The producer is one of the most crucial yet anonymous figures in all of music. In some songs, the producer is both the band leader and the band, yet his or her name is often unknown. Every other week, with Beat Construction, an extension of our column in the magazine, we aim to illuminate the role producers are playing in creating some of our favorite music. This week, we talk with ATLiens 1st Down and Raye Rich, collectively FKi. When not lacing hits for the likes of Travis Porter, Tyga and Ludacris, the duo is nurturing their own, more experimental, rap career—most recently with the Diplo-assisted, dubstep-informed Transformers In The Hood tape. Read an interview with them below and click through to hear some of their best productions.
How did you guys meet? 1st DOWN: We first met up in high school, in about tenth grade. Rich had moved to Atlanta from New York and we ended up being in the same fuckin geography class and we had an argument over Jay-Z and Nas. I was talking about Jay-Z and he was talking about Nas. And after all of that we ended up getting on the same bus to the same neighborhood. Ever since then we started working. RAYE RICH: We were just making beats, getting in trouble, getting on punishment. Your parents would stick you in your room and they don't really know nothing about computers so you can make things on your own. That's how the whole beat making thing happened. It was us being in trouble. This was some mama's basement stuff and it's just now starting to pay off.
What gear were you using back then? 1st: Fruity Loops, of course!
How did you start getting beats to folks like Travis Porter? 1st: We're both engineers, we went to Full Sail, so when we moved back to Atlanta we just started engineering and mixing records for people. I mean, we weren't that good but over the years we got some practice in. We got to work with some people over at Collipark Music and this dude named Mr. Hanky was working with Travis Porter. Then we started working and one day in his basement we made "Make It Rain" and "Bring It Back" in the same day. We got in by engineering, really.
Do hits like "Make it Rain" hang over your head? Does it change peoples expectations? 1st: Oh yeah. If people see FKi when we go out of town and they found out we made "Make it Rain" they think automatically that we love the strip club! No lie I went to the strip club twice in LA because people think that's where we want to go. People do want those kinda records, yeah but we just want to switch them up a little bit. We want to continuously change sounds. Like "Make it Rain" and "Ayy Ladies" are two completely different tempos but they both still get the job done in the club.
You seem to draw on a very eclectic pool of influences. RICH: We're influenced by everything, literally. We could be at a club playing grime and the same time we can go into the hoodest club ever. We listen to Daft Punk, System of a Down. Timbaland is one of our top producers. We pull a lot from his wild sounds. 1st: From George Clinton to Daft Punk to Gucci Mane to Waka Flocka to Jay-Z to Feist, it's everywhere. Lil Jon, Mr. Collipark, he's from down here. The list goes on. And depending on who we're working with we try to incorporate everything into that song. For example with "Make it Rain," the break down part—[sings] buh buh buh-buh-buh—that was originally some electro type shit but we took the drums out and replaced it with some trap drums. We try to incorporate everything we listen to.
What inspires such variety? RICH: I'm not really sure. I feel like we've always been different from other people. People usually have to warm up to us when they become our friends because we're like, different. So it was just natural that we'd like a lot of weird sounds. Every time I hear something that I can't explain I know it has to be good. Or I want to learn about it, at least. If you can't explain it you can't call it good or bad, you just have to learn it.
Has there ever been a point where you've gone too far left and artists don't want to mess with it? 1st: All the time. People's brains could be a little more open, sometimes people just want to hear the trap stuff. If we're in the studio with like Waka or even Travis Porter some of the breakdowns might be a little too much. They'll be like, "Yo you trippin!" So we had to learn how to trick people. We'll let them rap on the regular beats and then when they leave we'll all the extra elements to it. When they hear the final project they'll like it.
Who are you working with at the moment? 1st: We've been working with Trouble from Duct Tape. We've got a crazy track with him and Gucci. We produced that with a dubstep producer named Mayhem. We just released a lot of stuff with Tyga, we did the "Heisman" record and "Dancing 4 Dollars." Also his artist Honey Cocaine. Ludacris, Shannel from Young Money, the list goes on. Of course we're still working with Travis Porter, hopefully we can get the next couple of singles that they're putting out. Oh yeah and Busta Rhymes just put a crazy verse on one of my tracks. I want everybody to hear it ASAP. There's a lot of artists we want to work with—Mac Miller, this dude named Boldy James out of Detroit. We want to work with new artists, really. Make new artists pop.
Yeah it seems like you almost skipped that step and jumped right in with established acts. 1st: That's the gift of being from Atlanta. The music [scene] is all close. You can work with Gucci, Future, they're all right there and everybody supports each other.
How did the dubstep influence come into your music? 1st: I want to give that to Heroes & Villains, those are the first DJs we heard doing Trapstep—trap music with dubstep. That was like three years ago at Atlanta Indie Fest. Daniel from Heroes and Villains was DJing and we heard it. I didn't know what the fuck it was. He had a Waka remix—I think it was "O Lets Do It"—mixed with dubstep and I was like, "Wow we need to do that, that shit is amazing." Ever since then we've just been trying to incorporate it and we finally got it down pat with Transformers In The Hood. Our main mission is to make black girls dance to dubstep. Because yo black chicks are scared of dubstep! If we could just make R&B type beats and put a little bit of wobble in it they might fuck with it. Just a little bit of wobble, maybe during the hook. So that's what we've been doing.
How'd do you go about figuring out how to make dubstep records? 1st: We learned all of that from Mayhem, he's a DJ and producer in Atlanta. He opened up Massive one day and we were just watching him, watching him, watching him. He was showing us how to create the wobble and all of the sounds you need, all of the layers.
In general, what's your recording process like? How do you balance the workload? 1st: Truthfully we're weird. We make tracks [separately] a lot of the time. I'll start something and then Rich will hear something and start at it. Sometimes we're not even together in the same room. We'll just have an engineer or we'll be engineering ourselves and we'll just swap out. Then at the end of the process we'll come together and mix the track and do different things. Sometimes we'll just email ideas back and forth and won't even be together in the studio. RICH: Back in the day we were so used to staying up late because we were interns and we'd [have to] work while people were at home. So one person might be at work and the other person might be sleeping. I'd get up, play it, I might add something, go to sleep. He'd wake up, he might add something. It just comes together in the end. 1st: We both have ADD and our brains are running a hundred miles [a minute] each so [if we're together] I'll want to do something like, Let me see the mouse! Let me add this shit! And he'll be like, Nnaw let me do what I want to do!
Yeah, you can hear the ADD in the music. 1st: I didn't even notice!