By his best estimate, Alex Tumay figures that Young Thug has recorded somewhere north of 100 new songs so far this year. Tumay says he was there to hit the button for all but maybe ten of them. Regardless, he says, it's been a slow 2015, as Thug's been on the road for so much of it.
Tumay has been Thug's most-trusted engineer since 2013, when he was called on to save a session after Thug had booted the sitting engineer. Recently, Tumay has been moonlighting as Thug's tour DJ. They have logged countless hours in the studio and on the road together, recorded hundreds of songs, and dropped a whole lot of mixtapes.
Though Young Thug appears to have a good relationship with his label, 300 Entertainment—and especially Lyor Cohen; Tumay describes them as being like "uncle and nephew"—they don't exercise any official oversight on these mixtapes. That means it's up to Thug, Tumay, and the rest of Thug's fast shrinking inner-circle to execute their creation, marketing, and release. And that's the way Thug likes it.
"Thug has a plan," Tumay says. "For each and every song he's like, 'This is what I think this song should be on.' He'll be talking about albums four years in the future. I'm like, what do you mean this is going to be track four on this album? But he's often 100 percent dead on."
On the latest, Slime Season 2, which dropped on Halloween, Tumay is credited as both engineer and executive produced. The day after, we caught up to talk about what it's like making a mixtape with Young Thug, this years rampant leaks, Rich Homie Quan, and more.
Alex Tumay: In college, I think I went through, like, eight or nine majors total before I dropped out and went back to working in restaurants while I tried to figure it out. I joined a couple of bands in my hometown, and one day when we were just hanging out, a dude pulled up Logic. I just started messing with it, but I had no idea what I was doing. I couldn’t figure it out at all. So I was like, maybe I should just go to school for this?
I enrolled in Full Sail University the next week. [When I graduated,] I didn’t really know what I was going to do, honestly, so I went into television audio, first at a studio in Atlanta. When that studio closed down, I had a backup of working at this music studio. I ended up working with Ben Allen, the producer for Animal Collective, Youth Lagoon, Deerhunter, Cut Copy. But in the same studio was Cee-Lo and Bangladesh, and I worked under them at the same time. One dude would work from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and the other dude would work from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
I met Young Thug in early 2013, the first track we did was "Some More." [Metro Boomin] came in and was like, "Alex, he needs to do this song, it's going to be a hit. Please, come record it." He had kicked the engineer out. He needed somebody to be really quick. A lot of engineers are a little confused 'cause you have to have an understanding of timing, because he'll rap the same bar three or four times in a row. It will sound almost identical, but he will be like, "Pick the third and put it in the sixth bar of this verse," and he'll fill in the blanks. And he doesn’t want you to take more than a second to do that. I could keep up with him, and that’s how I came on the tab for Metro.
He came back, like two three weeks later, to do "Danny Glover," and he was like, "Where's Alex?" It maybe took seven minutes to record [that song]. It was only me and Thug in the room, and every line in there is one take. I’ve seen him freestyle entire verses in one take, but generally it'll be anywhere between one and four bars punched. But it's instantaneous, the only thing he's doing is catching his breath. He does a lot of the work for me in that way—instead of me having to pop in a vocal he's like, let me just do this until it's perfect. He has an ear that makes me feel like I'm always trying to catch up.
When him and Rich Homie Quan were [working together a lot,] they would both be in the booth, on the same microphone, handing off the headphones to each other or holding the headphones out and rapping. It's fucking amazing, but also as an engineer who's trying to make them both sound as good as they can, it was like a nightmare: I'm sitting there sweating, trying to get the mics right between takes. Their minds are both racing a mile a minute.
Unless I happen to be sitting with Thug [when he decides to drop a tape], I find everything out when everybody else does. So when he announced [Slime Season 2] on Twitter on October 1, and I was like, if this is what we're doing we're doing it.
We're kind of getting into a flow now. He knows that he can trust me on the mix—he has since 2013. With arrangement—like timing, anything like that—he’s like really picky, he knows if anything is off by a millisecond. I had a vision [for the project] and he was like, "That's dope, let's do that."
[With Slime Season 2,] I wanted somewhere between Barter 6 and Slime Season 1. I wanted to get the spectrum, from one side to the other: From the slow songs—like "Get My Mind Right"—to the turn up songs, like "Big Racks." And I wanted to go from one emotion and then slowly down to a chiller song and then back up again and then even out towards the end—which I think I did, but you can only control your output, you can't control how its received.
Half of [the tracks on SS2] are leaked releases and half weren’t. I went through all the songs we have, and I separated them—by feel, and how turned up, or whatever—but I ignored whether they were leaked or not. I just picked a good album. Thug’s fans are diehard, but not all of his fans knew that all of these songs leaked or wanted to listen to unfinished music. I can't not give them the songs because you've heard them before. I was going to throw them all away at one point, but to let [the leakers] win and to punish everyone else is actually the wrong move.
I was really secretive about SS2. I didn't tell anybody until I was 100 percent done. Then we went on tour on the West Coast and when I got back I was like, "I'm going to do this this in a week." I texted [the final tracklist] to Thug and went to the studio for three days before sending it in to the mastering engineer. He sent it back the morning of the 30th. I finished the sequencing, sent it to Thug, and we dropped it. When I pulled up to his house the next day, he walked up to me and just smiled. He was like, "You're a fool for that."
We could put Hy!£UN35 out tomorrow with the songs we have but that’s not the point. The point is to evolve and keep evolving until it comes out, then put the best songs we have and put them out together in a way that people will understand. We're not worried about Grammys, or awards, or sales, or anything like that. We're thinking about the music first and then everything else should follow suit.
My idea for these mixtapes is to give an idea of the sound that we're eventually trying to get to. "Good Times" and "Pacifier," I feel like people were ready for those songs, ready for Thug to sound like that and be on a song like that. This is Thug. He doesn't have any limits. He can do any kind of music he wants. If I played acoustic guitar and he rapped over it, people would lose their minds. He can do anything and he knows it, but people aren't ready for that. People want to hear the "Danny Glover" or the Rich Gang style, and we've got to bridge that gap. That’s what I'm trying to do.