DJ Khalil Exclusive Interview
DJ Khalil has been working with Dr. Dre for years. Now, on Eminem’s latest chart-topping release The Recovery, Khalil has production credits on four songs. His success with Aftermath/Shady is enough to qualify Khalil as one of the most preeminent producers in the music industry, but his chops have found their way well beyond Eminem and Dre, and onto hits by Game, Jay-Z, Kweli, and several others.
Originally a sample-based producer, over a decade of collaborating with pro session musicians like Chin and Daniel Tannenbaum has given Khalil a strong love for studio recording. Khalil came up as an artist with Game, and cut his producer teeth on joints by Rass Kas and G-Unit. He met Dr. Dre, first as a 14-year-old aspiring producer, and then, professionally, as the producer behind talented female emcee, “Brooklyn” who Dr. Dre would later sign.
In this exclusive Hit Talk interview, Khalil shares stories about working on “Recovery” with Eminem and Pink, recording with Game, and meeting Dr. Dre. He also shares some valuable insights into the creative process of a very successful producer.
Hit Talk: Thanks for speaking with ModernBeats Hit Talk, and congratulations and respect on Kush. Just read in the press release that it went certified gold.
Khalil: Oh it did? like officially? I didn’t even know that. Cool, thank you.
HT: So, You’ve been really active with Shady/Aftermath; you’ve got four songs on Eminem’s “The Recovery”, including “Won’t Back Down,” with Pink, which was great. Are there any of those that you enjoyed most?
K: Definitely, Man. I loved workin’ on all of ‘em. I’d say probably my two favorite are “Won’t Back Down” and “Almost Famous.”
“Won’t Back Down” for one, went through so many stages to get to the point where we ended up puttin’ Pink on the record. It just started out as an idea. I worked on it with my group, The New Royales. They were sendin’ me ideas from Toronto, and “Won’t Back Down” was one of ‘em. It was just this bluesy rock thing with a hook. And I started puttin’ a beat on it with another producer named Rocky, and then we started puttin’ the track together. The hook originally had Liz [Rodriguez] from The New Royales … and she’s featured on “25 to Life” and “Almost Famous” on Recovery. Em called me and he was like ‘what do you think about putting Pink on this record?’, and I thought it was great call, because she just has that presence, she can do rock, when her voice is still commercial … so she could probably deliver that record.
So they sent me to Malibu to record with her, so I went to Malibu. We went in there, and I coached her through the vocal. … I remember leavin’, [then] Eminem called me, and he was like “How did it sound?” and I was like “Yo it’s crazy, she killed it.”
K: The next day I sent it to him, and Eminem was so happy, he was just hyped, you know cause he already loved the record, and it really turned out. It was such a process but it was dope, ’cause I really got to produce the record.
HT: Right, it’s not like you were just shoppin’ the beat. And they sent you to Malibu? Damn.
K: Yeah, there’s a studio in Malibu that overlooked Santa Monica. It was insane, and she knocked it out really fast. It took her half an hour. Then, not too long after, that they leaked the record (that was one of the first records that leaked) and everyone was shocked, like ‘Pink and Eminem? What’s this gonna sound like?’ It was just really different, it caught people off guard, but people really loved it.
HT: Going back a bit, you produced, “Kinda like a Big Deal” for Clipse, and that joint came from Chin’s guitar riffs. Do you prefer working from live performances or from your own ideas, or does it matter?
K: It’s a little bit of both. I love to collaborate with musicians and other producers. It actually helps take my music to another level, ’cause you know you’re bringing your experiences to the table, everybody brings their own perspective.
With that particular track, me and chin we were messin’ around with Guitar Rig II. I make my own patches in Guitar Rig. I made this one patch, and we were making so many samples from it, I would let Chin kinda run and play different riffs ’til I would find something, then I would stop it, then chop it up.
Before, I used to sample from records, but you get killed on the publishing, you know what I mean?
HT: Yeah, definitely.
K: That’s the way I wanna work from now on. I wanna produce records and just collaborate with people. The music comes out so much better that way. It’s worked up to this point. The music is really connecting. That’s the main thing.
HT: So you chopped that up in Recycle, which is a great tool. What do you rewire Reason into?
HT: And what pieces of gear would you consider your most indispensable asset as a producer?
K: Obviously my computer with the software. Reason and Guitar Rig. Guitar Rig is probably my favorite plugin.
K: Yeah Guitar Rig, it changed everything about my production. You can color sound so well with it not only guitars but keyboards, I run vocals through it. You can run auxiliaries with guitar rig and add distortion to vocals. It does so many different things. It has delays and reverbs, and it has its own patches that are really dope. I kill Guitar Rig on everything. I collect a lot of vintage keyboards. I have probably over 20 vintage keyboards that I keep collecting through the years. I run all that stuff through Guitar Rig, and it sounds like I’m sampling it from a record. It’s kinda like a secret weapon, but I know how to use it now, I’ve kinda mastered, you know, so.
HT: So it doesn’t matter if you tell people you’re using it.
K: Yeah, [laughs]
HT: Kush really sounds like a Dr. Dre joint. Did you focus on coming up with something that you knew he and Snoop would love to write verses to?
K: Yeah, well I mean I been a staff producer for Dr. Dre for over 6 years so you know I’ve studied Dre since NWA since CIA since World Class Wreckin’ Cru, you know I probably own every piece of vinyl Dr. Dre has ever produced. I’m a student of Dr. Dre. To me, he’s number one: the greatest hip hop producer, period.
HT: Right, so your style is probably pretty well infused with his already.
K: Yeah, I try to describe my style as a combination of Dr. Dre and Pete Rock. Pete Rock is my other favorite producer, and I really try to combine the two, where you still have the east coast part of it where you have the gritty samples and drums, but you also have the bright synth stuff on top.
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HT: So you were responsible for the hook on “Kush,” correct?
K: Yea, Kobe Honeycutt, he came up with that line, I was just looking for the right time to use it. It was perfect for this record and I remember sending it to Dre, and he sent me a text back saying like ‘this beat is crazy,’ with a bunch of exclamation points on it. So he was really excited about it, it was a dream come true because it was like Dre and Snoop comin’ back and that’s what people have been waiting for. It’s a good buzz record for Dre’s album, kinda brings you back to traditional west coast music, but it’s got a new feel.
HT: We noticed that about it, and as fans we appreciated that. So yo, I wanted to know a bit about how you got started with Dre.
K: I actually met Dre when I was 13 and 14 years old. He was actually at my parents house for my sister’s birthday. I met him there. Me and my brother ended up talking to him for like 45 minutes, and I told him I was going to be a producer like him. So fast forward to 2003, I was making a lot of beats at the time and an artist that he had signed named Brooklyn, she recorded with a lot of my beats along with some other producers. So she ended up getting signed, and Dre wanted to keep the records, you know, he loved the beats. So when I went over there to meet with him, he remembered me from when I was 13.
And he started telling everybody in the studio the whole story about how I told him I was going to be a producer and I was a DJ already and all this stuff so it was like Coming full circle, I was being reconnected again. He was really trippin’ out that I was the one making all these beats.
So we have this history. At the time he just wanted to hear more. He’s like ‘yo do you have more stuff ’cause we’re still workin’ on our project,’ and at the time I had so many beats, I just kept givin’ him CDs of joints and you know after a while, he sat me down and said “Yo, I wanna bring you into the Aftermath family, and sign you.”
K: And that was probably one of the craziest days of my life. I told him ‘I’m ready, I wanna be a part of this.’ He was mixing the first 50 album that day and I sat with him the whole day and watched him mix. He was playin’ some of my beats and he was like ‘yeah I wanna use this for Detox, and this is when I first heard about Detox. It was a really incredible experience, it was surreal.
HT: And it must have been incredible meeting him when you were a kid.
K: Well yeah, now that was crazy cause he’s like my hero. everything that he produced or that he was involved with I bought, I had the vinyl the mix tapes, anything that he had out, I owned it.
HT: And then he shows up at your place for a birthday party.
K: Yeah, [laughs] it was a trip.
HT: I’m comparing the work you’re doing now to what you started out doin’ , when you were doing a lot for G-Unit and Rass Kas. What goes through your mind when you listen back to those songs now?
|K: Man, I can barely even listen to that music. As soon as something comes out, I’m already on to the next thing. That represented a time when I was sampling a lot. I was listening to a lot of records every day. That’s all I would do is just listen. That’s really helped me, though, and now I’m able to pull from all that music I was listening to, and create something new: try to duplicate all the records I listen to.|
I learned everything about production through listening and sampling. Now I feel I can make anything. You could play me a record and I’d be like ‘oh I can reproduce that,’ because I work with a lot of musicians, I surround myself with very talented people, songwriters. I’m able to figure out how to re-create those sounds and make it sound like a sample but it’s actually all original music.
That’s really how it’s changed. Now I really can’t sample. Probably a few months ago I was starting to listen to records again, and I thought “I’m gonna sample something today” and I couldn’t do it. I would rather get together with musicians and try to make something from scratch.
HT: And you can always create something similar in terms of vibe and mood.
K: Yeah, and you know plus I put more changes in the music now, and you know, really try to make compositions more so than just a loop, or a bunch of chops thrown together. Working with musicians has allowed me to actually make music.
HT: Of all those musicians you’ve worked with, who do you think you’ve had the best chemistry with … and maybe you can’t pin it down to one
K: That I’ve actually recorded with? I would say Game, ’cause Game was signed at Aftermath around the time I got signed. We both came up together in terms of going up through the whole Aftermath system. So we developed a really great relationship to where I could call him right now and say “Yo I got this idea.’ and we’ll go in the studio right away. He’s really open, and whatever I bring him, we record it. We have tons of music that’s probably never going to be released. But he’s open to whatever, and I feel like more artists need to be that way, because that’s how you stumble on a hit or a classic.
HT: Thanks very much for talking to Hit Talk.
K: Yeah, thank you.