We interviewed AbJo and talked about his work rate, his fondest musical memories and why “Murder$ in Grandeur” changed everything.
There’s no mistaking the talent of AbJo. His music rarely conforms to labels and is loved worldwide. Nobody needs to know what it’s called as long as they know they can rock out and body movement is always assured. Affiliations with the likes of Potholes In My Blog, Soulection and The Soul Dojo as well as collaborations with MeLo-X, DarkoTheSuper and LAKIM confirm his status as one of the hottest electronic producers around.
In our interview, we touched upon his stature in the game as well as his approach to sampling and his five records that sum up his musical career.
Sampleface: When did you start making beats?
AbJo: Summer of 2006, approaching my last year of grade school/high school. One of the best summers of my young life, haha. I didn’t really get into it until after I graduated, when I finally made my first real production on my first day of the university life, for a rapper I didn’t know at the time…
SF: What sort of music did you listen to growing up?
AbJo: Lots of jazz, classical, and 90’s hip hop. I was into Ludacris, E-40, or G-Unit or Jadakiss and the like, but I was really into anything before 1999. Wasn’t ’til after I had some wisdom and push in the right direction that I discovered I actually liked some hip hop of the new millennium, side from Eminem and Xzibit, which took me a minute to get into. Then, I was a full on fan of the Shady franchise and SAS, haha.
SF: What was the first hip hop track that caught your attention?
AbJo: A Tribe Called Quest’s “Electric Relaxation”, that riff is unforgettable to me. One of my favorite samples of all time, hands down.
SF: Who influences your style?
AbJo: The whole Soulection crew, I’ve entirely allow them to influence and motivate me. We’re just doin’ amazing things right now, I don’t see why not…
SF: You have a pretty prolific output, whether it’s full releases or just Soundcloud tracks. Do you ever feel you’re going too fast and have to take a moment to reign it back in or does it come naturally?
AbJo: I did not too long ago, but now? I think I have a good pace, and it does come naturally, more so now than ever. People say I gave away too much too early. I say, it was the perfect amount to give out for me, if not anyone else, I had that much to say. Now, I’m more precise so to speak, so I put out less, but more complete sounds. Note that I haven’t put out an official release in a minute, though, that’s about to change…
SF: Do you think it is important to have a musical background, whether it be classically trained or just learning an instruments?
AbJo: Nope. I have it, and in some cases, it would make me better than the next producer or beatmaker. But being a producer is more about seeing and hearing the pieces put together in the right place, which only takes a good ear and a passion to make something great. That being said, I think I have both of those covered, but I know plenty of producers with little to no musical background who make awesome music. Technology has changed that paradigm, clearly…
SF: Describe how you approach the making of a track.
AbJo: I never start the same way. That’s pretty much the key there. To keep interested in making a track, the last one and the next one I make can’t sound the same. I’ll start with the drums one time, then the sample, then the synths, either the pads or the leads, and circulate that process over and over. Keeps me on my toes, you know? After that, everything is arbitrary, but it always ends with me tweaking and layering atop what I’ve already laid down.
SF: What equipment and/or instruments do you use?
AbJo: Right now, I’m just using my trusty Yamaha Clavinova (digital upright piano/keyboard) to make beats with and an old M-Audio keyboard to control automation and whatnot. Friends at Native Instruments have managed to hook me up with a couple Traktor controllers to DJ with, though, shout out to Nick and the NI team for that!
SF: If money or availability weren’t an object, what piece of equipment would you want in your studio the most?
AbJo: The finest studio monitors (and if money were no object, a boss audio interface to play them off of) that money could buy. Haven’t really looked that up yet, but Genelec’s or Dynaudio’s would be the way to go.
SF: Do you feel that your method / approach to sampling has changed over the years?
AbJo: Maybe a little, but for the most part, I’ve adapted my process of sampling to every kind of music I like to make.
AbJo: I do, but I always remember we’re just one installation in the whole paradigm of electronic music, so though we like to say we’re “the sound of tomorrow” (which I truly believe we are), we’re just a scoop of all that is new and brilliant in the electronic music scene.
SF: It’s hard to pick a favourite track but do you have a monumental track in your career so far that still means a lot to you?
AbJo: Haha, it really is hard to say which track really had an impact on me, but right now, the “Murder$ in Grandeur” track kinda changed everything for me. I made it overseas in France after consciously gathering inspiration to basically start anew with my music-making. It was a new year (2013) and I wanted to be a new AbJo, and since making that track, I entered a new space for making music I was both excited and oddly familiar with at the same time, if you can believe it…
SF: Do you have a favourite album that you have produced?
AbJo: I have two, actually, and one of them is about to get released on Blu’s New World Color imprint, called The Holyfield, with my man Real J. Wallace from here in San Diego. The other is with his longtime bandmate Bam Circa ’86, an album we’re putting out on our own called “Trilly & Truly”…
SF: Sum your musical career up in 5 records that aren’t your own and why?
AbJo: 1) The Roots “Act Too (Love Of My Life)” – The Roots are why I’m here, simply put. I’m a musician (drummer, keyboardist, violinist) and a card-carrying hip hop member, and they fit my whole aesthetic for how music of my generation should be made. This song reads like the story of my life in a way, I’ve always identified with it…
2) Common “Nag Champa” – I wanted to be Common when I didn’t wanna be Questlove (which is technically never), because as a rapper, he’s still an anomaly in the game as far as I’m concerned. He’s not a rapper to me, he’s a poet with the innate ability to make a rhythm out of his prose in this uncannily swinging and piercing delivery he’s had since he started blowing up. Also, I think I sound like him when I rap, haha. In any case, this song is why Common is one of the best to me, and it’s easily my most favorite Dilla production…
3) The Pharcyde “Runnin'” – ATCQ’s “Electric Relaxation” could be here just as well, but this is the song that really got me into hip hop, and into music in general. It was the first time, as a kid, I remember hearing hip hop, even though I know I had heard plenty of it before. It was all about identifying with something, and I couldn’t with Dre, The Dogg Pound, or Masta Ace or The Alkaholiks. But I could with The Pharcyde somehow, and this song is why I’m into hip hop at all. Arguably my favorite hip hop song, and my favorite chord progressions, ever…
4) Nujabes “Beat Laments The World” – Nujabes, not Dilla, changed my life. Before I discovered J Dilla (or rather, before I knew Dilla had produced some of my favorite tracks of all time), I discovered Nujabes, like a lot of people I know did. I’m an anime head, and aside from the anime, the soundtracks have always been my favorite parts of them. Nujabes’ music, and the music he’s made with all the artists he collaborated with, inspired me to make music the way I felt like making music, the way I feel about making it now; with quiet, but palpable passion, and without boundaries. This track says all of that to me. Such a dope song…
5) Outkast “Reset” – When I can’t name my favorite song at the time, I say it’s “Reset”, and I mean it every time. “Start over again/everything happens for a reason/good doesn’t come without pain…” And the song starts, and it’s perfection, the whole way through. Wisdom is something I yearn for like I hunger for sustenance, if you’ll allow me to speak semantically, and this track has it in spades. Outkast, whether it’s just Big Boi or just 3000, is always laying down the wisdom. I live by that hook, and Cee-Lo’s verse is one of the most profound verses I’ve heard…
SF: Do you think some of the EDM elements currently infused in mainstream hip-hop production takes away from hip-hop’s essence?
AbJo: Yes, and no. Hip hop music is equal parts Pete Rock and Planet Rock to me. We need the crazy synth and drum machine work as much as the Ahmad Jamal and Eddie Kendrick sample chopping to make it a complete style of music. Those two schools of thought work together, as you’ve seen in my music, and they always will as long as hip hop keeps that open mind that it was born with, you know?
SF: We know you enjoy performing live so what one venue/city/country would you most like to perform in and why?
AbJo: I got a chance to see a show in London, and since then I’ve been meaning to get back to play an ill dance music set out there. You guys over the pond have an appreciation for electronic music I’ve never experienced before, I wanna dive into that whole situation and really get to know the scene out there.
SF: What are your fondest musical memories?
AbJo: All of them are from high school days, band class, after school practice, my prime gigging days playing at jazz clubs/bars, playing for orchestras around town. They’re all kinda jumbled into each other, but those were some of my fondest memories in general. They made me who I am today, cliché as it sounds, haha…
SF: What’s your biggest musical accomplishment and why?
AbJo: I’m not entirely sure, haha! This past year was one big musical accomplishment to me, working with MeLo-X (and now Jesse Boykins III, more on that in the future), aligning myself with Exile and the Dirty Science crew, everything that’s happened because of Soulection; 2013 was my biggest musical accomplishment because I finally feel like I’m AbJo now, and not someone with the name AbJo, making beats and playing sets and what not. AbJo is a real person now, haha…
SF: Favourite label?
AbJo: Stones Throw, hands down. Would say Soulection, but that’s too easy, haha…
SF: Favourite producer and MC?
AbJo: Right now, Mr. Carmack, any other day, Madlib. And Black Thought will always be #1, absolutely…
SF: Who would you most like to work with and why?
AbJo: Mos Def. Because he’s Mos Def. Or Yasiin Bey, I don’t care. As long as he’s still doing Mos Def shit, haha. He’s one of my favorite artists ever, most certainly. Nobody on this planet is like him, and I believe he could take my music to a whole other level without trying.
SF: What are your thoughts on UK Hip Hop and is there anyone in the UK you’d like to work with?
AbJo: I’m still pretty new to UK hip hop, but I’ve heard a handful of dope vocalists from out there. I need to do more diggin’ around, so if you’ve got any suggestions, throw them my way…
SF: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
AbJo: “Just be, my man. Everything else will follow.”
SF: What advice would you give to beginners starting out?
AbJo: Have fun, and don’t ever forget to have fun. Fun is the key to it all. You lose sight of how fun it is, and you lose what makes making music really worth it, plain and simple.
(Main image courtesy of Jaryl Cabuco)