As a bonus for our Halloween issue, Format brings you frequent C-Rayz Walz collaborator, Belief. After years of producing tracks on the underground circuit, Belief has finally dropped his debut album, Dedication. Listen up!
Format: What was it like coming up in L.A.? Which scenes did you gravitate towards, and how did you decide you wanted to be a producer?
Coming up in L.A. was exciting. It was around the time when Freestyle Fellowship/ Goodlife/ Project Blowed was the shit. What was encouraged and respected was innovation and creativity in hip-hop. If the beat or the rhyme sounded like anything else anyone had ever heard it was wack. Since those were my formative years creatively, that mentality has stuck with me and I try to bring it to whatever work I do.
Format: You decided to relocate to NYC at 17, partially to soak up the city and have it influence your music. What was that experience like? How long did it take to get comfortable? How long did it take to be accepted within the scene?
The experience of moving to NYC was thrilling. It was an exciting time for the underground. When I first got here I saw Company Flow, Mos Def, Dead Prez, Eminem opening for the Outsiders, Jean Grae as Whatwhat, all kinds of good shit. It took a while to be really accepted as far as working with people. People were always cool, but I never really got much attention for my beats. But when Murs, who I knew from high school, and I collaborated for his Def Jux album, people started paying attention. Next came C-Rayz, Jean Grae, Wordsworth, El-P, Vordul Mega…
Format: Describe the influence NYC has had on your sound.
I learned about fundamentals in New York. New York grounded me. While being from L.A. taught me to be inventive and experimental, being in New York helped me to really understand classic hip-hop and the foundation it was built upon.
Format: How do you choose which artists will appear on your album?
I know all of the artists on the album well. They are all talented and they are also all real good people. And I think they compliment each other and can all benefit from being on an album together by reaching each others fans. The album also kind of evolved into what it is. At first there were supposed to be more features, but then I decided to stick with a core group to be featured throughout to keep the album coherent, instead of a lot of random appearances throughout. Albums like that never really stayed in my stereo for too long. I wanted this album to be timeless. I feel like the ultimate producer albums of all time are Dre’s album. I kept that in mind while working on mine.
Format: What kind of direction do you provide the emcees that get on your records?
I’m pretty hands off as far as direction, until I hear something I like or don’t like. If I like it I try to emphasize it, if I don’t like it I have to say something. I have opinions on how things should sound, but a lot of the time these guys will already be providing me with amazing performances. Sometimes though I hear things that sound wrong, or that could sound better and itâ€™s my job as a producer to take it to the next level. The most produced song on the album as far as me coaching vocals is “Let’s Go.” I knew what I was going for and I worked to get the sound out of Murs and C-Rayz.
Format: Youâ€™ve been in the game for a long time. How come you decided to wait so long before dropping an official album?
I was content producing songs for peopleâ€™s albums for a long time. Eventually I realized that I had reached a glass ceiling getting beats on underground albums. First of all, itâ€™s almost impossible to make a living that way. Beyond that, I wasn’t learning that much anymore. I know about making beats and producing songs, but I knew very little about putting records out. I also felt I could put out a better record than a lot of people. I feel like people put out records without thinking about them as a piece of art in the context of the history of art. I want my work to be considered as relevant next to any other artwork ever made!
Format: Who would be a perfect emcee for a Belief producer/emcee full-length collaboration and why?
I can’t say that there is just one perfect person because I have different sounds. I am working on one with Sumkid Majere and itâ€™s very bluesy. When I lived in Harlem I did 30 plus songs with an artist named Green and they were all street anthems. If I did one with C-Rayz Walz it would be very rock influenced, because thatâ€™s the vision I have for him. A Wordsworth album would be more of a classic feel. I love working with all types of artists — itâ€™s always challenging and brings different things out of me.
Format: Who are a few producers that youâ€™d classify as dark and what, if any, influence have you taken from them?
Dilla: Not always dark, but definitely had a murky side. Walked the fine line of innovation and still an undeniably classic hip-hop feel. You could tell that it was 100% raw feeling in his work. He was a true master of the MPC, probably knew it better than anyone ever. He challenged me to know my equipment better and to stay in the zone with the beats, not to over think it. Also to keep the drums and bass banging at all times!
El-P: Like Dilla, he introduced and aestheticzed a sub-genre of hip-hop to the world. El-P’s work helped me to find my epic, sci-fi armageddon side. I generally lean more towards melody and soul, but there is no denying that he has influenced me.
Dre: His darkness doesn’t always come from the type of beat it is, a lot of the time itâ€™s the subject matter. Dre creates perfection. His productions are flawless pieces of work. He takes his time getting things right. Being an artist, there are moments of inspiration. But being a producer means taking those moments and turning them into a finished masterpiece. Not to say that it needs to be polished and sparkling, but the producerâ€™s job is to take it to the next level.
Format: What is your favorite dark, violent, or Halloween inspired album cover of all-time?
Mobb Deep – Murda Muzik
Format: What is the worst smell in the world?
When you pass the pretzel man on the street and he’s burning the salt.
Format: What is the most brutal part of Los Angeles?
Not exactly sure man. L.A. is tricky because unless you see something going down, it usually looks like a really nice neighborhood with quaint houses and lawns. People talk about different parts of L.A. being dangerous, but I didn’t grow up or spend much time in any of them so I can’t say for sure. But I was terrorized a couple times by bullies in Century City shopping mall as a kid.
Format: What is the most brutal part of New York?
I can’t be in midtown for more than 15 minutes unless I’m in a studio. I can’t take it.
More info on Belief: http://www.beliefmusic.com