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. He’s both the crate-digger behind the “International Breaks” series of sample packs, and the producer behind music from artists like The Game, Biggie and October London. I reached out to him for a chat about his output, and we talked crate-digging, production work and his studio setup.
Let’s start by talking about your music making. In what ways have you been able to maintain a foothold in the world of vinyl-based beat making, whilst still using digital tools?
I’ve always loved both worlds for the most part. Being able to utilize the two is definitely an advantage. I try to keep a catalog of sample-free beats, but most of my stuff is samples mixed with synth sounds like the microKORG or Kontakt instruments. There’s a satisfaction in finding an obscure record with a crazy loop, and adding your own sounds to it, 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. As someone who previously used to use MPCs, what made you switch from an analog sampler to a Maschine?
MPC’s are a great tool, and they make the producer get into a certain creative mind set. For me though, things can be long winded on the MPC. I use Maschine sometimes, but honestly, most of my music gets made in Logic X with my MIDI keyboard and microKORG. I also record vocals and instruments on a Neumann U87 AI replica mic. I love vintage synths and gear and 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”? Was it all a home-studio setup, or did you use any commercial recording studios?
The recording for a few of the songs was done at a friend’s home studio. Other songs such as “Thicker Than Blood” were recorded at Thes One’s studio. The beats were made between England, when I lived back in Somerset, and LA, where I moved about five years ago now. Quite a few beats came off the MPC1000, others made solely in Logic.
As a crate-digger and vinyl enthusiast, is there a reason you chose to create a rap album rather than a beat-tape?
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 them, and what were the initial expectations?
More famously?! Haha, I don’t know about that, but it’s interesting to see who knows me for the music versus the 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 and 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.
There were no expectations. It was all about if and when I wanted to do a new kit, or had a new idea, and we’d figure out a plan together as we went along.
What’s been the most successful International release thus far? Any idea why that one sold so well?
International Loops! That one is free though (laughs). 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.
You solely used to release drum breaks and one shots through The Drum Broker. Why did you choose to wait so long to put out an International Loops pack? Any plans for more of those?
The drum packs take a long time to find and curate. It’s hard to constantly uncover unknown drum breaks, and it takes time and money to hunt them down, since they’re all recorded from the original vinyl.
The International Loops was an idea I’d been toying with for awhile. It’s made of partly obscure samples, loops and chops that were put together in composition form, and we decided to do the first one for free. I’ll probably do another one soon and we’ll sell it, but again, it 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.
I’d try to find some psychedelic-looking covers, and maybe look for 70’s or 80’s stuff. If there’s nothing in English, then hopefully I can find records by the few Chinese labels I’m familiar with. 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 him.
You’ve mentioned in past interviews 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 there, but it’s at the top of my list; I just need to go with about $10,000 for all the records I want (laughs). I’ve been fortunate enough to have done a lot of traveling in the past, but now I’m focusing on other things. To make a trip to Japan 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. Digging their would be a great way to add to your collection. You could take your want-list and come out with everything checked off, but with your pockets empty!
As someone well-traveled in his work, run me through three of the most productive countries or 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 progressive rock records over there are much cheaper than ithey 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.
A crate-digger has to be able to discern that a tiny snippet or loop in a full-length album will be usable for a beat. However, when I observe people crate-digging, I don’t see them listening to entire albums. So 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 rather to study the production of the songs on it. If you’re skimming through and the instruments sound interesting, the arrangements are unique, the mood is right, and the vocals cut through clean, then you can get the general idea of how the rest of the album might sound. At other times, there’s just one hot loop on there and the rest of it is basically trash.
Is it worth buying a whole album if you only like ten seconds of one song on the LP?
Absolutely. If it has something undeniable that I can make something great with, and if I’m not likely to come across another copy anytime soon, then I’d buy it. I could probably make my money back by selling it after I’ve used it too.
Do you purchase all your vinyl to use sample from on your turntables, or do you also make use of vinyl rip files?
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 and loops from them.
Have you ever had buyers remorse after a dig?
Definitely, but luckily not for a long time (laughs). When you first start digging, you might see certain album covers and think the LP is going to be really dope, but then you take it home and find out that it’s rag-time jazz or something – which does have its 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. It’s 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 of 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 (laughs).
Can you share one of your more left-field, unpredictable digging stories?
One that always springs to mind is from a few years ago. I was out having drinks with friends and found a Russian bookstore. We were a bit drunk at the time and we decided to go in and I started having a conversation with the owner, who was real quirky Russian dude. I asked about records 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 backroom smells pretty bad and is real dusty and dirty. He was a bit of a hoarder too. So he’s sitting back there in his little office, and all of a sudden 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 the awkward situation was worth it, but 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 email@example.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 and Biggie’s “The King & I“ album that just came out. That was 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. 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 or when that one will dropping.
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)