Twin brothers Taiwo “Christian” Hassan and Kehinde “Rich” Hassan have been working within and without the music industry for over a decade, working with household names like The Neptunes and unknown names like Edison Chen. Talented, well-informed and confidently-opinionated, the producer duo sat down with us for a candid interview about their production process, working with Earl Sweatshirt and J. Cole, and the significance of letting your music speak louder than your DJ tag, among other things. The interview transcript is over 4,000 words long, but it’s full of wisdom and insider knowledge, and most importantly, it comes from a trustworthy source: two guys who just want to make good music. Read below.
RESPECT. My first question is about your process. How do you two divide the production work?
Taiwo: We work on it separately most of the time and then I let him hear something and he’ll add stuff or take stuff away. And vice versa. But that’s how it normally works; we do stuff separately. If we do something together it’s like I’ll be watching tv and he’s working on something and will say, “Come listen to this,” and we’ll go work on it.
Has it always been that way?
Taiwo: When we were in college we used to do it together because we didn’t use computers. We used the NPCs and the ASR x pro, so we just had one controller to do beats on, so yeah we did it together back then, about 10 years ago.
What about when you do vocals?
Kehinde: You mean for other people, when other artists are there?
I mean like when you do your own songs, like, “Famous Girl.”
Both: Oh we don’t do that anymore.
Taiwo: But vocally, I handled a lot the vocals most of the time.
Why’d you guys stop doing your own thing?
Taiwo: I just didn’t want to be a singer, *laughs*.
Kehinde: Yeah, we actually could have took that to the next level and done some crazy stuff with it, but for us, we always started as producers. A lot of people didn’t know that we had platinum and gold plaques like years ago before we even got known to the New York scene, so we always were focused on producing. And so when we started doing the artist stuff, it was really just a way to get people to buy more beats. And it actually worked. Now we’re selling beats, thank god. Maybe we’ll revisit it, but for now, it was always experimental to us, so who knows, maybe.
Back in 2010 there was an interview where you guys were asked to describe your sound and you guys answered, “Pop.” Would you say that now?
Taiwo: Hmmm. Did we say that?
Kehinde: You know what, no. It’s hilarious because back then, black guys being pop – and back then was just 4 years ago – black guys being pop wasn’t popular. If you were a black producer and you were pop then people would be like, “Oh you’re about to come do what The Neptunes did?”Because The Neptunes were pop but they were still obviously urban or hip-hop. So now it’s different because we listen to the same music as we did back then, but we’re not so concerned with the pop elements of it. Anything is considered pop if it becomes popular, so Earl Sweatshirt’s song “Chum” that we did, that could be considered pop because it’s a product of different people in popular culture. But I definitely wouldn’t say our sound is pop. Our sound is very organic, indie-based. Meaning we’re going back to the indie elements we liked from the ‘80s and the ‘70s, you know: The Meters, Herbie Hancock, David Axelrod. All these people that were kind of like indie back then, those are the sounds we’re borrowing now. Even though we did that back then, we’re definitely not pop. We’re just musicians.
Do you think it’s easier for you two to produce because you’re twins?
Kehinde: I think it’s harder…because we argue all the time, *laughs*.
Taiwo: I don’t know if it’s an easy or hard thing. It’s just you have somebody that has the same musical taste as you so, I don’t think it has anything to do with being twins. Just more that we have the same musical tastes. Like 99% of music we like is very similar.
One of the tracks you produced with Earl – well, you guys have a lot of tracks on Doris…my question is of the tracks that made it, how many were made?
Taiwo: We made 5 and 4 made it. The other one is going on Domo Genesis’ album. He used every track.
Wow. What was the mood of those sessions?
Taiwo: We were just having fun. We’d be clowning half the time; in a 12 hour session, we’d be talking shit for like 6-7 hours. And then the last 3 hours, we’d do a song. We were just chilling.
Kehinde: But with “Chum” we actually made that together. Us, Chad Hugo and Earl Sweatshirt. We all sat there and made it and it got serious. Everyone was in their zone. You’ll see the pictures, I think it’s on the album insert.
Taiwo: Literally we had like 5 keyboards out, 3 computers, all these machines, and we were just zoning out, going through each idea. And then after that it became laughter again. But when we’re working, when he’s writing, it’s serious. It’s not a game. Because you’re competing. It’s all these producers in the room with all these ideas so it was a little bit of both. But definitely both. Great environment. He had some pretty cool friends.
There’s an interview in which you two said you two do a lot of research before making music. Were you familiar with Earl’s work before?
Kehinde: Oh yeah.
Taiwo: The first day we saw it we were in LA, visiting, 2009 or 2010.
Kehinde: We knew about Earl before the world knew about Earl, even before indie knew about Earl.
Taiwo: Someone showed us the video and we were like, “Oh shit this kid can really rap.” And then the next week were in New York with Pharell and Shay and everyone at the Jimmy Fallon show and we all had a whole conversation about Odd Future, so we definitely were up on him way before we worked with him.
Did you have any expectations going into the sessions?
Taiwo: Yeah. I expected him to be great and he was excellent. He’s the best rapper of his generation. No question.
Kehinde: No question.
Taiwo: Every song was one take.
Kehinde: “Chum” was one take.
Taiwo: One thought, it was no question for him. Because it’s effortless for him; he’s a very smart kid. His vocabulary –
Kehinde: – is very extensive. He has a very extensive mental capacity for holding information.
Do you think that you and Earl might have vibed more because you’re both influenced by The Neptunes? Are you guys still managed by Shay?
Taiwo: But he’s one of our best friends. Actually, Earl didn’t even know we knew them. He just liked what we did. It’s really Tyler who’s into that whole ice cream, BBC, Pharell. Earl loves them, but he likes everything. He’s more of a MF DOOM, Flying Lotus, J Dilla kind of guy. More MF DOOM. So when we were doing the initial sessions, which started out as 3 days, we told him we invited Chad Hugo, he’s just going to come and he was like, “Oh shit! I didn’t even know y’all knew him!”
And actually, what a lot of people don’t know is that we actually made the call to get Pharell on the album and to get Pharell and Chad together. So technically, they really didn’t have any intentions to call Pharell because it just seemed impossible. They didn’t know even know we knew him. It was really more just him [Earl] respecting what we could bring to the table and us knowing what he could bring to the table and us just meeting there. And it worked!
Just like you said, that’s organic.
You guys seem to favor live instrumentation.
When working with rappers, does that make the recording process more difficult?
Taiwo: No, no. That’s our post-production stuff. We’ll already have the beat done already with all the elements on it. It’s seamless. You can’t bring that element into the studio cause then it’s like kind of unattractive to be like *points finger* the guitar is gonna be there…if it’s gonna be there you do it before so it doesn’t –
Kehinde: – for J. Cole’s record, that record, including the hook, which has our homegirl Stacy on the original hook – you’ll see it when we put it online soon – that whole song was just done; all he had to do was insert vocals. Guitar, drums, piano, it was done. We try to make it easy because rappers are different from when we’re sitting down with groups like Lykke Li. They’ll go over and start playing piano and giving you ideas. What rapper do you know that’s going to start playing piano? They don’t understand that or care to.
Taiwo: They just want you to be a producer, do your job and let them take care of the rap. So that relationship is easy. You don’t want to make it harder than that.
That’s why I asked. I imagine that most rappers, they just want the beat.
Taiwo: Somebody like J. Cole produces himself so he’ll actually try to –
Kehinde: He’ll add some stuff.
Taiwo: Earl, we showed him how to make beats better, but he also knows how to play keys and stuff.
Kehinde: Yeah, he plays keys pretty well.
I was actually going to ask about that. Since Earl and J. Cole are both rappers and producers, how does that affect the recording process?
Taiwo: Well the respect us and know that we’re really good at producing, especially when you’re in the room; you get to see how good we are at producing. So they respect it. I don’t think they’re intimidated by us. They just respect what we’re doing and that we’re enhancing what they do. Because we focus on production way more than the average artist/producer does. You can tell through our production that we take our time.
Kehinde: It’s like meeting a carpenter who’s really good at making wood pieces and then he’s like, “Well, I design houses too…” I’d rather have somebody that just designs houses because his concentration and expertise is gonna be at the highest level because that’s all he does. Then you bring the carpenter in to do what he does. If you get somebody that does it all, they’re gonna half-ass things. It’s going to be a little off. It won’t be exactly that one hundred percent it should be: it’s gonna be like eighty-five, ninety percent. So you need both elements. And people respect that about us. We just focus strictly on the ins and outs of production, from mixing, to drum selection to keyboards to everything. Because that’s all we do, just do research.
Do you guys do the engineering too?
Taiwo: Pre-recording stuff, but usually no –
Kehinde: – we have engineers there, but as far as mixing records, we’ll be there with the engineers.
Taiwo: But it’s good to get a good engineer because that’s all they focus on. Those are the type of things that make a good record become a hit record: a good producer that knows how to produce, an artist or writer that knows how to really write, an engineer who really knows how to mix, and a mastering guy. People don’t know these things matter. That’s how you end up wth a shitty song with a shitty mix that sounds like shit. You always have to do a remaster because the original was shitty because the producer wanted to mix other elements. It’s always good to have experts at things do what they do because they’re always going to enhance the whole project no matter what you’re doing. You always want the best carpenter and the best electrician working on your shit. That works for all walks of life.
I read that you guys used to perform with a string quartet and a six-piece band?
Taiwo: Yeah, we did. We did that Santos Party House, Webster Hall.
Kehinde: Hotel Rivington. Yeah, it was cool. That was our show. Actually we didn’t have a quartet. It was a quintet: two violinists, cello, bass –
Taiwo: – No, it was two cellos, two violinists and a bass.
Kehinde: Yeah, that was when we were experimenting with different ideas, how big we could make it on our own.
Taiwo: His whole body of work. Just his whole philosophy, like Valis –
Kehinde: Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep –
Taiwo: – We Got it For Wholesale [sic]. That’s what Total Recall was based on. We found about him not even too long ago, like a year or two ago. We knew his work, but didn’t know it was based off the books. My homeboy Nino was just like, “Yo, I think you should out this guy, I think you’d like him.”And ever since then we’ve been obsessed with reading the books and watching all the different movies. And we just sat down and said hey we should make this whole concept, so everyone song is named after either a book or short story. So that’s the whole concept. And because when you hear it, it sounds like a soundtrack to one of his books. That;s what it feels like, very moody. There’s this one record called “Oddities” that is very happy, but it feels like Philip K Dick.
Have you guys read Time out of Joint?
Taiwo: I know that title but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. What’s that one about?
It’s kind of like The Truman Show, but I think it’s a little more serious though.
Taiwo: I think what he would say interviews and in his books was pretty serious. so that makes sense
Yeah, he seemed to be worried about the effect of technology on people…
Taiwo: Technically we worked on like 3 or 4 –
Kehinde: A lot. Well, not a lot, but a good amount.
Taiwo: We’d be talking on the phone and he’d say send some beats.
Kehinde: Or we’d go by the studio and he’d say, “Oh, I want this beat.”
Taiwo: There was one song, I forget the name, that had a hook on it already. Miguel was supposed to be on that but I guess since he had already done “Power Trip,” he took him on that. But that song was dope. I never heard his verses on it, but he was really ecstatic about that beat, a few beats. But the best song out of all of them was “Sparks Will Fly.
Kehinde: That’s the bigger record. That’s like his Eminem and Rihanna, “Love the Way You Lie.”
Taiwo: Yeah, he’s also had that record for like 2 years. It was supposed to go on his first album. Jay-Z heard it and was like, “You need to put this on your first album.”
Kehinde: Yeah, the record was done two years ago. We actually made it in Brooklyn –
Taiwo: – in 2010. Yeah, it was actually 3 years ago, shit.
Kehinde: And then he recorded it in 2011. We were just waiting and waiting and wondering, “When is this gonna come out.” But now it’s out and now it’s gold. So we’re happy about that.
When songs get put in the archive like that, are they beyond your control for the most part?
Taiwo:What do you mean?
Like if a song is recorded and made and given to the artist, even if they put a verse on it, is it in their hands once they get it?
Taiwo: Yeah, once they purchase it…well it depends. If you’re passionate about it and someone else really wants it you’re going to call the artist up and be like, “Someone really wants this track. Do you want this track or not?” And they’ll either say, “Nah, I’m good,” or they’ll fight for it and say, “Nah, I still want it,” and you figure out from there.
Taiwo: Refund them? Yeah! Well you don’t have to…
Kehinde: You can be shady and not, but in good taste you should. Just like in any other business, you buy a tv, you don’t want, you take it back to the store and they refund you. You can’t just hold on to the purchase. But that rarely happens.
Taiwo: I remember I heard an old story that Alchemist did a beat for Ras Kass and they only paid him the first half and it took too long. So he took the beat and gave it to Jadakiss and that’s that song, “We Gon Make It.” So there’s a version I heard with Ras Kass and there’s a version that Jadakiss had. And that came from that kind of situation: he was waiting on them, they weren’t moving with his schedule and he was like, “Look, I’m giving it to this guy.” Now I don’t know how the logistics went but I remember hearing that story like 10 years ago.
Kehinde: That’s rare, but when it happens, you have to be very delicate because it’s touchy. People get real sensitive about tracks, sometimes selfish. You just have to be a good businessman and be able to see the future and make the right decisions.
Taiwo: When you do that, bridges will get burned. You just have to accept that fact and think about how important it is for you to have that track for someone else.
So you guys are from Chicago. What do you think about the music scene that’s developing there, specifically with Chance the Rapper and the Save Money Crew?
Kehinde: We love Chance. We’re actually working with Vic Mensa now. We gave him 2 tracks for the INNANETAPE and we helped him kind of with arrangement for the song selection. Because that kid got like – Jesus Christ – 30 songs? Fully done. And they’re all dope. It’s hard to go through the list.
But I like what all those kids are doing. I like what Sosa is doing. I like what Reese is doing, definitely King Louie, definitely King Louie. Chance is…wow. Chance is gonna be that dude. What Drake is doing now, Chance is gonna do in his own way. He’s gonna be that kid at 20 with 30 million, with fans all over the world. And Vic too. Vic is gonna be right there with him. Because they aren’t afraid to try a new path of music. They’re not going with the same tone. And they’re from really bad neighborhoods in Chicago. So to know where they’re from and what they’re making is just wow. I’m very impressed. Chicago is doing good right now, on the music front.
What years were you guys in Atlanta?
Both: 06-07. We were working with Bangladesh down there.
Kehinde: Yeah, we used to work with Bangladesh. The only song we ended up doing together was a song for this dude Willie Northpole. That’s the only song we ended up doing together that was placed.
Taiwo: We were cool with him, but that’s the only person who we really worked with down there.
Kehinde: It’s funny because the streetwear scene…streetwear like Supreme and 10DEEP have been around since the 90’s almost.
Since the 90’s?
Kehinde: Oh yeah. Supreme has been around since the 90’s. Around then in ‘06 that’s when all these other kids started getting inspired. So Rocksmith and all these other guys were starting to blow up and the scene in Atlanta was where we actually started seeing it. So we were in the indie scene and I’d see all these things happening down there and it was pretty dope in Atlanta. And they had their own culture and they had this store called Wish that had all the illest gear, and the artists would come through so it’s been pretty interesting to see that development. By the time we came back to New York, there were hipsters everywhere wearing it.
I asked because I want to know what you guys think about the New Atlanta Movement.
Kehinde: I don’t know a thing about it.
Taiwo: I just know Migos. I thought Migos was one dude until the Breakfast Club interview.
Kehinde: Migos has some pretty cool records from what I’ve heard.
Taiwo: Atlanta is always like that, since the ‘90s. They just have a wave. It’s always like every 6 months, they have a new style with new people. In early 2000’s it was Trillville, Lil’ Scrappy and them.
Kehinde: Actually there was just a new wave with 2 Chainz. We used to play basketball at Bangladesh’s house every Sunday.
He’s good, isn’t he?
Taiwo: Yeah, he can hoop.
Kehinde: Yeah, he’s a real good basketball player. He’s pretty tall. He’s a pretty intense dude, but he’s really fun on the basketball court. He came through with Ludacris’ crew as Tity Boi with I-20 and them back then. And then he had Playaz Circle, which had the big song with Lil’ Wayne. And then he did that and it kind of died down. And I remember just hearing about this guy 2 Chainz and then turning on the radio or something, and I wondered who that was and why everyone kept sweating this guy. And I saw a picture and was like, “That look like Tity Boi.” And then I read the article and I was right. It’s crazy to see that movement. Atlanta always got something, so I’m sure whatever it is, it’s dope. I don’t know what it is, but I’m sure it’s dope.
It seems like DJs are back in demand as people are turning away from the radio. I read that you guys do DJ sets. What would say the appeal is of your DJ sets?
Taiwo: We like doing house music, like old Chicago house music. For example, we did this Electric Forest Festival like 3 weeks ago in Rothbury, Michigan and we were playing old house stuff and then we switched it to TNGHT and played a bunch of trap shit – trap in the sense of house music trap. Actually, we played regular trap too, like Rocko and Rick Ross. The appeal to come to our show is that you’re going to hear stuff that feels good. Even if you don’t like house music, you’re going to like it.
Kehinde: We just take the best of each genre. No Top 40.
Taiwo: No Top 40. If a record is Top 40 and we like it, we’ll play it, but that’s rare. But the appeal is that you’re going to be seeing these two black dudes up there playing some dope fucking music. And we ain’t wearing no costumes.
Kehinde: As a producer, if you’re smart, you’ll come to our DJ sets and learn all the music we listen to and actually learn why we are what we are and how we know what we know. You’re just going to hear all our influences, so put it like this. In January we had a residency at this club called Block and we were playing what we play now – we have our own Wednesday slot at another place – we played our house and our trap and whatever and the club promoters didn’t get it and they took us off. And a month later, all their DJs copied our sets and now that’s the standard in LA. If you go to Hyde, you go to Emerson, you go to Greystone, all the DJs are playing a Christian Rich set. In hindsight, if you want to know what our appeal is, it’s introducing people to new shit for them to take. But when we do festivals, they get it and they love it. Because it’s two black guys music that really black people started, so that’s the appeal: just good music. No gimmicks, no costumes or girls dancing on stage. Hell no. You’re either into the songs or you’re not.
So you guys don’t play an explosion or anything?
Kehinde: *laughs* Maybe to be comical, but…nah.
Taiwo: I don’t even play the Christian Rich tag anymore. We don’t need that shit. It’s just about the music. It’s corny when you do stuff like that because there’s so many other ways to brand yourself within the music. When people are listening to the music, just let them enjoy the music. If you want to brand yourself, take that music you’re playing and work with a brand outside of you that will bring their audience with them, but when you’re doing a show –
Kehinde: Can you imagine going to a show, like a Florence in the Machine show and in the background she has bombs and something going *speaks softly:* “Florence and the Machine!” You wouldn’t want to watch it! You’d be like fuck that shit, this is bullshit. We take our sets seriously. It should just be where the average person can come and say, “I don’t know you and I don’t know those songs, but I’m a fan.” That’s what it’s about.
This my last question. What’s your favorite album or EP or mixtape of the year?
Kehinde: Doris is crazy.
Taiwo: I’ve been listening to it for almost a year now. Doris is equivalent to good kid. m.A.A.d. city in terms of story. It’s not a cohesive story, but it does tell a story in general about a kid who’s lost between being the best and knowing he’s the best and then restraining because he doesn’t want to outshine anybody around him or he doesn’t want to admit to himself he is the best. It’s an 18 year old kid going through the mind state of – “Do you realize you are Illmatic Nas? Do you realize you are Reasonable Doubt Jay-Z?” That’s what the album’s about: him fighting off demons saying, “That’s you!” and him saying, “No, it’s not!” It’s pretty tough. Sick album. We’ve been listening to Quadron too.
Taiwo: Yeah, that’s a crazy album too.
Kehinde: “LFT” and “It’s Gonna Get You” are just..
Taiwo: We played that shit for Shay of N.E.R.D. and he called us and texted us for about a week trying to find out what’s the album.
Kehinde: Their first album, before they signed to Epic, was good too. The string arrangements on that album, damn. I can’t wait until they blow up. They deserve it. Coco is really good and Robin’s a great producer. Those are our two albums.
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