Symbolyc One (S1): The Interview!
Since Kanye West picked up his beat for 'Power', Symbolyc One's career has gone from strength to strength. With a joint on one of the year’s biggest albums, 'Watch The Throne', and being the man behind Beyoncé's worldwide smash, 'Best Thing I Never Had', S1 is now firmly established in the realms of super-producer. The Wrap Up's James Walsh caught up with the Texas hit-maker to discuss his road to success and working with the biggest names in the game...
The Wrap Up: S1, thanks for taking the time to speak to us today. I know it's been a mad 18 months for you since Kanye West picked up the 'Power' beat you made. How did that materialise?
S1: I'd been working with Rhymefest on a few projects and he was with Kanye when he asked me to send a folder across with some beats in. I nearly didn't put the beat for 'Power' in there! A couple of days later, I got a text from Rhymefest saying that Kanye was about to change my life. The day after that, I received an email with my flight details to Miami to go out and work with him.
TWU: And what was the experience like?
S1: It was crazy! We share the same passion for creativity, going against the grain and doing what's not popular. He had so much energy and is always performing, he's such a genius and put so much time into 'Power' people wouldn't understand. He'd try multiple rhymes, hooks and choruses, adding bits and pulling other bits away. The track had so many different phases until it was perfect. He completely took it to its maximum.
TWU: He's obviously a fan of your work, because he also got you involved in the making of ‘Watch The Throne’, for which you produced 'Excellence'. What was it like been involved in such a huge project with two of the biggest names in hip-hop?
S1: Again, that was incredible. The dynamic between all three of us was awesome. Kanye is all about learning the artist’s texture, and the layers show in his music. He's ahead of the game in that. He’s also really tight on security because, every beat he's chosen, he's flown me out to play it to him. He doesn't eliminate the process of connection and he's involved in every track in the studio. He understands the personal element of music transcends just a beat. I loved working with Jay-Z also, he's just so quick, in and out, he knows what he wants. With ‘Watch The Throne’, every beat played, Jay would walk around the room mumbling, and you can actually see his thought process at work. 10-15 minutes later, he'll pull the engineer up and is ready to go – I never saw him with a pen once, it was all constructed in his mind.
TWU: Obviously, there's a lot of work and commitment which goes into anything anyone does prior to experiencing success on the levels that you are experiencing now. Taking it back to the beginning, how did you first get into music and producing?
S1: In sixth grade, I played Alto Sax in the school band. It helped me understand scales, syncopation, rhythm and gave me an introduction to the art of music. When I graduated, I got into MCing and with my cousin, Myth, we started the Strange Fruit Project. Artists like Tribe Called Quest, Nas and Wu-Tang Clan were very influential, but I began to become more interested in how beats were made, so I studied different producers like Pete Rock and J Dilla to find out what techniques and equipment was being used.
TWU: And was it through the Strange Fruit Project that people began to take notice?
S1: Yeah. The idea was always to create the best music we could and put it out there. We got our first release, 'From Divine', pressed in 2002 and started getting it into the right people's hands. We knew right away, from the initial feedback, that this is what we were supposed to be doing. Erykah Badu got in touch after Questlove from The Roots told her about us. She formed The Cannabinoids, which took her favourite producers from the Dallas area to create an electronic group based on programmers and DJs. We still tour together and we'll do shows with her and improv on stage making beats. Awareness for the group grew and different MCs we were listening to started reaching out to us, such as Rhymefest, Ghostface Killah, Stat Quo and Rah Digga. As well as that, I began entering competitions on my own as a producer and that really helped with a lot of connections.
S1: That's right. They definitely helped me take myself, as a producer, to the next level. In the group, people only really knew me for my sound in that collective; the showcases helped people get to know my range and built my confidence. It also increased my relationships, lots of executives and artists were at the competitions and on the judging panels. I actually just got back from judging on iStandard this year, it's an outstanding event and very humbling to go back – it definitely helped me reflect on how far I've come.
TWU: What advice would you give to aspiring producers?
S1: I always listen to the radio to see what not to produce. 80% is basically the same and most follow the popular sound. Try to create something different to stand out. Also, highlight your strengths and work on your weaknesses. Music changes so quickly! It's good to include some elements of what's gone before, but don't imitate. Be creative and build on your sound.
TWU: You also produced Beyoncé's 'Best Thing I Never Had', which was a huge single for her. Which work are you most proud of?
S1: That's hard, because I'm proud of everything that I've done – from the big stuff with Kanye and Beyoncé, to all the prior, independent releases. Everything has been a stepping stone and part of my growth as a person and evolving as a producer. Without having done the smaller stuff, I wouldn't be at the level that I'm at today. When you get to the big moments, you realise the sacrifice has all been worth it, so I'd say I value all the same.
TWU: And finally, what are you working on now and what can we expect over the coming months?
S1: I'm working on a track for 50 Cent featuring Eminem, which will do something pretty huge. I’ve been working a lot in the pop world lately with Rodney 'Darkchild' Jerkins for Christina Aguilera, Janelle Monet and Nelly Furtado. I'm also still working on a number of Kanye’s projects, and I'm now signed to his production company – we’ve got a really strong relationship. I'll be doing more work with Jay-Z and I’ve just finished a couple of tracks for Willow Smith, as well as working on stuff for Xzibit and Diggy Simmons, so it's very busy! I just want to push the bar and make more music that people are going to love and have an emotional attachment to. The grind never stops, it's the same footwork but the seeds that you plant way back, you see grow and harvest. The hard work is very relevant to the success of today.
Stay up to date with S1 on Twitter – www.twitter.com/SymbolycOne
Words: James Walsh (@JW_DittoMusic)
Online editing: Joseph 'JP' Patterson (@Jpizzledizzle)