Producer Spotlight: JR Swiftz

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If this piece ran a year ago, it would need a longer introduction, but with placements on no less than five recent Griselda titles, JR Swiftz has made his name known in a major way. Make no mistake, this was no overnight come up. JR has been honing his craft for a long time, and he intends to make the most of his raised profile.

RD: At this point many fans know the name from various GxFR credits, but let’s go back to your roots. You have a beat tape Soul & Party that dates back to 2012. Was that what you would call your first official body of work? If not, what is?

JR: Yeah that was my first beat tape, I was super nervous about it. I remember reaching out to my bro Bvlvm about the art. I gave him this idea I had and the vibe I was going with, he executed the art perfectly to what the tape was sounding. Blessings to bro.

RD: What would 2019 JR Swiftz tell the 2012 version? What wisdom have you gained over your time in the game?

JR: I would tell 2012 Swiftz the same thing I tell 2019 Swiftz,  be patient! Please be patient and also learn the business. The music part is fun (sometimes lol) but the business side is everything you need and more.

RD: With a number of upcoming placements on various projects, you are well on your way to becoming even higher in demand. That is success in itself to many, how do you define it?

JR: Success to me is just enjoying what you do and still getting paid for it. The money will come but just have fun creating. For me, I just want to be comfortable, I don’t need millions. Just comfy and want to be known as a great one day. That’s success to me.

RD: When you set out to make music, did you have an end goal? Was this a hobby that turned serious, or was this always the plan?

JR: Music was always something I wanted to do full time. My pops did it, I seen him create heat and I knew that’s  what I wanted to do. I was an emcee at first but didn’t like my voice. I fell in love with producing because of it and I was heavily focused on beats.

RD: How much has your setup changed? Was there a piece of gear that helped take your production to the next level? Or would you chalk that up to just improving overall?

JR: I used software first, started on FL Studio then Reason then Ableton and the MPC software. In the midst of that, i think Ableton, the MPC and just overall willingness to learn helped me progress over the years.

RD: 2020 is going to be a continuation of the growth of your name, is there anything you can disclose at this time?

JR: Not as of now, but just know you’re going to see my name a whole lot more on various projects.

RD: Looking back, what placement are you most proud of?

JR: I really can’t single one out they all played a major part, to be honest.

RD: There is a ‘JR Swiftz Type Beat’ on YouTube, that has to be flattering.

JR: There is? I need links! Whatever a ‘JR Swiftz Type Beat’ is… isn’t that. I have so many styles, people just know me for Griselda but I’ve showcased that. Peep B Dot’s Coming Forth By Day EP for proof.

RD: Do you have any shout outs?

JR: Shoutout to everyone whose been rocking with me since day one! Blessings! Peace!

Cop JR’s Macstrumentals here https://jrswiftzva.bandcamp.com

Follow him on IG @thereal_jrswiftz and Twitter @therealjrswiftz

Producer Spotlight: Vago

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Vago first caught our attention by producing the bulk of Estee Nack’s amazing Joan Manuel Serrap project, producing 5 of the 7 tracks and putting his mark on the game. He soon followed that with more work with Estee, as well as placements for al.divino and Recognize Ali. This summer produced all of Nueva Ola, a joint project with Che Uno. Here he talks his roots, how he developed some key relationships and future plans.

RD: You’re one of the rising names in the production world, can you give the newer listeners some background info on yourself?

V: I’ve been listening to Hip Hop since the early 80’s. UTFO, Run DMC, Whodini, Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel etc. were all in rotation as a young kid, b-boying, following in the steps of my older brother. We used to get these mixtapes from our Filipino neighbors that had cousins in L.A, that always had the latest shit. That lasted about 2-3 years.  Soon after, my bigger bro started listening to rock and heavy metal, I followed suit, as most younger bros do.  In those years of being heavy into rock and metal, I learned how to play guitar, bass and drums, listening to my favorite bands and learning how to play songs by ear. Interestingly, hip hop still played a role in the background for about 3 years in the form of NWA, Ice T,  Beastie Boys, Too $hort, Kid Sensation, Sir Mix-alot and of course Run DMC.  Hip Hop came back around to the forefront of my life at around the age of 18 and has been number one since. I began as an emcee in the early 90’s, but was always semi-obsessed with digging through vinyl, looking for samples for our producer at the time. I first dabbled in beat making when I was 18 but never really started heavy til around 21.  We’re here now!

RD: Let’s talk gear, what kind of toys did you start out with, and how has your setup evolved?

V: The journey into making beats really started the day I discovered I could sample music on to a computer. I remember that day, it blew my mind!!  Before that, I was cross dubbing shit on cassette tapes. Also, I knew that most samplers at the time, had a maximum of approximately 8 – 13 seconds of sampling time and computer sampling time was pretty much unlimited.  I downloaded a free computer program called Multiquence and started messing with loops and making my first beats. Later, I moved on to a program called Acid Pro, which was a massive upgrade and then soon after, Propellerheads Reason came into the picture and I’ve remained on Reason until now. Reason has progressed in a major way and myself alongside with it. Big up, Propllerheads! As for external gear,  I don’t have racks of gear to brag about like many producers. I have a computer, a mic, an audio interface, some monitors and a few guitars, that’s about it.  Straight up, there’s no need for anything else.

RD: Looking over your credits, it’s clear you’ve made some strong connections with Rec Ali and Estee Nack. How did those relationships develop?

V: That started with a good homie of mine putting me on to the Triple Black Diamonds record by Estee and Al.  That album is fucking fire! I heard dude throwing some Spanish in the rhymes and thought, ‘yo, I’m gonna hit dude up and send some beats’. I linked with the homie Estee via Soundcloud and he got back with an email.  I sent him a couple of folders and I ended up landing 5 joints on JOANMANUELSERRAP.  That was the foot in the door which led to placements with Rec Ali and the gawd al.divino.  Big shout out to Estee!  Also, shout out to my bro Recognize Ali.

RD: Earlier this year you produced Nueva Ola EP with Che Uno, did you go into a different mindset producing a full project?

V: Not really, no. My dude Che Uno (@che_uno) and myself used to be in a group together called Los Poetas. I was doing all the production for the group. We released a full LP and an EP.  The Nueva Ola EP is a different vibe from Los Poetas , so the mindset may have been different in that sense but not in terms of full projects. I’ve been doing full projects with artists for a minute.

RD: Che mixes Spanish and English in his rhymes, we have seen this from Sick Jacken and more recently Crimeapple. Give us your thoughts on the emerging amounts of Latin talent in underground hip hop.

V: Shit is amazing!  It’s only right that Latinos have a heavy presence in the scene, now and always not just in the underground but in the mainstream as well!  Back in the day, Latino emcees were sparse and although Latinos have an equal hand in the creation and birth of Hip Hop, it wasn’t that easy to find too many Latino rappers.  I think I can speak for a lot of Latinos that have been into Hip Hop from early times, that anything Latino was a success for us.  Mellow Man Ace, Kid Frost, LSOB, Cypress Hill, Fat Joe, Messengarz of Funk, Hurricane G, Son Doobie, Kurious and the Beatnuts, were some of the artists at the forefront in the late 80’s and early 90s.  Shit, even Gerardo was big for some of us haha, we took what we could get in those days.

RD: Many of your works involved dramatic sounds, namely strings. Is that intentional, what are you listening for when digging for or developing sounds?

V: I dabble into all music when it comes to sampling shit, so nothing and nobody’s safe. I’m into pretty much any genre of music you could think of, so depending on the artist, one of these vibes will come through in the sample. Anything that catches my ear will get sampled, I’m not biased when it comes to sampling. Certain artists like different types of vibes, so it’s more like matching the beats with the artist.

RD: Is there any upcoming placements or projects you can announce to the good people?

V: I recently finished an album with my dude, Checkmate (@checkmatetherapper).  Instead of dropping the album as a whole, we decided to drop it as singles.  Also, my guy Asun Eastwood (@asuneastwood_toma) and myself are about to drop a full LP entitled Sewer Science, that should be out sooner than later. I’m also working on an EP with the homie Primo Profit (@primoprofit) and another EP is in the works with my guy SyckSyllables (@syllables_plaga) from La Plaga. More Rec Ali joints coming soon as well.

RD: Where would you like to be as an artist in 5 years?

V: For real, I just take the days as they come. In 5 years I’d like to be doing the same shit I’m doing now, but on a larger scale. Life usually pushes or pulls you into the direction you need to be in. For now, I’m blessed being able to make a living off of my passion, music!  If that can escalate and I can constantly keep creativity at a peak, all else will fall into place.

RD: Give us 5 vocal talents you’d call to begin work on a Vago production album.

VI’d definitely hit up all the artists I’ve already done previous work with, but I’d also reach out to a gang of emcees that I respect.  This idea for a compilation has been coming up frequently as of late. It’s gonna happen!

RD: Anyone you want to Shout out?

V: Shout out to Respect Due Podcast for the interview!  Shout out to my Higher Self and all my guides for this life and love of creativity.  Massive shout out to my parents for being my  #1 supporters!  Shout out everyone that’s been supportive of the music and the movement!  The list would be too long and I wouldn’t want to miss anyone, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Follow Vago on IG www.instagram.com/vago604

Producer Spotlight: Str8 Bangaz

Str8 Bangaz

Production teams have made some of the finest hip hop over the years. The Bomb Squad, The Hitmen and many others combined talents for the greater good. One of those Hitmen, Richard ‘Younglord’ Frierson helped two young men from The Bronx get their start. 25 years later, they are producing full projects for some of the best talent the scene has to offer. Left Lane Didon, All Hail Y.T. and Snotty are among those who have blessed the mic while they’ve manned the boards. Here they detail their journey, their production album The Reagan Era, and what lies ahead.

RD: Is this a team or an individual? Can you give us some background on your past work?

SB: There are actually two of us, Rice and Rachi.  We’ve been doing this hip-hop shit for more than 20 years. Born and raised in the Bronx, we started producing in 1994. We got our first break ghost producing for top notch producers such as Younglord (Former Bad Boy Hitman) and Ty Fyffe back in the late 90’s. Shortly after that we branched off on our own and began producing records for artist such as N.O.R.E, Ali Vegas, Hell Rell, 40 Cal., Royal Flush, AG, Math Hoffa, Bathgate, Sha Stimuli, Littles, A- Mafia, Chubb Rock, and many more. Some of the records ended up on their individual projects and the ones that didn’t make the cut were used on our debut compilation album titled Str8 Bangaz Presents…Vintage which was released in 2010. So after the release of the Vintage project, we became very frustrated with the hip hop industry and the constant grind of trying to get production placements was taking its toll on us along with other outside issues, which forced us to fall back for about 5 years. However, we never stopped making beats but we did stop trying to shop and sell them. In late 2014 we slowly started to get that itch back and decided to work on an album with an artist by the name of Bunky S.A. (Former member of Lil Kim’s Tha Bee Hive Group and featured on her Labella Mafia album). We released his debut album entitled A Shot of My Life in 2015 which jump started our passion to re-enter the game. We followed that project up with another debut album later that year with Harlem’s own, Bathgate entitled Grand Opening.  These two albums which we fully produced led the way for our resurgence back onto the hip-hop scene.

RD: Delaware has one of the best movements going at the moment, and you’ve worked with many of the standouts including Jay NiCE / Left Lane Didon / All Hail Y.T. and Miskeen Haleen. Was it a domino effect after linking with one of them? How exactly did that go down?

SB: We’re always searching for new hip hop to inspire us, and in 2018 stumbled upon a dope EP by Left Lane Didon & Jay NiCE entitled Immobilaire.  After listening to the project we immediately knew we wanted to work with them so we reached out to Left Lane and sent him some records.  He instantly informed us he would be using multiple beats and wanted to release a project fully produced by Str8 Bangaz. That album was Autumn Leaves II and to this day is a classic. A timeless masterpiece. An EP with Jay Nice was in the works but never materialized although he recorded a few records. As for All Hail Y.T., a few months after reaching out to him he hit us up expressing that he also liked many of the tracks we sent him and the rest was history.  We vibed out with All Hail Y.T. and released a classic follow up to the Autumn Leaves II EP released prior with Left Lane entitled Live Well and Prosper. Miskeen Haleem was actually in the studio during a Left Lane Didon session while he was recording a track for the Autumn Leaves II EP (Mo’ Pete and Mateen).  We were already fans of his work, but that day he became a fan of ours and the friendship developed from there.  It was a domino effect, but not simply “Yo let’s do an album.” Nah, we still had to show and prove putting our A-game on display time after time.

RD: Your production album The Reagan Era features instrumentals as well as vocal tracks. How long did it take to create the project, and what went into deciding on the vocal guests?

SB: That album took about a month to finish, and while deciding on the list of MCs we wanted to feature we knew we were looking for some of the dopest up and coming underground rappers. Specifically those dope MCs who may not be common household names to people who don’t follow true hip hop. And thanks to all of the lyricist that showed us love on the album, it was a total success. A production album is something we’ve always wanted to do but just never got around to it. Our thought process has always been that instrumental albums are a way for the producer to showcase his/her talent by presenting a full catalog of tracks. We wanted to accomplish this and stay true to that Str8 Bangaz sound, which we successfully did. Instead of the artist choosing the track, it was now our choice on which beats we would put on the album. So if you’re a dope MC looking for some creative and artistic inspiration and you still haven’t copped that Reagan Era, I suggest you go out and get it. In addition to the crack instrumentals on there, we got amazing songs by some truly amazing MCs.

RD: Full projects have become standard, with you producing EP’s for All Hail Y.T. / Left Lane / Snotty and others. There has to be a level of trust there from the rapper, how much do personal relationships factor into determining who you work with on a project?

SB: Definitely a factor when we decide on who to work with but we’re also fans of these artists. We study their past material and try to get a feel for their musical habits through listening to their music catalogs. That’s how we are able to adapt and fit their style of music while also staying true to our sound and who we are (dirty loops, hard drums, booming bass). No matter which project we have fully produced for any artist, you can never say they sound the same. Most of the time many won’t believe we entirely produced many of the projects we have been fortunate enough to work on.

RD: The grind doesn’t seem to stop, are there some upcoming projects you can announce at this time?

SB: Right now, we are working on a project with a young talented female from Detroit by the name of Junii. She sings, rhymes, makes beats, engineers, etc.  She is the full package.  We produced the whole album. Also, we have another project we fully produced from a Delaware native by the name of Chris Skillz coming this year.  We’re also playing with the notion of doing another instrumental album, but this time it will only be instrumentals.

RD: What’s the end goal for Str8 Bangaz? Where would you like to be in a few years?

SB: Like any producer on the grind, the end goal for us would be to get consistent joints placed on projects for mainstream artists that we consider to be dope. This is in addition to obtaining placements on more of the well-known underground MCs. In a few years we’d like Str8 Bangaz to be a household staple when it comes to production on any level.  Hip hop and the beats you hear on the radio have changed a lot and we can’t say we are huge fans of all of it, however based on the responses we have been getting from our work we know there will always be a demand for MCs looking for that true hip hop sound and we are here to feed that hunger.

RD: Do you handle your own post-production?

SB: For the most part, yes.  If we do a project that will be released under the Bangtadis label, then all mixing and mastering is done by the legendary engineer Dan The Man.  Dan understands our production style and can bring exactly what we want out of every track without us even asking.  He knows how we want the mix to sound and expresses his creativity through the mixing process as well. Whether we want more bass on a particular kick or reverb to make a snare sharper, Dan knows how to replicate what we have already created in the crib and also enhances it once we are in the studio.

RD: What are some skills you’ve acquired that you may not have had when first starting out?

SB: I’d say live instrumentation. We play a little piano, bass, and guitar and this understanding of music is readily expressed in our tracks. Although we may not utilize live instruments in all our tracks, that foundation gives us the ability to push the ceiling on much of our sample-based tracks. A big thing with technology has been the introduction of plugins as well. You have to remember, we started in the 90s before all this plugin shit. All we had was an MPC 2000 and a sound module. But with today’s software and the ability to introduce different synthesizers into our production, it has definitely taken our sound to the next level.

RD: If you could pick any 5 rappers on Earth for Reagan Era 2, who would you call?

SB: Notorious BIG, Big Pun, Jay-Z, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Prodigy, Fabolous, Rick Ross, The Lox and Rapsody.

Thanks to Str8 Bangaz for their story, to purchase the instrumentals of the aforementioned projects as well as Reagan Era hit their Bandcamp up

https://str8bangaz.bandcamp.com

The vocal versions can be found on the respective artists BC

Follow on on Twitter and IG @Str8BangazLLC