For “Studios Sessions,” we delve into the stories behind the long hours in the studio and all that goes into making an album by talking with artists, producers, engineers, photographers, and more who are intimately connected to the recording process with some of the biggest artists in the world. These are the stories that rarely leave the booth.
Nolan Presley has been the man making sure that 2 Chainz’s vocals come out crisp since 2016 and has already seen LeBron James, Quavo, Mike Dean, Draymond Green, and other stars pull up to the rapper’s sessions. But, the shine of those stars isn’t what dazzles him over the years. It’s how — at any moment in time — 2 Chainz can make a hit.
“Chainz might freestyle, I’ll take it, make an arrangement, and the next day, he’ll make it a real song,” Presley told REVOLT TV. “But, there are nights I’ll just play a beat for 15 seconds and he’ll spit 12 bars. I’m like, ‘Where the hell this come from?’ It damn near sounds like it’s written, but it’s not.”
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” 2 Chainz’s engineer explains the artist recording in bed, how close Kanye West was to being a part of 2 Chainz’s latest album, and the upcoming compilation from the rapper’s label.
How did you link up with Chainz?
I was Skooly’s engineer for a few years before I ever worked with Chainz, and Skookly is under 2 Chainz and The Real University. I I was also doing a lot of sessions with Strap Da Fool of Travis Porter. I was doing a lot of sessions at Street Execs studios. I was even doing sessions with Bankroll Fresh. All of those guys helped me get to where I’m at now.
A couple of years after I worked with Skookly and Short Dawg, Chainz’s other engineer opened a studio and he needed somebody. I filled in and we’ve been working ever since around 2016. The first song I recorded for Chainz was on ColleGrove called ‘Not Invited.’ After the album dropped, he called me and said he wanted to bring me to L.A. for a week to work. We did that and we’ve been locked in ever since.
What’s a typical 2 Chainz session like?
He has studios in Atlanta and L.A. It depends where we’re at. In Atlanta, we’re working late nights from 11 at night to about four or five in the morning. That’s every day. I’ll be there tonight, I was there last night. There’s a lot of weed (laughs). When we’re in L.A. we just wake up and work all day. It’s different out there in L.A.
In L.A., the studio is in the crib and it’s a nice one. So, when we go there, we’ll be there for a week and a half or two weeks, and we’ll just be locked in. That’s where we do a lot of our stuff. His house studio is a traditional studio. It has a real [mixing] board. It has real good speakers. It’s soundproofed. It’s a real studio.
Chainz has a distinct sound. What do you make sure to do when you mix and engineer his sessions in order to capture that sound?
You’re asking for all the sauce now (laughs). Honestly, his vocals are kind of dry. By ‘dry,’ I mean doesn’t have too many effects. He only has a few effective ones — EQ, compressor, de-esser, a touch of reverb and delay. It’s a few things. He’s in pocket anyways. But, when you get it right, it sounds colossal.
In terms of your skillset as an engineer, is there something he’s complimented you on during a session?
On the song ‘Momma I Hit A Lick’ with Kendrick [Lamar], there were so many people on it. One of the people who did something on it was Kanye [West]. In the early stages of the song, I chopped up Ye’s part and made a hook. Chainz fucked with it and sent it to Ye. Ye fucked with it. This was a minute ago before Ye was back rapping. I don’t know what happened. But, about a month or two later, he was like, ‘I don’t want to be on the song’ (laughs).
I do vocal arranging. If it’s a long verse, I can make a hook out of something. It’s like vocal production. Chainz might freestyle, I’ll take it, make an arrangement, and the next day he’ll make it a real song. But, there are nights I’ll just play a beat for 15 seconds and he’ll spit 12 bars. I’m like, ‘Where the hell this come from?’ It damn near sounds like it’s written, but it’s not.
You were involved with the making of 2 Chainz’s last album, Rap or Go To The League. When did he come to you and say, ‘Hey, LeBron James is coming to the studio’?
I found out way before all of y’all (laughs). I knew for a little while and I couldn’t say a word about it. I couldn’t tell nobody. I was like, ‘Damn, this is the best basketball player, debatably, ever.’ Him being part of the Rap Or Go To The League album made sense. I was in those sessions. I was playing all of the music.
Bron had a notepad and had input on what he liked and didn’t like. It wasn’t just all, ‘Oh, that’s fire.’ He was like, ‘I think this needs to be this. Or, this song should come after that one.’ He liked ‘NCAA.’ He was jamming to that. Shout out to Bron.
What’s the quickest you’ve seen Chainz record a verse?
Yo, this man just did a verse that’s a feature for somebody. Let me paint the situation. The sprinter is about five minutes away — about to pull up to his house and take him to the airport. I’m trying to download the session to pull it up. He’s like, ‘I’m trying to do it before I go.’ He was about to go to Abu Dhabi or some shit like that. I downloaded the session. As I’m finishing downloading it, the sprinter pulls up. He’s like, ‘Fuck it. Pull it up. I have to do it.’ He was going to be gone for about four or five days without me, so he wouldn’t be recording.
Usually, he brings me. He’s brought me to Dubai, Indonesia, Paris, the U.K., Germany, and Amsterdam. I pulled it up. He knocked the verse out in five minutes. When he said the last line he said, ‘Run me some ad-libs real quick.’ While he’s finishing the ad-libs, he’s damn near walking out the door. This was like two weeks ago.
I’m not surprised he recorded a verse like that because you both seem to be able to record under any circumstance. I saw you recording him while he was still laying in bed.
That was in Salt Lake City during the ‘Pretty Girls Like Trap Music Tour.’ He broke his leg [at the] start [of] the tour. We did that session in the middle of the tour. His leg was broken and he couldn’t really move. He was doing his shows, and then he’d be in his room sore. I can’t remember if at that point, he was on crutches or the wheelchair. I carry a mobile studio with me. He had a tour bus with a studio in it. But, we have a mobile studio that we bring literally everywhere with us.
He called me and told me to pull up to his hotel room because he was ready to work. I moved a little lamp off one of the hotel tables or something to set up the computer, the mic, speakers and rock out like that.
What’s in the 2 Chainz mobile studio?
It’s trapped out (laughs). Just a computer, interface, headphones, mic, little speakers, a bunch of wires and some rolling papers (laughs). It fits in a suitcase.
There’s a difference in the vocals you get when someone is recording standing up as opposed to sitting down. Are there things you had to adjust for with him while he recorded in his bed?
You’re definitely right. There’s definitely a difference in how the vocals come out in regards to how they’re saying it. As an engineer, I didn’t have to do anything too different. I just made sure the levels were coming good and clear. All of the other stuff is going to do the job. I don’t have to change much rather than breaking down the studio every night and setting it up in a different hotel room. Sometimes, he is sitting on the couch. Other times, he’ll be damn near laying down. SportsCenter is on the TV muted.
When we were doing that, he wasn’t even listening to beats [before recording]. I would just pull beats up. The first time he hears the beat, I’m tracking, I’m recording. So, those first thoughts are coming out on the track. We do it like that now, sometimes. But, now he might listen to beats until he finds one.
After recording Chainz for several years, what are some things you know not to do when working with him?
(Laughs) No reverb on his recording track! He doesn’t want to hear that shit. He’s just going to say, ‘You have something on my voice.’ That’s his nice way of saying, ‘Take that shit off.’ I know now. That was early on.
What was that session like with Eminem? How were they interacting?
We did one session and he ended up bringing Chainz on an overseas tour for like four shows, and Chainz took me with him. I’m from Detroit, so it was crazy to meet Em. We were at Rick Rubin’s studio. I’m not going to lie. Eminem was intrigued with how 2 Chainz was rapping and how he was putting his rhymes together. Chainz was in the booth and Eminem asking me, ‘How did he do that?’ They’re fans of each other. It was a good session. It was definitely one for the books.
Besides that one, what was the most memorable session with 2 Chainz?
One of them is the ‘Good Drank’ session. Kanye West’s bus was parked at our studio, Street Execs in Atlanta. Kanye had a show out here [on ‘The Saint Pablo Tour’ on September 12, 2016]. His bus was here and Mike Dean was on the bus working on something. We ended up having a session at Street Execs. We’re working on shit and this was around the time Chainz wasn’t listening to the beats. So, he’s in there loading up beats and going crazy.
Mike Dean goes, ‘I’m about to go make you a beat.’ [2 Chainz] was like, ‘Alright. Just bring it to me when you’re done.’ Mike Dean go back on the bus, start making the beat, we were working on a song and Mike Dean came back in with the beat. We loaded it up and Chainz just went crazy. He did the verse. I can’t remember who suggested putting Quavo on it. It was either Tit or Mike Dean. Next thing I know, 15 minutes later, Quavo pulled up. We didn’t even close the session. We just had the beat looping. Quavo walked in, knocked out the hook and the rest is history.
J. Wolf told me that 2 Chainz is putting out a compilation album with his record label, The Real University. What’s the latest on that?
As far as the compilation goes, that’s something I’m really excited about. That’s something we’re working on now. Skooly’s on it. 2 Chainz recently signed three new artists, too. It’s been silent for a minute, but the rollout is about to start. Basically, it’s Chainz, Skooly, Worl, Hott Locked In and Sleepy Rose. That’s the new TRU.
Is the album done?
Shit, if y’all want it to be, it could be. We were in [the studio] two nights [ago]. At this point, there’s plenty of music to where it’s like, everybody could put out albums. They could put out two compilations.