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.
Outside of Drake, J. Cole, and Kendrick Lamar, Wale had one of the most prolific decades in the 2010s amassing 12 gold and platinum certified singles and albums. On the vast majority of those records, Kevin “No Credit” Spencer was either recording Wale, mixing the songs, or both and knows exactly what inspires his music.
“If he’s drinking red wine, we’re going to get an emotional song with him singing on it. It’s just something about it. He’s going to be singing his heart out,” Spencer told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” Spencer discusses Wale and SZA’s chemistry in the studio, Wale’s underrated production skills, and spending nearly 100 days with Jerry Seinfeld quotes. Read below!
How did you link up with Wale?
I first linked up with Wale at this studio I worked at. I was cool with the studio owner and he asked me if I knew who Whale was. I was like, ‘No.’ So, he said, ‘You have a session with him.’ Of course, Wale walked in and I was like, ‘OK, this is Wale. Not Whale.’ This was 2011.
That was after Wale’s debut album, Attention Deficit, dropped in 2009. What was the first song you two worked on that was released?
The first one we worked on that I can remember... was ‘Bait’ in 2011. That was the first song I recorded him on and mixed, as well. The recording process was crazy because back in those days, Wale was rolling with a producer out of D.C. named Tone P. Tone did ‘Bait’ by himself. The biggest thing I remember about that session is Wale and Tone P being like, ‘Man, the timbales ain’t loud enough.’ In go-go music, the timbales are very important. From an engineering perspective, it was counterintuitive. I was like, ‘This is way too loud.’ They were like, ‘Nah, that’s how it is in go-go.’ In that process, it was really important that go-go was in the record as much as possible, but also want it to be clean enough to be modern.
How involved was Wale in the sound of his music back then as compared to now?
It goes in waves. When he was younger, he was like anybody when you’re young in life. You’re younger so you’re curious, especially when you had music out before, had success, and want to keep that same success. But, maybe your mixtape quality isn’t up with the version you want to become. Back then, he was involved because he knew he wanted to get to a certain level. He wanted to make sure the project he was putting out was up to snuff with the people he thought were his contemporaries -- the Kid Cudis and everybody else.
From that end, he was very involved. After the success of Ambition, it gets to where people respect and like us. But, creatively, what can he do? So, when it came to The Gifted, he wanted to be involved in the sonics of the record from a creative standpoint, more so than making sure his music was technically right. He’s growing and The Gifted was a very collaborative process between him and I. I ended up producing or co-producing six records on that album. Wale and I co-produced ‘Simple Man’ together. He wanted to be heavily involved in the production of that album.
When it came to The Gifted, what session really sticks out nearly seven years later?
The one the sticks out to me is the song with him and Sam Dew. I can’t remember the title of the song because the actual name of the rough [version] was another title. But, at the last minute, they had to change the name of the song because it was thought that the name wouldn’t be received well. I know about the old name, but I’m not going to say what it is. The final title of the song is ‘LoveHate Thing.’ That was one of the first sessions we had for The Gifted album. In the room, you had Wale, Sam Dew, Tone P, Stokley (Williams) from Mint Condition, and members of a band called Cloudeater, which had Sam Dew as the lead singer at the time. Everyone thought they were going to be the next band the blow up out of Georgia because they were that good. It was a good time for everybody. It started from a click track and a bunch of people with different instruments getting to it.
Before Wale even got the song, I accidentally put a fade at the beginning of the record and it made everything sound like it was coming out of a hole or marching out a tunnel. It was an accident, but it stuck on the song because everybody loved it. That session stands out in my mind because it set such a positive tone for the making of that album. I think if you want to know what’s in the mind of Wale, musically, The Gifted is probably the best example of that.
That was his second album on Rick Ross’ MMG label. Ambition was the first one. What was Ross’ involvement?
I’m not in the loop, and in the conversation with Wale and Ross. They have their own relationship. But, Ross was always somebody that Wale would go see from time to time, talk about what he had going on, get a record from him or get a vibe from him. Ross is a big brother figure to Wale. Ross is a legend.
Paint me a picture of a normal Wale studio session.
Dim lights. Sometimes he might light some sage to clear out whatever energy was there before that. He likes to get relaxed. May have a little bottle of wine. He might smoke something. It could be a couple of people just kicking it, talking about life, and it turns into a song.
My favorite Wale album is The Album About Nothing. You weren’t in the studio with Jerry Seinfeld, but how much time did you work with those Seinfeld quotes?
It was crazy chopping that stuff up. There are enough quotes for a whole ‘nother album (laughs). Jerry Seinfeld is a comedian. If you give a comedian a microphone, they can go all night. They have several sessions of this that are just one-liners and different takes on different things. We sat around so much just listening. We probably spent as much time listening to quotes as we did recording music.
How many hours would you estimate you spent listening to quotes and piecing them together?
Put it like this, he probably spent 200 days in the studio making that album, and half of that time was spent listening to quotes and trying to match them to songs. You get a quote and now you have to find the musical representation of that quote. The words and the music have to go together.
A standout from that album is ‘The Need To Know’ with SZA, two years before her debut album CTRL dropped. What was it like putting that song together?
I think we recorded that when we were done recording for the album and were mixing. I think that got added at the last minute. SZA came through and bodied it. Gramm on the production was crazy. ‘Bad’ was a huge record. Wale likes sequels. If there was a sequel to ‘Bad,’ that’s what that record was. It was a record he was passionate about. The risk of overdoing it is probably why it wasn’t a single since they already did ‘Bad.’ By the time the record was made, ‘The Matrimony’ was already going off as the single for that record. It would’ve had to have come after what the singles for that album already were.
The chemistry between Wale and SZA in the studio was real smooth. They were like butter and toast. Wale don’t be talking that shit in his records just to talk it. If you’re a woman that can go deep, you’re going to get that with Wale. Wale connects to women in that way. Whatever vibe you put out there, he’ll rock with it. If you put out some weird energy, it might not go well. But, SZA doesn’t put out no weird energy. Everyone was soulful and smooth. Him and Ari Lennox, too.
Wale is known for his long monologues. What are some deep speeches he’s done in the studio?
A recording is a timestamp of where you are in life. So, if he’s in that space on a record, you know there are some subjects that would come up in the studio and there would be some passionate debates. But, they’re more like barbershop debates rather than Wale standing up like a dictator just pontificating. Out of those barbershop debates comes the poetry. A lot of the stuff he’s specific with, he may have been on the phone with a baddie and got real deep. He’d come to the studio like, ‘I was talking to this girl Kev and she said this.’ I might not get what he’s saying, but by the time he turns it [in] to poetry, I’ll get it.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen him do?
I’ll give you something that I thought was funny and was also very relief... It’s not from the studio, but from before he went on stage. He always does the annual New Year’s show in D.C. I chopped it up with him and before he went onstage, he was like, ‘OK, let’s get this show over with’ and had this mischievous grin on his face that said, ‘I was meant to do this shit.’ For an artist like Wale, the studio can be stressful because an artist like Wale wants to perform and entertain people. Everything else is prohibiting him from interacting with his fans. So, in the studio, he’s not going to be as casual and laid back, as he is when he’s about to hit the stage because the stage is where he’s really doing his thing.
Has he made songs and expressed what he thought they’d sound like live?
That’s his favorite thing to say. As soon as he records a song... it’s always, ‘Hey, Slim, we need to add this in there because if we add this, it’s going to sound great at the live show.’
Can you tell what type of song Wale is going to record based on his mood?
I don’t know if he’ll want me to say this or not, but I’m going to go and say it. If he’s drinking red wine, we’re going to get an emotional song with him singing on it. It’s just something about it. He’s going to be singing his heart out. You really don’t know what song is about to happen most of the time. He’ll listen to beats on his phone, and already has something figured out on his way back from the gym to his hotel before we hit the studio.