What comes across the most when speaking with Gensu Dean is a sense of community. Not simply how much he cares for the beatmaking community, but how many individuals in this community have helped to shape his understanding of the art of beatmking as well as contribute to his success. I think this is a testament to Gensu’s warm and friendly nature just as much as it is a nod to his deep respect for the art of beatmaking and his profound interest in music creative exploration. Gensu dean is the epitome of a philosophy-based musician and master technician. His musical journey, which literally spans several continents and a number of key eras in hip hop, is mdeeply engaging and useful to any level of beatmaker.
In this interview, Gensu and I talked about a wide variety of topics, including the moment his production changed for the rest of his life, where his appreciation for music comes from, how the navy helped him get his first setup, how his friendship with David Banner led to a critical development, how to guard against over producing, why he credits a lot of his success to Lord Jamar, how he became close friends with one of his production heroes, and why hip hop is the ultimate example of musical freedom.
Editor’s note: This is an epic long read, but worth it.
BeatTips: Talk to me about your upbringing, where you were born and raised.
Gensu Dean (GD): I was born in Fort Knox, KY. And I was raised in a lot of different places, because my father was in the army. So I spent a lot of time in Kentucky, Tennessee, Germany, Mississippi, California, and Japan. Every two/ three years or four years we were moving somewhere. Because he was in the army. We were living on a military facility, on a base. A totally different world. Because they have something called D.O.D. school. Which stands for Depart of Defense. So even the schools, grocery stores, shopping centers, everything was on those bases. It was like a city, inside of a city. Like, imagine living in Long Island City, Queens, but everything you need is right there. Elementary schools, everything, but it’s right inside of the city.
But if you lived off base, which was gated. If you go off base, it’s a whole nother world. You know, all civilian people, with their own schools. So growing up like that, in terms of music, it was always interesting because sometimes they would get stuff before us, because we were on a military base, which had better distribution. Sometimes people would get stuff before people who didn’t live on base. It was a very unique situation.
There was a time when my dad went to Germany and my mom didn’t want to go, but we couldn’t stay on base. So we lived off base. So that was my first time actually going to schools with civilians. And that was just a whole nother world. And during that time, breakin’ [break dancing]had gotten really, really popular, and hip hop, musically, had started becoming more sophisticated. Like Rakim had dropped Paid in Full, stuff like that. Just seeing how they [the people off base]interacted with the music and stuff like that was different. That was really a dope thing.
BeatTips: How old were you when this happened, the first time you went to a civilian school?
GD: I was probably in the 7th or 8th grade. So I was in my early teens. I had started school early. When I graduated from high school, I had just turned 17. It was different, because being on base, during that time, they didn’t have the age requirement to be in school. Like the age requirement was a lot lower. I think now your children have to be six by the time the school year starts, something like that. Back then, I was a relatively sharp kid because I had two older sisters; I was the baby. So being around older kids all of the time, I developed quicker. And so I started school kind of early. And I was 17 years old and in college. It was weird.
BeatTips: How was it for you when you moved around like that? Were the D.O.D. schools identical everywhere you went?
GD: Pretty much. It was a multicultural, multi-ethnic environment. Just like the military was. And so the structure, because it was all army, the structure of the neighborhoods may not have looked alike, but the structure and the formatting of the school was the same primary setting.
BeatTips: Was it difficult for you every time you went to a new place? Where you able to settle in everywhere you went, to meet new friends and things like that?
GD: Yes, it was a situation where, I, probably because of my zodiac is adventure, you know what I mean. And I like the excitement of adventure. Of moving to new places and discovering new things. And so I kind of embraced it. And this is, of course, before the days of iPhone and Skype, and chat, and all of that, so I didn’t like leaving my friends. You make a good friend, before you know it, you gotta get up and move. That portion of it was probably the most challenging.
But moving to a new place. Discovering what that new city, or that new base had to offer, was exciting to me. And still is. I’ll move to a city and I’m excited because I’m thinking, What record stores do they have here? What kind of records am I going to find? What’s the vibe of the people? Like, I really get into the human experience as it relates to music. And so moving to somewhere new and discovering that which is unknown. Making it known is a big thing.
Some people couldn’t handle it. I know a lot of kids back then who’s life took a bad turn because they just couldn’t acclimate to moving all of the time and being the new kid. Because when you’re— One of the biggest misconceptions is that when you move in the military is that it’s convenient. Usually, it’s not convenient. You may move in the middle of the year. You may actually start school, and then a month later have to move to a whole new school. So it was always me getting up in front the class. “Class, this is the new kid.” It was always that. So it could make or break you. I didn’t really enjoy that part of it. But I enjoyed the adventure of learning something new.
BeatTips: What was your father, was he in the Army, the Marines?
GD: He was Army. My pops went from high school straight to Vietnam.
BeatTips: Wow! What rank did he hold?
GD: He was a Sgt. Major.
BeatTips: Oh, I see, he was career military.
GD: Oh, yeah, he did almost thirty years.
GD: Yeah. Peace be upon him.
BeatTips: Did he ever discuss with you Vietnam?
GD: Yeah. Actually, when he got, I would say, when I joined the Navy, is when he started opening up more. And definitely by the time, I’d say, maybe four a five years ago, he started opening up more. I walked into the garage one day, I was visiting my parents, and he had some of his golf buddies there. He had set up the garage as his little man cave. And I had rolled up and caught him and some of his golf buddies talking about Vietnam.
You know, as a secret knowledge, sometimes you gotta know when to shut up to draw the information out. So I just stood there soaking it all up. And I was surprised with how much he had opened up about it. Because he was just a kid. He was 17 years old. My parents are from Mississippi. That’s where my roots are from. And so he went from graduation to Vietnam.
BeatTips: When did you join the Navy?
GD: After high school, I went to Grambling. Grambling State [University]. I actually had an aunt, my Aunt Dorothy, peace be upon her, she was a professor at Grambling State for years. And so, you know, through her influence, I went there. And that’s where I actually met Erykah, my sister Erykah Badu. Peace to Erykah. We were actually in college together. And so after a few years of college, I wanted to travel and focus on other things, and join the Navy. So this would have been in the ‘90s.
BeatTips: You brought up going to school with Erykah Badu. Did you guys hang out, make music together? Talk about that.
GD: Oh, yeah, that was my homegirl. I met her actually through my man Justice, Dr. David Reed at Morgan State, I mean Bowie State in Maryland. At Howard also. Justice introduced me to her, because at the time, I was a freshman and he was a sophomore. He had been there for a minute. And Erykah was a homegirl, she would beat box and freestyle. She would always ask us to build and talk about our ideology. And she would invite us to her plays, because she was really big into acting. Really peace, sweet, spirited sister.
And we hung with the same crew. My man, Self Equality, from New Jersey. A rasta from Oakland by the name of Ché. And we were kind of like a little small conscious circle of people dealing with knowledge. And so we all kind of clicked and hung out. And she went on to even rap and sing and dance for the group. But by that time, I had left Grambling. But that’s my girl.
BeatTips: At that time, what was the name that everybody knew you by?
GD: Sincere. Sincere Allah. At that time. I was still rhymin’ at that time, and I wasn’t really doing production. You know, I had dabbled with production because I was always around the music aspect of hip hop, and music in general, because my dad used to sing and play records. My mom would play records. You know, the kind of typical black household in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. And so, I grew up around music. And when I got into hip hop, me and my DJ, Shakwan, we would work on beats together. And I would have ideas for loops and stuff like that, but I was around the production. So during that time at Grambling, I just actually went by what we call our righteous names, which at that time was Sincere Allah. So that’s what she would know me by, or what they know me by.
BeatTips: Is Dean your last name? What’s your full name?
GD: Dean is actually my middle name, and it’s part of my righteous name. Dean in Arabic means “the path” or “the way”. My righteous name is Shavuden. Sha is “king” in Arabic. So the whole name means “King of victorious and universal path.” And so I’ve always kept it. You know, when I got into both rhymin’ and making beats, I just went by my righteous name, Shavuden.
And there was a point where I was working with a group out of Baton Rouge. This was in the mid-‘90s, like maybe ‘96/’97. And these cats were super dope. They actually ended up becoming my brothers. But one of the group members, a brother from Chicago named Verge. Verge was super dope, on the mic and on the beats. And one day Verge called me and was like, “Yo, that beat that you played, man, you cut that sample up like a Ginsu.” And as soon as he said it, I was like, “Yo, that’s it!” Because I didn’t use the word “chop”. Back then, I didn’t call it “chop”. I said I “sliced” it. Or I “cut” it, I “cut” the sample up. I used to say that a lot. Which I actually I got into that concept from my man,5B, another dope producer from Mississippi. So when Verge said that, that’s when I started going by Gensu Dean. I wanted to keep the “Den” in there. Even the “den” means “the way of slicing, cutting the beat.”
By the time I got out of high school, I was dolo, I was going for self. Making beats on my own, and I would do the rhymes on my own. It was until like the mid- to late ‘90s that I stopped rhymin’ and focused completely on production. I wanted the rappers to speak for me and I would just speak through the music. That was like ’98, somewhere around there.
And what’s crazy, there was a time when I got writer’s block and started focusing on the beats and Shakwan started rhymin’. It was funny because we had actually switched roles. We would still go back and forth, but that’s probably when I got the bug for wanting to get deeper into the beats.
And my man Verge, the name of the group was the Ill Relatives. It’s crazy because they broke the world “ill” down because one rapper, Drack, and Verge, they were both from Chicago, Illinois. And the third “l” represents Louisiana, because the third member of our group, Al, was from Louisiana. And the “relatives” part was because they were like family and brothers.
BeatTips: This was at Grambling?
GD: Nah, this would’ve been Mississippi. This would’ve been in ‘96/’97 when I first met them. Because the crazy thing is, G, when I got out the Navy, I was living in Oakland. And I moved from there to Mississippi because my older sister was living in Mississippi. I never lived there per se, it was always visiting my grandmother. I thought it would be cool to move there. So when I moved there, that’s when I met my brother, and one of my best friends, David Banner. That would be like ‘95/’96. And so through him, I met all these incredible talents in Mississippi. He introduced me to the Ill Relatives.
BeatTips: How long were you in the Navy for?
GD: I was in for four years.
BeatTips: So you went in in ’92?
GD: Yeah, I went in early ’92.
BeatTips: Where were you stationed at?
GD: Tokyo, Yokosuka, Okinowa, Japan, San Diego, 32nd Street in San Diego.
BeatTips: What prompted you to go to the Navy?
GD: You know, really to be honest, I think it was a combination of two things. One was, and probably the more important thing, the independence of self, and the focus. Because in college, you know, I was a good kid, but I was clearly unfocused. All them beautiful women, my mind wasn’t on no books. And then the other side of that is, I wanted to be able to fund my own musical journey. I wanted my own turntables, I wanted my own beat machine. I didn’t want to have to rely on my parents or work at McDonald’s or something like that and try to save up three or four pennies to get my own stuff; I just didn’t want to do that. I wanted my own thing.
And because of my scores and my innate ability to communicate, I went into Naval Communications. And so, financially, it enabled me to buy my own equipment and do things like that. Buy my own four track. Buy a mic. Get all of those things to have a whole set. Or at least to make demos. Because back then, it was about making a demo good enough to go to the studio and do something professional. So really that was it. One, to gain more focus as a man. And two, to be able to fund my own dreams and aspirations to be able to do music.
BeatTips: I know Austin is a little bit all over the place with the music, and the music typically associated with that area is pretty much not what you do. So is there another scene in Austin that’s aligned more with the kind of music that you make?
GD: Well, had you asked that question a few years ago, it would’ve been a different answer. But now that sample-based hip hop has a little bit more light, meaning a little bit more attention on it, you have more people doing it. So it’s cool now, you know what I’m sayin’. You’re not looked at as doing something old school. Which I actually hate that term. Sample-based hip hop, locally, is a little bit more accepted. But to answer your initial question, there are some people here doing some stuff.
But, man, the climate of the industry, the genre that we’re in right now, is so over saturated that you can go to swing low, ankle ash, Iowa and you’re going to find some people, you know, quote, unquote, “digging in the crates,” and all this other kind of shit. So there’s definitely people here doing it. But as far as like a scene, nah. There’s shows. People come through here. Like my man DJ Notion throws shows here, he has a weekly show. So there’s people here who are clearly in the field of what I do or into the genre of hip hop that I make. But not like some big scene like if I was in L.A. or New York or something like that, where there’s visibly a community of people doing what I do.
BeatTips: I can tell that you probably excelled in Naval Communications. You can see how your pattern of thought is wide, is very robust. It’s something I appreciate.
GD: Thank you, brother.
BeatTips: I’m interested to know, what was your first conscious recollection of any form of creativity, not just music?
GD: I would say my first recollection would be making toys. Me being the only boy in my family, and I was the baby, you know my older sisters didn’t play with me, you know what I mean. Like I had to create worlds that didn’t exist in my room. I remember, I asked my mom to get me a Zartan, the G.I. Joe action figure Zartan. Because he was super ill. He was a chameleon. He was just super dope. And my mom looked at me like I was crazy.
So I found a kid in the neighborhood who had one, and I found a way to talk him out of it through some kind of boot leg trade we did. And then I created the swamp cycle, I think it was called. It was these motorcycles that Zartan and his crew used to ride on in the swamp. I watched the cartoon. I looked at the toy store catalog. And I actually made it. I actually made the thing myself, with pipe cleaners and popsicle sticks.
It was that type of stuff, man. You know, I made something out of nothing. You know there was this one time when I couldn’t find any of my action figures. I don’t know if I had left it at my grandmother’s house or whatever. But I took some pipe cleaners and actually made action figures. And they weren’t just like stick figures. They had heads, I drew eyes on them. They had different color shirts and pants. Just with pipe cleaners. And so, making something out of nothing, at that age, at that time, was the catalyst for me getting into hip hop. Because making beats, I’m making something that doesn’t exist — Making it out of something that does exist. I’m taking the tangible, but not so tangible, and making something audible.
BeatTips: That’s accurate. Earlier, you raised a very valuable point, especially for younger people right now who will never have access to what I’m about to say. You said that you grew up around music, that you grew up in a “typical black family.” For younger generations, and I might say people 20 and younger who may never have that experience, explain what that phrase means, growing up around music and what was typical about it for a black family in America at that time in the 1970s and 1980s.
GD: You know, probably the most important thing is the appreciation for the music. It doesn’t become so throw away. Because it’s actually a part of your life. So growing up around it— Every Thursday through Sunday, you can definitely guarantee there was gonna be some music being played in my house. My dad would hit the club sometimes Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Sometimes just Friday and Saturday. He would have his friends come over. He would pull out the 45s [records]. He was playing music, dancing.
My dad was a singer, he actually had a group called the Doo Dahs, and had all four of them not gone in the Army, they probably would’ve had a deal like The Delfonics. My pops, peace be upon him, he used to sing like the lead singer of The Delfonics. So there was always that music energy growing up. Props to my dad, because he would even play some country music. So I was getting soul, R&B, Motown soul. I was getting funk, like The Meters. The Meters are from Louisiana. My parents are from Mississippi, which is a neighboring state. So they were big on The Meters. I was getting some jazz, but very little. My pops wasn’t really into jazz. Clearly, I was getting gospel and some country.
BeatTips: Who were the artists that stood out the most to your father? Like who do you remember hearing the most played in the house?
GD: There was a lot of Stevie (Stevie Wonder). A lot of Motown sound. Which is stereotypical, but that’s what it was. A lot of Motown stuff. My moms was big on Sam Cooke, Smokey Robinson. There was a lot of that played, but there wasn’t like one person who got the most burn. They just played lots of music. Like, my dad would buy the albums, my mom would by the 45s [records], or vice versa. And so, literally, my mom would get paid and she would go to the store and buy some 45s and come home with them. So there was always different things, because her taste slightly varied from my pops.
BeatTips: At this time, you’re absorbing all of this music—
GD: ALL OF IT!
BeatTips: Did you notice that you were gravitating towards a specific sound or a specific artist that you liked?
GD: No, because it was just my house. It was just what was going on at my house. So I didn’t look at it from that vantage point until I got older and got into hip hop.
BeatTips: Were you reading any liner notes when you were younger?
GD: I wasn’t reading the liner notes, but I was studying the covers. I remember the Ohio Player record covers. You know, of course as a kid, I would— It had beautiful black women on them, so I was looking at the covers for other reasons. But I also thought that it was really interesting, why they would do that. The Honey album. Sisters on there looking delicious. And literally covered in honey. I thought, “Wow, that’s dope!” Well, I probably didn’t use the term “dope” [laughs]. I thought it was cool that the album was called Honey and went and poured honey on this woman. And Pain, they actually got a knife going into somebody’s back.
So I started looking at stuff like that, and that was the whole music experience growing up in that time. Sitting down with the album covers, studying it, looking at it, all of that played a part in the listening experience. When I first played People’s Extinctive Travels… [A Tribe Called Quest Album], I’m looking at the art work and, you know, I’m looking at Paid in Full, and I’m like, “Damn, look at all that gold!” The album is called Paid in Full and they got all this money, and their style was creative. And yo, you got Rakim’s crew on the back. And they got Flavor Flav, and he knows them. Like all of that while you’re listening to the music plays a part in how you absorb the music. But I didn’t read the liner notes mostly. I read some stuff, but I was more mesmerized by the covers themselves in relation to the music. And I was definitely paying attention to that.
BeatTips: That’s a good segue for your development as a music producer. Discuss with me the progression of your setup. Like, tell me the time when you got your first setup and what it was.
GD: I would say, right away, when I started using other people’s equipment, there was one guy, I think his name was Nate. He had a group called Dos Hombres. I never liked that name. But anyway, Nate was a musicians, he could play. And those guys were way older than us. And Nate had a four track and some stuff at his crib. And Shakwan and I would go over there with our ideas, and Nate would kind of put it together for us.
I always had two things in my production. I always had some kind of vocal sample. And I always had some stark noise. Almost to the point that one of my brothers named Ralik used to call it feminine fat. Like, “Yo, he always got the feminine fat in his beats.” Because there would always be some kind of female voice. This was, of course, way before RZA was sampling loops and leaving the vocals in the loops, instead of trying to chop ‘em out. RZA would just leave it in there. I would have vocal samples like that in my beats. And it was just something that I liked. I thought it was interesting and created a certain kind of mood. And so I always stuck with that.
BeatTips: When was this?
GD: This would’ve been ’89.
BeatTips: And what were you using to make beats at that time?
GD: I had a Casio SK5. First, I had the SK1. I would use the SK5 in conjunction with whatever Nate had at his crib. And even before the Casio board, we would take the record and I would say, “Yo, let’s used this part.” So we would create a beat on the drum machine and record that to four track. And then I would have Shakwan play the record over the beat. Kind of like Jam Master Jay, peace be upon him, did “Peter Piper” [Run-DMC].
BeatTips: What drum machine were you using?
GD: The drum machine Nate had. It was a Yamaha something. And then we had got a Korg, some kind of old Korg, which I actually wish I still had because when I think about it, the buttons were a lot like the SP 1200. But it didn’t sample, it was just a drum machine.
BeatTips: When did you get the SP 1200? Or what did you get after the Casio?
GD: After the Casio, is when I went with no equipment at all. Just rhyming. I Joined the Navy. Then got my own equipment. So my first professional sampler was an Akai S01 rack mount sampler, which I was warned not to get. There was a producer named Butterscotch Tate, I’ll never forget him. Brother was from Ohio. I was in Japan at the time. And he had just got an ASR-10 and he was selling his EPS for a grand [$1,000]. And I was like, “Are you nuts! I’m not paying no thousand dollars for a…”
But see, at the time, my mentality, I’m still bootleg. But Butterscotch was making professional recordings. I had to elevate my understanding that if you’re gonna make professional music, then this pause tape, bubble-gummin’ shit together — you gotta get away from that. Just like with the records. I got to Japan, I went to the record store and a Roy Ayers record was like $35. I was like, “Wait a minute. Is this three dollars and fifty cents, or THIRTY. FIVE. DOLLARS?” See, I had to elevate my understanding, because I was used to fifty cent records, dollar records, and then taking records from everybody’s mama’s house. I didn’t realize that if you wanted to step your game up and start bangin’ with the big dogs, then there’s a price that comes with it, and a price tag.
So I didn’t listen to Butterscotch Tate, and I ran out and bought something cheaper, the S01. That was frustrating. Didn’t realize you needed something to MIDI with it. And here’s another thing, during this time, G, there was NO mentorship. There was no YouTube instructional videos. There was no WhoSampled.com. There was NOTHING to hold your hand if you wanted to get into making music. First of all, everybody didn’t do it. That’s the first thing. It was not a popular thing to do. You were actually kind of a nerd, until they figured out that you were dope. Then they thought you were cool. But everybody wasn’t trying to be a DJ, ‘cause turntables were expensive. Everybody wasn’t making beats, because the equipment was expensive.
And CLEARLY people weren’t buying records, you looked like a clown doing that. So for me to get into this aspect of hip hop and music, with no mentorship, it came with a lot of mistakes. It was a lot of trial and error. So I bought that machine, and didn’t listen to Butterscotch. Got frustrated. Ended up having to sell it. Took a L [a loss]. And bought the EPS anyway. And that’s when my production changed for the rest of my life.
BeatTips: It opened up an entirely new world.
GD: An entirely new world. And this was 1992. ‘92/’93.
BeatTips: At the time that you got the EPS, did you already have an idea about the style and sound you wanted to after?
GD: Yes. But I didn’t think about it. It was there. The pre-determined idea was already there. I just hadn’t really looked at it that way. I was just very green, and looked at like, “I wanna make beats.” Like everyone else, I wanted to sound like my heroes. I wanted to be Large Professor. I wanted to be Pete Rock. These were groundbreaking producers in music, period. Not just hip hop, but music, period. I wanted to be Q-Tip. So that was the goal at that time: To create music that was on that level. And I already knew and understood, because of something I study called supreme mathematics, I already knew that it would be a process in order to arrive at, quote, unquote, your sound. And I was welcoming that process.
But I don’t really think I have a sound. I’ve heard people tell me, “I knew that was a Gensu beat.” But I think I have things that I do in my records that are identifiable of me, that are indicative that Gensu Dean did that. But I like being formless, you know what I mean. Especially when you’re working with other artists. I want to be able to— If I just have one sound, if I have just my sound, that’s gonna put parameters on who I work with. Because everybody I work with may not fit my sound. But if I just have a foundation, and I’m able to go into any direction based on that foundation, then I can work with whoever I want to.
BeatTips: One thing I want to get back to, because you and I are both in the same vein, I bought the S01, with that same thought, years ago. You quickly learn how limited it is. After the EPS 16, did you think about getting an MPC or an S950 setup? Did you think about getting an SP1200? What happened?
GD: The EPS was doing everything that I needed and wanted to do at that time, because of my development. Remember, I had no mentorship. And I was in Japan, so I was kind of disconnected from what was going on in the world. Now, I will say this, something that I left out. When I was in high school, and I always shout this dude out, there was a dude named Wayne Ill. Wayne was one of the illest producers I had ever heard. Period. And what was so special about Wayne, was Wayne was grabbing sound bites before I heard Primo [DJ Premier] do it. This white guy in Killeen, Texas, which is a little town nowhere on the map, he was one of the first people I heard grabbing sound bites — piano stabs — and rockin’ that over drums. He used the MPC 60.
The reason I brought him up is because of this. The first professional sampler that I ever put my hands on was the MPC 60. Wayne said he was gonna get one, and I knew that when that kid put his mind to something, he did it. He said he was getting two brand new Technics turntables, we all laughed him. A few months later, we all went to his house, this motherfucker had brand new Technics! He said he was gonna get them. He’ll pick up gum out of your yard for money until he builds up what he needs to do. I loved that man’s determination.
So he got an MPC 60. He said, “I’m getting a professional sampler so we can actually do the drums and loop stuff.” And I’m like, “Yeah, OK, right.” He called me one day, he said, “Bring some records over.” I went over there , he had his records, and I went into the room and it was like that thing was glowing! And the sound was amazing and I loved that machine. So I’ve always had a very weird, unspoken connection to that machine.
So let me fast forward back to ’92 in Japan. When you asked me, after the EPS did I have a desire to go elsewhere? I always had a desire to go elsewhere. In the back of my mind, I wanted the 60 [MPC 60]. Because of what Wayne had shown me. And I was buying musician magazines at the time, and I would see the little ads for the SP [SP 1200] and MPC 60 and stuff like that and, yeah, I wanted it. But I didn’t realize how bad I needed it. So the EPS, I used that until the mid- to late ‘90s.
BeatTips: What made you realize that you needed an MPC 60?
GD: The group that I mentioned earlier, the Ill Relatives — David Banner called me one day and said, “Yo, you gotta hear this new record that the Ill just did.” He just kept raving about the drums, the way Drack programmed the drums, the drums, the drums. And I’m like, I gotta hear this damn record. So I asked him, “Drack did it with the ASR?” He said, “No! He did it with this new machine called the MPC 2000.”
So when I finally heard the song, and I saw the swing and the texture of the beat, I was sold. And Banner got one before me. So I was able to go play with his, and I was like, “Oh, shit! I gotta have this.” Plus, it reminded me of the MPC 60. Remember, I still had that love affair with her from back in high school. So that was the next machine, the 2000 [MPC 2000]. And I had this thing of, when I would go to a new machine, I would— Any beat that I haven’t used, it just gets discarded. Like, I literally would start over. Completely. And I never looked back. Sometimes I would miss my EPS, but I would never look back. And so, I really developed the Gensu Dean concept when I started using the 2000 [MPC 2000]. So I used the MPC 2000 from like around ‘97/’98 until 2002.
BeatTips: And then what did you switch to?
GD: The SP 1200.
BeatTips: Woah. Some people would say you did the reverse.
GD: Exactly! That’s exactly what happened.
BeatTips: What made you switch to the SP 1200?
GD: I walked backwards. When other producers were chasing technology and went forward, I actually started walking backwards. So I went from the Casio bubble gum setup to the EPS. From the EPS to the 2000 [MPC]; I used the XL [MPC 2000XL] for a little bit. And then I went from that to a 60 [MPC 60]. I had an MPC 60 for about three months. And then I went to the SP 12. Then I went to the SP 1200. I did a 90-minute beat tape that I lost. Somebody around here has a 90-minute beat tape of SP 12 beats. I called it boot camp. Because my thing was, if I can do all of this with five seconds, then ten seconds is a life time. So that was my training. And when I pulled it off, and I played those beats over and over again, I was like, Yo, I gotta have a 1200 [SP 1200].
So what made me start walking backwards was I didn’t like the sonic sound where hip hop was going. Because producers were chasing technology. There were more features; there was more tricks that you could do with these machines. But the warmth was being lost. And so I wanted to use a machine that represented a certain time in hip hop. But use it in today’s time, in real time, make it relevant and compete with today.
BeatTips: Did you get a brand new SP 1200, or did you have to get it used?
GD: Yeah, it was used. But I got it, ironically, from the same place that I got my EPS back in ’92, which was Rogue Music in New York.
BeatTips: You ordered it from Rogue or were you actually in New York when you got it?
GD: There’s actually an interesting story. I ordered it. But there’s an interesting story to how I got that SP. I ended up getting it from my man, a good friend of mine from Massachusetts, a brother from the Boston area. He had literally just gotten it from Rogue. Long story short, I called Rogue, “Do you have an SP?” They said, “Yes.” I said, “OK, hold it. I’m going to send you my MPC 2000. Whatever you’re going to give me for that, put that on the SP, and then that’ll hold it, and then in two weeks, I’ll give you the remaining balance. The person who prepared that order didn’t take the SP off the shelf. And so it got sold.
So when I called two weeks later, to confirm the address and everything, to send them my money, they were like, “The SP is gone.” And I was like, “What do you mean, ‘It’s gone?’ I already sent you my MP, we already did this deal.” They had sold it. So I was like, “Shit, what else do you have?” They had an MPC 60. Remember, that love affair I had. So I just said, “OK, give me that.”
So I had the 60 [MPC 60] for like three months. Well, I meet this guy online. I put out a post, “Hey, I got a clean MPC 60, the MKII version, fully upgraded, super clean. It’s probably a little more computer friendly than other machines, but it’s still analog. I’m looking for anyone who wants to do a trade.” So this guy hits me up and is like, “Yo, I got an SP. Maybe we can do a trade?” Come to find out, the SP he traded me was the one Rogue was supposed to hold for me. It was the exact machine.
And because the guy didn’t trust me; I didn’t trust him, so we literally talked every single day on the phone trying to figure out how we can do this deal without jerking each other. And we ended up becoming friends. We were on the phone so much, we ended up becoming friends. And found out he’s actually a dope MC. He’s got dope beats. And he actually went to Full Sail in Florida for engineering. And he’s still a dope dude to this day, that’s my man. But he was the guy that actually went into the Rogue and bought my freakin’ SP, the SP that was supposed to be mine. But I ended up with it anyway.
BeatTips: That’s crazy. It was meant to be. Something else I want to ask you: What are the other art forms that spark your imagination and creativity?
GD: Chinese Kung Fu. Painting. Cooking. To me, arts and sciences are kind of the same. History. And knowledge of the universe, the secrets of the universe. Those things inspire me to create music.
BeatTips: Take me through your process when you’re actually making beats. Do you routinely start with the drums? Or do you start with non-drums?
GD: It depends, but let me give you this jewel real quick to close out your question about machines. Every record that I’ve done since the stuff I did with Lord Jamar, which I think that record came out in 2007. Every record from then up until my record with my main man Denmark Vessey, Whole Food, was done on the SP 1200. So that Planet Asia album, the stuff I did with my man Seven Thirty, every record that you heard from me, the CL Smooth remixes, the Guilty Simpson remix project. Like, everything that I’ve done was with the SP [SP 1200]. And it’s one beat per floppy. I didn’t do it where you MIDI it with the 950 [Akai S950], or MIDI it through Pro Tools and just keep layering and stacking. No. Every beat you heard from me is on one floppy disk.
Gensu Dean & Planet Asia – “Bar MitzVah”
BeatTips: So it’s just the SP [SP 1200]? Damn.
GD: JUST the SP. And my brother Pete Rock inspired that when I found out that Soul Survivor, the album Soul Survivor, he did primarily with just the SP. Which, ironically, is my favorite Pete Rock chamber. He inspired that. AND Madlib. When Madlib came out with Loot Pack, most of his beats was just on the SP. That inspired me and it encouraged me also.
Then, it was time for me to change, because I had accomplished my mission. And to go into other chambers, I needed a weapon that would enable me to do so, without forsaking what I stand for. And so I switched to the 3000, the MPC 3000. So all of the new stuff that people will hear from me is coming from that machine. The Denmark Vessey Whole Food, that’s all 3000 [MPC 3000]. My new album that’s coming out next week, RAW, that’s all 3000 [MPC 300]. The album RAW is actually a compilation. Just like my first album with Mello Music, Lo-Fi Fingers. It was a compilation; just me on production with other artists. So that closes the loop with gear.
And it’s a crazy story about the 3000, because since I’ve been in Texas, I’ve probably had 13 MPC 3000s. I just kept finding them in pawn shops, and then I would sell it. Getting it in a trade, then I would sell. I’ve had so many of these machines, but I would never use it because the SP is a jealous woman, and she would not allow me to touch another. There was one time that I had in my crib two SP’s, an XL, a 3000, and an ASR-10. And one of my friends was calling me Sam Ash. He called me Guitar Center and Sam Ash. But none of those machines mattered because it was all about the SP, because I was on a mission.
BeatTips: What were you running these machines through? For instance, were you using a 16-channel analog board? What monitors were you using?
GD: Yeah. Now I have KRK’s, Rokit 6. I had some other KRK’s at one point. And I was always a fan of Mackie. But before my Mackie, I had an Alesis board. A 16-channel analog Alesis board. And speakers, I had some Gemini speakers FOR YEARS! I had Gemini speakers since ’92! These Gemini DJ speakers, when Gemini got into the DJ world.
BeatTips: Which Mackie board were you using?
GD: Now I have the 1604. And I had a smaller one, the 1204.
BeatTips: So you’re currently using the Mackie 1604?
BeatTips: The VLZ?
GD: This is the V joint, the VLZ.
BeatTips: That’s what I have.
GD: I need to clean this thing out. This thing is old and beat up. But this is what I rock with. So that was the equipment thing. DJ Spinna, another good friend of mine, DJ Jocmax, they used to get on me all the time about switching, like, “Man, we hear what you do. We know that you can do great things on that 3000.” Because they went through that same thing. Spinna was a SP/950 guy for years. Diehard. And when he switched to the 3000, it opened up a whole new world. Same thing with Jocmax, he was an SP/ASR-10 guy until forever, and then when he switched, it opened up a whole new world. So those brothers used to encourage me. Eventually, I made the switch. And I’ll never turn back.
BeatTips: Now, equipment aside, when you make beats, do you have a time metric that you follow, or does it go until it’s done?
GD: It goes until it’s done. There were times where I would start on a joint and feel like I’m forcing it. Like, say for instance if I start with the drums. I would feel like I’m forcing it. And so, I would save the drums, save the pattern, and I would step away from it. And then I may come back to it a day or two later and finish it, and eventually find the right sample or whatever to add to it. Or vice versa. But I don’t try to create with time parameters at all.
BeatTips: That’s important. Who are you trusted ears? And what I mean by that is, who are the people that you let listen to your music for an opinion before the rest of the world hears it?
GD: It varies. You know, sometimes I won’t let nobody hear it.
BeatTips: That’s real.
GD: Until I’m playing it for an artist. Because I’ve been doing this for a while, and whether somebody else thinks it’s dope or not is not what makes me save a beat. If it doesn’t touch me, I’m definitely not saving it.
BeatTips: Very important.
GD: If it doesn’t touch me, I’m not saving it. But sometimes I play stuff for my queen, because she’s not really into hip hop. She’s what I’m into. But she didn’t grow up on it, that’s not her world. But sometimes you get a non-biased opinion. Like, damn, if it touched her and she’s not really on hip hop, then it can really touch and affect someone else.
BeatTips: I completely agree with you. How do you guard against over producing?
GD: That’s tough! That’s a tough one, because I’m my worst critic, you know what I mean. And then when you have processes, you sometimes don’t want to deviate from them. But sometimes you have to, because it’s not needed. And so I try to go back and listen. Usually when I create a beat, I’ll record it as soon as I’m done. Record maybe 30, 45 seconds of the beat and put it in a folder. So that’s stuff that I can go back and listen to, and you know, audition it to somebody if need be.
And when I’m going back listening to what I did, I’ll go, “Nah, I really don’t need that in there. I can take that out.” Or, “There was too many changes. This is ill, this sequence right here is ill. I should just take it back to just the one sequence.” Like Premier did on “Mass Appeal.” So I’ll kind of go back and look at what I’ve done, and you’ve gotta be able to remove your ego, I guess is the real answer to your question. You gotta be able to get out of your own way.
GD: And look at the music objectively as possible, and go, “Hey, this is cool right here. Maybe I got too much going on.” Because remember, when you’re making a beat, unless you’re making an instrumental album, you’re going to end up adding a whole nother instrument, which is the artist’s voice.
GD: And some artists, like Pharoahe monch or Kool G Rap, some of these people have very liquid flows, just rapid flows. And you don’t want a whole bunch of shit going on in the beat, plus their rapid flow. It just takes away from their greatness. You have to have beats that are a little more scaled back.
BeatTips: Yeah, conducive to the flow.
BeatTips: This is a great segue. Speak to me about the role that rhythm and groove play in your music vs. melody. The thing is, going back to your father’s music and the music you and I grew up on, contains a lot of repetition. And first of all, black music is based on rhythm and groove and repetition.
BeatTips: And when you get into discussions of music, discussions of classical music and Western music theory, it’s the opposite. Melody is the thing that’s stressed. In many ways, that’s kind of the dividing for producers, that’s been that way for 10 years or so. Some people want to add more melody, whereas you were just talking about how you strip things down and get to the groove. So talk to me about that, how you approach those three things: Rhythm, groove, and melody.
GD: I would say it’s equality. It’s same on both sides of that equal sign. And this is why I say that. Because I’m a sample-based producer, when I got to my sound source, the source may dictate whether it’s going to be a groove or a melody. Whether it’s going to be melody heavy or groove heavy. Now, if you have a producer that’s very loop driven, there’s definitely probably going to be more melody. Because their just looping up the record.
But I don’t really look at it in terms of, am I going to create something rhythm heavy. So it depends. You take a record by the great Pharell, one of my favorite producers, you look at what Pharell did with just rhythm, just some drums and some starch noises. Or what Premier did, another one of my favorite producers, another Grand Jedi Master, look at what he did with Jeru – “Come Clean”. Like, those things are not melody driven at all. They’re rhythm driven and super hard from the drums. And then the way he craftily plays the noises and stuff around it.
So in our genre of if hip hop, it can go either way. And that’s beautiful. In R&B, you have to abide by it, you gotta have melody, you gotta have a bridge, you gottat have all this other stuff, you know, it’s almost dogmatic. With hip hop, we can do whatever we want to make it dope.
GD: You know what I’m sayin’. There’s no parameters. Well, I don’t think producers should be producing with parameters. Just be free, man. Whatever touches you, you want to create that, so people can feel what you felt when you made the beat.
BeatTips: I hear that. And how often do you go diggin’ for vinyl?
GD: Not as much as I used to, believe it or not. I mean, I am a junkie. I do need a hug and a role model. I do need counseling. But I’ve been trying to be disciplined and scale back. Only because I have so much. I mean, I got records from— Let me see, the last time I was in New York was April or something like that. I got records from that trip that I haven’t even touched yet. I got records from when I moved to Austin, and I been in Austin a little over two years. I got records that I bought when I first moved to Austin that I haven’t even touched yet. So at some point, you have to stop and start putting these things to use.
GD: Because you’ll find yourself spending more time marveling over the records that you found than creating.
GD: And the creating is the most important part. Digging for the records is only one area. So I don’t do it as much as I used to. I used to be out there a lot. But the past year, I’ll have little spurts. I’ll go out and get my fix.
BeatTips: Yeah, one of the things that I say in The BeatTips Manual is that I have a large record collection, but most of it is in storage. And pretty much every other producer I’ve ever spoken with that have big record collections, they have it in at least two different places. And the reality is, out of all the records, we probably use maybe 15%, if that. Ever.
GD: Right. You’re right!
BeatTips: And you’re the first person to acknowledge it. Like, You know what, you can get caught up looking at the collection itself and not actually using anything.
GD: Exactly. Exactly. I have a good friend now, the brother, he’s a magnet. He finds the most crazy stuff. But then the tough talk that I have with him when he’s sending me pictures is, “What you gon do with it?” He’s giving me that, “Yo, I came up.” And I’m like, “OK, dope. But what you gon do with it? Because you told me you ‘came up’ last week. How many beats have you made?” You know what I mean. If you’re in this to make music and to share your vision and your experience with the world, then make the music. But digging, again, it’s only one variable.
BeatTips: How do you feel about e-Diggin’? Diggin’ online, using YouTube or using downloads?
GD: You know, over time, I learned to understand it and accept it for what it is. Just I, personally won’t do it.
BeatTips: Even if that’s the only way that you can get the record? Getting it by download, like from iTunes, and putting it together?
GD: I would just go without that beat. Because here’s my thing. You can’t have everything, you know what I’m sayin’. There’s plenty of dope samples out there where I could just turn a blind eye to a dope sample. If somebody plays me something or sends me a link, something on YouTube, the first thing I’m doing is going to my buddies to see who has this record. Who wants to trade? Has anybody seen this? I have to have the record. And I’m so weird — all producers have weird rules — I won’t sample no reissue. I just won’t do it. And I have come across some crazy reissues. Now, sometimes, I’m sure I’ve taken drums off of reissues. Because like, for instance, what’s that break?
BeatTips: The Ultimate Breaks?
GD: No. I never used The Ultimate Breaks?
BeatTips: Wait. You never used The Ultimate Breaks or you would?
GD: No, I never have used it.
BeatTips: Because everybody’s used that.
GD: Yeah, a lot of people was using it [laughs]. I was giving credit, but these people were using The Ultimate Breaks. The “Whatnot” drums. That’s what it was. The “Whatnot” drums; I don’t have that record. Like, there’s not too many humans with that record — with an original copy. And so, I’ve used the “Whatnot” drums before, but aside from that, I don’t use reissues at all. Even if my copy is beat up, I’ll just use the beat up copy.
But to answer your question, I understand that that’s the times. And some of the younger guys that are getting into hip hop production, it’s impossible to catch up. That’s just not their experience.
BeatTips: But there’s also the issue of access. As I discuss in my book The Art of Sampling, not everybody has access to a vinyl record store.
BeatTips: That’s just a fundamental fact.
GD: But here’s another thing. For one, that’s just not the culture I grew up in. The second thing is, if you’re doing it, you can bet everyone else is doing it. If you’re taking loops off of YouTube, you can bet that there are hundreds of people who have taken that same loop off of YouTube. And so to me, with an industry that’s oversaturated with people who are doing the same thing, you’ve just put yourself in the same basket with everyone else.
BeatTips: Well, that’s one aspect. But you also have to consider time. You know how much time it’s taken you to develop your skills. In reality, other people can develop their skills as well. And it must be pointed it out that not everybody has the same ear. Your ear is going to be different because of all of your experiences. So no two people will have the same ear. Two different people can listen to the same song on YouTube and one person can say, “Aw, there’s nothing here,” and they move on. And the other person can be like, “This is a goldmine!” and they find four or five different pieces.
BeatTips: And create something.
GD: Right. That’s true.
BeatTips: And so the actual method itself is key. That’s one thing I feel strongly about. The method of sampling still exists. For instance, if you take someone like Marco Polo, who’s moved into the area of sampling live instrumentation, and coming quite close. And Preem [DJ Premier] is even doing the same thing right now. And then you have people like Adrian Younge. So I think all of these things are fluid. There are realities to technology, both gateways and restrictions. Like, you even said that you had to jump up to the 3000, that you could only resist for so long.
BeatTips: But along those lines, when you are sampling, how conscious are you of copyright law? Are you familiar with copyright law?
GD: It changes. Clearly, I’m aware of what I’m doing. But it’s still— For it to be going on this long, it’s still a very gray area. But I try not to consider that when I’m creating. That’s a tough subject.
BeatTips: For example, specifically speaking, how familiar are you with the de minimis and fair use doctrines?
GD: Not that familiar. I’ve heard those terms, but I’m not that familiar.
BeatTips: That’s something that far too many producers aren’t knowledgeable of. And it’s especially important for sample-based producers to know. That’s another reason why I wrote The Art of Sampling. It breaks down copyright in real detail.
GD: That’s dope.
BeatTips: You mentioned that in Austin, sample-based hip hop is cool. And I agree with you entirely. Wherever I go around the world, sample-based hip hop has had this huge resurgence. And the funny thing is, when you look around, the people who are masters of it are unfamiliar with copyright law, and that creates this weird space. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do a profile on you. Your style has a lot of range, for example the joint you did with Homeboy Sandman, and to be able to keep what you do within that same pocket, it’s something similar to what a lot of bands have done years ago. From Led Zeppelin to the band that Curtis Mayfield fronted to The Funk Brothers. That’s another thing that I try to get across, that sampling, more than anything else, allows a hip hop artist to really have a pinpoint sound.
GD: I agree.
BeatTips: Because you can hear the style. But there are other people that argue, like, how is that possible if every time out you’re using different elements. This is what copyright speaks to: borrowing elements and building upon them. So speak to that. How you can make your music sound like a Gensu Dean beat, even though you are using widely disparate forms of music and sounds?
GD: I think it’s a combination of what I like and trying to create what I like. Listening to other producers that I like, and inspiring me to stay the course.
BeatTips: Who are these producers that inspire you?
GD: Jocmax, DJ Spinna. My brother Large [Large Professor]. David Banner. All the greats.
BeatTips: Who was the first person you mentioned?
GD: Jocmax. He’s an unsung hero. He’s from Kansas. He came on the scene— I want to say his group was actually signed to Elektra the same time that I and I was signed to Elektra. And I think Sylvia Rhone dropped a single for I and I, “Faking Jacks.” And their group, I think they got shelved after that. I think she was cutting all hip hop groups and just doing like other kinds of stuff.
But Jocmax, not only is he an incredible person and good brother, he is an incredible producer. He inspires me. All of the greats inspire me, but there are a lot of guys that may not be as known that inspire me, too. My man Bus Crates, from Pittsburgh, inspires me. I like Black Milk, when he started using the 3000, a lot of his stuff inspired me. I could go on and on. It’s a lot of cats out there that inspire me. And I believe that as a producer, you gotta know who’s in your lane, or as far as who’s in your genre.
BeatTips: I want to get into your body of work. If somebody was looking into your music catalog and they really wanted to understand you from your beginnings to who you are musically now, where would you suggest that start, what song?
GD: The record I did with David Banner and the group Crooked Lettaz called “Caught Up in The Game.” That was my first commercial, national/international release. And that beat embodies everything that I’m about.
BeatTips: And how did you go from that to linking up with Planet Asia?
GD: When I heard “Definition of Ill,” which I believe came off of [INAUDIBLE] album My Vinyl Ways a Ton, I heard the 12” and when I heard Asia rhymin’ on that, I knew immediately this guy was special. And that he was a prolific writer. And so I kept up with most of the stuff that Asia was putting out. And when it came time for me to do a record, the label [Mello Music Group] asked me who I wanted to get down with, and Asia’s name was always on that list. Always. We had spoken before, via the internet, and the math lined up, all of the planets were aligned. It was time to cook, he was with it. He had heard some of the stuff I did with Large Pro and some other cats, and he knew I was official, and he was like, “Yeah, let’s do it!” So that’s kind how that happened.
BeatTips: And that was for the Abrasions album?
GD: Yes, sir.
BeatTips: How long did it take to make that album?
GD: I would say maybe four or five months, six months. There were other variables that went into it. I think Asia had it written before then. But I didn’t send him a whole bunch of beats and he just picked the beats. I would send a few and he would like one or two and write to that. Then I would send a few more. We would talk on the phone a lot.
BeatTips: Were there ever any times you were in the studio together?
GD: No. Not until I went to L.A. for us to do the two videos. And that’s when we really embraced and fellowshipped and hung out. We shot the video for “Face on the Dollar.” We went out to Fresno, where he’s from, and we went to like all the spots he grew up at.
BeatTips: Talk to me about the two current projects that you got going, Whole Food, that’s your album with Denmark Vessey. Tell me about that.
GD: Whole Food is another producer/MC collaborative record with me and Denmark Vessey. He’s from Detroit. Super dope, super talented, super eclectic artist. It was kind of the same way, you know, the label was asking me who did I want to cook with. I had taken some time off because I moved from Dallas to the Austin area. Also dealt with some family issues and challenges. And so when I started making records again, I was like, “You know what, this time around let’s go with a kind of a newer, up-and-comer, you know not really that known but definitely has a fan base. Let’s do that younger cat.”
And I had come across on one of my social media pages, I don’t know if it was Instagram or Facebook, but somewhere on social media on one of my feeds, I saw this video for a joint that he had out. So I watched the video, that led me to looking at another one of his videos. I was like, this dude is dope. And I talked to the label about it, and they were like, “Yeah, he’s dope. He’s actually down with somebody that’s on the label.” I talked to him and he was with it, and so we got to work. This is also what I call a .com album. Where I was sending the beats and he would pick the beats and write and record to them, and then I would mix it or whatever. And so we titled the album Whole Food. It came out the end of July/beginning of August. It’s doing really well. It’s available in all forms of media, vinyl, CD, digital. It’s super dope, I’m super proud of it, and he killed it.
BeatTips: How did your deal come about with Mello Music Group?
GD: I actually had my first album already done. And I was going to put it out on my own. I actually pressed up about 250/300 45s of “Forever,” the song I did with Large Pro. And they sold out in about 48 hours. Probably by the third day, they were all gone. So a friend of mine, another writer and producer, Spanky, from Divided Souls, he was dealing with Mello, helping them with some write-ups and things of that nature. He said, “Yo, man, you should really let Mello hear this album. I’m doing some stuff with them and I can let them check it out.” And my brother Hakim had always told me I should check out Mello Music as well. He was actually the first one to say it. And so, I let him hear it, and he loved it and wanted to talk. We finally talked, I shared with him my vision, what I wanted to do musically, and he was with it. And so we just started rocking with each other.
BeatTips: You said “he.” Who is the guy behind Mello Music?
GD: Michael Tolle.
BeatTips: Was it a long process getting the deal done?
GD: Not really, because I had the record done. What was the longer process was going from that album to that album with Planet Asia. But my first album, I had Roc Marciano on it, Count Base D. Actually, Roc was on two songs.
BeatTips: How were you able to reach out to them? For instance, for “Forever,” how did you reach out to Large?
GD: Large and I met through a mutual friend online.
BeatTips: Who was the mutual friend?
GD: My man Oxygen. Oxygen had a radio show at Stony Brook University in Long Island, “Chemical Breakdown” I believe was the name of the show. He introduced me to Large online, and Large had heard some of my stuff— This was back in the MySpace days. And we just kept in contact ever since and became brothers, became close. That’s my man.
So when it came time for me to do my record, I wanted him on it and he was like, “Of course. Let’s do it!” Same with Roc. I knew these brothers before. I think Roc was even, he hadn’t put out Marcberg yet, or was working on Marcberg when we started talking and became friends. So all of these people that got on my first album, they did it out of love and support for my vision.
And I credit a lot of that to Lord Jamar. Because when I did production on Lord Jamar’s album, Jamar was really giving me props, he was really bigging me up to people. And so my name was kind of spreading a little bit because of his gracious praise. I always appreciate that. That’s really how I connected with a lot of these guys.
BeatTips: I dig that. And what’s the name of your production company?
GD: Can I Borrow This Record Productions.
BeatTips: What’s the sentiment behind that?
GD: I’m a record junkie. And a joke was made that I was the borrow bandit. I always wanted to borrow records. Which they knew really meant, “Let me have it” [laughs]. It just became a thing that, if you got dope records laying around, he’s gonna want them. It became a thing, so I just turned it into the name of my production company.
BeatTips: Another thing I want to speak about, you actually spoke to in brief. One thing that I try to encourage anybody that makes music, I tell them, don’t be after the placements all the time, don’t go chasing placements.
BeatTips: Figure out how to put yourself on. Speak to that. When did you first recognize that you had the opportunity to put yourself on and how did you go about doing it?
GD: This would have been in the 2000 era, when music had changed and technology had kind of gotten rid of the record company. Technology kind of put the power in the hands of smaller labels and stuff like that. And it took the help of some people that were a little bit more progressive than me, to kind of hip me to the game. Like, “Hey, get a computer. There’s programs you can use to record at home. You don’t have to go to the big studios anymore.” Just the way music was changing so fast, is when I realized, “Hey, I can kind of do this stuff on my own, now.
The days of having to go through a label and making demos and all that kind of stuff, those days are gone. So it was websites like MySpace and stuff like that where you can showcase your music and what you do. And like you said, put yourself on. So it was that. It was being aware of those mediums. Watching 9th Wonder and his crew. Because they came up around the same time, when this internet stuff was starting to pop.
BeatTips: There’s a couple of things I want to go back to. That “Forever” song that you did with Large Professor, not only is it a dope song, that’s an incredible video. Who came up with the concept for that video?
GD: That concept goes 100% to the director, my man Calvan Fowler. He actually runs the Michael Jordan store in Brooklyn. He’s a manager. That was all his vision. When he heard the song, it was a wrap. Like, he treated that song like he was making a beat. He heard it, he already knew what he wanted to do, he mapped it all out. He’s incredible. And I think we created something that was classic and lifelong. There are people that look at that video and they’re making comments as recent as a month ago, or a few weeks ago. And that video came out years ago.
BeatTips: It’s one of my favorite videos to this day.
GD: Thank you, brother.
BeatTips: I’ve seen a lot of videos, and that video never loses its punch, power, or its relevance.
GD: Let me give you this quick jewel about that video. That little girl in that video, none of that stuff at the end was scripted. That was Calvan running the camera when we weren’t paying attention. So she actually knew that song. She’s such an anomaly that we couldn’t even get no work done, because she was— We was like, “You don’t know nothing about no Fat Boys.” And she was like, singing the b-side songs! She was like, “You’re in jail because you failed.”
BeatTips: Where did you shoot the video at?
GD: Brownsville [Brooklyn]. Part of it was in Brownsville. Part of it was in Manhattan. Most of it was in Brooklyn.
BeatTips: How long was the shoot? Two days, three days?
GD: It took two days, or two trips. Two or three days, I can’t remember. I do remember it took two trips, because when I was literally getting on the plane, Calvan was blowing my phone up. He was like, “Get off the plane, get off the plane!” I was like, What the hell is going on. Well, apparently, when we went to one of the other locations to shoot, the camera shifted in the bag and changed one of the settings. So we had lost like half a day of filming because of that. But I was like, “Yo, bro, I’m literally buckling in right now on the plane.”
So I had turn right around and come back two weeks later so that we could re-shoot what we lost. And it was weird because, you know, we had to wear the same outfits and Large had to get the same hair cut. It was funny. But everyone, including Large, we were very adamant about getting it right. Nobody said that this was gonna be special, but just everyone knew, man. We were hungry, we were tired, but everyone soldiered through. And I think subconsciously we all just knew that it was going to be something special and definitely something that was needed.
BeatTips: It is special. Now talk to me about budgets, what’s the typical budget like for your projects with Mello Music Group? Like how does it work?
GD: Budget is different. It depends. Budgeting varies depending on what we’re doing. If it’s an instrumental project, if it’s a project where I’m working with an artist who’s name may not be that known, we may need to put more focus on promoting. It just depends. Mello Music is clearly not the size of Def Jam, they’re an indie label. But they try to do as much as they can with what we have.
BeatTips: You said that you brought an album to them, on those deals is it like a 70/30 deal, 50/50? What type of deal structure is it?
GD: It can vary. Again, everything is contingent upon the artist and what they think that they can sell, how well the record could do, all of that is taken into consideration. But the ultimate goal is for the project to be successful. For the artist to grow. Because when he [Michael Tolle] works with an artist, man, he doesn’t do it unless he believes. He doesn’t just do shit for the money, he does it because he believes in the artist and the vision.
BeatTips: That’s real. What concerns you the most about the climate of hip hop music today?
GD: That the essence of it, the art of it is being lost. Because people are, you know, it’s cliché. People make jokes like, “Oh, you’re still buying records? You better get on these sound files.” Or whatever. It’s like, everything that made hip hop what it is, well, not everything, but damn near everything that makes hip hop what it is is being abandoned, for the sake being progressive or pushing the envelope, or whatever excuse people want to use. We are getting so far away from just hard beats and rhymes. It’s just happy beats and happy rhymes, or party beats and party rhymes. We’re getting away from the essence of what made it special.
There’s a reason why those classic records are classics. It’s not because they were made in that time, it’s everything that went into it. Going to the studio, catching the train to the studio. You know, the type of equipment that was being used. The floppy disc wouldn’t load, said it was corrupted, and we had to re-do it. All of those things that go into it makes those records special. And because technology has been a blessing and a curse, everybody can do it, but everybody probably shouldn’t be doing it. So you got to a show, and everybody in the crowd is a damn producer, looking up at you like they should be up there and not you. You have no more fans.
I told someone recently that one of the things I love about myself is that I’m still a fan. I’m still a fan. Black Milk drops a joint, I go buy it. Showbiz & A.G. drop a new joint, I go buy it. I go out and still buy records because I’m still a fan of the genre that I’m in, and I think that’s important. But people have gotten away from that.
BeatTips: What’s your opinion of production showcases and music seminar style beat battles?
GD: [inhales]Uh, I think it has its place. I don’t particularly like beat battles, because music is an individual journey. And you can’t really say what’s wack and what’s not, because it’s somebody’s creation. You can say you don’t really like it, it’s not your thing. But I really try to get away from saying what’s wack and what’s not.
BeatTips: Also, you know with a lot of those things, people pay for feedback and stuff like that.
GD: Right, Right! But I do think that it has its place, it definitely has its place.
BeatTips: Do you recommend that as a path for producers to take?
GD: It could help you get discovered if that’s something that a producer wants to do. But MY advice would be to put out music. There’s NO BETTER WAY to get people to pay attention to you than to put out music.
BeatTips: I agree.
GD: You know, having a beat tape is one thing. But showing somebody a record that you did is a totally different thing.
BeatTips: So what are you most excited about with today’s hip hop?
GD: That there are still people out there making dope joints, that put fire underneath it. That inspires me. That people still support and buy the kind of music that I make. That still inspires me, that still has me excited. That it’s not over with.
BeatTips: What’s in the future then, what’s the next plateau that you’re trying to reach?
GD: Bigger and better records. Bigger as in sales and artists. Sonically, my goal is to make every record sonically better. Which my new album RAW comes out next week, which stands for Refined Alkaline Water. It was a project that I focused on being bigger and better. And I have a lot of good things, and big things, on the way. I just can’t go into it, and I know that’s cliché to say I can’t talk about it now.
BeatTips: I understand.
GD: But I literally have a lot of big and good things on the way.
BeatTips: I’m happy for you. Who’s featured on RAW
GD: RAW is Diamond D, which was the lead single, Roc Marciano, which was the second single, Homeboy Sandman, Substantial, my man, my label mate Red Pill, he’s on it. And I’m on it. I actually dusted off the mic. I did the title track. Everyone once and a while, I’ll splash a little bit, like on a hook or something. But this time I actually wrote the title track. I’m very excited, I’m very excited about this record.
BeatTips: That’s beautiful. Well, right now, you can freestyle it. If there’s anything else you want to get across, any news you want to drop, anything right now that you can think of, just throw it all in.
GD: Hit me on Instagram, which is the @therealgensudean. Twitter is @gensudean. Facebook is gensudean. And I appreciate you, for the opportunity and what you do.
BeatTips: Thank you.
GD: I think it’s very important what you’re doing with BeatTips, with your site and what you do with your books. I think it’s important and relevant. Because I came up in a time when I would have LOVED to have your book. Especially living in a remote area that I was in. And hush, hush was the word back then. People didn’t share secrets or anything unless you had somebody that you actually knew that could mentor you. I would have loved to have a site like yours, a book like yours, to get some insight on some drums, some tips on this or that. And so, I just want to honor and salute you for what you do. And I’m sure there’s plenty of people out there who appreciate you.
BeatTips: Wow, that’s humbling. Thank you. Hits me in the heart.
GD: That’s dope.
The music and videos below are presented here for the purpose of scholarship.
Gensu Dean – Forever (feat. Large Professor)
Gensu Dean & Planet Asia – Faces On The Dollar
Gensu Dean & Planet Asia – “Bar MitzVah”
DJ Soko – Biters feat. Guilty Simpson (prod. by Gensu Dean)Articles, Beatmaking, BeatTips, Interviews