Anthony Cruz is more than a recording engineer; he’s a problem solver with the ear of a young Jimmy Iovine. He’s recorded Meek Mill in almost every setting you could think of, and he has the best seat in the house when the emcee is pouring out his soul.
“Records like ‘Love Train,’ ‘On My Soul,’ and ‘Cold Hearted III,’ where he’s spilling things that are on his heart, [are] like therapy,” Cruz told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” Meek’s engineer for the last decade describes his favorite unreleased songs from the rapper, how Diddy ended up on “Cold Hearted,” and how his next chapter involves making stars. Check out our exclusive chat with Cruz below to discover the ins and outs of how Meek Mill makes his music.
After working with Meek Mill for the last decade, how did your recording relationship change in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?
We’ve always had great chemistry. The quarantine challenged us to find new mediums and methods to be able to record. We were recording remotely. We went viral when we showed him being in Atlanta, me being in New York, but us still recording. That’s how people got “Other Side Of America” and the Quarantine Pack. A lot of Expensive Pain records like “Sharing Locations” and “Blue Notes” came from those sessions. Recently, I’ve been starting to transition into my next thing. Meek understood it and was ready for me to bring in my guy Mackey, who’s now controlling the boards and tracking him for the most part. The Flamerz 5 tape is the first full-on project Mackey and I quarterbacked together. He did most of the tracking, and I would call in for the records, and we both did all the mixing together.
The last full project you engineered for Meek was Expensive Pain, which has heartfelt records like “Angels (RIP Lil Snupe).” How do you know when Meek is in the mood to make those emotional songs?
Meek’s pretty tough. He doesn’t show emotion in the way you’re describing. But, if there’s something on his heart, he jumps on the mic. Records like “Love Train,” “On My Soul,” and “Cold Hearted III,” where he’s spilling things that are on his heart, [are] like therapy. Once you get in the booth, you can express yourself in a certain way and be able to tell a story a lot of people end up relating to in some way.
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When I interviewed Vory for this series, he spoke about going to the Bahamas with Meek, Drake, and more to record. What were those sessions like?
It was dope having Vory and some of the team there with us all having our space to be creative. We laid some really dope records there too. Vory laid a couple from his first album. Meek did a couple of joints. He started “Came From The Bottom,” which hasn’t come out yet, there. He’s teased it a little bit.
Have you ever seen conversations turn into songs?
Yeah, the first “Cold Hearted” record with Puff [Daddy]. I have a small snippet of Meek blacking out… I had to record because he was just blacking. I remember they were having conversations. They started off low-key. We were in the studio dolo, and people started to come in. French [Montana] would come out of nowhere and pull up with Scott Disick. Then, Puff comes in, and he’s talking about a family situation, and he hears the record, and it was making him feel a certain way. Then he jumped in the booth, and you get him talking. He said a lot more, but we had to edit it for timing. But, those are the moments when a record could trigger even somebody like Puff, who’s a mogul, to tell you how a boss has feelings too.
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Another talented person who respected your ear was the late PnB Rock.
Rest in peace to PnB. He was such a gifted person, very humble and very low-key. He didn’t carry himself with that machismo. He was very loving and welcoming. My first time meeting him was around 2015/2016 in LA. We made some cool records in that studio house setup in LA. We made a record with Meek, Tierra Whack and PnB Rock. It’s a real positive song. I think we called it “Cup of Noodles.” I know Meek and PnB have a couple of records they’ve done together.
I’m sure there are songs you love that haven’t come out yet. What’s a Meek Mill record you can’t wait to see released?
There are a few records he teases I want him to drop. We have this one record titled “Red Opp.”
There’s another record he has that I put together. I flew with Nick [Papz] to LA and my business partner Mone. We put a bunch of sessions together. That was one of the records that came from those sessions. We brought it to Meek. We got with some really dope producers for a different sound. We got with my guy Wallis Lane and created our own vibe. I did that a few times, and something special would happen each time.
I’m not trying to shimmy out of anything [with Meek], but I need to show and prove. I have a lot of abilities. The business is to really bring something special creatively to help keep things flowing. Over the years, I’ve built some really special relationships with some of the most talented people in the business, and they’re all a phone call away. They all respect my ear. And they respect my time. I’ve been in it way too long, and I’ve seen a lot of things I could add value to. This is my attempt of being able to do that full force.
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What was a special record you helped bring to life?
There are a few (laughs). I have to say “24/7.” He set up this home studio in this massive crib that was so big we would be on opposite sides of the crib, and I’d be texting him updates of where everything was at. Nija wrote that hook, and I knew immediately we needed to attack that record. I knew we needed to finish it. The only holdup was Ella Mai, but she came through in the 25th hour. That took it over the top… It was amazing creating that vibe with Nija. I had got a bunch of production, and I was thinking of which direction we should take it. In five or 10 minutes, she had the whole thing. She had the whole concept laid out. That was one of the moments I pushed for a record and it worked. I’ve lost a couple of battles.
What do you have coming up in the future?
I’m looking forward to this next phase of where things are headed with Meek and Dream Chasers. I think we’re in an exciting time with a lot of possibility to shake things up. I want to continue to help develop these producers I’ve been working with over the last few years — Eza, KJ, Yung Talent, Eyesaac, and Xander. My business partner Mone and I have been really boots-on-the-ground with these youngins, and I want to really go harder. It all started with Nick. That’s the first producer Meek ever signed. He used to tell me he wanted me to manage him, and I would shy away from it. Then we finally said, “Let’s do it.” It’s been amazing, man. I want to continue getting these kids some dope records and continue to change lives.