In the age of algorithms and curated playlists, word of mouth is still one of the best ways I find new music and talent. I was first introduced to Terrell Wallace, aka Tall Black Guy through Brooklyn MC Skyzoo, who Wallace blessed with tracks for “Spike Lee Was My Hero” and “The Cost Of Sleep” from his 2012 album, A Dream Deferred. Since then the Detroit born producer, remixer and instrumentalist as racked up an impressive resume of production credits that includes two albums, 8 Miles to Moenart and Let’s Take A Trip. With a sound that he describes as “Future Love Music For Aliens” he has impressed the ears of hip-hop stalwarts like DJs House Shoes and Jazzy Jeff. Most recently TBG bent ears with his pristine production of Phonte’s “Sweet You” from his future classic No News is Good News and is getting ready to rock Beat Society in Brooklyn. Nodfactor spoke with the Mr. Wallace about his production beginnings, walking with kings and not losing the common touch.
“A lot of times I’ll beat box the patterns out and I’ll draw based on what I hear in my head.” – Tall Black Guy
NODFACTOR: Ok, we know that you’re tall and Black, but why such an obvious name?
Tall Black Guy: I was attending Westwood, a little private Community College in Woodbridge, Illinois. I had to do a project where we had to come up with a business. That [name] was kind of my default, because I wanted to keep pro Black, I was one of the few black students in the school. So I said I’m black, I’m tall. Initially it came up as Right On Productions, and Tall Black Guy came out of that. And it kind of just stuck from there. I was making beats in graphic design school and all that stuff so I kept it.
When did you first start making beats?
I started around ’99 or 2000 as a hobby. Listening to Premier, Pete Rock, Timbaland and the Neptunes. I bought a program called Sony Acid/Sonic Foundry 2.0. My parents weren’t gonna buy me an MPC. They wanted to me get a regular job like anybody else.
You actually bought yours. That’s commendable. I have stories of producers who pirated stuff and wouldn’t connect their computers to the internet afterward.
Piracy like a mother.
How would you describe your sound?
It’s kind of hard for me to say it. I always liken it to “Future love music for aliens.” I love jazz. It’s all these smooth sounds and pretty sounding things. But since I’m coming from the hip-hop generation I have the hard drums. So I have that balance. It can register with the older and younger generation.
You were born in Detroit, raised in Chicago, but you still have a very Detroit bounce.
I’ve lived in Cali and L.A. [also] and it’s kind of almost the same vibe.
True, Dilla did spend a lot of time in L.A and even House Shoes has spent the last 10 years in L.A. So that mix is there. So how did you come to work with Skyzoo on those first two records, “Spike Lee Was My Hero” and “The Cost Of Sleep”?
Initially Skyzoo reached out to me. The “Spike Lee Was My Hero” was originally a remix of Camp Lo’s Luchini. I had made a remix and he just reached out and said this beat is kind if dope, what are you doing with it? Even before that I was working on 8 Miles To Moenart [and] I had reached out to him to see if he could submit a verse to a joint that I had, but the timing and stuff didn’t really work out. And “The Cost Of Sleep” beat was from a tribute mixtape I did called “Tall Black Guy vs Michael Jackson.” He ended up choosing that track [“Thrill Seeker”] as something he wanted use.
Some time after that you put out 8 Miles to Moenart and my favorite track was “Home Away and Back Again” How did you make that beat?
What’s so crazy about that album is that it was a dark time in my life. I had moved back to Detroit briefly and I was working with my pops. He’s a mortician and stuff, I don’t really wanna get into that. But I was working for him and he had this little lounge area. So I would bring my music equipment to work. And I hated that monotonous go home/ come back to work situation and that track came out of that. Me not being satisfied with my life situation at the time. You go to work to come back home and go to work.
Then you sampled School Daze on “The Dark Streets…” “I am from Detroit! Mo-town.“
Growing up watching all the Spike joints it was only fitting to have that tied in. The 8 Miles to Moenart was kind of homage to Detroit from my personal experience of me going back and forth over the course of 30 years. And that was what I’d seen through my own eyes, so I try to describe it through music with the song titles and skits.
Around that time is when you moved to London?
Yeah, I moved to England in December of 2011. At the time I was married and situation in Detroit wasn’t really working out. It was kind of one of those things trying to seek something better for my wife at the time. Her family is from there. We made the transition and career wise it was dope, but personally it wasn’t working.
How did being in London influence your music?
It wasn’t going there that was the influence, because I make music with a worldwide view anyway. But they were more accepting of the type of music that I made. I don’t like a lot of the mainstream stuff so I would make whatever I thought came to mind and vibes that I like, and they gravitated toward it.
I read that you draw your drum sounds, but you have such a swing and groove to your beats. How do you get that from clicking your mouse?
It’s kind of like a feeling. You just feel what sounds natural to the human ear. Kind of how a drummer would drum, that’s kind of how I hear it. A lot of times I’ll beat box the patterns out and I’ll draw based on what I hear in my head. If the bounce is right and it ain’t too crazy quantized and it still sounds pleasant to the human ear, that’s what I try to go with. I don’t use any type of drum machine. The only thing I use is a keyboard.
Do you DJ at all?
I play at shows but I wouldn’t necessarily call it DJing, because I don’t know how to blend two records together from a turntable. But I’ve studied enough Djs to know what kind of vibe I wanna bring to a party. I can actually play all my own music though. That’s rare. All of it is self taught. Me going to a library, getting books out and praciting with sore hands and fingers. Initially, when you coming from the sampling era eventually you start to figure out all this stuff is music. So you notice what the patterns are and stuff.
I love the track “Beginning Of The End” for The Black Opera…
They kind of gave me the concept of what the album was and they wanted to use all opera inspired sounds and samples. So I just went and found [a sample] concentrated on the vibe and chopped it the way I wanted, then played keyboards around it.
Yu’s “Lose The Ground” is another fave…
Originally that collaboration came out of the Black Opera joint. Mellow Music group reached out to me after that. Me and Yu were having a dialogue back and forth. When it’s time to finish the song that’s when I add the color and make it a cohesive collaboration. At the time I was still living in England so there was a lot of back and forth.
You broke the internet with that flip of De La’s “Stakes is High.” I think House Shoes tweeted it and I watched it take off. Did De La ever hear it?
Yeah, they were like what is your brain on? The crazy part about it is those type of beats, I’ve been making for at least 10 plus years. I would take 4/4 counting songs and turn them in to a 6/8th bar structure. I had this idea while I was working to flip “Stakes Is High” into a 6/8th time signature. So I had to rap in my head how I wanted them to sound over the beat, then chop the vocals up to mimic what I heard in my head. I’ve had friends that kind of rap like that from years past.
I have couple friends like my boy Tonedeff who feel like hip-hop should’ve broken out of that 4/4 a long time ago.
Yeah, but on the flip side it goes to the DJ. They are the most important key point in hip-hop, so when you try to present this to the masses of people, it’s difficult. That’s hard to play in public. You gotta have incredible rhythm.
What were you thinking when you did the flip of Sade’s “Sweetest Taboo?”
The Sade flip was 2013. Right around the time I made 8 Miles to Moenart. I had made a beat out of that same sample maybe 8 years prior. But I wasn’t playing instruments at the time. The idea was to extend the vocals and play it in a loop. On the newer version I played keys on it to bring it full circle.
You said in one interview that you wanted to collaborate more and then you got invited to Jazzy Jeff’s Playlist retreat. What was that like?
All I can say is it’s like musical heaven bro. It’s like all the cats you kind of look up to man and it’s like a musical oasis of like needing out for 4 to 5 days. Making music, drinking, making music, no sleep and keep going. A lot of cats, regardless of their status, we all want to push good music forward. I’ve been fortunate. I’m super blessed. And it’s Jazzy Jeff. he called us to his crib. That doesn’t happen to everybody.
There is so much music over there, it will be a long time before everything comes out from those experiences. For some of the things I’ve been a part of, I have a few joints from folks I did that you should look out for.
How did you meet House Shoes? You had submitted something to his sample flips series, right?
It was a sample that Dilla had on one of his old records, an interlude or something that he never flipped. So House Shoes put up a contest for cats to flip it. The whole contest was done and I had just got of work and submitted mine late. House Shoes was like fuck it, I’mma put this on my joint. He put it on Street Corner Music at a 7 Inch and the was kind of how that happened. We’ve been bonded since then.
How important is it to have folks like that champion your sound? He’s very passionate about hip-hop but he’s an anomaly. You don’t have many folks going as hard for boom bap as he does.
When you come from the golden era and how much it meant to all of us…from the late 80s to roughly 97 that was our soul music, for us. We grew up on it and it changed our lives. You want to keep that going. You want to repeat that feeling you had growing up.
You’ve done quite bit of R&B too. On your second album you had I will Never know and some remixes. I wasn’t familiar with the Tamika Moore track before you sent it.
Truth be told, I think growing as a musician and producer that R&B is my sweet spot. That initial introduction to Tamika was from a remix I did for Eric Roberson’s “Two People” and she got wind of me through that. So we worked together on a couple of tracks.
How is working with singers different?
When you’re dealing with singers now you’re going into melody and harmony. You need a little more musical background to figure out ways those are heard. In hip-hop you have a formula; your 4 to 8 bar intro, 3 verses and 3 choruses. In R&B you got the same formula but you gotta figure out bridges, where the music changes key and stuff like that. How to create tension. It’s a little more attention to detail.
How do you feel about where you are musically and being recognized for your work?
There is still so much work to do. I feel like I can learn so much more. Me as a keyboard player writing songs I feel like I can grow so much more. You add all of the other aspects, I love jazz, I want to take a stab at making a jazz album. That’s going to be very challenging trying to write the music and get people to hear my vision. That’s going to be hard but I’ still trying to keep learning and being inspire. There is just so much stuff that can aid me and help me become better.
You released Let’s Take A Trip in 2016. How close are we to a new project?
I want to make this jazz album. That’s where I want to go. My interpretation of jazz with all of my influences.But I don’t have a time table for that. I want to put my best foot forward.
What’s the 80s Baby thing with D Jackson about?
D Jackson is my best friend. I’ve know him since I was like 14 years old. he was my partner for a lot of my early production. We’ve been blessed to make five albums together, some have been released, some have not. When we do shows its like second nature. Those three albums are online, Sonic Music, We Shall Not Be Moved and Searching For Happy. We’re currently working on another album now. That’s like my best friend.
You took my favorite song from Stro Ellitos’ album, “Virginia Wolf” and remixed it…
Stro is multi-talented in a lot of things but he is a musicians musician. He can sing, rap, play instruments. That particular song, when I made that track, my own personal situation was not going too well, just keeping it real. That song woke me up out of my sleep and I made that track that night. Them lyrics, for a lot of guys…
It reminded me of Phonte’s tracks on Charity Starts at Home. They hit home for any man that’s been in a relationship.
Yeah it was like 2 in the morning and I spent the whole day making it. But when you ask Stro about it, he ain’t got no kind of of girlfriend or nothing. He just made it up. He’s one of them dudes.
Speaking of Phonte, how did you first come in contact with him and how did that lead to remixing the Foreign Exchange track?
I first came in contact with Phonte about 5 years ago through my homegirl, DJ Cleveland Browne. She had submitted some of my beats to him. From there, he hit me up and asked me to remix Zo’s, “This Could Be The Night” joint.
Whose idea was it to sample his group The Foreign Exchange for “Sweet You”?
Foreign Exchange’s “Sweeter Than You” is like one of my favorite songs from them. I basically liked the song so much [that] I wanted to make a beat out of it. I have had this idea for years for me to take one of my favorite artist’s work and sample it and then for them to sing something completely new and fresh on top of themselves. I hope that makes sense. [laughs] I actually submitted this beat to him three years ago.
Can you describe how you went about making the beat?
I am going to try and not be to technical. But, basically for FE’s album Leave It All Behind they had a double album which was the full album and the instrumentals of the same songs. I used this old engineering trick where if you line up perfectly the song and the instrumental vertical of each other in a Digital Audio Workstation. You can invert the frequencies of the instrumental and it phases out the music of both and you can pull the vocals out of it. From there I wanted to put the focus on the word “You.” So I looped “You” and played piano chords that would fit with Phonte’s voice. I hope that wasn’t too much.
That was perfect. What was something we’d never guess about working with Phonte?
He is very detailed and he knows exactly what he wants. Which makes my job easier because I can focus on trying to bringing his vision to life.
What does this track say about your style?
I think what this track represents about my style is that, my idea that I have had for years came to life. And I have many different styles and influences outside of hip-hop.
Follow Tall Black Guy on Twitter @SirTallBlackGuy
and SoundCloud TallBlackGuyProductions