With droopy eyes and floppy, shoulder-length hair, Harry Fraud resembles a pound puppy, though he insists he’s not a softie: “I’m a fucking kid from Brooklyn that’ll fuck you up just like the next guy. I just happen to look like a surfer.” Raised in a brownstone in Cobble Hill, Harry Fraud has grown to become one of hip-hop’s most exciting new producers, a hard worker with a permanent vacation mindset and an ear for soulful samples that hark back to the golden-age ’90s. The most well-known show-case of Fraud’s production style, where sounds linger in the New York air midway between blunt and champagne glass, is the South Bronx rapper French Montana’s career-propelling anthem, “Shot Caller,” a song whose insistent, throwback trumpet references The Lords of the Underground and whose hook quotes Puff Daddy’s “It’s All About the Benjamins.” His best track for the plus-sized, Queens-bred darling Action Bronson, “Bird on a Wire,” effortlessly twirls the late-’70s cosmic funk of keyboardist Dexter Wansel over a trembling synth and the producer’s distinctive drop, “La musica de Harry Fraud.” But Fraud is wary of being pigeonholed by true school, sample-driven melodies: “It’s hard artistically to figure out what you want to be known for. Certain hip-hop producers, with me being one of them, have this kind of guilt inside because we sample records. I don’t want anyone to think I’m cheating.” That anxiety is misplaced, of course, and his musicianship is strong; in fact, Fraud has written and produced in other genres of music under off-the-record aliases, most recently, he says, a rock album for Sony.
The son of a concert promoter and band manager, Fraud remembers a childhood of hanging out in Tina Turner’s trailer and sitting backstage with the Beach Boys, waiting for Carlos Santana to perform. It was one of his father’s longstanding clients—Sugar Ray, a pop rock group with a DJ as a full-fledged band member—that inspired Fraud to take up the turntables at age 13, and his father’s graceful hand as a manager that taught him how to maintain a low-stress, open-minded studio. Behind the scenes, music is all about psychology, Fraud says, even if that means bullshitting about Oakley sunglasses for an hour before booting up Pro Tools, which is how he began a recent session with the wild-eyed rapping enigma Riff Raff. “The producer doesn’t just make a beat,” Fraud explains. “He sits there. Rick Rubin might produce your record and never touch the mixing board. He might never leave the back of the room. It’s about pulling the best out of the artist, setting them in the right headspace to create at their top condition.”
When we spoke, Fraud had spent the morning surfing in Miami and was headed to Rick Ross’ mansion. Ross was in the process of executive producing French Montana’s debut album. Removed from his familiar studio and tasting something bigger, Fraud flips from laid-back host to plow horse. “I go to Rozay’s house and I sit there and work, even if everybody is partying and drinking,” he says. “I’m not bullshitting. I’m in the corner with my headphones on and my laptop. I don’t give a fuck about girls and drugs and all that shit. I just want to smoke my weed and make music.”