IMAKEMADBEATS: Better Left Unsaid

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Photo courtesy of Score Press

IMAKEMADBEATS is a mysterious character. He chooses to play the background personally but his music is far from reserved. His music is eclectic and sonically engaging. IMAKEMADBEATS has crafted beats for the likes of Planet Asia, Kinetic 9, Midaz the Beast, and Blueprint among others.

His music has also been noticed by important people in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. IMAKEMADBEATS’ music has been on display at the Hattiloo Theater, the Brooks Museum, and even Memphis Grizzlies basketball games. Continuing to entrench himself in the community IMAKEMADBEATS has partnered with the Memphis Music Initiative for a program called “Youth” that is geared toward aspiring teenage musicians.

IMAKEMADBEATS also recently released an 8-track EP titled Better Left Unsaid. The title pays homage to the EP’s content. Better Left Unsaid is an instrumental project that shows off BEATS’ abilities behind the boards.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to IMAKEMADBEATS about his musical influences, working with the Memphis Music Initiative, his new Unapologetic World app, and the Better Left Unsaid EP.

TRHH: Why’d you decide to do an instrumental project instead of having people rhyme over those beats?

IMAKEMADBEATS: That’s a very good question. I wanted to do an instrumental joint because I’ve done projects producing other artists. In 2009 we dropped The Transcontinental, myself and the rapper Roc C from Oxnard – he’s down with Stones Throw. A lot of the reviews came back and a lot of people were telling me I should just drop an instrumental joint. Then I did IMAKEMADBEATS which was a producer compilation album that featured a whole bunch of amazing artists and I still got a lot of, “Man, you should drop an instrumental project,” [laughs]. To be honest that’s kind of where it all started in the beginning. When I was first making beats other producers would tell me that I didn’t leave room for a rapper. They told me I was making music, not necessarily beats. I learned how to scale back and leave room for an artist, and that was cool.

At the same time every time you produce a record for another artist a part of you compromises because you want to produce the artist. I remember going through all of that and feeling good that I learned to do that. That led to me making music for TV, movies, and other stuff. That was great but at the same that was also the rise of the beat scene. I started seeing producers like Flying Lotus and a lot of the other deep scene producers. Producers were coming out internationally who didn’t need artists. They were just putting out music. I just started wondering should I have compromised and dumbed down my stuff or should I have just kept going? I don’t regret anything, but when I had the chance to finally make something that truly represented my mind I took it, and that’s what Better Left Unsaid is.

TRHH: You’re from the south but your sound isn’t traditionally southern. How did you develop your sound?

IMAKEMADBEATS: I’m from Memphis but on my mom’s side I’m a first generation American. She’s actually Guyanese, which is a small country just north of Brazil. She migrated from Guyana to England, then from England to Canada, and Canada to the States where I was born. There’s a lot of broadened horizons at an early age on my part thanks to my mom and that family. It’s a lot that revolves around the idea of how I approach my music in a sense, like when you turn 18, turn 25, turn 30, all of us have gotten to these points in our lives and there are these requirements to be that age. So if you’re this age then you gotta be doing that or this, and if you’re not you don’t look like you’re successful. If you’re 25 you should be this or that. If you’re 30 it’s time to put away some of these things, because that’s what you’re supposed to be doing. I just decided early on in life that I don’t subscribe to any of those ideals. I don’t need a wife and kid because I’m a certain age. I don’t need to be like this because I’m black. I don’t need to sound like this simply because I’m here. I can define who and what I am and what I create. That’s pretty much where I get my sound from.

TRHH: Who are some of your musical influences?

IMAKEMADBEATS: Jay Dee, J Dilla, Pay Jay, James Yancey, some of those guys. Either one of those guys, they’re all cool guys [laughs].

TRHH: Dilla Dawg!

IMAKEMADBEATS: All day! Dilla Dawg, we can keep going [laughs]. He’s my biggest influence. I feel like a lot of people are influenced by Dilla and to them that means “sound like Dilla.” For me being influenced by Dilla means sounding like me. Dilla was taking those kinds of risks early on. Dilla was not quantizing drums, messing with crazy dissonant chords, just doing odd stuff. It’s funny, you go back and listen to The Coming and listen to the Dilla joint on there and the beat never loops — the whole track! We look back and say that’s genius, but at the time that’s a scary thing, that’s a vulnerable thing. That’s not what Premier was doing, that’s not what Pete was doing, that’s not what Marley Marl was doing, and that’s not what RZA was doing. It was a loop functional thing. That beat didn’t loop the whole beat. He’s got drums that are slightly off, crazy bass lines, he took a risk. It takes a lot of strength and confidence in yourself and who you are to do that. When I say J Dilla I’m not just talking about, “I’d like to make my drums just like his,” Nah, I mean the person. The things that I picked up from him as an artist.

TRHH: I want you to speak on that a little bit because I think that gets lost on the average Hip-Hop fan. I remember ?uestlove was on a show with Chris Rock and ?uest was saying Dilla’s the greatest. Chris Rock was like, “The Light was just a small hit. Dilla didn’t really have hits.” Some of my boys kind of feel that way, too. From your respective can you explain to those people what makes Dilla one of the greatest?

IMAKEMADBEATS: Let me just clarify, if we’re talking about my perspective Dilla is the greatest. I just want to go on record that that is humbly my perspective. If I were to go into detail, specifically discussing in the realm of hits, we live in this culture and Hip-Hop is super thick in these things that define us and give us value. These terms and conditions we use to determine who is good, who is bad, who won in a battle, and all of that crap, I think we’re belittling ourselves by using some of these things as measurements. Who won in the battle? “Well homie sold more albums.” Does that mean he won in the battle? Really? Is that really what we’re going to use to quantify? Our culture of Hip-Hop is based on units sold? We’re not going to base it on any sort of curriculum as far as technical ability, skill, and versatility? All of the things that if albums weren’t sold this would be the criteria. It’s just a matter of who’s bank account is bigger? I think we do ourselves an injustice and we devalue the craft and the art of what is easily the most powerful thing created in the last thirty years, Hip-Hop.

TRHH: What does your production set-up consist of right now?

IMAKEMADBEATS: Right now the center of it is my MPC Renaissance. Everything else is Pro Tools, KORG SV1 keyboard – that’s where I get all of my pianos and Rhodes and organ. Then I have a Moog Little Phatty. Turn table, a whole bunch of records, and a whole bunch of mixing and mastering stuff — Manley EQ, Prism Titan interface, recording through a U87 through a LA-610 preamp. I have a cart of a whole bunch of percussive instruments that I use all the time.

TRHH: Tell me about the Youth program and how you got involved with the Memphis Music Initiative.

IMAKEMADBEATS: We’re developing it now. Initially when I first moved back to Memphis I just stayed in my cave. I eventually started going out to shows and meeting people and realized that this place was amazing and I didn’t understand it the way I thought I did. I could understand it better. I started working with a lot of young guys coming up. Years later I was part of the planning for Memphis Music Initiative. I don’t even know what happened, I just continued to do what I was doing and built a company called Unapologetic. This is a real dumbed down explanation, but we specialize in helping creatives and people in general be themselves. We’ve done comic conventions, performed for the Grammy Pro Recording Academy, we’ve done a whole bunch of stuff. Last summer someone from the Memphis Music Initiative reached out to me to create a program that would help out the youth in the city. When I got the opportunity to even consider doing that the first thing I thought about was who would I want to help? How would my program help? The first thing I thought was I would be helping me at 16-17 years old. Me at 16-17 years old didn’t think that Memphis had anything for me.

You said it earlier in the conversation when we were talking about the traditional southern sound, growing up here when you’re listening to Prodigy “Fat of the Land,” various Wu-Tang artists, and various random underground stuff, but also Three 6 Mafia and “hard to define which genre of music it was” artists, you get picked on. Also when you sound like me, think like me, and want to try some of the things I want to try you get picked on. Especially if you’re living in parts of town I was living in. There was very little acceptance of much outside of what you were stereotypically supposed to like. If I had my headphones on I was supposed to be listening to Three 6, UGK, 8-Ball & MJG, all of that. I remember listening to Reflection Eternal and getting picked on about that. I thought about me and the fact that I felt like I had no chance to stay here. I had to leave in order to expand and be around people who had broader mindsets. They liked what they liked but didn’t dislike you just because you didn’t like it. They didn’t alienate you. In my travels as a kid I definitely saw people in places with more open arms accepted differences, in fact it excited them. Here in Memphis in my experience growing up that was not the case.

When I came back I realized what I initially thought of this place growing up wasn’t all the way true. What the problem was, was that there are other people who thought like this and wanted to try new and different things but they were quiet because they were also used to being made fun of. If you like Dragon Ball Z and a whole bunch of nerdy stuff that would have gotten you picked on, on the Orange Mound bus heading through the hood, you stopped talking about it. The next time you came across somebody that liked that same thing y’all didn’t talk about it because nobody mentioned it. So with the Memphis Music Initiative what I’m trying to do is establish this idea in the city that this is a place of progression. Yes, we salute B.B. King, we salute Three 6, we salute Stax Records, we salute all of the amazing history that this place has created from musicians, but we’re here now and there’s more to come in the future. This place is more than Graceland. There are a lot of new and innovative things happening here. I’ve seen this for the past three years a lot, every time I’m around somebody new and young and they have some new ideas and they’re amazing ideas, after about 6-to-9 months they come to me and they feel like they gotta leave. Not because of an opportunity somewhere else, but because of the lack of opportunity here. That’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to create a program where we take in kids and help them learn how to go about being an indie musician, surviving, thriving, and approaching it from a progressive standpoint. Not one built off how to sell records 10 and 20 years ago.

TRHH: Do you have a favorite song on Better Left Unsaid?

IMAKEMADBEATS: Probably the last joint titled Imakemadbeats.

TRHH: Why is that your favorite?

IMAKEMADBEATS: It’s probably my favorite right now. Three months ago it was not my favorite [laughs]. Right now it’s probably my favorite because I grew up a “hide behind the door, hide behind the person in front of me, play the background” kind of guy. This is a song called Imakemadbeats where the music for it is a robot literally saying, “I make mad beats.” It’s kind of like me standing in front of a whole bunch of people facing my vulnerabilities and screaming who and what I am. For a guy who for the majority of his life has not been able to even have this kind of a conversation because he was so shy, it means a lot to me.

TRHH: If you could pick one artist to produce an entire album for right now who would it be?

IMAKEMADBEATS: Man, that’s a real question [laughs]. Man, that’s a real G question! You know who I’d love to do an album with, Elzhi. I would love to do an album with Elzhi [laughs]. That would be a dream. Elzhi, all day.

TRHH: What’s next up for IMAKEMADBEATS?

IMAKEMADBEATS: We just launched the Unapologetic World app for IOS and Android. This app is essentially everything for us at Unapologetic. I developed it myself. What we’re going to be doing because of the mission statement that we have in terms of inclusiveness, in terms of finding those people who have felt like strangers or felt alienated in their own communities, we’re going to be focused on creating this place for people who are like me that they can go to and find other people and find other things to help push that idea and further our vision. That’s all in the app. Right now in terms of me creating music and me being an artist, we’re pushing this project. We got a lot more coming out with this project. I’ve also shot and directed a show called, “What You Doing, Nothing?” that will be part of the app. It’s kind of a talk show, kind of a comedy show. It’s going to feature some of the legends coming out of Memphis or coming through Memphis. I can go ahead and shout out one, Project Pat is on episode one.

This summer we’ll release my first signee, Cameron Bethany’s album. I produced it fully – I can’t wait for that to drop. Later this year we have some more projects coming from Unapologetic. For me it’s all about scoring. It’s all about creating audible emotion. I believe music is just emotion you can hear. We’re just getting started on those things. For us, any time we sit down and think to do something if it comes to us too easy we throw it out and try to do something bigger and greater. We got some pretty cool things lined up for the rest of this year. I’ve already finished the next project, it’s called Crazy Visions. Shout out to Ghost.

Purchase: IMAKEMADBEATS – Better Left Unsaid

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About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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