Chris Classick, the owner of Classick Studios in Chicago and manager of Smino, is an essential figure at the epicenter of creating what is cool in music. SZA, Smino, Chance the Rapper, TheMIND, Tyler, The Creator, and Vic Mensa are only a fraction of the stars who have orbited his studio. And he’s had a front-row seat to how they like to create.
“When [SZA] feels it, she’ll just go up to you and be like, ‘All right, let’s go record.’ Sometimes, it might be at 4 a.m., or it might be right in the middle of the night, and you just have to get up and record,” Chris Classick tells REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the lauded studio owner and manager explains how recording a screaming Tyler, The Creator ended up in a Mountain Dew commercial and how he knew Smino was special from the first session. He also talks helping SZA craft CTRL in a makeshift studio he put together. Get into the exclusive chat with Chris Classick below.
Who was the first artist you worked with who was already big or later became famous?
Dave Coresh brought down a young Vic Mensa to my studio when Vic was about 12 or 13, and I recorded Vic for his first EP — Straight Up EP [from 2010]. I did a bunch of recording and mixing on that one.
You’re closely affiliated with Smino. When did you two connect? What was your first session like?
One of my good friends, Stefan Ponce, connected me with an artist named Drea Smith, who is Smino’s cousin. She came down to the studio and told me her cousin was going to go to Columbia [College] and needed a space to record and make music. This was around 2009. He came knocking on the door, and all I remember was him coming with a backpack on, playing me music, and I told him, “Yo, you’re amazing. Is this all you?” He said, “Yeah.” He produced it, mixed it, and wrote it. Right away, Stefan gave him a beat to rap over, and I saw how fast he could come up with a hook and a melody. After that day, I said, “You can use my space whenever you want.” He never left after that day (laughs).
How has he evolved as a recording artist?
When it comes to the recording process, he would observe all the engineers, especially myself, and we would put [him] on to different techniques for recording and using certain plugins. Even to this day, I’ll show him new plugins and ask, “Hey, have you thought about using this reverb and automating it here?” He would learn and take it on really quickly. It took him meeting certain people like Monte Booker in his journey to becoming an artist. He met [Elton “L10” Cheung] at my studio, and he became his engineer. A good amount of his band also came together at my studio. His talents really brought a lot of creatives together, and I was there to just make sure it was all moving forward.
How did Smino’s last two projects — She Already Decided and Luv 4 Rent — come together?
She Already Decided was actually a project that came out of Smi being on lockdown during the pandemic. It took him two or three weeks to put that together. He would just call me and give me an idea of what he was trying to do. So, I’d help him with putting Smi Transfer together, putting the website up, deciding who would sponsor it, and putting it up as a zip folder on WeTransfer.com, so we could give it out to everybody. I helped cultivate that with the help of the management team. When it comes to Luv 4 Rent, that was three years in the making. We have a first version of it we decided not to drop because of the pandemic. During the pandemic, he made She Already Decided. When everything started to open back up, he started making music, and it started to develop into the version of Luv 4 Rent we hear now.
What’s an unreleased record from Smino you hope sees the light of day? What’s another one recorded at your studio you also hope to see released?
Okay. There’s this song called “8it” produced by Honorable C-Note and it brings me back to “3M” Smi. It brings me back to 2013 Smi, but today’s version of that in 2023. As far as in my studio, this kid named Jyn has this song called “Hate This Feeling.” Also, TheMIND has this song called “Regina George,” which is amazing.
As a studio owner, so many artists must come through. Tell me the story behind Tyler, The Creator recording audio for a Mountain Dew commercial.
(Laughs). I think he was in town to do a show, and he reached out to me from management, and said he needed a studio to record in, and it would only take an hour or two. After Tyler and everyone came in, he approached me and said, “Whatever you do, just record. But don’t stop until I tell you.” I pressed record, and it was him yelling for a good 30 minutes to an hour (laughs). He came out of the booth and said, “Just bounce that out and send it to me.”
Talk to me about your work on SZA’s CTRL album.
One of my good friends, Carter, called me and asked if I could put a studio together for SZA at his family’s house in Michigan. I got a Neumann U67, which is her microphone of choice. I got an Avalon preamp and a compressor. I had my interface and put up pillows all around the room. I put a blanket behind me and everything, and we just used that to record. There were already songs that were already recorded, but she just needed to fill in the gaps. One of the first songs we recorded in that space was her song “2AM.” She dropped that on SoundCloud. That was one of those songs we recorded, and I had to mix it right away. After that, we recorded “Love Galore,” “The Weekend,” and “Broken Clocks.” Those were the main songs. There were a couple of other songs that didn’t make it, which I wish made the deluxe. That was in the first week of us working together. A week after that, they kept flying me in and out from Chicago to New York to help finish the album. But this was the same time when I was also getting married.
What’s her recording and creative process like?
When it comes, it comes. You have to just wait. She has to experience her day. She has to experience being around everyone. When she feels it, she’ll just go up to you and be like, “All right, let’s go record.” Sometimes it might be at 4 a.m., or it might be right in the middle of the night, and you just have to get up and record.
How have you updated Classick Studios?
We just took over this studio called Soundscape. Shout out to Mike Kolar. It was built out by Carl Tatz, the best at acoustic design. He helped build out this studio I’m in right now. This studio reminds me of how I first started in a house. Kilpatrick House was the first version of where I started my studio in my basement. Fast forward to 2023; now we have a space to record a live band. We have an apartment on the second floor, which acts as my office right now. But when artists are in town, I allow artists to stay there. We do lockouts here. So we’ve been more in the development phases of building artists from the ground up.
You recently did a lockout session with TheMIND. What did that produce?
Uh, 67 songs. That was over three weeks of nobody being in the studio but him.
What do you have coming up for the rest of 2023?
We’re working on finishing up Smino’s mixtape. He’s working on about two or three projects at the same time, which is how he usually works. Monte Booker is working on his project, as well. Here at the studio, I’m just trying to create a better platform and an infrastructure to help artists in Chicago. I plan to partner up with some people in the city to create a little summit to bring people here to hear what Chicago has to offer and educate the artists here.
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