From Big L to 50 Cent, the “Ether” Producer Has Quietly Carved an Name for Himself in the Beatmaking Community
|By AMIR SAID (SA’ID)|
On a recent Sunday night, Brooklyn rapper Papoose made what appeared to be an impromptu performance on the main stage of this year’s Hot 97 Summer Jam. While there may have been some confusion as to whether or not Hot 97’s top brass was aware of this (seemingly) planned performance, there wasn’t any confusion about who did the beat for “Get At Me,” the song Papoose performed and stirred a buzz of good controversy. That was the handy work of Ron Browz. This prompted me to post the interview I did with Browz a while back. Although the interview below was originally published in 2007 in the 4th Edition of The BeatTips Manual, it contains information and insight certainly relevant to today’s beatmaking scene.
Production setup (Ca. 2007): Akai MPC 2000XL, Akai MPC 60 II, Akai MPC 3000, Roland Fantom.
BeatTips: Now that you’ve arrived, what’s the biggest difference from the old days?
Ron Browz: The difference is people respect it more, now—
BeatTips: What, the beats or you?
Ron Browz: Both! Like since I work with A-list artists, it’s a different approach now, you know what I mean. It’s more credibility, vs. coming in the game with no placements or nothing.
BeatTips: Do you still have the same hunger?
Ron Browz: Yeah, I definitely still got the same hunger. I still do beats like I haven’t made a placement before. I’m real hungry. Same strategy, ain’t nothin’ changed.
BeatTips: How do you look at a signature sound?
Ron Browz: For some people it works… Me, I try to be versatile, ‘cuz I don’t like for people to be bored with the sound. So I try and switch up as much as possible, ‘cuz you know I work with a lot of people, I don’t want everything sounding the same. But having a signature sound is cool, because if you want something like that, you know you can go to that person for that sound. But I don’t like to pigeon-hole myself like that.
BeatTips: But when you’re working with different artists, how do you balance it out so that someone knows it’s a Browz track?
Ron Browz: Basically, the knock on it… People be knowing my tracks from the hard drums, and the strings. But you can’t really pinpoint my sound.
BeatTips: How do you approach your drums? Do you sample dry?
Ron Browz: I snatch a drum from anywhere… old records, CDs… I drum search! I think that’s a very important part of the production process. If the drums is whack, people aren’t really going to like the record.
BeatTips: What about WAV files and such?
Ron Browz: Oh, yeah, I do all that, man. Wherever there’s a drum sound at… I get on the computer, gets some kicks and snares from there. Everything, go to local stores that sell the WAVs on CD, I do a lot of that.
BeatTips: What was the first setup that you had?
Ron Browz: An Akai MPC 60 and a Korg 01W keyboard. That’s what I did “Ether” on; I did the “We Run This” on that; I did the Lil’ Kim record on that.
BeatTips: How did you start off?
Ron Browz: I was 16, 17… Every time I used to see the MPC, I wanted to play around with it. So when I finally got an opportunity to get a hold of it, I taught myself how to do it.
BeatTips: Do you play any instruments?
Ron Browz: I used to be in drum line in PAL… I’m self-taught with the keys.
BeatTips: So if you were teaching yourself, who were the producers that you were studying when you were coming up?
Ron Browz: Havoc, Pete Rock, Premier… Marley Marl… Dre… Erick Sermon. Erick Sermon’s drums was always crazy to me.
BeatTips: When you first started getting your groove, what did you find most difficult about producing?
Ron Browz: MIXING! Chopping… I had to teach myself how to chop. My manager used to tease me about my chopping. So I worked on it. Learned how to chop the samples up, kicks and snares up.
BeatTips: Outline a typical session, what do you start with?
Ron Browz: One day I might start with the drums. It all depends on how I’m feeling. One day I might start with some drums, get a drum pattern going, add some strings, add some synth sounds, then add some percussion. But then on some days, I might start with percussion.
BeatTips: Wow, you start joints with percussion?
Ron Browz: A lot of the times I do that. I’m-a tell you the truth, I start with percussion first, to give me some like kind of rhythm going.
BeatTips: Right now, what machines are you working hard on?
Ron Browz: I got three MPCs: the MPC 60 II, the MPC 2000, and the MPC 3000. I switch ‘em up.
BeatTips: So all of ‘em are still active in your shit?
Ron Browz: Like on Lloyd Banks album, one is done on the 2000, the “Help” record was done on the MPC 2000; and the “Playboy, part 2”, I did that on the MPC 60 II.
BeatTips: Do you use the filters on the MPC 60 II?
Ron Browz: Not really. When I filter, I filter in Pro Tools.
BeatTips: How do you track into Pro Tools?
Ron Browz: I track from the mixing board into Pro Tools.
BeatTips: Producers nowadays aren’t as helpful as they were years ago—
Ron Browz: That’s egos… There’s a lot of money in it right now. There’s only a certain amount of producers standing out. So everybody tryin’ to eat, and be that dude. So they ain’t really tryin’ to lend a hand. Certain people, you know, if you vibe with them, they’ll help.
BeatTips: Do you still have problems getting paid on time?
Ron Browz: Nawgh, it’s cool. Ever since… you know, good management helps. My manager, Fuzz. [Editor’s note: Ron Browz ended his management association with Fuzz a year after this interview was firs published.]
BeatTips: How concerned are you with making a beat fast?
Ron Browz: I’m pretty fast. Like in that 5 minutes when you’re making it, if it ain’t snappin’ your neck, if you ain’t feelin’ it, it’s whack. A lot tracks people have heard, it didn’t take me that long to do ‘em.
BeatTips: How many beats do you average per day?
Ron Browz: About 20, 30 beats… I’ll make beats all day, from the morning to the night, if I feel like it.
BeatTips: You’re not concerned about quality control, making that many beats in one day? You know, after a while, your ear… 20 beats in one day?!
Ron Browz: That ain’t nothin’, I’ve been doin’ that for a long time…
BeatTips: You don’t have any kids, right?
Ron Browz: [Big laughs] Yeah, a lot of dudes, be like: ‘I gotta go do this, then I gotta go to sleep, then’–
BeatTips: You don’t take days off?
Ron Browz: I try to go in the lab everyday, but sometimes you go in the lab and don’t feel it!
BeatTips: What do you notice to be the difference between producers and artists? Why do artists tend not to be where they should be, and why when producers get in, they tend to stay in?
Ron Browz: I’m-a keep it 100… A lot of artists are lazy, now. Before, they were wild creative. Now, they’re just like, “I’m hot!”
BeatTips: You got your foot in the door with Big L (the “Ebonics” joint). Then you kicked the door wide open with the Nas “Ether” joint. Breakdown how that whole climb went down.
Ron Browz: Being in Harlem, you know, Harlem is small, you know what I’m sayin’. I knew who L was… And I was hanging outside one day, and I seen him, and I took a chance, like ‘Yo, I got some tracks, wanna hear ‘em?’ He was like ‘Yeah, aiight.’ He heard the tracks… the first beat he heard was “Ebonics”. The first two beats he heard was “Ebonics” and “Size ‘Em Up”; which were the Side A and Side B. He came to the house the next day… He must’ve had a pre-meditated idea, but he didn’t have no beat for it. So when he heard it… he was
like: ‘Yo, this is it right here’. He came and did it in my house, on tape! Then we went to D&D [recording studio]in the next two weeks and laid it down for real… And from there, I was still like a beat dude, then I met up with my manager, Fuzz, who had a couple of relationships in the industry. We got up with… It was Nas’ travel agent who actually plugged us to Nas’ manager. She looked out, hooked us up, they heard that track. And at that time, he was in the middle of the war [the infamous Jay-Z/Nas beef], that’s what he needed. Nas was like, “I’m-a work with you again.” He kept his word, and that’s how “The Realest Nigga Alive” came.
BeatTips: Right now, what would you say is the hardest lesson you learned in this game?
Ron Browz: Paperwork! Paperwork gotta be right. I did paperwork late, when I first got on. ‘Cuz I didn’t know. I was just happy being in the studio. So definitely do that paperwork so you can get that scrilla [money]on the back end.
BeatTips: Do you have preset drum patterns or do you always make new drum patterns from scratch?
Ron Browz: Nawgh, from scratch.
BeatTips: When you make new joints, do you sit down and prioritize, like “I’m gonna make a club joint, I’m gonna make a street joint,” do you separate it out like that?
Ron Browz: Nawgh, it’s all a feelin’, like how I approach it that day… But nawgh, sometimes I do that, I be like: ‘I wanna make a crazy club joint’; or I be like: ‘I wanna make a crazy street joint’.
BeatTips: How do you answer critics that say sample-based producers are lazy?
Ron Browz: Sample-based! Nawgh, sampling is hip hop! Pete Rock was going crazy, you know. If it wasn’t for them sampling shit back in the days, hip hop wouldn’t be what it is right now! That’s hip hop… Sampling!!!
BeatTips: When you produce do you have the artist that you’re producing for in mind?
Ron Browz: Sometimes… But sometimes, you’ll miss doing it like that. ‘Cuz you’ll think this is what they’re looking for, and sometimes that’s not what they’re even looking for. Like when 50 Cent was doing The Massacre. I was like: ‘I’m goin’ in, I’m-a do about 40 joints with him in mind.’ I didn’t even make The Massacre. But another joint, some South sounding, well not South, but some hard shit, came out to be “I’ll Whip Your Head Boy.” I wouldn’t have thought that was something that he would pick… And I was an artist myself, when I was younger, so I know music is moody. Like today you might like something… You might hate it today, and tomorrow listen to it and think it’s hot.
BeatTips: Do you recommend that newcomer producers get management?
Ron Browz: Yeah, for sure. You don’t want to be talking for yourself, when you’re doing business. You know, some guys feel like they can talk for themselves, be a spokesperson for themselves. But you don’t really look like you got your business together, if you’re… That’s like if you’re going to court with no lawyer, representing yourself. People can do it, but it just don’t look right. The whole approach don’t look right.
BeatTips: What percentage of the game is talent and what percentage of the game is politics?
Ron Browz: Right now, it’s all politics… What, maybe, 20% talent? I be around talent all day, and they’re not on! And I look at untalented people who are on, and I’m like, ‘This is crazy!’
BeatTips: Have you had any problems with sample clearance before?
Ron Browz: No problems. But I got hit for a sample, though… on the publishing… Paul McCartney. It was a Wings sample, but I didn’t know it was Wings.
BeatTips: What song was it on?
Ron Browz: “The Playboy” (Lloyd Banks). “Playboy pt. 1”
BeatTips: As Hip Hop-Rap production education continues to expand, you know, through institutions of higher education, like Full Sail, IAR, Scratch Academy, and such, could you see yourself being a teacher…would that be something that you would be interested in doing?
Ron Browz: HELL, YEAH! That would be hot!!!
BeatTips: What type of course would you want to teach?
Ron Browz: Probably something about the MPC game, something more on the production side, rather than the business side.
BeatTips: Run down how the submission process works. In a case where you submit a beat that an artist uses, but does not make the album. Do you still get paid?
Ron Browz: It’s a situation where, like you get a first half. Any time a dude says he wants a beat, then he wants the Pro Tools file, he’s gotta give me a check first. The first half [price]of the beat! Then after that, every project goes like that… but more than likely, we’ve been blessed that everything made the albums, you know what I’m sayin’.
BeatTips: Yeah, see, that’s a part of the game that has changed a lot! 10 years ago, a dude tracked out your beat, he paid for it, up front, whether he used it or not!
Ron Browz: Yeah, yeah, hell yeah… I remember that.
BeatTips: It wasn’t no first or second half back then. So now people want to blame Pro Tools and 2-tracking and all this other shit. So it’s quietly become this: ‘We’ll give you your first half’ thing…They’re telling dudes, even well-known cats, you’re gonna have to wait 90 days; then another 90 days—
Ron Browz: Then the mix tape game is messin’ it up too, because niggas wanna test your record out first. Then if the hood like it, then the artist is like: ‘Oh, we gon’ pay for this one’.
BeatTips: How do you feel about a producers union?
Ron Browz: [long silence]hmm!!! I never thought about that…
BeatTips: A lot of producers haven’t. As producers, I feel that we need a union… You know, something like SAG, the Screen Actors Guild. SAG actors, when they do something, there’s a minimum fee that they get when they step on the set. So once somebody signs an actor to do a role, and then that studio later decides that they no longer want to use that actor, they still gotta pay the actor for the days scheduled under the contract! Another one of my big concerns is the current copyright law as it pertains to sampling in hip hop/rap music. Have you ever heard of the Grand Upright Music v. Warner Brothers/Biz Markie case?
Ron Browz: Nawgh, unh unh.
BeatTips: That was the copyright infringement case brought against Warner Brothers and Biz Markie… It was in 1991. The ruling, and subsequent result of that case was that ALL sampling was deemed illegal! The judge (judge Duffy) in his ruling, called sampling thievery! The crazy thing about this case was that it didn’t really center on the “fair use” section of the United States Copyright Act. This case was really all about rappers purportedly “stealing”, and how they must be stopped! This case thus set the precedent and tone that we now have today. And the bugged shit is how NO well-known artist and/or producer or major label ever challenged this ruling! I wrote another book, it’s called Fair Commercial Use: Hip Hop/Rap Music, Digital Sampling, and The Need For Statutory Copyright Reform. It will be published in 2007. This book covers the whole spectrum of sampling and copyright law. Trust me, the copyright law is going to
change in a way that reflects and respects the significance of digital sampling, particularly, as it pertains to in hip hop/rap music. [Editor’s note: The book described here was re-written, renamed as The Art of Sampling, and published February, 2013]
Ron Browz: Yeah… I used like a second of Paul McCartney, and he wanted like fucking 70% of the record!!! So you’re saying that I should’ve went to court?
BeatTips: Yeah… I’m telling you—
Ron Browz: You know what it is? A lot of it has to do with money. A lot of us don’t have enough money to go into court and fight.
BeatTips: This is what I’m trying to explain. Together, producers… together we can get this ruling overturned. We can get changes made to the existing copyright law.
Ron Browz: The whole sample clearance thing… and they’re taking your money, so I was like, I gotta try to get money this type of way: let me see if they’re going to mess with my played joints… But samples feel so good. It’s hip hop. You got no choice but to do it! So now, I’m like, yo, I’m doing everything…
BeatTips: What do you think about typical keyboard beats?
Ron Browz: It’s hood melodies, I call ‘em hood melodies… I ain’t got a problem with it. If it sounds hot, it sounds hot. It ain’t like they playin’ Beethoven.
BeatTips: Have you noticed how “bitin’” has become acceptable?
Ron Browz: Oh shit yeah!!! Stealing niggas bars… Consumers don’t really care. ‘Cuz certain joints… certain cats, I ain’t gonna say no names, certain joints be sounding the exact same. And consumers be like: ‘Yo, that shit is hot!’ And I’m like, that sounds like the other dude.
BeatTips: Why do you think with all the sh*t that’s played on the radio, certain cats still doing low numbers though?
Ron Browz: [laughs]Repetitiously, right!!!
BeatTips: How do you approach shopping your beats?
Ron Browz: My manager and I both be hustling.
BeatTips: Were you one to always go to the club?
Ron Browz: NAWGH!! He made me do it… Like at the beginning, Fuzz used to have to drag me out. I was like, damn that, I don’t wanna go. Then I learned… like, we had “Ether” out, and we thought that niggas was gonna call. He sitting home, I’m sitting home, phones ain’t ringing. We got the hottest street record in the world, nobody no who the fuck did it. Now the approach is: I get a record out, I’m going to everything! We club Monday through Friday!
BeatTips: Yeah, in this game it’s called the Tuesday through Thursday hustle… But some cats don’t get it, try to wait to Friday, Saturday…
Ron Browz: Awl, hell, nawgh… That’s not business days. Tuesday through Thursday, that’s when it’s poppin’, that’s when you get your networking on.
BeatTips: Soon after you and Fuzz changed the plan up, did it pay dividends?
Ron Browz: Hell, yeah… We sitting in the Time Hotel and Nas called for “Last Real Nigga Alive.” I got in the car, took off, got to the house, went to the studio, hit the drums up, went back to the house, back to the studio, back to the house, mixed it… Nas calling Fuzz like, “Yo, where the fuck the shit at? I need it now…” I met a couple of artists being out. For instance, like Kim [Lil’ Kim]. We saw her out, next day after she got out of jail, she called us to her house. Kim is crazy cool… we was chillin’… It was just a real chill vibe! She’s mad cool, yo… The point is: you gotta go out!
BeatTips: Do you take submissions from producers? Ron Browz: Yeah, I listen to beat CDs, but if it don’t grab me… But I do take the time out to listen… I’ll listen to beat CDs.Articles, Beatmaking Education, Beatmaking Themes, Theories, and Concepts, BeatTips Jewel Droppin', Book on How to Make Beats, Editor's Choice, Features, Hip Hop/Rap Music Education, Making Beats, Sa'id, The BeatTips Manual