Vee Kay is an immense producer in more ways that one. He's been behind the boards for a number of acts and has produced some outstanding instrumentals. Now he has his Audio Workout LP set to drop, and our man Certified Banger caught up with Vee Kay to find out what its like…
Certified Banger: Yo Vee Kay! How are you today?
Vee-Kay: All good thanks fella
Certified Banger: Let’s get things cracking, I’ll switch things round a bit: Tell us about your latest piece of work: ‘The Audio Workout’.
Vee-Kay: Well, the record is a long time coming, it's been four years since my last solo release, in that time I've been busy, but I decided that it was time to have my name at the front again, rather than in the liner notes, haha. It's a collection of songs that have been recorded at my studio over the last year or so, well, the best ones anyway, so there's a variety of tracks on there, from the classic sounding hip hop to the more up tempo double time type tracks. Listening back to my last release, the whole sound of it was similar to that golden age hip hop, and that was pretty much it, so this one's tracked my maturity in production. There's still the classic hip hop sound on it, but I've peppered it with other bits and pieces too.
Certified Banger: Your instrumentals, certainly on this album, are top quality – I’m a big fan. What do you aim for when making a beat? What sound do you look for?
Vee-Kay: Cheers mate, appreciate it! Without a doubt, the most important thing when making a beat is that it catches you straight away, ‘cause no one's gonna want to use a track that sounds s**t or doesn't grab you. The drums gotta bang too, I'm a complete sucker for big drums, I listened to nothing but boom bap for years, so I was immediately grabbed by big heavy drums and breaks. It's also gotta sound as original as possible, because when sampling, you're already taking something that’s been finished, so now you've got to try to mould it into something completely different, so that the first thing someone hears isn't the track you've sampled, but the track you made, using bits from other songs.
Certified Banger: What inspired you to make your first ever beat? Can you remember it? Tell us more!
Vee-Kay: I started off as a rapper, and I worked with another producer, who had been in the business for years, so we went ahead and made a demo, this was way back when, probably about ten or so years ago… anyway, didn't work out, so I started learning how to make beats. I went to college to do a course, but it was s**t, and I left after about 9 months after showing the tutor how to MIDI up a sampler, I'd been going to studios for a few years to record, plus I read every magazine and book I could, so I just learnt by listening and watching. From there I just started collecting bits of kit, trying to find out what worked best for me, and the end result is the Sweatbox Studio. So I guess, back onto track, my inspiration was just so that I could have something to rap over, that didn't come off the latest Ja Rule 12".
I think I made my first ever beat on a cracked copy of some weird sequencer that Roland made, it came with a sound canvas, and it was so s**t, there was a massive latency problem and the sounds were your horrible generic MIDI sounds. I had an Akai S20, but really couldn't figure out how to use it for ages, I remember making my first two bar loop on it, but not figuring out how to save it, so I left that bad boy on for about a week straight, until I got bored and wanted to make another loop, so I just deleted it.
Certified Banger: I presume you sample? What, in a typical digging session, do you go for? What makes for good Hip Hop?
Vee-Kay: Yeah man, everything's sampled, from the drums, to the guitars. I'm lucky enough to have musicians at my disposal, but they're only really for augmenting a track, or if I really can't find what I need, or what's in my head.
When I first started digging, I had no idea what to look for, I went and bought as many organ records, and romantic string box sets as possible, all the instrumental type records reader digest released, thinking this was the way to do it…man I was wrong! There's a store in Canterbury called Indoor Market, I used to go in there every Saturday and buy records and records, the guy who runs it, Dave, used to ask me what kind of stuff I was after, so I'd tell him piano's or flutes, and when I went back the next week, he'd have a pile of records with flutes or whatever I said I was after. Most of it was s**t and unusable, but I got some gems from him. Once you've been doing it long enough, you know what to look for when digging, like, if you're after a certain sound or synth line, you'll know what year or label to look for. Some of the older records have instruments used in the liner notes, but I know that if I wanted something really synthy, I'd look for late 70's records, when synths had just started being more accessible. They sounded s**t, but that's not the point!
Certified Banger: Once you’ve found your sample or break what do you do? Are there any trade secrets that should be told?
Vee-Kay: It really all depends, I know everyone has their own way of doing something, and I'll be honest, I don't do it the same way every time. Most of the time I'll go through records I've got and see if there's anything that immediately springs to mind, whether it be a melody, a sound or even just the tail end of a note that sounds good. Once I got the basics of a melody down, or a loop, I'll go about chopping it up, seeing how much I can change it without it sounding completely s**t, and then I'll look for some drums. I got all my drums on a hard drive, mainly to save time, and if I'm going to another studio, so I can take them with me. Drums are massively important, if you have the wrong sounding drums or drums that are weak as hell, it can ruin a track, and then that sample or melody you've used is wasted. Half the fun is going insane when trying to choose drums for a track.
Certified Banger: So you’ve been at work on the scene for a while now. What else have you been involved in?
Vee-Kay: Since my last project came out in 2004, I've been busy with the studio side of things. Pretty much straight after the last EP, I was in the studio with the Beefeaterz doing production for Badge Of Honour, that was an amazing project. I'd been a fan of theirs for ages, so when Lil'Angry called me to see about some beats, it was wicked. I went down there, dropped off a load of beats, and when I went back a week later, he'd already recorded over a few of them, and decided they wanted me to do their LP. As well as doing that, we we're sharing the studio with the Dead Residents, Junior Disprol and Chud Jackson, so that was usually completely mental, and I ended up doing some drums for their LP, as well as making some other tracks that still haven't seen the light of day.
After the Beefeaterz project, J from Def Ethics approached me about recording the Wordsmith album at my studio. So we sorted it out, and started recording and adding to what would end up being about 80 tracks or so. As well as the album, he'd got 2 mix CDs ready to go, and that's after cutting all the weaker tracks away. It took a long time, but it's finished and sounds absolutely immense, he's got some massive tracks on it, and some huge beats from huge producers like Show N Prove, Apatight, Chemo, Beat Butcher, and I've got a couple on there, but I mainly did engineering and all the boring stuff.
Other than that, I've been recording and engineering for another Producer, Mr. Loop, who's Album is out on Sweatbox Sounds, called ‘The Bury All’. It's got some sick tracks on it, and some big names, and not so big names, but it' still better than a lot of other s**t out there! Also, there's The Rapskallions, they've been recording with me for about two years now, so their Album is finished too, I got a fair bit of Production on there, in fact I think it's mostly mine, so there's been a lot of stuff happening at my studio, but I also work at The Assembly Line Studio, for Pie Factory Music. It's a community studio that gives the kids a chance to come in and record tracks and learn how to make music, whatever they want to do, plus they go around schools doing workshops. These kids don't know how lucky they are!! They got Harry Shotta (Lethal) going around telling ‘em how to rap!
Certified Banger: How does a producer go about getting rappers on their beats? How did it happen for you?
Vee-Kay: I started out by just sending out beat CD's, and going to nights to try to network. I still send out Beat CD's, mainly because I'm located in South East, and a majority of people I work with are either in London, or dotted around other areas, so logistically, it's easier to send out CD's first, rather than have them come all the way down here, get nothing done because we're not on the same tip, and then have to do it all over again till we get it right. Luckily, most of the emcee's I want to work with, I know personally, so that also makes it a lot easier. There's some people you ask to go on your songs, like I had to speak to Words to make sure it was ok for me to put the Remix on my Album, so in turn he had to speak to Edge and Parky, whereas with the Stig and Synners, they'd done a show the night before down here, so I woke them up with a load of beats and made it clear they were recording, no matter how hung-over they were. Newborn actually had to get someone to cover his radio show, ‘cause we took too long recording, and there was no way he was gonna get back in time to do it.
Certified Banger: Baby J said that the MCs on his tracks speak for him. Is that case for you and your guestlist or do you let them do their thing?
Vee-Kay: No, not at all. I don't give them concepts. I don't tell them what I want them to rap about, but the beats I play them are one's I've chosen, or made for them specifically, so it's got to spark a concept with them. They're the rappers, it's their jobs, so I let them get on with it, I trust them to do what they do best, if I didn't then I wouldn't be letting them use one of my beats. Everyone on the album is someone who already has an established track record, whether it's from having a massive following nationally, or having a local fan base – Stig was a minor local celeb – now look at him, people in Poland love him.
Certified Banger: Your cast of rappers brings some quite different themes, most notably Dead Residents on ‘Bogey Homicide’. Any comments on that?
Vee-Kay: Yeah, I suppose that’s the only problem with not giving rappers a concept! hahaha. But really, I love the fact that there are people out there who don't need to resort to the street mentality. I hear so many kids down here who come into the studio and start talking about how they're gonna shank and murk and leave scars on peoples chests… these are fourteen year old kids who live in a village, and this village is in the middle of a cabbage field, I'm not joking, it's scary. But anyway, yeah, ‘Bogey Homicide’ is one of the fun tracks on the record, I sent him some beats, and we ended up with a tune about flicking bogeys at people, there's not many people that could pull that off, but this is Disp we're talking about, one of the most underrated veterans in UK Hip Hop, seriously underrated! Plus there's Chud, who, in a recent review, was described as Cardiff's answer to Flava Flav – that's pretty apt!
I wanted this Album to be completely different from the last record, cos I've moved and progressed so much musically, I can see where each influence has come from. There's the Intro which has got elements of Brit Core in it, ‘Goldwings’ which is the double time madness and ‘Bogey Homicide’ for the moody funk.
Certified Banger: The album also features some lesser known names, what can you tell us about them?
Vee-Kay: Yeah, I suppose they are lesser known to the majority of people out there. Yosh has been around for a while, but he's just been extremely picky about what he puts out so far, but that’s all about to change. He had a track on the UKHH.com mix CD, plus this track on my album, and we've just completed his first EP, which will be out in Feb. It's seriously good work, this guy is extremely talented! The other people who may not be as well known on the album are Lowercase and Dialekt, but they're well known and really well received up in Bristol and that area, I've really been feeling their stuff, and the last few records they'd put out, so that all came off pretty well. Other than that, there's Cariz, he's been on the scene for a long time, he was one of the front men, along with Bone, for live hip hop group Dirtburg… there's not many people that haven't heard of them, they were all over the place in London and had quite a following. He was someone I also thought was underrated, so I gave him this track that was pure golden age and he smashed it. He originally wanted a double time beat, but I felt like I wanted to hear him over something more "throwback".
Certified Banger: The album has a very optimistic feel to it compared to some of the darker Hip Hop that’s around now. What do you think of that sort of Hip Hop? Compare and contrast:
Vee-Kay: The darker hip hop has a place out there, but it's not something I'm feeling too much. The odd track here and there is manageable, but I listened to an album lately that was moody and I really couldn't listen to it through more than once. There's only so much hip hop I can listen to, that’s about how s**t the world is and how whoever's rapping has it so hard, we all have it hard, but I don't listen to music to bring myself down, I listen to it to try to cheer myself up. You get these rappers doing their political tracks, but really, who gives a f**k! If I want to know what’s going on, I'll go find out about it, I'm certainly not gonna go and put in rapper X's CD and listen to him spout bulls**t about something he doesn't know s**t about. Gimme some De La Soul or ATCQ and I'm happy, just don't be bringing me CD's about your views on Ken Livingstone, ‘cause it'll just end up as a coaster in my studio. Obviously there's exceptions, like if it's a track that’s got a point to it, that's fine, as long as it's not over a piano loop and drums, make the beat at least bang a little, and not so morose, and I'll listen to it, even if I'm not feeling what they're saying, I'll like the beat.
Certified Banger: What can we expect from you next? You’re working on some other projects aren’t you? Where can we catch you flexing your production skills next?
Vee-Kay: Next thing to come out with my name on it will be Wordsmith's LP, where I did production, recording and engineering, that should be out by the time you read this, but I know there's been some pressing issues of late with that. Other production wise there's the Rapskallions LP and the Yosh EP, which will both be out around February time, as well as some tracks I'm working on with MC Spooka. He's an emcee that does all kinds of styles, he's making a bit of a name for himself on the D’n’B scene, and I'm producing some tracks for him alongside The Assembly Worker, who's an absolute monster on the boards. We're doing an EP which will lead to the album, but that's a while off yet. Other than that I'm still recording in the Studio every day, keeping busy and making sure I got a steady flow of people coming through. Getting a lot of engineering work coming my way at the moment, which is good, as it means that it might pay its way sooner or later! Haha.
Thanks to Certified Banger for hitting me up for the interview, dope site! Shouts to All those on the album, all those who are gonna buy the album (24th November from iTunes, Juno, Rhapsody & Amazon) and the people I work with – Mr Loop, Yosh, The Assembly Worker, The Assembly Line Studio & PFM Music, Rapskallions, Shank Marvin, Spooka, Sweatbox Sounds clients, Lingo, Bone TGM, Kesh, N Dogg, Blufoot, Rio.T… too many heads to mention…
GO BUY THE ALBUM!!!!