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.
For the last four years, Flo has been one of the few engineers who’s kept up with Young Thug and Gunna’s rapid-fire recording style, and that’s meant being ready to work at any time of day.
“[Gunna] was up early in the morning, the sun was coming up, and he was ready to record. Bainz and I were both knocked out because we had a long night the night before. I jumped up and got the session going in under five minutes,” Flo told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” he discusses building a studio in Jamaica so Gunna could work on Wunna, watching Young Thug and Future record Super Slimey, and why Gunna released “9 Times Outta 10” even though it was unmixed. Read below.
How did you meet Young Thug?
I met Thug in summer 2017. The first time they called me, I pulled up to the studio and they had me sit… They told me, “Chill out in the lounge for a second. We’ll get you when he’s ready.” An hour turned into two and two hours turned into three. Then, someone came out and said, “The engineer who’s in there now is doing good, so I think we’ll be alright for tonight. Sorry for having you come out, but we’ll call you back if we ever need you again.” They ended up calling me back a couple of days to a week later. I’m walking in and some engineer is walking out at the same time. Thug is like, “Who are you?” I was like, “I’m the engineer.” You hear the stories about how fast Thug works and how attentive to detail he is. I go straight to the assistant engineer and ask him, “What do I need to know and be aware of?” He was like, “At all times, be extremely fast and pay attention to every single thing, even what you think you shouldn’t pay attention to.” He specified, ‘Don’t take anything personally (laughs). It was intense and was almost like a battle.
What was the first Thug project you were part of?
I was definitely there for Super Slimey. Those sessions were amazing watching two of the hardest working people I’ve been around as far as being productive. They would knock out six songs a night — going back to back. At the time, Seth [Firkins] was still around, so he would jump in for Future, and then I would jump in when it was Thug’s time to record. It was fun and intense.
Speaking of Seth — Future’s late engineer who passed away in September 2017 — how important was he to Future’s workflow?
It was just their chemistry and understanding. That was something I picked up from Seth. They had such good chemistry and understanding of what the other needed to do, there was hardly any communication. The communication was at a minimum, nobody had to explain anything to anyone. It was telepathic almost.
What are the most star-studded sessions you were part of?
It happened a lot because Thug is one of those guys who loves having energy and people around him, so that would happen quite often. There were times where it was Lil Baby, 21 Savage, Gunna, Lil Durk, Birdman, and Future… Everybody from Atlanta who was popping at the time was in the building.
Thug is a funny dude but also super serious in the studio. What’s his personality like when working on music?
It depends on what the mood is at the time. He’s fun and jokes around with his boys and everybody. He has high energy and is excited usually. When it’s time to record, he flips this switch and gets really focused, and stays on point. He gets highly motivated.
What are some songs you two worked on that were recorded quickly?
On So Much Fun, the “Mannequin Challenge” with Juice WRLD probably took 10 minutes. Juice’s verse was already done. I was working with Thug the other day and we did a hard song in about 15 minutes.
One of my favorite records from that album is “Jumped Out The Window.”
I recorded that on my birthday. I came into the studio and was like, “Hey, it’s my birthday.” Thug was like, “Happy birthday. What do you want?” I was like, “Let’s do one.” At some point, I wasn’t working with Thug as much. At that point, Bainz had taken over because Thug moved to L.A., and he and Bainz formed that connection. This was one of the times he was randomly in Atlanta, so he called me to pull up on him. We did that song and it was crazy.
What was your first session like with Gunna?
I had been working with Thug, and if you’ve been working with Thug long enough, you’ll be working with Gunna at some point. I already had some sessions with Gunna. Gunna was about to start working on the Wunna project when I started working with him. It was a natural transition. I already knew how he worked… The first session is when we recorded the song “Wunna,” which ended up being the name of the project. I think five or six months later, he decided that was going to be the name of the album.
What’s the difference between working with Gunna and Thug?
They work very similarly. Even though Gunna is fast, he takes a little bit more time in putting thought into what he’s going to say. For Thug, it’s rapid-fire and he’s more laid back, especially in his personality. But, they’re almost like twins in terms of the process in which the way they work. They just have different energies.
What do you bring to a studio session?
I bring a different type of energy. I’m so calm and laid back. That’s my natural personality. It rubs off on them in a way. I feel they tend to make music a little bit differently when they work with me because of that. It brings out a different energy from them.
I saw Gunna spent some time in Jamaica working on Wunna. When did you find out you were going there?
At some point, while we were working on Wunna, he wanted a different environment in order to be able to catch a different vibe. I probably found out three weeks to a month before the actual trip happened. Ebonie [Ward], his manager, contacted me asking, “Would you be available to go to Jamaica to record? If so, can you start putting together what equipment we need?” I put together a list of equipment we needed to get shipped down there to have the studio set up. Due to it being a lot of people there, he asked Bainz to also come down, so it was the two of us handling the producers and artists that were going to be down there. That was the first time I actually met Bainz in person.
What did you notice was different about the music he was making while in Jamaica?
It was a refresh. The stuff that came out of Jamaica had a different feel. A lot of the songs like “Skybox” were really random. Most of the time he’s not waking up at nine in the morning with the sun coming up like, “Let’s do one.” He’s usually going to sleep at that time or he’s already up and we’re still working through the night. But, for this one, he was up early in the morning, the sun coming up, and he was ready to record. Bainz and I were both knocked out because we had a long night the night before. I jumped up and got the session going in under five minutes.
People don’t realize how much engineers sacrifice to make these songs come to life. How much sleep did you get on that trip?
I probably got a solid four to five hours of sleep. I wouldn’t say we recorded as much as you would think, but we recorded quite a bit. It was also about vibe and playing different songs to see how everybody in the room reacted. It was also about picking up a vibe. There was the process of elimination in regards to picking the songs and thinking of video ideas. All of this was going on at the same time. The vibe was sparks of creativity for everybody. It was just ideas coming to everybody. For some reason, we were listening to “ROCKSTAR BIKERS & CHAINS,” and then Wheezy said, “You know what would be hard?” Then, he started playing the “Scream” video from Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson. That video is playing in the background while the rockstar song is also playing. Then everyone was like, “Oh shit, this would work perfectly for this song,” and that’s how that video was inspired. Everyone was coming up with ideas. A lot of creative direction for the album came from us being out there. Even the girls who were there were saying, “You have to call it Wunna,” and he just stuck with that. It was that moment that solidified it.
How much of Wunna was recorded in Jamaica?
About 30 percent. The album was already in the works. While we went to Jamaica to record, it was more about playing through everything and figuring out what worked together. Then, we did a couple of dope records out there that we knew we had to put on the album.
The mini-doc about the album had a scene that seemed to have inspired “Nasty Girl/On Camera.” What was that session like?
I think that was one of the first nights we were there. What was happening was he was walking around with a handheld camera. He was walking through the house, showing it and the environment we were in. He was showing his friends and putting the girls on camera. The beat was happening at the same time. While he was doing that, he was hearing the beat and started saying, “She wants to suck it on camera.” At that moment, the girl is in front of him dancing and talking about, “I want to suck it.” So, he was like, “Oh, she wants to suck it on camera.” That was a real-life moment that turned into a song.
Who smokes the most in the studio?
That would be Gunna. He’ll just roll them up back to back. He’ll ask me to pull up a song, and while he’s figuring out the reference track and laying down melodies, he’s rolling one. It doesn’t affect me, but I don’t actually smoke when I work. I might tap it just to be in the same space and vibe. I like to be sober and on top of what I’m doing.
How involved is he with the engineering side of recording?
He’s really involved. He might not be as involved as Thug is, but he’s involved. The No. 1 thing he requests is a timing thing. He likes his vocals in a certain pocket. So, he’d be like, “Nudge this slightly to the right, nudge this slightly to the left” just so it could fit in this pocket he likes. Whatever that Wunna flow thing he does that makes him sound like he’s floating and shit is him delivering it that way and an element of nudging [his vocals] a little bit.
How did Gunna’s “9 Times Outta 10” song come out and get a music video without being mixed?
We recorded it in the middle of the pandemic. I ended up setting up a studio in Gunna’s home and we were locked in there for about three months during the initial time period of the pandemic. This song is one of probably 120-150 songs that were made during that time period. What happened was he ended up going to L.A. to get a different vibe. We were in Atlanta for so long locked in, he wanted to go to L.A. I hadn’t got there yet and his hard drive got lost. It was misplaced at a video shoot or something and there were a couple of songs from the time period of us recording in Atlanta that hadn’t been backed up just yet. So, we lost that session. We had no ability to go back, mix or change anything. But, we knew the day we made it that the song was a hit and had to come out at some point. Even though we didn’t have the ability to mix it, it still sounded good and we were able to put it out. That goes to being on top of your shit, too. It might just be a recording session, but you should do your best to make it sound as great as possible at that moment. We were in a basement when we recorded that. It wasn’t in a world-class studio even though we had pretty good equipment. The environment wasn’t necessarily great for the quality of the record, but it was good enough, wasn’t it? It was pretty damn clean.