Recently I had the chance to speak via email with Tommy Black (@TommyBlackML), the Swedish producer behind David’s #1 track of 2011, Schoolboy Q’s “Fantasy,” as well as tracks by Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and others. Here’s what he had to say.
Could you go into detail about the recording process for Schoolboy Q’s “Fantasy”? How did you go about creating that beat? Was it made specifically for Schoolboy, or did he hear it and go in on it? Were you in the studio during the recording?
I didn’t have my own place to stay at during that time, so I was moving around between a couple of my homies spots. I only had my laptop, headphones an a synthesizer, and I sat down in one of my friends kitchen (wich I used to get some isolation and focus to create) and just pounded that production out. When I was done with it, I handled the headphones to my homie Luc and he was like “It’s a done deal!” I usually steps in my own dimension when I create music, so I didn’t have Schoolboy Q in mind untill the beat was done (he had just recently sent me an email the first time asking to send him some beats). I thought this production would fit him perfect, I sent it over and I almost got the reply immediately that he wanted to use it on his “Setbacks” project.
You’ve done a lot of work with the Black Hippy camp (Schoolboy, Kendrick, Ab-Soul, etc.). How did you link up with them? What is your working relationship like?
I came across a video 09′ on youtube called “Day In A Life” by Ab-Soul, and I thought he was dope as hell! I had alot of productions ready to go, and I badly wanted him to hop on one of my tracks. So I contacted him thru myspace, he felt my music and we started to work from thereon. I remember coming across this new Kendrick Lamar joint called “Rare Breed” on XXL’s website on one of my lunchbreaks at work, and I was like “Damn! this’s my beat!” and he was killing it! This was before the “Overly Dedicated” project. Eventually Kendrick Lamar contacted me and wanted me to send him beats, then Schoolboy Q etc etc. So my music spread thru Ab-Soul from the first. I usually don’t like to send music fourth and back over the internet, I rather like to work in person and be able to vibe together, and at the same time get a more costumized track for the artist. But I never get disappointed with the results coming from the Black Hippy camp.
Do you plan on doing work outside of that camp? If so, which artists would you like to work with?
I’m working on my own two projects right now, one instrumental and one with guest artists. I also got tracks with the west coast legend Butch Cassidy and a hella dope mc by the name of Pr1me (they formed the duo “Blues Brotherz”), I got tracks with some up and coming artists and a couple of tracks that I can’t really out right now. It’s going to be a secret untill further notice, lol. I also work with some dope artists out here in Sweden and in Europe. But I always got tracks for the artists over at TDE no matter what, they make incredible stuff. Wich artists would I like to work with.. It’s quite a few, too many to name, but it would’ve been dope to do something with Royce Da 5’9, Big K.R.I.T or Bilal.
How long have you been making beats?
I started around 99′ – 2000.
Is there one producer who you would say informed your sound when you were just starting out?
It’s so many of them, hard to pick just one. In hip-hop: Dr.Dre, Rza, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Jay Dee just to name a few.
How do you generally make beats – do you start with an idea or feeling you want to capture, or do you start out with a sample?
It depends, for the most I start with a idea I get, sometimes a sample. I usually start with the drums at first, making sure that they’re on point (sometimes the drums needs to be exchanged to fit the sounds and the vibe). It don’t matter if u got the dopest vibe and melody, if the drums and the bass don’t match and is on point, it’s not going to bang.
What is your studio set-up like? Which programs do you use for recording and mixing?
I’m using Renoise to program my music, it has the same structure as them old tracker programs but in a new fresh shape. Cubase is used for some stuff also. I got my reliable Yamaha CS1x, it’s a plastic half-analog synthesizer with years of costumized sounds that nobody can duplicate, lol. I like the Korg ms-20 alot too. I got an XTZ A-100-D3 amplifier and some nice Heybrook speakers. I use almost anything, any instrument I get my hands on.
Your sound is very unique in terms of what’s going on in hip-hop production today – it’s very smooth, laid-back, almost reminiscent of downtempo electronica. Is that intentional?
Well, I’m a big fan of all types of jazz music, cosmic stuff, funk / soul / old psychadelic rock etc. All kinds of music that you’ll catch a feeling from. You don’t catch a feeling this often from the music nowdays in my opinion (especially not from the tv or radio). My music just turned out this way, bringing that old timeless sound to a new era. I grew up listening to alot of electronic music / funk / jazz records that my mother used to play, may sound cliscé-ish, but it comes to me natural.
Were you always a hip-hop producer, or did you start out working in other genres?
I started out with writing lyrics and rap (both in english and swedish). I’m still a beast on the mic, lol. It was hip-hop that I started with from the beginning, hip-hop is great because it has no limitations. U can do whatever your creativity allows you to do. I’m producing alot of experimental, more jazzy records on the side that I’ll put out there in the near future.
What is your favorite beat that you’ve made, and why?
Hard to pick.. But “Blow My High (Members Only)” by Kendrick Lamar is one of them however. The feeling I had when I did that track was crazy, and when Kendrick did his thing, it turned out even crazier.
Fat Joe’s latest single “So Fly” sounds very similar to the track you produced for Ab-Soul & Kendrick Lamar (“Rapper Shit“) – one might even say it’s a total beat jack. What are your thoughts on this?
The “Rapper Shit” joint is based on a sample, and when u use a sample you can’t expect to be all alone with it if you don’t cut it to “impossibility of recognition”. The original record is out there and people have access to it. The same sample is often going to turn up more then once on different projects. But if you have HEARD another producer’s work on a sample and you also decide to mess with it and have the same pitch and almost the same sample cuts, then you can call it what you want..
I know you’re planning on releasing a few projects this year – The Medkit and The Nine Lives of Tommy Black. Could you speak a bit on both projects? What should we expect from them? And what else are you working on?
Yessir, “The Medkit” is taking some time, it was ment to be released in 2011, but I had some issues with the distrubution etc. so I’ll drop “The Nine Lives Of Tommy Black” at first. That one is going to be an instrumental project. The Nine Lives Of Tommy Black is kind of experimental and not just on some strictly hip-hop instrumentation. But those who like my work so far will surely feel it! The date is not set yet, but you can expect it to drop in a couple of months. The Medkit is sure to drop 2012, and it will feature guest artists on the majority of the tracks. Mostly US features, but also a couple tracks from two of the dopest hip-hop duos here in Sweden (in swedish). I can’t wait to drop that one either because it will tear the roof off the mutha! lol. So be sure to be on the lookout for those two projects!
That’s all, is there anything else you wanted to add?
Yes, follow me on twitter @TommyBlackML. Thank you!