In a music industry often predicated on predatorial self-interest, relationships secure opportunities you won’t get solely based on talent. TheMIND’s genuine friendships with artists like Chance the Rapper, Noname, and Smino have produced undeniable bonds born from unforgettable memories in the studio.
“Smino, Renzell, my friend Via Rosa and I were in the studio one day. I don’t know who brought it, but someone brought some ‘shroom tea. They said, ‘Yo, let’s make a mixtape tonight off the ‘shroom tea’ (laughs). So we took the ‘shroom tea and I think we were up for about 10 hours,” TheMIND told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the producer-singer explains how Chance’s Coloring Book spawned one of Noname’s best songs. He also opens up about being the recording hub for the Chicago artists we love today and how SZA inspired his release of the Don’t Let It Go To Your Head deluxe album.
The 2010s was a decade really dominated by the music coming out of Chicago. You worked with artists like G Herbo, Chance the Rapper, Smino, Noname, and others who put out music from that region. How did you find yourself in those sessions that put you in the position to be integral to that movement?
More than anything, we just formed friendships with individuals. We just happened to all go to open mics together. We were impressed by each other’s talent, pen and acumen. I was part of a creative collective called THEMpeople. We had this loft on 18th and Ruble, and anybody from Chicago trying to come up — whether it was Jean Deaux, Mick Jenkins or Chance coming through — we recorded them. People only knew me for my production for a while, but a lot of the stuff I was doing initially was voice acting on people’s records. Then, my homie Renzell started playing my records for people and they were just like, “Who the hell is this?” We were in an open loft. So, I’m upstairs playing [NBA] 2K or something, and they would ask me to get on their songs.
You worked on what is arguably Chance’s biggest hit, “No Problems,” from Coloring Book. How did those Coloring Book sessions unite the Chicago hip hop scene?
We did that at Chicago Recording Company. Renzell recorded a lot of 10 Day and 5 Day in the early 2010s. I think one of my favorite studio sessions came out of those Chance sessions when we were making Coloring Book. My friend Stefan Ponce brought me in for “No Problems.” Noname was in the other room, and we had been friends for years. Chance had the whole studio rented out at CRC. Everyone was recording upstairs. Cam O’bi was up there and said, “Hey, I want you to get on the song.” I said, “I don’t care; let’s get it.” At the same time, Chance is upstairs working on something completely different. So, we had the room for a second and decided just to make a record. That record ended up becoming “Shadow Man.” That’s still one of my favorite times ever being in the studio because when are you going to get all these people just sitting in one space making something crazy?
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That’s probably my favorite Noname record. Coloring Book sessions spawning that record is fascinating.
I have to give credit to Cam. He’s a genius. He sat us all down and started playing a PowerPoint for what he wanted this song to sound like. He already had it in his mind. We were already working on Noname‘s album at that time, but this was the first time all of us were there at one moment. It wasn’t a PowerPoint — it was just a bunch of pictures, art, animation and stuff like that. And then he starts talking about that. I think I wrote the chorus quickly because he inspired half of the stuff on there. I recorded the chorus. Immediately after that, Saba went in there and Fatima recorded last. She then asked if Phoelix could sing on it and I was like, “Go crazy.” Phoelix sang the top line to it and I sang the bottom line. The song came together almost like magic.
What’s the best attribute you bring to a session?
I’m outside the box. I try to do something where I can service the song. I don’t try to do too much. I want to ensure that everything is in the vein of something that will get the best product out. I might lay back and let somebody else sing or I may take the lead. I think the song will tell you exactly what you need to do.
The first time I heard you on a record was Mick Jenkins’ 2014 mixtape The Water[s]. How did you two connect?
That’s my brother. My friend Via Rosa from a group called Drama Duo, she brought him through to the studio at the loft. I think the first song we did was “Shipwrecked.” While he’s recording the song, I’m over in the corner doing some writing to the beat just to exercise my pen. I start humming something and then he literally says, “What the hell is that?” I told him it was just something I was penning. He asked, “Can you put that on here?” So, I throw the intro on there. He recorded his second verse before asking if I wanted to do another one. I already penned it, so I went in and [recorded the hook]. We just do this back-and-forth thing. From there, we grew a friendship out of admiration.
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You speak a lot about friendships spawning from these sessions. Do you have any stories of how those friendships manifested in those rooms?
Smino, Renzell, my friend Via Rosa and I were in the studio one day. I don’t know who brought it, but someone brought some ‘shroom tea. They said, “Yo, let’s make a mixtape tonight off the ‘shroom tea” (laughs). So we took the ‘shroom tea and I think we were up for about 10 hours. I think we did that late that night, and we didn’t finish until noon the next day. We did three songs together and just kept going. Every joke we had in there, we put on the record. I think those songs can only be found on SoundCloud right now. That’s the friendship we have with each other.
You released your debut album, Summer Camp, in 2016 and then you released Don’t Let It Go To Your Head in 2020. How have you improved in the studio after making those two albums? What was the difference in the process for each?
Summer Camp was more fantastical. A lot of these concepts about life and existing inside this industry were very new to me. The way I had bad deals and started understanding this industry isn’t made up of glitz and glamour.
You went from bad deals to putting out your own perfume called “Gemini S**t.” What inspired you to do that? How does that perfume factor into your creative process?
As artists, specifically musicians, we get pigeonholed into just making music. I love making things that I can touch and feel. The perfume came about from having conversations with my engineer at the time, Matt Joynt. I wanted to get more into not home goods, [but] I tried to make other objects outside of just music. I want to make things that could start conversations outside of you hearing me. Now you can smell me. Now you could touch me. Now it’s in somebody’s house. So, he linked me with Matt Morris, a perfumer, and we started talking about how we could make it our own. I didn’t want it to look like stereotypical perfumes. I didn’t want it to smell like stereotypical perfumes. I wanted it to smell like an experience. That’s why we created Gemini S**t, two different fragrances. They smell completely different, but if you wear them together, [that’s a different scent, too].
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What do you have coming for the rest of the year and next year?
I have a bunch of visuals we’re dropping. We have the Don’t Let It Go To Your Head deluxe dropping. You can blame SZA for that. She shouldn’t have dropped a deluxe five years later (laughs). I also felt like I never finished the project. There were a lot of songs we couldn’t put on there due to time. I’m doing my first headlining show in Chicago, which is crazy because I’ve never done a headlining show in Chicago. I’ve been to so many shows here but never headlined anything. Besides that, the sky’s the limit.
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