Next Tuesday August 12th, Tittsworth will release 12 Steps, an album of Bmore-influenced bangers with guest spots from The Federation, Pitbull, DJ Assault and Nina Sky among others. A couple of those others are Pase Rock and Kid Sister who join up on "WTF", a Sugarhill/Chic sampling rap/club/blogging type joint. We hit up Tittsworth to talk to him about everything from nearly working with M.O.P. and Onyx to hanging out with Will.i.am and listening to fidget house. Download "WTF" below, and check the Q+A after the jump.
How’d you end up on Stretch Armstrong’s label? It seems like a weird fit at first.
I thought the same thing, I was caught off guard, but at the same time honored that the guy that like broke the Wu-Tang Clan was interested in me. At first I didn’t even think it was real. I was like, is this guy serious, is this really him? But I was really intrigued by the fact that you have this guy who represented everything amazing about '90s hip-hop and all of a sudden was able to bridge this gap and become synonymous with really forward-thinking dance music. It actually wasn’t too different from my story—having a hip-hop and drum & bass background and deciding to make the move to Baltimore club. But as I would progress with the album and gig with Stretch, I would realize the genre classifications are blurring. It’s like, these days I’m writing club tracks that almost are dance tracks, which almost are rave tracks, you know what I mean? It’s almost difficult to differentiate between what is what.
After all this time, why’d you decide to put an album out now?
The funny thing is Stretch hit me up probably two and half years ago, and wanted to put a bootleg album out, like let’s just choose a bunch of his tracks that might be sample-based but they’re less obviously sample based and we’ll just try to slide it under the radar. I guess I took that opportunity to grow as an artist—as I got deeper and deeper into the album I started moving away from sampling, it was my first attempt at songwriting. I guess the deeper I got into it the more serious I took it, and all of a sudden it went from like, Hey, let’s put out this bootleg album to I think might actually be able to make a legitimate album with legitimate artists. Doors started to open up and then all of a sudden and it just kind of became a bigger project. As I grew as an artist I think Plant Music grew, and it took longer but it ended up being, I think, a better thing for everybody because it kind of encompassed a period in which I was growing very rapidly. The weird thing about it is, there are a couple tracks on there that I wrote probably two and half to three years ago that I remember distinctly turning people off. It was Baltimore club music with really heavy synthesizers and builds and stuff like that. It was too much at the time, and a lot of it is more appropriate now. I’m putting in mixtapes and things like that and realizing that it’s getting a much better response. I think the timeliness of it all is pretty good.
It’s interesting that all the guests on there have been in the public consciousness for awhile now.
That’s the funny thing also. We started this project so long ago! The hilarious part about it is, I’m not even sure that in this day and age that I could get Nina Sky or Kid Sister because of where are they are today, you know what I mean? Hopefully after this album progresses a bit that’ll open some doors. The funny thing is a lot of these people that were on here are so busy now that I’m just fortunate enough to have gotten what I did, especially since we spent next to nothing. Like, A-Trak hooked up Nina Sky, Benzi hooked up Pitbull, that sort of thing. I was really impressed with how we got by, to be honest with you.
So is the Pase Rock and Kid Sister song older?
The verse for Kid Sister was written probably about a year ago, maybe. It was probably the 16 that got me the most excited the earliest. And all of a sudden it was like, Whoa alright we should really work on this. Then Pase heard it and was like I immediately want to record the verse that I gave you, and Santogold ended up on the hook, I mean that’s not published or whatever but that’s Santogold on the hook. It just ended up clicking really well.
Were there any artists you worked with who didn’t make it onto the album?
No, but unfortunately there’s a bunch of people that expressed interest in it after the doors shut. The weird thing about the Federation track is it’s a pretty rowdy beat so initially we thought it would be interesting to get M.O.P. for it and then that ended up not working out. Then Stretch and I thought it would be really funny to try to revive Onyx and revisit the '90s by having them do an updated rowdy Baltimore club song, but it turned out that one of their family members passed in the middle of our recording. So that quickly got ruled out. Nick Catchdubs heard the track and loved it, so he recommended the Federation. It’s sort of weird how that whole thing clicked because I linked up with their manager I think at like 6pm on the way to a flight for a gig, and then after my set I got this text message that I had the entire verses and the hooks waiting for me on like a Yousendit link or something. I’m not really sure how that transpired so quickly.
I’m still trying to imagine what Onyx would sound like on it.
I loved “Slam.” I loved a lot of their songs. I was really really looking forward to doing a track with them, but hey—you know—maybe the second one.
I heard some slower instrumental hip-hop stuff on the album as well.
A lot of those were some of the earlier songs I was putting together. It was fun for me because it was the first time I was able to write something that was in my head as opposed to having to think about, Well, will this sell on a 12-inch, will people want to download this? There’s a couple tracks on there that are kind of selfish, in the sense that I’m not really used to anything like that. And the funny thing too is that a lot of it is just weird things that were bouncing around in my head at the time. The name of the album is 12 Steps because when I first was making this album I was going through a lot of addiction and I was trying to fight a lot of things and there were these weird things bouncing around my head and I thought it would be interesting to include a couple of them on the album.
It’s kind of ridiculous to release an album at this point, why didn’t you decide to stick with singles?
Part of it was because I felt that it would personally be fulfilling to do that for those reasons—to get out the complete package in the last days of the album, to pull that off while I still could. Another part of it is that is that it would be nice to say that I gave at least that sort of contribution to Baltimore club music, and that in the grand scheme of things there haven’t been that many comprehensive albums that have to do with club music that feature the stuff that’s on there. From the instrumental bits to the original vocals and stuff like that. So a lot of it, too, is like my pride with the genre and my attempt to push it forward.
So do you think you’ll go right back to releasing singles only after this?
My common sense would tell me that after this we should just run with singles and that would be the most efficient use of time and money and energy, but by that rationale T&A probably should have stopped pressing records two years ago and it continues to move forward, so it’s kind of hard for me to say definitely. I guess it depends on how well this does and what the demand is for the next one.
I was reading a slightly older interview where you were very careful to mention that you were not necessarily making straight up Balitmore club that it was more of an influence for you. I know it can be touchy—especially on the internet—to claim that you are making traditional club music.
Yeah, definitely. When I first started writing club music I made it a point to target what I felt needed to move beyond Baltimore, instead of writing the club music that I heard come from Baltimore for years and years and years. I drew inspiration from the city, loved it, learned from it, but by no means wanted to emulate it in its exact form. So when I first started to come up I was a half-white, half-Asian kid from a neighboring city who preferred go-go music, which is kinda like a rival to club music. I already had enough things that made me an easy target, and my whole strategy with club definitely didn’t benefit that. When I first started to put out records and tried to make a name for myself, there were people that came out and said this isn’t Baltimore club music, this isn’t what it’s about, this isn’t real, this isn’t authentic. And at the time, I understood why that happened. And then as things progressed and Hollertronix came along and Mad Decent started doing their thing and Diplo and started doing his thing and Low Budget...it’s like all of a sudden, Oh wait, these kids that are not from Baltimore are doing things differently, and you know it may or may not be real but the rest of the world likes it so maybe we should pay attention to it. As the times progressed, club music—with the help of guys like Scottie B and Unruly and Shawn Caesar—loosened up a bit and started to encompass the changes that occurred, which I’m really glad it did, because I’m not sure it would be where it is today. So, yeah I mean I guess if you look at a lot of those early interviews I’m very touchy about saying, Hey look, I know this isn’t exactly like club music, I don’t want to offend the people that are writing stuff in Baltimore that sounds very authentically Baltimore, but that’s not exactly what I’m trying to do. But by the same token, there are certain elements—there’s a certain essence of the music that does need to carry over. And I think in maturing as a producer I’ve also picked up more on the nuances of the genre.
It’s like when people first started realizing that rap was being made outside of New York.
The thing about me that I’ve been thinking about more and more recently—because you’re absolutely right—it’s a valid comparison to make, but, it’s like, at the end of the day, similar to hip-hop, it’s still black music, you know? So, for me, being non-black, whenever I get an opportunity or whenever I’m doing something that I feel is a bit different or kinda has potential ramifications on the genre, I guess I evaluate it extra closely in terms of what its effects are on the genre and what responsibility I might play in all that.
Is there anything else you’re working on that you want to mention?
The few things that I’m finishing up right now are pretty interesting. The album is kind of pushing things more on a songwriting tip, and I feel that’s important for club music right now. The other side of that—which I’ve been attacking with the remixes—are on the sort of remix, blog-friendly tip. I think in order for club music to maintain the blog audience it needs to get a little more technological in terms of its production value. So the next couple things that I’m rolling out are like super duper ravey—a mix of my rave and drum & bass background with my club background. Also, I just finished up a remix for Solange, Beyonce’s sister. It’s really funny—Interscope asked me to do a straightforward, “Mr. Postman,” Motown kind of remix of the Solange song called "I Decided," which already sounds like a Motown song so its not that much of a stretch. So I’m in Asia at the time—I put in all these extra hours, not sleeping in between gigs—to get them this remix in a timely manner. Just to have them get it and be like, “Well, it doesn’t have the energy we’re looking for.” I mean, I put a couple builds in it and I worked on it but at then end of the day it’s a Motown remix it’s not an electrohouse remix, it’s only going to have a certain type of energy. It’s like they wanted something more energetic, and—I don’t want to say to spite them but almost to prove a point—I produced as aggressive, ravey sort of club tune as I could. I mean, just like really super aggressive builds, retarded vocal stabs and all these twists and turns. To be honest with you, I almost expected to offend Interscope with it. The weird thing is, they loved it.
Less than a month later I would be out in LA playing it for some A&R guys, playing it for Beyonce’s A&R who loved it and eventually being asked to go to Will.i.am’s to play it for him. The weird thing about that is not only did he love it, but he’s apparently a big fan of that whole movement right now—like loves Crookers—and he ended up playing me a couple of his new house songs that he’s working on. It was just very surreal for me to not only be there but to listen to the Black Eyed Peas’ Will.i.am writing fidget house. But once you think of some of his tracks and how he used horns and interesting percussion and seeing how he applies that to where things are going it made a little more sense. On the surface you’re almost not prepared for those two things to meet. Like, I’m not going be ready for this at least for another couple years.