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Meet Paul White, Production Genius Behind Danny Brown’s “Atrocity Exhibition”

Paul White Danny Brown

DJ Quik’s flexitone. 9th Wonder’s snare. That indescribable feeling of The Neptunes’ production. Many a producer prides themselves on having their own audio calling card, which makes Paul White’s music all the more special. The UK-based producer/multi-instrumentalist is content to float on a varied bed of sounds that can change from sun-soaked soul to glitchy hellish rhythms in the blink of an eye.

His creative versatility has carried him over to artists like Guilty Simpson, Homeboy Sandman, and even Yasiin Bey over the course of the last five years, but his amorphous thumbprint is all over 2016. He and Open Mike Eagle‘s joint album Hella Personal Film Festival was a melancholy snapshot of race and anxiety in the Information Age and his rapport with Detroit bruiser Danny Brown led to White using his magic to help create 10 of the 15 tracks on Brown’s latest album Atrocity Exhibition. One of the most distinct things about Paul White’s music is its lack of distinction, and we talked with him about his process and working with Danny and Mike Eagle on their respective albums. Stay tuned for part two of our interview coming soon!    

WL: What was the first hip-hop song that made you want to pursue beat making?

PW: One of them was “Extra Prolific,” that Cash Money tune? That always really hit a chord. I think it’s only about a minute-and-a-half as well (laughs). It’s the shortest tune on the album, but I absolutely loved it. And Petestrumentals really hit a chord. The thing is, I was always listening to many different types of music, so everything kinda blurred, but those two kinda mattered as in aspirations on the beat front. And I also listened to a ton of Wu-Tang since I was a kid, which was incredibly inspired.

WL: That’s not what I was expecting to hear. One of the things I love about your music is that your style is so eclectic. Something like “Admitting The Endorphin Addiction” sounds nothing like “When It Rain.”

PW: That comes from me just liking so many different types of music and so many different sounds. Creativity first. I never really wanted to go for a particular sound. I don’t have any sound banks or preset sounds, so I think that’s a big one. When I make a beat, I turn on the machine and it’s all blank, so I’ll just go with the mood and what hits me and try to be different. Even more so now, with all the stuff going on on my solo side of the work that’s different from “Endorphin Addiction” *and* “When It Rain” (laughs). I wanna make it even broader.

WL: That’s refreshing and also really brave. Most producers tend to have a base they can go back to, but hearing that your slate is blank every time you make new music? I’ve never heard that before.

PW: Thanks, man. I never thought about that before. I always thought about how my MPC is full of hits and different drums that I could rely on, but it wouldn’t be as inspiring. I want the challenge of being creative as well and making something solely out of what I have in front of me instead of always going back to the same things.

WL: It’s definitely more fun that way.

PW: Sure, sure. And it’s never slowed me down. I make beat tapes every couple of months. I find it almost quickens the work because you’re just purely in that creative mode.

WL: And you’re definitely not tethered to the past, either.    

PW: Yea, I wanna be inspired by a sound immediately at that moment. That’s gonna make a better song for me, personally. I don’t want my stuff to be background noise or easy listening. 

WL: When you sample, do you use the same machine every time?

PW: That’s another thing as well. I’ve got a mixture of different toys and sound in front of me. I never wanna get bored. For a little while, I was making everything on my MPC and the SP-1200. But now, I wanna make sure I have as many different toys as possible; which makes things confusing sometimes because I won’t know which one to use. Sometimes, I’ll put one drum machine through another, and then that one through another.

WL: I know you and Danny have a great working relationship. He called you his favorite producer to work with. When did that first start, around XXX

PW: Around 2011, I was working on my album called Rapping With Paul White. I heard about Danny through Alex Chase, shout out to him. He’s always great because I’m usually just a studio hermit who creates all day. He’s amazing with sending me emails and saying “this guy’s amazing, we should get in touch.” He sent me Danny’s “Greatest Rapper Ever” track and said we needed to get some stuff to him. So initially, we did a swap; he was on my album on the track “One Of Life’s Pleasures” and I sent him a shit ton of beats. He recorded about 14 songs at first. That rarely rarely happens and I knew straight off that we had a connection. Three of those tracks ended up on XXX, and the relationship has continued ever since. Every time I’ve done a new tape, I’ve always sent it to Danny and he’ll send me a brief email saying “I want longer versions of these.” It’s real natural and I feel like I kinda take it for granted. Our similarities come through in the beats he picks, which are bizarre off the back. One of the songs “Fields” has a tiny clip of some sample from Akira, which is one of my favorite favorite films. That film took place after a world war, and the way he got that feeling in the song, I wondered “Does he know? Did he feel the energy in there?” (laughs). I still have to ask him. Little things like that convinced me there was a cosmic link between us. I think the only song where he didn’t send edits was “Adderall Admiral,” which he just rapped over as it was. He didn’t even send that one back, and it became my favorite.

He’ll record over a lot, and then like every artist ever, some of it won’t end up on the album. On this new one, pretty much all the ones he recorded ended up on the album. It’s always fascinating to see which beats he picked and I admire him for that. He’s taking risks.

WL: You produced 10 out of the 15 songs – or two-thirds – of Atrocity Exhibition. That must’ve been a huge honor.

PW: Yea, it was really great. It’s a testament to how well we work together. And he often picks my favorite stuff. It can be quite tough; you’ll send beats to people and you’ll hear what they pick and say “damn, really? You don’t wanna use that one instead?” (laughs) I’ve never had that with Danny.

WL: What’s your favorite beat of yours that he picked for the album?

PW: I don’t even think I have one.

WL: Gimmie, like, three.

PW: “Ain’t It Funny,” “Dance In The Water,” and then a mix between “When It Rain” and “From The Ground.” The fact that he picked [“From The Ground”], I was like “Okay, you’re really going for it here.” “Dance In The Water” was a big surprise, too. People should be pushing to be original; and he’s great at making a song out of it because these are *songs*. Even I’m asking how a particular beat could come alive sometimes. That’s a skill that he has.

WL: There are definitely people out there who might expect or even want Danny to make Old over and over again until he finishes, but that’s not what he wants. The songs you two worked on for Atrocity Exhibition are definitely some of the more experimental on the album. 

PW: That’s why I appreciate Danny as well for picking certain ones. I’m a natural rebel and I never wanna do what everyone else is doing, even if I like it. I’d rather stick out and be a sore thumb at the end of the week.

We’ve had this album for a while. We got into the studio in April of last year; somewhere around there?

[Atrocity Exhibition] was actually the first time we got in the studio together. He came out to London last year, maybe June of last year. We’d met in person a couple times, but that was when he had shows in London. I’d meet him backstage at a show, so of course his head’s in a different space. When he came to the studio in London, he really got in there. He was churning out songs in first and second takes, basically about three a day. Even then, I’d come home in the evening and he’d lay down vocals. There was an immediate trust between us. Neither of us have ever told the other what to do; he’d never say “Oh, add a snare there” or anything like that. Sometimes I’ll go a little wild and see how far I can push things, but he never ever said bring it back.

WL: That level of trust is so important.

PW: It really is. I don’t write beats *for* people. Going back to the blank canvas thing, everything has to be clean so you can go with what you feel because your mind get in the way. There’s an ego in your brain that’s so analytical and so critical and I try to eliminate that as much as possible. Music doesn’t come from your mind; maybe other parts of your body or your spirit.

WL: What’s your favorite song on AE that you didn’t produce?

PW: The Alchemist beat [“White Lines”]. That beat was tough.

WL: I got the chance to talk with Open Mike Eagle earlier this year and he told me that [Hella Personal Film Festival] was the first time he ever worked in the studio with anyone.

PW: He was one of my first as well, to be honest. It’s funny because we were both shy when we first got there. It was great that [Mello Music Group] reached out. Mike [Tolle] is great. Open Mike’s honesty is rare. Being so honest and still having this vulnerability and sensitivity was amazing. We themed the album around that and it was the first time that either of us had worked on an album-length theme. Before we even had a title, I always imagined it as a kind of movie, so the fact that it wound up being called Hella Personal Film Festival was another example of me being on the same page with someone. It was a real learning experience. 

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