L.T. mOE: The Right Risks
Making beats with heavy, hit-worthy swagger has become a revered trade. Everyone wants to apprentice, to hit it lucky, to somehow maneuver their way into the heart of the game. It’s not easy, and it’s often costly. So what kind of risks should you take if you want to produce hit music? What about dropping everything and moving to Atlanta with nothing but untested talent and an MPC? Now that’s a big risk; but it’s a risk that has garnered an impressive payoff for Cleveland-born, Atlanta-based producer, L.T. mOE (Todd Moore). In the fashion of fellow MPC-wielding wizards like Just Blaze and DJ Premier, L.T. is thumping those big gray trigger pads to the beat of his own fresh style, influenced by artists from every corner of the musical world. With several auspicious credits under L.T.’s belt - including Ludacris, Scrappy, Ghostface, and many other very respectable acts - it seems only a matter of time before this producer launches one of his songs to the top of the charts. But how did he get this far? Did he just walk up to some A&R rep and introduce himself? Well… sometimes, it really is that simple.
Hit Talk: So you’re from Cleveland originally?
L.T. mOE: Yep, Cleveland Ohio.
Hit Talk: Now you’re in Atlanta: very big, very competitive scene for hip hop producers. You’re producing for the Dogg Pound, Ludacris, Ghostface, Lil Scrappy… so how did you make it as far as you’ve made it?
L.T. mOE: Takin’ a risk: takin the right risk. I didn’t have anything to lose. So I came down here on a wish and a prayer.
HT: So you didn’t have much of an idea of what you were getting into?
LT: I had a mission set out. I had a plan set out for when I came down, but as far as who I was going to execute that plan with, I had no clue. Because I knew nobody. I had no meetings set up; nothing like that. [When] I came down I just hit the pavement and went for it.
HT: Who did you end up executing that plan with?
LT: My current manager, my manager to this day, a guy that goes by the name of Zeek. He’s currently an A&R at Disturbing Tha Peace Records, but I met him at Def Jam South, which was kind of doubling as Disturbing Tha Peace’s office back in 2002.
HT: Did you just walk in and say hello?
LT: Yeah pretty much. I just walked up, went to the security desk, and asked where the Def Jam office was at, she told me where it was at, I walked up there and knocked on the door. That was pretty much it.
HT: When you say taking the right risks, what are the right risks?
LT: Well the right risks in general… [If you say to yourself,] “Yeah I think I’m'a go out here and rob a bank,” that’s not the risk you wanna take. But “I’m going to take a trip and see if I can build a contact network, and get some contacts and build some relationships, to possibly further my career in production,” that’s a risk that’s cool to take, you know what I’m saying? (laughs)
You’ve gotta weigh out the pros and cons and you’ve gotta ask yourself whether you’re willing to accept the worst case scenario. If the answer is “no,” then don’t do it.
HT: A lot of your production sounds reminiscent of DJ Premier’s work, but a lot of it is more experimental, almost like Dilla. Is that on purpose?
LT: It’s funny you say that because the two producers in mainstream Hip Hop that influenced me to really go ahead and put the foot forth as far as production was DJ Premier and DJ Quick. Those two producers right there were severely influential in my making beats for production.
HT: It comes through in your work. Now what would you say to someone who was trying to come up with a solid, yet diverse style like yours?
LT: It depends on what direction you’re trying to go in with your production. If you’re trying to do pop music (like extreme pop) I’d seek out the most successful artist and albums, and I would go down the list and see who the most consistent producers are on each of those albums and I would go study their work.
If you want to get into Hardcore to-the-roots Hip Hop, then I would go study Primo. West Coast music, I would study Quick. And I would study Dr. Dre, Battle Cat, South Music. I would study, know what I’m sayin, Mr. DJ, The Dungeon Family, Outkast, Lil Jon, that type of stuff: it depends on which direction you want to go.
HT: But in any case, study the masters. Is that how you’ve developed, by studying the masters, or do you have any formal training?
LT: Nah, I just study the masters. I didn’t really start doing music until I graduated high school. So you’ve gotta take into consideration I had from kindergarten until after high school, of studying. So, you know, when I finally went ahead and started doing music, everything that I had studied and that I had gravitated towards kinda bled out of me, if you will. You hear Premier in my production; you hear that Primo influence because I listened to a lot of Primo comin’ up.
Learn to Produce
Submit to TV/Labels
HT: So you’ve had a listener’s experience of those artists.
LT: Yeah, so I kinda absorbed it, and when I create, it comes out.
HT: So on your own assessment, where would you say you are right now in your career, you’ve had a lot of placements with a lot of huge names, but do you think you’ve got a ways go before you hit your peak?
LT: I have a severe ways to go … I would say I’m about maybe a fourth up the ladder.
HT: What are your next moves? How do you get all the way up the ladder?
LT: I’m kinda multitasking right now. While I’m still maintaining the production…, I’m [still] sending out records, building more contacts and more relationships with the A&R at major labels and while doing that, I’m trying to land a smash record with one of these major artists, but at the same time - while I’m doing that - I’m currently working my group, The Plague Co.
It’s a lot of, I don’t know what you want to call it, it’s a lot of brackets and branches. So we work … on the independent level because if you look at like producers like Timbaland and Dr. Dre, big iconic producers, they started out with an artist. They didn’t necessarily get a mainstream hit first, they started out with their own camp.
HT: And that’s what The Plague Co. is for you.
LT: Yeah The Plague Co. is like my NWA, or what Missy Elliot was to Timbaland, and so on and so forth.
HT: I wanted to ask you about that - The Plague Co. are obviously talented, but they’ve still got a ways to go, how do you plan on getting them more recognition?
LT: Right now … I’ve got a couple more placements comin’ on where I’m going to play tracks and records for a couple folks. I’m plannin’ that I land a smash on a mainstream artist. Doing that, I’m going to get my name to where it needs to be so that the world will listen to whatever it is I have to say or whatever it is I’m gettin’ behind. [It’s] kind of like Kanye West’s situation: he didn’t have a group, he was just himself, but he had hits on JayZ and whoever else. He had a bank of hit records already piled up.
So when he decided to come out, everybody’s ear was to the street: “Oh what is he about to say?” He was already a household name.
HT: So you’re hoping that some of your own image helps out with The Plague Co. The Plague Co. image is a bit darker. Do you think they’re taking a risk with having that kind of an image?
|LT: Yeah everything’s a risk, everything you do in life is a risk, every step you take is a risk. But you know, I look at it like it’s something different. They’re not especially mainstream. Nobody in the mainstream is doing that. As far as I was concerned, it’s kind of reminiscent of when Wu Tang came out, but it’s a little bit more focused on the dark side.
If I could could describe the Plague with one word, I would say “Gothic.” They’re a Gothic interpretation of Hip Hop. That’s actually just that one project: The Plague Co. EP. We’ve got other projects. The next one we’re putting out is called The Black Supervillain Music. And that one right there is completely left field of the first project you listened to.
HT: They’re switching it up?
LT: Yea, yea … you never know what will come out from my partners the Plague Co. You get the dark stuff like the first project you listened to, but this one, like I said, is extremely left of that. It’s extremely colorful, there’s a lot of melody involved.
HT: I’ve listened to a lot of the stuff you’ve done. The mood and feel of your beats is quite versatile. Where does that diversity come from?
LT: I was a diverse fan of music. Like I said, it started when I was young. I didn’t start making music till after I graduated high school. My mother, she used to play Earth Wind and Fire, Chaka Khan, Teena Marie, Tempations and Diana Ross, then I come into my own and I’m listening to GangStarr and Spice 1, NWA, WuTang Clan… I’m gettin’ it from all angles.
HT: Your Lil Scrappy tune, Chop it Up, shows some of that diversity. It’s a pretty unique, dark beat. How does Lil Scrappy end up choosing a beat like that?
LT: Word, as far as the production on it, I wanted to kind of infuse the South drums … how the average South beat moves, and play dark keys on top of it: you know, create something different. Actually, Scrappy was there while I was making the beat.
HT: Did he steer it? Did he ask you to take it in a specific direction, or did he just watch?
LT: Nah, he just watched and said “yea I like that.” He didn’t even give me a chance to finish the beat, actually. I had to go back in and do some stuff to the beat after he laid his verses to it, because he wanted to start rappin’ immediately. I was like “friend, let me finish!”
HT: When you’re working with other rappers like Ludacris, do they often work with you on your music, or are you mostly shopping beats?
LT: Most cases, me, I’m sending the music out, and I’m getting called. But every once in a while I get in. I’ve been going in a lot with Scrappy. And another up-and-comer artist by the name of Shonie: she’s signed to Slip and Slide/Def Jam. I went in with her. I’ve been in the studio with Freeway, Mace, Chingy. I’ve actually been in the Studio with Ludacris, Dr. Dre, Stat Quo.
HT: You probably would prefer working with them in the studio as opposed to shopping the beats out?
LT: Yeah, I prefer studio. We can communicate. When you send a beat out, that kind of eliminates the lines of communication. It’s like “alright I’m going to take this shot in the dark and send this beat out. Hopefully he likes it or hopefully she likes it,” as opposed to being in the studio while it’s being created, you can kind of bounce ideas off eachother.
HT: Now when you’re sending your beats out who are you sending them to? Record company A&R?
LT: Sometimes A&R, sometimes we have direct contacts with the actual artist. It depends. It’s kind of like half and half, I’m not gonna lie.
HT: We wanted to ask about “I’ll Be That” by Ghostface, featuring Adrienne. On a song like that, where the production is so tightly synched with the voice, what comes first? The vocals or the beat?
LT: Actually, that beat came first and then what I did with that beat, I sent it off to a good friend of mine by the name of Krystal: her writer name is Tyte Writer. I sent that beat to her. She actually wrote that hook, and then she sung it and came up with the vocal and sent it back to me.
HT: So you came up with the beat first, sent it to Tyte Writer, and she wrote a custom vocal line over top of it.
LT: Yeah, or sometimes you know if we’re in the studio together - whoever it is I’m working with - I’ve had situations where somebody shows me a song they’ve written, but with no beat to it, and I build the beat around the song, so it goes both ways.
HT: In a case like that, do you split royalties between yourself and the songwriter?
LT: If they write the whole song, like lyric for lyric, verse, hook, whatever. If every lyric is written by them, then it’s a 50/50 split. In that case right there with “I’ll Be That,” I get 50 percent for the beat, and then my friend is entitled to 15 percent for writing the hook.
HT: What’s the best advice you can think of to give to aspiring producers?
LT: Get on the internet, and research and study and learn - everything that you can possibly learn about publishing. Mechanical, and performance royalties, all of that stuff - everything under the publishing umbrella. That’s your pension.