Pittsburgh-bred producer Sledgren has been rocking with Wiz Khalifa since the very beginning and let him tell it, when the 2009 album Deal or No Deal was being created, the city of Pittsburgh firmly believed Wiz would be the Grammy Award-winning superstar that he is today.
It’s been nearly ten years since Deal or No Deal was released, as its anniversary approaches on November 24, Sledgren shares with HipHopDX the type of energy Deal or No Deal was born from: a poised belief that a school kid out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania would one day make it big.
Deal or No Deal featured four records produced by the Glitchrealm boss, including “Right Here” with Josh Everett. Graciously inspired by Max B, Deal or Deal set the tone for Wiz’s musical career in conjunction with his critically-acclaimed mixtape, 2010’s Kush & Orange Juice — which may be coming to streaming platforms soon, if the “Schala Theme” sample from Super Nintendo video game Chrono Trigger ever gets cleared for its use on “Never Been.”
The Taylor Gang producer has not only been around since Wiz’s early beginnings, he also helped shaped the sound of some of Wiz’s smoother cuts. More recently, Sledge procured the R&B-tinged songs off Rolling Papers 2, featuring the ethereal voices of his newly discovered singing group THEMXXNLIGHT.
Sledgren discusses all these things with DX, and also gives his thoughts on five of his favorite songs that he’s ever produced, which he’s selected for his specially made #DXHitList on Spotify.
Check out Sledgren’s Spotify playlist for the latest in this series of the #DXHitList Sessions.
THEMXXNLIGHT — “All Alone”
I never made a beat like that. It’s kind of experimental. THEMXXNLIGHT makes a lot of solid harmonies and melodic vibes. It was a song they did before but for years they were telling me that we have to make it over. They sent it to me and I just started adding to it and then we sent it out to like two more producers. We’re shooting the video for it now and it’s coming out pretty tight.
Larry June – “Tough Love”
I just like my music to be loud. When you hear my music you get a certain feeling from it and that’s just one of them songs. If you want to understand or get my production, that one captures it.
Wiz Khalifa — “Bootsy Bellows”
Sometimes I’ll make a beat and I’ll consider it a certain style of my production and I want people to notice it. Even if I make it similar I just want it to be known in that style. So, Larry June’s “Tough Love” and “Bootsy Bellows” are like that.
Yung Pinch — “Pina Colada”
It’s all about the vibes right now and I just want people to feel me. He hit me up once and was like let’s work. I remember hearing his music but I didn’t know it was him at the time. I was looking him back up and I was like, ‘Damn, that’s Pinch.’ I didn’t know his name was Yung Pinch, I just thought it was Pinch. He sent me this one back and he put it right out.
Curren$y & Joey Badass — “Dollar Sign Eyes”
I sent Curren$y some beats and he told me he was getting Joey Badass on that one. I was wondering how it was going to sound. Joey was loaded. He got on it and got right with it.
DX: November 24 marks the anniversary of Deal or No Deal. Reflecting back on that project, what was life like as it was being created?
Sledgren: I was proud of myself early on as a producer. I think Wiz was right out of school — I’m four years older than him. He was like the little homie in the studio. We was taking him to the studio everyday, making sure he was good. I was just learning how to produce and my production began to progress as he began to progress. All trial and error. We would just coach each other.
DX: How did you guys find each other?
Sledgren: He went to [Taylor Allderdice] High School with all my little cousins, so they all knew him and was cool with him. I knew about him when he was in ninth grade…tenth grade. We started recording in the same studio with I.D. Labs and he used to be in the other room..he used to intern and stuff. He used to always know about me, kick it in my neighborhood and a lot of other guys. One day he asks if he can come over to my house and not on no studio shit all the time. After that, everyday we were in the studio. We met on that same vibe.
He knew my family and he wanted to hang with us. It was love. He would come home from school and be in the studio everyday at night. Talking from six to 12 or until four in the morning. We might go out and then come back to the studio. Everybody recognized his potential. It wasn’t like we didn’t recognize it. Everyone recognized it.
DX: Sounds like the whole city of Pittsburgh threw in their support.
Sledgren: Yeah, we realized he had the kind of potential that not everybody has.
DX: How did Deal or No Deal change things for you guys?
Sledgren: That was our first year on the road, on tour, in a Sprinter. Homies selling the merch. Everybody’s living out of the Sprinter. At the end of the tour we were working on Kush & Orange Juice and then we dropped that. That’s when things changed and lines for his shows were wrapped around the block. We was like, “This is for us, bro?” We’d have 5,000 people lined up and couldn’t get them all into the venue.
DX: After you guys dropped Deal or No Deal, then Kush & OJ, were you expecting that kind of love all the way to where Wiz is as big as he is now?
Sledgren: Yup. When we heard it, there was no way it wasn’t going to change the world. We listened to it a lot. There was just no way. He just got out his deal. He’s independent. It was a big thing. We decided we could do this without the label. [Kush & Orange Juice] didn’t drop with a label.
DX: Though Kush & OJ was my first intro to Wiz, when revisiting Deal or No Deal it sounds a lot like stuff I’d listen to today. And this is almost a decade later.
Sledgren: That’s what we try to do with all our projects. With Wiz, he doesn’t care when people say do this or that. He’s always trying to keep a timeless vibe and reinvent himself. A lot of people fall or drown trying to do something different. We’re just keeping it timeless.
On Making “Rolling Papers 2” & “Kush and Orange Juice” Coming To Streaming
DX: I know you guys were working on Rolling Papers 2 for awhile…it’s finally out…how’s everyone feeling?
Sledgren: We’re still dropping videos. We’re doing 20,000 people a night. We been doing that. They love the album. Keeping it timeless.
DX: Before Rolling Papers 2 came out I had to go back and listen to Rolling Papers and it’s still really good! I was a little worried because there was going to be so many songs on it.
Sledgren: Wiz just wanted to go with a lot of songs. This was way before Drake came out with his project with a lot of songs. It’s like damn, Drake dropped something with a lot of songs so now people will think it’s because of him, but it’s not. He just felt like he wanted to give a lot of songs.
DX: Now, Cabin Fever just hit streaming services. Will fans get Kush & OJ too?
Sledgren: Kush & Orange Juice will be on streaming services soon. I think they’re waiting on me. The “Never Been” sample didn’t get cleared.
DX: I love “Never Been,” it’s my favorite song on Kush & OJ period! So we’re just waiting on you and your sample clearance before it goes to streaming?
Sledgren: Yeah. I’m definitely the last person holding it up. I don’t think they’re budging though so I’m trying to re-make it as best I can. It’s just taking some time.
Sledgren: Yeah, that’s why I don’t like that change. There’s only a couple of them like that so we keep all the mixes original. This company is just like we’re not clearing shit, basically. We’ll give y’all all the money for it. Just clear it so we can give it to the world.
DX: That’s the thing with samples, they’ll hold up an entire project.
Sledgren: We don’t want any money from it. Just clear it. You can take all the royalties, too.
On Wiz Khalifa’s R&B Album & R&B Group THEMXXNLIGHT
DX: I did an interview with Wiz at Life is Beautiful in September and asked him if he’d do an R&B album and he told me yes. So I need that to happen. Are you helping him with that at all?
Sledgren: He’ll completely snap on an R&B record. Not when he’s going in to do rap and do auto-tune, because he’s been doing that since 2008, 2007. He definitely knows how to sing. He has a song called “Incense” on 28 Grams — that’s R&B Wiz for sure. He’s really dope at that.
DX: Speaking of R&B, what’s up with THEMXXNLIGHT? Are they your artists?
Sledgren: Yeah, I kind of discovered them a couple of years ago. We’re finalizing everything. I’ll just be in charge of their productions for the next couple of albums. We’re going to go for a major soon. I found them on the internet. I didn’t know who they were because they weren’t showing their faces or anything. They had maybe, a couple hundred followers. I listened to their songs and there was something about their music that was just too perfect.
I got an ear for music and with them I kept going back. They had a song called “Drunk” and I kept going back to it. I hit them up. I knew I could create a vibe with them. I just can hear some shit that we can do. They hit me back and said they’d love to work but didn’t have much money or something. I’m like, I’m not trying to sell ya’ll anything, I just want to work. Then we just started to build a vibe. It turned out they didn’t really know too many people in the industry. They had their own connections but, there were a lot of things they didn’t know, a lot people they didn’t know and it just made sense when we started connecting.
DX: The first time I heard them was on Rolling Papers 2. Was that your first introduction of them to the public?
Sledgren: One or two of those songs were created for THEMXXNLIGHT’s project. We were creating a project before Wiz knew who they were. I have artists all the time so I can’t be like, “Yo, Wiz listen to this right now.” I do, but there’s always a time and a place. I played him certain records I was sure he was going to like, but he didn’t really say too much about it.
Months may have went pass, I sent him some other stuff and it was a new song…it was the “All of the Sudden” one. I had sent it to Wiz briefly, and I also sent him some hard stuff. He told me there was this one beat that had been on his mind, he pulled it up and it was “All of a Sudden.” I was like you fuck with this? That was the first one. Then we did the “Mr. Williams” one with Spitta.
Wiz says their voices are for now and didn’t foresee putting them on the album three times. He’s never done anything like that.
DX: Earlier you mentioned MXXNLIGHT being somewhat experimental for you.
Sledgren: When I heard their voice I just knew there was a sound I could create or help complement. These guys were tight before me. The more and more we work, the more we create the vibe. I’ve been hearing a lot R&B projects and they might not touch what we’re doing with this project.
DX: When can people expect to hear the project?
Sledgren: Possibly next month. We wanted to drop Halloween. The EP is done but we’re tying up some things with features. I’m actually pretty excited for it.