Studio Sessions | Alejandro Rodriguez-Dawsøn turned a one-way ticket into the chance to work on Kanye West's 'DONDA'
Five months ago, Alejandro Rodriguez-Dawson was holed up in a cramped room in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium recording the likes of Kanye West, Kid Cudi, and Fivio Foreign for DONDA. Now, he has four Grammy nominations and a gold plaque from that time.
Five months ago, Alejandro Rodriguez-Dawson was holed up in a cramped room in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium recording the likes of Kanye West, Kid Cudi, and Fivio Foreign for DONDA. Now, he has four Grammy nominations and a gold plaque from that time and remembers the moment Ye officially welcomed him into the fold.
“In his own words, he was going to say, ‘We found a hell of a tracking engineer,’ but he’s on his gospel tip so he said, ‘We found a heaven of a tracking engineer.’ I was like, ‘That’s the greatest compliment ever. Thank you so much,’” Rodriguez-Dawson told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the Grammy-nominated engineer discusses how a one-way ticket to Atlanta got him to work on DONDA, Wayna Morris’ superhuman recording process, and recording Lil Keed quicker than it took for his friends to roll a blunt. Peep the chat below.
Wanya Morris is a legend from Boys II Men and most people aren’t privileged to see a legend like that in action. What is his creative process like?
He’s an actual singer singer. When you record rappers and newer R&B singers, they’re not doing a lot of layers or spending a lot of time on the vocal recording itself. He’s a perfectionist with an incredible ear, so the recording process takes a lot of time and is very tedious on how he does his stacks. He has a Grammy for the year I was born, so he’s been doing this forever. He knows exactly what he’s looking for. He’s also a pretty good producer, as well.
What does he need in the studio to make his best music?
He doesn’t make a lot of specific requests. Every time we’ve worked, we’ve worked out of his personal studio, so everything he wants is already there how he wants it. When the pandemic hit, we recorded out of his home studio. There’s nothing abnormal about it. He just wants a vibe and to work. He’s a fun person to be around. He’s always cracking jokes.
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What’s the most impressive thing he’s done in the studio?
I’ve never met any singer as good as him. His harmonies match perfectly. He’s listening for subtle nuances in every take. If you’re doing a dub and have to stack it three times, the nuances, tones and how your mouth is shaped when you sing it all has to be the same. It’s not human how he does it (laughs).
What are the funniest moments you’ve had in the studio with him?
He makes the funniest noises. He’s almost like a cartoon. We did a voiceover for a cartoon and he killed that shit. He can be vulgar at times, which throws you off because you’re thinking Boyz II Men are clean cut.
In 2020, you worked with Lil Keed in the studio. How’d you assist with his music?
It was pretty easy because I’ve been recording Strick from YSL for years, and YSL artists all have the same process of how they record. They’ll write on the spot and then freestyle. They’ll do line-for-line and then punch in. I was already prepped for that style when Keed came in, so we knocked it out quick. When we worked together, it was for a feature. We left, went to get Backwoods, came back, and pulled up the same time his Uber pulled up. He was sleep in the back of the Uber, his manager woke him up, and then he was on 10. I had to hurry up and get ready. While they were rolling up the Backwood, he and I were knocking out the verse. It probably took 15 minutes. They weren’t done rolling up and he was already out the booth.
How did you go from working with Wanya to being involved in the making of Kanye West’s DONDA?
It was only a couple of months. Wanya and I started working again this year when he started hosting a talent show on his Instagram Live. He flew out a bunch of great singers to Vegas to get on a song together. A few months later, I got the call to work on DONDA.
What was your role in the making of DONDA?
I was a recording engineer. I got the call from a producer named Fya Man. I’ve been working with him for four years. They were in Vegas and he gave me the call. They were in Vegas for four days and that’s when I got brought on the team. They went out to Atlanta, the album was supposed to drop, and then it didn’t drop. So, he called me like, ‘I can’t guarantee I can get you back in here, but you should come to Atlanta just in case.’ I brought a one-way ticket, was on stand-by for a day and a half, and then I got another call to go back in. From then, I was in there recording the writers and featured artists. On the day of the livestream, Mike Dean suggested I record Ye for the livestream. After the livestream, that was my first time working with Ye. I recorded a punch-in with him when we were in Vegas. When we were in Atlanta, I was there for a week and didn’t record him. During the livestream, that was my first time recording him song after song after song. He saw how fast I was moving and he was fucking with me. He told me, ‘I want you to finish this album with me,’ so I stuck around until we finished it up. In his own words, he was going to say, ‘We found a hell of a tracking engineer,’ but he’s on his gospel tip so he said, ‘We found a heaven of a tracking engineer.’ I was like, ‘That’s the greatest compliment ever. Thank you so much (laughs).’
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Who did you get to record for DONDA?
I got to record Kid Cudi, which was probably the top one for me because his music got me through so much. I got to record Baby Keem, Don Toliver, Fivio Foreign, Lil Yachty, and a few others.
What was the busiest recording night for you?
You can see it on the livestream. You had Steve Lacy, Vic Mensa, Chance [the Rapper] and Yachty in the studio, and some of them weren’t even on the album. They were there part of the creative process.
Were there any major differences with DONDA between the first Atlanta listening and the second one?
Yeah, you can hear the differences. There were added verses and verses that were taken off. On the Chicago one, verses got replaced for other artists. There were other changes we were doing that didn’t make it.
Are there any parts on songs that are near and dear to your heart?
‘Moon’ because of how monumental it was. But, also ‘Come To Life.’ There was a sample you hear over the speaking in tongues, he had that. We threw it in there and it fit perfectly. When we played it back, I got goosebumps and knew this was one of those moments. Also, ‘Life of the Party.’ Being able to meet and record Andre  was one of those things that was the top of the top. He’s a unicorn in this game. Being able to meet him and have conversations to him is near and dear to my heart.
What do you need in the studio to do your best work?
Preferably, I like to be working in an actual studio (laughs). It’s hard to get good rough mixes when you’re in a random room. You have headphones in an untreated room with all of these reverberations and stuff like that. If I had it my way, we’d be working in an acoustically treated studio, but that’s not always the case. I also would need a working Macbook with all the tools and plugins I need.
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What do you have coming up in 2022?
Right now, I’m remodeling my studio Junxion Sounds in Vegas. I’m actually executive producing an album we’re capturing the behind-the-scenes of. A lot of people don’t really look to Vegas as a music city outside of the Vegas strip.
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