Salva’s potent and pounding beats traverse several genres, everything from hip-hop, house, and Miami bass to dance and funk. The L.A. resident’s new album, The Peacemaker, was recorded at Red Bull Studios in Santa Monica and released gratis last week. The project includes some of this year’s best rap production coupled with verses from Kurupt, Schoolboy Q, E-40 and Young Thug. It also bangs so hard you’ll punch holes through every wall in sight and continue swinging.
During our conversation, the Chicago native’s enthusiasm and musical knowledge never wavered. He spoke passionately about staying cool when meeting legends like DJ Shadow and Kurupt, being inspired by a speech from RZA and his family’s history with the Philippines government. He was also genuinely one of the nicest interviewees I’ve encountered. I even shocked him with some common ties regarding his first production efforts. This one’s a goody. – Jimmy Ness
Correct me if I’m wrong, but your recent single “Freaky Dancing” has quite a retro vibe.
Yeah, for sure. I guess that was from working with Ruckazoid and he’s definitely an unsung hero. He’s a musical genius front to back, from turntablism to singing to rapping. He really does it all and he doesn’t really put out a lot of stuff publicly. Really just the vibe is like a Stevie B, Latin freestyle, retro funk kind of thing updated with 8o8s and half-time. So yeah it just came out man. We made the track, he penned it and we finished the production together. That’s one not necessarily of indicative of what the record will sound like, but I wanted to drop it just because a lot of people ask why I don’t do that sound anymore. So that’s one out of two or three cuts on there that have that funk vibe to it.
You probably could have gone for a really easy single. The obvious one with the biggest features on it.
Yeah and “Old English” with Young Thug and stuff has been released and it’s been really successful with making radio and stuff. So the stuff like that on there, people already know I do that. It’s kind of showing my newer fans that I acquired from that, another sound. I think all the heads that get it, like it a lot and those that don’t I think it’s weird (laughs).
How do you decide who ends up on these collaborations? “Old English” for example or “Drop That Bitch” with Kurupt, Schoolboy Q, Bad Lucc and Problem?
So this whole record was A&Red in house, I collaborated personally with almost everyone on the record except E-40 and Young Thug, they sent their verses in. You know it took me a year to kind of rangle everybody up. As far as the collaborations it was like building blocks. Nick Hook got Young Thug on that track when he was in Atlanta. Freddie Gibbs was in the studio a couple weeks later and he was like “I gotta get on this.” Then Ferg wanted to get on it and that kind of happened. Same with “Drop That Bitch,” I got Kurupt, then I happened to be in the studio with Schoolboy Q because I did a small piece of writing on his album.
You wrote on Schoolboy’s album in terms of production or actual song writing?
No actually, a little bit of lyric writing on “The Purge” with Tyler The Creator and Kurupt. So when Kurupt and I worked together, who is a legend in his own right, we kind of penned stuff together because I kind of helped him with the cadence on these wacky new productions that he doesn’t fully understand.
Does Kurupt appreciate the new sound of production coming out in terms of bass, trap etc?
Yeah, he’s a music lover man. He fucks with all of it. He’s just a good-hearted dude. He’s a really good cat and he’s down for whatever. For me to roll with him is just respect, because all these younger guys just grew up on him. He’s definitely a safe dude to go into a rap session with because he gets all the respect in the world.
For “Drop That Bitch,” you went through a strange sample library, which included sounds from medieval weapons. Are you planning on featuring any of those other interesting samples on your future tracks?
Yeah, even the beginning of “Old English” is from like some weird ‘50s experimental record. There’s weird shit always peppered throughout just because I’ve got a record collection and a turntable. That’s the old hip-hop head in me who just likes the atmosphere of some old weird shit that someone recorded 50 years ago. You can’t make that inside of a laptop, so it’s always good to try to incorporate that stuff.
Is there an Xzibit vocal at the end of it or did I just imagine it?
Yeah, so the hydraulics sound is from Dr Dre’s Chronic 2001. So Xzibit is kind of talking in the background over that stuff. That’s actually one of the reasons why this record is going to be free because there’s an Eazy-E sample and some of this stuff is kinda…
Hard to clear.
Yeah, and I had interest from major labels and stuff but I kind of just wanted to get it out to the people man. Just because I’ve been working on it and my only goal is for people to hear it and like it. Not even like it, but just make their own opinion and that was kind of the premise to work with bigger rappers. I don’t want the exposure for the hype. I don’t want to try sell myself to have people think I’m cool because I’m fucking with these guys. I just aim to work with A-1 artists you know. It’s really just a matter of putting this out free and I hope people download it and enjoy it.
Why did you decide to call your album The Peacemaker?
Well, the idea was bringing together these rappers that shouldn’t be on the same track and bringing these worlds together. It’s that and from when I was trying to think of a new brand name. People used to call me “The Problem Solver,” but since I started working with Problem I dropped that moniker because I didn’t want it to be weird. So I was trying to think of what the new tagline would be. I thought back to my high school days and grade school days. We used to roll around with our combination locks, our padlocks from our lockers at school wrapped around a bandana and we’d ride our bikes and go smash the fuckin’ mailboxes and get in all kinds of trouble. We used to call those things “Peacemakers.” That was the nickname we had, different kids in different cities called them different things, but that’s kind of what that is. Peacemaker is also a Smith & Wesson, a B52 Bomber and there’s different kinds of explosives that are pseudonyms for that word. So yeah man, it’s just gully, it seemed fitting.
Where does the name Salva come from? I know it’s your actual last name, and there’s a few Spanish soccer players with the same name.
So it’s a Spanish name, but my grandfather is from the Philippines. Basically, they were Spaniards living in the Philippines.
Your family immigrated over there?
Yeah, actually my grandfather was from the bastard family, if you will, of the president’s advisor in the Philippines during WWII. He was from the advisor’s family with his mistress. [the advisor] had nine kids with the mistress and they all got shipped off the mountains during the war and I think three of four of the children died. The rest came to the States and my grandfather actually stayed over there. He was the only child from that family that would stay with my great-grandfather’s legitimate family and I think it was a little trying on him as a kid because he would see people put to death and see some shit growing up.
So as a teenager, he came to Chicago and that’s where he met my grandmother who is Italian. So the whole other side of the family is Italian. That’s the fuckin’ lineage [laughs].
I’ve heard you’re quite the turntablist?
Used to be more than now but yeah, I definitely still incorporate it at least. Not a lot of hand-rocking or too much scratching and stuff, but when I play more hip-hop based shows I definitely like to be on turntables and feel that out. But yeah, I came into all of this from watching QBert and Mixmaster Mike, Shortcut, B.Styles, all those guys, Cut Chemist, DJ Shadow. That was definitely my first serious musical inspiration aside from being a fan of hearing music as kid.
Yeah exactly, I had all of the VHS tapes.
You were a radio DJ for a while at BBC Radio 1, how was that experience?
It was incredible man. It was a dream. I was coming over to London once a month to record. Radio 1, 9pm live, a good estimated 7-9 million people reach and you know I got the program the full hour, no commercials, anything I wanted to play and I played everything from rap to juke to house to UK bass stuff. It was a fucking great variety in the hour of music that I was into at the time and the BBC family is incredible. The whole thing was just great. It really got me into loving radio and loving that format. Since then I’ve kind of done Shade 45, Sirius XM, Power 106. I’ve kind of been dipping into radio when I can for sure.
I told a friend over here in the UK that I was interviewing you and he said he put out some of your records on a label years ago. He told me about your really early material, when you were with the Def Harmonic crew?
Oh who is it? Shit… it’s definitely been a minute! Uh was it Altered Vibes? [laughs]
That’s the one.
Yeah man, haha!
What were you doing at the time, were you spending a lot of time in London or was that just a label that found you?
During that time I was living in Miami. I’m from Chicago and when I came back, one of my best friends who I still work with now but more on the business tip, he was the DJ for Def Harmonic and I got introduced to them and that was probably some of the first hip-hop stuff I put out production wise.
I probably only had a couple of records on Altered Vibes from those cats I produced, but I was definitely in the crew with them and working with them. That’s when I first started doing vocals and I was actually rapping and trying to sing. I was really trying to find my voice and what it was, it was actually an Antipop Consortium style group where we would rap and shit on stage and that was kind of in that era where that was happening. That was kind of stage two or stage three of my journey.
What were your raps like and how do you feel looking back on them?
Definitely bizarre and I definitely have a disposition towards white rappers a little bit just because of it. I love Action Bronson and Eminem’s early stuff was fucking epic, but I guess I can’t really stomach white rappers trying to be hood and trying to be gangsta. It’s not really believable, and because I love really hood rap. The ebonics, you know it’s like if you don’t really speak like that, you really shouldn’t rap like that. There’s plenty of white rappers that I admire though man, like Slug from Atmosphere. Danny Seth from London is pretty sick, I do fuck with him. I don’t feel the same way about British rappers. White British rappers get the pass because those guys are gully.
You’re going to Hawaii tomorrow with Dam Funk and Just Blaze. Have you met them before?
Yeah it’s going to be awesome. I met Just through Red Bull Music Academy a few years ago. We’ve kicked it a couple of times. I’ve been to his studio in New York. He’s a really nice dude man. He’s super cool. Obviously a legend and I’m a huge fan, so it’s going to be fun. Dam and I have bumped into each other a couple of times and I’m definitely a fan of his too so it’s a fun line-up.
Are you someone who tries to record on the plane or at the airport while you’re on tour? Do you try and work with artists you’re doing shows with?
Yes and no. It depends how long the travel dates are, sometimes the travel is so brutal that it’s like all I can do is veg out. But there’s other times on flights when sometimes the plane lands and I don’t even want the flight to be over because I’m locked in my headphones. So it’s different. But yeah, especially when I tour Europe, when I’d come up there and I’d like work with Boys Noize, and just try to work with cats in the cities that would host me and have me. Back in the day in London I would stay with Om Unit. Definitely if there’s time I like to get it in, but on this Hawaii trip I probably won’t be doing much. I’ll be doing more relaxing than anything else.
You’re a huge lover of music and someone who legitimately seems to enjoy a real variety of genres. Is that from working in record stores when you were younger?
Yeah, for sure. That’s definitely what I would attribute it most to. When I was in Miami, I was working at a record store that’s not really around anymore.
At that time in the year 2000, drum and bass was at its height worldwide and the DJ Shadows, and the acid jazz, all that stuff was happening. Breakbeat was big, new school breaks, proper electro, techno. All these things were kind of at a bubbling point, rap of course too. I just really got lucky enough to get schooled by the other buyers at the store who were just super on top of what it was. So not only did I get to explore these styles but I got put on by the local heads, I definitely got blessed in that respect. When I was back in Milwaukee, I was working at an indie rock store so I was the only electronic and hip-hop buyer there so then it was like oh shit I missed out on this whole world of Indie rock as well so I was digging into that kind of stuff. Animal collective, the whole range, all the different hybrids of electronic and rock and that kind of stuff so yeah, it’s just what I love man.
You chatted with Mannie Fresh at Red Bull Music academy about DJs who don’t have the essential skills of the craft. The DJ who didn’t learn the basics because it’s so easy to play something off a laptop. Because of the type of music you make, some people might put you on a bill with these artists. Do you sometimes encounter performers who you don’t entirely respect or enjoy on a musical level?
Yeah dude, even very close friends. That was a difficult hurdle to overcome creatively over the past few years because my friends in the UK that are house and techno heads, they’re very elitist and they’re very picky. They don’t like EDM. They don’t like American dance music and all those things. To a degree from a tastemaker’s perspective, I agree with that too but I guess I have found an appreciation for people appealing to the masses a little bit more. I think there’s a happy medium. So my head is a little more open to pop and stuff like that than the average underground DJ. But on the flip side you have the kind of corny pop American DJs that play lifeless music. There’s a whole range so I try to stick somewhere in the middle. Coming from turntablism and hip-hop is where I get that at the end of the day it’s a party rocking aesthetic. I call my stuff intelligent party rock. I’m going to play stuff that gets the crowd stoked. I’m going to play stuff they know, but try to do it in a new way.
Try to challenge them as well.
Yeah, try to sneak in some stuff they don’t know. With the gigs over here it’s getting increasingly difficult to do that unfortunately.
Things have gotten really over-saturated in any city throughout North America and Canada. Anywhere I tour, every bar in the city has a DJ.
It’s so accessible to become a DJ, you just need a laptop.
Yeah, it’s not special anymore to go see a DJ for regular people and those who don’t come from the culture – old school rave culture, or hip-hop or house or whatever. The younger heads. It’s not a negative thing, they just don’t come from those cultures so they don’t know about respecting the DJ as a tastemaker. Somebody like Jackmaster for instance, I would go see one of his sets and be really keen on hearing what records he’s going to break and what he’s going to play. Or back to the drum and bass shit, you hear Dillinja or Ray Keith or somebody else and it’s like they’re playing all dubs you’ve never heard. That’s kind of been lost as electronic music has gone pop at this stage. Times have changed and you have to adapt because you know this is my profession as well, it’s not just my passion.
During your time at the Red Bull Music Academy, you described RZA’s lecture as an emotional moment to the point of being “almost spiritual.”
First of all, I had just finished reading his book. I thought it was a great read and one of the most emotional parts is him losing ODB and just that human story of losing one of your best friends.
And for it to happen in the public eye as well.
Yeah and Wu Tang is a pillar of my hip-hop roots as it was for most of us who were around during that time. 36 Chambers I think I got that in like seventh grade and I didn’t even fully understand what I was listening to. By the time Wu Tang Forever came out, I mean I must have listened to that double disc a 100,000 times [laughs]. Just based on that fact and RZA being one of my catalysts in being a producer. I think some of the first things I was messing with in production, like a small 8 seconds of production time on a Yamaha sampler and I was just learning how to loop rhythms, so he’s definitely a hero and I’m just such a big fan of his. He’s well spoken and he has a crazy story to tell. He talked for a good two or three hours. He wasn’t just trying to do his thing and leave. He really put some knowledge on us and I so respect how he went into movies and worked with Quentin Tarantino. Just the whole journey is something that I dream of doing one day and just transcending being a musical artist. His whole leadership thing too. Whether or not I play the leader role, running labels or helping manage artists myself, it’s just inspiring.
I read that the A&Ring or providing leadership to other musicians is something you’re aiming towards in the future.
Definitely. I don’t even plan on retiring. I don’t see a day in my future when I’m not involved in music. Some of the session players from Michael Jackson’s and Quincy Jones’ era are still working and still doing stuff for awards shows, movies and artists. To me, I’m put here to be involved with music so all those things provide longevity as well. Now days where the DJ is a frontman and a celebrity in their own right, I don’t know how long that will last. But even for a vocal artist, not many get to perform and tour forever. That’s a big reason I moved to LA too. For as much as people say the music industry is the devil and is failing and all these negative things, at the end of the day it’s not an omnipotent presence that has any control. It’s an industry that’s commoditising art and that’s not an easy thing and I think there’s a lot of players in the game who do help push things forward and do help create art. There are good A&Rs and there are good label heads and there are good managers. So I appreciate the backend too you know.
As your career becomes more successful and you meet more of these legends who had a massive impact on you personally, do you find over time you’re less shocked by it and it becomes the norm?
I think a part of being a professional is being able to work through your fan boy moments, you know? I toured with DJ Shadow and we became personal friends. He came to my studio and he’s definitely in my top five inspirations with Entroducing coming out in ’96 and obviously how it changed sampling. Now we’re homies and I guess it’s for real. I think some of my old friends from grade and high school that I don’t keep in touch with anymore will think it’s the most bizarre thing in the world working with these people.
At the end of the day they’re only human, which is probably something you learn more and more. Maybe extremely talented humans, but no one is as sacred and divine as the media portrays.
Totally. I still keep the respect and admiration. That never leaves. I stop myself from getting geeked out enough to not be able to work with them on that level, but deep down I know who the real innovators are.
You closed down the Frite Nite label you ran?
Yeah, it’s been shut down for about a year or so now. I still work with like Teeko and B. Bravo, they opened up my boiler room the other night. We’re still all good friends, I still look out for everybody in that crew and we still all work together, but I had to kind of put it to bed because I was touring and promoting shows myself. Managing these guys, it hit a point where I couldn’t perform as an artist if I was doing it at that rate. So getting another label imprint is definitely in the future and something I want to do again with the right resources.
You’ve collaborated with Problem and Bad Lucc pretty frequently.
So I have a friend Yesi Ortiz at Power 106 and she’s a radio celebrity out here in LA. She’s kind of been on the radio for a long time and is really well known. Power 106 really champions Problem and they have for the past couple of years. The “Mercy” (remix) was on Power 106 and that was on the radio every single day, five times a day, for a good year straight and they basically were like “yo, we need another remix of something that’s been in rotation.” So I remixed Problem’s song “Like Whaat.” Simply from that he was appreciative and after a couple reach-outs we got in the studio. I think we cut like five records during our first day together in like four hours. He like a lot of these cats, because I’m white and come from this alternative thing, kind of think I’m just a dance producer. So I come to the studio with a shit-load of rap beats and they’re like “oh shit.”
When you’re in the studio with these guys who are known for being gangsta rappers, have you felt intimidated at any point?
Not really man, these guys are all professional. I think one common thread between everybody, is everybody likes to make money, be successful and get paid. Especially in LA, what’s great is everyone’s just grinding. The people that I would consider real professionals, whether it be rappers or anybody, they’re working every single day man. They’re working every single hour they can squeeze into the day whether they’re recording, writing, doing press or whatever it is. So to these guys it’s just another day at work. I guess Schoolboy Q was a little intimidating, but he was definitely respectful and all that. He’s just a reserved dude and he’s fucking dope.
I thought Freddie Gibbs would be pretty intimidating as well.
You know what, he’s a really nice dude man. He’s a hard ass motherfucker, he’s a gangsta motherfucker but he’s respectful too and professional [laughs].
Thank you so much man, I really appreciate your time.