Exclusive: Noah ’40’ Shebib Talks Drake’s ‘Nothing Was The Same’, Producing For Nas And The Status Of Aaliyah’s Posthumous LP



Noah “40” Shebib, the producer/engineer who helps sculpt Drake’s atmospheric aesthetics, talks soundtracking Nothing Was The Same and trying to bring Aaliyah back to life

STORY: John Kennedy l PHOTOS: Zach Gold

The scene inside Ontario, Canada’s Metalworks Studios looks like a indoor camp site. There are propped-up tents everywhere. Inside, air mattresses wear warm sheets and comforters while iPads serve as mini TVs. Instead of Porta Potties, there’s a washroom with a no-entry sign on the door—its shower reserved for guests of October’s Very Own. The release of Drake’s Nothing Was The Same is two months away so it’s officially crunch time, which means no one is going home. Noah “40” Shebib, the Quincy to Drake’s MJ, is orchestrating his own circle of Hit Men, from in-house talent like Majid Jordan, PARTYNEXTDOOR and Nineteen85 to extended family like Boi-1da and Detail, to put the finishing lacquer on Drake’s strongest body of work yet.

“I’m like the militant general of the army—I live there and command my fucking army of interns and assistants and engineers,” says 40 of his recording boot camp. “We would pass out at 8, 9, 10 a.m., wake up, go to the breakfast bar, hop in the shower. Our creative processes at the end of albums are intense. People were pretty shaken up, like holy fuck.”

Shebib became the phantom face behind Drake’s moody aesthetics after hearing his music on the radio in Toronto rapper Jelly’s condo basement back in 2005. “I looked at Jelly like, ‘Yo I gotta find this kid. He’s fucking unbelievable,’” he remembers. “We connected and I instantly realized that he knows how to make music, he’s not scared of melody. I think he found in me, too, that I always did something different.”

In embracing their sonic otherness, the tag team has become the center of the music’s nucleus, especially as Drake and 40 have outdone themselves with Nothing Was The Same, VIBE’s top pick of 2013. Here, 40 gives the lowdown on his contributions to the album, the greatness that is Cam’ron, and why Aaliyah’s posthumous album failed to launch.

VIBE: With its beat progressions, “Tuscan Leather” opens Nothing Was The Same in an epic way. How much time did you spend on the intro?
Noah “40” Shebib: “Tuscan Leather,” that’s where I came from. That’s what I used to make—not to say it’s not a blatant Heatmakers/Dipset beat [laughs]. I love taking shit and flipping it. There’s nothing I can’t do. Literally. I’m not trying to be a facetious asshole, but I’m serious. If I can think of it from an acoustical standpoint, I can most likely achieve it. It’s like a magic trick; people are like, How did you do it? Well, I did it in two parts and put them together and accidentally created something amazing.

It seems like this album ventures from the 808s & Heartbreaks-influenced sound of Drake’s So Far Gone days.
The irony is I don’t listen to music. When it comes to 808s, for me, that was an influence of “Say What’s Real.” Drake rapped on [Kanye’s “Say You Will”] and it sounded so good that I just ran with that, which developed into something that me and Drake embellished upon moving forward. But ultimately the sound of Nothing Was The Same, to me, is moving backwards, going back to some of my roots and elaborating on what we created through So Far Gone, which of course had direct implications from Kanye West and a lot of other music as well. It’s not like I was listening to 808s when I was making that. I was listening to The Smiths, Van Morrisson’s Astral Weeks. That’s what I had on repeat. I’m not focused on what other people are doing because I’m concerned with elaborating my own musical palette and trying to discover something new.

Talk about the decision to explore your past, harder-edged sound.
Oliver encouraged me to do some of those old beats. We’re constantly trying to find aggression and energy, so maybe that was the motivation. But I don’t know how much of that [listeners] really got. I did a lot more stuff that nobody will ever hear. When we got the acappella from Hov [for “Pound Cake”] I had a beat an hour later. It was like a classic Hov record, a flipped sample in the “Tuscan Leather” vein. Drake was super amped. Then we sat with it and were like, Fuck, is this part of our album? We gave it to Boi-1da and he just murdered it. Our jaw dropped.

The beat for “Wu-Tang Forever” had that gritty feel, too.
I didn’t like “Wu-Tang Forever.” It sounded too different but I guess that resonated. People loved that shit. Maybe I don’t get it.

Do you and Drake ever disagree?