For the bulk of the last 30 years, being a Hip Hop artist is a dream job. Whether emceeing or producing, the thought of traveling, fan adoration and having people listen to your expressions have excited most of us at one time. Then again, in today’s age where most every one appoints themselves an artist and endlessly blast off emails, incessantly release material and flood the market, what’s left to love?

An hour spent in Norcross, Georgia’s Tree Sound Studios restores the excitement in Rap music-making. Yes, the rock climbing walls, handsome kitchen spaces, art on display and verdant surroundings appeal to anyone looking for peace, but the recording rooms themselves are the anti-thesis of 2010’s basement studios and ProTools. At the creative helm of Tree Sound is James “Groove” Chambers, and everybody who knows him constantly refers to him behind his back as “the nicest guy you’ll ever meet.”

True to form, a quiet and constantly smiling Groove left Kansas City, Missouri and a corporate job in 1998 for Atlanta and never turned back. With hits under his belt such as Nappy Roots’ “Aw Naw” and Lil Mama’s “Lip Gloss,” this master of music may dodge the profile that his contemporaries often seek, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t constantly working. For over a decade, Groove has crafted hits out of Tree Sound with a family staff that has made the enormous and eco-friendly space one of Rap’s premiere studios.

With tomorrow’s supestars frequently hibernating in Tree Sound’ studios, Groove’s life-long vision is working, and the essence of collaboration and traditional recording methods are upheld. But just as names like Yelawolf, Big K.R.I.T., Mickey Factz and Emilio Rojas may be making classics to come, Groove is also stepping forward as a musical mentor, and a much-needed reminder as to why Hip Hop artistry remains something to dream about.

HipHopDX: We’re going to talk about some of your production credits in a second, but I’m curious about your start. When you moved from Kansas City to Atlanta in 1998, what made it for you to choose the ATL?

Groove Chambers: Really, at that time…I guess bein’ in Kansas City, Atlanta was thee option. I can’t particularly point to an exact reason, I just know that one day I was sittin’ in my basement, and I said, “I need to move to Atlanta. Now.” [Laughs] I have no idea. That was the only option. I was working at AT&T, and I met another dude named James who did music. We were talkin’ and I said, “Yo man, I gotta get outta here. I really want to do music.” I had been at AT&T for maybe like four months, and he’d been there for like a year and a half, and I found out that at AT&T, that you could transfer your job to another city if you’d been there for 18 months. I asked him to transfer me Atlanta, and he did it, so shout out to James, the other James.

DX: In ’98 and before that, how connected were you to Kansas City’s Hip Hop scene?

Groove Chambers: I was not involved in the scene at all. I was a track athlete. Everybody in KC knew me as the guy who could jump the highest, in the entire city. It was a time when Maurice Green, who was the world record-holder of the 100 Meter, he was from Kansas City, Kansas. We’d be in a lot of the same meets, even though he was older than me. That’s how plugged into track I was. Guys like him, when they weren’t running, they’d come over and watch me jump. I was young, young. I wasn’t tied into the music scene at all, but I was the guy that everybody knew had all the hottest music. I was the biggest music connoisseur. I had everything. You need to hear somethin’ new? I had it first.

DX: The crazy thing is, if I listened to The Nappy Roots’ “Aw Naw,” you couldn’t tell me the guy who produced that isn’t from the south. So what influenced your sound?

Groove Chambers: Growing up in a house, I always had a pool table in the basement. Me and my dad played pool my entire life, growin’ up, while listening to Blues and Jazz. My dad’s from the south. I think a lot of the Soul music that my dad played, that we always listened to, I think that’s what gave me the real melodic sound. All day, and all night. All I did growing up was shoot pool, listen to music and run track. [Laughs] I believe that’s what gave me the sound to this day.

DX: Do you put on records and have conversations like that today when you’re in the studio?

Groove Chambers: Nah, man. Really, I just get into the studio and hang out. You’ve seen Tree Sound [Studios], the vibe is real crazy. I might turn on TV – Food Network, watch “Triple-D” [Diners, Drive-In’s & Dives], watch Chopped or somethin’, hang out, walk around the studio, sit outside, vibe out. Then, when I feel like it, I might just go and make a beat. But I don’t just turn on other music before I make a beat. Really, I think just the peace of mind and realization of being in a really chill place [motivates me artistically].

Also though, I’ll be walking around the building, and I’ll just get inspired seeing people make beats. People are bangin’ out. You might see four interns around the building, spread out, with laptops out and MIDI keyboards, bangin’ out. “Yo Groove, listen to this.”

DX: You said “Triple-D.” I love that show too, but that’s for the hardcore viewers.

Groove Chambers: Oh yeah! The only station I watch is The Food Network.

DX: You’re a KC guy living in the south. Who’s got better barbecue?

Groove Chambers: Missouri. [Laughs]

DX: I’m a big fan of organs in music, and organ samples in Hip Hop. How in the heck – I’ll say “heck”, did you get the organ to sound like that on “Aw Naw”? That’s one of my favorite uses of organ in any music.

Groove Chambers: Wow, that’s dope. Thanks man. I would say, number one, I’m real picky when it comes to finding sounds on a keyboard. I’m not one of those dudes that’s just gonna flip through and use the first sound that I hear. It’s gotta be the most authentic sound. I spent a ton of time going through all the organs. At that time, I was using the Triton real heavy. So [“Aw Naw”] was the organs from the Triton, but I ran through the dopest organs I could find, found those chords, made the beat – I loved the beat, but what’s crazy is…it wasn’t till I got to Tree Sound. Tree Sound was the first real studio I’d been to. We were mixing the record; my homie Brad [Todd] was the engineer at the time…he was like, “Yo man, this beat is frickin’ crazy. The organ sounds so real. We need to run it through the Leslie.” I said, “Let’s do it.” [After that], it was a wrap. It started with a good sound, but running it through that Leslie and the SSL in the studio is what did it.

DX: You mention Tree Sound Studios. One of the untold stories of Hip Hop is how studios influence people who influence records. You look at D&D in New York, which is now HeadCourterz. You look at Can-Am in California, where Death Row made their later hits. Tell me about how Tree Sound influences you…

Groove Chambers: It definitely is that place. It all starts with the owner and creator of Tree Sound, Paul Diaz. Honestly, this is one of the best, coolest people you’ll ever meet in the world. All he wants to do is chill out, relax, watch people make good music and save the environment at the same time. That’s all he wants to do. Dude doesn’t have an agenda in the world besides allowing people to make good music. So when I came in, probably about 2002, around the time [Nappy Roots‘] Watermelon Chicken & Gritz dropped, he and I hit it off, ’cause we had a very similar position on music and the music business. We both had this “I don’t give a fuck” approach to a lot of stuff.

Without Paul Diaz, I’d be fucked. Sunshine [also]. Mali [Hunter], she’s the driving force behind all this, man. She’s the one who makes everything move for all of us. And Count Justice, without him, nothing goes down.

It really started with him building a studio that’s crazy. Then I said, “We gotta make this more than a studio, we gotta make it a home.” It was already a home, but we had to make it a home for Hip Hop.

DX: Which is wild, because you’ve got people staying there. That’s revolutionary to me.

Groove Chambers: It’s crazy, ’cause Mickey Factz, he’ll call and be like, “Yo Groove, I’m comin’ to work.” As many times as he’s come to Atlanta, he’s never stayed at a hotel. He stays at the studio. He’ll work, sleep, and eat at the studio. Mickey cooks, so I’ll always smell some food in the kitchen. Mickey’s down there frying some fish or cooking some sausage. Any day, you might walk in there and see CyHi The Prynce takin’ a nap or somethin’. There’s nothin’ else like it, man. On earth. To record some of the biggest Hip Hop records over the last 20 years in a place where you might walk down the hall and see Emilio Rojas sleeping.

DX: In the Internet age, so many emcees and producers never meet at all, let alone buy studio time and actually work. In your 12 years in the game, how important are enclosed environments like this to the process of good, organic music?

Groove Chambers: Yo, that’s the perfect question. Honestly, you just nailed it; that’s our mission. That’s my personal mission is to bring comradery to Hip Hop – to bring dudes together. That’s why, if you listen to any of those “Three Little Digs” videos we’ve done, you might see 10 of us in a room together. It’s not 10 random dudes either; nine of ’em might have record deals. But we’re all in there hangin’, kickin’ it. There’s no egos. Dudes are makin’ good music. Look at the song that Bobby Creekwater just dropped with Mickey Factz and Kardinal Offishall. The song is crazy. The song just happened ’cause all three of ’em were here the other day, in the studio in different rooms. They were just wandering around [to discover that each other was here]. Creek was workin’ on a song. “Yo, get in.”

I’m doing the first Three Little Digs mixtape. The pre-requisite is if you don’t come to the studio, you’re not on it. You could be my best friend, nope. We’ve got to get to the studio together. Phonin’ in tracks and emailing, it’s dope that people can do that. I’m not knockin’ it at all, but since I’m in position to force comradery and we all love it and have a good time, I feel that that’s the way I can make a difference in Hip Hop. And if I can’t make a difference, then what the fuck is the point of doin’ it?

DX: Dame Dash’s DD172 has been compared to Andy Warhol’s “Factory” in New York. Do you draw comparisons to what you’re doing and artistic movements of the 1960s and 1980s?

Groove Chambers: Oh, yeah. That’s what we’re doing. We’re into art here too. There’s not an inch of wall here that’s not covered, whether it’s [by] Count [Justice] or Mali [Hunter]. It’s cool that you brought up DD172. I’ve never been there, but everybody that rocks out of DD172 pretty much has been to Tree. The first thing they say is, “Dude, this is so much like DD172. You have no idea.” Smoke DZA is here all the time, the whole GFC crew – Mickey Factz, Steve O. Curren$y just came through for the first time the other day, [as well as] Big K.R.I.T.

DX: You mention K.R.I.T. and CyHi, as well as people like Drake or Yelawolf… a lot of these guys are getting major label deals lately. A lot of studios in Miami, New York and Los Angeles, two seconds in, somebody is handing you a bill. How are you guys able to be so friendly to artists that are transitioning into big label stars?

Groove Chambers: We support artists. Obviously, to keep the studio alive, you’ve got to book it. Everybody’s situations are different though. So if somebody comes to us, “Yo, look, I’m independent,” we’ll say, “Work with us. We’ll work with what you’ve got.” We work with what you have. On top of it, it’s an artist-friendly place. Paul built the place because he toured the world as a young kid and went into all these big studios and then he found out the artists were the lowest people on the totem pole; people didn’t give a shit about the artist. So he said, “I’m building a place that’s artist-first. Everything else is second.” That was way before me.

DX: Tell me what you’re doing with Tree Leaf. Based on all you’ve done and all you’re doing, I’m anxious to hear what Groove’s label is going to release…

Groove Chambers: It’s a label that does everything. Honestly, we’ve got Bluegrass bands signed to the label. Me and Paul, we couldn’t be more different, as similar as we are. [Laughs] He loves Bluegrass, he loves Folk music, he loves all kind of stuff. Rap is not his stuff. He loves what it brings to the table, but he doesn’t know it. Tree Leaf is a smorgasbord of freakin’ music. If we like it, we bring it to the table. It’s everything we stand for.

DX: You’ve got the “In The Bag” record early this year. What made you decide to crack the mic?

Groove Chambers: I’ve always rapped, man. Always. Every time I rap, no matter who it is, they’re always like, “Yo, your voice is nutso.” I did that song one day, just chillin’. People kept walkin’ in when I was playin’ it back. “Who’s that?” “That’s me.” “That’s not you, dog.” “That’s me. Now I rap. That’s what I do.” The homie Riggs Morales [VP, A&R of] Shady Records, he came through. He was like, “Yo Groove, that shit is stupid. What are you doin’ with it?” I didn’t. [So I said] “Let me just see.” The response is crazy. I didn’t really have a plan for it. I just wanted to see if people fucked with me as a rapper, and people fucked with me. So I have a remix comin’. I’ma shoot a video for it. The remix has some heavy-hitters, some of my favorite rappers.

DX: Going back to the scene of you and your father shooting pool in the basement, what’s the last record that you just can’t stop playing lately?

Groove Chambers: Literally, it was the record I was listening to in the car right before you called. “Maybach Music 3” [by Rick Ross featuring T.I. and Erykah Badu].

DX: That’s crazy. I just was talking to 9th Wonder. He said the same thing.

Groove Chambers: Wow! 9th Wonder is one of my favorite producers; those are the homies. But straight up, honestly, I play it non-stop. I love the record. I love the music. It’s simple, but it’s complicated. It’s too dope. 

For more information on Tree Sound Studios, click here.