Chicago producer and true hip-hop head, Prolyfic, sat down with Fake Shore Drive to discuss his history in hip-hop, the early days of 1st & 15th Records, his work on Food & Liquor, and Pro clears the air on the Lupe Fiasco/Okayplayer e-drama that set the internet ablaze a few months back.
Your hip-hop roots run pretty deep. Let’s talk a bit about your background in the culture
Well, at one point in time I did every element. Eventually though, I had to say this element is my calling, this element isn’t my calling and I’m too old to be just learning how to do this, because I tried to learn breakdancing and I was 18 or something….I just needed to slow down and really focus on one of these (laughs).
Do you still write graf?
Every time I have a piece of paper and a pencil in my hand, I’ll do a quick throwup and tag my name a bunch of times, but nothing serious. I don’t draw elaborate pieces anymore. I think I’m starting to lose the talent, because I used to draw comics and I really can’t do it anymore. I feel like art is kind of “if you don’t use it, you lose it”. So I found myself going to the comic book store and getting a Wizard book to try and retrain myself because I kind of miss it
Really, because I used to be in to drawing. I did comics and graf and I feel like even though I may be a little rusty, I can get back in my grove pretty quickly. It’s nowhere near where I was back in high school, but it’s still there, I stopped writing once I turned 18 though – I didn’t need to catch a case as an adult
(laughs) I think everybody’s attitude changed, with the exception of a few people, once they hit that 18 mark – “What, a felony?” (laughs). But before that, you wouldn’t catch me anywhere without some kind of scratch rocks, a Sharpee, a paint marker, a streaker, some shoe polish….just getting up on everything I could. I’d have a backpack with at least 4 different Krylon colors, a ziplock bag full of caps. The fatheads, the wides prays, the liner caps.
The good old days…
The good old days! (laughs)
You used to rap too, right?
I started out as a battle rapper, I mean if you really want to go back, back. Back in 7th and 8th grade I was really into MC Ren and I wanted to be a gangster rapper. One time I wound up calling Ruthless Records – remember back in the days there used to be numbers on the back of the albums for you to contact the label – they don’t do that anymore. But I ended up getting through to someone, and I got them on the phone and I just started spitting, you know, some lyrics that I shouldn’t have even been saying at that age and my Grandmother heard it and shut it down immediately. Who knows what could have happened with that. But then once I got to High School, my school was in the hood, but there was this one lunch table that was filled with heads, like Bush Babee type of heads and they used to rap everyday at lunch. So I started hanging around the table and these dudes were like seniors and I was a freshman looking up to these guys. I started to come around and I slowly started to spit my raps and after a while I just became a regular, so then they graduated and I took their place and formed a crew. We would go to different parties around the city to battle people but we didn’t really have any equipment or producers to work with us. At the time I was working at a bowling alley, being a porter, therefore I was the only person in my crew with any form of income. So out of all of the things I could have purchased, I went out and bought a karaoke machine (laughs).
You just wanted to have that microphone and the recording tape deck!
Right, I didn’t know nothing, I just wanted a mic and a place to record. My boy down the street had a Gemini starter kit, so I bought that from him for $100 and then I started going record shopping. I would go to Coop’s Underground on 87th and Stony, or I would go to Gramaphone up north and I would get my wax and try to find instrumentals for us to rap on, so now we making karaoke raps on other peoples beats. Finally we realized we had to make our own songs over our own beats so I bought a Gemini DS 1224 sampler, a fifteen second piece of shit. I would find little sections of a rap beat, that I knew was underground, and not many people knew about, or at least I didn’t think they knew about and the try to make a beat around that sample. For instance, I once used “At the Speed of Life” by Xzibit and just looped a part I liked and would play my music over it.
So around that time, I got recruited by this crew, they were called Ill Nature, and that started my battle career. Our crew was like Rap Olympics style battling. We battled Juice, we battled ‘Fest [Rhymefest], we battled anyone who wanted it. The first All City battle I competed in, I battled Profound and I came in second place. The only reason I lost, and I had the crowd behind me the whole time, was because my mind was doing too much for me. I went so hard in the first round that by the next round I kept goin’ back and repeating lines and I just couldn’t think of nothing. But I was the runner-up in my first All City battle and then I won the next two straight. This was between 1997-2000.
But back to the production talk. One time Pugs [Pugs Atomz] called me out, because he had come over to do a track and he peeped the whole technique. We had just finished freestylin’ and he called me out: “Pro, you still making beats out of other rap beats” (laughs). I was like awwwww! So I knew I had to do a little more at that point. My grandmother had a classic collection of records, like Beethoven and Roger Williams – stuff that you just don’t sample. I started learning how to chop them up and I upgraded to an Akai S20 sampler for like $500 bucks, not knowing could have dropped the extra $250 and got something better, but I really didn’t know that at the time.
I mean $500 bucks might as well have been a million dollars at that time
And those were the days when you’d save your money for months for a big purchase. Every allowance or whatever, I’m saving money in June to buy the piece of equipment I wanted by November, you know.
Then I started working on my craft and getting better and better and there was this cat named Boogz, who I hooked up with at the time. We used to always hang out at the Point over on 55th and Lake Shore – that was Hip Hop land. We’d be at the Point and then we started going to the Euphonic parties and Boogz looked at me as a smaller version of himself. Boogz decided he wanted to take me under his wing, so he kinda took me in. He saw that I had a good ear for samples, but he knew I needed help on certain things. He showed me how to chop the samples up, you know the
formulated chop that we use now. The way Dion (No ID) and Kanye do it. He showed me that style of chopping. He introduced me to people like Icedrake, Kanye West, No ID and Dug Infinite. So Boogz is really the person who is responsible for bringing me into the circle.
I ended up going over to a label called Infrared Records with Boogz for a while. I started coming around there and at first they didn’t pay me no mind, but after a while they noticed me and my work, so they offered me a contract. The contract was kind of janky, but I was moving further than I’d ever moved, so I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by. I wasn’t doing nothin’ at home so let me just go ahead and deal with whatever’s to become later. Because at this point, I’m meeting people that I’ve always looked up to. I never in a million years thought I’d meet No ID! I grew up listening to Resurrection!
So fast forward, I was over at Infrared and we’re doing the thing. Mind you, a lot of people don’t know this –but Infrared is a small success story in their own right. You’ve got myself, you’ve got Boogz, you’ve got Yung Berg – who was originally Ice Berg, TeeJay, Twone Gabz, LEP – RIP to Larro, as one structured unit. So to see everyone branch out later on was kind of crazy to me. The structure of the company eventually began to fall apart due to death, prison, poor management, etc. So Boogz gets fed up and goes out to New York to politic with Foxy Brown’s people. Boogz was out there because he was tired of sittin’ so he was running around shopping beats in New York, and Anton [Foxy Brown’s brother and A&R] said I have a partner I want you to meet back in Chicago. So they sent Boogz back to Chicago to meet up with a guy by the name of Chilly, who was forming a company called First N Fifteenth. So after Boogz left Infrared, I eventually became the man over there by default. However, Boogz always promised that he would come back for me. One day he called and told me he was getting a crib and I could move in with him, and it was perfect timing, because I was getting into it with my Grandma over doing the music thing, so I just left.
So you were FNF bound right after that…
Yeah I went home and moved out all of my stuff and I became a part of First N Fifteenth. At that time it was me, Chilly, Boogz and Lupe. That was right around the time that Stacks [Stack Bundles] was supposed to be signing, but I think his father had stepped in and decided they didn’t want to do it. So Stacks was part of the family when he’d be in town. Before Boogz and I came along there were also two producers, Frankie B Nice and DJ Marbles. It turned out Chilly met Gemini (GemStones) at a studio session during the same week that Chilly met Boogz, and Gemini brought along this cat named Sport. Then boom, the whole company was formed in the matter of two weeks. Some people came later, like Soundtrakk came between the Arista and Atlantic deal.
So around this time FNF had just signed with Arista, correct?
Yeah we had that deal, Jermaine Dupri wanted to take over the project, but around that time Arista folded and we lost the deal. Around the time Arista folded we had released this sampler and we were blowing away everyone at the showcases and we had a feeling that Lupe was the next thing. The label was playing us Scott Storch records and Just Blaze records, but Chilly was very big on making sure that no other producers were over me and Boogz. So right before we lost the deal, Chilly got knocked and that’s when Jay [Jay-Z] stepped in. Jay wanted to get Kanye and Just Blaze involved in the project, but then he heard me and Boogz and was “Okay, I guess we don’t need the Kanye’s or the Just Blaze’s”. So Jay stepped in and saved the deal with Arista because they were getting ready to drop us, and then Artista folds.
Daryl Jones, who was our A&R on Arista at the time, ended up landing at Atlantic and got us the deal over there. Let me just make this clear that this is like a two year story compacted into a few minutes (laughs).
So when Chill got knocked how did that shake up the company?
We kind of started to go downhill at that point, but we got back on our feet and we started to record the album for Atlantic, and they gave us full creative control. Daryl Jones was the overseeing A&R, but we had the final say so, which made it even better. It was much better than Artista where it was their way or the highway.
Having complete creative control on a new artist’s project in this day in age almost seems unfathomable. Even four years ago…
Right, it was unheard of because basically the only person we had to answer to was Craig Kallman and that was pretty much it, and he was only involved so much…
So right around that time was when Lupe appeared on Kanye West’s “Touch the Sky” if I’m not mistaken
Right. Which is funny because we tried to reach out to Kanye back in the Arista days and Kanye gave us an outrageous price. Then later on, once Jay stepped in, Kanye winded up getting involved. So ‘Ye put Lupe on the “Touch the Sky’ record and they did the video. And around that time we pretty much had Food & Liquor done. We recorded Food & Liquor like five or six times, actually. I mean, just in the course of a few years, we were on our own and it was mainly just me and Lupe working on it and constructing the record. We would record five records and the best of those records would make it to the next round to battle another five records. Then those records would become Food & Liquor – and then we had the leak.
The leak heard round the world as some called it…
When the leak happened, it was just kind of like “Ahh, you got to be kidding me”, it was almost overnight and the completed Food & Liquor was on the web. And I don’t know, there’s been lots of speculation, whether it was inside or whether it was label affiliated…
So to this day you still don’t know who leaked it?
We still don’t know what happened. It put a monkey wrench in everything. And it was really crazy for me because most of my work was on the leak. See I got truncated down to three tracks on the album, when I originally had 7 or 8 tracks. I still think they should have used some of the records from the leaked version. Boogz left the company, so they didn’t use any of the Boogz material, which I to this day don’t agree with. He has a record that is out there but it isn’t too wide spread it’s called “Ghetto Story” – and it
’s an incredible record. Still one of Lupe’s best records and it will never officially see the light of day.
I mean the buzz for that album was so crazy, that once it leaked it spread like wildfire throughout the internet. I can’t lie, I had it.
Yeah – like crazy. I remember getting the call from Lupe and he was giving me the tracklisting of the leaked album, because we didn’t think there was any way all of these could have leaked. So Lupe gave me the tracklisting, and I had never heard of any of the songs before, because whoever did it, was titling them whatever word Lupe said in the first few seconds – like “Pressure” was called “Trials & Tribulations” because Lupe said it at the beginning. So we downloaded the album to find out what tracks leaked – imagine downloading your OWN album. Like “what the fuck” and every song that we held for Food & Liquor was on there.
So the story goes as follows, and I question this myself, but it goes like this: we had creative control of the project and we weren’t giving records to the label. Craig Kallman got pissed and said “Well, I need some music and if you don’t, I’m going to find you breach of contract”. So we gave some records to Craig and he supposedly gave them to some of his A&R’s to work, and then from there it hit the web.
For those that don’t know, of the tracks you produced, which ones made the official release of Food & Liquor
“Just Might Be Okay”, “Pressure”, “American Terrorist” and the bonus track, so for when I originally had 7.
I bet you can’t even describe how tight you were over that
Man, because I had put my heart and soul into those tracks! Those records were like my babies. So then we set out to replace those records and that’s when Kanye came in and Pharrell came in. We previously had Needlz and Nottz involved, but they chose not to use Nottz’ record, “Failure”, because it was already out there, and that was another track they should have kept in my opinion. Because Lupe’s new fans don’t know anything about the old, original material. Some of the stuff is available online, but only the real heads and hip-hop nerds have it.
I personally liked the leaked version better.
We all do (laughs). That’s like a hands down type of thing. I haven’t really ran across too many people who, with the exception of those who don’t really know about the leak like that, that like the official better than the leak. There are a few reasons why the leak is better – the sequence of the album, it was years and years of songs that stood the test of time as opposed to what was on the official Food & Liquor, which was made in a rush.
Yeah but real quick, I just want to note that Lupe wasn’t my first industry exposure – my first experience was Foxy Brown. But things didn’t work out with her because she would, let’s say, “take” my beats, make songs, and release them on mixtapes. If they weren’t the right response then she wouldn’t buy them from me.
Also, do you remember the infamous “Chaining Day” ceremony from the Kanye West “Through The Wire” video, where Dame gives Kanye his Roc-A-Fella chain?
Me and Boogz was on stage with Kanye that night. I was there because I had sold “On & Poppin” to Oschino & Sparks for the Dream Tream/Paid In Full Soundtrack – that was actually my first official placement. So when they came to Chi we spent the day with them. I got to hang out and meet Jay and get a hug from Beyonce. We were backstage watching the show and you see everyone about to go on stage and walking through the hallway: Dame, Twista, Bleek all of them. That was another exciting moment at the beginning of my career.
Back then I was just the tag-a-long. Boogz was the man and I rolled with him, I was the little shorty he rolled with. Boogz would bring me around, so I would meet the Kanye’s, the Icedrake’s. If he wanted to go out to No ID’s crib at 3AM, I’d take hin out there. I’d carry the crates – I was the intern (laughs). Nobody wants to do that anymore, people don’t want to carry those crates anymore.
So now you’re working with No ID, correct? I know you’re contributing to the No ID vs. Traxster website
That’s my friend, mentor, teacher on many different levels, and not just music. He gives me a lot of advice because some of the situations he went through were similar to those that I’ve gone through, so we connect on a lot of different levels. But on the music side he gives me a lot pointers, suggestions and stuff. Sometimes I don’t catch them right away, I’ll have to do my research and figure it out on my own. Dion’s whole thing is he doesn’t just sit you down and teach you everything. What he does is he gives you hints and clues, but at the end of the day you gotta get it on your own. He won’t tell you where he got those records from, he won’t tell you where those drums are from, but he’ll lead you there.
I know a few months back there was quite a bit of controversy surrounding some comments you made regarding Lupe Fiasco and 1st & 15th’s shoddy business practices. Has this issue since been resolved.
No. Everything I the same way it’s been since the year before Food & Liquor was released. People think that this is something new – it’s not. This isn’t new, but I just didn’t put it out there because, you know how people are from Chicago – for lack of better words – we’re not bitches.
What happened with the Okaypayer situation was that since Food & Liquor dropped I constantly get attacked for the kind of beats that I make. So somebody got me so mad on the okayplayer board that I decied to set the record straight. So when I did so, people started asking me questions and it just got too widespread and I let some personal business that didn’t need to be out there, out there. I don’t take back a single word that I typed because it was all true. I didn’t exaggerate a single word I typed. Truth be told, Lupe is the most disloyal person I’ve ever met in my life. He’s loyal to certain people and that’s where it starts and ends. The love I showed him as a person, not just a producer, I didn’t expect what I got back. I kept it in for years, and I know for years and years to come everyone is going to ask me about this Okayplayer situation. Me and the company parted ways a half a year before Food & Liquor came out and I legally left the company the February after Food & liquor was released. So this was something that had been brewing for a long time. My contract was not fulfilled and finally I sought legal help – my legal issues were with the company and Chilly, as a business man. I like to use a quote I heard Mase use regarding Puffy from a long time ago: “I have no issues with Puffy, my only issues was that he did business and called it family”. It was family to my face, but business on paper. I trusted that the business and the family was the same, but I got burned in the end. It has nothing to do with Lupe’s music, it has to do with him as a person. Because if Lupe lived next door to me, we’d be fighting everyday. Lupe didn’t show any loyalty or concern to a person who was in his corner from day one. When Chilly got locked up, we was broke making records. Boogz left. We was broke, eating bologna sandwiches, wearing the same t-shirts everyday making records. It was just me, Gemini, Lupe and Sport. Everyday. We had some people come and check on us from time to time, not financially of course. Then every Friday we would go to visit Chilly. Me and Lupe talked for hours on end everyday, but then once he started to get some attention and a little bit of stardom, he stopped answering the phone, he stopped coming around it was just like “Fuck Pro”. I was more loyal to him than I was some of my family members. I thought I met a very good friend late in life.
This issue may never be resolved. I really don’t care, it was just a live and learn lesson type of thing. I still love his music, but as far as mending this – I just really don’t know. I still think his music is dope though – probably a little too complex for most and I think that’s his biggest vice. But I still think he’s extremely intelligent and I think he has the capability of becoming something great, but his vice for striving to be too complex is hindering his growth. He’s always trying to be that next, next, next. Always. Whether it be fashion, his music, whatever.
I know a lot of the fans would like to see you two work together again in the future – do you ever see that happening?
Well, I tried to reach out to him a while back, via email and also via Daryl Jones, trying to say “Look man, we don’t have to agree personally, but we have fans that want to see us work together and we don’t have to kick the bo-bo’s, but let’s just work, because at the end of the day the product is going to conquer the beef”. But he shot it down. So I don’t know if you’ll ever see it again.
What upcoming projects do you have in the pipeline? What’s next for Prolyfic?
On the hip-hop side of things we’re doing a project with Elzhi from Slum Village. The project will be two tracks from the various producers involved: Me, 1120, Soundtrakk, Brian “All Day” Miller, No ID and when I last spoke to Elzhi he said he wanted to get Black Milk and Pete Rock on the project as well. I told Elzhi that we’re going to shoot to have this album released by mid-summer, and I told Elzhi that the track he’s doing with me is going to be a straight radio smash
I’m happy to hear that because I’m definitely an Elzhi fan. People have been waiting on his solo release
He has a lot of fans who have been waiting on some new material and an actual anthem because he has a strong following and so do a lot of the producers involved on the project. Also people may want to hear a producer such as myself, or Soundtrakk producing for someone besides Lupe. So it’s a nice platform, it will open up a lot of doors from that point. And I think this band of producers kind of wants to start doing similar projects. I’ve thought about approaching Phonte about doing something in this fashion.
How did the project with Elzhi come about?
It initially started out as just an EP with me, Soundtrakk and 1120. I emailed Elz about the idea, doing six songs with two beats from each of us and put it out. He emailed me back and said he wanted to be down. So then I called Dion to see if he wanted to be down and No ID said he was with it. And we asked Brian to get down, and he admitted that he grew up on Elz, so he jumped in it as well.
On a lower scale, and I’m trying to get my crew, Ill Nature to make some good records. I also have a guy name Ras Rok who has been with me since day one – I’m always working on his project. Aside from that I have this chick named Bliss, she’s out of New Jersey, but that’s more on the pop side of things. Finally, the Thundercats who are singed to Murder Inc who are kind of a NERD meets the Gym Class Heroes.