Studio Sessions | DJ Toomp talks T.I. creating Trap Music, working with Kanye, an unreleased JAY-Z/Rihanna collab and more
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” Toomp explains why T.I. should be credited with creating Trap Music, Hov recording a song in 15 minutes, what Kanye West’s studio habits were like during the making of ‘Graduation’ plus more.
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.
DJ Toomp has seen 2 Live Crew at their raunchiest, helped T.I. mold the sound that would become known as “Trap Music,” and watched one-take JAY-Z emerge right before his eyes. Nut, when you do anything for more than 30 years, you tend to create more memories than you can remember.
“I did a Rihanna and JAY-Z record that’s so fucking hard. This was made between 2009-2010,” he revealed to REVOLT. “[Def Jam is] protecting that shit like a precious emerald.”
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” Toomp explains why T.I. should be credited with creating Trap Music, Hov recording a song in 15 minutes, what Kanye West’s studio habits were like during the making of Graduation plus more.
2 Live Crew is known for ushering in a lot of explicit lyrics and visuals in hip hop. You toured with them in the 1980s. Do you remember that raunchy vibe carrying over into the studio sessions?
One song we did, Luke wanted it to come across on the recording that he was receiving oral sex on a song. We had somebody come through, they turned the lights down, and he made it happen. She didn’t have any problem because nobody saw her face, they just heard her voice and the sounds. We were laughing. We were like, ‘Oh shit. Is she doing that for real?’ It was the same thing when we were touring. You’d have girls come onstage and give straight oral sex to a man. Everywhere we went to, we brought the freaks out.
Besides 2 Live Crew, your work with T.I. on his debut album, I’m Serious, is how a lot of people got put on to you. What were those sessions like?
T.I. was rapping since he was a kid, and he tried to connect with a few different producers around the city. But, he didn’t have exactly what he was looking for until his cousin hooked him up with me. Once I heard him, it was magic. Once he started getting used to my sound, before you know it, we had chemistry. It took off from there. We did a song called ‘VIP’ back in 1998 when I knew we had something. We met in 1997.
Would you agree that T.I. started Trap Music?
Come on, man. You already know I do (laughs).
Then, did you know you were making a new sound of hip hop?
I didn’t know what we were starting, but wasn’t really nobody talking about trapping on any records.
You said that T.I.’s music knowledge helps make sessions easier. Is there a session you can remember where that was true?
Yeah, basically, the intro and outro [of I’m Serious]. He started the beat, I just finished the drums up. You give Tip an MPC and a Triton, he’ll sit there and make a beat right there in your face. He hasn’t done that in a while. I would love to see him do that in 2020. A lot of people don’t know that he gets down.
One of your biggest songs with T.I. is ‘What You Know.’ What sounds did use on T.I.’s voice?
I basically stacked the brass horn sounds. My main thing was I wanted it to feel like an anthem. Around that time, there was a lot of finger snap music. I wanted to do something totally different that would make us stand out amongst the rest and it worked how I planned. I told my man who mixed it, ‘The music is big with all of these big instruments and strings popping off.’ But, Tip didn’t really rhyme aloud. His delivery wasn’t really hype. He was still laid back in the cut. So, I made sure in that mix, they brought his vocals up real high, so it wouldn’t be overshadowed by the music.
I heard you were at the Dreamville sessions working with Bryan-Michael Cox and Ari Lennox. Was there an Ari Lennox/DJ Toomp collab recorded?
Yeah, there is a song. It’s a dope record. I’m wondering what they’re going to do with it. I was hoping it was going to make the album and it didn’t. It’s a dope song. I was in a real jazzy mood for that one. I have this musician and producer named Dreamscape. It was a vibey type track. What’s crazy is that when we made the beat, we were thinking of an Erykah Badu or Jill Scott. When I played it at Dreamville, Ari was like, ‘Hold on. Go back to that shit (laughs).’ I was like, ‘I should’ve played this at first.’ At one point, they were talking about using it for Charlie’s Angel soundtrack. I think they’re still interested in it, but right now, it’s just sitting in a hard drive.
You were also in a session or two with J. Cole. What came from that?
Cole came in and kicked about four of ‘em. He went crazy. When I was in there playing, he was like, ‘Oh my god. Is it you?’ I was like, ‘Hell yeah. What’s up, dawg?’ He had a hard drive and I put a whole gang of them in his hard drive. We’ll see what comes from that.
You once said Kanye West’s ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ was 60% Kanye and 40% Toomp. What’s your 40%?
The beat, the bassline. He had the strings, but I wanted him to put some brass in there. Originally, that song was supposed to be a remix of Jeezy’s ‘I Got Money.’ Kanye fell in love with the whole cadence of how that beat was flowing on ‘I Got Money’ and he wanted the song to be a remix featuring him. But, after we put those ingredients into it, Jeezy wasn’t really feeling it. So, we were like, ‘Shit, let’s make it a Kanye record.’ Kanye put the strings and the vocal sample that goes ‘oh-oh-ah-oh-ah-oh.’
Graduation was a collaborative process between you and Ye, and not just one-offs.
Yeah, I was actually a part of that album. In fact, I did two more records that could’ve made it. There was one record him and Common did over one of my tracks called ‘I Done Did It All.’ It didn’t make the album, but I was like, ‘Man, you need to let me get that shit.’ They never put it out. It’s another one sitting in the hard drive. That shit is hard, too. I was part of the Graduation process from beginning to end. We started in Atlanta and finished it in New York.
What was Ye like in the studio back then?
That was my first time working with him and it was my first time truly, truly, truly collaborating. I’ve got with different producers, and we’ll make a beat together. But, the way Kanye does it is, he’ll say, ‘Alright, I like this. I’m going to put my man Craig in here to put these keys on here.’ That’s how we did ‘Good Life.’ Kanye came with the sample and I started making the beat around it. We wanted a professional keyboardist to bless that shit. John Legend was singing on the hook in one version. We went through about four different artists before we decided T-Pain was going to do the hook. Watching him go through so many different artists and different hooks, I learned [about] taking your time and not settling with what you hear the first time.
You sampled ‘PYT’ from Michael Jackson for that song. How did clearing it go?
That went smooth. There were no problems. Prince gave us problems [over ‘Big Brother’]. Michael Jackson wasn’t tripping at all. There are a few artists out there, to this day, that don’t clear samples.
Who’s the hardest artist to get a sample cleared from?
It’s still Prince. That shit sent me all the way back to Atlanta to make a whole new version [of ‘Big Brother’].
When you were working on Graduation with Kanye, what were some of his studio habits?
A lot has changed now that he’s a married man, but he used to like to have some females in the studio to keep the energy going. He would work off their energy. If we work for 12 hours, the first five hours, we’d go super hard. I’d lay some beats and he’d lay some vocals. But, I’d say the last three or so hours, he might have a whole gang of females to listen to what they have to say. We’d start at 1:00 p.m. and won’t leave until 6:00 a.m. I haven’t done those long sessions in a long time. Honestly, nowadays, these young motherfuckers can’t hang with me.
What’s the biggest unreleased song you have?
Rihanna and JAY-Z. Someone a Def Jam let me hear it once. I don’t know if she’s still at Def Jam. I did a Rihanna and JAY-Z record that’s so fucking hard. This was made between 2009-2010. What’s so crazy is Karen only wanted to play it for me one time. She was like, ‘I’m really not supposed to be playing this for you, Toomp.’ I was like, ‘Please, let me hear this damn record.’ She played it, and I was like, ‘Play it one more time’ and she played half of it. That was my first and last time hearing it. It’s a hit. There are guitars that remind you of this Beanie Sigel record, and JAY is rapping on the guitar part. The beat breaks down with some guitars and then that’s when Rihanna comes on. They’re protecting that shit like a precious emerald (laughs).
You collaborated with JAY-Z before that for ‘Say Hello’ on his American Gangster album. I read that it took 15 minutes for that song to be made. Is that true?
Actually, yep. I played it one time and he caught the vibe. I played it the second time and that’s when Guru started tapping me like, ‘I think he fucking with it. I played it the third time, he went in the booth and never came back out. Jermaine Dupri went in to do the hook.
What’s coming up for Toomp in 2020 and beyond?
Honestly, as much as I love creating music, the whole streaming thing is throwing me off. I come from the era where we were able to calculate and estimate what our first royalty checks would look like. You’d be able to get on a calculator and be like, ‘OK, I have 12 points and I have three songs on the album. We went gold. Albums went for $8.99.’ Now, with streaming, I’m starting to disliking the game because those numbers don’t make sense to me, bruh. I’ve been creating music, but I’ve been focusing more on film and TV with my music.