Benjamin Thomas is not your typical engineer, he’s a musical savant. For the last 3 ½ years, he’s used his technical prowess, love for challenges, and musical aptitude to help Lil Uzi Vert transmogrify their thoughts into hits like “Just Wanna Rock,” “CS,” and “Endless Fashion.” That’s why he’s had his hands in nearly every single sound you hear from Pink Tape and knows what it’s like working with the people closest to Uzi.
“Recording [JT] is an entirely different process [than recording Uzi]. When I recorded with her, there was a lot more feedback from my side. Uzi and I don’t speak really because we’ve worked together so much,” Thomas told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the multiplatinum producer and engineer discussed how many unreleased songs he and Uzi worked on in under four years, how an accident led to Uzi’s Don Toliver collaboration “Patience,” and the origins of “Just Wanna Rock.” Read the exclusive conversation below.
What were the earliest songs recorded for Pink Tape?
“Zoom,” “Of Course,” and “Flooded The Face.” Those three songs are significantly older than the rest of the album. If I had to guess, they were made between 2015-2017. The earliest record I worked on was probably “I Gotta” around 2020 when I started working with Uzi. We’ve made around 1200 finished songs for this album and about 800 unfinished songs.
Two thousand songs in 3 ½ years is an incredible output. How many tracks do you and Lil Uzi Vert work on per session?
We work a lot. We have the studio booked starting at 10:00 p.m. seven days a week. We’ve worked on holidays. I’ve worked with [them] on Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s. There have been days where you load up five beats, none of them are hitting, people aren’t inspired, and life happens outside the studio. Then, there are days when people are super inspired. I remember a specific moment two summers ago when we had a DJ Mustard session. This was when we made the song “GLOCK IN MY PURSE” from the RED & WHITE EP. In that one session, we made 12 finished songs.
Wow. When did you both know you were recording for Pink Tape?
It’s all a blend. This album has been 20 different iterations over the past three years. There’ve been times I thought we were going — towards the middle of this year, [Uzi] felt it was time to release something, especially with the sudden and somewhat unexpected success of “Just Wanna Rock.” We had to capitalize on that song. I think it catapulted [them] into a new fan base.
What are the origins of “Just Wanna Rock”?
We spent most of 2021 in Los Angeles. When we came back from LA, we did Made in America. The studio we work at here in New York is called Jungle City, and it was booked. So we took our mobile setup to one of [Uzi’s] friends’ apartments in the same complex I live in and set up in the living room. MCVERTT had sent some beats, and around four o’clock in the morning, [Uzi] sent me the beat; we loaded it up and recorded this song in 20 minutes. And that was that. I think we did a couple of songs that night. I didn’t think much of it.
Are there any Pink Tape songs that Lil Uzi Vert trusted you to add your own influence on?
There’s a song called “Crush Em” where Uzi came to the studio when we were in LA with the core team — Cannon, Lyle LeDuff, Bugz Ronin, Keef Boyd, Ikey Beatz, Brandonfinessin. Uzi was very inspired and was challenging us to push the music and production. We had the first half of that song, and [Uzi] wanted a switch. There’s this software producers and DJs use called Mixed in Key, where you can load beats or songs in there, and it’ll tell you what the tempo and key are. I looked at the “Crush Em” tempo and key of the beat, clicked on it, and then went through other beats at that tempo, and I found the WondaGurl beat. If you listen to the song, we only recorded vocals for the first half. I put the other beat in. I called WondaGurl to get the stems of the beat. For that transition part, I took pieces of both of their stems to transition between the two beats because [Uzi] challenged us.
Another situation is the song “Patience” with Don Toliver. Bugz Ronin, one of our producers, accidentally sent Uzi and Don the same beat. Don happened to be in New York, and he was in one of the rooms at Jungle City. He came up to our room, and Bugz texted me, “If Don plays the song on my beat, unplug the aux chord (laughs). I don’t want them to know they used the same beat.” I said, “Bro, I can’t unplug the cord in the middle of a session.” The first song Don plays when he gets the aux is that song. Uzi hears it, looks at me, and I already knew. So, I get on my computer and pull up his version. Uzi then plays [their] version. It happened to be that they were both talking about the same thing. They were both talking about drugs as it relates to a relationship. There was a lull in the session, so I put on my headphones for 45 minutes and cut that version you hear on the album of the two of them going back and forth and stuff. I tried to call Cannon over to listen to it in the headphones first, but Uzi said, “Nah, just play it out loud.” I played it out loud, and everybody was speechless. That’s how that song ended up on the album.
You topped the Billboard charts for rock producers. How did that happen?
The song “CS” from Pink Tape covers System of a Down’s “Chop Suey!” Uzi came into the studio one day, texted me a YouTube instrumental link, and said, “I want to cover this song.” I wasn’t fully familiar with the song. So, we did the cover, and I sent it to [Uzi’s] management team. [Their] management team reached out to System of a Down’s management team. System’s team said they would clear the compositional copyright for [them] to do the cover, but we couldn’t use their instrumental. It had to be replayed. I saw an opportunity for me to do a little production in the more traditional sense.
I started calling some of the homies in Philly who were accomplished and talented musicians. I called my friend Mitch, who’s a fantastic bass player. I called my homie ManMan, one of the world’s best piano players. He’s been touring with John Legend for years and music directing for many others. He’s the one playing piano in the string parts. I called my homie Matt, who plays guitar. Then, l called the homie Brandon, who plays the drums for Armani White. They all did an amazing job. Uzi approved it instantly with no changes. That’s how I ended up No. 1 on the rock producer charts and No. 3 on the alternative producer charts, which I never thought would happen.
The studio is where artists let their guards down to be their most creative. Have you and Lil Uzi Vert ever had deep conversations about life?
We have a really close relationship. You have to understand we’ve spent the most time with each other. There’s nobody I’ve spent more time with in the past 3 1/2 years than [them]. [Their] song “Rehab” didn’t come from a conversation I had with [them], but [their] experience of going to rehab and being able to put that into a song was something we were talking about. That’s one of the more vulnerable songs I’ve ever heard from [Uzi].
You’ve also spent time recording JT, most notably for her feature on Summer Walker’s “Ex For A Reason.” What’s it like to work with her?
JT and I are super cool from the years we’ve spent together. Recording her is an entirely different process [than recording Uzi]. When I recorded with her, there was a lot more feedback from my side. Uzi and I don’t speak really because we’ve worked together so much.
What do you have coming for the rest of 2023?
I’m really excited to continue my career as a mixing engineer. I have some cool stuff coming with my homeboy Fridayy’s debut album. I’m mixing that right now. It’s like nothing anybody’s heard before in the R&B space. He’s such an amazing songwriter. I just mixed SoFaygo’s newest project, which I look forward to. Cochise is a great friend of mine and a great artist, and we just did an album. We’re going to start working on some new stuff. I’m continuing to grow as a mixer. That’s what I want to do, and hopefully, be mentioned with the greats. I’m concerned about getting better every day.
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