As the Remy Martin Producers Series continues to travel across the United States in search of the best young beatmakers in the country, the semi-finals made its way to Downtown Chicago on Friday (Sept. 28) at The Bassment. Longtime Baltimore radio personality/DJ Jay Claxton alongside one of the godfathers of trap music, Zaytoven, hosted the competition.
The winners of the Chicago, Cleveland, and Indianapolis preliminaries administered their hardest beats for a chance to advance to the grand finale in Las Vegas. Each participant competed in front of a packed audience interspersed with radio personalities and industry veterans, including three judges as the Remy Martin drink specials quenched your thirst.
After Jay Claxton and DJ Ramo warmed up the crowd, the former introduced WGCI’s DJ Moondawg to interview Zaytoven in front of the restless and Remy fueled crowd. The two discussed a variety of hot topics such as how his music career began, his relationship with Gucci Mane, his long string of hit records, his forthcoming album and what it takes to be a successful producer today. One of the most important keys, he explained, was to not only have your own swag but to make sure a beatmaker’s work is “tagged,” meaning that their signature sound is watermarked on the melody.
“I came out here swagged out today, gotta come sauced up. Producers now, we just as big as the artist so they look at us like, ‘Who is that,’ or, ‘What does he do?’ So as a producer make sure you come swag, your sauce, come representing real big,” Zaytoven said. “Make sure you tag all your beats so when somebody does use them, when they find out that you’re the one that produced it, they’ll want to get some beats from you.”
The Atlanta hitmaker continued to capture the crowd’s eyes and ears as he demonstrated how he creates his world-famous trap productions. He broke down his formula by starting with snares, then hi-hats followed by a melody, and then he put the icing on the cake with the bass. Spoiler alert: when Zaytoven previously told VIBE that he can make a trap beat in less than five minutes, he wasn’t bluffing.
An interesting moment then occurred when Zaytoven and DJ Moondawg picked a random audience member to encourage them to make their own beat on the spot with a digital keyboard and drum machine. While it wasn’t as great as Zaytoven’s preceding instrumental, it was still an impressive effort from the eager attendee.
The competition ended with winners Goldy Barra (Chicago), Prodig-E (Cleveland), and Eaves Drop (Indianapolis), after each competed in three rounds of exciting beat battling where they had to rock the crowd in front of the three judges. While Goldy and Eaves Drop proved their worth as solid beatmakers, the Chicago-based Prodig-E dominated each round with ease through his original approach to flipping samples and unique take on remixing songs. He won the competition by unanimous decision between each of the judges and the roaring crowd.
“I feel great, this is a huge win here. I’m just looking to take this to Las Vegas and hopefully win the whole thing,” said Prodig-E. “[My plans after this are] getting back in the lab and keep going. This is a competition, man I’m not stopping until I’m done! I’m not stopping until I get the ultimate prize.”
Here, VIBE chatted with Zaytoven and Jay Claxton about their involvement with the competition, what it takes to be a great producer and their favorite beatsmiths of all time.
VIBE: What inspired you to join this competition here in Chicago?
Zaytoven: For the simple fact that it’s a producer series. I feel like a lot of producers look up to me, a lot of producers watch our moves and want to move like I move so I had to be a part of this. Remy Martin extended their hand and I definitely wanted to be a part of it.
How does it feel to see young producers hustle and go for an opportunity like this?
It’s an honor and a pleasure to watch them because it takes me back to when I first started and it inspires me to continue doing what I’m doing.
What are some of the biggest differences you see between when you started and right now?
Producers now have more outlets than I had back in the day. You have so many platforms to put your music on. Back in the day, I had to run into people and give them a CD with beats on it. I think it’s a lot more opportunity right now.
What do you feel like a lot of younger artists don’t understand about working with producers?
I think the biggest misconception is that everybody thinks that the producer is supposed to make the artist sound like something they heard already. They know I work with Gucci Mane so they come in rapping like Gucci Mane like that’s going to impress me. I really don’t like that.
How did you get involved with Motown?
Just being relevant. I think that the producer deals are something new that everybody’s doing and the label reached out to me like they wanted to do the deal with me and I felt like it was perfect timing.
What’s your goal with Motown?
I’m going to put out my first album with them so it’s really to make noise in a different way to expand my brand, expand my name, and to put out music from a Zaytoven standpoint.
Tell us about your new album, Trap Holiday?
It’s going to be the hardest album to come out. It has so many different artists mixed up together that have never worked with each other before from all the people that you know me from working with and then a lot of surprises that you’ve never heard.
Considering how big trap music is now, where do you see it in the next 10 years?
The number one genre of music. It’s growing and growing and every genre implements trap into their music. Trap is really taking over.
Lastly, who are your top three favorite producers of all time?
It would have to be DJ Quik, Dr. Dre, and I’d go with Timbaland even though I like so much more. I don’t really have a top because I like them all. Like Mannie Fresh, I love Mannie Fresh, I love Beats by the Pound, I love so many different producers that I can’t really say my favorite three.
Any last things you would like to plug?
Trap Holiday is on the way and Birds of a Feather 2 the movie is on the way.
VIBE: What do you think are the most important skills needed to be a great producer?
Jay Claxton: You have to know your mark and you have to know the people that you’re trying to touch. You got to make sure when you’re making these beats, who’s your target audience. So, if you’re coming into something like this you should already know what you’re bringing to the table. You need to bring energy when going against these other folks so you don’t have time for a track that’s really mellow, you must bring the noise, bring the heat and bring the excitement.
How did you become a part of the Remy Martin Producers Series?
Well, Shawn Caesar raised me in this industry, so he and his partner Jay Woods came up with this program and got with Remy Martin and this is our fourth season. We’ve traveled all around the country, the next up and coming producer. We changed lives with this program, it’s a good thing.
What’s your favorite part about this?
Watching the producers hit the stage and really take over the crowd. When they play that track and you make that ugly face, you know that producer took some time [with it] and he has a good beat.
Who would you say are your top five greatest producers of all time?
Dr. Dre is incredible. Pharell is incredible because he can give you everything. Pharell can give you a Top 40 beat, he gives you something from N.O.R.E., he can do stuff for JAY-Z, he can do something for JAY-Z and Madonna.
Kanye West, believe it or not, regardless of what you say or think about him he’s a genius. Most geniuses are kind of different. Just Blaze is incredible. Some classic, classic songs from Just Blaze. Now you got dudes like Zaytoven and London on the Beat that continue to make hits too. The list goes on so I couldn’t give you just five.
One similarity between you and a lot of producers is that you both reinvent yourselves. What’s the key to reinventing yourself and staying fresh?
You got to be aware of the culture. The culture changes and you should be able to change with it. That’s how you reinvent yourself. The day you say you don’t like something or something is old, that’s the day that you no longer will be relevant in this game. You cannot do that, you’re dating yourself, you cannot do that. You have to take it in and change. You may not like how some of the rappers today rap, but if it’s making money and it’s moving the crowd, you need to accept that.
The semifinals for the Remy Martin Producers Series season four will continue in Los Angeles on Oct. 12, Oct. 16 in New York, and Oct. 17 in Atlanta. The grand finale will be held in Las Vegas on Nov. 9.