For those of us who may not be enriched hip-hop heads of today’s popular culture scene, it is both refreshing and a tad bit surprising to come across an a dual artist and producer, who although is still making a name for himself, is very much visible. You may or may not know Willie Brown, but you may have heard of Willie B. due to his production skills and talents that can be heard across the board as an in-house producer for West Coast Hip Hop’s Top Dawg Entertainment.
Soultrain.com recently had the opportunity to speak with artist and producer Willie B. about his many talents, how he got started as both an artist and producer, an inside idea of what it’s like to work with the TDE camp, his thoughts on Frank Ocean and hip-hop, his musical aspirations, why he’s a Chief Keef fan, and more.
Soul Train: You’re an artist and producer. How hard or easy is it to balance both titles? On one end you have all of these people who want you to produce for them and on the other end you still want to focus on your music, how hard or easy has it been for you?
Willie B: Its been pretty difficult. You know, I have four artists by default that I have to concentrate on getting records to and their like in-demand artists, but also I have another movement that I work with in New York called Follow the Script. One of the artists is a rap artist named Vito, and the other one is an R&B artist, Charlie McQueen. I’m kind of playing every role with her so I’m songwriting, producing, almost like manager, all of that. As well as concentrating on my own artistry, it is pretty difficult but I manage to do it somehow, but it’s pretty damn difficult. [laughs] The only thing that makes it easy is the fact that I love doing music, so it’s not like ajob job; it’s a job because it’s a priority but it’s not like it’s not satisfying.
Soul Train: So how did you get into producing? Did rapping come first or did producing come first?
Willie B: Yeah, rapping definitely came first. When I was fresh out of high school, I was working with a few guys and the producer that they had working with them, he was making all of these beats for artists. His beats, they were actually good–it’s just that I didn’t feel that they fit where I was trying to go musically so I started making beats and it’s not necessarily that when I started making beats that my beats were better than his, but for where I was trying to go it just fit me better. But of course as time went on my production got way better.
Soul Train: You’re also an in-house producer with Top Dawg Entertainment. TDE has been having a really successful 2012 and even before this year came about. How is it working with TDE? It seems like you all are like a family with a tight-knit chemistry.
Willie B: It’s exactly what you said, it’s a family. I feel like you’re literally working with family, you know what I mean? I don’t feel a way about anybody else. It’s this situation–whether the people who interview us really think this is cliché or not–the interview’s over, with no jealousy, like if someone gets popping more than the other, somebody gets more records popping, you know what I mean? It’s none of that, it’s just a family competitive environment over there. It’s like if Soundwave does something crazy it’s going to kind of make me go back and do something crazier. Same thing with Kendrick and all of them, that’s just how it is. Sometimes they’ll hear some of my stuff and be like, “Damn,” and it’ll inspire them to do something. The creative energy over there is all mutual, it’s a thin vibe, no malice over there.
Soul Train: So going back into that, how is it working with four different artists with four different styles? Kendrick sounds a little different than Jay Rock, Ab-soul, and Schoolboy Q. How is it working with all four of them knowing that they all have different styles?
Willie B: Well it’s kind of challenging. A lot of times I’ll bring beats over there, Tae Beast will bring beats, Soundwave will bring beats, and it’s like we’ll bring beats specifically tailor-made for some people but then the other artists will pick it. That’s just how it goes. It’s crazy! For example, “Poe Man’s Dream,” when I made that, I didn’t necessarily make it for Kendrick. I made it for Ab-soul but Kendrick heard it and made a song to it, so it just happens that way. To answer your question, it’s not really difficult, it’s not a difficult situation to work with all four of them. It’s kind of challenging because it makes you figure out their styles so you can be able to make certain records and say “Oh I know Schoolboy is going to kill this” or “I know Jay Rock is going to kill this.” For example, “B**ch, I’m Thuggin” record that Jay Rock did, that was originally for Schoolboy but Jay Rock ended up taking it. That’s just how it works.
Soul Train: Obviously you’re a great producer and an artist still making a name for yourself. Artists have to be picky about who they work. Producer-wise, are you picky or careful about who you produce for, or will you work with anybody still?
Willie B: Honestly, that’s kind of a trick question because I’m definitely picky on who I work with. I’m just going to be real honest you, if I’m not too hot on somebody’s music like that and we don’t have a relationship, then I’m going to want some money [laughs]. You know what I mean? If you’re really dope and I really believe in you then I don’t mind getting you records and then collecting on the backend or if something happens. But for the artists where it’s like [ugh], and we don’t have a relationship, I mean I would even halfway work with artists where I have a relationship with the artist but where I can try to really mold something out of one or two records or something, because I’ve done it before. But it’s one thing when they just hit me up on some “How can I get a beat from you?” and then I hear their music and I’m like “Okay cool, I kind of need some money,” you know what I mean?[laughs].
Soul Train: Back in January you released Ichiban: Sound in 3D which was really well received. Can you tell us some more about this project?
Willie B: Okay, so this is the thing [laughs]. We’re re-leasing it. It’s going to be a lot of the same beats, it’s just that the end of the beat tape has “Rigamortis” instrumental and then one of my songs which is called “SL3.” It’s not going to have “SL3″ on there anymore, it’s going to have “Rigamortis” instrumental, and then it’s going to have “Black Lip Bastard” instrumental, and then it’s going to have another song that’s going to kind of be the kick-off or the jump-off to everybody knowing that I’m an artist, and that song is called “The Ichiban Don.” I think “SL3″ is a great record. I actually shot a visual for it and the visual is kind of crazy. We’re going to release the visual shortly as well. “The Ichiban Don” record is probably the record where I can honestly say I think that everybody will see that scary world. Everybody that I have ever played it for has been like “wow,” so when it comes out eventually it fits the whole realm of Ichiban that I’m trying to put out there. So it’s going to be re-released very soon, like in the next couple of weeks. This is going to be the second attempt. It’s going to be on iTunes this time, a lot easier to download, that type of stuff. So that’s what the news is about the tape, so it will definitely be re-released before mid-August.
Soul Train: Who are some of your musical influences as an artist and as a producer?
Willie B: J. Dilla, Just Blaze, Dr. Dre, Mad Lib, Tae Beast and I’m not just saying him because he is my homie, he really does influence me. Another producer, Jansport J, I love their producing and sound–they’re so dope to me–and Terrence Martin. This dude who kind of taught me everything I know, his name is Chordz, he’s from a camp called D.R.U.G.S. Basically there would be no Willie B. if it wasn’t for Chordz. That’s what a lot of people don’t know, that’s who I came up with. Seige Monstracity, 1500 or Nothing, those are big influences production-wise. Artist-wise, Nas, that was like my first favorite rapper ever, A Tribe Called Quest, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Jay-Z of course. Stevie Wonder, Ahmad Jamal…I love Ahmad Jamal…Kurt Elling, my great uncle Clifford Brown, Lonnie Liston Smith, Shirley Bassey.
Soul Train: Where do you see yourself in the future as a producer and artist, let’s say three to five years from now?
Willie B: Three to five years from now, I kind of see myself…What I’m trying to be, I’m trying to be like the male Missy Elliott, basically. It was like, Missy did everything and nobody could put her in a box; she produced, she rapped, she sang, she’s a songwriter. That’s what I’m trying to do. That’s why I’m going so hard with our R&B artist Charlie McQueen, because I’m on one of her records and they are real soulful R&B slash pop, whatever you want to call it. When you hear her records you wouldn’t even think I wrote those songs. So that’s the creative level I want to be at: Hip-hop advocate how people looked at J. Dilla but at the same time how people looked at Missy. That’s exactly where I see myself three to five years from now.
Soul Train: That’s cool! So with whole TDE/Aftermath/Interscope deal, would that opportunity give you a little more leeway to work with more artists in addition to TDE?
Willie B: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. It definitely would and it definitely has, as a matter of fact. That affiliation goes a long way in this industry.
Soul Train: Any artists that you can tell us you’ve been working with?
Willie B: Um… I kind of want to keep that on low, kind of want to keep that a little low.
Soul Train: As you know, Frank Ocean recently responded to speculation about his sexuality. In today’s society it’s either accepted or it’s not accepted, and in hip-hop culture it’s not even addressed. He received both backlash and support. What are your thoughts about its reception in hip-hop in general?
Willie B: Hip-hop is a pretty testosterone-driven culture. Even when it comes to the females, not saying the females are manly or anything, but even with rapping, it’s very masculine. Rapping is a very masculine type of art and basically how I feel about it, I have no problem with his sexuality, that’s his business. I don’t think it takes away from his talent. I think he’s a very talented dude, I think he’s very good at what he does. It’s not a situation where him coming out is affecting whether I purchase his music or not, if he wrote another tight song, I’d probably still say “Oh that’s a badass song.” The songs that I related to before that made me think of women, because I’m a hetereosexual [laughs], so songs that made me think of women, I’m going to keep thinking of those songs in that light. His new songs, whether they are good or not, I’m not going to lie I’m a human it would make me question what he’s talking about, but if it’s a good song, it’s a good song. At the same time I don’t know how I would feel about a new song. You know what I mean? I don’t know if this is how Frank Ocean fans feel or the people that were talking about him. For example, I love “Novacane.” It was so dope and I don’t have a problem still bumping that record because that record reminded me of a woman that I knew at the time. So I’m always going to think of a woman when I hear “Novacane,” but I don’t think his sexuality should take away from his talent though.
Soul Train: So what’s next for Willie B.?
Willie B: What’s next for Willie B.? A lot of TDE records, possibly a rap album within a year. You’ll definitely see more visuals from me for sure, more beat showcases, special appearances, things like that. Definitely a New York move, I’m trying to make that happen within the next year. I’m definitely going to move to New York or the East Coast for sure. Other than that just putting out work with my team TDE and the movement that I have in New York called Follow the Script. Say for example I’m Kanye West, TDE is Rockafella and Follow the Script is G.O.O.D. Music. Kanye is still RocNation, Rock-A-Fella, Def Jam–that’s who he deals with but he still has G.O.O.D. Music which is like his home aside from being signed to Roc. That’s just so you can understand the other movement I work with, that’s what it is.
Soul Train: There is a slew of West Coasts artists coming up right now. How do you feel about the direction of the West Coast movement right now?
Willie B: I think it’s good. As far as where TDE is taking it, I like what TDE is doing with it because that’s just the type of music I like to listen to. I know a lot of music coming out of the West Coast is kind of like party, ratchet music is what they like to call it. Just being honest, I’m not too hot on ratchet music but I will say this: There are a couple of artists that if they were to continue to make that type of music, they would be the only artists that I would really say, “You know what, I don’t [mind] them making that music.” [Artists like] Skeme, Problem, and emphasis on Problem. I think Problem makes the best ratchet music. He’s the only one where I can actually listen to it, he’s not just saying anything, he’s actually rapping. I could really listen to Problem’s ratchet music, it’s hella ratchet, don’t get it twisted, but like I said that dude can rap. That’s what I appreciate about his ratchet music, it’s dope. Him, Skeme, I actually like Joe Moses, but that’s pretty much it I don’t listen to no one else’s ratchet music [laughs]. Just Problem, Skeme, YG and Joe Moses and that’s pretty much it.
Oh just to add, I’m a huge fan of Chief Keef right now. He’s like Lil B to me and I love Lil B, too, those are like my guilty pleasures. You know we make so much thinking music in TDE so sometimes we just don’t feel like thinking. So I appreciate the extreme opposite music he makes. But I’m a Chief Keef fan. At first, I was like what is this, then “I Don’t Like” became so embedded and then I was like, I can’t get enough of this song! When I heard “300,” I was sold. I know that’s odd after talking about J. Dilla. I’m an R&B-head, really a jazz-head. I like jazz more than I like rap–I don’t even like hip-hop as much as I like jazz. I listen to jazz more than anything elseI’m really about jazz and R&B; hip-hop is just a culture that I grew up in so it’s just kind of second nature to me.
Be sure to keep up with The Ichiban Don, Willie B. on twitter @IchibanWillie and at www.ichibandon.com.
Danielle Turner is a Southern California-based music writer with a passion for sharing new and upcoming artists through R&B and Hip Hop to the everyday music junkie. As a contributing writer for Soultrain.com and a columnist at TheWellVersed.com she has always combined her love of writing and music to create a formula for doing what she loves and loving what she does. You can always find Danielle via Twitter @thisisdanielle.