Image via Shaun Deguzman
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Sir Froderick doesn’t view music as a business. He’s not on a major label and doesn’t do tours. But he’s been steadily releasing beat tapes since the early 2010s, polishing his sound and releasing collaborations with high-profile producers like Knxwledge and Mndsgn. Originally from Philadelphia, he currently resides on the West Coast, where he shares his music via Bandcamp and Soundcloud, employing a nostalgic, subdued palette with an emphasis on warmth. It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole listening to his releases. His songs are short, usually clocking in under two minutes. They’re little musical vignettes that bleed into each other. You can sometimes listen for an hour without realizing any time has passed.
Sir Froderick’s story began in South Philadelphia, where he grew up surrounded by music. Both his father and his brother were DJs. His mother was a patron of the arts (theater, painting). Although his family preferred funk/soul and disco, he developed a taste for hip-hop by listening to classic albums by A Tribe Called Quest, Big Daddy Kane and the Beastie Boys. In high school, inspired by a pair of friends, he began messing around with sampling equipment and making his own beat tapes. Later, he saved up enough money to buy an ST-224 Zoom box, a mini-sampling machine with 20 seconds of sampling time, allowing him to incorporate more advanced splicing and looping into his beats.
His family moved around between New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Louisiana and Pennsylvania. Later, as a young adult living in Philly, Sir Froderick became the manager of an art gallery called RAREBREED, where he hosted hip-hop shows and rubbed shoulders with local artists, including some with whom he would later collaborate. His work eventually brought him out to San Diego, where he now owns and operates an independent record store called FIVESPACE Records, his full-time venture.
Sir Froderick (whose moniker is a reference to Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein) owes a debt to Stones Throw veterans like J Dilla, Madlib and MF DOOM, but he also draws on plunderphonics artists like DJ Shadow and The Avalanches, and he leans towards drone and ambient in his work. Some of his songs are more like abstract audio collages, almost resembling the musique concrete experiments of John Cage and Steve Reich, or John Lennon when he made Revolution 9. He even incorporates his own field recordings sometimes.
Although his style is firmly grounded in hip-hop, Sir Froderick draws on an eclectic mix of different sounds and aesthetics, working his samples up amid layers of noise and vintage drums to create knotty textures. He also employs an off-kilter style of drum programming, subverting regular intervals. Asked about his approach to drums, he says, “I get that a lot from other beatmakers and friends that are always trying to decipher [the loops], and I’m like, ‘man, it’s more feeling, nothing is ever premeditated.’” – Jackson Diianni
(This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.)
I know you’re San Diego-based, but you’re originally from Philadelphia. How have those geographical contexts informed your sound?
Sir Froderick: First and foremost, I guess my sound is coming from a kaleidoscope of hearing different sounds growing up with my father and my brother also being DJs. So I was always just around different types of music, from funk/soul to disco to Melissa Etheridge. You know what I’m saying? Like, I just heard everything under the sun. And just, you know, studied. Just being cultured from, I guess, having that experience of seeing different records all the time, and having a chance to be able to play them. And I guess, fast-forwarding to now, you can get sounds from anything you hear.
What were some music acts from Philly that inspired you, or that were around when you were growing up?
Sir Froderick: I had a good stint for a little bit in Jersey and New York as well, growing up. Those two other areas besides Philadelphia. So I mean, like, I heard everything. For one greater influence, I guess hip hop has the most definite capture of my heart, of what I like to hear more than anything. I mean, my first, I think, purchased cassette tape, if I remember, was Big Daddy Kane, Long Live the Kane. So I guess, hearing that, I went down the rabbit hole of just always reading in the liner notes and just seeing who else was involved. But yeah, I think the Juice Crew pretty much started off my journey into the hip hop realm.
Were there any artists that you were trying to emulate when you were forming your style?
Sir Froderick: I had a big influence from, I want to say, a little bit of Tribe or Q-Tip, but heavy, not the Beastie Boys, but they were working with the Dust Brothers. So that sound, that particular sound from Paul’s Boutique, got me into the idea of how far you could really just lift from anything and make, you know, a simple loop and it could just turn into madness. And also, I guess I’ve got to give shouts to DJ Shadow. That Endtroducing… album kind of f*cked my head up. And then I went down the path of, like, a lot of instrumental music around that era of time. You know, DJ Vadim. What was that label? Like, Ninja Tune, I think. If I remember. They had a bunch of that trip-hop sound. I definitely went down that avenue of just listening to the sample-based, slow-mo beat breaks and stuff like that. So I think I was like, I heard that, and I was like, ‘if they could do it, I could do it. Let me try that shit too.’
When you’re putting a track together, do you usually start with the sample? The drums? The synths?
Sir Froderick: I’m going to be honest. Sometimes I just like to make soundscapes. Not even, like, beats. I don’t even really care when it comes to the drum pattern most of the time. Sometimes I’ll just be zoning out and finding something that just loops crazy, and just keep adding crazy layers, until sometimes eventually a drum comes in. But if I’m being real basic and just trying to fit a groove, I always start with the drums always on the one. Put the drum loop first and then I just keep running down the avenue of chops and samples, or just using field recordings in my music.
Where do you usually find your samples, and do you consider their lyrical content or just their musical qualities?
Sir Froderick: It’s both, I guess, you know. I always have to find some hip hop acapellas that help adding ‘the seasoning,’ as Ras used to put it. But I think – from anything. It doesn’t necessarily have to be records, because I don’t really go into a record store or anything like that. I don’t go find this specific artist, you know, because that’s what everybody’s chasing after. It’s anything in front of me really. It could be records that I picked up when I go to the swap meet, you know, or the flea market, you know, with the family. And I just find cool-looking-ass covers and then maybe one day I discover a sample, like, ‘oh, these guys used this, I didn’t know it was that,’ but I never give it twice thought of being particular. I just grab. Hands come out and snag a record. Let me see what I can make from this one record at this moment in time, since I’m feeling creative at this moment.
I first heard about you through the beat tape you did with Knxwledge, AfrikanDivas, where each track sampled a different black female singer; Patti Labelle, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick. Can you tell me a little about the process behind that?
Sir Froderick: That was a project behind my mother, who passed away recently, with her African divas project, where she was putting African masks over females, I think it was male African masks over females, showing, you know, the power and their dominance and presence in the game that is, you know, mostly captivated by men.
What was the process of collaboration with Knxwledge like? How did you link up? Did you work together in-person or communicate remotely?
Sir Froderick: When I lived in Philadelphia, I had a spot down in South Philly. I used to have a store out there called RAREBREED, and it was a graffiti store/gallery. And I pretty much mostly specialized in hip hop and a graffiti aspect for the art. And he used to throw a show called ‘Fresh Produce’, among other types of gigs. And I had a friend – I can’t remember his name – that helped me along with the booking of people. I was trying to get people to do the shows. And I think we just linked up through that aspect of just, you know, he knew more about the beat scene stuff that was going on out there, and he was just one of the people that just kept coming around. Him and Mndsgn used to come through, and we became friends just kicking it – just a natural thing. And weed. And you know, he lived not too far from me. So, whenever the morning came, he was just one of those cats that would be outside my window yelling, like ‘what’s up’. And he would just come through. Just kick it. That was pretty much how the project came together. Just chilling. Nothing big. Just natural.
“Alwaysloveyou” is one of my favorites of your songs. The way you rearrange the piano riff, the vocal samples and the bassline with the echo effect so they keep building layers of sound. Can you tell me about the process behind that track?
Sir Froderick: So again, just pulled from anything from our catalog. That one ended up fitting the best. I think at that moment, if I remember correctly, it was just me and him back and forth teaching ourselves or just showing each other different techniques of what we could do manipulating sounds within, I think, using Ableton, I used on that one. It was mixed back and forth from the MPC to Ableton. But I think that specific track was just mostly using Ableton. And I think it came from just him showing me presets that were within the program, just to, you know, hear it. See what this sounds like. And I’m like, ‘oh, man, that sounds f*cking cool.’ You know, let me add it to this one track that we’re already working on with that sample. And then I was just able to layer on top of the main loop that you’re hearing there using the ad-libs throughout the track. I ended up putting an EQ3 on there, dropping the low-end out, so I could just have the vocals be more high with the delay, if I remember correctly. And just layering it on top. A happy explosion type of thing.