Studio Sessions I Mike Kuz talks working on Dave East's debut album and Nipsey Hussle

  /  07.25.2019

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.

It is known that great art can be born from great misery, which is why the studio has become a haven for artists’ to pour out their vulnerabilities. The 31-year-old producer and engineer Michael “Mike Kuz” Kuzoian has worked with Dave East since late 2017 as the rapper began transitioning from a street artist to an industry artist. Kuz has countless stories of studio sessions with East over the years but, the first session they had following Nipsey Hussle’s passing is what is most memorable.

“I didn’t have a personal relationship with Nip. I met him in passing at Dave’s birthday last year. But, what I did know about him and the familiarity I had with his music and his message really made that situation feel as bad as it could be. That definitely had Dave messed up [for a while]. But, he turned it around and turned it into art,” Kuz told REVOLT TV.

On this installment of “Studio Sessions,” Mike Kuz details how Dave’s work ethic such as, recording standout verses fresh from sleeping, him penning lyrics following Nipsey’s passing, and his history helping make Dave’s music sound its best.

Dave East’s debut album is done, how long would you say it took him to record the album?

There are recordings on the album that are probably from a year [or so] ago. But, I would say we were really in album momentum for… probably eight months. It starts slow. You record a lot of records that set the tone and inspire the direction, and then you start to get into a groove of what you want your message to be. Then it starts to flow.

The first project of Dave’s that you worked extensively on was Karma 1. How has Dave improved in the studio since then?

Our whole process has evolved a lot since when we started working together. When we started working together, he was still standing up in the booth, I was in the studio and we were communicating that way. Now, he just sits right next to me in the studio. We work a lot faster that way. He’s right there with me. I can read him. I can communicate with him easy. Anything we need to address we can do it right there without having to go back and forth. I have seen him get into a different zone over this [album]. He..has raised the bar for himself.

To that point, this is his debut album. How was his mindset different when making this, compared to his other projects?

Overall, we just took more time… It wasn’t a lot of one and done stuff happening… We chopped them up. We rearranged them. We tried a lot of different things. When we do the mixtapes, we’re basically putting out what we do in the studio. We record a ton, pick our favorites and put it together as a cohesive body of work. For the album, he’s been more intentional with his message, the progression, and the story. I know that he cares about this project more than he’s ever cared about a project before. As much as we’ve listened to it… we spent a lot of time inside and out of the studio focusing on how to improve it and make it special.

You said the bulk of the album was recorded over the last eight months or so. During that time, unfortunately, Nipsey Hussle passed. Did Dave record any songs in dedication to Nip for the album?

Dave definitely was inspired to do something special for Nip, who was a good friend of his. I know he was really impacted when that happened. He definitely put some stuff on wax… he definitely got in the booth with some good words.

Dave organizing the N.Y.C. vigil for fans after Nipsey’s passing was one of the best moments of 2019. What was that first session like with Dave after Nipsey’s passing?

It was tough. He was deeply affected by that. It was tough for me to see my friend feeling that way. I didn’t have a personal relationship with Nip. I met him in passing at Dave’s birthday last year. What I did know about him and the familiarity I had with his music and his message really made that situation feel as bad as it could be. That definitely had Dave messed up for a little while. But he turned it around and turned it into art.

What’s the most memorable studio session for this album?

I can’t even pick one. We’re literally in the studio seven days a week so, there’s been a ton of memorable sessions. We went out to Miami and got in the studio with Timbaland for three days. That was unreal.

What were those three days like?

It was iconic. We showed him where we were at with the album. He caught a vibe with us and we just locked in for three days. We would go through ideas, he would be right in the room with us, we would record it… I would mix it, do some tricks and finalize it a little. Then, we would move on to the next one, pretty much. He just had beats on deck.

How many songs would you say were made in those sessions?

We did quite a few. You’ll hear some of that on the album… it sounds like some Timbaland shit. He put his stamp on it for sure.

I’m not sure if you saw but Nas was really congratulatory of Dave’s album during the Tidal interview he did for The Lost Tapes 2.

Nas has been in the studio with us a couple of times listening to it. He’s very familiar with the project and has had time to spend with it.

The making of this album comes at a time when Dave’s celebrity status is at its peak. Who were some noteworthy people that came through to a few sessions when making it?

We’ve had a lot of people come through. We were in the studio with Swizz [Beatz]. One of the nights he was in the studio with Swizz [and] Forest Whitaker was in there. We ran into DMX one day when we were in there. Omari Hardwick is a friend of Dave’s so we see him a lot. That’s [what I remember] off the top of my head. I know there’s been more.

I also saw Teyana Taylor and Dave were in the studio. What did they cook up?

Dave and [Teyana] have done a couple of things and they’re all really, really good. All the work they have together so far is immaculate. They could do a tape together at some point, honestly. That’s not in the works but, that’s my personal opinion. She’s done a lot of different things on the records… She’s rapped a little. She’s sang powerfully. She’s sang softly and done nice harmonies.

What were some of the longest sessions for this album?

There were days we would link at one studio at 5 p.m. and then at 11 or midnight we’ll go to another studio, and be there until four or 5 A.M. We’ve had 12-hour sessions.

Have those long sessions become common enough where you’ve developed a routine?

Oh yeah. You never know what a session is going to be [like] so you at least have to have the essentials: Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant. There would be times, for days in a row, where I don’t even go home because I’ll be in the studio with East and I have my other spot with Buda and Grandz downtown.

Dave had projects before you came along. How have you adjusted or changed his previous recording situation?

From the first night we got together, day one, Buda put that together. The first thing he asked me in our first session was, ‘Do you have beats?’ I was like, ‘Hell yeah.’ I played some beats; he cut to one of them that night; I did the demo mix I normally would do in a session. I think he was impressed with how it sounded and we got into a routine with that. He started to become more familiar with what I was doing and the tricks I had in the bag. He would start to get involved like, ‘Do this here and do that there.’ We started to communicate a lot.

Every producer and engineer I talk to who work with artists consistently develop a ‘template,’ preset recording and mixing settings catered towards a specific artist sound. What’s your template for Dave East?

I had a tracking template when I went in with Dave that I had been using for myself. At this point, I’m really working with Dave 99% of the time so, I’ve adjusted that along the way in ways that have been good for our situation and the sounds I like for him. I like to keep his vocals upfront and very much present [and] do a lot of subtractive EQ-ing… You can say I know the right places to cut for Dave’s vocals in order to clean up the stuff that eclipses the good sounds. When I clear a space for those, I compress them good and get them out front.

What’s the most impressive thing you’ve seen Dave East do in the studio?

This is a good one. Do you know that joint “Powder” from P2? I remember P2 was just wrapping up and we were at that point where we had to make sure all the song we had picked were done. I want to say “Powder” was one of the last ones if not the last one. We had to get it done soon so we could turn the project in. It was a long night and Dave passed out on the couch for an hour and a half, maybe two hours.

Then, I was like, ‘Yo, we have to finish ‘Powder’ for P2 because we have to send it in.’ When he’s [really out] it’s tough to get him up. But, we shook him, tapped him and told him we have to finish it. He was dead-dead and he woke up around seven in the morning and did the second verse on “Powder” after being out cold, on some fourth-quarter shit.

What’s your greatest talent?

I’ve always been on a mission to be as capable as I can be… When I moved to the city, I started to pick up engineering and started to learn the value of diversifying your skill set. So, I was fortunate to be working with a lot of high-level people who were having me assist them and work with them… All of that added up and now I can do much more than make beats. I can record vocals. I can record a band. I understand how the studio works… I know how to make ideas come to life.

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