Producer’s Corner: Maestro (HipHopDX 07/12/2008)

by WILLIAM E. KETCHUM III

Maestro’s latest gem is the opening track to the most anticipated album of the year—“3 Peat” on Lil Wayne’s platinum-certified Tha Carter III—but the Atlanta producer has been putting in work for years. Building much of his catalog by crafting hits for Dem Franchize Boyz, he’s also responsible for co-producing much of David Banner’s 2005 album Certified. This year seems to be Maestro’s key year to shine, with both the aforementioned Weezy track and Ice Cube’s return single “Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It” (with its subsequent remix featuring Nas and Scarface) both making waves. In an interview with HipHopDX’s Producer’s Corner, Maestro talks about Lil Wayne, playing the side role with David Banner, and why helping the competition won’t impede on his hustle.

HipHopDX: First off, how/when did you get started doing music?

Maestro: I started doing music professionally full time around 2003 but my experiences with music go back much further. I’m a classically trained pianist and took lessons from the age of seven. I played piano at my church and was the accompanist for all of the music groups at my junior high and high school. I got into the production aspect in high school thru a course at my school called ‘electronic music’; it was there that I learned a majority of the skills that have helped me go pro.

DX: How would you say being classically trained enhances your music? Do you think it gives you an advantage over other producers?

Maestro: I think that being classically trained enhances my music by allowing me access to a larger musical pallet. I feel like it gives me an edge, but being able to play by ear also helps out a great deal. Overall I think that any producer who can play an instrument or who has access to musicians puts himself at an advantage but that’s not all that this business is about. You can have great music but if you lack a good attitude and good contacts all the classical training in the world won’t get you on an album [laughs].

DX: Well you seem to have done a good job of getting with the right artists. How did you first start working with Wayne?

Maestro: My first song with Weezy was a feature on a cut by Parlae of Franchize Boyz; I had done a ton of work on their first album and my brother Chico was their manager, so I had an open lane. “I Whip Yae” was the product of that initial link. My official placements with Wayne arose from work I had done with a songwriter named Shanell. She was doing a deal and cutting songs with him at the time and I was able to submit a lot of material. I ended up cutting songs for Wayne, Curren$y, Baby, and Bad Ass Grasshoppers off the strength of her relationship.

DX: Have you gotten to record with him in the studio? Or has he just taken your beats and done his thing from there?

Maestro: I’ve been at the studio while he was recording, but never to any of my songs. Wayne does a lot of recording on the road so it would be difficult to get in with him every time a track of mine moves him to record. Even when I can’t be a part of the recording process I still make sure I produce all of my records. I get the sessions once the songs are laid and enhance the production and arrangement of the tracks to make the songs a good showcase of our collaboration.

DX: How is working with Wayne different from working with other artists, just as far as working with his vocals, etc.?

Maestro: I think Wayne is a unique artist in a lot of senses. What really differentiates him from most is that he is a prolific recorder. He’ll record anywhere and anytime because he is always coming up with concepts, laying down a song, jumping on a remix, or working on new material. Since his home is on the road all of that creativity might come out when the conditions are less than perfect. The average artist works at the same studio with the same engineer in the same room all the time so there is a sense of uniformity to their vocal tone. Wayne‘s stuff may sound really expertly recorded on some tracks and be less than perfect on others. It comes with the territory, but I leave that for the engineer to deal with. [laughs]

DX: I read on your blog that your sample for “Kush” was the first sample you made a beat with?

Maestro: That’s right. I made “Kush” when all I had was an MPC 2000 and Protools LE on a Mac G4. I was always intimidated by sampling records because I didn’t know the “mystic arts” of chopping. I ended up importing the song into a Pro Tools session, cutting it up, and sliding the pieces around on the grid. It was crude at the time, and probably hard to understand for newer producers who use intuitive sample editors like Recycle, but it got the job done!

DX: You’ve done several beats for Wayne: “3 Peat,” “Kush,” “Prostitute,” etc. What would you say is your favorite one?

Maestro: I’m attached to all of them because each one represents a milestone in my career, but 3peat would have to be my favorite. The track is mature and really represents what I do best. Its super musical with sprinklings of classical elements, smart sound choice, a moving melody, and it bangs tremendously! The song as a whole is crazy and really hypes you up for the rest of the album. Did you know Pat Riley trademarked the term ‘three peat’ for the ’89 championship? The Lakers didn’t get the ring that year, but Weezy definitely got that shit on his third time around!

DX: I read about this other joint you did for Curren$y, where Wayne plays guitar on the song?

Maestro: That song is called “Staring at the World” and features Wayne singing on the hook and playing the guitar on the outro. It was supposed to be the first single off [Curren$y’s album] Music to Fly To but nothing in this business is guaranteed. The song is dope, I’m sure it’ll turn up sooner or later.

DX: You also co-produced a lot of songs on David Banner’s last album, Certified. Being such a producer yourself, what is it like to co-produce with another beatmaker? Do you bump heads a lot?

Maestro: Yes, I did a lot of work on David Banner‘s album and I learned a lot in the process. Working with another producer can be a great creative approach when each person comes to the table with a different set of skills. I was working as more of a keyboardist and musical assistant for DB at the time. I have no problem acknowledging that I was playing a supporting role on the David Banner show. It wasn’t my time to shine yet. But please believe that when he recorded to ‘Westside,’ which I produced solely by myself, I went in! It was my time to shine, we went into that session as equals and we both had our respective jobs to do. By the next session, however, I was back to playing my position. [laughs] Banner runs his company the way most producers should, and I recognized that my employment with his company didn’t have bumping heads in the job description. I was there to perform a service and get paid (quite well) to do it.

DX: What other producers do you look up to?

Maestro: I look up to a lot of the veterans in the game like Battlecat, Dre, Puff, Quik, and Premo, but I learned from a young age that when you look up for a long time you get cramps in your neck. [laughs] I like to look forward, so I’ve come to really respect the producers who are just a few steps (and a few hit records) ahead of me. Guys like B Cox, Polow, Don Vito, Shondrae, Needlz. Those are all guys who have been putting in work but only rose to the top of their game in recent years. I can still catch those guys and run through the doors that they open. Why try to pattern myself after Dr. Dre or Puff? There will never be another Pac, B.I.G. or Snoop, I won’t ever be in the new N.W.A., and I don’t plan to dance in anybody’s video. [laughs] I’m following a blueprint that I’ve seen build successful careers right before my eyes!

DX: What else are you working on?

Maestro: I’m working on a little bit of everything. I always stay in the lab with Franchize Boyz, I’m doing some work on a Clipse Re-Up Gang album, and I’m getting some tracks together to get in with Gorilla Zoe. Besides that, I send tracks to anyone that will listen to them. I’m hopeful that the Ice Cube single will lead to a fruitful relationship with Cube‘s film endeavors, so I’m just keeping myself open to whatever comes my way.

DX: What was it like to landing the Cube joint?

Maestro: Producing a single for Cube was a huge accomplishment for me. Getting the opportunity to work with a legend who effortlessly remains current was really dope. Three fourths of the artists releasing material today will never have the impact on the genre that Cube has had.

DX: On your blog, you have producer kits and sample packs for sale. What all is in those, and why you have them up?

Maestro: The kits I sell on my site are just a public service from your friendly neighborhood Maestro. [laughs] Actually I put those up there to help new producers advance at their craft and also as a way of expanding the way that people appreciate my music and my brand. A person who hears “Prostitute” may like it but will eventually casually dismiss what he heard. A person who purchased the construction kit for the song is going to appreciate it more because he knows exactly what went into its production. Furthermore, he’s also going to keep checking for Maestro’s beats because he has the exact sounds and feels like he’s part of the movement. I did it with the philosophy that every dude I’ve ever met with a pair of Jordan’s on was a real Jordan fan.

DX: Isn’t that giving the competition too much ammo?

Maestro: [laughs] Maybe so, but I’ve never seen a dude who saved his allowance and rushed to buy Jordan’s on a Saturday, walk up to MJ and dunk in his face!

[via HipHopDX]