then Roc Marci, ‘Lick off a shot, call it cunnilingus/Kinda cunning, we’ve come to an agreement.’ Like, come on, son. Brothers went for theirs on that one.”
“‘Gettysburg’ is a record I didn’t record in L.A. I did the ‘Halal Tuna’ video right after I left L.A. I did the second verse [at home], then did the video, and sent it to Al. When [he heard the second verse and saw the video], he was like, ‘We really have to make sure we finish this project and put it out. People need to hear this.’ So he sent me a zip file full of beats, like, ‘Finish the project.’ And one of the best beats on there was the ‘Gettysburg’ beat.
“I wrote and produced this short film called The Fly that’s coming out with The Fly 3 this fall or winter. And there’s a scene in there where I’m writing this record called ‘Booth Shot Lincoln.’ And we were in this place in Grand Rapids called St. Cecilia, this really opulent theater hall with crazy decor and chandeliers. And we’re on location, and I’ve got this beat from Alchemist that I can’t get out of my head. And here I am in this full Civil War costume with this beat going through my head. It was pure inspiration. I just wanted to hurry up and get done shooting so I could get to the studio and write this fucking record.
“The record starts off with some chaos and some madness going on in the back, but the beat is real melodic, and it’s kind of subtle. But at the same time, there’s like this murky fanciness of it all. The contrast on Masterpiece Theatre is incredible. It’s like the most beautiful murky shit you ever heard in your life. I joke with my friends that it’s like Dracula, where he’s a killer, but his house is so fucking beautiful. [Laughs.] The attention to detail is so cultured, and classy, but he’s a fucking killer. So with ‘Gettysburg’ you have this melodic, dreamy sample, but the beat comes on and the drums are assertive over it. And I open it up, ‘Gettysburg first Civil War leather, civilian women writing letters…’ It’s crazy.”
7. “Let The Money Stay”
“When ‘Gettysburg’ goes off, this pretty ass, daffodils, ‘I pay top dollar for the landscaping in my yard’ beat comes on. That cleanses the palette of how intense ‘Gettysburg’ is. And it sort of walks you to behind the beautiful home that I designed, and when you hit the corner and come to the back of the house, there’s a swimming pool full of beautiful, butt naked women. That sort of inspired the artwork for the entire project.
“It’s kind of grey outside, and it’s raining. And this beautiful woman walks up to you and she says, ‘Everybody’s trying to get out the rain. It feels so good.’ And the beat just unravels around her talking, and it sounds fucking incredible. It reminds me almost, and I don’t want to say this ‘cause I’m a Wu-Tang baby, but it’s like a ‘Rainy Dayz,’ with the woman serenading you through the whole beat. Alchemist has this sample that’s kind of muffled, but it’s off beat, but then it’s on beat. It’s like, ‘Oh God!’ It’s just fucking beautiful.
“This beat is so unorthodox. It’s not your typical beat. Most people would skip over it and miss the pot of gold. [As far as] your cadence as a rapper, you really have to be able to fall into a certain pocket to complement this sort of beat.
“And I just come over the top of that, off beat, right with the clap, ‘His majesty, joint ventures got the whip shape shiftin’/single malt whiskey in my snifter I’m a Finster/Finishing touches contemplatin’, I’m rather blatant…’ Oh my gosh. And when I’m saying all these things, the beat is in front of me, and it moves out the way, and lays down rose petals in front of me for the next line.
“I’m talking about bitches all through the song, but then the chorus is saying, ‘All the hoes y’all can leave, let the money stay.’ And that’s how I end the project. At the end of the day, it’s all about putting in that work and being compensated, more than anything else. It’s a good way to put the cherry on top. As we celebrate bitches and the good life and being artistic and being snobs to details, it’s all about putting that work in.”