DJ Sorce-1: In addition to producing, I’ve read that you also teach music classes. What sort of music classes do you teach?
Nick Tha 1da: I teach music production, engineering, recording, composition, and freestyling. I’ll go wherever, like New York and Boston, but I mainly teach in DC. I do that through a nonprofit called Words, Beats, and Life.
DJ Sorce-1: I know from talking to you previously that you lost some of your setup in a fire. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Nick Tha 1da: At the time my setup was just vinyl and an SP-1200. I didn’t even have the 303 yet. My upstairs neighbor’s furnace caught fire and burned a hole in their floor and my ceiling. Then, when the fireman came to put out the fire, I also got all of the water damage that came through the ceiling. That was kind of sucky. (Laughs) But you know what they say. Whenever those kinds of things happen, it makes you stronger.
DJ Sorce-1: You had an SP-1200 at that time. Was that the only equipment you were using to make music?
Nick Tha 1da: I was just rocking Cool Edit and the SP-1200. I’m still an avid fan of Cool Edit. Shout outs to my Cool Edit fam, ‘cause I know Apollo Brow gets down with it still. I don’t know if 14KT still uses it, but he can make a full beat off of Cool Edit. After the fire, I had to get rid of the SP-1200. I found out that Damu the Fudgemunk got that same SP. It’s a small beat world.
(Via Jazzle You Francis)
DJ Sorce-1: Do you ever exclusively make beats in Cool Edit?
Nick Tha 1da: Before I got any hardware, that’s how I learned. You just copy and paste. You’re working with everything from micro-chopping to straight loops. Peter Quistgard was the person whose name you had to enter in order to unlock Cool Edit after you downloaded it. Whoever he is he gets big up because he sparked a whole revolution of Cool Edit producers.
DJ Sorce-1: Would you ever put out the beats you made on the 1200?
Nick Tha 1da: They were a little amateur. (Laughs) But that style seems to be in now, especially on the 1200 tip. I have put a couple out as remixes. If you go on Underground Hip Hop, I did a project for this guy K-Cromozone. A lot of that project had 1200 beats.
DJ Sorce-1: It seems like when the fire happened, you changed your setup to Cool Edit and a 303 because the 303 was inexpensive.
Nick Tha 1da: That was the action plan after the fire. I wanted to find a way to start making a whole bunch of beats again and not cry too much over my situation. I was thinking about my options and my pops came to me with the whole SP-303 thing. I wasn’t even looking at it. I have a secret love affair with the ASR-10 and I said, “Yo, I’m going to do whatever I can to find an ASR-10.” Then my pops found me a used 303 at Guitar Center and ever since then it was on.
(Via "Black Amora" Video)
DJ Sorce-1: You have several videos on YouTube showcasing your skills on the 303. It seems like there aren’t as many videos as you would expect of people killing it on vintage equipment. Do you think producers want to keep an element of secrecy to producing?
Nick Tha 1da: That’s a great point you just brought up. I’m tired of all of this hip-hop supremacy, secrecy bs. If you can find out what I sampled props to you. You figured out the Holy Grail. If we show people certain tips and tricks, they can help develop it so we can all use it for the better. You feel me?
DJ Sorce-1: Yeah. Talking about the process and sharing information helps people make better music. I realize that a lot of producers probably don’t agree with me, but that’s my take.
Nick Tha 1da: Absolutely. The funny thing is that when I made those videos, I wasn’t like, “Alright, I’ma make a tutorial for the world to see.” I was actually making them for these projects I had when I was in college. At the time I was just 100% crate diggin’ and making beats. That’s how they started.
Everybody gives me flack for the SP-1200 video I made because they’re like, “Yo, he’s sampling to the SP-1200 straight out of his computer. That’s wack. I thought Nick was about vinyl and samples.” The funny thing is I had to rip the vinyl to the computer to sample it. It’s not like I didn’t have the vinyl. I see cats sampling off of YouTube now, which is crazy to me.
DJ Sorce-1: Yeah, people sample anything now. And I’m finding out that a lot of people used stuff other than vinyl back in the day. Do you use anything besides vinyl for samples?
Nick Tha 1da: I say everything is fair game except for YouTube. For me, the quality isn’t there. It’s already been lowered from CD quality. I’m like, “Damn, how you gonna go from record quality, to CD quality, to YouTube quality.” Unless you just don’t care and you’re really manipulating the sample. And I’m not hating on anybody that does that.
(Via Mello Music Group)
DJ Sorce-1: I’ve seen videos where you do some serious micro-chopping. I’ve also heard beats you’ve produced where it sounds more like a straight loop. When you’re doing stuff on the 303 and 404, which method do you prefer?
Nick Tha 1da: I like to chop. I mentioned this in the Behind the Beats interview, but I learned how to chop so small on the 1200. I’d take any piece I could and add filters or make it trail off so that I could extend the sample. By the time I got to the 303, I was like, “Yeah, no problem, I can flip this any way I want.” This is me giving away a secret, but the key to the 303 is that the metronome throws you off. If you can do a beat completely live and keep your timing, you can actually use more sample time and flip it and all of that. A lot of times quantization makes it sound a little bit more rigid and your samples don’t come out the way you want. I’m not saying I get everything on the first take; I gotta do it a couple of times. I also like using the 303 and the 404 for their live capacity.
DJ Sorce-1: I’m curious how much of your live shows can be internally sequenced in the 303 or 404. Do you need a computer or anything else to help you out?
Nick Tha 1da: Not at all. The beautiful difference with the 404 is that it holds so much more. Between the 303 and the 404 you don’t need anything else. I just did a show a few days ago with no computer, no turntables, no PC, just the two systems themselves. Basically all I had loaded up was a couple of drum kits. I always keep drum kits loaded on there just in case I want to do live beats or make a quick pattern. Then I run off the pattern and do all of my chops. It gets no more simple than that. I feel like it’s just a muscle and the more you practice, the more efficient you get.
(Via Shibuya-kah Video)
DJ Sorce-1: How many hours a day would you say you have to practice to get to that level?
Nick Tha 1da: I make beats every day. Got to. I split my time between doing all things hip hop. If I’m working on a theatrical show for somebody with a hip-hop soundtrack I’m working on that for 3-4 hours. Then I’m working on beats for another four hours. Another night I’m DJing here in DC for like six hours. Then after that, more beats. I probably spend at least eight hours a day.
(Via The Washington Post)
DJ Sorce-1: Wow. That is serious dedication. When you’re making a beat are you more of an early morning or late night person.
Nick Tha 1da: You never know when inspiration will hit, but I’m definitely a night owl. Sometimes I’ll get in at three in the morning from DJing and I just can’t sleep yet because I’ve been playing Ruff Ryders Anthem all night. (Laughs) Or Simon Says by Pharaoh Monch. So I still have my energy up. I’ll use that time to make something until I wind down. A lot of times I’ll break it up and have days or mornings where I just work on drums and nothing else. That way I don’t feel like I’m too stuck in a box trying to complete a beat. I also have something called Sample Sundays where I pretty much spend all Sunday digging through records and listening to samples. I’ll play the whole record, front to back, all day.
DJ Sorce-1: I need to start doing more of that.
Nick Tha 1da: You got to. I got records that I’ve bought and still ain’t heard yet.
DJ Sorce-1: You seem so comfortable with the 303 and 404. Are you ever tempted to branch out to another machine?
Nick Tha 1da: Those two are my favorites. The funny is that I just got put on to the 404. I was using the 303 exclusively for a minute, but the buttons started sticking on me. If you look at my videos, I’m hitting the crap out of them pads. Out of the eight pads, four or five weren’t sticking. I started making beats and I call them the four button beats. They sound real simple, but they were being made with what I had available. So I went to a recording studio session for one of my albums and UnOwn was there. He’s a hot producer from the area. He’s done a lot of work with Oddissee, he’s part of a group called the Jazz Addixx, and he did production for a whole bunch of people in the area. UnOwn was like, “Man, I just got the SP-404sx, but I got this regular 404. I’m not doing anything with it if you want to hold onto it for a minute.” Once I got my hands on it I was like, “Oh man, this is just a super upgrade to the 303.” Essentially, that’s what the 404 is.
(Via SP-404 Video)
DJ Sorce-1: It’s like the 303 on steroids.
Nick Tha 1da: Basically. The memory cards are easier to find and cheaper. They’re larger gigabyte cards. It has a built in mic which is awesome. You can beat box into the machine. Its battery powered so I’ve been on airplanes, busses, and trains just making beats.
(Via SP-404 Video)
DJ Sorce-1: When you’re on an airplane, train, or bus, do you get distracted by people looking at you?
Nick Tha 1da: Not at all. I try to just stay in the zone. Just so they don’t think I’m crazy I’ll be like, “Yo, you want to listen to it and see what I’m doing over here?” if they seem really interested. A lot of times the youth are more accepting than the older folks. And to answer your earlier question, the 303 and 404 are what I love, but I made a personal mantra to myself to be able to sit in front of a machine make a beat on anything. I’ve been teaching myself to make beats on Maschine, Logic, and all of the above. But I’m never gonna stop using the 303, 404, and Cool Edit.