Beat Construction: Sango

Meet the Seattle producer blending Brazilian afro-beat samples with the most sinister trap.

May 14, 2014

"People call it weird but really it's not, man. It's just new."

The producer is one of the most crucial yet anonymous figures in all of music. Every now and again we aim to illuminate these under-heralded artists with Beat Construction. This week we spoke to Sango, a 22-year-old Seattle-based producer whose Da Rochina instrumental series has ignited dance floors with an innovative melding of Brazilian afro-beat samples and the rattling hats and clapping snares of the most sinister trap.

How did you get your start in beat making? What sparked the interest? I was at home at my house in Seattle and a buddy of my mom and pop’s who's in a wheelchair brought over this program called Acid. I was about nine years old, like really young. He gave us the demo as a family, cause my mom and dad were interested in music. Mostly my mom cause she was more into that technical stuff. My dad, he was a music lover.

Does your mom make music? Yeah, she produced, just leisurely. She was in the Navy, and she used to just mess around with her Casio [and] her sampler. This guy—I forget his name, I was so young—but he came over and gave us a demo on how to use it [because] he knew that we wanted to learn as a family. A couple months later, my brother [and his] friend Victor were into breakdancing and liked to make their own music. Victor put us on Fruity Loops, and ever since then, it [was] so tangible. When I was around twelve, everything started to make sense and I started to take it more seriously, like a hobby. After school, after sports camp or whatever, I’d come home and mess with that. It was fun.

What were you listening to at that time? Like what were your tastes like when you first started? Oh man. It’s funny when you’re young and seriously wrapped up in something that older people are into. I’m 22, all the kids my age then were into like Pokemon, kid stuff. I was all about music. I was listening to whatever was on the radio. Radio Disney, whatever was at my disposal. Luckily, my mom and my pops played their music all the time around the house. When I was out with my friends I was listening to like, Aaron Carter. But when I was home, I was into Lauryn Hill, Fugees, E-40, DJ-Quik, Tribe, J Dilla, Common and stuff like that. A lot of hip-hop. My momma was into Aaliyah and Timbaland and my dad was more into like West Coast hip-hop. My production came out really weird. I was into cartoon samples like anime. I had this beat named “Rabbit Tracks” where I sampled Bugs Bunny.

What drew you to the Brazilian afro-beat sound you sample throughout Da Rochina? I’ve always been into that sound because my grandfather used to play for an afro-cubano band as their percussionist. I actually was trained by him. I’m trained as a percussionist as well. I can play bongos, timbales, all that stuff. My grandfather always played Willie Colón, a lot of Timba, a lot of Salsa music for my mom and my aunts and uncles. One Thanksgiving he came, I was riding around with him, and he was playing all this stuff. I was like, What is this? Let me have some of this? He put me up on game.

You got the records from him directly? Yeah, they were actually CDs. I don’t know one CD that he gave me, man I was so young. You know when you rip CDs, there’s just Track 1, Track 2, Track 3, but it was a Willie Colón. There was this song called “Pa Colombia” that I played constantly. That pretty much got me into that type of music, cause we’re not Latin. My family’s from the South, Louisiana.

"A wave of people discovered trap and jumped on the boat. I’ve always listened to trap music—real trap music—before it had a name."

There’s a beautiful track on Da Rochina 2, “Maluca,” that really stood out to me. Is that a Brazilian record? It sounds like soul sample. I actually sampled Immature, a really old Immature song, and pretty much had that same formula throughout the whole [of] Da Rochina 2. On the first installment of Da Rochina, I sampled popular funk stuff not knowing the lyrics. I found out later on they all have crazy lyrics, like “turn up!” stuff. The equivalent of a Juicy J track or a Three 6 Mafia song or an Uncle Luke song or something crazy like that. On the second installment, I infused that with more soulful R&B stuff. I felt the first one was too overbearing and the second one is more melodic. I guess I took the medium, those samples, and controlled it more. When you’re drawing with charcoal at first it gets messy, but when you learn to control it, it becomes pretty second nature. Now this sound has become second nature to me.

What excited me about your project is that the source material provided an aesthetic, this Brazilian sound, but you laid modern, trap-influenced drums over it, which brought all this melodic, R&B/funk type stuff to a completely different place. How did you merge those two sounds? There was a wave of people who discovered trap like, “Oh I’m gonna do trap” and just jumped on the boat and did trap. I’ve always listened to trap music—we’re talking about real trap music—before it had a name. Goodie Mob, Outkast, that trap music. They didn’t even call it trap music, they just called it crunk or southern music. The way they treat the 808s, I’ve always been a fan of that since I was young. That’s something that I really know how to do well because I’ve always listened to that stuff since I was young; you can really tell in my music how genuine my trap drums are. Rather than an EDM build-up, a drop, and a super annoying “Where’d you find this?” and all that stuff. I’m not into that EDM stuff. I’m into that old school trap, the Lil Jon era. I’m comfortable with that. And then, I blended that with stuff like Timbaland, Missy, that early 2000s R&B that didn’t sound like R&B cause it was really just crazy hip-hop beats that had an Indian sample or a Celtic flute sample with Missy or Aaliyah on it. Some people get excited with samples when they first start making beats. Their samples are the most obnoxious thing ever. You have to know how new you are to a medium, and place it where it needs to be placed rather than it being the face of your beat. That’s why when people do rock albums for the first time, it’s terrible, because they’re just going at it the wrong way. Like Lil Wayne.

Who are you listening to now? Oh man, I’ve been really on our Soulection crew. I listen to them daily because it’s comfortable to listen to them. You know, we get each others’ sound like Mr. Carmack, ESTA, Dpat. Other than that I’ve been really into YG, Future. I mean, yo people bash it a lot, but I think it’s good music. Future has his own style: if you took Vybz Kartel and like Americanized him and give him a Southern accent, that’s what Future is.

Tell me more about the Soulection crew. Is that a collective? Yeah, man the Soulection crew is pretty much an LA-based radio station/record label. They put on for the underground beat scene, but what makes it stand out the most is what they’re doing is not like J Dilla stuff. The beat scene had this breaking point: it started ’07-‘09, people that were making J Dilla-influenced stuff, like FlyLo and Tokimonsta. Then the US and the UK kind of joined together and had a burst. You got like Disclosure, Bondax, and dudes like Kaytranada.

All that stuff has like the same lineage, the same influences, branching in the different directions. Yeah. So the Soulection crew is pretty much children of that. I’m a child of that concoction. American music meets European music. It’s kind of crazy man, people even get surprised when they find out I’m black.

Really? What, they think you’re Brazilian? People think I’m white because of the sound. Typically black people are like making that trap music, really hip-hop music, so they think only white boys are making this weird music. People call it weird but really it's not, man. It's just new.

From The Collection:

Beat Construction
Beat Construction: Sango