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Studio Sessions | Evan LaRay Brunson talks Cardi B working on an album during the pandemic, keeping up with Future, and more

In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the Grammy award-winning engineer explains how Cardi has been recording her new album, what Diddy likes in the studio, and how impressive Belly’s pen game is.

Cardi B Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

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.

If you’ve heard a Cardi B song, you should give some thanks to her engineer of four years, Evan LaRay Brunson. He’s recorded her since 2016 and knows exactly how the rapper typically is when making music.

A typical Cardi B session is her coming in, saying a bunch of wild stuff, and going off of what’s going on currently on social media, going through beats, and whatever. She’s on FaceTime with Kulture and her family. It’s also jokes all day. She’s really funny in the studio,” Brunson told REVOLT.

In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the Grammy award-winning engineer explains how Cardi has been recording her new album during the pandemic, what Diddy likes in the studio, and how impressive Belly’s pen game is. Read below.

Who was the first big artist you worked with in the studio?

My first big session was with Scott Storch. I was interning for Bad Boy [Records] at Daddy’s House Recording Studio. I just got put into a room with Scott Storch. He didn’t need a good engineer. He just needed someone to set him up, fix his keyboard, keyboards and everything, so he can play hits beats through the speakers. This was around 2014.

What was it like interning at Daddy’s House?

It was really like survival of the fittest there. You have to be your best, opportunist, and know that anything can happen at any minute. That’s what happened to me. Celebrities might randomly walking in. Artists might randomly walking in wanting to do a session. Then, Puff randomly calls. Now, he’s coming in, but we have to get everything that’s on his rider (laughs). It was dope. I was working with French Montana then, too.

What’s Diddy’s studio rider?

Fruits — a certain type of fruit cup — a certain type of water, Blue Dot Ciroc, Simply Lemonade, apple sauce, random small stuff that he wanted every time he walked in.

What was a surprise session that happened at Daddy’s House?

When Kanye West came in. He didn’t really record, but it was crazy seeing Kanye. He walked in and was playing beats. I think this was when he had the song “All Day.”

When did you start being a recording engineer there?

I treated artists like they were human beings and talked to them regular. The artists liked that. So, in the studio I’d come to the lab, crack jokes. Then, I started picking up sessions with producers. I remember doing a session with Estelle. I was also doing sessions with Sean C & LV. They honestly got me focused in on producing. They were teaching me everything from sampling to looping to drum kicks and recording. I was working with them before Bad Boy started closing and that made me follow up to actually doing recording engineering.

You worked with Belly on his Inzombia project. What was that like?

That was one of my best experiences because he’s a creative mind. He’s such a creative artist, he’d come in and be like, “I want to change the whole scene of the studio.” His whole theme was villains, so he’d have horror films playing, fog machines, spiderwebs hanging from the ceiling. He tapped into a creative side that way. He has one of the best pen games I ever heard.

What’s his creative like making songs?

He hears the beat and loops. It’s all freestyle. It’s not a freestyle where he just says anything even if it doesn’t make sense. His freestyles are making melodies, flows, and cadences. Coming up with the flow and melody is the important thing. Once he starts tapping into the words and stuff starts coming into place, he’ll go, “Aight” and he’ll either pen it or spit it out right there. Future does the same thing too, but he has a whole other way of recording.

How is Future’s recording process different?

Because you have to always be ready to capture his flow and his lines. He’ll go in and for the first four bars, he’s mumbling trying to come up with something. Then, he’ll say a bar and then every time he would do that, he’d say a new bar. He’d catch the first four and then the fifth bar is like he’s looping it. So, he’ll keep saying that line over and over to try, and find the best one. He’ll take that down and put it in place. It’s a puzzle.

How does that change how you do your job?

It sharpened my skills. Dealing with certain artists, they have a way of communicating with the engineer. Sometimes he won’t say, “Yeah, keep this tape.” You just have to understand hearing him. If you don’t know him that well, you’ll keep missing it and throw off his vibe while he’s recording his idea. You just have to adapt.

You’ve been working with Cardi since 2016. What were those early sessions like?

In early sessions, she was extremely shy. She was nervous that people weren’t accepting her as an artist. It was a lot of second-guessing herself and chasing the beats. What changed from then to now is the confidence and trust. She sharpened her rap skills and understands beats better. She understands what the fans want more. She knows the fans love her. So, now it’s like how do you inject her in her music more instead of just rapping?

What’s a typical Cardi B session?

A typical Cardi B session is her coming in, saying a bunch of wild stuff, and going off of what’s going on currently on social media, going through beats, and whatever. She’s on FaceTime with Kulture and her family. It’s also jokes all day. She’s really funny in the studio.

How has it been recording her during a pandemic?

If I wasn’t working with her right now on this album, it would’ve been different because I’d be doing Zoom recordings or strictly mixing by myself. Since I’ve been with her, we’ve been in a bubble. We’re not seeing anyone or going anywhere, and if we are, we’re taking these 14-day breaks so that we don’t get anyone sick. Nothing really changed except not being around anybody. Nobody comes over the studio. Producers and artists can’t come over unless they quarantine. She hasn’t really been around anybody except for the video shoots.

How has the pandemic affected her work ethic?

We’re locked in and focused. We’re not like, “Ahh, we have to go to the show.” Now, I can get her any time of the day. We can go in the studio early in the morning. I’ve never really heard about rap songs recorded early in the morning (laughs). She’s happy to have more time to herself. She doesn’t have to rush to record a song because we have a show tonight or this or that. Now, we have time to perfect everything.

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How did you figure out what recording equipment works best for her?

I knew what was a good mic, pre-amp, and what’s good for certain artists like rappers and R&B singers. But, dealing with her voice was tricky. Every single song was us doing trial and error on different microphones until we found the ones everyone liked, and that was the Neumann U87 and Sony C800.

What are some suggestions you made for her songs?

For “Get Up 10,” I suggested all of the effects and beat drops. Anything you hear on her songs in terms of effects, that’s pretty much me. The delays, reverbs, beat drops, breakdowns are me.

So, did you suggest Cardi’s second verse on “Money” start with the beat drop and her saying “Ding donnnnggg”?

That was all her (laughs). The beat kept going and she was like, “Nah, I want to break it down and then pick it back up.” In my mind, to break it down and pick it back up, you take the beat out and basically leave the 808s rolling before going back into it.

Now that you’re recording with her in quarantine and you have no places to go, how long are these sessions?

I just got back from a session from last night. If we went in at 11 at night, I got back home to my room two hours ago at 4 pm. It wouldn’t last long because we were recording a song all day. It would be because she doesn’t want to rush the studio process. We’ll go in, we’ll try an idea, she’ll come up with an idea, remember it, try to see how she wants to sound, listen to the idea, go to another song, and then come back to the first idea. Then, we’ll just chill, watch a movie or documentary, we’d order food, and then get back to work.

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