The coastal binary was always a fallacy. The South had a singular sound and something to say long before Three Stacks took the stage at the ’95 Source Awards. Today, the chief exporter of Southern rap remains Atlanta, the city where rappers and producers come together like the rotund cheeks on a Magic City stripper: quickly, forcefully, and often.
Since 2010, production duo FKi have been two of the prominent aural architects behind the continued Atlantan expansion. Together, FKi 1st and SauceLord Rich are responsible for the beats to celebrated songs from Travis Porter (“Bring it Back,” “Make it Rain”), Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug (“Get TF Out My Face”), iLoveMakonnen, Travis Scott (“Drugs You Should Try”), Young Dro, and Lil Yachty (“No Hook”), among others. On every collaborative effort, as well as on their first mixtape, 2012’s Transformers in the Hood, they patently refuse to redundancy. The sonic hallmarks of Atlanta (e.g. 808s, frenetic hi-hats) are utilized without feeling shopworn, tempered by keys, chords, and sounds that lesser peers futilely search for in stock sound packs.
Of late, FKi received increased exposure for discovering Post Malone. (FKi 1st produced “White Iverson,” the majority of Post Malone’s inaugural mixtape, August 26, and is currently at work on Malone’s debut.) This year also saw the release of Rich’s Know Me mixtape, which featured songs from the late Bankroll Fresh, and 1st’s First Time for Everything (Part 1), which was released via Mad Decent. Still, my favorite FKi production to date remains 2 Chainz’s “Watch Out.” The minimalism–the deftly deployed plinking keys, the sparse yet thunderous bass, the percussive ticks and tocks in between–feels like a response to every overblown aping of the Georgia capital’s aesthetic. For lack of more superlatives, it just goes.
Today, Rich still essentially lives in the duo’s Atlanta studio. 1st, when not DJing for Malone or popping up at clubs as disparate as Low End Theory and the Avalon Hollywood, now splits time between there and LA. I recently spoke with both producers over the phone. Read for their thoughts on collaboration, Atlanta’s ever fecund rap scene, and the ubiquity of Southern-bred vibrations. – Max Bell
Is it difficult working together while you’re in different states?
Rich:Not really. We both share the same talent and grew up together. It’s not like he can do something that I can’t do or that I can do something he can’t do. We’re a team. There’s no shade, there’s no jealousy. If he makes something, he made it. If I make it, I make it. If we make it together, then we made it.
1st:It’s not that difficult. We’ve been working together for a long time, so we respect each other’s creative space. It’s easy for us to work in two different places and then bring it all together. Right now he’s working on his stuff solo stuff and I’m working on mine.
When you first started, you guys used Fruity Loops. What software do you use now? Is there any software or equipment that you would say is essential to a contemporary hip-hop producer?
Rich:I still use Fruity Loops, but I drag everything into Pro Tools and make it however I want. I’m like a master at that. For a hip-hop person, you need to know Pro Tools. Everything is cut how it’s supposed to be. You can get things to loop how you want to without the problems of having it running in another program. I can get everything on key and precise when I’m dealing with Pro Tools.
Did going to school for engineering/music production expose the areas in which your skills were lacking?
Rich:I can say it really taught me Pro Tools. Other than that, we’ve been chopping stuff in different programs, from Cakewalk to Sonar. School really just taught me to have studio etiquette and how to act properly when the stars are around. It just teaches you things like that. But it fine tuned me with Pro Tools. It taught me that shit to the “T.” If you really want to learn Pro Tools, go to school.
Do you think it would benefit most producers to take a college level class or training course early in their career?
Rich:Definitely! But that’s not to say you can’t be special if you don’t go to school.
What’s your dynamic like when you work together? Do you prefer to record by yourselves?
Rich:He might start something and work on it for a while, then he might fall asleep and I’ll add things to the beat. He’ll wake up, “O, that’s dope,” or vice versa. Once we start a track, we just go in. We can work at the same time, but we both have different brains. We put what we need from each of our brains into what we’re doing. It’s hard to explain. We’ve just been doing it forever. I’ll use “Watch Out” as an example. I played the melody and added all the extra noises, then I sent it to 1st and he put the drums on it.
What are the advantages of producing as a duo? Are there any disadvantages?
1st:I wouldn’t say there are any disadvantages. It’s really just another way to put out more work without being any more tired than we already are. Two heads are better than one.
Why do you think co-production has been on the rise over the last few years? Do you feel it’s particularly prominent in the South?
1st:I would say it’s because of Atlanta. In Atlanta, there are so many collaborations. I’ve been collaborating with all of my producer friends in Atlanta [for years now]: Sonny Digital, Metro Boomin, DJ Spinz. It’s been over five years of just linking up at Sonny’s house, or my studio, and just collaborating. It’s just better that way. They have their relationships, and I have my relationships. The first time met Gucci Mane, either Sonny or Metro brought me over there. And DJ Spinz was one of the first people to find Makonnen. We were all linking up. So I don’t know if Atlanta helped [the trend], but we love collaborating. We’re all cool and we’re all friends. There are no egos involved.
It often seems as if you guys are doing your best to fit several sonic ideas into one song as seamlessly as possible. Is that an accurate assessment?
Rich:You definitely have to do that [today]. People’s attention spans are short. People want to hear different things happen at a faster rate. Back in day it might’ve been just one loop that plays the whole time. That’s not to say that those loops weren’t fire–they’re what elevated everything we have now. But with the new transitions, if you’re in the club and you’re tipsy or high or something, there might be a part in the song that you love instead of the whole song. People will wait for that one part. It’s like a different game.
How do you account for the diversity and expansiveness of your beats? Who do you listen to for inspiration?
1st:I would say it’s because of the people we looked up to: George Clinton, Daft Punk, The Neptunes, Timbaland. Those are some of the producers that we’ve always looked up to, and I feel like they’ve always had a pretty broad sound. With those people as teachers, of course we’re going to have a lot of different sounds. And we just mix them all together. For example, the Jeremih record “Fuck U All the Time,” it was almost an R&B record. But the vocal chops were on some EDM shit.
Aside from your work with Travis Porter and Post Malone, you guys have worked with practically every major artist in Atlanta. Did you seek most of them out yourselves? Did they come to you?
Rich:The studio that I’m sitting in is the studio that all happened in. The way the studio is set up, there were always different people in the room. Grand Hustle producers were in the room. We were working with DJ Spinz. We had another studio with him, and then we came over here. We had so many producers in here. Everybody came through here, people would call different people, and people just wandered into the room.
1st:Some kind of friendship has to be there, because that’s when the best music is made. With a lot of the people, it happens naturally. We meet each other at a studio and end up kicking it, vibing, and we end up making music. Or it was just the perfect connection, like the right place and the right time. Because I hate forcing stuff. Shit never works when it’s forced. I do like working with new people, but you can’t force everything in one session. Some good things can happen, but we really don’t know anything about each other. The shit I’m saying, you might fully hate. Or the shit you’re saying, I might fully hate. You have to get to know each other and get comfortable. That way no one is hurt when you say, “Fix this,” or, “Fix that.” I was just working with 2 Chainz the other night in New York and we knocked out a crazy song in about an hour. It’s probably going to be his next single. We have a relationship where we can say anything to each other.
Who do you think is the most overlooked rapper in Atlanta? Or, if you prefer, who do you think will be the next to blow up?
Rich: I’m next to blow up in Atlanta (laughs). If not me, I think it would be Key! Me and Key!.
1st:Other than myself? I would say Key! I wish Bankroll Fresh was still alive, because I feel like Gucci was going to take Bankroll to the next level. Gucci is the number one cosign in Atlanta. You have to have that cosign. Gucci was already fucking with him, but I feel like if Bank was still alive and Gucci was free, he was definitely going to be the next guy.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about music from Atlanta?
1st:I wouldn’t even say there are any misconceptions. Atlanta got all the sauce, bruh. All of the other genres are borrowing from it, whether it’s the 808s or the hi-hats. Look at at Desiigner with his songs. I don’t think there’s anything bad being said about Atlanta. I feel like we’re very lit. We got all the sauce. Once you pop the top, it’s open for everybody. What do people say? You tell me.
I’ve heard people say that a lot of up-and-coming rappers and producers from Atlanta imitate those rappers/producers from the area who’ve already achieved national success.
1st:I can see what you’re saying. But we grew up on on Shawty Redd, Zaytoven, and Drumma Boy making beats. That’s what we know. That’s what we’re used to. Every now and then it does change. If you’re listening to a song and you think it sounds like an Atlanta song, check the credits. If it’s an artist from somewhere else, they’re borrowing it and it’s not official. That can get annoying. But if you’re listening, you’ll know it’s a Sonny Digital track, a Metro track, a London On Da Track track, or an FKi track. It’s not going to sound exactly the same as everything else. But with Fruity Loops and all these sample packs, everybody around the world can get loose and throw them in. I think that’s where this same sounding shit is coming from. I don’t it’s not coming from Atlanta.
How do you think Atlanta can retain its momentum?
Rich:I think too many people are coming out too fast. Back in the day, it wasn’t just a whole bunch of random people. I’m not hating on nobody, but it’s too much of the same thing. Music is about elevation. You have to put yourself in the space where nobody is kind of like you. I feel like right now it’s more about making fast money instead of making things that you feel are like Michael Jackson or Prince to you. When I saw Kanye West, I thought that was the coolest man ever. It doesn’t feel like that anymore. With all these new people, it’s like, “You may make good songs, but I have to like you.” You have to look, act, and dress a certain way that makes me think, “I like this kid.” Your music could be awesome, but I won’t get into it. You have to do stuff that captivates everybody.
1st:Just keep doing what we’re going. There’s always going to be new artists. If we stick together, we can all band together and keep the thing going. The sauce is there. We have our own lingo and everything.
1st, you are working on the next Jack Ü album. You’ll undoubtedly add Atlanta-centric sounds to the record. Do you think that genre boundaries will soon cease to exist?
1st:I think so. I feel like the next ten years is going to be a little bit of everything. The doors are already broken down now. A pop singer can borrow from anything and make it a hit, whether it’s reggae, trap, EDM, house, or whatever. It’s already open now. People aren’t holding it against people. Who did Young Thug make a song with last year? Jamie XX? That’s a perfect example of the way things are going.
You both released solo efforts this year. What’s next for FKi and for your solo careers?
Rich:What’s next for FKi is making more beats and more hits. We’re coming out with the new Transformers in the Hood soon. The next thing for me is my solo project, Know Me King Wolf. I’m going to show everybody what I really do.
1st:Every first of the month, there’s going to be something new: a project, a song, a video. Every 1st and 15th, like a check. But for A First Time for Everything, Mad Decent hit me up and believed in what I could do. Now I’m getting ready for these Mad Decent block parties in Brooklyn, Phoenix, and some other dates. [As a duo], we’re definitely going to keep turning out hits for everybody. We’re definitely going to come back together to record something.