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.
Earlier this month, we were all treated to a retrospective look at one of Nipsey’s seminal projects, his 2010 The Marathon mixtape, through a visual album experience. Djay Cas produced The Marathon’s standout track “Keys 2 The City” and told part of his story working with Nip, along with his partner RushDee Williams, but the pair have more to share.
“Sony/Epic actually planned to get Jamie Foxx on [‘Keys 2 The City’]. In the year 2010, Jamie Foxx had big hits. We were working on the record and we were trying to get him on it,” Djay Cas told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the two producers speak about working with Nipsey the week before he passed, and the sound he was going for on a possible upcoming album, and more. Peep below.
A visual album to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of Nipsey Hussle’s The Marathon mixtape was recently released. When did you get involved with the project?
Djay: The work started around December 2020. There were rumblings we were going to do something, but we didn’t know what because the 10-year anniversary was coming up. The idea slowly formulating over the months. Really, I was sharing my story in it. With the narrative, and everything they wanted to convey, my co-producer and I had a lot we wanted to say but didn’t get a chance to tell the full story. We were detailing the situation of how we got the record over to Nip and creating the record. What a lot of people don’t know is we gave him that hook. We saw the record go from going to be on South Central State of Mind — the album being released Sony/Epic — to it being self-released and the record sounding different. We actually had a feature lined up for the record and everything switched. If it would’ve came out how we and Sony/Epic thought, the record wouldn’t be anywhere near what it is today.
South Central State of Mind was being hyped up around summer 2010, but “Keys 2 The City” didn’t come out until The Marathon’s release in February 2011. How did the song change?
Djay: Sony/Epic actually planned to get Jamie Foxx on the record. In the year 2010, Jamie Foxx had big hits. We were working on the record and we were trying to get him on it. Some minor things happened and we couldn’t get him on the record. When things moved around at Sony/Epic, Nipsey decided to move forward and do things his own way. He realized he had to feed the people directly as opposed to letting the label do it for him. If I recall, this song was the very last thing that was knocked at while Nipsey was at Sony/Epic.
Let’s rewind a bit. How did this song even get to Nipsey in the first place?
Djay: I heard his music [around 2007/2008] and thought his music was amazing. I loved the sound he was going for. I thought his lyrics were clever. He had everything I was looking for. So, I hit him on Myspace saying, “Yo, I just want to send some beats over to you. I love your music.” On Myspace, you only had four songs (laughs). He hit me back on a Yahoo email address saying, “Send me some beats over here.” He loved what I sent and we started working on music from then. Emails turned into phone calls and phone calls turned into him saying, “We need beats faster than you can email them. So, send me hard drives.” He’s a perfectionist, so we may have so many songs we won’t know about until we go through a vault. I may think the record is 100% perfect, but he thought it was 99, so it never saw the light of day.
“Walk in My Shoes” was the first record that came out from us on Bullets Ain’t Got No Names Vol. 3 in 2009. Around winter of that year, I lost every beat I ever made. As I was backing up my hard drive, the computer drive fails, so the hard drive back up fails. Nothing got transferred, everything got erased. My friend sent me a sample and we built on it. I added keys and bass to it, so it could have a live sound to it. I was working with the songwriters for the hook on Ustream and I wanted the hook to capture the fact I thought the song was going to be big time. Once they got it, we packaged it and I started sending it out to everyone. Birdman had a version of it. People at Maybach Music Group were fucking with it. I know Rick Ross had the record. A few other labels wanted it for their artist.
I made the beat in November 2009. In January 2010, I had a situation where an artist wanted the beat, but then I got a call from Nipsey and Adam [Andebrhan] and they played me their version to “Keys 2 The City.” I wanted this to be the breakout single for him that would put a stamp on him. To this day, people will approach me and sing the lyrics to the song. I was at A3C in 2019. I tell them the records I did, and some other guy walked up and started singing “Keys 2 The City.” It meant so much to people.
Who were some other artists who recorded on that beat before Nipsey put it out?
Djay: I know there’s a Drake version of the record. One of the artists that wanted the record was Maino. Hip Hop Since 1978 was working with him and at the time they were also managing Drake, T.I., and Kanye West. They wanted the record for Maino and they wanted T.I., Drake, and Kanye to be on the record with him. It would’ve been like Drake’s “Forever.” There is a Drake verse for that record, as well as T.I. and Kanye West too.
What did you know about Nipsey’s recording process back then?
RushDee: If you had a real understanding of how Nip worked, you’d know you weren’t really getting in the lab with him unless you were in front of him every day because he was a real workaholic.
Djay: There’s a video of him recording a song to a beat I produced while holding the microphone in his hand in his hotel room. That became the song “7 Days A Week” on The Marathon. At the time, it was to my beat but he switched it over to the Wiz Khalifa [and Curren$y] instrumental (“The Plane” from How Fly). I didn’t know he did that to my beat until he passed in 2019. It just showed he never stops recording.
Nipsey passed in March 2019. Were you already working on his upcoming album at that point?
Djay: Yeah, around March is around when we did the bulk of the work. We were really tapped in and focused. There are sessions on my computer right now from that era that I can’t go back to because they were specifically for Nipsey. We really connected this time on exactly what he wanted to bring to his fans. We were capturing lightning in a bottle this time. He was giving me timeframes. He would say, “You have to give me this beat by 4 p.m. because I’m going to be on the road to the studio by 5 p.m.”
What was the vibe of the records?
Djay: It’s up to the family if those records will ever see the light of day. There’s a chance none of this gets released. As far as our records, this was the culmination of his sound. It was hard records that could get played on the radio.
RushDee: He was definitely scaling up. Cas and I were locked in every single day. We would send him 100 beats over the course of a week and he would still want more. He’d hit me the next day like, “Send another 100.” Nipsey really put emphasis on what Diddy did, which was taking those hit records and redoing them. When we heard him speak about that era, he spoke with a lot of conviction. For us, we took that as that’s what we need to do. We do have a few records that embody that sound. One of those records we did, he did tell us he had a special feature on it. It had to be something big because there was no mention of who. That’s definitely something we look forward to hopefully hearing. The sound we were conscious about was remaking big songs from the late ‘90s and 2000s.
Were there any records outside of that sound?
RushDee: He hit me one time like, “I need a strip club record.” I remember sitting there making it and everyone in the room was like, “I don’t really like that one.” I said, “Watch this. I think he’ll like this.” I sent it and every day for the next four days he was messaging me, “Aye, this record goes crazy” (laughs).
Djay: I hated that record.
RushDee: Hated! (Laughs). That may have been a week before his untimely passing.