For a relatively quiet guy, producer SAP makes some trunk-thumping beats. The Newark, Delaware-based producer has made hits including Mac Miller's "Donald Trump" and Meek Mill's "In My Bag" that speak to several different Hip Hop audiences. Now under the tutelage of Cool & Dre, the man also known as "Sound Of A Pioneer" has upcoming placements with Game, along with some of the biggest artists in Hip Hop at the moment.
SAP and HipHopDX sat in nearby Philadelphia over pizzeria chicken cheesesteaks to discuss his rise within the mixtape community to making huge records in two segments of Rap. He explains how coming from the First State has been a humbling challenge, and just what he would do if he becomes one of tomorrow's stars.
HipHopDX: You said you got started when you were about 15 years old. Tell me what that’s like, especially coming from a place like Newark, Delaware, where you don’t have a ton of rappers in your backyard, so to speak...
SAP: Yeah, for sure. Basically, you just try to do beats for anybody who raps at that point, know what I’m saying? You just try to get your music out as much as possible. And MySpace was real big at the time, so I contacted this dude named Joey Jihad and when I got with [him] he was like the hottest street rapper in Philly at the time like on the Internet. He was probably one of the first dudes - him and Reed Dollaz, that had the Internet buzzing heavy. [I] did a beat for him called “Boss Man” featuring Meek Mill, and then you know, it just started picking up after that...
DX: What year we talking about, like ’07?
SAP: Probably ’08. And then you know the next year, of course I did the “In My Bag” record for Meek Mill, and that just was like... that was it after that [that]. That was like my first big break.
DX: Mentionting those three names - Joey Jihad, Reed Dollaz and Meek Mill, do you think you’re helping kind of create Philly’s new sound? And I only say that because when State Property was coming out --
SAP: It was more of the hard, rugged --
DX: Well yeah, it was part of a whole Roc-A-Fella sound, like Jay-Z was working with Kanye West and Just Blaze too. Meanwhile, you know especially with Meek more recently there’s a very unique style of beats. Tell me a little about that and if you feel that there is a whole new sound representing Philly coming through.
SAP: Well that definitely [is] Meek’s like signature sound, not the sound that fans know now because they know like the “I’m a Boss “ records or the records like the Maybach [Music Group] sound. But like stuff that you heard like the up-tempo heavy 808’s, that was definitely the sound that was created from “In My Bag." And that was just like the first record- ‘cause after that record, everybody- like I remember when Cosmic Kev told me “Yo, everybody’s sending in music that sounds like ‘In My Bag’” it was like heavy 808’s, real fast, it was like South music you could hear slow but it was faster. So, you know, it played a part in the Philly sound, but then you got people like Lex Luger, who's given Maybach their sound. Who else? There’s a lot of dudes, like Beat Billionaire, so, it’s all about what the artist does. ‘Cause I know a lot of people who say “Oh, they using my sound,” but it’s really the artist that makes the sound- that brings the sound to life. The producer creates it, but the artist chooses to put it up. So saying that’s a Philly sound, like now people might say [Meek Mill's] “House Party” is a Philly jam or “I’m a Boss” is a Philly sound but really it’s whatever you make it I guess.
DX: Whle you did more energetic records with Meek, you've an entirely different type of energy on Mac Miller's “Donald Trump.” Tell me a little bit about the ability and the difference for you approaching something you might do for Mac and something you might do for Meek...
SAP: What I would do for Meek is I try to find the darkest sound possible. Being though that I write raps too, I try to like imitate people that I’m making beats for like when I hear them rapping on it. But sometimes that’s scary to do that though because like that could be the same stuff over and over, they might not want that, they might not want what they would usually do. So I just try different things.
When I did “Donald Trump” for Mac [Miller], it was more of a like samples I’d had chopped up - like Sufjan Stevens samples. And then like I had all these samples playing and he was like “Yo, what’s that?” And he heard the little playground sample then I looped that joint up and then I made it on the spot for him right there, put the drums on it, and he killed it. He wrote that song in like maybe 20 minutes.
DX: When you first started, a lot of young producers trying to get on were giving out tracks for free and trying to get on mixtapes and trying to play that game. When you produce a record like “Donald Trump” which could very well begin as a mixtape record and bodes to do so well digitally as a single, do you think that a lot of those- the format for young kids trying to get on is changing?
SAP: I think now it’s more a direction of people controlling their own careers instead of chasing what they hear on radio. It’s harder to get stuff through with labels now, so now it’s good to get artists on mixtapes, because when you get dudes on mixtapes and stuff, that’s like the new albums right now. ‘Cause dudes’ mixtapes are doing better than albums right now, you know what I’m saying? ‘Cause it’s free and it’s a way for people to pick the music instead of the label pushing music on them.
DX: But also now there’s a way, because it’s something that’s hot, like Lloyd Banks & Juelz Santana's “Beamer, Benz or Bentley” and “Donald Trump." How it works if it’s a street record and it’s on an album or it’s not, the label puts it at iTunes and Amazon, so now it’s a way for the producer to get paid where they might not always have to make a hot street record on the regular. So do you think that’s changing now since when you started in the late 2000s?
SAP: Oh yeah for sure, it’s definitely changing now. Like, the whole formula of how you make music is changing and how you put it out is changing. I guess like, now dudes are putting singles out before their mixtapes. I remember before that was unheard of. It’s changing- it’s changing for the good and for the bad.
DX: Why would you say bad?
SAP: I would say for the bad because now that the music that’s actually going on albums isn’t getting as much [attention] as it used to get, you know what I’m saying?
DX: So it’s all like the same level?
SAP: Yeah it’s like, now everybody’s like, “Well if the mixtape doesn’t heat up this much, the album’s not going to be as good.” That’s not always the case because back then before it was like “Oh, he put a mixtape out,” if the mixtape wasn’t that good you’d still get the album ‘cause you know the artist is good, but now you’ve gotta prove yourself before people even want to spend money. So it’s a gamble, it’s a rough game, man. But it’s definitely bad for the producers sometimes not all the time. New producers, it’s great for new producers like me, it’s great for me. But like, producers that’s already had placements, it’s hard when you produce a record for someone and then they go on a tour and make millions of dollars and ain’t nothing came out of it for that producer --
DX: Right, you never got an upfront check --
SAP: Yeah, somebody like me, I’m not worried about it because I’m just trying to get my name out. But somebody like with a name, they’d be like “Damn,” you know what I’m saying? It’s crazy. I just seen a lot just from my producer friends, I’ve seen a lot of how they can get - not I wouldn’t say ungrateful, but being though they produce hits for other people, it’s like “Damn, I just gave up that beat and they touring and getting millions of bucks and I’m not getting out of it,” that’s why a lot of producers with names stay away from mixtape records. So it’s like, you rarely hear a dude with a name on a mixtape. Somebody like Lex Luger, his hustle is so crazy now ‘cause he can say “forget mixtapes” but he’s so hungry I think he’s just attacking mixtapes and albums. That’s a smart man; that’s what I would do. But you know, I hear a lot of producers that’s on already like kind of already got their places and their like “Nah, I’m not doing that.” I understand it though because some of these guys are like in big-time [publishing] deals, and when you’re in a big-time pub deal you get like a lot of money up front. So in order for you to get out of that pub-deal you’ve got to produce records that are going to make money, so you produce them on mixtapes you kind of like wasting time kind of, in a sense, so it’s rough man, there’s definitely loopholes in the production game, you just gotta be smart because you can get tired of yourself, you know what I’m saying? It’s hard though, man. I’ll have fun doing it though, you know, I’m just trying to learn and gain as much as possible. Cool & Dre are teaching me a lot about the game, DJ [Mormile] from Interscope [Records], he’s actually my producer/manager right now, he managed me, Hit-Boy, Kane [Beatz] and T-Minus all together, and Boi-1da too. Hit-Boy played me like his whole album, and him rapping, ‘cause you know he raps now. It was crazy, man, it was a great vibe, and great energy, it’s a great team to be around.
DX: You rap as well, tell me about that...
SAP: Basically, I’m trying to just have my own lane. [I] definitely make my own music. I got a crew called the Pioneers crew, [and] coming from Delaware, trying to be the first people to lead the way- but it’s really an acronym it’s like: Passionate Individuals that Overcome Numerous Encounters Eventually Reach Success, you know what I’m saying? And that’s the whole Pioneer movement, that’s everything that I think everybody go through. And anybody that’s passionate about something, they overcome anything and reach success, you know what I’m saying? And that’s what we trying to do. That’s why I look up a lot to what Mac does, um, Benjy [Grinberg], the Rostrum [Records] crew, Wiz [Khalifa], just how they did it on they own and just went they own way with it. They didn’t go by the book with the music, they just really believed in their own vision and made it happen and I think that’s the best way, because then you have the more you do own, you have more control.
DX: Tell me a little about getting recognized and getting mentored by Cool & Dre, as well as maybe the greatest lesson they ever taught you.
SAP: The best thing Cool ever told me was, “Chase the music, not the money.” I remember one time when [Lil] Wayne was working on Tha Carter IV and I was like really trying to get on the album, I was like, “Yo man I need to get on that Carter IV, everybody on it but me,” and this and that, and Cool was just like “Man,” he was just like laughing like, “Yo man, chill, like just move at your own pace and chase the music, not the money.” Or you know, don’t chase “I want to do this, I want to do that,” just do you, everything will fall in place. And when he told me that, man, like now I got so many places to where I never thought I would get just from me taking his advice and doing me, it’s paid off. Like you think it’s not working sometimes, but those days you wake up, you get those crazy text messages and phone calls, it’s crazy, man.
DX: I know you’ve confirmed that you’ve done some work with Game. Cool & Dre are your mentors, and they really kicked in the door for their career with "Hate It Or Love It." What's that continuation feel like?
SAP: Oh, man, it’s a great feeling. It’s a great thing to know that the people that came before you and did more than you are willing to extend a hand and put you on that same path to success, you know what I’m saying? Because that can take years or probably forever to get to, you know what I’m saying? So just like you said before, them discovering me was just like humbling for me, but just huge because a lot of people don’t get - a lot of people don’t reach out to Delaware, especially musically, maybe for something else but I don’t know, you know what I’m saying? But definitely not musically so I was just like humbled man, I was just- even if I didn’t have any places coming up I still would be happy just ‘cause I had the opportunity.
DX: I’ll ask one last question: what would be- in the next year- what would be, your professional dream?
SAP: Mmm, that’s a hard one man ‘cause they change all the time. I’ma say just, if my music can be big enough to help people outside of music that would be ill you know what I’m saying? If I could do that, that would be crazy. Like I remember one time from my school, these four students from my school - I’m actually friends with three of them - and they were on the Oprah show, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, they were from Christiana High School in Delaware, and will.i.am. was supposed to send one of them to college, and he ended up sending all of them to college, full scholarships. So if I could do something like that, that would be like, that would be crazy yo. That would, probably more than anything to me, bigger than anything you know what I’m saying. It’s crazy to help people get somewhere to the point that they can help others. Cool & Dre are helping me so I can help other people. You know what I’m saying? Like, will.i.am. sent them to school so like whoever’s gonna be a doctor they might save somebody’s life, or someone might be a teacher. Helping someone else do something it’s just, it’s crazy how I could contribute to that in a positive way. That’s how you change the world, you know what I’m saying? That’s how they do it.
Additional Reporting by Homer Johnsen.