88 keys interview March 6, 2008Posted by KG in arts/culture, comedy, hip-hop, interviews, music.
Tags: 88 keys, black on both sides, black star, blackstar, mos def, rawkus, shawn j period, talib kweli, the death of adam, thieves in the night
DX: How’d you link with Mos and Talib?
88-Keys: I linked up with Mos through my good friend, Shawn J Period. I used to go to a lot of sessions with The Artifacts, and at the time, Shawn J Period was working with them, and Duro, who’s now “Super-engineer Duro,” who’s recording mixing the album and Platinum Island Studios in New York City. So I would go there and hang out just to get the vibe and see professionals at work, and see what the goings-on was. So Mos would eventually start coming by. It’s funny, because I’d say “What up” to Mos, and he’d say “What’s up,” but he never used to acknowledge me other than the initial meeting. I saw him every now and then, and he would just be in the room, I’d be in the room…we’d stare each other down for like half a second and keep it moving or whatever. So I’m looking at this guy, like, “Oh man, this guy is trying to play me, and he’s a nobody just like me.” So eventually, at the “Stakes Is High” video shoot, Mos was there, and I was trying to get up in the video. Again, I have to repeat, I was a nobody, so ain’t get no love shown this way. I gave Mos a beat tape, back when the actual tape cassettes (were in), with my 30 second beat snippets. He called me a day or two later, and he’s like, “Your shit is dope, your shit is dope.” And the next time I saw him in the studio, it’s pounds all around the room. [Laughs]
DX: Did you record that track in the studio with them?
88-Keys: That’s a funny story. Kweli picked the beat from me, and he was saying he had an idea for the song, that him and Mos were recording an album together, and that he wanted a song for the album. I’m like, “Cool, let’s do it.” … I’m like, “I’ma hit up Mos, to see what’s good.” Come to find out, Mos didn’t like the beat at all, but he was doing it as a favor for Kweli. I was living with my parents at the time, I had my equipment in the basement in Long Island. These dudes took a cab all the way from Brooklyn—this was foreshadowing of baller status, I should have peeped it back then—but they took a cab all the way from Brooklyn, Kweli had a son who was like one year old at the time, almost in the middle of the night, on some seven o’clock shit. One of my sisters babysat Kweli’s son, and we went to the basement. Kweli already had his verse written, and I had a four-track recorder with a little BS microphone, so I recorded the joint, and after Kweli laid his verse, he explained to Mos what the song was about, and his inspiration for the song was a book called The Bluest Eye. Mos did a complete 180—I don’t even know if he liked the beat at that time still, but he liked Kweli’s rap and how the whole joint came together—so not only did Mos write his verse, but he wrote a 44-bar verse that he was pretty adamant about not shortening it. Me and Kweli are looking at him like, “He’s buggin’. That’s not a 16, Rawkus ain’t havin’ that.” Mos was like, “I don’t care. All this is staying.”
So after they recorded it, I asked them for permission to do further production on the song. The song is super chopped up, but before it was just a four-bar beat or whatever, and I wanted to get in and really program it. They’re like, “As long as it don’t sound wack, it’s all good.” So maybe a few weeks later, we recorded the song in this studio in Brooklyn, and that’s when I laid the beat down initially, the four-bar beat, how they initially rapped to it, so it wasn’t throwing them off. Once they laid their joints down, I retracked the beat. Man, I really fucked everybody’s heads up in the studio. They’re like, “Aw man, that sounds like a live band! With all the change-ups and stuff!” I got paid for the track, and I was on top of the world when that happened. The rest was pretty much history.
To this day, I’ve never really been on no political stuff. I’m one of the dumb guys that doesn’t read; play video games, make beats or whatever. I used to read Maxim, but that was the extent of it or whatever. I know the content of the song is deep and everything, and they’re real deep themselves when they want to be, and usually they are, but the song just touched me differently only because that was the first time I was able to take creative control of something and try my idea without somebody telling me “No.”