Family, Mixtapes & LA: An Interview With Low the Great

Evan Gabriel connects with the LA producer to talk about his Vicky mixtape series, being known for his producer tag, his unique relation to BlueBucksClan and more.
By    March 10, 2023

Image via Jelissa Holder

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When it comes to mixtape covers, Low the Great keeps it personal. On his trilogy of solo releases titled, Vicky, the 27-year-old producer channelled his close bond with his late grandmother of the same name. Each cover features a photo of Vicky’s former house, where he partly grew up. A month before his late grandmother’s birthday last December, Low dropped the final installment of the trilogy. Interspersed with samples of her voice, Vicky 3 is both an ode to the person who provided him access to his first computer—the catalyst for his music career—as well as a love letter to the city that raised him.

Low’s studio is a cavernous room tucked off a busy thoroughfare in Southeast LA. You’ve probably heard his, “Low The Great!” tag sprinkled into the dozens of anthems he’s helped craft for L.A.’s rap renaissance of the last decade: Shoreline Mafia and Wiz Khalifa’s “How We Do It,” Blueface’s “Famous Cryp,” Drakeo The Ruler and Stupid Young’s “Lil Boosie,” BlueBucksClan’s “Walking In,” and 1TakeJay’s earworm homage to the iPhone, “Hello.” [honorable mention goes to Boosie Badazz, “On A Dick.”] As an autodidact with an unwavering work ethic, Low has proven himself as one of the most significant producers in LA.

Given the personal significance of the series, Vicky 3 is Low’s most realized work to date. There’s bouncy, eyes-on-a-swivel scrolls of rumination (“Drip Down” with Baby Stone Gorillas and SlumLord Trill), and long-money soundtracks for parties on Loma Vista Dr (“Big Mozzarella” with G Perico and Royce The Choice), capturing the city’s assorted demeanors and disparate voices. During our interview, Low describes using Vicky’s saved voicemails as intros and outros to give the album, and himself, a sense of closure. “My Grandmother came to me and told me it was time to release,” he tells me over the crashing of live drums in the studio next door.

Growing up, Low moved around L.A. frequently. When his mother and father separated, he switched from 52nd Elementary to Normandie Avenue. Eventually, splitting time between South Central and East L.A., he enrolled at Crenshaw High School. This period of jumping around during adolescence gave him exposure to a vast array of interests; he skated, played football, ran track, and sold juice and chips after school. By high school, he’d formed a large network of friends from all over. Even with cousins tied to Blood gangs, and his mother and father’s family from different Crip sets, Low never chose a side. Instead, he followed his instinct to just be himself. It wasn’t until after Crenshaw High, when a friend named Butter introduced him to beatmaking on FL Studio, that Low realized his life’s calling.

He started cutting beats vigorously on his Grandmother’s desktop PC, which soon became so swamped with viruses that she graciously gifted Low a laptop for Christmas. From there, he landed his first beat placement on Rafly The Plug’s “Proper Instructions.” This caught RonRon’s attention, who invited Low to join his HitMob production collective, widely recognized for helping shape L.A.’s traffic/nervous music scenes, made most popular through the sorcery of 03 Greedo, Shoreline Mafia, Ralfy The Plug, and the late Ketchy The Great and Drakeo The Ruler.

Low credits HitMob, especially RonRon and Joog, with playing a big role in his career trajectory. He brings up the small details: sharing drum kits and plugins, studio time, and $5 pizzas when the fatigue of hunger took over all creative capacity. All out of genuine comradery. While differences eventually set in, leading Low to split from the group, it’s still amicable. He doesn’t consider the fallout anything more than distance. Since branching off, Low is poised to enter the next phase of his career. As CEO of Low The Great Records, he recently signed a producer, IsThatTrey, and currently manages CaliRant, who takes lead on the Azjah assisted “Two Steps Forward,” a standout from Vicky 3.Evan Gabriel

(This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

What was your childhood like?

Low the Great: It was pretty normal. I did grow up in South Central, so it wasn’t too bad but it wasn’t too good. I did see some stuff I wasn’t supposed to see. But I’m a kid, so it’s like, whatever. I didn’t really realize until I had kids, and I’m like, ah shit, he’s not supposed to see that. Sometimes you just adapt. I was fortunate enough to have family, a Mom and a Dad. A lot of people didn’t have that opportunity.

I know you played sports in school, were you into athletics before that as well?

Low the Great: No. I went to middle school and I loved skateboarding. When I got to High School that was my whole thing. And then I just stopped. I found myself ditching school, going to Venice, skating. But I wasn’t that good, I just loved it. Then I started liking girls and was like, f*ck this. Let me try some different shit. I was always trying different shit because I was trying to find myself. Then I wanted to be a hustler, so I would sell chips and juice and cookies at school. Then I quit that, I tried football, didn’t really like that so I quit. Then I tried track. Quit that. Then I was like, let me try Band. I was in Band, didn’t really like that, quit that.

What did you play?

Low the Great: I was playing the trumpet. It was cool. I was just trying to find myself and I wasn’t scared. People get discouraged a lot of the time. But me, I’m like, f*ck it. I’ma try it. Music came, only from just trying shit. My Momma didn’t give me no or yes. She was just like, Okay. I didn’t really know what I liked. I was just waiting for something to stick. Then in 12th grade, I had never really making beats or rapping. Until after high school.

And that’s when your friend Butter introduced you to making beats?

Low the Great: Yeah right after high school. On FL, he was making beats and he lived right down the street from my Grandmother, Vicky. I went to his house one day. He had the computer making beats. I wasn’t rapping or nothing. But I’m like, damn that’s hard. I don’t know how to do that shit. That’s when I got my Grandmother’s computer and downloaded the demo version of FL. I did it wrong, gave her shit a whole virus. So she fixed it. I did it again. F*cked it all up. But she knew.

My Grandmother was one of the people, she was more understanding. Fast forward, I get FL, I get all types of kits. And then that’s when I started rapping. On my own beats. I never rapped or freestyle on anybody else’s beats. I started trying to make beats, and then when I had it down pat, I was like, trying to rap. But I didn’t think it was for me. I think I’m a cold rapper though, but I didn’t think it was me. Nobody really knows, but I made a whole mixtape. I put it on a CD.

You did it for yourself?

Low the Great: I did it for myself. I had a whole lot of stuff that was going on in my life. And I just rapped it. It’s actually hard. If I find it, I wanna hear it.

I’d love to hear it.

Low the Great: I made a whole mixtape. It’s called 1994. Nobody knows. After that, I’m trying to make beats because I know this rapping shit ain’t for me. I wanted to record it for me. I literally stayed in that room for a whole day just rapping.

Does that experience inform how you work with artists now?

Low the Great: I’m giving the artist production and A&R tips. I don’t want to control what you’re saying. If I’m not asked, I try to shut up. I really feel like the beat is words too. I already laid my verse, you know? So it’s up to you to tell me, can you add this, or it’s perfectly fine, I’ma rap it. I’ll give you my input, but do what you want. I am popping in, like, it is a collaborative effort. I just try to let them do them.

Do you feel like your sound has become more minimal with your latest release, Vicky 3?

Low the Great: Yeah because I learned that L.A. n****s don’t like all that, too many sounds.

What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned through engineering?

Low the Great: I barely just started engineering. I learned like 2-3 years ago. I got a little check from this label off some production I did. Then I got a space and I bought all the equipment. I sat in that studio for like two days. And was just on Youtube and Google clicking shit.

In terms of the process of making your latest album, Vicky 3, how did you approach it?

Low the Great: Well you gotta go back [to Vicky]. I knew I wanted to be an artist. I looked up to [DJ] Mustard. And I seen how Mustard was dropping his own shit. So I knew I wanted to come out with a song, but I knew I wasn’t a DJ. So I’m not bout to be hyping n****s up like AYE! AYE! My idea was, come out with a whole project of them rapping for me. L.A. I didn’t know how I was going to do it. But I just did it.

So that basically became the format for the Vicky series? Getting all these artists from different parts of L.A. on the same project, all Low The Great production.

Low the Great: And don’t say one word. But I wasn’t even engineering until recently. Vicky 3 is actually me recording it and doing it. When you listen to Vicky 3 it’s so polished. It’s like, I see, Low really was involved. With Vicky, you gotta really go back. It was when I kept quitting and making beats, quitting and making beats. Cuz times was hard, I didn’t have no money. I knew I loved it though. I knew I loved making beats. I’m in a room hungry. I can’t eat. I would literally make beats to forget I was hungry, you know what I’m saying?

I’m really into album structure. I like interludes, intro’s, and outro’s. Believe it or not, I knew it was going to be a series. When my Grandma died, she left a whole bunch of answering machines that she had left me, and I had em all. It was all planned out. I didn’t know when it was going to happen, but I just had the plan. If you notice, my Grandma’s voice is on [Vicky] 1, 2, and 3. My big Momma’s voice is on 2 and 3. Both dead, rest in peace. The family didn’t even know I had the messages. It was to bring L.A. and my family together to listen to my project. How do I get LA and my family to listen to my mixtape?

Alright, I’ma have a bunch of artists from L.A., in case they don’t like one, they can go to another n****’s shit. And my family going to support because they want to hear my Grandmother’s voice. So I put that together in Vicky. Vicky 2, “Burn Rubber Again” came out, “Hello” came out. Buzz going up. Shoreline going up. When you come up, all the fame, the politics, everything starts to change. One day, he gets big, shit’s happening. I maneuver through everything because I left certain situations. I’m just Low The Great. I’m still pulling up to Rucci sessions, I’m still working with Ralfy, Drakeo, I’m still pulling up here, there. I never tied myself to nothing. I can be on Drakeo’s shit, then turn around and be on Chike’s shit, and turn around and be on Blueface’s shit, and turn around and be on Baby Stone Gorilla’s shit, because I knew everybody already.

And I’m really from L.A. I knew n*****s when they wasn’t even rapping. And all my family gangbang. My family from Neighborhood, Hoova, and Jungles. Them gangs and all different, and I’m tied to all of them. So it was easy for me to work with these n****s anyway. And he not tied to nothing. So I was just like, I’ma stay Low The Great. And if I do tie myself to something, I’ma tie myself to my own shit.

That makes sense.

Low the Great: Vicky 2 dropped. I’m going crazy now. Everybody starting to blow up. Blueface, AZ Chike, 1TakeJay, Shoreline Mafia’s “Playaz Club.” Then I took a break on the Vicky series. Covid hit. I’m working on Vicky 3 but everything crashing down. Then one day P Diddy’s son hit me up. He’s like, I’m working with these dudes. It’s kinda weird when you get a DM from Diddy’s son. Soon as I give him my number he calls me. He’s like, I’m working with these dudes called BlueBucksClan. I’m like, I don’t know who the f*ck these n****s [are]. But that whole pack I sent them, it was on ClanWay2.

He sent me “Walkin’ In.” He sent me “City Poppin.’” I jumped out of my seat. I’m hitting them up like, y’all hard. They dropped ClanWay1. So I had some music to go back on. I started listening. They invite me to an album release party for ClanWay2. Before that it was a studio session, they had me. They were making Clan Virus. In that session it was weird. Jeeezy Obama’s Dad hit me up like, Ay, I heard this song called “Walkin In” that you did with my son. I’m like, yo son? He said, Jeeezy Obama, that’s your cousin.

Are you serious?

Low the Great: I hit up Jeeezy Obama like, I just talked to your Dad. You my cousins. His Dad is a part of the same family. I never seen Jeeezy Obama because he was with his other side of the family. But I always knew his Dad. His Dad is family and always cut my hair. I just never seen Jeeezy Obama cuz he grew up on the East Side, I grew up on the Westside. I never knew until his Dad hit me up. I’m like damn, we got the hottest song out right now.

That’s a real small world moment.

Low the Great: Then the Boosie shit came out. Then Shoreline and Wiz Khalifa came out. I was on fire. I went from thinking Covid about to stop everything to me actually blowing up. I get verified. Followers going up. Everything just started going good. 1TakeJay dropped. He signed. Chike signed.

Where does your tag come from?

Low the Great: When you hear L.A. music, you gotta hear my tag. My tag is way more famous than my face. When I go up in these big studio sessions, they know me, cuz they starting to know me. But when they hear the tag they know what’s going on.

Does that ever mess with you mentally?

Low the Great: Yeah that happens a bunch of times. It’s been times where I’m making the beat. They don’t know what’s going on. They hear my tag and then they hop up, like, ay this you? So my tag is famous as f*ck. My face not. That’s why I put my face on the covers. But on Vicky 3 I didn’t want my face on the cover. It was the end. I was going to have my kids on it. But then I didn’t want my kids on it, because I didn’t know if this is going to be their dream. I don’t want to force something on them. So I was like I’m just going to leave it empty. This is the end. I just want it to be remembered as, this is the season finale, your house.

It’s such a strong image too, the house. And then looking at the other covers, the theme is really clear.

Low the Great: People don’t know that it’s the final. But I know. I make this shit for me. I know what I’m doing. But they not really going to appreciate it until you die. I feel like you don’t really get appreciated until you die. Which is fine. So I’ma just keep building until that happen. Because everybody going to die.

One of my favorites from this year is “Jeeezy WYA.” How did that one come about?

Low the Great: I made that with Al B Smoov. He had sent me a bunch of loops. We been working since Drakeo. We had shit on a couple Drakeo tapes. He sent me a new batch of loops. Made like 3-4 beats. But not in person. I barely met him at the private release for ClanWay3 at Mastro’s. Invite only. That was the first time meeting Smoov, but we been DMing. He sent me these loops. It’s like a little person singing in the background. I put it to the tempo, made the beat. I did that to all the loops. Some of them ended up on Pastor Ralfy 2 and that one ended up with BlueBucksClan.

Are there any styles of music you haven’t worked in yet that you’d like to tap into?

Low the Great: People don’t know, but I been doing other shit. I did the R&B with Bino. Blxst hit me up recently like make some R&B soulful type. I sent it. Is he going to use it? I don’t know. But I have been making that. I know how to make every type of beat. I don’t know if you’re familiar with T.F.?

Oh yeah. The “Outro” on Vicky 3 is one of my favorites.

Low the Great: Yeah, he rapped to them Griselda type of beats. I want to do a tape with only him cuz he would gas it. I’m trying to do that. You gone get to see like Low he really hard. Now trap beats? Thouxanbanfauni, he rapped on my beats early. Deep in youtube. I got trap shit with SchoolBoy Q. Sheck Wes. I got some R&B shit with Ty Dolla Sign.

Has producing or making music changed for you, since beginning it as a creative outlet to now being your career? Do you approach music differently now?

Low the Great: It’s changed because it’s business now. You gotta think about the money, no matter what. Someone’s about to drop? Ay, what’s up with that producer agreement? At the end of the day, it’s bigger than me. I got kids. You know? It ain’t like I’m just begging, like, I made the beat. I learned in this music shit, if you don’t say nothing, they not gonna do it. So I learned how to ask respectfully, and now I’m actually a CEO. I want to make sure Trey getting paid, to make sure Cali getting paid.

Everything I learned, I want them to know. And if they got something that they know, please let me know. I’m not trying to hold no information. I just want to be fair. I really love what I do. I would do it for free. That’s why when people ask me, aren’t you excited about such and such? I’m like, bro, I was going to do this regardless, whether I get paid or not. I really love making music because that was the first thing that actually stuck. I went to college, tried to become a firefighter…I even quit producing. But when it came back, it stuck. This is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.

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