Chicago producer A-Villa pulled off the impossible. During his infancy in beat-making, Villa honed his craft while simultaneously politicking with some of the best and brightest artists in Hip-Hop. Over a 4-year span A-Villa worked tirelessly to create his debut album, ‘Carry on Tradition’.
An ode to that old “boom bap” Carry on Tradition isn’t a walk down memory lane, it’s more of a look into the future with features from some of rap music’s future superstars.
Carry on Tradition features an all-star cast of performers that includes Action Bronson, Roc Marciano, Willie The Kid, Kool G Rap, Noreaga, Twone Gabz, Rapper Big Pooh, Mikkey Halsted, Cormega, Killer Mike, Lil’ Fame, Ras Kass, Guilty Simpson, Skyzoo, Fashawn, Elzhi, Freddie Gibbs, Naledge, Vic Spencer, Blu, Reks, Chaundon, Joell Ortiz, Scheme, Big K.R.I.T., Inspectah Deck, Termanology, Sean Price, Oh No, Joe Budden, Saigon, Jon Connor, BJ The Chicago Kid, AZ, Freeway, Havoc, Macie Stewart, and Rapsody.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to A-Villa about his beat-making techniques, his new album, Carry on Tradition, and why his first album will also be his last.
TRHH: How did you manage to pull off this album with so many dope guest appearances?
A-Villa: It was really just three-plus years of networking in the music industry. It was doing groundwork, going to as many concerts as I could, trying to get backstage, go to meet and greets, social networking, e-mails, and texts. I was just building contacts through the years and trying to get myself introduced to artists who I’m a fan of and really just playing the odds. Usually on the first meeting it was just me introducing myself, telling my story quick fast and what I’m trying to do with the music. Hopefully I’d meet them again when they come around on tour – sometimes artists pop in the city 2-3 times a year. I finally got the music in their hands and obviously the music spoke for itself. I kind of built it like that.
TRHH: I’ve been seeing you at shows for maybe 15 years or more and I never knew you made beats.
A-Villa: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah. It’s crazy. You bring up a good point. I just started out as a fan of music, obviously in the Hip-Hop genre. I never pursued music. I never even made music back then. When you say 15 years ago it was just a dream then. It wasn’t nothing I was pursuing or thinking about it. It was not until 2010 that I was finally motivated and pushed to do it. It was from the ground up learning how to make beats. I bought my first MP[C] in March or April of 2010. I just started competing in beat battles like a month later. I won my first beat competition at Reggie’s. It was a Mikkey Halsted event. I was battling cats that kind of had placements at the time. I got a favorable response and realized I had something and I really went full throttle and pursued it.
TRHH: What beat-making equipment do you use right now?
A-Villa: Maschine, man. Maschine is my baby. It has been for a few years now. I really jumped off the MP quick fast and jumped into Maschine. I mastered it right away. I’m comfortable with it – the whole Native Instruments. I always laugh and say they owe me a check because I’ve been screaming out “Maschine” for the longest. Domingo from New York, another legendary producer, me and him always been talking Maschine for years and putting other producers on it. I introduced it to Pete Rock personally. I was like, “Pete this is it. This is the future,” and he was like, “Nah, nah I’m still with MP,” so I really couldn’t pull his arm on that. Maschine is really my center console for my production among other things like keyboards. I like to implement live instrumentation into my music as well. I like to play my drums, record drums, and program ‘em after the fact. I like to use horns, guitars, and bass lines. All those things I try to mix together with sample chops as well.
TRHH: Do you play those instruments or do you hire musicians?
A-Villa: I play a little bit of keys. I play a lot of drums on this album and program them after. I play bass lines, and I did the guitar – just a few licks. I had Nico “Donnie Trumpet” Segal formerly of Kids These Days play the horns on a couple songs. I had another one of my buddies play some bass lines. Ninety-five percent of the sounds on the album are from me.
TRHH: Explain the title of the project, Carry on Tradition.
A-Villa: Obviously that’s from the AZ line from the Nas song ‘Life’s A Bitch’. How it works with this is a couple things — from a music standpoint just being a fan of the golden era of Hip-Hop music – the late 80s and early 90s. Coming up in that era is what really drove me to pursue music eventually. I’m not necessarily trying to bring that sound back. You got the new heads all the time saying, “Oh, you’re trying to bring the old school back,” but it’s not like that at all. What I’m really trying to do with my music is sustain and maintain the integrity of the music that was being made then. I think it got kind of lost along the way.
I’m just trying to bring that feeling back of a full album experience. You and myself looked forward to every Tuesday and buying that new album, the tape, CD, or the vinyl. We’d bust it open and read the liner notes and listen to the music. It was a whole full-on experience and I wanted to introduce that to this new generation that’s about quick fast music — iTunes, and Spotify. I’m not necessarily knocking that because everybody listens to the music differently, but I wanted to offer an alternative option. The album is available on CD, vinyl, and digital so they’re going to have that option. It’s really bridging the gap with new artists, popular artists, and the legends of the game. It’s people that you and myself came up on. You’re going to hear an album with Kool G Rap who is a legend and somebody that I look up to. That was my Jay-Z or Nas when I was coming up. Having him on the album with a popular artist like a Big K.R.I.T. that’s newer and more popular to this generation is something different.
On this compilation you won’t have the same three or four rappers rapping on the same song. My idea was to flip it and have an artist like Big K.R.I.T. on a song with Inspectah Deck. It’s something you wouldn’t normally hear and it might sound crazy on paper but it works. It works because they’re both just talented emcees at the end of the day. It’s just true artists making good music so it don’t really matter what generation you come from or where you come from, it’s all about good music at the end of the day and that’s what it is. On a personal level I just became a new father. The whole tradition of just passing on everything to that next generation, this is my gift to my daughter. My daughter is on the album cover and she plays an important role in it and she’s actually featured on the last song. I dedicated it to her, it’s called ‘Never Give You Up (One for Ava) and it has Rapsody, Guilty Simpson, myself, and her. It’s a song that ties up the whole journey of the album. She just represents the new chapter of my life and the next Hip-Hop generation. All those elements are tied together.
TRHH: The song ‘Live from the Villa’ is real hard. I’ve been waiting on somebody to bring those drums back and I’m glad you did. Talk about how that track came together.
A-Villa: I’ve always had that beat. I’ve actually used that beat in producer competitions and I always got the crowd moving. It’s a really hard beat. I was actually in the studio on separate occasions with Action Bronson, Roc Marciano, and Willie The Kid when they came to Chicago. I met Action Bronson through Dante Ross, the legendary A&R and producer in his own right. He was managing Action Bronson at the time and they were doing Closed Sessions, the label I’m affiliated with now. I kind of came in the studio, introduced myself, and started playing beats. It was the first beat I threw on and Action was like, “That’s the one!” He immediately started writing, jumped in there, and knocked it out. Even that night I was like, “Yo, this sounds crazy.” Before you even heard a joint with Action Bronson or Roc Marciano on it I was like, “Yo, I wanna put Roc on this.” It just sounds like something Roc Marciano would go off on. I sent it to Roc and I didn’t hear nothing from him. It wasn’t until Roc came to Chicago that he vibed with it and knocked it out. It was the same thing with Willie The Kid, he came into town and we knocked out that song and a couple of other songs. We did a song on the last Tony Touch album called ‘Power Cypher’. It was definitely an organic experience. It was no e-mail stuff. It was really just us in the studio bouncing off each other and it made a dope song. If you hear the album version it’s even deeper. The drums come in by themselves and it morphs into a beat box which is done by my man GQ the Teacher. He does the beat box and Chaundon starts rapping. It’s real dope.
TRHH: The song ‘A Day in the Life’ is incredible. The highlight of the song for me is having Macie Stewart on the hook. Talk about how this song came together and how her voice complemented the beat.
A-Villa: Yeah, man. I was inspired by the Raekown song ‘Heaven & Hell’ with Ghostface. Sonically I was trying to match that vibe with the production on here. I immediately thought about AZ when I heard it. I always wanted to work with him and I had a connection to him so we made that happen. I had the concept in mind of what I wanted it to be. Kind of like that hustler’s mentality and the struggle from the beginning to becoming a success, whether it’s in rap or anything else. I had wrote down a hook for it. It was originally for a male vocalist. I was working with BJ The Chicago Kid at the time, he sang on another song on the album, but I wrote it for him. I was a fan of Kids These Days at the time. I kept hearing this incredible vocalist from that group, of course it’s Macie Stewart. I invited her to the studio to kind of vibe with the music and the album. I played that record and she loved it. I showed her the lyrics that I had to it, she looked at what I wrote down and she did some scribbling on her own, and it’s what you hear today. She remixed what I wrote and put her own twist and talent on it and she made it a beautiful melody. It’s one of my favorite records. After that I met Havoc when he came to Chicago, the same with Freeway. Freeway jumped on it immediately because he wanted to be a part of something real special. He’s a huge fan of AZ and Havoc and it all came together like that.
TRHH: Who spit your favorite verse on the album?
A-Villa: Ooh, that’s a good question. It changes every time I hear the album. I like Sean Price’s verse. I like what Fashawn did. Willie The Kid spit an incredible verse and Freddie Gibbs. It really changes daily. These are not phoned in verses, which you kind of get sometimes with compilation projects. It was really like rap sport where they all were trying to out-do each other either in the studio or if I did have to send an e-mail to somebody they’d want to hear the other person’s verse and vice versa. I even had artists try to change their verse after the fact ‘cause they heard such and such’ s verse. They kind of prolonged the process of making the song. I get it, it’s a competition of emceeing but it made the song better.
TRHH: Why is ‘Carry on Tradition’ your last album?
A-Villa: Man, another good question. Really because it was a 3, almost 4-year process of my life. It was a lifetime dream of mine. Once I accomplished it, it was almost a sense of it being done. It was hard work and it took a lot of time. It was my blood, sweat, and tears. I put everything into it. Music wasn’t always something I was serious about as a career. I’m realistic, music doesn’t sell like it did back in our days. I have a career to fall back on. I did the opposite approach. I went to school, I graduated from college, and I became the Vice President of a bank. I built my career first and then I jumped to the dream. I’m not knocking young artists for jumping into the dream first, but there’s nothing wrong with doing it the way I did it too. I tell young artists all the time to have that plan A, B, C, and D prepared because nothing is promised, especially in the music industry.
Once I became a father that became my priority – raising my child and taking care of my family. I don’t think at this point in my life where I’m at I can make an album better than this. It took so long to do it and I really put my all into it. If you want to say it, it’s been a lifetime process in making this album. I just took all the elements that I gained just being a sponge and a fan of music and made it into what this is. I’m not saying I can’t make an album like this. If somebody wants to cut me a check and give me the time to do it, I’m not going to say never. I’m still going to make music, I still have side projects I’m working on, I have unreleased material, I have instrumental projects I can put out, and I have some major placements in the works. Music is still going to get made, but it may not be an A-Villa type album or a sequel to this album – but who knows?
Purchase: A-Villa – Carry on Tradition