Interview: Salaam Remi Speaks On Producing For Nas' “Life Is Good”

Interview: Salaam Remi Speaks On Producing For Nas' “Life Is Good”

So one day, I had a little time, I just took the record and started messing around with it, chopping it up and playing, and I basically came up with the chop of what you hear on the record, and moving it around. But it was still kind of light.

I love the staccato feel of it. It lurches.

Yeah. I was just trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents. I took the record, I chopped it up and that excitement that I love... And then I looked up who produced it, and I was like, “Ah, Jah Thomas, the reggae producer.

So I called him in Jamaica, sent Jah Thomas some money, he baked the multi-track, sent back the multi-track for me. So now, I have the 16-track of Cat’s song, that I’ve never heard before. So I call Hev like, “Yo, guess what I got?” He’s like, “What! Oh that’s crazy. I’ve got to come through and check it.”

 

For me, it’s definitely a cycle. Nas, when he was first signed to Columbia, used to be on promo tours and stuff with Cat. I remember going to see them at Hammerstein Ballroom, and going back, and how much weed smoke was in the bathroom.

 

So I played it for him, and he was like, “Yo, I don’t care if it works for Nas or it works for whoever. It would have been dope for me, but if it works for him, all good baby, I can do something different.” So I was like, “Alright, that’s what’s up.” So he went to London and hollered at me with some people out there.

Then, I was actually out in London working on an Amy Winehouse album, while he was there. It was the last one that came out. And then... doubled back, and by the time we got ready to release the record, he passed. So it was just something like, “Wow. OK.” And now, to see that record’s big and people appreciate it...

Then, after that we did that version and kept going. Nas had some other stuff he had some ideas for, so he got The Internz to add some sounds and different things to it, and there it is. That’s the record.

It’s a beautiful story and a beautiful record, because it really tastes, and feels, and brings that energy back in so many different ways. Just hearing Super Cat’s voice brings me back to basement parties in Queens.

Yeah, straight across. For me, it’s definitely a cycle. Nas, when he was first signed to Columbia, used to be on promo tours and stuff with Cat. I remember going to see them at Hammerstein Ballroom, and going back, and how much weed smoke was in the bathroom. I came up through that, because me and Bobby Konders were doing enough things in the ’90s...

Are you Jamaican?

No. My dad is Trinidadian, and I’ve got Trinidadian and Bajan family, but I’ve been working with that side of it for years. Me and Bobby Konders did the “Don Dada (Remix),” which led to “Ghetto Red Hot,” which to me, is my best record to date, just because of the fact that it’s lasted 20 years and...

I still rock “Ghetto Red Hot.”

20 years later. So for me, it was just like a full circle: Heavy, Cat, Nas. That’s just what it is.

To me, it’s like Sean Paul heard that record and built an entire career off of it.

It’s just the energy, and like I said, that’s what I get from growing up in New York. I listen to the things that I want to make and that I want to incorporate. When I’m doing hip-hop, I just want to feel as I did when I was a kid that got to love it. And I got to love it by being so strong, in that way.

Right, and it’s funny, Nas was saying very similar things. What is it about Nas that allows you two to work so well together? I thought God’s Son was really one of his most powerful works—if not number two, number three of his whole body of work.

Right. Well, the thing is... First things first, prior to me ever working with Nas directly, the fact is that, from 1991, his first verse on wax made an impact on the people that came before him, like, “Wow. Shorty is stepping up.”

 

The reason why Nas is still here, after 21 years, I would give it to his instinct. There’s only three people that I can say have been around that long, and that’s Nas, Busta, and Mary. If you actually sit down with them, it’s not a coincidence why they’re still doing what they do.

 

And also, at the same time, he made an impact on everybody after him. So his influence, by the time I worked with him in 2001 on Stillmatic on “What Goes Around,” he’d already done his thing for 10 years and kept people going and guessing.

At that point it was Stillmatic and the “Ether” period, and all that other stuff was going on and building up while we were working on the album. So it was kind of like I was finally getting to work with him.

I’d remixed “Fast Life,” with him and G. Rap, back in the day. And there was always talk of, “Let’s do this and do that,” and I went to junior high with Akinyele. So it was always like, six degrees away from each other. We were always right there.

Your dad’s a musician as well?

My dad’s a musician, producer. He did everything throughout the industry: musician, managed Chuck, had a label position, A&R, promotion. And even now, he manages Alison Hinds, in Barbados. So he be in the clubs more than me [Laughs]. Snatching his paper. So at the end of the day, me and Nas, we have a similar come-up. It’s just a chemistry thing. When I be like, “What you want?” “Fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, candy yams and greens...” “I’m good. Get me a salad.” [Laughs] It can flow.

How did you feel when that “Story To Tell” came out? How did you feel when “Rebel Without A Pause” came out? Like, we have a similar energy, as far as music, at least on that side of it. So when I finally did get a chance to work with him directly, we clicked. But I had so much of a point about where I was trying to expand musically and keep it flowing, and he was looking for another muse.

I mean, the reason why Nas is still here, after 21 years, I would give it to his instinct. There’s only three people that I can say have been around that long, and that’s Nas, Busta, and Mary. If you actually sit down with them, it’s not a coincidence why they’re still doing what they do.

People may not love every minute of what their careers are, but they’re still really clear on what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, how they’re appealing to their core, who’s been with them for 20 years, and how they’re going forward.

Right. It’s a science now.

Even more than a science, it’s just who they are, but it’s also them knowing who they are to themselves and then knowing who they are to their fans. So within that, there’s always been a point where someone was like, “Ah, I don’t know about you.” But then you come back around like, “Yo, I knew you always had it.” [Laughs] Like, you get those moments.

So you’ve seen kind of the ebb and flow of Nas’ creativity. I feel like this is a new kind of rush for him. These last three records that I heard, which was the Rick Ross “Triple Beam Dreams,” “Nasty,” and “The Don.” It feels like a Stillmatic moment...

And it is. The thing is, to me, that it’s been brewing since he put out his last solo album. Being that I see it all, it’s always there. It’s just whether or not he feels like going out there. Some days, it’s like, “Ah, I feel like going out and talking to everybody,” and some days it’s like, “I’m going to sit in the house.”

 

As far as his creative process, he goes and writes, and writes, and writes, and writes, and writes... And what he wants to stick is going to stick, for that particular album. But he will have wrote 500 verses by the time he gives you that 36 on that album.

 

The fact is, with Nas, unlike most other people, he’s had a chance to live his life in between doing all that other stuff, and he hasn’t gotten caught up in entourage, show-business, a, b, c, and d. He just be on some real regular, regular shit. So a lot of that, even those songs, they start at my crib chilling with all my records and my 1200s.

I’ve got a room with just mad records in it, my SP1200, my records, a screen on the wall, and that’s my little zone room. A lot of that starts there. We just be in the crib, chilling, and then—Oh yeah, it became “Nasty”... Oh yeah, it became whatever record down the road. It’s just us doing what we do.

Like I said, that’s a passionate, creative space to be in, where you can actually create and look back at it. So as far as his creative process, he goes and writes, and writes, and writes, and writes, and writes... And what he wants to stick is going to stick, for that particular album. But he will have wrote 500 verses by the time he gives you that 36 on that album.

Tags: nas, salaam-remi, producers
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