S1 (a/k/a SymbolicOne) has been putting in work for years with his group Strange Fruit Project and beat competitions like iStandard and Red Bull Big Tune, but the rest of the world seemed to find out in July 2010. That month, the Texas-bred producer’s melodic chants and manipulation of English Rock band King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” backed Kanye West’s defiant rhymes on “Power.” Since then, a flurry of plane flights and studio sessions have garnished S1 with a Grammy Award, placements with Beyonce and The Throne, and a spot on Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music roster.
In an interview with HipHopDX Producer’s Corner, S1 talks work on some of the year’s most anticipated projects, a hectic travel schedule for ‘Ye, and more heat with the group that held him down before the plaques.
HipHopDX: What have you been working on recently?
S1: A lot of Kanye [West] records, man. I’ve been working on a lot of stuff with him. Working on his solo [album], working on stuff with that. And then the G.O.O.D. Music [Cruel Summer] album, doing a lot of stuff for that. I’ve been working on a lot of other stuff as well: Lupe [Fiasco], J. Cole, Pop projects like Janelle Monae and Christina Aguilera. So I’ve been dancing around here and there.
DX: Okay, so what is this Kanye West solo album sounding like so far?
S1: Well, he’s actually just now getting into it. The tracks he’s got from me, he’s got a lot of different types of tracks. So, I really don’t know the direction yet because it’s real early on. But as far as what he’s gotten from me, he’s actually gotten like 21 joints from me. In between all those tracks it’s not just one specific sound, so it’ll definitely be something super dope. You know how he does it.
DX: What is your beat submission process to Kanye compared to your beat submission process to other artists?
S1: Um, I guess it’s pretty much the same. You know I’m actually signed to Kanye as a producer, to his Very G.O.O.D. Beats [production company], so he gets first dibs on everything. I send it straight to Kanye. That’s how it is with artists I work with directly. I send it directly to them; they give me feedback. They tell me what they’re needing, direction to where they’re going. You know, so it’s more of a connection. Then you have some projects that I may not be directly involved with the artist, so there’s a third person or A&R involved so that’s completely different from having a personal relationship with somebody and being able to directly build ideas from them. So I would say that’s pretty much the difference.
When I send Kanye stuff I try to specifically…because he always gives me the direction. I’ll ask what are you looking for. He’ll tell me do this. So I always have that creative input from him. It always helps in what I create.
DX: I spoke to Andrew Dawson about what it was like to work with Kanye and he was saying that Kanye would just put him really spontaneous situations. He’ll be like, “I need this for my Grammy show and the Grammy show is in like three days, so I need you to come out here,” and he’ll give him the most vague details. Can you remember any like weird situations that you’ve been in with Kayne?
S1: Um, not really weird situations, but yeah he’s real prompt. I remember when I was working on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with him, he had already told me, “Hey, me and [Jay-Z] are going to do this collaborative album. I want you to come out to London with us.” I was fresh in the game, “Power” was like my first major placement. I was like, “Yeah, anytime.” So, you figure industry talk people just say something.
A couple months later, out of the blue, he hit me up like, “Yo S1, me and Jay leaving for London tomorrow. Have your stuff ready.” I had one day to pack. And then when we were in London, he was like, “Yo, I think we gone go out to Australia next.” I was like, “Cool,” then I was thinking the same thing, but come a couple months later he did the same thing! It was like a Saturday or Sunday, and he was like, “Me and Jay leaving for Australia on Monday, can you come out? We want you to come out.” So it was real spur of the moment.
When I first did the “Power” joint, he first got it and Rhymefest, I think it was on a Sunday, Rhymefest sent me an email and was like, “Kanye is really feeling your stuff he said he’s about to change your life.” I remember the following day, me and my wife were out eating and I get an email and it said that my flight leaves in three hours, so…
DX: Three hours! [Laughs]
S1: Yeah, literally three hours so we didn’t even get our food, we just rushed home and I was throwing stuff in the suitcase and getting my equipment rushing to the airport. But things are quick you know, when he wants things done you just gotta move.
DX: [Laughs] That’s crazy. So how does traveling at that speed and traveling in so many places effect your creative process? How are you still able to create your best work with leaving and going so suddenly?
S1: I’m kinda at my best when I’m out in awkward situations like that. I love being in my comfort zone, in my studio at the crib and sometimes you know you can get too comfortable in your comfort zone. I like it like that, but whenever I’m put in [rushed] situations like that it always pushes me. I gotta get it done. I’m not thinking of, “I’m not in my room, I’m not in my space.” I’m just like, “Yo, you gotta get this work done. So I’m always thinking like that. It kind of helps because it pushes me a little bit and it gives me a little sense of urgency, as opposed to not having that. It really pushes me a bit further creatively.
DX: Does being in those environments effects your beats? Do your beats in London sound different that your beats on Hawaii?
S1: I think so, I think like the your surroundings definitely have an influence on what you produce and the material you put out. With Kanye going to Hawaii for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, I think that was incredible because Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places you can be. You’re there and you’re doing music everyday in Hawaii, it just sets a certain tone. I think certain areas that you’re in, different countries, I think just sets a certain tone for the music that you create and it gives you a certain feel.
DX: Now, how is this G.O.O.D. Music Cruel Summer album sounding, man?
S1: It’s sounding good. I was actually in New York with 'Ye about a month and a half ago and he played me a few records and it sounded really dope, man. It’s like on some Trap-meets-futuristic type vibe, you know. You know with 'Ye, he’s always trying to push the envelope. He’s always trying to create something new. So, there are elements of the now, and then there are elements of the way later as well. You know he’s always trying to create something that’s refreshing or whatever. So I’m excited to see what the final cuts are gonna be and everything as a whole, as an album just to hear it. But, of course everybody is stepping up their game from Big Sean, Pusha T, of course Kanye, just the whole G.O.O.D. Music team stepping it up.
DX: This question, I don’t know if there are as many people wondering this like me but I have to ask for myself. A while ago Mos Def had signed to G.O.O.D. Music. One thing I was looking forward to was seeing if he was going to be on any of these songs. Is he on the album that you know of?
S1: Um, I have no idea. The songs that I heard, I didn’t hear him on it. But I’m not sure if he is or not. I don’t know.
DX: One thing that’s interesting about you that I’ve seen is that when you got things going with Kanye, you still seem to keep some of your “underground” stuff. With you working for 'Ye’s company, and him getting first dibs on everything, how do you maintain that balance between the indie world and the mainstream world? How different are those worlds to work in?
S1: I would say it’s not as hard as it was early on and I think that’s because I create so much more music then people can ever purchase from me. With my catalog being as large as it is, it makes it easier to—if an independent artist comes to go in my catalog and pull something from it, as opposed to not having so much material and not having as much material and making tracks as I need them. If I wasn’t doing that then it would be a totally different ball game because I wouldn’t be supply and demand.
I have so much in my catalog, I’m able to supply and demand whether it’s on the independent or major level. To answer your second question, as far as the difference, I wouldn’t say that it’s too much of a difference, I would say on the business end, its quicker to get paid for independent stuff. I would say that’s the only things, but pretty much, as far as the direction of course, like a lot of the independent or “underground” type stuff, people will have a certain sound or texture in mind. With the majors, majority of the time it’s about hits or as they would say radio singles. So that’s the only difference. I have a little bit more creative freedom working with independent artists than I would working with majors, but it still works out all the same.
DX: If you could combine any indie acts that you’ve worked with, with any major act that you’ve worked with, who would they be? Whether it’s a song or an album?
S1: Man, that’s a good question. I would do something like a.…I would combine…man, that’s a great question. I would combine maybe Phonte from Little Brother with somebody like Janelle Monae. Just to see the dynamics and what that would be. I think something like that would be crazy.
DX: I also saw you tweet that you were selling your Yamaha Motif. Do you have any weapon of choice in terms your production?
S1: Right now I use Pro Tools and a Native Instruments Maschine. Those are like my two brains right now, those are my method. I start my ideas out on the Maschine, drag the files to Pro Tools , and then cut live from there. That’s kind of how I’ve been doing it, I kind of been stuck in that mode.
DX: Since “Power” and all your other placements, how much has that worked to bring new visibility to Strange Fruit Project?
S1: It’s crazy because a lot of places I go now, like a lot of people know me from Strange Fruit Project. It’s crazy; no matter what country I go to, people be like, “Yo, when the next Strange Fruit Project album? I would say just because my name has been put out there on a wider scale just form working with Kanye, Jay-Z, and Beyonce. You know when people start doing their research or whatever, that’s like the first thing that comes up, the Strange Fruit Project. Then they start digging… searching the music like, “Oh that’s what’s up, you’re part of a group now.” It can do nothing but better the brand of Strange Fruit as well, as everything with my name and my production brand as that continues to increase.
DX: Is there any new Strange Fruit Project music coming out?
S1: We released an album by the name of A Dreamers Journey about six months ago and that was the latest release. We did a digital-only iTunes release. Right now [Myth and Myone] are both doing solos projects which are pretty much done, and then after that I think we gone come back and do another Strange Fruit Project and just do something big and major. Since I’ve been able to work with so many people I can call in some favors and get some really nice features and really make for a really solid project this time.
DX: Does working on Strange Fruit Project feel any different now? Before you may have been making the music thinking about getting on. Now you let go and can make whatever you want. Is it any different for you, or no?
S1: Well I think with the Strange Fruit Project, and every album we’ve done, or that I’ve produced for it, I always had a direction in mind. We always have a certain theme for the album so once that theme is actually decided or once I decide what the sound of the album is going to be like, I just go and try to create something based off the theme that I know. So, it’s usually always a direction in mind, and a certain sound and texture in mind before we do the album. We may have to do a few songs first for us to get in there and be like, “Okay, this is it, there is where we need to go right here.” But yeah, there’s always a direction in mind with those projects.
DX: You said earlier that you would work with Lupe and J. Cole, those are two really interesting names. I know with Lupe there was a lot of backlash after Lasers, people are really hopeful that his next album will be sort of like a return to his older stuff. Have you heard any of the other Lupe records, and what is your stuff for him sounding like?
S1: I haven’t heard any of the other Lupe records. Well actually I heard one an A&R played for me I think. Then the joints he’s gotten from me and these producers, have you ever heard of Christian Rich, two brothers? We co-produced four-to-five joints that Lupe got and man these joints, I love ‘em. They’re crazy, all five of them are different from each other, but they have a certain unique sound about them. Also, one of those three joints is like, I wouldn’t have necessarily thought Lupe would have gotten, I guess because it’s so different, a different approach.
So based on the three joints that we have produced for him, it’s interesting. [Laughs] That’s all I can say. I don’t know about what the rest of the songs on the album are going to sound like, but I really do dig the stuff that he got from us.
DX: Then with J. Cole, a lot of people thought that while he’s a capable producer, thathe gives some of his best beats to other rappers instead of on his album. He gave Kendrick Lamar “Hiipower,” and that’s one of my favorite joints from last year...
S1: Yeah Kendrick [Lamar], that’s another person I’ve been working with as well. I was in the studio a few weeks ago to play him some new stuff and he took like eight joints out of the 10 I played him. He went crazy over them so I’m excited to see what he’s going to do with them. He’s definitely like one of my top emcees right now. He’s super crazy; Kendrick’s retarded.
DX: So what is your stuff for Cole sounding like?
S1: I did the studio with him a couple of times. I’ve heard some stuff he’s done and it’s super dope. I think he’s still in that mode where he’s recording trying to find his sound and see the direction he’s trying to go with the album. I’m actually about to lock in with him. He wants us to lock in together to create some things from scratch. He loves creating things from scratch to kind of build a certain sound or texture and what he’s trying to shoot for.
But J. Cole is dope to me. He’s a super dope lyricist and even as a producer, I love him as a producer as well. I think he has some dope stuff. Even some records he played for me that he did, it was dope. But I think with this album he’s more accepting, he’s kind of branching out a little bit. I think his first album [Cole World: The Sideline Story], he was able to prove that he’s a producer as well. So now that that’s over and out the way, he’s getting material for him from outside producers as well.