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.
GQ has been one of the flagship artists at 9th Wonder’s Jamla Records for 11 years and he recently released his stellar EP Midsummer’s Nightmare entirely produced by the hip hop legend. Throughout these years, the two have an almost telepathic connection in the studio.
“9th can be cooking up in his zone and he’ll either have someone get me from another room or I’ll walk in and we’ll have that look like athletes do when they know to throw an alley oop without saying anything. 9th will send me beats and I’ll knock them out,” GQ told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” GQ speaks on his A Midsummer’s Nightmare EP, how a Nipsey Hussle session led to him recording in Mac Miller’s house, and the growth of his creative bond with Rapsody. Read below.
You signed with 9th Wonder and Jamla in 2009. What was your first session with him like?
The first session was actually in 2008 because that was when I graduated from [University of North Carolina] and that summer is when I met 9th. It was probably two or three weeks after graduation. 9th had me come by the studio. I never thought about doing music or rapping, it was just a fun to me. I had played some stuff on a CD of me just rapping over a Biggie beat, a JAY-Z beat — about five or six beats. He loved it and he asked me, “What do you want to do?” I was like, “Shit, I’m 22 years old, fresh out of college and I actually still wanted to pursue basketball professionally, but knee injuries kept me from that. He said, “You’re more than welcome to stay at the studio all you want.” I had just got a job and would call my job like, “I got to go to the studio today.”
The first session with 9th I remember is when we did a song called either “Beautiful Life” or “One of a Kind.” To be honest, in the first or two of me meeting 9th, I asked him, “What is it you see in me?” He was like, “You do things naturally that you don’t even recognize you’re doing when you’re rapping or in the booth. Also, because you play ball at a high level, your work ethic and how you carry yourself is natural.”
What’s it been like recording on Jamla over the last 11 years?
Even all the way up until now, it’s kind of been like music bootcamp because we’ve all learned and I’ve learned how to be an artist. More importantly, I’ve learned myself as a individual — a man and a person — and that’s been translating into the music.
How has Jamla’s recording situation changed over the years?
It’s always a family atmosphere and that’s the same way it is in the studio. I’ll go in the studio and won’t record. I may go just for a conversation with 9th or a conversation with Heather. Or 9th may just call people like, “Jones about to throw some food on the grill today,” and everybody would just come by. If somebody happens to want to record, the recording room is open, but it’s got to the point where it became more of a family. It also got to the point where a lot of us were traveling, so a lot of us were recording at our homes. But, we always came to the studio.
The studio has definitely improved over the years. We look at old pictures and videos of when we first got there and the walls were bare — no furniture. Not too long ago, in about June or July, we got a blessing in disguise, a pipe bust in the studio. Luckily it didn’t damage anything with music or computers, but 9th was in the process of thinking of going to a different place...still might be. But, the people who owned the building were like we’ll do this, this, and this for you and you guys can have the other half.
How did you make A Midsummer’s Nightmare during a pandemic?
9th and I had a lot of it recorded. What happened was 9th was like, “Let’s gear up for a project with Q.” I was recording doing different things and it just got to the point where he was just like, “Q, let’s just do an EP.” 9th can be cooking up in his zone and he’ll either have someone get me from another room or I’ll walk in and we’ll have that look like athletes do when they know to throw an alley oop without saying anything. 9th will send me beats and I’ll knock them out. Sometimes he’ll be there, we’ll work on it together and that’s a magical time. He’ll add drops while I’m recording and change things. Most of the EP was recorded before the pandemic. The only one that wasn’t was “Just For You.”
How long did it take you to record this album?
Two or three of the songs were recorded in 2019. “Big Lutha” was either recorded really early this year or late 2019. I remember us playing it a lot. A lot of the songs weren’t necessarily old songs, but we record so much. Reuben Vincent would come to the studio and record five songs no problem.
One of my favorite lyrics on the EP is when you said, “Columbus got his own day, they should give Nip one.” How’d that lyric come to you?
The came to me because I was able to actually meet Nip[sey Hussle]. On a project called Rated Oakland, I have a song with him and Big Pooh. 9th and Rap[sody] were in L.A. and Nip were working on something for both of them. I was in Oakland at the time and 9th was like, “Do you think you can get to L.A. this weekend?” I was like, “Yeah.” He was like, “If you can get down here, we can knock out some stuff with Nip.” Two of my boys and I drove to L.A. from Oakland, went to the 1500 Studio with 9th and Rap, and that was the first time I met Nip. For the first two hours, it was just 9th and Nip talking, him talking to us, and us all having conversations about life. One of my boys that I brought ended up being family with Nip, and they started talking about different family members and shit. I’ll never forget, Nip and I sat on the same couch and wrote our verses right next to each other. Then, we recorded it. The line wasn’t just giving respect to him for the person I got to meet, but it’s also about the bullshit they teach us about people like [Christopher] Columbus who really didn’t do anything. Nip should definitely have a day.
What do you need in the studio to make your best music?
I don’t usually have the same thing in the studio. Snacks are what I always have. Anything gummy — Gummy Bears, gummy Lifesavers — Skittles, Starburst, Mike-n-Ikes. I’m just a big snack person. I’ll smoke my tree or have a little alcohol, but for me, I don’t need that stuff. I’ve been around artists when they have to have certain vices — a certain candle or a dim light — to get work done. That’s not me. If I get off the phone right now, I can just be in my living room and zone out and write. If I’m in the studio and I don’t have any of the stuff I named it won’t be, it won’t mean the song won’t be good.
What input did you have on the beats you got for A Midsummer’s Nightmare?
I’ll write to new beats. But, I’ll also just go to YouTube sometimes, write to industry beats and then put them on new beats. 9th is one of those people where I could be thinking something and the beats he’s making at that time is like “That’s it!” The part that I love is, after we choose the songs, 9th puts the records together or syncing them up. That’s the part I love. The underrated attribute of 9th Wonder is lining the songs up.
Are you in the studio with him when he puts it all together in that way?
Sometimes. If I’m in the studio with him, sometimes he’ll be like, “We’re going to do this, this, this.” We talk about everything. As I said, it’s a family. But, at the same time, I have so much confidence in 9th because 9th knows what he’s doing. 9th’s been there before. He’s been a lot of places I’m trying to get to. A lot of times, I just trust 9th.
You’ve also been working with Rapsody for more than a decade. How has your chemistry with her evolved?
Everything becomes easier over time. My feature on her song “Ridin’” [from Laila’s Wisdom] was a verse that was on something else. It was funny because Rap was like, “You know you’re on the album,” when Laila’s Wisdom was ready to come out. I was like, “No I’m not. I didn’t record nothing for the album.” So, she’s laughing and says, “No, we put you on the album. We have this verse you recorded and you probably don’t even remember it.” When I first heard “Ridin’,” I didn’t like my verse because in my head I was like, “That’s an old verse. I could’ve wrote something new.” They did the video for her song “Power” with Kendrick [Lamar]. Kendrick wasn’t able to do the video with her, so Rap thought, “Well, Q got E. 14th coming out next, so let’s do a part in the video of ‘Riding’ to prepare them for E. 14th.” That’s just how Rap’s always thinking. She’ always thinking of other people. The funny thing between Rap and I is we have a lot of songs, but we have a lot of older songs together.
What’s her creative process in the studio?
It’s been interesting to watch. When I first met Rap, I remember she would sit in a room sometimes and write three or four verses for one song. 9th would have to tell her, “You’re going to record that one.” Or, “You have to pick one of them and go record.” It’s been so dope to see her confidence go up. She’s an animal. It’s like seeing an athlete zone out before a game or when someone has that look in their eye. She has that when she’s locked in. I always call her a star because it’s natural to her. It’s fun. I love watching her record. I love watching her create. The last song we recorded together in the studio was “Goodfellas” on Jamla Is The Squad II.
9th is a huge Duke fan and you played for their rivals at University of North Carolina. What are the sports debates like in the studio?
To be honest, we don’t really talk shit about Duke and Carolina. We’ll have our little fun every now and then, but to be honest, we just talk hoops and sports. 9th will hit me sometimes like, “Man, how is such and such that played for UNC?” And I’d do he same about Duke. 9th knows so much about a lot of stuff. He’s almost like a walking almanac (laughs).
Are there any moments recording with 9th that surprised you?
Yeah, it’s a funny story actually. Later in the day after I linked with 9th and them in the studio to record with Nip, we linked up with 9th again. He sent us an address like, “We’ll record here.” We pull up and it’s home with some gates. I’m looking at the home and I’m like, “Where have I seen this home from? I’ve never been here but I’ve seen this house before.” The gates open up, 9th walks down the driveway, and he laughs. We’re walking up and I’m like, “Whose house is this?” He was like, “This Mac Miller’s house.” Mac was out of town either on tour or working, but Mac’s people were real close to 9th and Rap because Rap and Mac had went on tours together... They [gave] 9th and them access and we were in there. That always trips me out that I was with Nip and then recorded at Mac’s house the same day.