From L to R: A-Trak, GLC, and some rapper guy
DJ A-Trak is easily our favorite world traveler of the moment, viewing spots all around the globe from behind Kanye's head. His website tour diaries have given us hours of vicarious, stuck-in-the-office-for-yet-another-issue internet enjoyment, so it was only natural that we hit dude up to give us a dotcom 'sclusive for his behind-the-scenes take on the Grammys. He flew off to Europe as soon as the awards were done, so it took young Trak a minute to hit us back ("I'm at the Brit awards looking for a wireless connection. Coolio is here.") but hit us he did. After the jump, check A-Trak's pics and commentary on this year's Grammy preparation, ceremony, and of course, afterparties.
Last Wednesday I performed with some tuba players. Pretty cool, right? It was at the Grammys, with Mr West. Of course any good tuba-related performance needs preparation.
For me it all started on Sunday in the wee hours of the morning. At 4am I left The Rub in Brooklyn, flew to LA and went straight to an 11am rehearsal. I was the first band member there. In fact the turntables hadn't even arrived yet. The marching band was practicing their choreography, anxious to show it to Kanye. But when Ye arrived he stayed on the phone outside for about an hour, so I showed their choreographer how we usually perform "Golddigger" live, with lots of drops in the beat, so that they could adjust what they had prepared. Meanwhile Deray, the comedian who does all the skits on Ye's albums, was playing me some of his rap songs, and one of the trombone players was also playing me his Fruity Loops beats.
When Kanye finally walked in, something happened that was long overdue: the caterer unveiled the jerk chicken table (a mainstay at all rehearsals). They started going over the choreography and as expected he had them change a good chunk of it. While Grammy representatives were showing him sketches of the layout of the stage, I was on my MBox editing different versions of the instrumentals to fit all the changes to the performance -- practice to the vocal track, to the instrumental, with or without strings on the track, skip this verse, etc. All of that happens on my laptop. Jamie came in for about 2 hours and they came up with the intro and the "KW State / JFU" concept. Somewhere during the afternoon I realized that one of the "Golddigger" girls was actually one of the Usher dancers from the MTV story that's on my website, if you've ever seen it. Aw shucks. In the midst of all that Kanye was also showing everyone the nearly final edit of the "Touch the Sky" video, which he had just received.
At the end of the day someone needed to go supervise a studio session where they were going to record some of the steppers' steps onto the official edit of the instrumentals, because they weren't sure if they'd be able to properly mic their feet. Since Kanye had to go finish his song for Mission Impossible 3 (more on that later), he was like "please go make sure they do it right". Mind you this rehearsal was supposed to end at 3pm, but I went to co-engineer this session and re-did the official edits too. We were done at 1am; and incidentally we ended up never using the steps that were recorded that night. Coming off of an all-nighter, I'm glad I travel with a full box of Emergen-C.
On Monday we had another rehearsal, this time on-site at the Staples center. When you perform on TV there's always all sorts of paperwork to take care of... W-4's, passport photocopies, that kind of stuff. When I looked at the stage I thought "that school backdrop looks pretty cheap. Kanye's not gonna like that." Sure enough Ye got there and made a scene about the backdrop. "Yo this shit looks like a blown-up JPEG from the internet! I want a meeting with the art director!" And they were like "trust me, on camera it looks fantastic!"
We rehearsed the performance a couple of times, and since it was now on the real stage with various obstacles (like staircases), it took the marching band a couple of takes to get it right. But in the end it was tight. There was also an issue where the Grammy people absolutely wanted to control the music from their board, and every time they missed their music cues Kanye would go "Let... A... Trak... play it" where the hi-hat count for "Touch the Sky" was supposed to drop. And eventually they let me control all the music. In between takes Jamie was entertaining the room with non-sequiturs on the mic, like my personal favorite: "And now, from the makers of Laffy Taffy!"
That day I was also doing a day-in-the-life piece for a magazine which isn't The FADER, loosely to promote my upcoming DVD. OK, it was for Complex. They got the legendary Soul Assiassins photographer Estevan Oriol (Mr Cartoon's right hand man) to shoot the piece. So he followed me around all day. I wasn't sure what to expect from such an OG, but it turns out he was mad cool and we got along great.
I think his jokes were probably extra funny because they were coming from him, kinda like when you laugh at the mobsters in Analyze This. He was growing a beard, and at one point he told me "you know holmes, my friends they were asking me what's up with my beard. I tell them hey, I'm not sure if this Mexican Catholic thing is working out for me. I'm trying to save up to become Jewish!" (drrrum-tsshhh!!)
We had another gig at the Avalon that night, for Rolling Stone (which Kanye later called "Rolling Stones magazine" at the show), so Estevan and the writer came with me to soundcheck and stayed for the event. We had a star-studded crowd that night, let me tell ya. Too $hort, Bushwick Bill, Jay-Z, Paris Hilton, the guy who plays the manager on Entourage, and of course Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise, who got a shout out on the mic, and whom I met briefly backstage after the show. He was like, "man that was amazing! You know in my days they used to do drum solos!" And I guess he really meant that because mtv.com quoted him saying that to someone else too.
By the way I saw Estevan again a few days later, and he told me he had emailed a picture of him and Tom Cruise to a few friends and said "if the Jewish thing doesn't work out, maybe I'll save up some more and become a Scientologist!"
Tuesday was technically a day off. I did an LRG photo shoot, which was held in some sort of mediterranean-esque, I-grow-my-own-oranges mansion in Laguna Beach. So there really is a Laguna Beach. Huh. They were also shooting DJ Irie from Miami, and Coodie & Chike, who directed the "Through the Wire" video. One of the LRG guys was telling me that when they flew out Jim Jones for his ad, they brought him to the Standard on Sunset. If you don't know, the Standard is the ultimate metrosexual hotel. But in no ways homosexual, per se. Apparently Jimmy Jones walked in there, looked around, yelled out "I ain't staying at a homo hotel!", threw a fit with the guy at front desk, essentially calling him gay, and stormed out. You gotta love it.
Then during the shoot, for my 2nd outfit they had to send someone back to the warehouse to get smaller polos because everything was too big for my bird chest. Later that night I went to work on some new joints with the big homie GLC.
The big day...G-Day. I was picked up in the morning from the Mondrian. Funny thing, that Mondrian, with its giant flowerpots and various Hollywood schmoozers. They have an excellent restaurant that serves $8 water. When I arrived at the artist check-in, a lady announced in her walkie-talkie: "DJ A-Trak is here. DJ A-Trak." And right then Aerosmith pulled up in a limousine. Okaaay. I was kinda bummed out when security didn't let me bring my camera in. Ah well. We had our dress rehearsal around noon. We saw the marching band outfits for the first time. Mine arrived maybe 2 minutes before we walked on stage for the run-through. They got me this white and red band jacket with fringes and shoulder pads and all sorts of other foreign elements. And my DJ rig had a big KW crest on it. Neat-o. The stage hands rolled my rig into position as I held on to my laptop, and when everyone was in position we ran through the song once. Jamie wasn't there so one of the choreographers stood in for him. You can imagine how funny that can be. He was trying just a little too hard to sing on key, but he did a stand-up job. Through all of this, the whole staff was running around as if it was the real show. I'm starting to know these stage managers; it's usually the same guys from the VMA's and a couple of other TV performances.
From there it was just a matter of hanging out backstage until our performance. But backstage at the Grammys is a sight to see. My dad would have loved it. Paul McCartney, Bonnie Raitt, all of his favorites were there. What's funny is how you have all these well-defined categories: the stars, the assistants, the band members, the managers, the talent escorts, the stage hands, the production managers. Someone should organize a dodgeball tournament. A make-up artist mistook me for Dave Chappelle. Not Dave LaChappelle, I'm talking about the comedian. I guess someone had told him that Chappelle was about to walk in right before I showed up.
And finally our performance came...and went, very fast. It flew by me. I remember seeing President Hov in the front row, looking attentively. I remember that the whole crowd was standing up cheering during both songs. Sometimes at these TV performances you might not really feel the energy from the crowd, especially a grown-up spot like the Grammys, but this one was live! I also remember laughing when Kanye walked on stage because he was doing that bandleader walk where you bring your knees up really high, and his friend was just teaching him how to do that before we got on. Now I had seen a taping of the rehearsal that afternoon so I knew I hasn't going to get a lot of camera time. Apparently I was on the screen for a cumulated 1.7 seconds. My mom later told met that as she was watching on TV she was yelling to the camera "go right, go right!" But I was happy.
And then, next thing you know the show was over, Ye won 3 and we were off to the afterparty. Now for the afterparty I was particularly amped because I had just gotten a new suit, with the expert counsel of my suit-savvy brother Dave. By George, this was the Grammys. So I went in hard with my tweed Great Gatsby jump-off. The best part was my shoes. I wish I had a picture of them. I had these cream and brown gentleman's shoes straight out of a 1920's boarding school.
When we got there it was obvious that the street hadn't been blocked off properly for this kind of event. It took us half and hour to get in! We heard that some people rammed down a barricade and bumrushed their way in. But once we got inside it was dope! These celebrity parties can be really annoying sometimes because you might be super cramped up and can't even move. But this spot was like a big hangar so there was tons of room to galavant around. They had an elevated section in the middle that looked like a VIP because it was separated by a velvet rope. But anybody could walk up there. I don't think it was meant to be like that though. I quickly chased down any waiter I could find carrying hors-d'oeuvres, because we hadn't eaten since lunch. And then it was open-bar Hennessey for the rest of the night. A perfect nightcap for a memorable week.
I ran into Garcelle Beauvais, whom I had met on a red-eye flight once last year. To my great surprise she remembered me! She gave me the same reaction as Larry David when he was on the treadmill doing his medical check-up for The Producers and the doctor's assistant walked in. And I ended up hanging out with her and her niece (who is closer to my age) for most of the night. Maybe that's why I have such fond memories of that party. My shoes probably distracted them from my amateurish dancing skills.
And from there, we were off to Europe to start the World Tour. Without Mohammed my man.