The man behind the production of Non-Prophets tells us how he came up with his name, the equipment he uses, creativity and what creates a great beat. Check it out.
OK, so if you are checking this then you are probably a fan of Non-Prophets and you've most likely read several interviews with Sage Francis but we rarely get to hear from his producer Joey Beats. If you didn't know, he's the other half of the Non-Prophets and produces the beats that Sage puts his dope rhymes to. So keep reading and get to know a little about this artist who through his responses comes across as a very honest, principled and down to earth person… qualities that are actually not as rare as you might think in hiphop (you just have to search) but always needed… step up Joey Beats…
First up, where did the name come from?
Sage came up with it. He was like yeah this is the name, and I was like "aight, it's all candy to me.
Do you find it limiting in that it defines your role within hip-hop or am I just reading far too much into it?
Nah, I've always dug the name on multiple levels –not just in the hip hop sense. It plays into a very tempting misconception.
So, continuing to think about your name, do you ever get called Mr Beats by record execs or anyone like that? I don't know why
I ask, that just sounds dope to me…
Yeah, all the time. Dame Dash just called me Joey by accident the other day and I was like "Slow your roll, sonny. It's Mr. Beats.
To date, what do you feel has been your best work with Non-Prophets? Is there one single track that really stands out for you?
The Non-Prophets beats were done for so long, it's hard to say. The best work is yet to be done. In the meantime, I'll say "Spaceman?. It changed the way I produced.
What equipment do you use to produce your beats?
I use a shitty 333mhz computer left to me in a will from my aunt who passed away. The program I use on it is old school. It's called Saw Pro. It's not a beat making program. It's a multi-track I taught myself how to do routines on. This is truly a whole other spotlight. For me to go any further into my process would take way too much time. So I'll just leave it at that.
How do you create your beats – do you begin with an idea or is it a case of sort of playing around til you hear something you like and then building from there?
It starts in the record store; what I find. Slap it on, play it over and over again, love it so much to say yeah I gotta rock this. The story of my life.
So you love hip hop, well I hope you do given your involvement, what other music do you enjoy and how does it aid your own creativity?
I'm big on indie rock lately. Bossa's still got me. Indie rock though. Songs like Ohia, Kid Dakota, Andrew Bird, Black Heart Procession.
Are there any other factors driving your creativity?
Right now, yes. I have a lot of people to prove wrong. Especially those who initially believed in me and for some reason have lost faith.
OK, well for people like me who are just getting started making beats, what are the first steps?
Go the record store and dig. Find the original breaks. Find the original loops. Find your own breaks. Find your own loops. Mix the best ones together. Name the song after a silly situation currently in your life –with a poetic twist.
What equipment did you have to get you started as a producer?
The same as I rock now. Back then though, I was making beats on a generic wav player for windows. I would record a sample from wax onto a tape, then with a walkman, record the sample into the computer. Before that it was all just tape loops. My first routine was done with Sade's "Cherish the Day?. The beginning guitar riff.
Would you agree that some producers seem to have success with their raw beats, buy loads of grandiose equipment but then end up making beats that sound sort of over produced? Am I right in thinking this or am I talking shit?!!
No, I agree. However some producers evolve with their equipment really well. I mean, look at El-P or Automator, etc. As for everyone else, there are always casualties. There will always be some producer, who's dope with samples, that tries to take it to the next level by composing their own original music. Success in such endeavours remain to be seen. However, I don't think we should write off all those heads yet. Rome wasn't built in a day. They might all come back stronger than ever –on some original stuff. I sleep on no one.
For you personally, what elements are needed for a good beat?
Do you think producers often are at the heart of bringing out the potential in some emcees? If so, do any producers spring to mind who have done this?
I can't say. Who knows what goes on behind closed doors in the studio? I stopped playing the guessing game a long time ago. Fans should do the same. They see the raw data and jump to conclusions. "Oh Dre wasn't letting Em fucking around at all." I hate all that shit. How do you know? When someone is snapping just let it be. I hate to leave it like that so I'll continue. I'd like to think there are producers out there assisting the emcee and providing direction.
Going back to an earlier topic of how to get started producing – how did you learn to produce, did you read books, learn from your friends or was it just through your own trial and error? What's the story?
I was very lucky. During college, I worked at the radio station. They had a production room and 30,000 records. I got the skeleton key and worked very hard. I was there day and night. I didn't eat. I skipped class. I didn't sleep. I loved it so much, it all just fit; it was on.
Man, thinking about it, you should put all this into a book on how to make beats – how about it? Do you think this would work or does production/DJ talent need more than that?
It's tough to say. If everyone increases their dick size with medication then the average difference in size stays the same.
Haha! Ok, have you ever considered doing stuff with other emcees than Sage Francis?
Considered it, yes. Hasn't worked much though.
If you were to do one of those compilation-type albums where producers gets all different emcees to rhyme over their beats, who'd be the first artists on your list to call up?
Breezly Brewin, Sluggo, Qwel, etc etc etc…
And what about an instrumental, more concept based type record in similar mode to RJD2 and DJ Shadow – does that hold any appeal?
Yes, I will do it within the next three years.
Good – I'm sure heads will look forward to that… so would you ever consider working a film soundtrack like the RZA did with Kill Bill? If so, what director and genre of film would you prefer to do it for?
Of course, what a gig! I would like to do an indie or film probably. Something like City of God .
What are the perks of being a hiphop producer? Do you get to travel much?
No. I get to sit home and lamp. For some, that's an upside. For me, I love to travel and would like to get out more.
And what about the women, how does being part of the Non-Prophets help that part of you life?!
No, it doesn't. Girls still don't like me.
So what do you think are Sage Francis' main qualities as an emcee? What do you attribute his success to?
This is unfair question. I could literally go on for hours about all the things I love about Sage. Not only am I a fan just like everyone else, I'm lucky enough to work with him. Therefore I get double the experience. Plus, I just got into a similar discussion a few days ago. On top of that, I've been singing his praises since meeting him. This time I'll have to pass and just say the all the obvious things we come to know and love about Sage, I love as well.
You've probably been asked a thousand times but how did you and Sage Francis meet, and what's he like to work with as an artist and a person?
We met at the college radio station, WRIU. He used to rap on the Friday slot and I was a guest host on the Wednesday slot. Eventually we started chumming around. Working with him is easy, just don't lie or front. He smells bullshit from 50 miles away, so good or bad, give it to him straight and things will be cool.
Some groups seem to be genuinely good friends whilst other seem to operate more on a professionalism level, how do you and Sage Francis relate? And how does you relationship aid your music?
I didn't even make beats when I first knew him; that came about a year later. Luckily for me, he didn't have anyone exclusively making stuff for him so that fit really well. So at first we were close friends. Once we started working together things got different. Music is his life and once you enter that realm with him the intensity picks up a few notches, to say the least. I was a newbie and he already had a wealth of experience under his belt. That said, 85% of whatever problems arose can be attributed to my growing pains. To this day, I still very guilty about some of the dumb stuff I've done in regard to us. However, resilience must be exercised and you must keep it moving. Now music is my life as well and I'd like to think I've gotten some experience now as well; learned a few things here and there in the past few years. From there, I think things will be easier and only better in the future. Anytime, anyplace, anyhow I have Sage's back and look forward to working with him again and as much as possible.
What would you define as success? Have you and Sage Francis made it or do you still have clearly defined goals you wish to achieve?
I can't speak for Sage but I personally don't think I've made it. A year ago if you asked me this question I would've told you I would be happy with one record and one tour. Now, after seeing both of things through, my goals have changed. The record and tour only wetted my appetite – the tour especially. I can't really say I'm satisfied yet. I'd like to think things are just starting for the both of us. So no, I'm not happy yet. More needs to be done.
I saw a program where an urban music journalist called Trevor Nelson went over to the states to look at the gap in wealth between the likes of Rocafella's Damon Dash and forefathers such as Kool DJ Herc.- what's your take on this, do you think hip hop has become too money orientated?
American soldiers kill innocent Iraqis.
Understood. However, keeping with hiphop, I also read that Defari has blamed Atmosphere for ruining his record sales and made some comments about the fact he is white as reasoning for this. How far do you think hip hop has progressed to become a truly multi-racial, multi-cultural art form?
Again, I hate to cop out but I wasn't there for the Defari interview. I read it, yes. However, things on page are a lot different in action. I think the real question is if something Defari says is getting someone that pissed off then that person needs to chill. While their at it, understand they are damn lucky to waste energy on something so minimal. Life could be worse. Defari dissing Atmosphere? Who gives a shit. Newsflash to all white boys and hungry promoters: Hip hop isn't the answer to racism. That's a white boys dream; we all have a big hip hop show, all races are present, so everything must be all good. The same way television tries to promote the illusion of equality through sports – it's all bullshit. It's all another white boy living out the fantasy racism will just go away on some fun shit so they don't have to deal with the guilt of their ancestors any longer. White boy shit. And yes, I'm a typical white boy with a dying shortcut of a dream.
Word, and what about yourself and Sage Francis, I've heard you been labelled 'indie hiphop' along with other acts like Atmosphere and Def Jux, what do you think about this term? Do you see it as harmless or actually people using a euphemism to separate off what they see as 'white hiphop'?
No, it's not offensive because Sage, Def Jux, and Atmosphere all came up as independent artists doing themselves. Indie is not a euphemism for whites. Again, this is another white boy dream. A dream that whites are in some way being repressed. Wrong. Urban is a euphemism for black. And yes, it's oppression. And yes, it's very fucked up. It doesn't go the other way around, all white boys should join a fight club and just get over the fact the colour of their skin will never entail a struggle. A lot of things in our life won't entail a struggle, we need to just get over it.
You speak on your website about how people relate to hiphop differently and how people from within the scene tend to try and place limits on what hiphop should be. Would you agree that in some ways the 'hiphop scene' has a conflict within it between conservatism and creativity?
That's why it's necessary to distance yourself from a given scene and just do what you want to do.
So how do you think this conflict will pan out – if one wins over the other what will be the outcome?
The person who loses is the person who confines themselves to another's or a given situations rules. Sometimes compromise is necessary. However, we all are doing this for ourselves. BLAH.
Finally, what do you see as the next stage of evolution for your music?
Yes. Big up to my whiteboys in the struggle