If you’ve gotten someone pregnant in the last decade Steve McKie is probably partly to blame. The veteran Philaldelphia based producer has put the “O” in Neo soul gems like Jill Scott’s “My Love” and tracks for Bilal, Lizz Fields, Vivian Green and Kindred The Family Soul.
Today Bilal’s Airtight’s Revenge hits stores so I had a quick chat with Steve, who has been making music with Bilal since 2001, about their creative process and whether the eclectic singer is really two Cheese steaks short of a picnic.
NODFACTOR.COM: So, is Bilal crazy?
Nah. [laughs] He’s not crazy at all. It’s crazy that he gets that tag a lot. He’s just not the conventional R&B type of guy that people expect. If he’s crazy then we’re all crazy. We all have our special way of doing things. He’s actually a down to earth dude.
You produced seven tracks on Airtight’s Revenge. When did you start working on this album?
I’d say we started in late 2008 and had like 13 songs. We just went through a bunch of sounds, locked ourselves in the studio and experimented with different snare drums and kicks. It took a bunch of time because we had that freedom to just experiment and be creative.
I’ve been listening to the Love For Sale leak for years. What kind of creative zone were you guys in for that album?
We recorded that entire album at Electric Lady. For me that was some of my best work as a producer and a drummer. It was innovative and crossed a lot of boundaries. We had a whole lot of inspiration and we tried to take it and …it was sad that that record got leaked. I wish it would have been released commercially. But we were able to tour still and it still reached people. We worked on “Gotsa Be Cool” “Let It Go” there were a lot of songs that people didn’t’ hear from that record. We were trying to get them on the new release but it just didn’t happen. Some of the songs like a remake of Stevie Wonder’s “Rocket Love” and the label erased the file for whatever reason. That was a great record.
I walked in the studio and there was no drums–just a Rhodes and a bass amp. The room that was going to be for the drums had really great acoustics. Back then, 2001, 2002, I felt like I was in H.S. tapping on tables and we just made kick from candle and notepad, put a drum mic on the floor and made a wild acoustic kick. That was a wild record.
Before you began producing you were drumming. How did you get started?
I went to church with my mom and I had music in me since I was a kid. There were like buckets and stuff and me and my brother would play in the basement to songs we liked. We’d figured out how to make a kick sound and how to make a snare sound and once I started going to church we came across a few young drummers and they inspired us to play.
Black Lily has been the backbone of the Philadelphia music scene for the last decade. How did you become involved in that?
Black Lily was cool. It was a community for Neo Soul, Jazz, Hiphop. Rock music, Alternative. There was a line up with Jaguar Wright, Kindred Family Soul and this rock group I played with called 37thousand9. I got my chance to play with those guys backing up one of my friends and every Tuesday things just kept happening. At some point I got with Musiq Soulchild and things took off from there.
How did you transition from drumming to production?
By that point I was in a group with Bilal and Robert Glasper and everybody did production, even Bilal. So I felt like I had more to offer than just drumming and being on stage. This was shortly after Black Lily, around 2001, 2002.
What did you start producing with?
I started with only an MPC 2000. My screen went out on me a few times. It was pretty amazing how we did the stuff. I just used a Roland 880 to record live musicians through that and sample it back through the MPC. That was the most bizarre way to do it but when you only have two pieces to work with you figure out how to make things work. A lot of my friends like the whole idea of it. I had to make it work.
What was the secret to getting it to sound a certain way?
Having good drum sounds to start with that’s half the battle. If you put a little mic on em there isn’t too much you have to do from there. I’d tweak em first then sample them through the MPC.
Have you ever heard your own drums sampled by other producers?
Yeah! There’s a few producers out there. 9th wonder has sampled some stuff that I’ve done. Probably some other ones I don’t know about.
How did you come to work with Jill Scott on “Hate On Me” and “My Love”?
Me being a musician I know so many other musicians and a fried of mine, Adam Blackstone is a musical director for a bunch of groups. We played for Jill a little while and she started working on her record and we all know each other from working in Philly. Just from being in that circle of musicians I was able to get her some of my tracks. It was just match made from there.
What is she like to work with?
Working with Jill is easy. She’s one of the easiest artists I’ve worked with. She’s one of those artists that listens to the track and it’s all pretty much there for her and she takes it to the next level. When you can give somebody a track and they just write their song, that’s it. That was easy.
Do you feel like Neo Soul blurs the line of hip-hop and R&B production?
For me being a drummer that’s where the beat starts with me. Whatever kind of groove can fill it.
What’s coming next after the Bilal Record?
I‘m just working on my catalogue and doing a producer album of people I’ve been working with so far. I’ve been trying to develop this rapper and singer in Philly. The rapper is J Salary and the singer is Poindexter Smith.
Check out more productions from Steve McKie!
Kindred The Family Soul – “Can’t Help It
Vivian Green “Sweet Thing”