After nearly a decade of production with Aftermath throughout the 2000s, producer Focus… left the label in 2009. Spanning a time period in which the imprint churned out releases including The Eminem Show, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and The Documentary, Focus… admits that he spent the better part of seven years working on Dr. Dre’s Detox. Signing to Street Life Records as an artist himself years prior, the label’s President, Eric B. of Eric. B & Rakim fame, made the connection to the West Coast legend.
Leaving to form his own label in 2009, Focus… is back in the shop, and, as he tells HipHopDX in an exclusive interview, it’s his first time working side-by-side by with Dre.
“This is the first time that I’ve ever been in the studio with Dre working as a producer,” he says. “Anytime that I would go in there, I would see him working but I’ve never been part of the production team that was in the studio with Dre. So it’s been awesome in that respect seeing how his mind works. Seeing, from the base of a track to the finish of a track, how he just gets it all going. How [it] all comes to fruition. Working in that arena has been definitely an eye-opener and it’s been teaching me a lot as well.”
During his first round with Aftermath, Focus… began with a production credit on the soundtrack on the 2001 Dre and Snoop Dog film The Wash. For the next several years, Focus… landed production on Game’s debut (“Where I’m From” featuring Nate Dogg), earned a Grammy alongside Beyonce for a track produced on her debut, and produced music that would later feature Lil Wayne and Jadakiss for Busta Rhymes.
Speaking on the workflow of a staff producer, Focus… says “it lessens the anxiety.”
“As a staff producer, it lessens the anxiety of where you’re gonna get your next gig, your next placement, who you’re gonna work with,” he says. “All of that stuff is lessened because hopefully you’re working with a camp that’s not just one person and one opportunity. Working with Aftermath, I have the opportunity to work with whoever or whatever comes through the door. So, as a staff producer, you get the first look. It’s awesome. Dre will tell you, ‘Look, this is what I’m working on.’ Back when I was signed, it was Eminem. It was 50 [Cent]. It was this, it was that. But Dre had me so geared towards Detox. That was the most important thing, that I didn’t get off track. I didn’t turn around and get on any Eminem things or 50 Cent things. I regret that. But at the end of the day, I know that he saw my work ethic and I guess it resonated to the point where he allowed me back in. He knows that I’m gonna work hard for him.”
Addressing Dr. Dre’s now-infamous confirmation of a musical hiatus in 2011, Focus… says his own stepping away from Aftermath around the same time had a similar effect.
“I think that something that was definitely needed was the hiatus that I took from Aftermath,” he says. “I think the hiatus even for Dre [was] just to regain the love for the music instead of being so focused on the music industry. Detox was his brainchild but then the world caught hold of it and it became something that was bigger than life. Once you set that kind of aspiration and expectation for it and nothing feels like it’s measuring up, it becomes anxiety instead of just making music. And music was our love. Dre loves music. That’s my first passion. So, at the end of the day when you’re going to work and you’re dreading it because it’s like, ‘Man, am I gonna make the thing that’s gonna make the stars align and the moon come out in the day-time?’ You have to make something that’s so unsurpassable, it just feels like anxiety every day. So, I think everybody just getting that time away and now we’re back just making music and doing what we love and not setting the bar so high to where nobody can attain it. It’s a different feel now. It doesn’t feel like so much weight on the shoulders anymore. It just feels like we’re making music. Kind of like when I first got signed.”
Focus… Speaks On Past Work With TDE
Working with the collective before their recent commercial success, Focus… also describes his hopes to collaborate again with TDE rappers. (In 2011, a Focus… beat yielded ScHoolboy Q’s “Light Years Ahead” featuring Kendrick Lamar on Setbacks.)
“Real talk, I really don’t know the relationship between TDE and Aftermath,” the New York native says. “I know that TDE is a powermove within themselves and Aftermath is just the machinery that facilitates. The truth is, I have yet to see K. Dot or anybody. Again, I’m a fan of what Kendrick’s doing and what the whole TDE camp has done. Our relationship is still intact and I do want to go into the studio with the guys, especially with K. Dot on his sophomore album. I’ve had Kendrick on three different songs and I’ve done stuff with ScHoolboy and Jay Rock. So I would love to work with Ab-Soul. He’s been on one of my tracks, but I haven’t had the chance to work with him [in the studio].”
Focus… Details Planned Work With Nile Rodgers & Sampling His Father’s Chic Records
Commenting that his father, former Chic bassist and Nile Rodgers writing partner Bernard Edwards, never took his music seriously, Focus… shares plans to collaborate with Rodgers himself and begin sampling some of his father’s work.
“I’m starting to do it right now,” he said of sampling Chic records. “I’m really starting to get into the deeper parts of the catalogue. There are a lot of songs that were my favorite because of the chord progressions, but nobody’s touched them. I just wanted to wait until it was the right time. Even so, to go deeper on that, I just recently spoke to Nile [Rodgers], my dad’s old partner, and Nile was really, really cool in saying that he wants me to do something with him on the newest Chic album that they’re putting together. If that comes to fruition, that’s a dream come true. Just to even have my name next to Nile’s and to be part of my dad’s immediate legacy. I’m really excited about what’s about to happen. I am gonna put these records out that I’m sampling Chic on and definitely working with Chic.
“My dad was the typical character of the industry,” Focus… adds. “He knew about the drugs, the sex, the Rock-n-Roll. The whole thing. He was very handshake friendly with that whole entire world. He knew the ups and the downs. He knew that if they loved they loved you and if they hated they hated you and would chew you up and spit you out. I know my Dad just didn’t want to see that for me.”
Addressing his father’s feelings toward the Hip Hop industry at large—the Chic hit “Good Times” was the backdrop to the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979—Focus… describes a passing interest on the part of his Dad.
“My Dad hated Hip Hop in the interim, in the beginning, because of them taking his music,” he says. “What they had to go through, kind of regaining ownership of their music. Once things starting coming down, he was alive for a little bit of the success that the Chic catalogue had in the Hip Hop industry. He was cool with it, but he thought it was a fad. My Dad wasn’t around for the biggest part of Hip Hop commercially. My Dad died in ‘96. To him, it was still more Rock. So, to see how Hip Hop survived the ‘80s and as late into the ‘90s, my Dad wasn’t really following Hip Hop. The funny thing about it, he never had a bad thing to say. When I first started making music, I wasn’t into Hip Hop. I was into R&B, I thought I was a singer. When I started learning how Rap and making Rap records, my dad mentioned when I was young it was really A-B-C, 1-2-3 type records. He didn’t think nothing of it. It was cute to him. He never saw anything in my music that was just solid where he’d be like, ‘Oh, that’s good. We should work on that.’ It was all cute to him.”
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