Chicago has a rich history of soulful music composers from Herbie Hancock, to Curtis Mayfield, to R. Kelly. On the Hip-Hop side of things Chicago’s legacy of music makers is equally as rich. Kanye West, No I.D., The Legendary Traxter, Wildstyle, Dug Infinite, Molemen, Prolyfic, Young Chop, Soundtrakk, and Brandun DeShay are just a few of the producers etching their names in Chicago’s history of urban music makers.
Another producer making noise in the Windy City is a man known as The Gift. From Chicago’s west side, The Gift is the man behind the boards for Maybach Music artist and fellow Chicagoan, Rockie Fresh. He’s also branched out to alternative music and recently produced the album Utopia for Mike Golden & Friends.
warptown.com spoke to The Gift about working with Rockie Fresh, why the business of beat making has taken a hit, and producing Mike Golden’s latest project, Utopia.
SS: How’d you get into producing?
The Gift: I’ve been producing for about 10-12 years. I used to rap and nobody would make beats for me so I decided one day to make beats for myself. It just drove me to making beats for everybody else.
SS: Did you learn piano as a kid?
The Gift: Nah, nothing at all. My brother used to play piano and I kind of just learned from him. Just basic progressions and stuff like that. For the most part I still don’t really know how to play. I just fiddle around with it a ‘lil bit.
SS: Who are some of the producers that influenced you?
The Gift: Timbaland actually. Timbaland and Aaliyah’s ‘One in a Million’ was like the first project that I listened to and I was hooked. That one and Ginuwine’s ‘Pony’ record, those drums were crazy. That was the thing that really motivated me to really push my drums and music to the next level.
SS: The drums on that Aaliyah record were crazy.
The Gift: Yeah, crazy! Way ahead of its time.
SS: Definitely. What beat-making equipment do you use?
The Gift: Logic. I’ve been using Logic since it was in Logic 5.
SS: How much of your music incorporates sampling?
The Gift: A lot of it, but it was for different reasons. I always sampled when I first started because I wanted to work with those artist but never got the chance to. Like Marvin Gaye, Nirvana, Coldplay, and all those people so I just ended up sampling them because of course they weren’t available. I just wanted to put my spin on their records.
SS: How’d you hook up with Rockie Fresh?
The Gift: Me and a production partner were looking for artists to develop and we had a bunch of people come to work with us. This guy Rockie Fresh’s name kept coming up. Basically we set up a meeting with him to work and talk about pricing and prepare for the first mixtape. We just kept working from there and 4-5 years later we just kept rocking strong. We did the first project, sold out shows at Reggie’s and sh*t like that. It just kind of worked out.
SS: Do you think it’s beneficial for up-and-coming producers to give away beats for free when they start out?
The Gift: The beat game is kind of messed up now because you have things like the internet and people giving away beats for free. The only time I’d give away beats for free is if it’s for an artist development deal or if it’s artists that you really like and having a relationship with. I’d have to be able to get to where I need to go and help the people that helped me along in my journey. As far as just giving beats away and sending beats through e-mail, I don’t think that’s necessarily the way to go. They’re just setting themselves up for failure. Then you have producers who are angry saying, “Why am I not getting money for this person that used my beat. I didn’t get paid or get the credit.” I started at like 15-16 working with major labels. I was around Chicago selling beats for $200, back in 2003 when we barely had the internet. I was making a killing and really didn’t have a name – it was just word of mouth. I don’t think as a young producer that you have to, but these young artists feel like they owe people something when they really don’t.
SS: What one song are you most proud of?
The Gift: I’m really proud of every record that I make. I try to be real selective on records that I do. The majority of Rockie’s stuff I’m really proud of. I spent a lot of time working on the four mixtapes that he’s done. I would say any of those records throughout those mixtapes.
SS: If you and Rockie disagree on the direction of a song how do you hash that out?
The Gift: We always have our differences. Sometimes it takes time. Sometimes we have to distance ourselves from each other. I think more or less it’s him growing as a man, because when we started working he was 17-years old. Watching him grow, sometimes we outgrow each other and sometimes we come back to the table and address everything. Usually it’s something from an artist standpoint that he wants and as a producer it’s just not possible. It’ll be minor stuff like that. It’s not like him not liking the beats, it’s more, “Can you make this happen?” and it’s just not possible. I’ll try my best and we’ll talk about it. We don’t have too many disagreements musically because we’re usually on the same page.
SS: If you had to pick one artist to produce for who would that be?
The Gift: What genre? That’s tough.
SS: Give me a couple Any genre.
The Gift: I would say in rap, definitely Kendrick Lamar. All-time I’d say Marvin Gaye. Producers I’d want to work with are Quincy Jones – people like that. I’m really not impressed with a lot of music right now. It would definitely be Drake, Kendrick Lamar and a bunch of singers.
SS: What do you have coming up in 2014?
The Gift: I started the year off right. I just finished my first alternative rock project with this artist Mike Golden called Utopia. He sold out House of Blues and killed it. Confetti and balloons fell from the ceiling and it was a real nice show. The way the project came out was really beautiful. My other artist St. Millie is putting out two mixtapes this year. Rockie is working on his LP right now and on top of that I’m working with a bunch of major labels trying to get more artist development situations going.