“I Want It To Be Me Everytime”: An Interview with DJ SWISH

Sam Ribakoff speaks with DJ SWISH about Still Brazy, balancing music and a career, and re-defining the role of the producer.
By    August 8, 2016


Even if Jerk music could come off corny, you cannot deny that it had a big, positive, effect on hip hop in Los Angeles. After the decline of Death Row Records and G-Funk and Project Blowed and it’s avant-garde hip hop, L.A. was a city without a sound, resigned to letting the South’s crunk and snap sound take it’s well earned time in the limelight.

It wasn’t until the mid 2000s with the popularization and spread of music producing software like FruityLoops, did L.A. begin to find it’s sound again. At the same time Flying Lotus, DJ Nobody, Dibiase, and a slew of other DJs and producers were refining the futuristic boom bap sound of the Low End Theory scene, kids across south L.A. were taking in the minimalistic sounds of crunk and snap music and reinterpreting it as jerk music.

While Low End quietly began revitalizing the L.A. underground, jerk music revitalized L.A.’s mainstream, with numerous teenage dance/rap crews scoring big advances, and inevitably leading to a string of one hit viral jerk wonders. But out of the jerk miasma came the trio of Ty Dolla $ign, DJ Mustard, Cam and China, and YG, who over the course of a number of singles and mixtapes, were able to steer jerk’s minimalism into a more mature sound. Between DJ Mustard’s hyphy drum and bass lines, Ty’s musicality, and YG’s rapping abilities, they were able to connect jerk music with the hardcore gangster rap and G-Funk of L.A.’s past, and make it a part of L.A.’s hip hop lineage.

DJ SWISH is a continuation of that lineage, bringing his own musicality and understanding into progressing that Mustard/Ty/YG, L.A. sound forward. It was under the influence of one of SWISH’s G-Funk charged tracks that YG decided to frame the sound of Still Brazy around, undoubtedly influencing countless other rappers to follow suit in the coming months.

But SWISH isn’t one to revel in his accomplishments. He’s already on to thinking about how to revitalize his own production, by bringing it into the pop music game, and maybe even getting some licensing money when “Fuck Donald Trump,” one of his productions on Still Brazy, becomes the new national anthem. —Sam Ribakoff

This is a weird question to start out with, but did you go to Cal State Long Beach?

DJ SWISH: Ha! Yeah, I went there for like three years to study biology, then I transferred to a music school in Hollywood. It was too much to do music and study at the same time.

Did you want to go into medicine at one point?

DJ SWISH: Yeah. I kind of wanted to go into pharmaceutical work. My mom’s a dietician and my dad works in the health department for L.A. County. It was one of those I kind of felt like I had to do it things, but it didn’t really work out.

But you grew up in Inglewood, right?

DJ SWISH: I was born in Inglewood, but I grew up in Torrance.

I think we’re around the same age, so what are your memories of the jerk movement?

DJ SWISH: Wow. I thought it was fascinating. It was just a whole movement, which was crazy. Everybody was playing jerk music, but it was just a whole movement that took over the whole of California. I don’t know if it really spread that far outside of California though. The beats were kind of like similar to [DJ] Mustard beats. That’s where I definitely got a lot of influence as well when I started making beats.

Did you start making music around then?

DJ SWISH: Yeah, kind of, on and off. I guess that was like 2011 or 2012, that’s when I started really making beats. I started playing the piano when I was six. I’ve been in [school] bands my entire life. I’ve been in salsa band, orchestra, concert band, jazz band, rock band, I’ve been in like every genre of music. When I started making beats it wasn’t necessarily like hip hop tracks or what you heard on the radio, it was more jazzy stuff, stuff I was more used to being a part of.

How did you link up with RJ?

DJ SWISH: I was DJ’ing a party, and this kid, RJ, came and he wanted me to play his stuff, and I kept telling him I made beats, so we started working together and then we were going to open for a YG show, and somehow RJ’s management talked to YG’s management, and somehow we got to use their studio a little bit. From then on I started to make a bunch of his music.

Did you give RJ those jazz tracks you were working on?

DJ SWISH: Nah! That was more sort of me experimenting early on and figuring out how to really produce. It was really more for myself. At that time, before I met RJ, I wasn’t really into making music for rappers like that. After I discovered Fruity Loops I started making more, I guess what you could call “popular music,” that was actually around the time of jerk music. I think me being able to play a lot of instruments, I was able to adapt easily. Hip hop is not the only genre that I do, still, though.

But the first big hit you and RJ had was “Get Rich,” right? When that song came out everybody thought it was a DJ Mustard beat, and you couldn’t find anywhere online who produced those tracks on the mixtape. Does that piss you off that Mustard kind of took credit for it?

DJ SWISH: That was kind of my first… Well, actually before that I did “Vibe with Me,” Mustard heard it and kind of wanted to add “touches” to it, or whatever, and then it just became “produced by Mustard, and SWISH.”

Because the sounds are kind of similar everybody kind of gravitated towards thinking that Mustard produced it, and so, I was kind of excited at first because, you know, Mustard is a big producer and he wanted to hop on something I made, but then the next time around, when “Get Rich” came out, business kind of got a little crazy. My tag is actually in the song, but they cut it out. I was pretty hot about that.

Did you ever become a part of Mustards whole production team?

DJ SWISH: During that time, he was trying to sign me, but no, I wasn’t too excited about me making beats and him just taking it and using it for himself. But I was around him a lot. A lot of people that got that whole Mustard experience weren’t up on their business. They probably didn’t have a lawyer or an attorney or they didn’t really know the ropes as far as producing went. Even after “Get Rich” that’s when I got my attorney. That was definitely a lesson learned.

Was it between your work with RJ and your work with YG that you started posting those re-production remixes of hip hop songs?

DJ SWISH: No, that came before, that’s basically how I shifted gears and how I started practicing [making hip hop], just listening to something, and trying to pinpoint each and every song, just to help myself. It was just practice for me in terms of producing, just to recreate something.

And those got really popular on Youtube, especially the Drake and Future one.

DJ SWISH: Yeah. Sometimes if it was like a big song, I’d hop on and make something fast and upload it, because people would be looking for the instrumentals.

Is that how YG or YG’s team heard about you, or was it through the tracks you did with RJ?

DJ SWISH: It was through the RJ tracks that they heard. I remember they first called me and wanted me to work on YG’s album, and I think from that I started to make tracks that I thought he might like. Then when I met him in the studio and played the tracks he was just like “yeah, we want to base the album off of these.”

How would you describe the style of your tracks on Still Brazy?

DJ SWISH: Well, with Mustard’s tracks being simple, and I’m not saying simple is bad, but as a musician I wanted to add a more musical element to it, and then just add the drums that are club heavy. Like “Get Rich” is musical too. It’s got a good melody.

People like Terrance Martin and Ty [Dolla $ign] are good examples of producers like that, producers who are really good musicians and arrangers, and producers who worked on Still Brazy too.

DJ SWISH: Yeah. The only song I was actually in the studio for was “Still Brazy” with Ty and YG. Ty had always been the backbone of YG and Mustard’s sound. I’ve always looked up to Ty as an artist and a producer. When I got into the studio with him I started to do these old school G-Funk drums, and Ty just kind of took it and flipped the whole thing, which was crazy.

I was pretty nervous working with Terrence, and he could kind of tell, so he told me to just relax and do whatever comes natural. He told me it’s really all about a feeling when you’re making music. Terrance is someone I look up to as well. I vibe well with musicians who are also producers, because they understand where I’m coming from.

You produced the new national anthem “Fuck Donald Trump.” Did you also get a call from the secret service?

DJ SWISH: Haha. Nope. I just made the beat.

Were you called in to censor it? The album version is so censored.

DJ SWISH: Yeah, they had to change up a lot of the lyrics. It doesn’t really sound the same on the album, but it still works.

It definitely still gets the message across.

DJ SWISH: Yeah. I kind of see it as, you know N.W.A. had “Fuck the Police”, I feel like “FDT” is somewhat up to that level.

Do you think it’ll get kids out to vote?

DJ SWISH: I think so.

Yeah, I went to a Trump protest in San Diego awhile ago and “Fuck Donald Trump” was playing from everywhere. Every car that passed by was playing it, everybody with portable speakers inside the protest was playing it.

DJ SWISH: That’s crazy.

So, what’s next for you? What are you working on?

DJ SWISH: I just signed a deal with Universal. I’m not too sure what’s going to happen, but I’ll continue to make music, work with different artists, but I think I’m trying to figure out a different type of sound. There’s this new EDM sound called “future classic” that I either want to blend with hip hop or blend with another type of genre. I’ve just been working with a lot of different songwriters, just trying to get placements, as well as working with other artists.

Are you trying to change your sound with each project?

DJ SWISH: Yeah, I wouldn’t want to be a producer that has a definite sound. I would want people to question the production every time. Like if one song comes on and you’re like “Who is this” and your friend’s like “oh it’s SWISH”, and then another song comes on that sound completely different, and you ask the same question, and your friend has the same answer, “oh it’s SWISH.” I want it to be me every time.

Like Max Martin, Max Martin is probably my favorite producer. I have yet to find out if he really producers his stuff or not, because a lot of people out here don’t, but as for now, Max Martin’s very versatile in the pop world. I want to take elements of that and infuse some hip hop into it.

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