At only 20 years of age, Thelonious Martin has accomplished more than the average hip-hop producer. Although he has done a lot in his career and has probably produced for your favorite rapper, he remains as humble as can be. We went to Brooklyn to catch up with the producer for his brief vacation out here in New York. Sporting vintage Lo, Jordan 8s, and a Rick Ross beard, Thelonious sat at his MacBook and chopped up samples as we asked him a few questions pertaining to his accomplishments, influences, favorite produced albums, and more.
RESPECT: For a person who doesn’t know who you are, can you tell them some of your production credits and describe your sound?
TM: I’m Thelonious Martin. I’m 20. I’ve produced for Curren$y, Freeway, Pac Div, Mac Miller, Chance The Rapper, Joey Bada$$, Action Bronson, Rockie Fresh, Smoke DZA, and many more. My sound is a product of ’06 Stones Throw, Kanye, Just Blaze, you know, a bunch of cats. Just being a student of our craft, I really try to draw influence from people like that, especially people like Alchemist too. This is the YouTube generation where we can watch and learn, and grab bits and pieces from so many sources.
You’re out here on vacation, right?
Yeah I’m out here for a few weeks.
How is New York treating you so far?
I grew up in Jersey, so New York always felt like a third home, in a sense. You come out here, get love, you know. Me and Topaz [sitting to his left] did a program at NYU like our junior year of high school, so being in the city isn’t much of a stretch. I love the vibes out here. Everyone seems like they’re working and got something going for themselves.
What do you plan to get done out here?
Me and Topaz are working on an incredible EP right now. My man Retchy P gets back in town, I think, Thursday. We’re wrapping up this project called Polo Sporting Goods.
I was going to ask you about that project; what’s the status on that?
It’s almost done. We got some ridiculous features on there. I think that’s really going to shake up the game, in terms of like, raw rap shit. All of the tracks on there have a certain appeal, like you’ll hear someone say something and you’ll be like “hold on, wait a second,” you’ll have to run the record back like four times. Not only ‘cause he said something cold, but I feel like a lot of times, rappers will say something and it’ll be like “haha did you get it?” but not necessarily let their bars speak for themselves.
When did you know that you wanted to pursue music as a career?
I was watching Adult Swim and they had a bump, and it was either the intro or the outro to Donuts and I was like “What. The. Fuck!” I heard that and I was instantly like music can affect you like this? The moment I heard some J Dilla, that’s when I knew.
The EP you did with Curren$y, 3 Piece Set, talk a bit about that, the recording process, and what it’s like to be in the studio with Spitta.
3 Piece Set was a great day! The crazy part about that project is that we did all three of those records in one day. Working with Spitta is possibly one of the easiest within all of the big name artists I have worked with. It was like, I’d play a beat, he’d fuck with it, and I’d start tweaking little bits on it. For the most part, it was like, I’d play something cold, and he’d fuck with it.
I heard he liked the first three beats you played and you didn’t have to play anything else.
Yeah, it was just three in a row and we knocked ‘em all out that same day.
How did you become the Closed Sessions in-house producer at such a young age? You were 17 or 18 at the time, right?
Yeah. When I moved to Chicago for college, I linked up with RTC and he was showing me around and getting me introduced to a bunch of Chicago people and it was dope. He was telling me about how they had this thing called “Closed Sessions” going on and how they could make me apart of it. I ended up working out of the B-room over there all the time and whenever they had people come in, they would be asking for beats from me, so it kinda just went hand-in-hand.
We live in a day-in-age where you can just send a beat out via email and an artist hops on it. Do you prefer to do that or–
NO! I hate it! I’d rather be in the studio with you. I’m trying to get these budgets together so I can just show up at a studio with the artist. I hate mailed-in verses and stuff, ‘cause if I’m in the studio with you and I think the verse is whack, I’ma tell you. It’s something lost there if it’s just emails and stuff. That’s like if you recorded it yesterday, you send it to me today, I tell you it’s whack the next day, then you have to go back and do it over, nahh, I’d rather be there and make sure it’s put together the right way so we could avoid all of that.
Cliche question: who are you influences, as far as producers?
J. Dilla, Alchemist, Madlib, MF DOOM, Just Blaze. Just to round off the gist of it. I could name a bunch of producers that I love but those are the main ones.
What equipment do you use to make beats?
Logic 9 and an Akai MPD24.
What’s your favorite album, as far as production?
Shit, um, an album that’s really slept on as far as production credits is Fishscale. Ghostface got beats from Dilla, Just Blaze, MF DOOM, I think there’s a beat from Pete Rock on there. He had everybody you could think of on that album, in terms of your favorite producers. Um, Covert Coup, what Alc did to that album was ridiculous. Slum Village Fantastic Volume 2. Damn, that’s a really loaded question, I could sit here all day and just think of my favorite produced albums. OH! It’s this one beat tape, Damu The Fudgemunk—How It Should Sound Volumes 1 and 2. That man is like Pete Rock jr. on steroids! I don’t know if a lot of people know about dude, but he is FILTHY! Damu The Fudgemunk is nasty!
Who else do you have projects coming out with, besides Retch?
This joint with Topaz…I’m sitting on a whole project with my man Evan Holt. Um, me and this amazing producer named WhoAreI are about to start working on this project together. Me and my man Stan Ross are about to do another project as well. I’ve been kinda quiet about all of the projects, in terms of what’s about to come out because I don’t want to jinx anything but there’s a couple joints here and there, I feel like once they come out, people will be like “Oh Shit!” ‘Cause it’s crazy to me, a bunch of the joints that have been coming out recently, they are all old beats, so people are giving me this buzz, talking about my name, and it’s all the old stuff.
About two or three weeks ago, I was with World’s Fair and Remy Banks spoke highly of you and your production. Explain the relationship between you two.
That’s my brother man! That’s good peoples g. Me, him, Stan, and Domo Genesis was at SXSW not too long ago, just smoking weed and chilling. That’s really the big bro, I’ve been working with him for a minute. I love the fact that the internet kinda allows for that, where you can reach out and build these connections with people. Then you actually fuck with them in person and shit, it makes everything even cooler. But Remy, that’s a good dude and they make great music over there.
Do you and Joey Bada$$ have anything else in the works?
Um, not that I know of. I gotta send him some more stuff. I actually just want to sit down with him and chop it up. I know he just dropped his mixtape but I really want in on that album. That’s what I’ve been on these past couple of months. People drop mixtapes but I want in on the album, like I want people to buy something, flip through the book and see “produced by Thelonious Martin.” That’s what I’m gearing up towards.
You’re big on Polo, so where do you get your rare Polo Sporting Goods?
Many locations, different spots, and in caves–sike nahh [laughs]. I’ve been passed down a lot. I’m lucky to have parents who are both ‘Lo heads, like that’s my travel blanket over there [points to his Polo blanket]. When you know a lot of old ‘Lo heads, some of the cats don’t even wear it anymore. I’ve just been blessed with it man, and it’s not a fad or anything. You can ask Topaz, he’s known me since my freshmen year of high school, that’s all I’ve always been on. I always fucked with ‘Lo. Half of my suitcase for this trip is just all ‘Lo. I got a few pieces that no one else got simply because of who I know, like my RPL varsity jacket. My OG told me, in Chicago: it’s only like two other people that got that shit and it’s one of his big homies and Don C. It’s crazy when your OG tells you about big homies. Like damn, you got big homies? [Laughs]
Have you ever had a moment where you say to yourself “Damn, I can’t believe I did this shit!” whether it be when you’re in the studio with someone, or in a certain situation?
Each time I’m in the studio. I’m very thankful to be in the position that I’m in. I remember going to the studio with Action Bronson to do “Blackbird.” I was in class, and RTC hit my phone like “Yo, Bronson fucks with all your beats, can you come to the studio?” I was in class and I was like “Fuck this shit, I’m going to the studio.” I told my teacher that I had to go do something that actually pertained to my career, I’m out. She couldn’t say nothing. I was in a class for learning ProTools or some dumb shit. Even when I was going to work with Curren$y, it was like oh shit, some of my best friends from high school are super fans of this guy. I’m thankful that I’m in this situation that I’m in.
Last question for you. If you had 3 people, dead or alive, that you could have a studio session with, who would it be?
FUCK! [laughs] The studio session is going to be Dilla, Roy Ayers, [pauses] and Jay-Z. Simply because I always hear this story, I think it’s in ?uestlove’s book. ?uestlove was A&R’ing The Black Album and he had hit Dilla but Dilla was like “nahh, I’m working with Frank-N-Dank.” He was working with his peoples, you know. He was basically like fuck Jay-Z’s album [laughs]. I always wanted to hear what Jay-Z would sound like on a Dilla beat. So imagine me, Dilla, and Roy Ayers on the production and then having Hov spit on it. That shit would turn out so crazy! That would be my dream session, it would either be Andre  or Hov that I would put in that session.
The first album that I bought was Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. I literally learned all the words to The Love Below like the day that I bought the album. All OutKast in general, like my mom took me to an OutKast concert when I was two. She had all the albums. I’m very torn right now that they’re not going to come back and make an album.
Well, it’s been cool coming to kick it with you man. I appreciate you doing this interview.
No problem, man. Thank you and shoutout to RESPECT. Mag.
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