Photo credit: Anna Keenan
Interview by: Martin Bauman
When it comes to Canadian producers, few can match the pedigree of Slakah The Beatchild. The Sarnia-born, Toronto-based producer/singer/emcee not only earned a Juno for his work with Divine Brown (2009’s The Love Chronicles), but has also produced for the likes of Drake, Melanie Durrant, and Shad. On top of that, he continues to create acoustic-oriented, genre-defying music as The Slakadeliqs and serves as one half of the boom-bap influenced group Art of Fresh (along with D.O.). Suffice it to say, he’s a well-rounded musician. Now, Slakah is gearing up to release his latest project, Soul Movement Vol. 2. The Come Up Show caught up with Slakah to discuss his upcoming album, J Dilla’s influence, his thoughts on Drake’s Grammy win, and much more. Read the full interview below.
TCUS: It’s been five years since the first Soul Movement, and now Soul Movement Vol. 2 is on its way. How does it feel?
Slakah: It feels really good! I think the response to Soul Movement Vol. 1 was much better than I was expecting, and it really built a following for the Soul Movement [series]. I put out an album after the Soul Movement, but people still wanted the next Soul Movement [instalment]. The anticipation for the second Soul Movement is really there, and just last night I was doing some work on some final tracks, and I was feeling really good about the songs.
TCUS: What can people expect to hear on the new album?
Slakah: I think what they’ll hear mostly is my growth as a songwriter… I’ve just grown, basically, as a songwriter. They’re still gonna find that soulful hip-hop – there’s not gonna be that many surprises – but I think it’ll just be an evolution of something good that they know.
TCUS: Who are some of the artists you’re working with?
Slakah: On the new one, we have Spek Won, we have Glenn Lewis, we have Maylee Todd… Shad is in the studio right now working on a joint for it… that’s all I can think of right now!
TCUS: On the note of collaborations, there’s a quote from your EPK that stuck out to me. You said something to the effect of collaborating with artists allows you to bring something out of yourself that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Can you explain?
Slakah: Yeah, absolutely. I often like hearing a different artist’s perspective on a beat, because it’s definitely in a much different direction than I would have ever taken it, and I like to build on their perspective of something I’ve created. So, in that sense, I really like collaborating, because it kinda opens my palette of ideas.
TCUS: Is the plan still to have an entire series of Soul Movement volumes?
Slakah: Yeah, I’d like to take it up to four or five volumes.
TCUS: I know you’ve also been releasing music as the Slakadeliqs. Is the plan to release a Soul Movement album, and then a Slakadeliqs, and vice versa?
Slakah: Exactly. Slakadeliqs is kind of like my creative breath of fresh air, you know? Once the Soul Movement Vol. 2 starts to get some traction, I’m gonna start introducing the new Slakadeliqs record. It’s kinda like different sounds – different brands, really – but I don’t want to be stuck in one genre, so that’s the reason for Slakadeliqs.
TCUS: How did the Slakadeliqs begin?
Slakah: An artist by the name of Tingsek had a big influence on my expansion of sound. He lives in Sweden, and I’m such a huge fan of his. He kind of opened my ears and mind to music, and that had a big influence on me. And the more I started experimenting with my own music, the more the Slakadeliqs sound started to grow. Basically, the Slakadeliqs [sound] is a result of me experimenting with live drums, guitars, and kind of just letting loose, musically. Not thinking “okay, I’m going to do a beat, it’s going to be 97 BPM, and it’s gotta sound like this.” I kind of just said, “I just wanna let loose on a track, and whatever comes out, comes out.” That’s how the Slakadeliqs were born.
TCUS: Now, as you’ve been doing the Slakadeliqs on one hand and your production work as Slakah The Beatchild on the other, do you see the two styles meshing at all, the more that you’ve been doing each of them?
Slakah: Maybe. I saw a comment on my Soundcloud – I have a teaser for Soul Movement Vol. 2 – and someone said it sounds a bit like Slakadeliqs. So that was kind of interesting to me. I think the way I’m programming drums and playing drums recently still might have that influence from the Slakadeliqs, possibly.
TCUS: When can we expect another Slakadeliqs album?
Slakah: Probably next year sometime. I’m not trying to rush it. Just like the first time, I never rushed it. But I think the goal is to have a Slakadeliqs album for next year.
TCUS: You describe yourself as a “performance producer.” What does that mean?
Slakah: A performing producer is basically someone who at heart is a producer [or] music creator first, like Ryan Leslie, Pharrell, will.i.am… and I feel like I fit into that category, because that’s actually where I excel the most: in the studio, creating music. But there’s a side of me that loves to perform as well.
TCUS: Speaking of other producers, this past February marked the 7th anniversary of J Dilla’s passing. I know he’s had a big influence on you. Can you touch on how he’s influenced you in your music?
Slakah: Yeah, definitely. I think he’s one of the greatest of all time. There’s just something about his music; he’s a very unique individual, in the sense that even when you don’t realize he produced a song, you feel a certain way when you hear it. There’s a lot of songs that I didn’t even realize he produced back in the day, but I got that really heavy emotion from hearing it, you know? To me, I think that’s amazing when you can do that with your music. So I kind of have that embedded in my mind when I create music, to be able to evoke an emotion through the music.
Pop goes stale within months, wine gets better with time. That’s my motto when making music! — Slakah the Beatchild (@beatchild) August 10, 2012
TCUS: What was your first introduction to J Dilla?
Slakah: My first introduction was actually Slum Village, the single they had [called] “Players”. That was my first introduction to him, in the sense that he was part of a unit that had a face. I [had] heard his production before that, but I didn’t recognize it was him. And Slum Village’s Fantastic Vol. 2 was such a great introduction to J Dilla because he produced basically the whole album, and on that album you can really tell that he was being himself to the fullest. He didn’t have a label saying “it’s gotta be like this or that,” he was being himself and it was really genuine. When you can experience an artist’s creation in such a complete form, it really lets you into their identity, and I think that album really shed light on who J Dilla really is. He’s a great musician, and that’s what it really showcased.
TCUS: I want to go back to your own beginnings. Looking back, how did you first get into hip-hop?
Slakah: I’d have to say what really got me into hip-hop must have been The Fugees’ The Score album – it had a big influence on me. From front to back, I really enjoyed the experience. Wyclef, in his earlier days, I found the way he produced tracks was really intriguing and just really interesting.
And that’s when I started to experiment with beats a lot more. Before that, I didn’t really have a genre that I liked, I just made music – I’d get my keyboard out and record music. I didn’t really know about genres in my younger days.
TCUS: What kind of equipment were you using when you started making beats?
Slakah: When I first got into making beats, the very first program I used was one called Little Drummer Boy [laughs]. It was a program that some programmer somewhere in like Germany made, and I was just searching for anything to make beats, and that was the first thing I found. So I started making beats on that thing, and that’s really what I used for a long time, until I was introduced to other software. I moved on to Reason and Logic, and to this day I still use Logic and Reason. I use Maschine now a lot as well.
TCUS: I’ve always wondered how the Maschine is.
Slakah: It’s great, I love it! You know, the sounds in it are current. If you’re making music for current artists, radio, blah blah blah, it has a lot of current sounds. Really clean sounding.
TCUS: You grew up in Sarnia. How did that environment shape you as a musician?
Slakah: I think it just made me hungry, because it was so small. People’s reaction to music, their excitement, was very boring. I wanted more. I wanted to be challenged, and in a small city or town, it’s really risky to do something that’s not safe.
TCUS: What was the culture like there, in terms of music?
Slakah: There was a small hip-hop community. One of my mentors when I was young, he was a deejay [and] had a lot of gear at his place – his name’s Cory Raker. I would just go chill out at his house and I’d play with his turntables, and that really sparked my interest. I had never touched turntables [before] in my life, or a drum machine. It was just so cool. I’d get so excited to go over there and try to make beats. But I mean, that was one of the only people in Sarnia who had that kind of equipment in their house.
TCUS: When did you and D.O. first meet up in Sarnia?
Slakah: We met up when I was in grade 10. He had graduated, so he was in university, but he came back to his old high school, and his younger cousin was in my class. We got on the topic of hip-hop, and we met one afternoon. I gave him a beat tape, and he really liked what he heard, so we just kept in touch. Ever since then, we’ve been business partners.
TCUS: When you were young, you took a trip to Carriacou. How did that trip influence you?
Slakah: That trip was really special. First of all, we went to a trip on a small, small island – just [with] family members – and there was a studio, and there was a drum kit in there. It was just calling my name, so I asked the guy if I could play his drum kit, and he said, “sure.” I started playing a beat, and I don’t think I [had] ever touched a drum kit before, [but] I started playing and jamming. My mom saw that, and I think that really motivated her to enrol me in music lessons. I kinda shocked myself, I was like “oh, this is really easy! I can do this, and it feels good – I like it.” So that was kinda like my calling sign for music. And just being in the motherland was such a great environment. You know, music’s a part of everyone’s lives, my grandpa always had a guitar out… It was a really good experience.
TCUS: You mentioned your mom there, how has she played a role in your musical development?
Slakah: I think she played a pretty big role, actually. She’s the one who bought me my first two keyboards, she bought me my karaoke machine which I used to do multi-track recording, she put me in music lessons… She really fed what I was hungry for.
TCUS: And she also gave you your music name, in a sense.
Slakah: Yeah, when I was a little baby, she put me on the washing machine, and the rinse cycle would make this rhythm, like [mimics noise], and I’d bounce to it – but I’d bounce to it on rhythm, so she called me the beatchild.
TCUS: Your parents also passed down some vinyl to you. How significant was that?
Slakah: It was pretty significant. First of all, I think just the medium was cool. They passed down not only vinyl, but 8-track cassettes, and I’d just listen to them. I wasn’t picky as a kid, I just listened to whatever they gave me, and thank goodness they had good taste in music. It was UB40, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson… So from an early age, this is what I was feeding my brain.
TCUS: How big has your vinyl collection grown since then?
Slakah: Not big enough, I wish it was bigger, but I’m really picky with the vinyl that I do have. I’m a big Oscar Peterson fan, I think I might have all his LPs. I wish it was bigger, but vinyl’s heavy, so I gotta be really selective.
TCUS: What makes the cut for you then when you’re digging for vinyl?
Slakah: It has to really capture me. Everything about it has to capture me. When I get vinyl, I like vinyl that doesn’t have drums, [it’s] more piano or horns. I’m a big fan of piano on vinyl. I think it just has to be really jazzy, soulful, unexpected progressions.
TCUS: What’s your favourite place to dig for records?
Slakah: It’s definitely thrift shops. Any thrift shop, but more specifically, in smaller towns where it’s not full of producers and deejays [laughs]. Where the good stuff is still there.
TCUS: You don’t have one spot that you constantly return to?
Slakah: Well, there’s a Goodwill around the corner, and even if I’m not in the mood for vinyl or I don’t even need vinyl, sometimes I just go in there. I get a lot of gems to sample.
TCUS: Do you have a favourite record in your collection?
Slakah: I would have to say it’s [Bob] Marley’s Exodus, just because I think it was mixed so well on vinyl. It sounds amazing.
TCUS: In your last interview with The Come Up Show, you touched on how as an artist, your most creative time is during the night. Can you elaborate on that?
Slakah: I think that in the nighttime… I don’t know what it is. It might be a habit I’ve gotten into, because when I started making music, I’d come home from school, I’d eat, and then I’d go make beats right into the nighttime. So it might just be a habit. But the thing [about] the nighttime is, I just find it calm. I’m not thinking about as much; I can focus more on the task at hand.
TCUS: Do you think it’s a common thing for artists? It seems like almost all artists are nocturnal.
Slakah: Yeah! I mean, it does seem very common. I’m not sure what it is. I think it actually has to do with just schedules. It’s something we get used to. You know, not every artist can just do music full-time, so they’re usually at a day job or at school. It’s just natural that the nighttime is when they reach their climax of creativity.
TCUS: Before you committed to doing music, you were actually going to school for architecture. At what point did you change your mind to pursue music?
Slakah: Basically, I was getting really frustrated with some of the basic things in that program. It got to the math, and I tried really hard, [but] it was just frustrating me. But that’s not actually what made me change my mind. What made me change my mind is we had to do an architectural project where we did a presentation on steps of a house being created, and we had to [make] a video of it. I just naturally made a dope video [with] good music, and everyone was just so impressed with my video more than anything. The teacher came up to me and he said, “this is so good! Why are you in this program?” And I looked at him and said, “I don’t know!” So that same week, I left and I moved to Toronto to do music, because it’s what I really wanted to do.
TCUS: At some point during that time, you ended up landing an internship at Phase One Studios. How influential was your time there?
Slakah: I think that was a big turning point for me. To me, my internship and me eventually working at Phase One is like the best post-secondary education I could have ever gotten for the industry that I’m in right now. And it got it for free, I got paid to do it.
TCUS: How did you land that in the first place?
Slakah: I was really hungry, so I actually contacted someone at Universal that I knew and I asked them what the best studios in Toronto were, because those were the ones I wanted to work at. Those were the ones I wanted to scrub toilets at, you know? [Laughs] They told me to try Phase One, so it was actually the first studio I tried. I walked in and I just sold my story. I told them how hungry I was, and on the spot, they basically said “come in on Monday, you can clean the toilets!” And I scrubbed those toilets like no one’s every scrubbed them before. I was just hungry, I wanted to be there in the environment.
TCUS: There have been so many influential artists that have come through those doors at Phase One, what was one moment that really stuck out to you as being something special?
Slakah: I’d have to say when I was kicking it with Mos Def, and he signed my guitar.
TCUS: What’s the story there?
Slakah: Well, he was in town for a late night session, and I’m a big fan of Mos Def, so I just went up to him. We were talking, and I said, “can you sign my guitar?” And he said, “sure, I’d love to!” To me, that was really special.
TCUS: Last month, Drake took home the Grammy award for Best Rap Album. I know you and him go a ways back, having collaborated on the first Soul Movement album. How does it feel seeing him on the level he’s reached?
Slakah: I think he deserves it. As far as his talent goes, it was only a matter of time before he got a Grammy. I really hope to see him doing more, musically. He’s in a position now where he can really let loose, creatively, and if he’s as creative as I know him to be, then I think he can do really amazing things that are far beyond what he’s doing right now.
TCUS: How did you and Drake first connect?
Slakah: An artist by the name of Promise connected us. He introduced Drake to some of my instrumentals, and Drake really liked [them]. He recorded a song called “Thrill Is Gone”, it’s on his first mixtape.
TCUS: When you two first started working together, did you ever think he’d become as big as he is today?
Slakah: I did, definitely. When I actually heard the demo that he sent back for “Thrill Is Gone”, I was pretty much convinced then. And [considering] the fact that he was on a huge TV show, too, if he played his cards right, he would for sure reach where he wanted to reach. He’s really driven, as well.
TCUS: Looking ahead for you, do you have any tours or shows lined up in 2013?
Slakah: The goal is to do a really focused US tour, and then I’m probably gonna do some shows in Europe as well, in support of Soul Movement Vol. 2.
TCUS:One last question, and this refers a tweet of yours: “The plague-like obsession for endless want is robbing us of the “less” that simplicity abundantly and perfectly supplies us with.” Can you explain?
The plague like obsession for endless want , is robbing us of the “less” that simplicity abundantly & PERFECTLY supplies us with. — Slakah the Beatchild (@beatchild) September 8, 2012
Slakah: The deeper in this game I get, and the older I get, [I realize] you start to get consumed sometimes with everything that’s around you, and it always seems to be like more is the solution. That’s what’s fed to us in the media, and that’s kind of the head space we’re in in this society. But at the end of the day, less is so much more. To me, it’s a paradox, in the sense that we want more, but it robs us of more. The more you have, the more it robs you, and we’re left with nothing. Whereas the less you have, the more you have.
TCUS: That’s all from me, is there anything else you wanted to add?
TCUS: Well, thank you very much for your time tonight, I really appreciate it, and all the best to you in the future!
Slakah: Thanks, man! Good talking to you.