Interview: Beatnick Dee [Producer]

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In the world of beats and crate-digging, the LA-based Beatnick Dee is a well-established figure who's output ranges from sample packs to studio albums. As both the acclaimed crate-digger behind the "International One Shots" series of sample packs, and the producer behind music by both mainstream and underground rappers, from The Game and Biggie to October London. I hit him up for a chat about his output, both as a crate digger and producer. Enjoy.

Let's start by talking about your music making. Current-day beat making conventions have largely migrated away from the analog domain of samplers and turntables to the exclusive use of software workstations like Ableton Live, FL Studio and Logic. In what ways have you been able to maintain a foothold in the world of vinyl-based beat making, whilst still using digital tools? What parts of your music-making remains in the analog realm, apart from the use of vinyl samples?

I’ve always loved both worlds for the most part. Being able to utilize the two is definitely an advantage, having sampled and non-sampled beats. I probably have the most fun combining the two. I try to keep a catalogue of sample free beats, but most stuff is samples mixed with synth sounds, Kontakt instruments etc. I also use a microKorg analogue modeling synth. There’s a satisfaction in finding an obscure record with a crazy loop, and adding on top of that, in a similar way that it feels great making a good quality beat with no samples.

I've heard that you make use of Maschine. Though I'm a fan of Maschine sounds, I've never lost sight of the fact that it's ultimately a MIDI controller that offers up unique workflow with on-board digital samples. As someone who previously used to use MPCs, what made you switch from an analog sampler to a Maschine? Did you miss anything when the sound of a specific AD converter and circuitry is no longer present in a sample?

MPC’s are a great tool, and they make the producer get into a certain creative mind set. For me though, it can just be long winded on the MPC. I use Maschine sometimes, but honestly it’s mostly Logic X with my midi keyboard/microKORG. I also record vocals/instruments on a Neumann U87 AI replica mic. I love vintage synths and gear, the sounds they make, the way you can tweak them, but I’m not a huge gear head. You don’t need a big studio with tons of equipment to be able to make great music.

What equipment did you use for your debut album, "Creative Medicine", across the span of time you worked on it? Was it all a home-studio setup, or did you turn to recording studios, friends studios, etc?

The recording for a few of the songs was done at a friends home studio. Other songs such as "Thicker Than Blood" we recorded at Thes One's studio. The beats were made between England, when I lived back in Somerset, and LA, where I moved about 5 years ago now. Quite a few beats came off the MPC 1000, others made solely in Logic.

As a crate-digger, sample aficionado and vinyl enthusiast, is there a reason you chose to create a rap album rather than a beat-tape? Showcasing your sample sensibilities seemed to be secondary on the album, as opposed to releasing a comprehensive rap effort.

It’s harder to get noticed coming out the gate with just a ‘beat-tape’, I feel. That’s absolutely on my list of releases I want to do though, when the time is right. I’ve always wanted to do a proper instrumental album as well. There’s a big difference between the two, though.

Who mixed and mastered the album?

Twiz The Beat Pro did all the vocal mixing, and Thes One of People Under The Stairs mastered the project.

Parallel to you your artist career, you're perhaps more famously known as the person behind the Drum Broker's International Breaks series. How did you get involved with the Drum Brokers and International Breaks? What were the initial expectations and what was asked of you?

More famously?! Haha, I don’t know about that, but it’s interesting to see who knows me for the music, and whom for drum/sample stuff. To me, they’re both as visible as the other. I linked with Drum Broker aka Alkota back in 2012. I’d just moved to LA and was looking into side hustle’s on top of selling beats/records. I think we just connected on Twitter. I had been toying with the idea for awhile and came up with the concept. Originally though, I didn’t want to give up my drums. I think Alkota convinced me, as it’s something I’d be doing anyway, so I might as well get paid for it. I can’t believe we’re up to 11 volumes now. No expectations, just if and when I wanted to do a new kit, or had a new idea, we’d figure out a plan.

What's been the most successful International Breaks thus far? Any idea why that one sold so well?

International Loops! That one is free though, haha.. People love free stuff of course. As for the drums, I think Volume 707 actually. No idea why though! Pretty hard to tell. They’re all dope in their own way and the possibilities for flipping and chopping them in various ways is kind of endless.

Despite your massive vinyl collection, you seem to have until recently solely released drum breaks and one shots through Drum Broker. Why did you choose to wait so long to put out an International Loops pack, particularly when the drums seems to have become so popular? Any plans for more of those?

The drum packs take a long time to curate and just find. It’s hard, constantly uncovering basically unknown drum breaks, and the time and money it takes to hunt them down. They’re all recorded from the original vinyl, so whenever I happen find a new break, it gets recorded and edited into the next pack.

The international loops was again, an idea I’d been toying with for awhile, but there’s a grey area in it. It’s partly obscure sampled records, loops/chops put together in composition form, so we decided to do the first for free. I’ll probably do another one soon and we’ll sell it but again, that just takes a long time to curate something really dope. I don’t want any of the kits to sound like they’ve just been quickly thrown together for a money grab. I take time to curate everything, and try to keep a high level of quality control.

Let's talk about your crate-digging. Say you just walked into a record store in China. Take me through your digging process. What happens first and how do you order your process?

I’d try finding some psychedelic looking covers, look for 70’s 80’s stuff and hopefully a few familiar Chinese labels I know of. If there’s nothing in English and I’m never gonna be in that store again. I’d probably take some gambles. Hopefully there’s a listening station, or I’d try and be cool with the owner and maybe ask to listen to some stuff, or get some recommendations from them.

You've mentioned that Japan is a must-go place for digging. Why is this? We know that physical sales and record culture has always been strong there, but how does this translate into lucrative crate-digging experiences?

I’ve actually never been, but it’s at the top of my list. I just need to go with about 10 grand, lol. I’ve been fortunate enough to have done a lot of traveling in the past, but now I’m just focusing on other things. To make the Japan trip worth it, I’d want to save up as much cash as possible. They just have everything over there. Totally meticulous with the way record stores are curated, and how they collect records. It’s amazing from what I’ve seen and heard. They even manage to have super obscure privately pressed records from all over the US. I think it’d be better for adding to your collection rather than buying to sell. You could take your want-list and come out with everything checked off, but your pockets empty!

As someone well-traveled in his work, run me through 3 of the most productive countries/cities to go digging in and why they've yielded good results.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Bangkok, Thailand. They’re very protective of their music when it comes to westerners coming to their stores, which I can absolutely respect. I had to get friendly with an owner before being shown some amazing music, and made multiple trips to the same store to show I was really into discovering some interesting Thai music. I definitely have found some beautiful psychedelic soul records there that I’ll probably never find again.

Prague in the Czech Republic is another great city to dig. European Prog records over there are much cheaper than it would be in America.

To be honest, Los Angeles is amazing, I’m very fortunate to have so many great record stores close by, with competitive prices. It's a melting pot of cultures so you can find stuff from all over the world. Compared to England, it's a lot cheaper and easier to find good stuff here.

When deciding whether or not to buy an obscure LP, what is more determining, the market value or the rarity of the record?

The music! Rare records are great for selling because it’s easy, and you’re a lot less likely to get attached to something if the music isn’t dope.

Sampling a record for music-making often involves just taking a snippet of sound or a small loop, which means 95% of the song that's being sampled ends up not being used in the final production (though some skilled beat-makers don't apply here). So a digger has to be able to discern that a tiny snippet or loop in a full-length album will be usable. However, when I observe people crate-digging, I don't see them listening to entire albums. As the person digging and deciding whether or not to buy the record, how can you know if an LP is worth buying without listening to the whole thing?

Getting a vibe for the general style of music and how it was produced is important. I might not always buy a record for a sample, but want to study the production of it instead. If you’re skimming through and the instruments sound interesting, the arrangements are unique, the mood is right, and if there’s vocals that cut through clean, you can get the general vibe of the album and how the rest of it might sound. Other times there’s one hot loop and the rest of it is basically trash.

Is it worth buying a whole album if you only like 10 seconds of one song on the LP?

Absolutely. If it has something undeniable, that you know you can make something great with, and if you’re not likely to come across another copy anytime soon. I could probably make my money back, or more selling it on after I’ve used it too.

Do you purchase all your vinyl for keeps at home or do you make use of Vinyl rips?

I definitely rip certain records I really like. If I’m downsizing the collection and getting rid of some good stuff, I’ll always record the best songs/loops from it.

Have you ever had buyers remorse after a dig?

Definitely, but luckily not for a long time, haha. I think when you first start digging, you see certain covers and think something’s going to be really dope, but then you take it home and it’s rag-time jazz or something - which does have it’s place, but generally not in a sampler. I don’t buy blindly too much these days, but it can be really fun when you buy something on a whim, and it turns out to be amazing. Its always very satisfying when that happens.

Have you ever been robbed of your vinyl, lost a purchase during your travels or in the mail, or been ripped off?
Sadly, yes. I was selling at a record show in LA a couple years ago and someone swiped two or three rare and expensive records. Really sucks, but if record karma exists then that guy has it coming, haha

Care to share one of your more left-field, unpredictable digging stories? Aside from rare LP finds, how have people, locations and events converged to create surreal experiences for you in your work?

One that always springs to mind is from a few years ago. I was out having drinks with friends and found a Russian Book store. We were a bit drunk at the time and we decided to go in and I started having a conversation with the owner. Real quirky Russian dude. I asked about records of course and he said he had a lot of stuff in the back. We arranged to meet and I came back with a portable turntable. I'm going through his records, and this back room smells pretty bad and is real dusty and dirty. He was a bit of a hoarder. He's sitting back there at his little office and starts watching porn! All casual like it's nothing, while I was digging right next to him! So weird. I found some amazing stuff for cheap so that awkward situation was worth it, haha. I never went back. It was just funny to me how a random night out drinking turned into finding some dope music.

Not to give any undue credit to your competition, but are there any other create-diggers you would recommend checking out for those who are new to the scene?

I honestly don’t know a lot of people that do exactly what I do. Some don’t advertise, some only sell in person. I’d say definitely check out the crate diggers series that Fuse did for some tips and knowledge on some rare stuff. I hear Gene Brown has amazing records and often sells to well known producers.

How does your sample services work? Can people reach out to you to purchase samples? What are your rates?

People can absolutely reach out to me about samples/records at beatnickdee@gmail.com. It’s a very niche service and I basically offer an archive of 6+ years of rare vinyl rips at very affordable prices starting at $10. You pay for each sound clip which is basically the best parts of one LP. That way you get more music to mess with, rather than paying for individual loops or songs. I curate batches of records and sell a lot on Ebay, discogs, and direct through email.

What are some things you're working on currently? Are you still signed to Fredwreck?

I am indeed still signed with Fredwreck. I recently produced a song for Snoop Dogg’s new R&B artist October London - a track called ‘Dramatic’ from his new project "Color Blind: Hate & Happiness". He sounds like a young Marvin Gaye.

Fred and I also produced ‘I Don’t Want’ it from the Faith Evans/Biggie ‘King & I’ album that just came out. Definitely a highlight of the year so far. It features an unreleased verse from Biggie so that was a crazy moment. On June 16th, UK underground king Jehst’s new album is released. I worked on "Set In Stone" with my man DJ Finyl. Really happy with how that one came out. I grew up listening to Jehst, and he’s one of the few UK artists I’ve really wanted to work with still. Glad we could finally make it happen. Shout to my bro Beat Butcha for connecting us.

I have a song with The Game, and one with Aftermath artist, Jon Connor, but not sure if/when they’ll be coming out. I’m working on a few other personal projects too. One with Kentucky rapper, Allen Poe. That one’s finished and should be out soon. I also have a joint project with Pheo that I’m excited about. We’re nearly finished with the recording on that one. I’m hoping by the end of the year that one will be out.

(photo at the top by Chris Baliwas)

SamInterview: Beatnick Dee [Producer]

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