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.
Sledgren has probably produced one of your favorite Wiz Khalifa — who he’s known since the artist was a teen — records. He was in Mac Miller’s life just as early and still remembers the last session he had with the late rapper.
“It was a few weeks before he passed. I had a cameraman come that day, but Mac called me and said, ‘I want to play you the album.’ He played me the album and I remember to tell my cameraman to not film…” he told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” Wiz’s longtime producer discusses working with the then-teenage, the fastest song he and Wiz have ever made, and how Kush & OJ changed their careers. Read below!
How did you link with Wiz?
He went to my high school with all my little cousins and they would always vouch for him and Mac Miller. Chevy Woods and I are from the same street and neighborhood. We started working in the same studio in Pittsburgh called ID Labs. I remember Wiz asked if he could come over to my house after school one day and, after that, there was not a day when he didn’t come over. Then, we started recording around ’05 before a lot of the earlier projects people got to know Wiz for.
What did you use to make those early beats for Wiz?
I still use FL Studios. I didn’t like my beats for years and wouldn’t even play them for Wiz. It took years of being in the studio making hundreds of beats before I started liking my shit. The first time I played him a beat was in ‘04/’05. We didn’t start recording together until ’06/’07.
What was a typical session like with you two?
He used to come over to my grandmother’s house where we all used to be and where I’d be making the beats. The beats I would be making at home would be the ones he would be writing to. We’d get in the studio and then we’d record to those beats.
What was an early song between you two that really can show your chemistry together?
We got a song called “Who I Am.” It was one of the first songs we made when he sang the entire song. It was a different way to sing and I remember the label was trying to change it. They would ask, “Can you rap the second verse?” I remember him telling them, “Nah, this is how I’m coming.”
When did you all know you were making Kush & OJ?
I feel we reverse-engineered it. We had “Never Been” and we were in D.C. for a show we had with Wale. He played me “Never Been” and “Spotlight.” I feel he had the project done in a few weeks. When we started planning the project from top to bottom, I remember being in the studio playing it from midnight until five in the morning. We always make music like that.
“Never Been” might be my favorite Wiz song ever. What went into making that beat?
That was some quick shit. I remember playing a game when I was young. I remember coming across the soundtrack for the game on YouTube and I downloaded it. I was having a few drinks because we were about to go out and Wiz was coming to get me. I was just making the beat bullshitting. The beat was simple to me. Wiz texted me, “Yo, we ain’t even going to go. We’re going to go next time,” and I remember saving the beat as “Never Been” because I was talking about not going to the club. I saved it as “Never Been” and sent it to him.
How many songs did you record for Kush & OJ that never made it to the project?
Wiz may have some leftovers, but I remember when we were making that project, we were making songs and putting them in the folder for that project. It wasn’t us picking from different folders.
How much cannabis did you two smoke during those sessions?
It’s funny because I didn’t smoke back then. I just recently started smoking.
What doors did that mixtape open up for you?
A lot. That’s when our sold-out shows started happening. I remember having to ask people to come to watch us perform sometimes. After dropping Kush & OJ, the line had thousands of people waiting outside. Every producer, DJ, and person in the camp had their own following. One night when we were touring Kush & OJ we heard, “Yeah, Suge about to come see y’all.” Then two days later they were like, “Yeah, Diddy about to come see y’all.” I was like, “Damn, everyone coming to the show.”
Let’s fast forward to your work on Wiz’s “We Dem Boyz (Remix).”
We were in L.A. working on a project and I remember Atlantic [Records] was asking for a remix. Wiz wanted to do a remix with a completely different beat and different artists like in the ‘90s… He ran into Nas somewhere and he asked him about it. We were already cool with Ross. Nas came through and did the verse. Ross sent the verse. We were in L.A. working on the beat for a minute.
You were with Wiz before almost any producer but you weren’t on his debut album, Rolling Papers. What was that about?
I think a lot of the records I had, had samples. A few things didn’t get cleared. I think a lot of the songs didn’t get cleared. I came from only sampling, and when you reach a major level, you can’t get away with samples because you have to pay a lot to clear shit. At that point, people loved me for video game samples, so why would I not sample more video games? After that, I got more into composing, building my team, and not having to depend on samples.
What’s the quickest song you and Wiz ever made together?
It’s not on streaming, but it’s called “Look Into My Eyes.” I remember finding this program called Omnisphere from this guitar store in L.A. Soon as I made my first sound on the computer, he started rapping over it and we recorded right there in the house within 20 minutes of me coming from the guitar store. By that point, we had the hook and part of the verse.
What’s the typical speed you two make records together?
He can do five songs in a day, for sure. It’s anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours.
I remember there were rumors of a Big Sean, Curren$y, and Wiz collaboration tape after they released a few loose songs in 2011. Was there any truth to that?
We had made music around that time. Wiz, me, and Curren$y made some records to give to Big Sean. That was really quick. That was one night of songs. They made all of those songs in one or two nights. Yeah, they were just exercising.
What’s the best marriage of your beats and an artist?
A lot of the stuff Larry June and I do because he picks beats I really want people to rap over. Sometimes there are beats that are good. But, there is that one in every folder you wish someone would pick. A lot of times, he’ll pick that one.
How did you two connect?
My homegirl in D.C. was telling me in 2014/2015 we would sound good together. I listened to him and I didn’t know what I could’ve given him. We weren’t on the organic, old school vibe. I wasn’t sending him those types of beats. I sent him some trap stuff, and some smoking and riding music. He went to both. This is 2015 and he kept sending me songs back. I’m sitting there like, “I don’t know what the fuck this is but it’s fire.” I would text him beats and he’d text me finished songs the next day.
You also have a history of being in the studio with Mac Miller. What is his creative process like?
Mac is similar to Wiz. When I was in the studio with Wiz, Mac was always in the next room over. Mac and Wiz would collaborate sometimes. I knew Mac as long as I’ve known Wiz. Before Mac passed, we still stayed in the same neighborhood he was from. So, he would always call me to the studio late at night or hella early. We have hella music together. We had a group called Indica which was him, me, and a producer named Big Jerm. We recorded a few projects. I got a Mac Miller song I’m trying to get put on my project.
What about his creative process worked for you?
He’s probably the most hands-on artist I’ve seen on the whole production aspect. He goes into a record room, listens to three or four vinyl records to get three or four different parts just to start the skeleton of the beat. Then he’ll construct the beat in Abelton and then play the piano over it before playing the guitar over it. Then, he’d call Thundercat. Then, he’d call Schoolboy Q or someone to get on the verse.
Do you remember your last session with him?
Yeah. It was a few weeks before he passed. I had a cameraman come that day, but Mac called me and said, “I want to play you the album.” He played me the album and I remember to tell my cameraman to not film… It was a long two-hour session…
What’s coming for 2021?
I think I’m on Key Glock’s album. Larry June and I are wrapping up Sock It To Me 3. I’ve been working on my first project with Empire. It’s a compilation with Wiz and Larry as my first single. The project has Babyface Ray, Curren$y, Larry, Berner, Juicy J, and a couple of others on it.