I sat down–figuratively, over email–with Everett-born beatmaker MTK, whose diverse repertoire ranges from staunch soul traditionalism to hat-heavy synthetic gutter filth. We talked influences, past and future work, extracurricular philanthropy, and – of course – the game.
How about a brief introduction for those not in the know?
What’s up! I produce under the name MTK, hail from Everett, WA, and have been producing now for about 8 years. I’ve worked with a lot of people.
I’ve seen mention of your love of non-rap genres–metal in particular–could you talk about your musical influences and how they informed the early stages of your production?
Every producer, hip hop producers particularly, needs to have a very well rounded appreciation of music. I love metal to this day. I’m not big on blatant genre-mixing, but in terms of drum breakdowns and turnarounds, I learned a LOT from metal, more specifically, Vinnie Paul from Pantera. The way he would break down, turnaround the song, or go into a bridge is second to none to me for metal drummers. People don’t catch that Pantera had a lot of their songs on the blues scales. Dimebag was never formally trained in any of that shit, but he just went with what felt right. Another huge part for me as someone who samples is to truly love, and appreciate the craftsmanship of what you’re sampling. I drive around and bump this music in the whip. I’d rather listen to a record John Fiddy produced than a rap record most days.
Outside of genres though, one of the biggest influences for me in terms of production is what Houston, New Orleans, and Atlanta were doing in the 90s. Guys like Beats by The Pound, Organized Noise, Mannie Fresh, all the way to the Midwest with guys like DJ U-Neek from Bone Thugs. Lower brow hip hop production to me has always been the guys carrying the torch and pushing the envelope, whether it’s through composition on top of samples, or small samples laid throughout a composition, the 808s, everything. Those dudes are my idols just as much as Primo, Pete Rock, and Alchemist.
While you’ve had numerous placements, Victor Shade was a project all your own. Could you talk about how the process of crafting an entire album was different, and if we should expect more work with Ra Scion in the future?
Crafting Victor Shade was an easy process. I had been working with Ra on this and that over the years, whether solo songs for compilations, or coming up with songs for live Common Market sets, he kept me in the loop when he didn’t have to, and I will always be appreciative of that. Coming from that relationship, the creation of the album was easy. Take Boots (Sway) for instance. That was recorded to a completely different beat, and I redid the beat in 45 minutes.
I was literally cooking dinner and doing that beat at the same time. The level of chemistry necessary to do that successfully takes time to develop, and we had it, and still do. I produced the first track on Ra’s new EP, so we’re definitely still working together. As far as doing a new Victor Shade record? I’m open to the idea for sure. “Beg” by Ra off his BegXBorrowXSteal EP was actually the first song we did for VS2. The thing is this though: I could make a million and one hard rock comic book beats, and Ryan can write his ass off. I want to push the envelope in terms of what people would expect from us, and Beg is an example of that. I don’t want to do the same old shit again. How boring is that? Look at how Blue Scholars, Macklemore, and Grynch have evolved, in terms of sound. I know Ra is with the same idea too. It’s just a matter of the timing being perfect for both of us, and getting the proper support necessary to make it worth our time.
Speaking of your numerous placements on both local and national releases, have any been particularly satisfying, and have you forged any working relationships that you’re excited about?
I have a LOT of relationships I’ve built over the last few years. I’d hate to discount one relationship, and tier them off in terms of importance, but the most exciting opportunity so far has been being given the opportunity to work on new projects at Shady. A huge shout out to Dart Parker for giving me a chance, man. I’m excited about everything I work on, though. If I wasn’t excited about it, I wouldn’t do it.
Moving from the music momentarily, you’ve long been a board member of an Adventure Philanthropy organization. Are you still involved with this and, could you shed light on the organization itself and your involvement?
I now operate in more of a consultation role because I honestly just don’t have the time anymore to be ten toes deep in the day to day dealings. The charity is Team Robot House, named after one of our favorite Futurama episodes, and our thing is Adventure Philanthropy. We raise money by doing crazy shit around the world. Our risk threshold as a whole is ridiculous, and we’re comfortable being in high stress situations, me especially.
My role is to fill in the cracks. When you’re operating with a skeleton staff, and it’s your baby, you do whatever needs to be done. I’ve filled out paperwork for hours, bought gas through the Nepalese black market, and had my ass beat by Latvian border patrol because they think I’m a fucking terrorist in order to complete a task. I’ve been through 50-60 countries at this point in my life, and have seen just about everything. We’ve raised over a quarter million dollars in our time, have worked with everyone from the Special Olympics to the Red Cross, and seen everything from a Maoist Coup D’état to a bus full of people fly off a fucking cliff. My car broke down in the middle of the Bengal Jungle for Christ sake. I cherish seeing the good and the bad traveling purely for the fact that it’s rounded out my perspective on life.
To the extent that you’re able to talk about it, what are you working on, what are you excited about, and what should we be on the lookout for?
Man I can’t talk about shit! I’ve worked hard to develop a network that allows me to send beats to whomever I want, outside of the whales like Jay-Z and Kanye. If I start dropping names about who’s recorded to what, and which label loves what, it will make me look like an asshole when that doesn’t come out. I learned my lesson with Mobb Deep and Black Cocaine. I had a lawyer on board, sent my stems to be mixed, and had paperwork on the table with my pay listed, the whole nine. Then my shit never came out, and I thanked P for the opportunity on twitter like a thirsty, crustmouthed shithead not knowing I had got cut! That’s happened with everyone from Nas to Raekwon to Lil Wayne. I say all of that, to say this though: Until that check is cut, and whichever Tuesday they drop rolls around, you can’t say shit. For people who enjoy my work, you can rest assured that I am working harder than ever right now to do exciting new projects, and if everything falls through, I will release it myself.
Fair enough–as far as things you can talk about–what are some recent releases you’ve been a part of?
Honestly it’s more of the same artists I’ve worked with in the past. I did 4 songs on the last Outerspace LP, I did a joint with Obie Trice off his last Whoo Kid mixtape, I did 4 songs on Respect by Fatal Lucciauno, I produced “Wildebeest” for One Be Lo off his L.A.B.O.R. record, I did “Beg” by Ra Scion, I worked with Otayo Dubb and Bwan from Beatrock Music… You can expect new work from Bambu and Prometheus Brown with me, whether solo or as The Bar… a lot of stuff. I’ve co produced songs lately with Mahogany, Vanderslice, ENG, Apple Juice Kid, and some other folks. I got new stuff coming up on the new AOTP record, the new Vinnie Paz solo, the Apathy solo LP, the Apathy and Celph Titled LP, the new Sean Price record.
I released a collection of instruments called “Sophisticated Slap” on my bandcamp last year that Marco Collins was gracious enough to include in his top 10 of 2011 releases… a lot of stuff. That’s the lane I’m comfortable in, but my main focus lately, and for the future, is to start doing projects that people wouldn’t necessarily expect me to do. I’ve made so many beats that are aggressive, I’d like to do something new. I would like to think I can produce diverse vibes of music, but the majority of what gets out to the public is aggressive. If the opportunities don’t present themselves in a reasonable time, I might just say fuck it and put my own record out, whether it’s an instrumental project or I pay a well known rapper to do it with me. I have a lot of options where I’m at right now and it’s just a matter of making the right moves and expanding awareness… whether locally, nationally, or in the European or Asian markets.
Any last words?
Instead of last words, a small rant: Don’t sacrifice the quality of your craft in music to be out and about. It’s counterintuitive. Practice makes perfect. Follow the moves of people that are more successful than you and emulate their practices on a professional level. If someone you want to be like isn’t going out to these shows three times a week, and you’re trying to play catch up, why the fuck are you there? Think of what you spend on booze and weed to kick it with, and how you could invest that more effectively. Establish yourself, be self designed, be self made. If you really wanna get paid, make the kids from Bellevue and Redmond love you. Don’t expect anyone to work for you like you would. 99 Ways to Die by Master P is a classic. To steal something I heard from El Mizell, which he took from something else… “Hip Hop is a low brow/high brow game”. Nobody gives a fuck about someone who does shit extra above average.