DJ Khalil understands pressure. Last year one half of the group Self Scientific had four beats on the top-selling rap album of 2010, Eminem’s Recovery. But believe it or not that was the easy part. With over a decade of build up Dr. Dre’s legendary DETOX was coming closer to being a reality and the very first single, “Kush” was not produced by the Good Dr, but Khalil.
“I was in the club at Snoop’s release party last night and they played the song and it was the first time I heard it in a club,” he told Nodfactor.com “It just hit me. ‘I did this!’ I don’t think I’ll ever get over that. As soon as I heard it was mixed and that they were shooting a video I was nervous hoping people were feeling it.”
It’s safe to say that folks have felt it but that has not given the Grammy Award winning producer an excuse to rest on his laurels. With the momentum from his work with Drake, Em and Dre Khalil is shifting focus back to his group Self Scientific. An EP, Trials Of The Black Hearted, is already available for download paving the way for a full length album coming later this year.
After being chastised by Chace Infinite last year for not tracking down his partner, Nodfactor finally spoke with the humble producer about his first meeting with Dr. Dre and how managing his personal relationships has enhanced his production career.
Nodfactor:I interviewed Dre for Vibe last year and he told me a story about meeting you as a kid. What do you remember of that meeting?
DJ Khalil: That was one of the highlights of my life. It was my sister’s birthday party and they were really good fiends. Dre and Chris The Glove and all these West Coast legends were at my parent’s house. Me and my brother went up to Dre and started talking to him because I’d just started DJing and I had his mixtapes back in the day and everything he’d done. We just sat there and talked and asked him questions. He was telling us stories and I said “I want to be a producer just like you.” It’s kind of crazy how it came full circle with me being connected to him again. That’s how we met. When I connected with him again he was bugging out and telling everybody in the studio about that first meeting.
When exactly did you reconnect?
He signed an artist named Brooklyn back in the day and she demo’d a bunch of songs over some of my beats and some other producers like Jake One. She ended up getting signed to Aftermath and Dre ended up loving her music. When I went in to start tracking some of the songs that’s how we got re-introduced. Of course they were looking for stuff for their other acts so I just started flooding them with beats. After a while Dre sat me down and he was like I wanna bring you into the family and be a staff producer for me. Of course my answer was yes. It’s been my dream to work with him. We’ve had that relationship ever since.
How important are those relationships with the artists to furthering your career as a producer?
Relationships are everything in this business. Establishing them with artists is everything. You’re both creative people and when you develop a working relationship it can keep developing over time. Every time I work with Game it’s another step in our relationship as friends. It comes with the work. Try to do as much work with people as possible. Not everything is going to get placed. I did about seven or eight songs for LAX and not one of them got placed on that album. The fact that we did those songs built a relationship between us. So when he starts working on the next album he’ll keep me in mind because we built that trust. The relationships with artists and managers are important. Once you establish that and you deliver your career is going to last a long time.
We posted the video for Self-Scientifics “Peaceful” and it’s great to get some new music from you guys. How did you two meet and how did working with Chace Infinite help your career as a producer?
I met Chace in basketball camp when we were in 8th or 9th grade. We went to this invitational basketball camp and we were both the top point guards in our age group at this camp. He ended up going to Canoba Park and I went to North Hollywood in the Valley so we ended up playing each other in league basketball for high school. Before games we’d hook up cuz I just had started making beats in 10th grade and he was writing rhymes. Come to find out our parents lived next door to each other before we were even born. On Wilton Place right in the middle of LA. As soon as I met his mom she was like “you have to be a Hazard.” She knew I was my parents’ son. It was just meant to be.
[Then] we went to Atlanta to college. He went to Morris Brown and I went to Morehouse. Chace lived with me for like three months and I was making beats everyday. We had recorded a demo and Chace said we’re gonna form a new group called Self Scientific. After a couple of years we gotta demo deal with Loud Records. They put us on this sampler with Mobb Deep, Wutang and The Alkoholiks and we thought we’d made it! Things didn’t work out but we kept working and putting songs out independently. Chace is one of the best artists I’ve ever worked with and working with him really developed my production skills. I know how to coach people through vocals now. I know how to double vocals, pan them left and right. All of those little tricks I can do on my own. I can go in the studio with whomever and produce a record because I know it’ll come out good and I have Chace to thank for that.
We’re probably going to make our best music ever now because the industry has changed and we don’t have to worry about getting on the radio or dealing with major labels. We can be ourselves. We just want a following. Self Scientific really built me as a producer so I have Chace to thank for that. Chace has helped my career outside the group because he has great relationships and has been my biggest cheerleader.
So where is the Designer Music EP?
We were going to do that with LRG and we sat on the material. We kind of didn’t want to do it with them anymore so we scrapped the whole thing. We still have the songs with Pac Div, M-1, Evidence and Bishop Lamont.. We record so much material. It’ll be heard eventually but we’re ready for Come In Peace and Prepare For War. It’s really time to show the next evolution of SS which is complete creative freedom. Designer Music was one era we were going through but the music will come out eventually. But to put that out now would be a step back.
Trials of the Back Hearted EP. These are another set of songs we’ve been working on for the past few years. We’re in the midst of mixing it now. It’ll be an EP we’re giving out for free..It will be a good warm up for our full-length album. We have some really dope material for that. I’m really excited about getting this out. The response has been really dope.
Now you’ve got Grammys in your closet to take on tour. Talk to me about the mixtape you just put out with your Grammy noms and the songs you put on there.
For me it’s helped my name obviously. That whole year of watching what happened with Eminem and that album was like a dream. Just to watch everything unfold, from meeting him and playing him beats the whole experience was crazy. The Grammys put closure on the whole thing. It’s in the history books now and I’m so happy to be a part of it. I’m really weird like that. Once something comes out I’m on to the next thing. I don’t celebrate it. I just want to keep creating and expressing myself. I always feel like I’m starting over. That was the first half of my career and now it’s time for the second half.
The year prior to that I’d built my name up working with The Clipse, Slaughterhouse Fabolous and Drake that EM took notice and was really a fan when I met him.
What kind of pressure did you feel knowing that “Kush” was going to be the first single from Detox?
When I sent the beat to Dre he sent a text saying—he called it “hold up”—“The hold up beat is crazy!!!” with all these exclamation points. I still have it in my phone. We spent months working on the hook and tweaking it. So many people wrote to it. That was months and months of work trying to get the right feel. He loved the track but we didn’t have a hook or all the parts. Dre is real particular about how the song is arranged. I’m honored because it’s one of my biggest accomplishments as a producer to date.
He made those drums knock more than I could. He understood the space that was needed for the track. In the original mix the kick had an extended hum, a rumble to it and Dre knew how to fix it but preserve the integrity of the track and make it commercial. He knows how to mix for radio and how it’s supposed to knock. I don’t even know what he did but I just remember hearing the un-mastered version and he was like “Trust me.” No arguments from me at all. It’s crazy because people have grown to love the record. It wasn’t a big splash at the beginning but the reaction has built over time. I saw he and Snoop perform it at an Interscope party and watching two legends perform a joint I worked on. I felt like it was a good representation of Dre and Snoop and I’m honored.
The Chinatown Wars beats is one of the most searched stories on the site. But you didn’t even put that out! How did you get involved with that game?
I developed a relationship with Rock Star Games through this guy named Yvonne over there. I did some stuff prior with Bishop Lamont and my partner Chin Injeti in the New Royales. I submitted a bunch of sample free tracks and they said they were going to create a channel for me. Mind you I haven’t even played the game so I don’t even know…I did it and all of a sudden I go on some blogs and see “DJ Khalil’s Chinatown Wars Mixtape.” I called my manager and I’m like “Did you know about this?” he was like “No.” Somebody just put it out and it caught on like crazy. I saw it all over Twitter and the net. It was dope because it helped promote the game and put me on the radar with more video game companies. It helps your brand on all fronts. That was a crazy fluke thing that people loved the tracks so much that they wanted to make a mixtape out of it. The beats on there represent one era of beats I was making. I was sitting on them for a minute. They were sample free so I figured why not license them. In this business you have to do it all; video games, TV, film. It was good to be associated with that game and the Rock Star brand.
You make an excellent point about diversifying your portfolio. Do you have any more video game beats coming out?
Yeah, I just did a Fight Night with Chin Injeti. We just did five instrumentals for the game so you can play the beats while you’re fighting. There are a couple of things in the works. On that level I’m definitely trying to take advantage because video games are probably the biggest in terms of entertainment. And it helps build your brand.
Part of the reason you were able to do that was because you stopped sampling. Was that a creative or business decision?
It was definitely a business decision but it was also creative. I don’t think I’d be making the kind of music I’ve been making if I kept sampling. I think I was eventually going to make the transition. A couple of placements that I got on big records that I used samples taught me a lesson early on that I had to change what I was doing. I was losing too much money. The G-Unit “Lay You Down” record I did was on an album that sold 3 million copies. I got my plaque but I looped this obscure group from Europe and they killed me for like all my publishing on that song. My manager at the time told me how much money I lost and I was sick to my stomach for like two weeks but I had to suck it up. I had to change the way I do this. Because I started doing it without samples I feel like the music got better. I started getting more opportunities. People feel like you need the sample but you really don’t.