Photo Credit: @Embassy730
Antman Wonder is every bit the anomaly that his name purports him to be. The Philly based composer and producer has been bending ears like magic bullets with sample-free productions that sound as dirty as if they’d been found on an old TDK, leading some to literally wonder how he does it. But he’s been pretty secretive about his methods…until now.
His first instrumental project “The Present” contained a reworking of Jay Z’s “Bring It On,” (originally produced by DJ Premier) that lead to him doing an entire remake of Hov’s “Reasonable Doubt” with Brooklyn MC Skyzoo. Things have come full circle with Antman and Preemo co-producing “The Aura” from Torae and Skyzoo’s joint project “Barrel Brothers.”
Nodfactor.com dialed up the rising star after smashing Beat Society in his hometown to talk about working with one of his biggest influences and why he’s gone back to hip-hop’s roots to be ahead of his time.
NODFACTOR.COM: Where did you get the name Antman Wonder? It sounds like a new age super hero.
ANTMAN WONDER: Actually, growing up that was just what people called me (“Antman”) and it kind of stuck. My man Ill Mill added ‘Wonder’ to it after I made this beat in 2006. I guess it felt like Stevie Wonder and he compared it to that. And it just made sense for the mythology I try to build where people have to question if I used a sample or not. I think in music and entertainment some mystery is necessary. That’s what the Wonder stands for.
What part of Philly are you from?
I grew up in North and West Philly. I went to school in West Philly, came up to North and moved back to West Philly. I was always back and forth. It’s weird for someone from Philly to claim two areas but I don’t front on nobody.
How involved were you with the Philly hip-hop scene growing up?
Quietly involved. I worked with a lot of artists behind the scenes but it didn’t always pan out. But there were a lot of people who did well. Me and my partner back in 2009 worked with Chill Moody. He got his first radio spins off of that album. He’s actually making a real great name for himself, locally and nationally. Beat Society was like a reunion with him. Hadn’t seen him in a while.
I also worked with Dice Raw recently. I did four tracks on his last project. That’s a local and national thing right there. I work with more out of town people like Add-2 for instance. I worked with Add-2 around the same time I worked with Chill Moody. We got our first video placed on MTV called “Luxury.” He’s currently signed to Jamla. We were in a competition for MTV-U and 9th Wonder was a big supporter even back then. I made that beat in ’08 before I swore off sampling.
Speaking of that, let’s get into your composing. I still listen to the “Ode To reasonable doubt” and try to figure out where and how you used a sample or not…
There definitely were no samples in it except for maybe the vocal samples I had to use on “D’evils” and “Bring it on.” I had to do my part and still show respect to the architects of it. I started making music in my teens. When I would hear music I would assume that the producer played the stuff from scratch. So when I was young I got a Casio keyboard and I would try to mimic the beats. Then somebody taught me how to sample and I thought ‘Wow, I was really slow as a kid.’ But it taught me how to put together a melody, paying attention not just to the beats, but the composition behind them. That made me want to create music because I would hear things that weren’t there.
Once I learned how to sample I learned that I could just play out the entire melody the way I want and then resample it as if I were hearing it as a sample. In my mind things play out as a sample. Then I figure out how to compose it and rearrange it. I’m explaining a whole lot, which I usually don’t do.
Well early hip-hop producers like Larry Smith did play, so you were closer to the roots than you give yourself credit for.
That’s my whole view point on it. Everybody from the 90s to the 2000s now feel like [that’s] is the evolution of music. And I’m like that’s not necessarily true. I’d say the true evolution was to take it from where it started, then the mid point is where they chopped and looped it, then you heard the progression with Jay Z’s and Kanye’s music where they let the samples progress even more. The next evolution would be for the sample to be created from that artist, where it’s your history now and not borrowing someone else’s. It’s kind of an Inception thing. It just keeps going.
So you don’t sample at all?
Not anymore. What I started doing is I’d play on top of the sample and make a fusion, then make my own bridge. Then I started taking the sample away and coming up with my own compositions.
What about the drums?
There are times where I’ll create drums and there are times where I’ll use loops. The drum programming I keep as hip-hop as I can sometimes. The drums are what made hip-hop, hip-hop.
The “Bring It On” interpolation was on your project “The Present,” so how did you link with Skyzoo to do the “Ode to Reasonable Doubt”?
One day I just decided to remake “Bring It On” because out of all his beats, I don’t think Premier ever released the sample info on that, if it was a sample. Allegedly. I’m not going to speculate. Nobody knew the sample info so I said that I’m just going to replay it. J.U.S.T.I.C.E League’s former manager Ivan Rivera heard it and said I should do a whole entire album. I started working on it and then I stopped for a minute. Then Skyzoo came along because Ivan introduced my music to !llmind and !llmind introduced me to Skyzoo. Sky heard the Reasonable Doubt stuff on Soundcloud and said he wanted to do a tribute album.
So where do you get the strings for something like “Thinking You Can Hang (Bring It On)”?
Without giving it all away…I know some people and I study strings as well. If I need instrumental help I can get it. But I’ve studied string movements and different techniques,
How long did it take you to redo all of the beats?
I started in like 2012 and I stopped when I had about 3 or 4 pieces done. When Skyzoo came along he wanted about five more. He asked me in the summer and started working on it in October. I worked on it for about a year because I was working on other projects.
Did you get feedback from any of the original “Reasonable Doubt” producers like Ski and Premier?
Well that segues right into “The Aura.” I think about three weeks after “Ode To Reasonable Doubt” dropped Skyzoo was at HipHop Nation for Sirius and he texted me saying Preme loves the album. So I hit him up and he gave me the call-in number and DJ Premier interviewed me on the show. He gave me some tidbits and behind the scenes stuff. Then I told him that I wanted to work with him and he passed off his email. It’s funny because about a year prior I said on Twitter that by the end of this year I’m going to work with DJ Premier.
I was a month or two late but it still came together. I’d put some melodies together and there were one or two that sounded like Preemo. “Bring It On” was like one of my favorite songs on Reasonable Doubt so I went for an airy but warm feel like that had. I had Premier in mind when I made it. So for him to pick that was meant to be. I was kicking myself because I wanted to do some crazy Conan The Barbarian cartoon type beat, real heavy. But sometimes I make the music I need, not the music I want. I felt that was the one he was going to pick.
Then Skyzoo passed them off to Preme [to sample]. I didn’t hear about it for a while but then Sky called me one night and he said “I need you to touch up this beat.” Preemo couldn’t finish it but he chose one of the samples, added drums and looped it, etc. And that’s how “The Aura” came together. I finished it up in about an hour. It really has that New York feel to it.
Gangstarr’s “No More Mr Nice Guy” was one of the first vinyls I ever played. I was like seven. My uncle left me his record collection when he went to the military. He left me his little stereo system with the tape deck and the turntable on top. Out of all the records the Gangstarr stood out to me. I tried to scratch on it, probably effed the album all up. But it was that moment when I realized I like beats more than rhymes. A lot of artists listen to the words before anything but I’ll catch the words on the second or third listen.I can tune everything out and just hear music. And if the artist brings it then it just takes it there. I ain’t never heard anybody like Guru, but I gotta enjoy the music first. So now in 2014 I get to work with one of my idols.
The other track you have on Barrel Brothers is “Memorabilia.” Again, I’m like “this isn’t a sample?”
When Sky first got into my music there was this album I was working on called “Memries of The Future” that still hasn’t been released. !llmind played it for Sky. So when he asked for something for “Barrel Brothers” there was a melody off that album and I said I gotta sample that melody. I sampled myself. Then I got a trumpet player to come in and finished the rest. “Blue Yankee Fitted” actually contains a sample from “The Present.” It’s the intro track, the midpoint of “Saturday’s Best.”
You are an iStandard Producers alum, having placed third in their national competition. But this year you attended and participated in your first Beat Society. What was that like for you?
I’ve been to events of the type but it was very engaging. I think people enjoyed themselves. I definitely enjoyed myself. I’ve been in competitions but they were more for people coming up. So to be part of something with established producers was a good nod for what I’m trying to represent. It felt really good.
So with “Memries of The Future” on the back burner, what’s next for you?
My next project is actually going to be Century Gun. I dropped the first single from it, “Sleeping Giant 2” featuring Skyzoo last year. All of my albums have something to do with time, that’s why “The Present” was a double entendre for giving something away as a present and it being in the now.
So the concept of Century is a play on gun from an actual weapon called a Sentry gun. I was playing “Call of Duty” one time and came up with the name. The reason I use it was it was about destroying and rebuilding. My music comes from a bunch of different eras in time. So this is like weaponized music. All these eras of time I’m touching on sonically and musically culminated into an album. It’s a hybrid album with some musicality, random instrumentals and some people that I’ve worked with. I’m hoping to drop that by the end of the year. But I’m not gonna drop it tip it blows my mind. I’m just trying to set a high standard for myself and I don’t want to jump the gun.
All puns intended.
Follow Antman Wonder on Twitter @AntManWonder
Stream and purchase the instrumentals to “Ode To Reasonable Doubt”: