“Between The Past And The Present”: An Interview With TUAMIE

Madeleine Bryne sits down with the Mutant Academy producer to talk influences, production techniques, and creating the perfect bond between producer and rapper.
By    August 31, 2018

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Madeleine Byrne goes buck for a good remix.

There were four years where TUAMIE barely slept. During his high school years, when he should’ve been studying chemistry, he focused on alchemy—reading up on hip-hop production and watching every online video he could find. He devoted himself to worshipping at the altar of Pete Rock and Preemo, as dignified a form of higher education as exists.  

The Atlanta producer makes beats with a supremely delicate touch, sustained by a deeply thoughtful approach to production. Details purposely remain underdeveloped, so as to allow the MC’s vocals to achieve dominance. See the two notes of a looped piano sample on the Mutant Academy’s “Grandma’s Spot,” where the vocals from Koncept Jack$on and Fly Anakin perfectly counterbalance the bassline and drums. In the past, TUAMIE has described his music as personal, designed for an audience of one. Nonetheless, he’s become the hidden hand of Mutant Academy over four albums and 40 instrumentals.

TUAMIE is masterful at detail and song structure, qualities that underscored the aesthetic of the New York Golden Age. It meshes ideally with his personal style, similarly thoughtful and deliberate. But his latest, Emergency Raps, Vol. 3, reveals that this isn’t the full picture. The collaboration with Koncept Jack$on includes “Next Caller,” where a near-hysterical fan loses it after a hammy DJ informs her she has a free ticket to the next Mutant Academy show. TUAMIE’s beats are prefaced by his name spelled out with mock-amazement and the words, “oh sh-ii-t.” The titles for his beats are often clever: “8 Hours of Netflix” and “An Order of Extra Loop” to pick two.

Outside of his own original production work, TUAMIE shines on remixes like his reimagination of Clipse’s “Hot Damn” (which became “Fried Tilapia”). What’s so artful is the way that he removes the hard-hitting more mainstream-sounding beat into something more swooning and romantic. It’s affecting yet strange. He created a similar vibe reworking Sade (“The Illest Taboo”) and Tupac (“Generation Y”). None of them resemble “standard” remixes from earlier eras. In the past, producers sought to draw attention to aspects of the original, but keep it recognizable. But TUAMIE’s takes shift the remix in a totally new direction: memories of the original track remain amid a reconstruction of an entirely different mood.

When talking about the work of their peers, producers frequently say that the instrumentals reveal the creator’s personality. This certainly applies to TUAMIE. In conversation, he is careful with his words, modest and serious about what he does. It’s no surprise that much of his music is in a similar vein.  

In our interview below TUAMIE considers how Emergency Raps Vol. 3 links with hip-hop of the past, shares what he’s learned from Pete Rock and DJ Premier, and discusses those spectral remixes of his in an attempt to explain their significance.

One thing I like about Emergency Raps Vol. 3 is the quality of the recording, especially the way you recorded Koncept Jack$on’s vocal track. It’s a really rich sound.

TUAMIE: Big Kahuna OG does the mixes at Mutant Academy. He records all the albums and has an ear for it. He knows how my sound is. It’s teamwork, so thank you for that.

It reminded me of a 90’s hip-hop recording, the way the beat fits with the voice. It sounds like you’re in the same room, not just emailing out beats on spec.

TUAMIE: Yes, yes, what you are describing comes from producing, not just sending a beat. I’m not a beat-maker, I produce. Every artist has a certain personality and as a producer I have to create something that will bring out the best in them, so we can create the best possible work to send out to the public

Volume 1 was done in person, Volume 2 and 3 by email, but there was a lot of communication, based on knowing each artist, their personality, what they like and don’t like, seeing what they can do and what they might not see at the moment. Then you also have to take into account that at the time the music is being done, a person might be in a certain space. I need to work with them in that regard so we can have the best performance put on record. It’s realizing what kind of artist you’re working with and what’s best for them production-wise.

You just said you’re a producer not a beat-maker. Can you explain this some more?

TUAMIE: A producer has a vision and makes it easy for an artist so that they do not have to think about anything other then what they write down. It’s about creating the whole landscape for them. The individual might be just coming up and doesn’t know how to create music, or doesn’t care about creating a quality record as a whole product, or may not have the vision from beginning to end, so a producer needs to step in there. Producers also need to know how to promote and sell the work, how to communicate with artists in whatever circle of business and be consistent. Doing things, as a whole, non-stop and consistently.

Tell me more about the production and recording process for the album.

TUAMIE: Mutant Academy has a place to record at, so it was done at that one location; me and the engineer Kahuna working together, then emailing beats and communicating with Koncept Jack$on, explaining what I like, what I don’t like. Going over it a few times and then once we were happy with the product we left it alone. It’s a simple, easy process. Everyone thinks alike and we’re on the same page 24/7. Nothing too crazy.

You’ve just described the classic hip-hop production ethos: the producer trying to bring out the best in the artist and thinking about the quality of their voice when recording. Who inspired you to work this way, past or present?

TUAMIE: The source of this is Pete Rock and CL Smooth. Pete Rock and CL Smooth, to me, are the perfect combination, the perfect match. I challenge myself to be like this with every artist I work with. Depending on the tone of their voice, or how they’re rapping or their personality style, I find music, samples and sounds that fit everything they relate to, to bring out the best in them, inspiring them to do the same as they move on in their career. The inspiration for that mindset is Pete Rock and CL Smooth, The Main Ingredient album mainly.

I can hear that in your production, the intros reflect a Pete Rock influence, the way the ones for “Stokley Wit Me” or “Plant Based” are really intricate.

TUAMIE: Yes, it’s inspired from records that Pete Rock and CL Smooth have created. With the intros, I try to build anticipation and prepare the listener for the energy of the record and to end the record, sometimes I’ll add a beat at the end of the song.

On “Stokley Wit Me,” those first 15 seconds or so have a lot happening. It’s got an 80s mood with the synths, then there’s scratching and drums. The music is interesting in itself, it’s got dimensions to it. How much thought do you put into all this?

TUAMIE: A lot of thought. Everything is handled as if it is something fragile and valuable. There’s a lot of detail and a lot of thought behind it. There’s always too much going on, too much happening, it’d be easier to just not think about it and put it out, but this music is for me. I make music for myself, to be a reflection of myself. Everything that you have heard, in terms of the detail, a lot of thought has gone into it.

This might be a further link between the eras, as much of mainstream hip-hop or rap today is often pretty basic in terms of the music, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Your work has depth and detail, but the drums are far removed from 90’s boom bap so it doesn’t sound retro.

TUAMIE: My music is a cross between the past and the present. I’ve had that idea for a while, but am now just now understanding how to execute it. This has inspired something I’m working on now, that’s inspired by taking different producers like the 808 Mafia, but with Pete Rock drums, or Dilla drums, then adding my own original ideas to that so it can be original in regards to me, so I can have my own style, so it sounds refreshing and renewing, and it’s not something you hear at 7 o’clock on this radio station when they play 90’s boom bap.

It comes through, I mean “Plant Based” is very original, but also “Wet Ear Yungin” has got an amazing sound. Is there one track that you’d like to speak about in particular?

TUAMIE: “Wet Ear Yungin,” because Nickelus F bodied a verse for me on my beat and I’ve been a fan of his for a while. I met him once for like two seconds at a show and next thing I know he’s rapping on a beat of mine. That’s the one I’m most proud of – it shows me that any ideas I may have can be done. You can think it and speak it into existence. Hopefully I’m going to do more work with Nickelus F.

The posse cut, “Travolta, Pt. 3” is great as well.

TUAMIE: For “Travolta Pt. 3,” I think I did three different beats. That one is the final cut because it was the most energetic of all the drafts we created. “Travolta Pt. 3” is a classic posse cut, it’s a display of rapping ability, a showcase.

One more bridge with the 90’s, the kind of track you’d associate with that era, not so much with these days.

TUAMIE: Yes, definitely. That’s what I started out listening to, that’s what I heard growing up, in the family car – or whoever’s car it was – that’s what they were playing. Then as I got into music that’s what I first studied, from Diamond D’s first album to Pete Rock, so yeah Pete Rock and Diamond D, that’s the source of my style.

How would you describe Mutant Academy for people who don’t know them?

TUAMIE: Mutant Academy is a collective of producers and artists and designers. Everybody who is in that collective is inspirational. It’s good family. It’s also people I can talk to and help me get through things. My favorite thing is that we all think alike and we’re all in the business. Mutant Academy is a collective of great, talented people, from designers to producers to rappers. The group is based in Richmond, VA, I’m based out of Atlanta but I lived in Richmond for two years at different times.

Virginia has long had a vibrant hip-hop production scene, with people like Nottz and Neptunes – innovative, individual production voices. What is it about the state that encourages this, do you think?

TUAMIE: Virginia is its own unique place. That’s where I started making beats. The sound of Virginia is influenced from both the north and the south. It’s in between so we receive everything. Based off history we’ve combined both the New York sound and the Southern to make an original one. That’s why you have Neptunes, Timabland, and now Mutant Academy. There are still a lot of talented music-makers in Virginia.

Let’s talk some more about your production. I read in the Tea & Converse interview that you said your work is not generally sample-based. Is that right?

TUAMIE: My work is sample-based, but recently I’ve been straying away. For example, Emergency Raps I’d say is like 60% original music and the rest is samples. Right now I’m in-between combining both. In the future I’m going to be making more original music. I’m not going to stop doing it forever, just at this time period that’s my focus right now.

When you say original music, are you playing the instruments yourself, getting in musicians, or finding sounds online?

TUAMIE: TI play everything on Macbook keyboard. I just key it in, or play it in on the keyboard, record it, that’s my process. I don’t have anybody play anything for me. Everything is straight from brain to computer and then emailed to an artist. If I want to be inspired I just go back and listen to Earth, Wind and Fire or Pete and CL’s Main Ingredient album. Everything I put out, I play myself.

Now I know it’s not easy to talk about your own production, but how would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it?

TUAMIE: I’d describe it as similar to the production of Organized Noize in terms of paying attention to detail, taking the time with the production to make a record, not just tracks and also being with an artist, trying to work as closely as possible with them. As for the production, I’d say for someone who doesn’t know it at all, the mixes are clean, with clean drums. I use samples but my sound is not 90’s, it’s present-day. It’s a blend of past and present. Usually when I describe it I say Pete Rock, Dilla, DJ Premier, Organized Noize.

DJ Premier, that’s surprising, I can’t hear the link.

TUAMIE: DJ Premier is my second favorite producer. If you look at DJ Premier he was the go-to for a hit record, everything that he did was quality. Every track that he did with an artist was one of the best songs on the record, or the best single. Artists respect DJ Premier so much that they would be honored to have the opportunity to work with him. The respect level is that high. So that’s the person I look up to when making records, working with an artist so they can do their best vocal performance on my music. How he thinks with production is incredible. Actually, Pete Rock and DJ Premier are both my number one favorite producers.

To finish now these remixes of yours, like “Fried Tilapia” …

TUAMIE: That’s a remix I did, and the idea was to showcase. At that time I was doing a bunch of remixes, so I took acapellas I found online and put them out in the hope that some artist would come find me and see my vision in the remix.

These remixes create quite a strange effect, I don’t know if it’s conscious.

TUAMIE: What do you mean?

It’s kind of ghostly. You’ve got the memory of the original track, then your remix that is completely different. It’s weird, but interesting and not at all like the standard remix, staying faithful to the original. Compared to the mainstream sound of the Clipse beat, your music is dreamy sounding.

TUAMIE: I understand what you’re saying. You hear the original song in your head while the remix is playing and going back and forth with the differences, the remix and the original song. The only remixes that come to mind at the moment are Pete Rock remixes, so that’s my inspiration in terms of how I do my remixes.

Everything has to be on time and on the beat, I try to get it as close to the original as possible. I have the acapella track and the beat that I have created, under that and match it up so it’s on beat like the original was. The only difference is that it’s my beat underneath the vocal. I mix the vocal down to how I want it to match the track so once the whole thing is done it sounds like a whole new original track. But I really don’t think about it too much, I just do what I do and continue on.

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