The producer is one of the most crucial yet anonymous figures in all of music. 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. For the latest installment we spoke to the Minnesota-bred, Dallas-based beatsmith Cardo whose smoothed out modern g-funk helped set the tone on Wiz Khalifa's seminal 2010 tape Kush and Orange Juice. He's been very busy in the time since, serving as part of the in-house production team under Wiz's Taylor Gang imprint, as well as freelancing for the likes of Freddie Gibbs, Dom Kennedy and Sir Michael Rocks. His instrumental debut, Everything I$ Gold, is out now on Fool's Gold.
How did you first get into production? It was really though my uncles. My whole family was music oriented and I watched what they were doing, especially my uncles and cousins. Some were making beats but most of them were rapping. And I was like, "hmm… this is pretty cool. I want to do it too."
Being that you're from St. Paul, how is it that you ended up being so closely associated with Pittsburgh artists? I was producing for Mac Miller before anybody, Chevy [Woods] as well. I was just following their whole movement, especially with Wiz and what he was doing when he came out with Prince Of The City. Then Mac Miller came along and I was networking just like I always I do. I was on Twitter and I was just like "yo I got these beats for you." Actually this was when Myspace was still the shit. Me and Chevy were on Myspace and we chopped up on there. He gave me an email and then we made the shit happen.
When did you start doing stuff with Wiz? I linked up Wiz through Chevy and his uncle Motor. I live in Texas now and [Wiz] came down for a show one day and he wanted me to come through. I was having stomach issues that night, like I ate some bad ass food and I'm like "Oh my god if I go I'm scared I might shit on myself." [Laughs] So I had to get some Pepto Bismol to solve the case and went ahead and met up with Wiz. It was an opportunity that I didn't want to miss out on.
I went there and he embraced me, it was love right from the start. He was like "I know you got some beats on you!" My laptop had just crashed on me like a week [before] but I always put my beats on my Iphone just in case. So I played the beats off the Iphone and he was like "I gotta use these for Kush & Orange Juice!" He was just getting started working on that. I'm like "Yeah, whatever." You know how every rapper you hear from will be like, "Aww I'm gon use this and use that!" And they don't? But he really used the beats that he picked out. "Mezmorized" was recorded later on. I made that the day my daughter was born: March 3rd, 2010. I sent that to him and he recorded it the same day and that was like the icing on the cake.
One of the things I like about that whole circle is it seems like they take the old school method of building a tight knit production stable, with you, Sledgren and Jerm. What's that like adapting to that sort of a unit? It's different, I'm not quite used to it and I'm still trying to adapt. But me and Sledgren, our styles blend together. We both make trippy type shit and Sledgren is in a whole-nother lane just like I am. Jerm, too. It's good, it's comforting and it's not like any other shit that you see out there and what they're doing with their production teams. We actually work as a team and we work together.
So you guys are legitimately holed up in the studio together then, not just sending off emails? Yeah, just like that. If we're not together we will do email, but most of the time we be together and we'll do something. Whenever we're in the studio we're cooking up. Werever we're at, we've got our laptops with us. If we're in a hotel room or lobby somewhere we're gonna pull them out and start making beats. That's how dedicated we are. Especially myself. If I feel like I got a tune in my head, I got a melody and I can lay it down right now I'm gonna go ahead and do it.
How closely are the rappers involved with your beatmaking process? When does Wiz or Chevy come into the equation? Most of the time I'll send Wiz something and he'll lay something down that same night but he won't tell me until I actually see him. It'll be a month later then he'll play me some music and I'm like "Aww man when'd you do this?!" and he'll be like "The night you sent me the beat!"
What was the situation with Rolling Papers? I know a lot of people were disappointed that you weren't on that album. I think, if anything, I want to say it had something to do with the label. Wiz was trying to do something different as well and we respected that. Of course a lot of people were disappointed because he didn't have Cardo and Sledgren on there. That's fine, I'm pretty sure he was expecting that whole outcome. But you gotta try something different just to see people's reactions. I guess he got the message. A lot of people weren't feeling it but honestly I think it was a cool album. This is another situation with O.N.I.F.C., we're actually on there this time.
I think what happened was that people were caught off guard because Kush and OJ was just so defined in its sound. Yeah and we was trying to capitalize on that sound. That's what I was hoping for with Rolling Papers. I wanted that sound to take over and I think we had the opportunity to do so. We still have the opportunity but right at that time Wiz had just came out and [everybody] was like, "Okay we gon see what these fools gonna do." But some turns were made and they tried to do something different.
It seems like your sound owes a lot to the west coast, DJ Quik in particular. Quik was a heavy influence as far as producing, being a rapper, looking fly, trying to have all the bitches. I was trying to be like Quik when I was younger. [Laughs] He's like one of my idols. I don't know if this is wrong to say but I would pick him over Dr. Dre. He knows so much. I was just finally around him, watching how he worked and he was like a mad scientist, doing shit I didn't even think was ever possible. There's not that many producers out there who can play almost every damn instrument in the book.
What do you think drew you to that style of rap? Minnesota is very influenced by the west coast. We're the Midwest. Not saying I didn't grow up on east coast Music [too], but it was more about the gangsta boogie with me. MC Eiht, NWA, Dre, Snoop, E-40. Everybody from the Bay down to LA. With Quik the whole sound will make you feel good, it was groovy music. Fun, energetic, real, something new. It was that G-Funk. My ear just caught it. I guess it was just being raised how I was with my family. The music we used to listen to: SOS Band, Gap Band, Loose Ends. Just funky music. That's where my sound came from.
What type of gear were you working with when you first got into production? I had a Playstation at first. Me and my brother had this game called MTV Music Generator, my dad got it for us for our birthday.
When did you transition into more professional stuff? My uncle was on Fruity Loops. We went to his house one day and saw him making beats off of a computer and were amazed by it. We had just gotten a computer at the house so we were like "Okay, let's go in here and try to figure out how we can use this Fruity Loops." My uncle brought a demo version over and we were just making the demo version beats until we got the real deal through one of our friends who had a burnt copy. We've been on Fruity Loops ever since, since 2000.
Wow even still today? Yessir. I have an [Akai] MPC 8000 as well but I just use it to chop up my samples. I [do] like to learn other software, programs like Propellerhead Reason and Native Instruments Maschine but I usually stick with what I know.
What motivated you to try your hand at an instrumental project? I just wanted to make something for people to listen and vibe to and groove to. II's for my listening pleasure as well. I like to listen to my own instrumentals every day. It's relaxing, it's cool music to me. And there's a lot of rappers who are coming up, trying to do this rapping thing, trying to get beats from me. Sometimes people don't give back, but I wanted to give something back to the people who are trying to come up like I was trying to come up.
When you're working on a project like that do you have it in your head which beats are going to land on it? Or which are going to specific rappers? Most of the time I just make music for anybody. It's my sound that I have to offer. People may say "his shit [all] sounds the same" but I want to focus on just one sound that's going to impact the game. Like how Neptunes did it. Or Timbaland, Dre, Quik, Rza. All of them had that sound where you could hear it and say "I know who produced that." You could point it out. I still try to do some things different here and there but I don't want people being confused. [That happened] just recently with the Chris Webby shit. People didn't think Cardo did that.
Has the Mac Miller and Lord Finesse situation changed your approach as far as sampling goes? Yeaaaah. It definitely has. I'm trying to stay away from sampling as much as possible. The rules are getting a little bit tighter now. We're getting red flags for using samples on free mixtapes! I sampled the Deadmau5 joint "I Remember" [for Wiz's "O.N.F.I.C."] and I was scared to put it out in the first place. I put it on my Soundclick page when I had a Soundclick page and somebody told me that they could actually sue me for that. "Deadmau5 doesn't play them type of games, he'll get on your ass." I took it off my page eventually.
So I'm gonna just wait and see exactly how this Mac Miller shit turn out because it look like Lord Finesse is going all the way with it. There's producers out there that strictly use samples like Harry Fraud. Harry Fraud makes the dopest shit with samples that nobody would ever think of and it's putting [artists like him] in a hold right now.
I saw that the Wiz and Curren$y Live In Concert tape is still in limbo. Yeah, oh my god. That's another story right there. Once you hear it you'll understand why it's taking so long for the samples to get cleared but it's not what people think it is.
What other projects are you working on these days? Of course, Wiz's project. Mac Miller, Nipsey Hussle, Dom Kennedy, YG, Mikey Rocks, Young Jeezy, Stalley, Wale, Rockie Fresh, Joey Fatts, Killa Kyleon, Slim Thug, L.E.S., Gerald Walker, Mookie Jones. Me and Burn One are actually working on that project together, that should be out at the top of next year. I'm working on my next instrumental project as well that I'm planning on dropping next year. Chief Keef, me and Lil Durk just chopped it up about doing some music a couple days ago. Show You Suck, Ebone Hoodrich, all them people out there in Chicago, the whole Chicago movement. Um, geez. There's a lot of rappers I'm working with right now.