Beatsmith WLPWR was bound for a successful career. Just see his first name. Born Will Washington in Columbia, SC, WLPWR (WillPower) grabbed his stage name from a friend before making his mark on the music industry.
“I wanted to achieve something with [producing] and once that happened I wanted to achieve more,” WLPWR said in a phone interview with VIBE. “Once you find passion in something and it’s that thing that you can’t stop thinking about, you just got to keep doing it.”
Establishing his production company SupaHotBeats, WLPWR also became Yelawolf’s go-to instrumentalist for the critically-acclaimed mixtape Trunk Muzik and his album Love Story. Before the Young Thugs and Rae Sremmurds of the world popped up, WLPWR’s forte was Southern sounds, eventually lending his services to other artists including Big K.R.I.T., Wiz Khalifa, Eminem, and more.
For VIBE’s latest installment of Views From The Studio, the seasoned producer talks about his musical chemistry with Yelawolf, his forthcoming mixtape Free Game, and the turning point in his career.
VIBE: How old were you when you made your first beat?
WLPWR: I think I might’ve been 19. I was experimenting and at the time, it was just exciting to be able to hear an idea come together. At the time, I was using hardware gear like MPCs and chord keyboards. It was a dope feeling.
What type of music did your family play at home, and how did that influence your sound?
Mostly soul music. My dad was in the military so he listened to a lot of soul music. The music in my house was from the ’60s and ’70s. It was real heartfelt and a lot of good instruments, just really dope music. My dad put me onto it so it just stuck with me.
In hip-hop, there’s a lot of sampling. Do you have any go-to singles that you sample constantly?
Yeah, I dig in the crates a lot. One of my favorite bands was Brass Construction. It was a big brass band, a lot of horns, and they just had a lot of energy in their music. There were hardly any lyrics in it, mostly just musical composition. I’ve gone to them several times to get dope breaks and different pieces to sample from.
When did you know producing would be your career of choice?
When I couldn’t stop doing it (laughs). Immediately, it became something that I had to do everyday. As I got into it, I wanted to get better at it. I wanted to achieve something with it and once that happened, I wanted to achieve more. Once you find passion in something and it’s that thing that you can’t stop thinking about, you just got to keep doing it.
Where do you gather the inspiration from when you’re producing?
Over the years, it has changed. At one point, I was listening to other producers, then eventually, I wanted to have my own style. I would just work on trying to find a creative place every time I sat down. Now, it depends. I talk to artists and it depends on what the artist is looking for and what type of energy they have. If I’m alone, I try to create on my own, just go with my vibe. If I’m in a somber mood, I might make a slow or sad beat. If I’m hyped or happy, my music will reflect that.
“Once you find passion in something and it’s that thing that you can’t stop thinking about, you just got to keep doing it.”
Describe a memorable moment you had with an artist in the studio with an artist.
It would be with Wiz Khalifa. I did a session with him at Atlantic Records in L.A. We ended up having to stop the session because the fire alarm ended up going off. It was cool, but also strange at the same time. It was just so smoked out that you couldn’t believe it was that much smoke in there. It seemed like they were so used to it at the studio that they didn’t even care about it. They just opened the door, set off the alarm in the hallway and it all stopped. Then we went back to work (laughs).
How did you link up with Yelawolf to be the sound architect behind his early music?
I met him in 2001 in New York when we were both younger and trying to get into the business. I was from South Carolina and he was from Alabama. We met at a studio and immediately clicked because we were in New York and we both recognized our Southern dialect. We immediately went in and started cutting records. From there, a friendship formed and years of practicing with each other and learning how to work together eventually just turned into a magical situation. It was mainly based off of just being friends, sticking together and making each other better over the years.
How would you describe the chemistry you both have in the studio?
It’s organic. I trust what he wants and he trusts what I have. We hardly ever go in with preconceived expectations. We do have concepts at times, but mostly we just go in and we vibe. Once we connect on something, then we’ll build from there. When we did Love Story, we were locked in the studio for at least four months before we actually committed to the first song towards the production of the album. Once we did that, then we were able to continue to tap into that. It was definitely an organic thing. We never go in and I show up with 20 beats and just say ‘Pick one.’ I have to sit with him, and I have to see where he is for the moment and where he’s going in his career because if you know anything about Yelawolf, you know that his Trunk Muzik era is much different than the Love Story era. If I had showed up to the studio with a bunch of Trunk Muzik beats who knows, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the job.
What would you consider your career-defining moment?
The Trunk Muzik project. That’s when me as a producer finally arrived at that point. That was when the rest of the world got to see and hear what I was doing, and became fans of it. That was my turning point. That was in 2010 and it’s just been good since then. I’m very happy to be able to say that I’ve done some of the things that I’ve accomplished. Trunk Muzik was definitely my arrival moment.
As a Columbia, South Carolina native, do you feel you had to work 10 times harder to be heard since you’re from a small town?
Certainly. My first fight was to be noticed. I had no prior history in music, no placement, and no one knew who I was. I was basically the new guy with this weird sound. It was pretty challenging at first. What helped me get in was being attached to an artist and being a part of a sound that an artist was creating. The stars lined up for me on that. I don’t know how long it would’ve taken me if I had to shop beats and continue to try to knock on doors before I got in. Luckily, I was affiliated with something that sounded great.
What can we expect from your forthcoming mixtape Free Game with Trinidad James, Big K.R.I.T., Dizzy Wright and Bubba Sparxxx ? How did that come about?
It’s really an organic situation again. I spent a majority of my years working with artists with no expectations. We just get together, write, we vibe. Some of the records are [made] to try to make albums, and some records are just so we could write them and see if we could shop them. It’s really just me and my relationships and friendships with most of these artists. They contributed to my project so that I could have something really dope. Trinidad James is really good friend of mine, Dizzy Wright, Big K.R.I.T. and Bubba Sparxxx are great friends as well. This isn’t a record industry thing for me. These are my homies. Any time I call them or any time they call me, we’re down for each other. It’s going to be a real chill project that’s got some jamming music on it. I hope people enjoy it. I’m certainly not doing it to gain any approval. I want to do something dope and continue to push our brand forward.
Are there any producers that you look up to or who serve as your mentor?
Jim Jonsin is my mentor. I’ve watched him over the years and I just loved the way he operates and the way he does business. His character exudes him. When he walks into studios, he shows up with his own engineer, his own musicians and he operates in a way that’s most comfortable for him. He ends up with these huge records. I’ve taken that same approach over the years. I’ve assembled my own team of musicians and I have my own engineer. I try to be as selective about what I work on as I can. I’m not even sure if he knows that he’s mentored me in that sense, but I certainly look up to him for that. I’ve tried to move in the business the way he moves. Tried to keep my relationships as good as I can, try to keep my word in any situation and deliver great products.
If you could executive produce any other artist’s album, who would it be and why?
I would really love to executive produce Adrian Marcel’s [album]. I think that he is the future of what R&B could be. R&B right now is kind of falling to the back in my opinion. I think we’ve got more rappers singing and singers rapping than we have singers singing. I would love to see a resurgence of that. He’s one of those guys that has that ability. I would like to do something with him. I would love to get an opportunity to lock in with him by myself for a month or so and see what we come up with because I think he’s really dope.
What do you think are the elements behind making a song stand the test of time?
I think it is originality. A lot of times what makes some things great was the fact that it was original and it was created by the producer and the artist. These days, producers just send beats so there’s no personality in the records, which is why in a lot of cases, you can’t differentiate between who did it and who the artist is. But anytime a record would come out from Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones, you would know it. Anytime a record came out with Timbaland and Aaliyah, you knew it or Dr. Dre and Snoop [Dogg]. It just had a classic element in it because it was original. There are some artists that still do that, but these days, it’s not all the time as it used to be.
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Photo Credit: Angela Woodley