And yes, yes ya’ll and we don’t stop – to the beat ya’ll! Whatdown good people, its Ms. HipHopUDonStop coming at ya with your weekly dose of Womazing’s #MixedMonday series! Last week we took it back to Two Turntables & A Mic With DJ Scend, this week we’re bringing it back to the valley of the sun and Reppin, Rappin & Recordin with The Ref!
Now I had the pleasure of linking up with The Ref thanks to Crash Bandit performing a live set of his new tape The Grey” at The Stray Cat for WTFunk Fridays. As Crash got done performing “April Fools” he paid due to the man behind the beats that helped make the tape the straight dopeness that it is. Now, if you ever see this man in the building or roaming the streets of the Arizona valley, you may notice that he is steady rocking his backpack. Well just like the culture of Hip Hop, this man with a backpack has a story to tell.
When he was a Shorty many years ago, The Ref stumbled upon a keyboard that had the capability to record 5 track beats. By the time he hit 7th grade he started recording tracks, after that he graduated to the fruity loops demo. As he grew he was able to start his journey by cutting a few tracks and was even granted with the opportunity to produce for some for the local acts here in AZ. The opportunity to embark on his journey to master his passion started knocking – so he took it.
As I gave “The Grey” a good spin, I ran across a track by the name of “The Clouds” and realized that not only is The Ref handling his own on production, but the man can spit a lil somethin’. So I asked him – how did he get from being behind the sound, to spittin in front of the mic? Well turns out, he started laying verses before he started dropping beats. Before he began his story he paid homage to his uncle, who happened to be a diggin’ in the crates DJ, that knew how to spin that vinyl. With the rhythms flowing thru the speakers on a daily, he and his cousins found joy in utilizing the tape deck (word to those that know what that is) and making mix tapes. When he started the artistry of making beats, it was still a learning process. So since he had no one to spit a verse to it to see how it flowed, he thought “well I’m into poetry, so why not do the damn thing?”
The Ref started jamming out with a group by the name of “The Vibe Prescribers” with 2 other guys for a couple years and even produced a couple tracks for them. Since then, he has taken a bit of back seat. Not because he can’t vibe to the feel of his own mental remedies, but he wants to really focus on producing and “getting his feet under him” to build that strong foundation in his work and connect with other artists.
So since he does do dabble in both artistries, I always wonder – What comes first? Does he listen to the beat and then write lyrics, or write the lyrics and search for the perfect beat. He laughs as he tells me how difficult of a question it is. For him personally, it is always easier to make the track first, feel it out, and then sculpt it the way that he wants. But he says
“Being a producer for your own beat is very strange because there is a certain inspiration that you get when you hear a track for the first time. You feel a certain way and you write on it…and I miss that because I never really get to have that anymore. I’m always making the track, hearing it 200 times and molding something along the way. So it can be difficult to do it that way.”
When it comes to people who draw influence and inspiration The Ref is no close minded individual. One person he was quick to name though was Swizz Beatz, 1st and foremost. Growing up he appreciated the marching band sound that Swizz encompassed in some of his tracks. So he took that sound, studied it, and would soon make it a one of his own. He even admits that he was a part of band back in the day, judge him not though. For all those ladies that used to make fun of the men in band, well this is what happens. He’s the one making the music that gives ya eargasms! Hahaha but anywyasssss, aside from Swizz he also paid due to Scott Storch, Kanye West, and Pharell. Now although that covers the Hip-Hop end of the spectrum, another big inspiration to his musical creativity is ode to rock music. As he says “they have a better grasp of how a song should develop. A clear intro, hook, chorus, a bridge – all of those elements.” He explained it to me like this…
“Take an artist like Neil Diamond, Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles – they are the types of artists who have mastered their craft of songwriting and intertwining the melodies and harmonies to have the instruments speak – as well as the lyrics.”
The feeling he gets from hearing music with that much heart and soul into it, really influences him to make more tracks with depth as opposed to a beat with an 8 bar loop. “It can get kind of boring.” He says.
”You got to get your mind right and get mentally prepared to make something dope. Don’t be frustrated if you hit a creative wall, just know that you’re going to create something dope if you’re persistent about it.”
I know as a beat head myself, I can listen to instrumentals on end and certain sounds will draw a brainwave from within to want to create something. So I asked The Ref what instrumentals inspired him. His answer was no other than the Motown, funk soundddddd. As of lately though, he has been sampling many indies out including Grizzly Bear, Washed Out, Deer Hunter, Pinback. He finds a lot of inspiration in their creative style and interesting spin on music.
Now whether you’re getting ready for a big game, a special date, a huge presentation/test – most of us got that routine or ritual that helps us get our mind right. I was thinking he might hit the Kid N Play, but The Ref says that before making a track he likes to be simple – he just wants to be clean. As I play So Fresh, So Clean by Outkast in my head, The Ref says “I like to be clean before the studio. I like to take a shower. I like to be freshhhhhhh when I’m in there.” Can’t be mad at that habit, right? An optimal day in the studio for him would consist of waking up early, getting in the shower, eating a healthy breakfast to get his mind stimulated, and going into the lab with just a blank mind, with a clear palette. According to him, he “doesn’t want to be influenced by anything.” In a sense he wants to go in there on his Van Gogh tip, and “paint a visual with his beats that hasn’t been done before,” as he puts it.
“Obviously when it comes down to it, you’re going to be influenced with what you have heard before but I feel more detached when I can just wake up and be influenced by the sound of a snare drum that I picked out, played with it, and studied to make something of my own.”
Now we all know that there are producers out there that have been able to create their own sound out of nothing and it has even been categorized as a “so & so beat”. As far as his sounds goes, The Ref wants to develop one that is more melodic and harmoniously pleasing to your eardrums. Not to say that his beats shouldn’t slap or shouldn’t bang, but he is influenced by rock music and the way that genre is produced. For those that listen to Rock, you know that it traditionally holds a balance in its style. “You can hear the vocals. You can hear the drums and it’s not overly aggressive. The guitar sits perfectly in the mix…it’s great. I just want to make something beautiful to listen to like that”
So taking it back to the beginning for a minute, I told ya’ll that The Ref is often the cat with the backpack in the spot. So I had to do it, I just had to ask – what is in the backpack? He chuckled and he unraveled the mystery in one sentence. He doesn’t like to keep anything in his pockets. Lets be real it is 2012, when you carry everything in your pockets, your pants tend to sag. You can’t have all that extra saggage. So The Ref thinks – why not just avoid the clutter and put it in the bag. But he will admit it may just be a bit of fashion statement, too. Like the Jazz Liberators snippet in “Clin D ’oeil”, what would Hip Hop be without the backpacker?
As far as the future goes for this emcee/prodcucer duo, he will continue to work with AZ talent Crash Bandit. He is also really excited to work with Mouse Powell, and is currently in the process of working on his own tape which is still untitled. Also be on the lookout for a compilation tape, with some other artists that is still in coordination. The dopeness behind the compilation tape is that it will be themed around the SP1200, which is a piece of equipment that was used heavily in the 90’s in the golden era. Now if you know anything about this piece of hardware, you know it is not as flexible as the technology we use today to create our music. The SP1200 had such a limited amount of memory that it only allows you to sample 10 seconds of a record and of that, you can only make a max of a 2 second loop. So he figured why not pay homage to the emcees in the golden age, and put together a tape where he limits himself to that timeframe in terms of sampling, recording time, and tracks that he utilizes. He hopes that the concept of the idea is able to develop, come together and grow with the help of local artists that he hopes to incorporate.
Now as far as my knowledge goes, I have yet to hear an idea of this caliber. But I’ll tell you right now that I’m ecstatic to see where this project goes and hopefully Womazing will be able to bring it to a screen near you! As for now though, I hope ya’ll enjoy the stream of Crash Bandit’s “The Grey”, which was produced entirely by The Ref, as well as a snippet of what his flow sounds like.
From all us here at Womazing, we want to thank the Ref for giving us a chance to build with him. As we always say, “Hip Hop is the perfect verse, over a tight beat”. Word to The Ref for creating that tight beat.