Preach interviews 88-Keys: “Keys Open Doors”

*note: this interview was done a while ago for vapors magazine and it didn’t make the issue it was suppose to be in. i found it in my email and thought it was such a great interview that i’ll share it. we did this interview right before the release of his album ‘the death of adam.’ enjoy’
Keys Open Doors: A one-on-one with 88-Keys
There’s a difference between being birthed and being born. Of course there’s that day we all go through in the delivery room, but there’s also a moment when you arrive. When your purpose becomes inevitably clear. For producer 88-Keys the calling came early in his life. “When it comes to making beats, I wouldn’t consider it a process. That’s too big of a word. It’s like saying what’s your process for walking and breathing. To me it’s so natural,” 88-Keys confesses while having downtime from promoting his upcoming album “The Death of Adam.”

The New York native talks about his concept album that’s about a subject that drives the majority of the male population. Yes, the ‘p’ word. It may seem a crude of a subject, but 88 assures that there’s more to the story than just the chase of the tang. “The album is about the power that the vagina has over everyone. It’s a strict story line that follows through Adam. His journey, his plight to get some.”

88’s passion for the project is apparent when speaking as he explains that it’s the passion that made him decide to put an album out after so many years. Once slated to be released under the BBE’s ‘Beat Generation’ series, Keys found out early that mishaps are bound to happen as industry politics kept it from coming out. We speak about that debunked project as well as talk about his relationship with one of our generation’s greatest producers, Jay Dee. “Dilla actually hooked me up with BBE. He came to NY and I took him record shopping and we dug for samples together. I met up with the people from BBE, and they gave me a portion of my advance in good faith and was ready to move forward. But one of the producers apart of the BBE series, I’m not gonna name names, made off with over 100k so that led to my project not getting made.”

Due to his unfortunate events with his would-be album debut, along with two other opportunities that fell through, could have been some of the reasons 88 rejected Kanye West’s offer to executive produce his project at first. Eventually Kanye, who is the godfather of 88’s kids, eventually gave him a change of heart.

“I’ve been close friends with Kanye since 2000. So, when I met up with him to let him hear the songs off the project, I was just happy that as a friend and colleague that he enjoyed the music. While I was playing the music for him, I was totally not keeping in mind that this was the biggest musician in the world giving me props. At first when Kanye wanted to executive produce it, I didn’t want to do it. The album was two years in by the time he heard the songs, and it was a story, so for anything to be taken out or rearrange would screw itup,” 88 admits as the issue with the album cover changed things. “I worked on the album artwork with the Decon artist, but there were things that I wanted to change. The label was getting frustrated with me thinking that I was taking too much time worrying about the cover, but I’m like this is my album! It has to be right. Kanye asked me where the label’s office was and he was like ‘let’s go.’ At the time when I wanted something added to the cover, it was a big deal, but Kanye had them change it and make it right in seven-minutes. Kanye told me that he wished he could put out my album so he could have my cover alone. It’s like what he told me about Jay-Z. Jay would say ‘you like my song?’ and ‘Ye would respond ‘yea.’ But then Jay would ask ‘but are you jealous? Are you mad that you didn’t make this?'”

Hanging with one of biggest artists on the planet has its perks, and that may have sealed the deal letting ‘Ye put his touches on the album as well as being featured on the first single “Stay Up (Viagra).” But don’t get it twisted, 88-Keys doesn’t get geeked over acclaim, the music is always first.

“When I first got started, I used to try and hustle my beats but the fish weren’t biting. It became more and more frustrating. I’ve been doing beats half my life. I know nothing else. This is how I pretty much set my life up; there’s no plan-B for me. I was getting tired of the whole industry thing. A&R reps asking for a copy of the beat cds, setting up meetings and when the artists come out I’m nowhere to be found in the credits. I couldn’t figure it out, and eventually I said I didn’t want to figure it out. I eventually started to focus on myself and it became the right thing to do. It’s like now, there’s two major figures in music, when I say major I mean millions of records sold, and it maybe a wrong turn, but felt empowering for me to tell them I can’t do that right now. It’s a lesson that I learned from Dilla.”

For those that don’t know, Dilla was the Detroit producer that is credited for being of the pioneers in creating the sound that is coined as neo-soul, or as beat-makers call a ‘drum god.’ Being your favorite-producer’s producer, many people wonder why he didn’t get placements on more commercial acts projects before his untimely passing in 2006. 88-Keys tells a story about Dilla being a producer cared about the art before financial gain.

“I remember when me and Dilla would trade our beat cds back and fourth, and I would say to him ‘let me shop these for you. You gotta be heard.’ I mean, I had connects to possibly get him on Jada, Fabulous-whoever’s record, and he would shrug his shoulders and be like ‘if you want.’ One person in particular, a major figure in the game, wanted two beats off of Dilla cds. They asked me to ask Dilla to put the song in a traditional format. You know, the 8-bar hooks, 16-bar verses, etc. I told Dilla, and it was the first time I’ve ever seen him flip out. He was like, ‘Fuck that! Tell them to suck my dick! I put my shit together the way I do, I have fun with my shit. You know what, when I give you beat tapes from now on, this is for your ears only.’ He told me, ‘when you let them tell you how to do beats, you shouldn’t be doing beats anymore.’ Now, I understand what he meant. I internalized that.”

88-Keys seems to be going in the right direction. Now, with a song bumping on Hot 97, without any payola or major label backing, Funkmaster Flex recently declared that “this is the album that needs to be heard.” If that’s not a sign of true hope in hip-hop, I don’t know what is. But for 88, it’s nothing surprising. “I’m pretty confident in my stuff because I know I’m trying to hit people with music that’s very visual. I’m not worried about competition, right now I’m worried about me. When I stop having fun is when I shut down. I think hip-hop has a bright future ahead of itself. The support has been tremendous, but I’m not as shocked as the people around me. If you follow God’s words, they’ll lead to the promise land. I’ve never got involved with illegal activity, never worked a 9-to-5, but opportunities come and I manage to stay afloat. That’s enough proof for me that I’m doing the right thing.” -PJ