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.
Fabian Marasciullo is 40 years old and the Queens, New York native has spent half of his life mixing records for JAY-Z, Michael Jackson, and T-Pain. The mixer has also touched every Lil Wayne and Rick Ross project that has been put out since 2004. The son of a doo-wop singer, Marasciullo got his start in the industry working under the tutelage of producer extraordinaire Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins.
“If you get one song every 10 years that’s big, you can live the rest of your life mixing records. It’s as simple as that,” he told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” Marasciullo explains how he mixed Rick Ross’ Port Of Miami 2 in less than a week, how Lil Wayne helped his songs leak and what it was like working with Michael Jackson in the studio on his last album.
When would you say you really began to be in album mode for Port of Miami 2 with Rick Ross?
There were so many false starts, to the point where I told them, ‘Let me know when y’all are really ready.’ It was probably 4th of July weekend and my friend had rented a yacht in the south of France and was like, ‘Come through.’ We were supposed to leave that Saturday, but I got the call on Tuesday [from Ross’ team saying], ‘We’re ready.’ I thought it was another false start. I’m literally about to get on a plane with my wife, bags packed… and they told me, ‘We’re ready to go.’ [From that point], it was an ongoing process for two years.
We turned in Tha Carter V in 24 hours before it was up. [Ross’s label] wanted to turn it in a month before because they were preparing physicals to ship and things like that. It was really intense and stressful for about five or six days, especially because Ross has a weird way of working. He doesn’t have an engineer anymore. He always has a couple of his homies that are around. These sessions were so rough. I wanted to strangle everybody.
You mixed the majority of Port of Miami 2. What was the roughest song you mixed that had the biggest change after you touched it?
The song with Nipsey Hussle [‘Rich Nigga Lifestyle’]. I don’t know what it was, but I think… the files changed hands too many times… That one was special because it was my man Nip. So, I had to make sure that shit was on fire. That was one that was a ton of work.
What was Ross like working on this album?
He’s the type of dude that will sit an inch away from you, staring at you in the face, listening to the record. He wants to sit that close to you and look at you while you’re listening to his record. I would go home, mix it, bring it back and we’d go over some things. We were in Vegas, Miami, Atlanta, New York and L.A. It was a little stressful because he was on an overseas tour at one point and his timezones were crazy.
What’s Ross’ vibe like in the studio?
Oh, Ross is a vibes guy. You can smell the studio up the block. There’s a ton of weed in there… There’s a gangster feeling when you walk in there. He’s a perfectionist. He sits, he writes, he listens, he watches TV, he goes for a walk. Ross is always thinking about a visual when he’s doing a song. He’ll sit back, write his verse and tell you, ‘When I say this [verse], I want gunshots there or the sound of a car pulling off.’ Everything is a movie for him.
Ross had health issues these last few years. How did that affect his recording?
First of all, it was scary because we’re all friends. So, it made everything stop. But, secondly, his health was a lot of the reason why it took so long to put out Port of Miami 2. It definitely hindered it a lot. One day we’re in the studio working and then the next day, Ross was in the hospital. [But,] I’m happy he’s doing better.
If I’m not mistaken, you also were in the studio with JAY-Z back in the 90s.
Yeah. Remember the song Swizz [Beatz] did on the [Ruff Ryders] compilation [‘Jigga My Nigga’]? I was there when Swizz played him the beat for the first time… I also mixed the ‘So Ambitious’ record he did with Pharrell from The Blueprint 3… He is very picky, very particular, borderline pain in the ass (laughs).
To that point, which artist have you worked with that’s the most particular about their mixes?
Puff [Daddy] is fucking nuts. I’ll tell him that. I love him. I don’t think it’s classy to talk about numbers. But, let’s say the average mixer gets paid $4,000 [per] song. Yo, there was a record that Puff gave me $25,000 for, by the time it was done, because we spent so much time [on it]. He doesn’t give a fuck, he’s Puff Daddy. It went on the Money Making Mitch mixtape… Michael [Jackson] was also great. The thing I used to love about Michael is when you think you’re the illest, he’ll walk in and go, ‘That’s great. But, why don’t we try pushing this a little more.’ Meanwhile, you’ve been working on this for a month already. So, you’re basically starting over.
What’s your favorite memory of being in the studio with Michael Jackson?
I have the funniest story of this time in Miami. I used to be Rodney Jerkins’ tracking engineer. Michael came in the studio and Rodney and I are excited to play him [‘Rock My World’]. Michael is standing there and Rodney has his back to Michael because he’s playing the keyboard… [But,] I’m facing Michael and [see him do] the little MJ kick (laughs). I almost fell out of my chair. It was so wild.
Last month was the 15th anniversary of the start of Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter series. What do you remember about those Carter 1 sessions?
Oh, I remember [the C.O.O. of Young Money Entertainment] Cortez [Bryant] was a fucking nerd with his backpack. Now, he’s the almighty Cortez that runs the world. I remember this dork and you can quote me on that (laughs). We all knew [Lil] Wayne had something special… I don’t think people give credit to him for the things he’s created. One of those records that stick out to me is ‘Go DJ.’ At the time, most of the southern rap and popular records had like 10 fucking lead tracks.
When I got ‘Go DJ’ for me to mix, it was like that. I probably have the original session. There were so many vocals and Wayne was talking a lot of shit. But, you couldn’t really understand it. I took out all of the vocals except for one. This was risky because I’m this little white boy in the studio with 25 [people] from New Orleans with machine guns (laughs)… I told them I thought it was dope like this and I hit play… [Cash Money Records Co-Founder] Slim was like, ‘That’s dope. Let’s go with it.’ … Baby was cool with it, so we ended up putting a second lead in. It really set a trend with music from a mixing perspective. When that song blew up, if you listen to rap from that time or earlier, you’ll hear a difference with how these songs were mixed.
After Tha Carter 1, Lil Wayne started to put out a lot of music. Was there a time where you noticed that recording started to pick up?
We always had a studio for Wayne every night. [He] doesn’t like to be around people [or] go out… So, he became this person where if he’s not in the studio, then he doesn’t know what to do with himself. It was right after Tha Carter 1 when he started to get like that. He turned into a studio rat. Even now, we have two engineers on him 24 hours… and he works around the clock. It’s been like that for years.
Between Carter II and Carter III, so much music from Wayne came out as leaks and on unofficial mixtapes. Were any of those planned leaks?
Those songs were leaking in the most frustrating and heartbreaking way. At the time, we were in Miami. The problem was Wayne would leave the studio at six in the morning after being in there all day, go to his crib, drive his Rolls-Royce, park it and leave it to the valets with all the CDs in the car. This was before you could text songs through iMessage. So, that’s how a lot of those leaks happened. It was just Wayne being tired. A couple of times, it was a disgruntled employee.
Then, in the middle of that, his seminal mixtape Da Drought 3 came out. What was the making of that like?
He was starting to have some personal problems at the time, so that was his release. Wayne’s genius lies in creating the music. At the time, a lot of that stuff was Cortez, Mack Maine and Baby looking at all this music like, ‘We have to do something with this.’ Wayne just makes the music. I literally just got a Dropbox notification saying he did 16 sessions [the night of August 4].
For Carter III, weren’t there two versions of ‘A Milli’?
There’s a bunch of versions of ‘A Milli’ (laughs). Wayne records so much.
What’s your personal favorite mix that you’ve created?
‘Buy You A Drank’ by T-Pain, which allowed me to buy my first Bentley. Then, there was ‘Lollipop’ by Lil Wayne, which I still get work from. If you get one song every 10 years, that’s big. You can live the rest of your life mixing records. It’s as simple as that (laughs).
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