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From childhood inspirations to scoring the Olympics, K-Salaam and Beatnick revisit past to prep for new EP

The duo talks inexperienced producers, eclectic ears, and the best place to blast their music.

Today's streaming services have afforded listeners the opportunity to discover great music at the push of a button and so, this new, more convenient way of "digging through the crates" gives us an appreciation for new sounds every time.

Recently, we discovered the tunes of K-Salaam and Beatnick, who you may be familiar with as the duo has produced sounds for the Olympics. Both artists show their extensive knowledge of music history through the composition of each track, and their undeniable synergy breathes new life into the mixture of samples used from songs we've enjoyed over the years. Yet, they still manage make each song their own.

The genius behind this pair is an unquenchable thirst for creating. On their most recent release Give Love, they take on the sounds of the Caribbean and blend them with a plethora of live instruments, as well as add layers to it that could only properly be epicted in the studio. No two songs or projects are ever alike when listening to K-Salaam and Beatnick. Leading up to their new release The Bluest Flame EP, now is a great opportunity to get familiar their sound.

How has your childhood influenced your taste in music?

K-Salaam: My mom was a professional pianist for awhile, and then she was also a music teacher. She tried to teach me how to play the piano, but I was never interested in that. So instead, she taught me how to write my own music. I was songwriting with my mom at a young age. I know that had a huge influence on me as a producer because I still approach making music the same way. Also, my mom was heavy into Scott Joplin. She would play Scott Joplin pieces, but always with her own twist. Again, being around that had a major influence on me. After that, in the second grade, my babysitter put me up on UTFO, Newcleus, Freeez, and groups like that. I was in love with that music from the jump. I also liked 80s pop music at that time, especially Duran Duran and Tears for Fears. I would stay up and watch Friday Night Videos, an old video show from the 80s that would come on around 1 a.m. Normally my parents would never allow me to stay up that late, but they loved music like I did, and they knew that Friday Night Videos was everything to me. After that, as I got older, I was a hip-hop nerd for pretty much the rest of my childhood. I was always the first one up on everything. I was the first person in my school to listen to Geto Boys, Cypress Hill, Black Moon, Wu-Tang, etc. Also, growing up in the Midwest, we were influenced by both coasts pretty heavily. And then when hip-hop from down South and Chicago started to pop off, we were more open to it than the people in New York, for example. So that kind of allowed me to be open minded when it came to hip-hop especially. Musically, my childhood was the shit.

Beatnick: My taste in music stems primarily from my family. I was fortunate to have older siblings that had great taste in music from all eras, so most of what I write points directly to what they were listing to when I was a little kid: Led Zeppelin, Al Green, [A] Tribe [Called Quest], Nirvana, Van Morrison, all the Chess Records blues albums. Strictly classics. Beyond that, most of my ability came from growing up playing jazz in a very tight-knit band as a teenager. There are some absolute monsters that came from that group: Paris and Amber Strother from KING; and Aaron James, the bassist for Gregory Porter.

There is an obvious synergy between you and your partner. Did that gradually develop between the two of you?

K-Salaam: It didn't develop gradually. It was immediate. We just vibed and we had great mutual respect for each other. For me, it was easy because Nick is the most talented person that I have ever met.

Beatnick: Above all, we have a mutual and deep appreciation for music. But with the stuff we create, we come from slightly different angles that end up complimenting each other. When we started, K-Salaam was primarily a DJ, so he is able to listen from a prospective that takes the whole song structure into account. Whereas I'm more of an instrumentalist so I'm usually listening under a 'microscope.'

What's the perfect studio setting for when you're putting together a project?

K-Salaam: I can work with anything. But a perfect studio setting would be an SSL, with as much dope outboard gear as possible, and Pro-Tools. I like to mix the digital with analog as much as possible. But I can work with anything really.

Beatnick: For me, it's sitting down with a laptop, a guitar, and a set of headphones. I work best when I can tune everything out and get in the zone. When an idea is in its first stages, it's ideal not to have to worry about what it sounds like to anyone else until is starts to develop. Then it's time to switch to the loud speakers and wake up the neighbors.

You have scored the Olympics with your music. What was that process like?

Beatnick: Producing music for TV and film is something we'd been trying to do more of since we started. But that industry is such a private little club that it's tough to break into unless you know the right people. The pieces that ended up on the Rio Olympics started as songs we produced for an artist named Emicida, who has a huge name in Brazil. We had been working on a lot of his stuff years before that, so by the time those ideas developed it just turned out to be perfect timing to be able to tweak and customize them for the opening sequence.

You have new music dropping soon. What is the most difficult part of putting together this project?

K-Salaam: The most difficult part is not really knowing what is going to hit, and how people are going to react to the music that you just released. I hate to say this, but a lot of listeners nowadays have really bad taste in music. So you can work really hard on something and know that it's dope, and it simply might not catch on. Not because it's not good, but because it didn't get the right social media push or whatever other dumb reason. It's really frustrating. Another thing that is very frustrating about putting out music nowadays is that hip-hop fans don't really have a good appreciation for real producers. There are 'producers'—[I'm] using that term lightly—out there now that are simply looping 4-bars or even 8-bars of another song. And sometimes they are not even adding their own drums or bass anymore. Then there is us, and we are creating everything from scratch. If we do sample, we chop up the sample to smithereens and create something entirely new. But because listeners have such little understanding of the musical process, we are lumped in with these other 'producers.' It sucks. It's like lumping Michael Jordan in with some random junior high school basketball player. But it is what it is. The other difficult part is the business. Finding a good team is not easy.

What's your favorite track and the best place to blast it?

K-Salaam: The best place for me to blast music is in my ride. Maybe it's the Midwest in me. But I remember before Beatnick and I moved to New York, we would be working on a track together for days. Working on an idea, then changing it, then hitting a creative roadblock, then changing it again, etc. And then after three to four days of hard work, it would eventually be finished. Once that happened, I would smoke a little something and cruise around the lakes in Minneapolis. To this day there is no feeling like that. The lakes would be completely empty, so I would just let the music blast and be like, 'Damn, this is dope. We made this? We're dope.' That's an amazing feeling that can't really be put into words.

Beatnick: For me, it's "Movin' It" with Tech N9ne and Wrekonize. It was particularly fun to make because it was after a stretch of time when I wasn't able to make a lot of music so when I finally got a chance, it was like opening the flood gates. I can usually tell when a song is going to hit hard when I get goosebumps while making it. That was definitely one of those tracks.

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