Photo Credit | Keith Jackson

Photo Credit | Keith Jackson

31,536,00 seconds/525,600 minutes/8760 hours/365 days

by Kendrick Hopkins

Sometimes I look at these viral time lapse video on the internet documenting a woman’s pregnancy, or the brutally honest aging process, and the thing that comes to mind is the commitment that it took for these people to pull them off. Having to be in the exact same place, day after day, seems way too planned out & constrained for my liking.  Fortunately, Norfolk producer, Kelley Ford & I have the opposite outlook on things…

Kelley, aka J Clyde, has kept the 757 (& beyond) abuzz daily with his Clyde:365 campaign, a project where he releases a new beat every day of 2014. I personally know producers who would be happy making 50 beats this year, but 365?!? That’s crazy.

Check out this Q&A where we talk about everything from his work with industry legends, Pharaohe Monch & Cappadonna, to his crew, the Better Beat Bureau, and of course, the mountain of a task that Clyde:365 has been. Enjoy…

 

Early musical influences?


There were a few early influences. One of my favorite TV shows of all time is Batman from the 1960s - the Adam West show. There's lots of reasons as to why it's so awesome to me, but one of them is definitely the music. I wish I could go back and sample a lot of that stuff, but it's still not out on DVD, apparently due to some legal issues with the studios. That was probably the earliest influence. Fast forward a few years, and I was heavily influenced by The Boodah Brothers radio show on 103 Jamz. Early on, my dream was to have a mix show just like DJ Law (R.I.P.). Around the same time (early-mid nineties) my older cousin Joey put me on to Wu-Tang Clan, and my life was never the same. DJ Law and RZA; those two guys really taught me how to "hear" hip hop music, and samples. They both shaped my musical sensibilities in a very profound way. They showed me how to recognize what was good, and more importantly, what was not.

 

How'd you start making beats?

After studying DJ Law and DJ Bee for YEARS, recording their shows every single night when I was a kid, I started DJ'ing when I was 15. As I said, my dream at the time was to have a live mix show, and play the dirtiest underground hip hop stuff that they were playing on the radio. But, after a few years of perfecting my craft I kind of got disenfranchised with the DJ game as far as radio goes...that's a whole other conversation. One of my good friends from high school is Lil' Internet. If you're not familiar with his work, he runs Karmaloop TV, still DJ's, and now also directs some really insane music videos for various artists. Last year he directed "No Angel" for Beyonce...yeah. Anyway, we sort of connected because we were both DJ's and we were into a lot of the same underground hip hop. He was mostly into drum n' bass and jungle though. We would hang out at his house after school and just mess around on the turntables, make mixtapes and just vibe out. Near the end of high school, he started making his own music on his computer. I wasn't at all interested in making beats then, and I didn't have a computer either. But once I got my first computer for college I asked him what he was using. It was the very first versions of Fruity Loops and Acid. He gave me a disk with pirated versions of the programs, and I was instantly hooked!


Favorite producers?

I'm a student of the craft, through and through, so there's a LOT of favorites. But if I had to narrow it to a handful, I would say in no particular order:
 

RZA
DJ Premier
Jay Dee (aka J Dilla)
Nottz
Bink
Just Blaze
DJ Khalil
The Beatnuts
Hi-Tek
 


What equipment do you use?

After maybe a year of using Fruity Loops I graduated to the MPC 2000XL. That's my baby. I used the 2000XL for the next 10 years, with pretty much nothing else. I bought a Yamaha Motif rack from a friend, but it barely got used. Nowadays I use the MPC Renaissance, and record with ProTools.


Samples or original sounds?

Mostly samples, because that's what I was raised on, and that's what I know best. But, in the past few years I've been trying to make more original stuff just to get around the sample police. I don't put out too much of that stuff though, mainly because I don't think it's good enough. People tell me otherwise, but we're all our own worst critics. I just did my first film score, and that was completely original. I really surprised myself with how good the beats came out.


Favorite song you've produced?

"Free" by Pharohe Monch. It's the first song on his second album, "Desire". I did that with my production partner Davel "Bo" Mckenzie.

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Favorite local artist to work with?

Manor Slimm. In my opinion, he's the best hip hop artist to come out of this area in a really long time, maybe ever. He's got all the right attributes, and he wants to make something special happen with his music. So, we have a collaborative album coming very soon.


Dream Collab (song)?

There's so many, but a few are: Jay-Z, Beanie Sigel, Scarface, Raekwon, Ghostface, M.O.P., 50 Cent, Alicia Keys.


Dream Collab (full album)?

Again, there's so many, but I think I would make a great album with M.O.P., 50 Cent, Ghostface, Raekwon, Scarface, Gucci Mane. As you can see - my core competency is that aggressive, raw, street music. I grew up on B-sides! haha.


How'd you come up w the beat/year idea?

For a while I had seen a lot of my peers doing beat tapes. I was thinking about doing the same, but I wanted to make it different. I wanted them to have a cohesive theme/vibe, or at least a common idea to build around. But I would mull different ideas over and over in my head, and then never do it. Plus, you then have to worry about cover art, and I'm not a graphic designer. In addition, up until the start of the year I had done a really poor job of building any sort of presence online. I didn't have a YouTube channel. A small amount of stuff on Sound Cloud, but that was it. On New Years Eve 2013 I finally had the idea to put out a different beat every day of 2014. It really interested me because I am certain that nobody has ever done it before, much less even attempted it. This way, I wouldn't have to worry about seeking out a common thread for beat tapes. I wouldn't have to worry about artwork. And once I committed to it, there is no reason to veer off schedule. Either I put a different beat out everyday, or the project dies. No excuses. It's a discipline.


What's the biggest positive/negative of the project?

There really aren't any negatives, except maybe the time commitment. The positives are that I'm building a fanbase/network from the ground up. There are people all over the world that sit in front of their computers and check out my music every day of their lives. I know that sounds crazy, but they tell me all the time on SoundCloud (and I check the stats). I also wanted to show off my consistency as a beat maker. Other guys might have a decent catalog of okay beats in the stash, but do you have 365 that you can let go?


Have your goals/plan/expectations shifted throughout the project?

Not really. At the end of the day (or year, rather), the goal is to show everyone just how consistent I am with this beat thing. In the beginning I had people asking me if I was worried about artists stealing my beats or anything like that. My answer still is: if it ever gets to the point where a major artist is lifting my beats for their projects, then the #Clyde365 project has served it's purpose! Of course I don't want people using my music without asking. What I mean is that I want my beats to be heard by the biggest and best artists. It's all about building the J. Clyde name/brand.

What's your favorite beat from the #Clyde365 year long project.

Wow, that's tough. That answer could change daily. At the moment I would have to say it's the entry from July 7th where I sampled "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea. I think I flipped that pretty nice.


 

What's BBB & how did you get involved?

This is going to be a long answer, but bear with me because I definitely have to rep the home team properly...

BBB is the Better Beat Bureau. It's a crew of producers along with a few DJs and artists. Most are local, but there are a few that have moved from the area as well. It started around 1999, but back then it was more of a DJ crew. The original members were Disko Dave, The Ologist, Vex, Lodamercy and Abe Ski. They would do battles and spin at local hip hop events. They were kind of the 757 version of The Invisibl Skratch Piklz or The X-Ecutioners. Haha. I had seen them DJ around town, but I didn't know any of them personally.

Around 2001 or 2002 I met Disko Dave at a DJ battle at Guitar Center in Virginia Beach. After the battle, he jumped on the CDJ's that they had set up, and started playing his own beats on the big system. They were soooo dope! I happened to have a beat CD on me and asked if I could play some of my stuff. Mind you, at that time my beats were absolutely terrible. I was still making them on Fruity Loops/Acid, and nobody, I mean nobody, is actually good at making beats for at least the first few years! But, the people there seemed to like what I was doing, and me and Dave struck up a conversation. After that we had a cool relationship, but no affiliation. We just kept working independently and would see each other out and about at different events.

I really have to give Disko Dave a lot of props because he really inspired me early on to keep going. There was a pretty big moment around '02-'03 when he placed a few records with an underground artist named Doujah Raze. The records he produced actually got a lot of airplay on college radio, and on DJ Law's show. It was the first time that I ever saw a person that I knew personally get records placed, so I was really proud of him, especially coming from this area. It was so inspiring to me that someone I knew could make a beat, sell it to an artist, and then have that record pressed on vinyl! Not to mention having my favorite DJ's playing those records on the air.

Then, around maybe the end of '03 we actually battled at an ODU event. It was me, Disko Dave, Ologist and some other kid, who was awful. At this point I had really stepped up my game relative to the first time Dave heard my beats. I was using the MPC 2000XL (so were Dave and Ologist). In the first round, Ologist absolutely murdered his nameless opponent. That was the first time I heard Ologist's beats, and I was really impressed. Then I had to battle Dave. I'm not 100% sure, but if memory serves me correctly, I think Better Beat Bureau was somehow involved with putting on the event. I know that BBB was on the flyer for sure. They did the judging by crowd applause...so you see where I'm going with this, right? It was home cooking all the way! haha. I'll never forget hearing the roar of the crowd in my favor, and then turning to Godchild (the host of the event) only to hear him announce: "And the winner is...Disko Dave!" I think everyone was stunned, including me and Dave. But, I immediately understood that they probably wanted to have Better Beat Bureau hold down the finals since they were pretty much responsible for the event. And quite frankly, it made for a much better show. Dave and Ologist had way more really good beats than me at the time. I probably would have run out of ammo anyway. But, the most important thing that came out of that was me and Dave (and Ologist too) gained a mutual respect for each other. Before, it was probably pretty one-sided because he had only heard my music in it's infancy. I think after that day they knew I had some serious skill.

And if you really want to know, Dave will definitely tell you that I won, haha! He's such a nice guy that he actually told me as we were shaking hands that day that I got robbed, so let me just state that for the record!

After that, a lot of years passed and we were always cool with each other. But we still had no affiliation. Around probably 2011 Dave formally asked me if I would like to be a member of the Better Beat Bureau, and I gladly accepted. Along with the original members that I mentioned earlier, the BBB now includes J. Clyde, Jacob Scott a.k.a. Know Talent a.k.a. Solomon Crates, Antagonist, Bobby Blunt a.k.a. Nardo Says, as well as V-Sharp, and Dub.L.oh.SkYtZo (pronounced Double-O Schizo) repping the DMV.


What kind of projects/events are y'all involved in?

Well, it's kind of a loose affiliation rather than a traveling group of musicians. Believe it or not, we have never once all been in the same room together. A few weeks ago, Ologist, Solomon Crates and I did a beat showcase at the Fantastic Planet day party and it was great. There might be another random night where it's Dave DJ'ing, or Antagonist performing. Whatever the case may be, we all represent the BBB. Just the other night I asked Dave to record some scratches on a record that I'm producing for Manor Slimm. So there's no set rules or schedule. We just help each other out where we can.


How did the work on Cappadonna's album come about?

Cappadonna did a show down here probably a year and a half ago. My good friend Bradford, who I'm sure you know personally if you're reading this, was cool with the promoters and was running around with them in the days leading up to it. He asked me if I wanted to get a beat CD to Cappadonna, so I put something together real fast. Cap really liked my sound, and after a super long time waiting, I ended up producing nine records on his latest album, titled "Hook Off".


Talk about your work on Pharaohe Monch's "Free"

I made that beat in December of 2005, but it didn't come out until June of 2007. Originally, I made it with Freeway in mind (obviously). I even went so far as to place some of his ad-libs in the beginning of the beat for effect. I played it for my production partner Bo, and he instantly loved it. And actually, I think Bo played it for Freeway's A&R at the time, but they passed on it. One thing that a lot of people don't know, aside from the fact that Bo is a Grammy winner (for producing "Alone" on Mary J. Blige's album "The Breakthrough"), is that Bo has worked in partnership with Lord Finesse for many years. Well, they were in the studio one day in New York working on some stuff. Pharoahe Monch just happened to come through and say hello during their studio session. He was working on his second album at the time, and wanted to hear some beats. Bo played the "Free" beat for him, and Pharoahe immediately wanted it for his album. However, the version that he heard was my rough version, straight out of the MPC. After he picked it, Bo went in and really touched up the record to make it sound extra professional. He re-played the bass line. He brought in a guitar player to really bring out the rock elements of the record. He added some keys. He added a sick breakdown near the end of the record. That's kind of how we work - I'll come to the table with a basic idea for a track, and then if it's something we want to move forward with he'll work his magic with the instrumentation and arrangement. That was my first major label placement, so I can't even tell you how happy/proud I am of that record. Just by chance, when you open up the CD jacket, my name is the very first name that you see on the production credits! That was a very surreal experience.


Being diverse within the realm of hip hop seems like a strongpoint for you, talk about the versatility it takes to produce for Young Buck & then Skyzoo

Well first of all, even though Young Buck and Skyzoo have very different styles as MC's, and differ vastly in lyrical content, neither of them can turn down a raw, gritty, aggressive beat with hard drums and a big bassline. It doesn't matter who you are, if those drums are knocking, and the sample is crazy, you're going to like the beat.

But yes, there is some versatility involved. I can definitively say that the versatility comes from sampling. I always let the samples dictate my music. I hear guys all the time say that they do the drums first. If you're making a sample-based beat, why would you lay the drums first?! You're locking yourself into a pattern/vibe before you even know what you're going to do with the sample. That just seems so counterproductive to me. Anyway, by letting the samples dictate the beats that I make, I end up with a very wide range of beats. If something is dark and aggressive, then that's the beat I'm going to make at that moment. If I'm listening to a record that is calm and melodic, then I'm going to make a beat with that vibe. I don't go into a beat making session with any preconceived ideas of what I'm going to create. It's all random relative to the stack of records I'm mining for samples.

People think I'm joking when I say this, but I really want to work with Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy. I actually really like their styles, and I think they're very underrated as MC's. I would love to get them to rap on some soul-sampled beats for a whole album. That would be crazy!

 

How has the hip hop scene in the 757 changed/developed over the last decade?

It's been through its ups and downs for sure. Ten years ago, I think we had a really strong contingent of very talented DJ's. I mentioned the BBB earlier, but there were lots of other really great DJ's making their mark at the time in battles, clubs and even on the radio. I think one thing that hurt this area tremendously that nobody ever talks about is when 92.1 The Beat got shut down. That was the best radio station ever! They played great hip hop all day on FM air. We will never see that again. Ever. We were lucky to have that station for as long as we did, but I think when it got shut down it sort of sucked the life out of the area for a little bit.

Losing DJ Law hurt us profoundly as well. In fact, we're still feeling that loss to this day. Have you heard 103 Jamz recently? Whoof! DJ Bee is still rocking though! Shout out to Beesus for sure. But Law was such a pillar of our hip hop community, and really stood for a lot of good in terms of the music and the culture.

It took a while for everyone to adjust to the advent of the internet, but I think we're pretty well caught up at this point. I think there is a live music scene that is really thriving in our area, especially in terms of hip hop. There are numerous events around Hampton Roads that have actually had some consistency, which is good to see. I just think some of the artists need to be much more goal-oriented. A lot of them seem to want to put out a mixtape just to be able to say that they have a mixtape out. I see a lot of guys that love the idea of being a rapper, but don't take the proper steps to actually do it. So there's a lot of talent out there, I just think they need more focused and should strive to be sonically different.

 

How/where do you fit in with the younger generation & their use of more experimental sounds/styles?

I don't. I know where my talent lies, and it's not in these trap/snap records that you hear on the radio. I'm inspired by guys like Nottz. He has never subscribed to what's "hot" on the radio at the moment, yet he's one of the most consistently great producers in all of hip hop over the last 15+ years. When you can have that type of consistency over that long of a period, that's timeless music. Timeless talent. That's my goal. And really, if you look at most of the up and coming rappers of this new generation, the ones that really have a shot at long, meaningful careers, they all rap over the type of beats that I (and like-minded others) make. Whether it be Kendrick Lamar, Action Bronson, Troy Ave, Joey Badass, whoever...most of the time they still use raw, aggressive, dirty hip hop beats. Plus, everything goes in cycles, so it's only a matter of time until the young kids want grown-man beats. When that happens, guess who's got the advantage?

Having said that, I like that the new generation seems to be open to more styles. I just think the ideas have to be executed better. They definitely have an advantage with not having to clear as many samples. But, most of the beats suck as a result. But there are definitely some new producers that I like. I really admire guys like Cardiak. I'm a huge fan of his. I think he might be the best "new" producer, all-around.

 

How do you view the overall underground arts scene in Hampton Roads? Is their (reason for) unity across platforms/genres?

I've seen some really encouraging steps recently. I think the best example is what's happening with Alchemy in Norfolk and the whole "downtown arts district", or whatever they're calling it. To have a central place where like-minded individuals can gather with an outlet for expression is really important. And, it will encourage that unity by default - having many different artists in the same space at the same time, it's bound to happen. I'm just as excited for the comedy theater that's opening as well. Another reason for unity is opportunity. For example, there's the real-life example of how I came into doing my first film project. I knew the director, Keith Jackson, for over 10 years. I used to give him beat CD's just to vibe out to, and he would actually write screenplays to them. So, when he came around to making his first short film (Tiani: The Assignment, Vol. 1) I was the guy he wanted to compose the score. So let's say I'm hanging around Alchemy, trying to hit on all the cute, hipster, tatted-up, clothing designer chicks, and I run into a designer who's got a fledgling line, and wants to put together a mixtape with exclusively BBB production and co-brand it with the clothing line? When you put different "scenes" of people together, those type of opportunities present themselves all the time. Plus, who doesn't want to holler at all the cute, hipster, tatted-up, clothing designer chicks?
 

J Clyde 757

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