Last week Ski Beatz dropped the latest release within his 24 Hour Karate School Presents series. The third installment, entitled 24 Hour Karate School Presents Twilight, features a variety of emcees (Curren$y, Mac Miller, Stalley, Da$h, C Plus, etc) from the up and comer to the experienced flowing over live instrumentation, the result of which is "chill", smooth, and laid back. The final product that is 24 Hour Karate School Presents Twilight stacks up to be very solid and dope offering to Ski Beatz’ long and highly respected production career, whose credits include Jay-Z, Murs, Lil Kim, Camp Lo and many more.
I was able to catch up with Ski Beatz recently one evening, just as he was settling down to help his son with homework. The legendary producer took time out of his schedule to talk about 24 Hour Karate School Presents Twilight and the creative process around the new album. In addition to that we talked about his cure for producer’s block, hip hop music that has "feeling", Japanese hip hop culture, opening a production school, and much more!
Nanci O: I wanted to jump right in and talk about your new album, 24 Hour Karate School Presents Twilight. Can I let you know what I felt the very first time I listened to the album, from top to bottom?
Ski Beatz: Please tell me!
Nanci O: What came to mind is summertime, good friends, a cookout, a card table and good drinks. And some L’s, for those who do smoke.
**Ski Beatz laughs**
Nanci O: What takeaways did you want to convey to the listeners?
Ski Beatz: I wanted people to feel that it’s a laid back, smooth, chill in the house, cool out with your girl or your man, smoke whatever you smoke. It’s one of those types of albums,
chill music. It’s not a get up and dance type record. We don’t have enough chill music out here.
Nanci O: I’ve listened to your music for years and notice that is fad free, classic and timeless. You’ve also maintained a very high level of relevancy.
What do you do to make sure your production does not sound dated and also remains in touch with what’s happening in hip hop during the time you’re creating new music?
Ski Beatz: What keeps me relevant and my sound fresh is that I don’t really try to create and go with what’s happening right now. If you listen to ’90’s hip hop, a lot of it sounds the same because of a certain type of style. My sound is more melodic based, and with real music you can’t put a time on it or put it in the box. Music you listen to on the radio right now, a lot of it sounds the same a little bit. Ten years from now you can’t call it timeless. If you listen to a disco record, then you’ll know it. You know what I mean?
Nanci O: Yeah, if I put in 2 Chainz “Spend It”, I’ll know that the song is from 2011/2012. So ten years from now I’ll put it in and my kids will be like “oooohhhh Mama’s listening to that old music”.
Ski Beatz: Exactly! That goes with the beat as well, because the beats are kind of the same and have similar qualities. Another thing is I don’t ever listen to the radio and what other people are doing. I stay in my own world and do the stuff that I do. I’ve always been that way when it came to music when I want to create. And the only music that really inspires me is older music, 80’s music. I’ll play the Marvin Gayes, Jimmy “Guitar” Watts, because it’s real music. There’s different type of instruments and changes in the music.
A lot of the stuff that I do hear [from the radio] is dope, but not all of it has that “feeling”. I like “feeling”, I want you to feel something when you hear my music. I don’t want it to be that one kind of beat. Most of the time one of those records [from the radio] makes you hype, dance or sing a funny chorus someone wrote. Usually that’s what I do hear from the radio. I’m just trying to make songs, songs that you’ll be singing for the rest of your life and you don’t know why you’re singing. Ten years from now you’ll be humming the melody from “Heaven Is”.
Nanci O: Actually “Heaven Is”, “Fly By” with Curren$y and “Living It Up” with Michael Rocks are my favorite tracks off of the entire album. Those are so smooth.
Have you ever thought about offering classes to up and coming producers, and teach them all about original production?
Ski Beatz: I’ve definitely thought about a production school. It’s one of the things that I’m going to do before my career is over. I’m going to have a production class with mad students in there, with their laptops or whatever they want to use, where I give them the basic instructions on how to get started with making tracks. Whatever I know, I’ll teach them. It’s on them after that, using their own creativity to take it to the next level.
Nanci O: As a Greensboro, NC native what are your fondest memories of growing up in the South?
Ski Beatz: Man! Being able to go outside, ride your bike through the neighborhood, cookouts, playing tag football in the streets, building go carts and making tree houses. All that cool fun stuff kids are able to do down South.
Nanci O: How do you think your background as a Southerner influenced your sound to shape you into the producer you have become?
Ski Beatz: It’s funny, because my inspiration musically came from back in the day. You know I came up in ‘86, and in North Carolina around that time there wasn’t really a big market for music. It wasn’t there. So we had different influences. We started listening to mixtapes from New York, Red Alert, Mister Magic. And that’s what kind of influenced me, that whole New York style of producing. There was no scene down South, so I had nothing to gravitate to at the time. But once we started creating music, and people down South started rapping and doing their thing, then obviously we started influencing each other. That’s what we had.
Nanci O: Do you ever get producer’s block?
Ski Beatz: Everyday. That shit don’t ever go away.
Nanci O: Everyday? How do you break through that?
Ski Beatz: What I do is I’ll force myself. I might start making a beat and it might be wack. And I’ll say you know what? Fuck it. Let me just make this wack beat and get it out of my system, because nobody is ever going to hear it. You know what I mean? It’s just going to be me and this wack beat. Let me get it out. The first one might be wack, after that the second might be a little better and the third one might be the one I’ll say yes to. Then by the time I get to the third one my groove is going and the song is probably going to be dope too.
I never know what I’m going to do. It’s like a painter with a blank canvas. And I just start throwing colors on it. I switch it around until the colors make sense in my head. And then boom! That’ll be it.
Nanci O: Do you have a set schedule for producing?
Ski Beatz: My studio is in my apartment. I just wake up, go right to it and make a beat. And if I got something dope, I’ll call some emcees in and we’ll start making songs. My band will come and I’ll turn it into a whole piece after that.
Nanci O: So if you had to guesstimate, based on how many times you’ve made wack beats to get to the winner, how many unreleased tracks do you have just sitting in your vaults, that have never been recorded over?
Ski Beatz: Man I got thousands of beats just laying around. Just beats everywhere, all day, all over my hard drive, that no one will ever hear because I don’t like them.
Nanci O: But just because you think it’s wack, doesn’t mean someone else will think it is.
Ski Beatz: I know! But it’s like a representation of me, and I want to be comfortable with it. It’s like a writer. They’re not going to tell you their poem or lyrics in a song unless they feel totally like this is it. If it’s not it, then I’m not going to play it. Sometimes an artist will be around, and I’ll slip up and play something that I don’t like, and they’ll say oh go back to that. At that point I’ll be like OK, and work on it a little bit more. But nine times out of ten they’ll only hear something that I think is good.
Nanci O: You were just helping your son with his homework. Does he have any interest in entering the music business in any capacity?
Ski Beatz: My youngest son has no interest in music at all. His thing is acting. But my oldest son raps and tries to make beats. He’s getting pretty good and I teach him a little bit. He just started rapping but he’s definitely on his way. I give him another year or two, then he’ll be ready to actually make some real music.
Nanci O: As you’re teaching your oldest son, what else do you tell him about the business and how to be the best at what he does?
Ski Beatz: I don’t really put to much pressure on him, I just let him write. I’ll give him suggestions on how to get his breath control together, because he runs out of breath a lot. I give him the basic instructions because I really want him to learn on his own, because I learned on my own, you know what I mean? I give that little push and the rest he has to figure out for himself, and develop from there.
Nanci O: On your last project 24 Hour Karate School Japan you worked with Japanese emcees exclusively. I’ll be honest, the second installment was my least favorite out of the whole series. However, what did you notice about Japanese hip hop culture that was starkly different than what we have in the U.S.?
Ski Beatz: That project was actually the #1 selling hip hop album in Japan. When I went over there to perform, it was like 4000-5000 kids in every crowd, knowing words to every record. It was amazing and a big success over there. I didn’t get a chance to actually record with the Japanese artists, I sent the tracks and they did it on their own. They did a really good job and put together records that the Japanese kids loved.
The Japanese hip hop culture is ten years behind. They’re still in the ’90’s, from the way they dress to the sound of music they listen to. You go over there and you feel like you’ve stepped into ’96. They’re playing Mobb Deep, Nas, and these are the records they’re dancing too. It’s like that in Paris and Germany too. Over here, it’s more commercial and who has the most money. Not all kids though, there is a growing community of the young generation that’s really hip to good hip hop music. It’s a big underground movement [in hip hop] that I think is coming up within the next two years, where it’s going to be the main thing. Every conversation that I have with people about the radio is ah man I don’t want to hear that shit on the radio. It’s the same thing and I want to hear something new. And these are young kids, 17, 18, 19. It’s a good thing that we have the internet, because it allows them to search YouTube or blogs and then find the music that’s hip.
Nanci O: That’s dope. I love the direction hip hop is going right now. So what else are you in the studio working on? Don’t you have a Freddie Gibbs project coming up soon?
Ski Beatz: Yeah, me and Freddie are two songs in, he’s on the road right now so he won’t be back until April. But once April hits we’re going to go back in, full steam and knock it out. I’m working with Da$h, he’s actually featured on the first record on Twilight. We’re working on his album and it’s coming out pretty dope. I have a secret project that I can’t talk about yet. When the word comes out it’s going to be really big. I’m going to start working on my White Belt Edition [of 24 Hour Karate School Presents]. The White Belt Edition is me finding random, unknown, rappers from wherever, it doesn’t matter as long as they’re good. Not white belt as in beginner, but white belt as in it’s your first time coming to the dojo and working with me. And then the next edition after that will be the black belt edition.
Nanci O: I’m looking forward to hearing that project. Thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.
Ski Beatz: Thank you.