One thing the world will never lack is whining for good Hip Hop music that’s not polluted or diluted by major labels. In one fell swoop stretched over three years, A-Villa reminds those complaining on Twitter that there are still artists happy to shut them up. A virtual nobody in the Hip Hop industry with little to no production credits to his name, A-Villa juggled a full time job, raising his first child, and putting out his first, and possibly last, album as a producer. All of this on top of the fact that the tracklist for Carry On Tradition would make most major label producers drool.
A-Villa put in the time to refine his creativity on the MPC while putting in the networking hours of a full fledged PR firm. What may seem as a singularity now in the music landscape could also be seen as a throwback, in its own way, to how great Hip Hop producer albums materialized years ago. For aspiring producers, take notes on A-Villa’s story below that covers his planning for the tracklist, his influences, and mixing the old with the new. And, of course, you can listen to Carry On Tradition here and purchase it here.
A- Villa Goes From Bank VP To Studio Time With Hip Hop Legends
HipHopDX: You were a VP at a bank before starting to produce. What made you teach yourself how to produce and then put together such an ambitious project?
A-Villa: It was always a dream of mine to do something in music, but I was never motivated to pursue it previously. Finishing school and excelling at a career in finance was more my parent’s dream for me. But after I graduated college and eventually became a bank vice president, I sort of became bored and needed a creative outlet. So being a continued fan of Hip Hop music, I went to a music store, purchased an MPC 3000, and taught myself how to make beats. Making beats started out as a fun after-work hobby, but that changed when Guru of Gang Starr passed away (I didn’t know Guru personally, I was just a fan of Gang Starr’s music coming up) it triggered something in my own life and sort of put things in perspective in regards to building my own personal legacy. And then it hit me. I should create art by making my own music. Competing and winning local producer competitions gave me the confidence to make songs with other artists and those songs, along with the birth of daughter made me determined to complete such an ambitious album.
DX: Why did you pick up the MPC instead of a mic or the turntables as a creative outlet?
A-Villa: That’s actually me rapping on the last verse and last song on the album, but I would never consider myself to be a vocalist of any sort. I always wanted to produce and compose music from behind the scenes. I DJ some too and did like half the scratches on my album. I actually tried being a DJ first. I bought turntables and DJ A-Villa was my first professional name. But that was short-lived once I began winning producer competitions. As a result, I put the turntables to the side, got my first MPC, and instantly knew producing was for me.
DX: These artists are all heroes to you. Some are older than others. Are there rappers you couldn’t get on here that you wanted? Any artists you didn’t originally plan on having but for some reason, ended up on the project?
A-Villa: Definitely, I got positive responses from artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Scarface, Evidence, and others that wanted to be a part of the album. But for whatever reason, we couldn’t make it happen. A lot of it was a timing thing and for the most part, the timing still worked in my favor when gathering all these artists. Because as I see it, I still got more than 40 amazing artists on the album and I’m a fan of all of them. I mean…I have a song with Kool G Rap! I would never think in my wildest dreams that would ever happen. Kool G Rap is like my Jay-Z or Nas coming up as kid. Then I have a major modern artist like Big K.R.I.T. on the album, which is amazing when you consider where he’s at in his career now and I highly doubt I could have landed him on this album today. So it all came down to good timing and these artists just wanting to make good music with one another and me.
DX: Who are some of the producers that inspired you?
A-Villa: There’s a line from my verse on the album’s last song where I say “big up to RZA, Preemo, Dilla, PR, and Dr. Dre”. So I would start there. What’s so crazy is that I’ve heard back personally from RZA, DJ Premier, and Pete Rock that they all like my music. That’s a blessing and was a big reason why I made music in the first place.to earn that respect from the legends that paved the way. But I would also add Bomb Squad, Marley Marl, Madlib, and plenty of others to the list of great producers who’ve inspired me. Hip Hop music started with the break beats, which came from the DJs spinning in the parks, which eventually evolved into beatmakers and then into full-fledged music producers. I think it’s important to show love to these legendary producers while they’re still here with us. And I hope what I’m doing as a producer now can inspire the next kid to invest in a drum machine, create good music, and carry on tradition for the culture.
A- Villa Finds The Glitch In The Music Industry Matrix
DX: This project took 3 years to make. Why did it take so long or maybe, it took less time than you thought? What were the easiest and hardest parts?
A-Villa: It was a couple years of me networking in the music industry, going to shows, getting backstage, going to meet and greets, using social media, email, and whatever I could do to reach out to the artists I wanted to work with, tell them about the project, and get them to listen to the music. Surprisingly, that was the easiest part. Once they heard the music and really liked what they heard, most of them were on board. Then it was another year or more of recording with the artists, mixing the songs, and mastering the album at various studios. At the same time, I was still working daily in my career as a Vice President of a bank and then I became a father for the first time during the making of the album. So I was juggling 3 to 4 different lives at the same time. That was the difficult part, not having enough time in the day to do everything and then being away from my family. It was just a lot of hard work for one person and was very time consuming, but all worth it in the end.
DX: Not to say that your beats are not unique and don’t hit hard, but there are a lot of producers who create beats in the same vein as you, drawing inspiration from the Golden Era. Why do you think so many of these emcees liked what you played them and decided to get on this project? Was it your personality or something so different about your beats?
A-Villa: It was all the above. I never push my music on to anyone, especially when I first meet a particular artist. It was important that I communicated my intentions with the project and how much it meant to me first. I think they seen that I was genuinely excited to work with them, I was very passionate about the project, and they were surprised about the quality of music I was making. They may expect that quality from a more known producer that they’ve worked with before. But I think there was added intrigue on their part to work with me and it was a new experience for them. And I told them all that I’m a fan first and I have an understanding of what their fans want to hear from them. In addition, these artists all wanted to work with each other too. So as the roster of artists grew, it definitely helped draw even more artists onto the album. But at the end of the day, we’re all artists and the music must be good and we all agreed that it was.
DX: You found a loophole in the industry by doing all of this on your own, without a label or PR. Do you see yourself as part of a dying generation of Hip-Hop fans who do it for the love of the culture and not profit?
A-Villa: With the current state of the music industry, I definitely had no financial expectations for a full fledged Hip Hop album made by a relatively unknown producer. But the reality is, I couldn’t have made this album before 2005. But now we’re in the age of independent music, especially in the Hip Hop genre. That’s a good and bad thing tho. Good that you get to hear fresh talent with no labels attached and there is more financial freedom. But bad that you get so many people claiming to be rappers, constantly putting out mixtapes, and over saturating the market with bad music. But in my case, it was definitely me having a love for the music and believing that I had what it took to make a real album. At best, I knew the people around me would hear it and hopefully some of my peers. But I never would have predicted that my album would get heard and praised from people all over the world. I have people buying the album and reaching out to me from all over the states, Canada, the UK, Africa, Asia, South America, and more. We sold out of the first print run of CDs and vinyls. And now that the demand is strong, we are going to stock the vinyl in retail stores soon. I’m also getting props from a lot of my peers, gatekeepers in the industry, and legendary artists, producers, & DJs. It’s all a bit overwhelming, but truly a blessing and a dream come true.
DX: What was the recording process like for the project? Did each artist come through your studio?
A-Villa: Most songs were recorded with me in various studios and others were done by email. But overall, it was a collaborative process that I fully orchestrated as the album producer. Having so many artists on a project like this can be a challenge, because each artist comes with their own perspective on how to make music or what type of music they want to make. But it was really key that I communicated to each artist what the song was about, what each beat represented to me, and discuss where I was trying to take each song musically. I also brought in various vocalists and musicians to further advance the album sonically. Some may think they hear a lot of samples and breaks, but there was a lot of stuff played and recorded live too. It was all a process of bouncing ideas off of each other, some collaborative writing on the project, and the artists all brought their A-game. And then when you’re dealing with true emcees who care about their craft, it can get really competitive. They all want to sound the best on each song and out-rap one another. That made the recording process even longer, but made the songs turn out better. These were not phoned in verses. These were all well thought-out and executed songs that formed a very cohesive album, which I think is rare for this type of project.
The Concept Of Carry On Tradition & Why Family Is Important To A-Villa
DX: What exactly is the tradition that you’re trying to preserve with this album?
A-Villa: The title Carry On Tradition was the name of the first beat of mine that any artist ever recorded to, which was done by Rapper Big Pooh. It already had the AZ scratched vocal from Nas’ Illmatic and it was the first song I made for my album. Beyond that the phrase “carry on tradition” and the overall theme of the album deals with the evolution of Hip Hop music, bridging the gap between music generations, and re-introducing the elements of Hip Hop music from the Golden Era, which I group up on. I’m not trying to make old school music or bring it back, but more so do my part to maintain the essence of that music, introduce it to a whole new generation of music listeners, and to do it from a fresh perspective. The whole idea of putting legendary artists from the late 80s and early 90s on an album with popular artists of today is my way of bridging that gap and knocking down those segregating generation walls, which I think is a problem with music today. I also wanted to do something different with my producer album and not do the same old compilation project, where you hear the same featured rappers on multiple songs together. I wanted to challenge the listener to embrace a song with a more modern artist like Big K.R.I.T. rapping along-side an artist like Inspectah Deck. You just won’t hear that anywhere else, but it sounds natural and it works. And then sonically, I wanted to utilize the same elements from the producers I looked up to coming up [and] chopping samples, utilizing live drums and other instrumentation, bringing the DJ and scratches back into the fold, beatboxing, instrumental & cinematic interludes, and giving the music a more dirty but analog feel. And then on a personal level, Carry On Tradition represents me being a new father and once again, leaving something behind for my daughter to remember me by. So on a lot of levels, the title represents the album perfectly.
DX: Clearly, your daughter is a big part of your life. How important was it to have her in the album cover art?
A-Villa: The birth of my daughter was ultimately the main motivator for me to finish the album and Carry On Tradition is my gift to her. We can all be here today and gone tomorrow, but what do we have to leave our loved ones behind besides money and such. This album is a work of art that represents me as a person and is something she can always pick up, listen to, and remember me by. Me taking my daughter crate digging or record store shopping is something that I do in my free time and was a real moment that her mother captured with a camera phone. That image wasn’t planned or anything, but I felt it represented everything about me, the love for my family, my love for music, and the album.
DX: Which track is most dear to you?
A-Villa: Definitely the last song Never Give You Up (One For Ava) featuring Rapsody, Guilty Simpson, myself, and my daughter. The song is named after her and she obviously influenced it from my standpoint. The song is about striving for and not giving up on your dreams. All three verses, myself included [and] all describe our own trials & tribulations with wanting to make it as an artist in the music industry and people doubting us. I can’t speak for Rapsody or Guilty Simpson, but my verse describes my own path trying to make music, trying to be taken serious as a producer, and wanting to make this album. I was determined not to give up on my dream to make music and disappoint myself. And when my daughter is old enough to hear this song and understand it, the message I want her to take away from it is to follow her dreams and that I will always be there to support her in anything she does in life. Because being a good father to Ava is my priority in life now and the way this song & album ends expresses that.
DX: The Soundcloud description says this is your first and last project. Why don’t you see any other projects materializing after this one? No plans to remix this project?
A-Villa: When I first decided to make this album and thru the album’s recording process, I was in a different place in my life where I had the time to do it. My daughter hadn’t been born yet and I was all about pursuing this passion project of mine. That all changed of course when I became a father and it all stopped being about me. I put this entire album together by myself and it was fully recorded before I even brought it to the Closed Sessions label, who then helped master it and get it out to the people. Honestly, that’s not the most ideal way to make an album, but it was the only choice I had at the time. Now that the album is doing well and my name & music is out there buzzing, things are starting to come a little easier to me. But I earned that with all the time and hard work I put into this album. So when I say “this is my first and last project”, it doesn’t mean I’m not making music anymore. In fact, I have unreleased songs, instrumental projects, side projects, placements, and more in the works. I’m just not going to make an A-Villa producer album of this magnitude any time soon. Carry On Tradition is the best album I could have made at this point in my life. It’s special to me & my family and I would never want to alter it, remix it, or follow it up with another album like it. But who knows? Life experience, more spare time, and someone cutting me a check may bring me back to making another album like this. Until then, I’m very proud of this album, the people love it, and I believe it will stand the test of time. Not everyone gets to fulfill their dreams, but I did and no one can take that away from me.