Drake’s Producer Noah “40” Shebib Explains How They Created Their Sound and Most Personal Records
With all talks of Take Care’s leak aside, Drake’s second full-length album can’t come any sooner. The reason Take Care is so sonically pleasing, filled with warm and deep spiritual remnants of R&B, is this partnership between Drake and his producer, Noah “40” Shebib. His blueprint is all over the album, crafting a sound that is dramatic, moody, and somber for Drake to paint clever pictures of his life. 40 to Drake is like Young Guru to Jay-Z; an engineer/producer/rapper combo that doesn’t quit at making immaculate music.
In an recent interview with GQ, the 28-year-old from Toronto reveals the backstories on some of Drake’s most famed and personal songs, as well as sharing classic tastes in R&B. A close friend and responsible for one-half of Drizzy’s music, 40 also reveals their first meeting and introducing his sound to him. –Eric Diep
When the two initially connected musically:
Good call, what was the Aha moment? We musically connected first with R&B. So, it was a couple years we had worked together and I think when he started venturing into R&B, the first one was “Brand New” which I didn’t actually write, D10 wrote the beat for it, but I worked heavily with them and helped him produce the record. As far as me and Drake were concerned, we started experimenting with other songs that were very R&B. I think, you know, “Successful” was the most significant turning point where he took one of my beats and worked on it, and that as well as the Shoe Still in a Vegas moment where we discovered that sound, that abstract world we were taking rap music to, between me and him, and that was all pretty transparent. The crazy thing about Drake‘s career is it happens quickly. “The Motto,” a new single he leaked on the Internet, I finished mixing 48 hours ago. That song was created last weekend. The immediacy of how fast we create the music and it goes to the world, that’s never happened before, ever. That’s the result of technology. There’s a transparency there where as soon as we discover the sound, the rest of the world heard it. It happened very quickly. The timeline is laid out in the releases.
Sharing similar tastes in R&B influences: Noah "40" Shebib:
I could go on forever, you know? I had a very distinct taste for R&B music, growing up listening to it my entire life and I love producing it first and foremost. It was everything from SWV and Jon B to Silk and Playa and any you could possibly think of. Even Tank, that intro off Sex, Love, and Pain, that kind of slow R&B vibe that lasts, somehow a line came out of “Best I Ever Had.” We’re always surrounding ourselves with music like that. Even on Take Care you’ll see a lot of ’90s R&B samples, you know? A lot of different artists from the R&B world of the ’90s—we’re trying to keep that prominent, like the last album with the Aaliyah stuff. I’ve been an Aaliyah fan since I was a kid—me and my sister—so that stuff comes up as well. That Timbaland/Ginuwine era, too.
The point 40 introduced his sound to Drake:
We star ted working together strictly on an engineer/artist basis. I didn’t step forward with my stuff for a very long time. We’d dabble here and there, but that wasn’t my place. What happened for me was I didn’t know what—I was tired of hearing a Jermaine Dupri record and going home and trying to make a beat like that and make it as good and not understand why I [wasn't] a successful producer. I think you’ll find that in a lot of people’s emotional reactions to the industry, if you have talent and are good at what you do. At some point I stopped producing and focused on engineering before I met Drake because I like the technical aspect of it and being hands-on and the recording and mixing and electrical engineering behind it, like the mathematics. I focused on that. It came to a point where Drake, in summer of 2008, while working on Thank Me Later, which became So Far Gone, but by September we decided let’s make a mixtape and we turned it into So Far Gone between January and December of 2009. That summer, 2008, when we were working on the beginnings of the album-to-be, he was looking for producers and he looked so far and so wide. We must have been listening to thousands of records with him trying to find the answer. Of course, nobody had the answers and we’d come back to the drawing board. And at the end of the day, it was us sitting there, going What do we do next? After a while, I had just said no so many times, there was one option left. I knew what I had to make. I had seen him say no to so many people, there was only one thing left he could say yes to. He said no to everything else in existence. So I started making that one thing that no one else had played yet, and that ended up being So Far Gone.
The story about creating “The Calm” off So Far Gone:
He rapped that story out a couple times. Lyrics can be interpreted as you want, but his life is transparent through his lyrics, and it’s pretty brutally honest and it’s scary how much is there. He explained the story a couple times, briefly about this album. It was a crazy, crazy night. That was when we were living in an apartment building in Toronto, downtown, Apartment 1503 15 Fort York Boulevard. He says 1503, two couches and paintings, and he goes on to talk about that apartment where we did all that music, on the new album. He was distraught one night and showed up with $1,000 worth of champagne and I’m cussing at him because we’re all broke and trying to make this shit work! Meanwhile, he’s renting Phantoms and shit. It’s all documented. He shows up with all the liquor and he’s drinking and we’re trying to start working and he gets into a real argument with his uncle, and he went out on the balcony and started yelling at his uncle and I’d never seen him that distraught or emotionally beat up about something. He just came back in the room and said, I need to rap. Make me something. In 45 minutes, I made “The Calm” and he wrote those bars as I made the beat. Over the next five or six hours, that record unfolded in its entirety.
(Read the full interview at GQ)