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.
Born and raised in Peru, Raul Chirinos worked with Kendrick Lamar when he was recording To Pimp A Butterfly, A&R’ed for Interscope Records, and helped Spillage Village’s Spilligion album come to life. Recording an album during civil unrest and the Black Lives Matter movement made it impossible for the Spillage Village artists to not get involved.
“This was happening right in front of our fucking faces and we needed to be a part of it. We stopped whatever we were doing and followed the protests for maybe one or two hours,” Chirinos told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” Chirinos talks the communal atmosphere that helped make Spilligion, what to expect from EarthGang’s new album, how he helped Kendrick Lamar with his Spanish and so much more. Check out the conversation below.
How’d your journey to working with the Spillage Village artists start?
I went to Berklee College of Music to study music production and engineering. I moved to L.A. around 2013, and like anyone who starts in audio engineering, I started as a runner. My first day when I was getting tested to see if I was good enough to be a runner, I ended up helping Kendrick Lamar write for Schoolboy Q’s “Collard Greens.” When I interviewed for the position, the supervisor in charge of the runners and everything came by and said, “Hey, it looks like we’re going to have a last-minute session and we don’t have enough bodies for tonight. By then, I was jobless for three months. I told them I can start right now and the manager said he’ll contact me if the session is confirmed, so he sent me home. At 9 p.m., the call finally comes in and he says, ‘OK, Raul. We’ll see how you do tonight and we’ll talk in the morning.’
When I get there, the team supervisor from earlier comes back and says, “Hey, Raul. You mentioned you spoke Spanish. Come with me, we need help with something.” I walk in the studio. It’s pitch black, the lights are on in the middle of the room. I see a dude with a hoodie on pacing and looking at his phone. I walked over to ask, “Hey, how can I help you?” and it’s Kendrick (laughs). He tells me, “What’s up? I’m writing this verse for my homie Q, I want to start it off in English and then rap a couple of lines in Spanish.”
So, Kendrick asked for you help writing one of his most popular verses to date?
Yeah. He basically gives me the first line which is, “Hold up, beyotch, this your favorite song,” and then he gives me the rhythm and adds any bad word he knew in Spanish. Culo, Puto, and I think he put a huevos in there, too (laughs). I asked him what the song was about and what he wanted to say. I hadn’t heard any music or a single word from Q. He gave me some ideas of what he wanted to say and I ended up writing four lines for him in Spanish. He made me rap them, so he could record them on his phone and get the pronunciation right. He ended up cutting that verse that night. I remember working until 9 a.m. It was a 12-hour shift. I got back home in disbelief. At about three or four in the afternoon, the manager calls me like, “Hey Raul, I heard what happened with Kendrick last night. I guess we’re going to have to hire you now.” That’s how my entire career at Interscope started.
What do you remember about your experience as a runner for arguably the biggest record company in the world?
I remember clearly the first time [Kendrick] was nominated for the Grammy and won a Grammy, the next day he was back at the studio. Thanks to working with Kendrick, I got to work with TDE — him, SZA, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, and MixedByAli — for a year and a half. I have so many random stories. This might’ve happened right before I got to work with EarthGang and the J.I.D. guys. Q was at the studio doing the video for his song “Studio.” They just needed someone who knew how the console worked well enough to play the song, so he could do a lip sync for the video. I was happy to do it. I didn’t think much of it. A month or two go by and I’m at this auto shop when Q drops the video for “Studio.” I’m watching it, and in the middle of it, I’m randomly in the video. I literally jumped off my seat, went out running into the parking lot (laughs).
How did that lead you to Spillage Village?
The manager has a little recording studio in his garage and he told me he was going to have this new group EarthGang record at his house. This was in 2015 before they got signed in Interscope. They just had a publishing deal and was using that advance to record their album. He told me, “I’d like you to engineer them, so I can watch you closer and see how you handle different situations.” That’s how we met and they told me later on I was their first “real” engineer in a professional studio with them having an official session. Barry Hefner, one of my best friends in the industry, manages both EarthGang and J.I.D. So, J.I.D. came with them in most of these sessions for this two-week stretch. Whenever EarthGang was going through beats on their phone or writing a couple of songs, J.I.D. would jump in the booth for those 10 or 15 minutes of break time. The session wasn’t his, so he would ask, “Can I jump in real quick? I have this verse.” He’d go in there and record until the guys were ready to go back to it.
I read that this Spillage Village album started as J.I.D. renting out a house in Atlanta to work on his new album.
Yeah, we basically all moved into the house the same day. When the pandemic thing got real and it was obvious live shows weren’t happening, I was in Mexico for the Spotify Awards and Barry called me like, “Yo, what are you doing the next month or two?” They flew me to Atlanta the next day. The initial plan was J.I.D’s next album, but we were working on three albums at the same time everyday: J.I.D’s next album, [the] Spillage Village album, and the EarthGang album. I got there on the 9th of March and I stayed until the 3rd of August between both houses. Barry told me it was two months at the most, so we had this huge 10-bedroom house with a studio and a movie theater. It was EarthGang, J.I.D., Christo, Avatar Benji, Dylan [homie], Mereba, Hollywood JB, Jurdan Bryant.
What was J.I.D.’s recording process during that time?
He had an office space right next to his bedroom and we had a recording setup for him. Even if we stayed working until four or five in the morning, he’d still wake up hours later and record a bunch of ideas down on his own. Depending on what he felt could be done better or whatever the song needed, later on that day, we’d go to the actual basement in the studio and record some parts. Whatever performance felt right, we’d keep it and make things work.
What was a typical day like working on that album in the house?
Depending how late I worked, the mornings would usually be chill. There was a lot of Monopoly played and a lot of people getting mad about not winning (laughs). There was actually a lot of board games, which were really fun and bonded the house together. At some point there was a lot of us watching shows. We were watching Westworld, The Last Dance, and Snowfall. Olu was obsessed with Westworld. People low-key got mad because we started it together, but he got so into it, he went to his room and watched three or four more episodes. Also, on most nights, we all had dinner together. It was an actual home cooked meal. It was a moment to vibe out, listen to music, talk about the songs and what they’re missing.
Let’s get into some of these songs. How were they made?
They all really started from scratch in the studio. Olu would be on the floor holding a guitar, J.I.D. and Mereba [are] on the couch. It was how songs and records were made back in the day, as a group and a collaborative effort live, in the moment.
How was “Jupiter” made?
That was one of the most organic songs. I think J.I.D. had the melody where it goes “dun dun dun dun dun dun…to die.” That was during the peak of the whole pandemic where people realized shit was serious and people couldn’t leave their houses. It was before people relaxed a little bit about it. I think when J.I.D. came up with that melody and was singing it in Christo’s room, which was right next to the studio. I think Olu grabbed that acoustic guitar and started riffing. They probably wrote that in 20 minutes. That was probably in the first two weeks because Mereba was there and the whole crew was there at the same time in the room.
Who was making sure Spilligion got finished?
For the whole album, in general, Olu was super, super involved. Olu is obviously a great artist, but I feel on this album was the most he was involved in the production. He’s listed as a producer for “Baptize.” I’m pretty sure he was the one who had the idea for the entire outro of “Baptize” and bringing Ant Clemons in.
There were protests in Atlanta following the killing of George Floyd and so many others. How close were you all to those?
We were close enough to the protests that they came to us. We were staying on Monroe Drive and weren’t aware at first. We were in the kitchen and heard the roar of people. I remember we went outside, saw the protest coming down our street, and we just joined. We didn’t really plan it or think about it. This was happening right in front of our fucking faces and we needed to be a part of it. We stopped whatever we were doing and followed the protests for maybe one or two hours.
After the first house, what was it like recording in the second house?
We got to the second house on June 3. The second house was smaller and closer to the city. It was just Olu, myself, Christo and Avatar Benji. We were finishing the Spillage Village album and a lot of new EarthGang stuff. Olu was definitely the guy who oversaw the whole process. He went through every song, sending songs to different people, figuring out if we needed a feature here or background singing here. That’s where we really put the finishing touches on the Spillage Village album.
What is this EarthGang album sounding like?
That’s a tough question because both J.I.D. and EarthGang write so much. They have so much music and so many ideas. For the EarthGang album, you’re still going to have some songs that feel like the EarthGang you know and love, and some that depart from that into crazy production and some unexpected sounds that you’d never expect to hear from them.