Studio Sessions | Craig "X" Mclean helped Jim Jones create six quarantine albums — and one is Spanish
Engineer Craig “X” Mclean discusses the making of Quarantine Studios, Jim Jones’ upcoming Spanish album, working with Rowdy Rebel and more.
Engineer Craig ‘X’ Mclean has made sure Jim Jones’ music gets recorded by any means necessary — even if that means waiting for him to wake up or figuring out how to record the famous rapper virtually in the middle of a pandemic.
“It’ll look like he’s gone to sleep — and he won’t respond to people, so technically he is asleep. Then, he’ll wake up 30 minutes later with a verse ready to go. It blows my mind every time,” Mclean told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the longtime engineer discusses the making of Quarantine Studios, Jim Jones’ upcoming Spanish album, and how Fivio Foreign and Jones collaborated in a mansion.
Who was the first major artist you worked with in the studio?
Jim Jones. The first time I started working with him was during the pandemic. I was working with an artist named Trav, and I had an entire box of equipment because studios were shut down. So, I brought the equipment through to Jim at his house. This was around the time everyone was in shock in New York City and didn’t know what was going on [with the pandemic]. Jim would spray the microphone and headphones with Lysol before he rapped on it and everything (laughs).
How did you and Jim develop your creative chemistry and build trust in the studio?
Before I talk about Jim, let me talk in general. I was always a private engineer with the artists on my team Pure Bred Music Group. I had three artists on our team, and I would only work with them privately because I was nervous for that exact reason. My manager and CEO Jackpot told me go out there and record people because I was really good at what I do. I was hearing stories of engineers being thrown out of chairs and the room if they can’t keep up. Then, I worked with this artist in Atlanta, and he was punch-in/punch-out. He comes from the [Young] Thug era. I started picking up my speed with him.
Working with Jim … he’s very relaxed, so that relaxed me. He’ll play a beat, and I’ll sit there with the beat on loop for about an hour. He doesn’t write, so he’s coming up with everything in his head. Always remain consistent and the artist will mess with you off that.
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What is Jim’s creative process?
The craziest thing is it’ll be about 4 o’clock in the morning, and everyone would be dead tired. I’d be tired, and Jim would be tired as well. It’ll look like he’s gone to sleep — and he won’t respond to people, so technically he is asleep. Then, he’ll wake up 30 minutes later with a verse ready to go. It blows my mind every time.
Jim’s process is … he’ll do parts here and then send a song out to get a verse or hook done by somebody. He’ll wake up from his nap, go over to the mic and just one-take that whole 16-bar verse. That’s definitely something special that I haven’t seen.
What is Jim’s template?
That’s a good question because a lot of artists have templates. Jim likes to record dry as day with no reverb, delay or anything. He just wants his voice up a little bit so he can hear it. If there’s delay, it messes him up. Jim was in Aruba, and we had the virtual Quarantine Studios. Jim had his mic, pulled up his Pro Tools session and I recorded him with just a regular Pro Tools plug-in that turns his volume up. I’ll get the session sent to me, and I’ll mix it on my own time.
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Speaking of Quarantine Studios, Jim called it the “Uber for music.” From your perspective, how did Quarantine Studios come to be?
During the pandemic, going to his house everyday wasn’t in the works. So, Jim was like, ‘I’ve seen X come with all of this equipment. Let me go get all of the equipment I need to record in my house because I don’t know how long I’m going to be in here.’ He was working on the Harry Fraud project with an engineer named John Sparkz who is really dope. They were trying to figure it out. When we cracked the code, we laser-focused in on it and did six albums. We could bring in people from anywhere. We did a record with an artist from Brazil. It was nuts.
I know Meek Mill and his engineer Anthony Cruz executed something similar.
Cruz and Meek were first, but their way of doing it was very expensive — it was plug-ins and everything. As far as I know from Trav, who’s close to Meek, they were doing it through video on FaceTime. Cruz and Meek would have the FaceTime going, whereas Jim and I would be on something like Zoom and chatting through the webcams. Jim and I did a project with the amazing producer Scram Jones, and he would clock in on something like Zoom and drop beats in the chat. I would drop it in. Jim would have to press download. I would be controlling Jim’s laptop and would put the beat in a Pro Tools session. Everybody could play it back in high fidelity. He would go, ‘Oh, I like that beat.’ Then, I’d load it up in his Pro Tools session. He’ll sit there, mumble some words, come up with 16 bars and then lay it down. I’m compensating for all of the delay and latency. Sometimes I have to guess, ‘Oh, he’s going to say this in two seconds, so that’s when I have to cut it.’ It’s a lot of trial and error.
How did that experience improve your skills as an engineer?
Ridiculously. It was like I was in the Matrix. I was sitting there trying to figure out what they’d want and what they’re trying to do. The hardest artist I had to record virtually was Pressa from Toronto. They had three rooms going at Empire. Dusty Locane was doing his verse for Jim, and Dave East and Jim were working on a record. Pressa popped in and Jim was like, ‘Nah, I have to get you on a record.’ So, we loaded a beat up. I’m punching him in, and he’s one of the fast punch-in rappers. I was trying to keep up. We got to the point where he knew how to engineer himself, so he wanted to cut his ad libs for the sake of time.
You said Jim recorded six albums during the pandemic. How many songs did you do per day within those 15 months of working with him?
It might’ve been three per night every night. Everybody was stuck in the house, and Jim is a hustler. Jim is going to want to get busy. He’s not going to want to sit on the couch and watch The Godfather. He’s going to want to get out. If he can’t get out, he’s going to want to pull up a beat, do a feature for somebody or something. During the early phases of the pandemic, he wanted to show everybody Quarantine Studios. Anybody you name, I guarantee he showed them what was going on.
What’s the quickest you two made a song during the pandemic?
If he came with the verse prepared, we’d have a song done in five minutes. If he told me, ‘X, I’m trying to cut this verse real quick,’ I would log on, take control of the computer and he’d do his verse.
How much of those six albums have we heard?
The first one we did was El Capo (Deluxe). I did the entire Gangsta Grillz: We Set The Trends project. That was in-studio and virtual. Him and Hitmaka got an album coming soon. It’s a fire album. The Scram Jones project is finished. Y’all heard ‘Filet Mignon’ with Fab. He did a whole Spanish album. I think he’s calling it Spanglish. I’d have to double check. That started from us working with J Balvin, who we worked with virtually. He basically locked in with everybody from New York who’s rapping. He does his verses half in English and half in Spanish. I was on Quarantine Studios with J Balvin and did a couple of records. We’re also working on a Quarantine Studios compilation album with all of the excess records we did.
Jim Jones records really late at night. What’s the latest you two have been in the studio?
A lot of times it’ll get to six or seven in the morning — and he’ll know when he’s burned out, but I’ve seen it go until nine in the morning after starting around midnight.
You also worked with Bobby Shmurda after he came home from prison in February 2021.
I recorded him on a song with Rowdy, virtually. I cut the first minute of the record they did called ‘Back Back,’ and then they had to leave. They ended up cutting it somewhere else. I got to hear the record. It’s a really dope record. I can’t wait for it to come out.
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How is Rowdy Rebel in the studio?
Rowdy’s energy is unmatched. Anytime a beat comes on, Rowdy is rapping to it, but it doesn’t mean he’ll record it. I remember one time we were playing a few records off Jim’s Gangsta Grillz album to see what Rowdy wanted to get on. Rowdy was rapping and Jim was like, ‘Don’t rap to me. The mic is right there.’
Your last 2021 session was with Trav, Jim and Fivio Foreign. Where did it take place?
We recorded it in a mansion in New Jersey. That’s another thing that happened during the pandemic — we always tried to bunker down in houses if we had to because studios were closed. We were out there vibing. Fivio said, ‘Pull up a vibe,’ so I started playing beats. The way Fivio works, it appears he picks up on other people’s energy. So, he was laying the hook first and fed off of that. It was a dope vibe.
Which of your talents most inspires artists to work with you?
For some reason, no matter who the artist is, they want to try autotune when they work with me — even if they’ve never tried it before. They just believe I’m very good at that and can get their melody down. My greatest talent is song building. The first artist I worked with was 4GAuto, and he’ll freestyle a record three or four times. I’ll cut up the three or four freestyles he did, and I’d build a hook and a few verses. Then, I’d have him rewrite everything so you get the best of both worlds. You get your thought process out and your melodies down. Then, you can rewrite it and start making real content.
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What do you have coming up for the rest of the year?
4GAuto is dropping an album. Asya Tyra is dropping an album. Our newest artist Steez is dropping an album. I’m mixing Trav’s project now, and I’m working on the ‘We Set The Trends (Remix).’ Whatever album Jim comes up with next, I’m sure I’ll be working on it.
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