The local hip-hop producer's classic rock–inspired side project has become an online hit after receiving a Twitter boost from his buddy Drake.
Toronto-based musician Slakah the Beatchild is best known as a hip-hop and R&B producer, having made beats for artists like Drake and Melanie Durrant. On his latest album, The Other Side of Tomorrow, the first release from his “band” The Slakadeliqs (“band” in quotes, because he does it all himself), he changed direction and paid tribute to some of his unexpected influences.
The Other Side of Tomorrow, which was released as a pay-what-you-want, download-only album on January 17, received a Twitter co-sign from Drake and was listened to more than 100,000 times in its first 24 hours of release.
Slakah took a minute out of his rapidly filling schedule to talk to Torontoist about some of his favourite classic-rock acts, the decline of the traditional music industry, and being a one-man band.
Torontoist: You are a hip-hop and R&B producer by trade, yes?
Slakah the Beatchild: Those are definitely the genres that I’m best known for, but I’m a fan of music. With this project, I wanted my current fans and everyone else to know that I’m a fan of more than just R&B and hip hop. I’m actually more in love with classic rock and underground music that most people will never hear.
What made you want to do something so far off from what you’re known for?
I can’t say that I got sick of hip hop, but I’m just such a fan of playing the guitar and arranging string arrangements. Being a fan of music in general made me want to explore and experiment more, and really exploit my influences to the full.
What are your influences besides hip hop and R&B? I know I read something about Zeppelin and Jimmy Cliff.
Yeah, those guys. Neil Young is definitely one. The Zombies are another one.
Yeah, I love The Zombies, and I feel like they were kind of underdogs because they were so musical. Their progressions and harmonies are just brilliant.
There are a lot of great harmonies in The Slakadeliqs. Were you trying to channel The Zombies with those?
I’m not trying to rip them off, but there are elements that I appreciate in a lot of different groups like Queen and The Zombies and The B-52s. What I try to do is create music that gives me the same type of feeling as when I listen to their music. What I channel, I guess, is beyond the music. It’s the emotion evoked by their music.
I notice that while on one hand, there’s a fair bit of distance between what you do traditionally and The Slakadeliqs, that R&B feeling keeps just kind of sliding back in. How do you manage to balance the R&B thing with these other classic-rock influences?
I have a friend who’s also one of my greatest inspirations. His name is Tingsek, and he’s featured on the album, and he’s probably the biggest inspiration for the album. It’s genre-less, if that’s even a word. I’m not thinking of R&B; I’m not thinking of rock; I’m not thinking of a genre. What happens when I do that is: I might have a Motown-sounding bass line, but the drum progression is going to be more rock, then the guitar riff is going to be something else. It’s kind of like a mosaic of all my favourite genres put into one, and I think it just naturally balances itself out. It’s nothing that’s really conscious.
Okay, that makes sense. So you got a little publicity from your friend and colleague Drake for this album?
What was it like to have someone you’ve worked with, especially with a profile like that, come back and be like, “Yeah, this guy is dope!”?
It was great. I think that as artists, we’ve gotta look out for one another. We’re kind of like a family of our own, and we understand the struggle. And yeah, it helped a lot.
That’s fantastic. Did you expect The Slakadeliqs album to do as well as it has in terms of downloads?
You know, the day leading up to the release, I was really nervous. I was talking with my girlfriend, and she was like, “Just calm down. It’ll be fine.” I’ve put out projects before, and you put so much into it, and it’s not released properly. It just gets forgotten or not noticed. As an artist, you can’t really let that affect you too much, but it does. You can’t help it.… When I saw the reaction to this, and the number of downloads, my heart started pounding. That first night, I couldn’t sleep from excitement. I’ve never seen a reaction to my music like this before. It was so inspiring.
I put four years of hard work into this project, meticulously making everything right, so that it flows perfectly. I really feel like my hard work paid off. It hasn’t sold millions, or had a million downloads, but I follow my Twitter feeds, and what people are saying is really, really moving. I got a message last night and a girl said “‘Keep Breathing’ makes me feel so much better about myself, and that’s a hard thing for anyone to do. Thank you.” My music is really touching people. I feel like it’s mission accomplished.
Let’s talk about Twitter for a minute, then. It lets artists and fans have this really unprecedented level of interaction. What does that do for you psychologically, when you have people responding to your stuff in a real-time way?
One of my biggest inspirations and motivations is the fans. Whenever I get a message from a fan, that inspires me to continue to make music. Twitter is just a great motivation tool, because I hear a lot of great things from fans. I can gauge what they like and how they’re feeling. We’re living in an age in which the major label is not really in the picture any more, and that’s great, because I don’t think they were doing anything beneficial for the artist. Now we have way more control, it’s a beautiful thing. Twitter’s just one of the many great tools available to help promote great music and great art.
It’s interesting that you say that. What do you think was missing back when major labels were controlling things? What has the ability to cut out the middleman done for you, or for artists like you?
To me, big labels are like dinosaurs. They’re old, they’re big, and they move slow. For that to be between you and your fans, it would slow things down and interrupt things. It could even change your art by the time it got to your fans. To me, that’s so pointless. They’re changing things for profit’s sake, where you’re creating things for artistic sake. Now that the big, old dinosaurs are not there, the art remains pure, and the motive remains pure, and that’s what makes lasting, timeless music.
So, you’re obviously going to continue producing as Slakah the Beatchild, is there going to be another Slakadeliqs album, as well?
Absolutely. I’ve already started the second Slakadeliqs record. I’m going to get the band more involved, as well. Typically with hip hop, you go out and hire your band when you play [live], but with this, I really want to solidify a band. I’ve got my guys, and we’re going to start rehearsing and writing a lot more together.
Okay, so let me ask about that, to clarify. You wrote everything on your guitar, and then did you have other musicians come in, or did you play everything [on the album] yourself?
I played everything myself for this record. The only things I didn’t play were strings, flute and horns.
I didn’t realize you were a multi-instrumentalist as well. What was that like for you, to write the songs and then deconstruct them in the recording process?
Writing it, for me, is the most exciting part. Composing and producing is my first love. I love it, coming up with bass lines and alternate bass lines and cool melodies. I have all my synths in the studio—I love it. That process is such a no-brainer for me.
[In terms of recording,] I’m kind of a perfectionist, so for me to have control over everything is kind of reassuring, and I get it done quick. That’s not to say I don’t like using other musicians, because the musicians I know are a billion times better than I am. I just find that the creative process and the writing process are very intimate and personal experiences. When I’m writing the song, I have my guitar, my bass, and the Rhodes, and the whole process of bringing that to life is very, very personal. That vision that I have in my mind, it has to come out exactly how I feel, and doing that myself is one of the only ways that it’s going to translate to that. Other people can contribute to the vision for sure, but as far as the core ideas, it’s easy to do on my own, and I really enjoy it.