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.
When the Soundcloud era matured and its purveyors needed a place to record, a lot of them found their way to A. Lau’s recording studios Off Record Music. Artists like Ski Mask The Slump God found a place to open up emotionally, and Lau was right there to match their vibes.
“When we worked together we had this relationship of talking about really deep s**t before we got into music making. One day he said, ‘I think I want to make a song where I try to sing. I’ve never done that before,’” Lau told REVOLT. “I was like, ‘We can go upstairs and you can sing all night if you want to.’ We went up stairs and ended up doing ‘U and I.’”
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” A. Lau talks about what he learned by watching Harry Fraud work, pre-fame recording sessions with Lil Tecca, and trying to make the most New York rap tape ever. Read below.
How did you develop this studio?
I got my start with Harry Fraud. I used to work with him at his studio in Brooklyn for a long time. One of the main pieces of advice he gave me early on was the importance of having your own thing going. I was like, “OK, I need to start my own thing.” I had the money I had been saving up for a long time and I got a space in SoHo. I and this one other guy built this studio from scratch. We went to Home Depot. We built the deck. We built the shelves. Then, we put it out that we had a studio in SoHo. At first, we were recording random artists for $30 an hour so we could get our name up. We opened up on January 1, 2016. Pretty quickly it turned into us having big artists there multiple times a week.
Who were some of those early artists coming in during your first year?
Ski Mask The Slump God was coming through in 2016. Jay Critch came through in 2017. Smokepurpp came through. A lot of artists from the Soundcloud scene were some of the first ones to come around because I think that movement was a lot less pretentious than the music before it. Before was, if you’re a big artist, you have to be in one of the biggest studios. They’re not going to any underground shit. When the new generation came along, they were a lot less pretentious.
What is Ski Mask The Slump God like in?
We were super locked in around 2017 and 2018. At the time, he [was] a very different guy. You have rappers that come through with the whole gang of people; coming 20 deep. So, it’s sorta like a hangout, but music also gets done. Ski Mask came by himself, which was very rare for a big artist. What he would do that a lot of other people don’t do is write. He’s a writer. He writes all his stuff. He paces back and forth in the room, rhyming to himself, and then writes something down. It was a very manic process and incredible to watch. When he got into the booth, all of that sporadic craziness got concentrated into his bars.
What is it like producing for him?
The joints I did with him in 2018 were “Ankle,” which was a single. I also did “So High,” “Reborn to Rebel” and “U and I” off his STOKELEY album. Ski was going through a lot at that that time and he has no problem baring his soul or telling people when he’s going through shit. When we worked together, we had this relationship of talking about really deep shit before we got into music making. One day he said, “I think I want to make a song where I try to sing. I’ve never done that before.” I was like, “We can go upstairs and you can sing all night if you want to.” We went up stairs and ended up doing “U and I.” He was like, “I really like that vibe we got going on. Can we make another singing record?” So, I got my boy Elijah play the guitar and that’s how we made STOKELEY. It was right around the time when XXXtentacion had passed, so I think he wanted to tap into something different.
What was your time like with Harry Fraud? What sessions do you remember?
He would let me come to a lot of big sessions. I was there when he was making Cigarette Boats with Curren$y. I was there when he was making Mac N Cheese with French [Montana]. We went to Diddy’s crib one year and were working on Diddy’s project, and Rick Ross’s album. I was there for the first Action Bronson sessions [with Harry Fraud]. I was at a lot of legendary shit from 2013-2015. Harry was really running shit at that time. I was just a fly on the wall at that point, soaking up game. Eventually, he let me do co-production with him and I got co-production on four joints on French’s Mac N Cheese The Appetizer EP.
How did Harry work with each artist’s creative process?
Harry was almost like a therapist and a producer because there were never any sessions when it would be just work. Every artist that worked with him were very close to him.
What’s a session that really stuck out to you?
One that stuck out to me was one of the earlier French Montana sessions because Harry and French were going through rock and roll music for three or four hours. They were bringing up Megadeath and other old, random records to get inspiration. French might not come from a background of listening to rock and roll, but he trusted Harry enough to let him bring that influence into the music. That was something I thought was really interesting. I don’t think a lot of producers would think to bring something out that’s super left field and get an artist really into that.
You also recorded with Kirk Knight in a museum. How did that come about?
Kirk and I are close. We could be in the crib cooking up. We don’t even need to be in the studio to build. He hit me one day like, “Yo, these guys in the Hamptons have this spot. If you want, we can go out there for a few weeks, free room and board, and cook up there.” I was like, “Yep, I’m with whatever.”
You also worked with Lil Tecca for his first-ever studio sessions, correct?
Yeah, Tecca was coming here every early on. Before he was a famous rapper, his manager Giuseppe knew about us for a long time. He used to get Tecca an Uber from Long Island in the middle of the night to do sessions and then Uber him back, so he’d be back on time for school the next morning. We used to cut records and he mad a couple songs off his mixtape here.
I also love the work you did with Jay Critch. How was the in-studio chemistry with him?
Critch is one of my favorite artists I’ve worked with. We just dropped a single and I got some joints on the album he has coming out. I’ve done 24-hour sessions with Jay Critch. They’re just like Atlanta artists in the way they’ve go in the studio for two or three days straight.
You’ve worked 24 hours in the studio with Critch?
Yes, multiple times.
What else have you been working on?
I’ve been working on my first project as a producer for two years. Tony Seltzer and I are like a little duo, so we were like, “Fuck it, let’s make a tape. We have all these connections to all these rappers.” While we were making it, all of our favorite records were all New York-based, so we decided to keep it New York-based. We’re putting together a New York rap tape unlike any other New York rap tape ever. We got Princess Nokia on it. We got Jay Critch and Lil Tjay on it. We got Leeky G Bando on it. We got almost everybody from New York on it.