As our Alicia Keys cover story notes, Kerry “Krucial” Brothers—the producer who worked with Alicia on her first four albums—has now started his own company called Krucial Noise. The first artist he's rolling out is a singer-songwriter named Mateo, who's currently signed to Interscope. Krucial and Mateo dropped by the Complex offices to talk about his latest release, Suite 823, how the two of them connected, how Krucial hustled his way up from aspiring rapper to multiplatinum R&B hitmaker, and how Krucial Noise plans to make lightning strike a second time.
Interview by Rob Kenner (@Boomshots)
What's new with you Mateo?
Mateo: I just signed to Interscope five months ago. They were like, “We want you to put out a project for the summer.” I was like, “Ah, man—another mixtape? But we started working on it and we kinda got this whole vibe where if I’m going to do it, I want to do all original music. We just went with that and started vibing out and came up with some dope joints. Like, literally in a month’s time we came up with this whole project. It was beautiful. It was, like, perfect timing. It’s had a really good reception so far.
Was it all your production?
Krucial: Me, JL, Zeke [MacUmber] the whole in-house team from Krucial Noise.
Who’s the team?
Krucial: It’s myself, Kerry “Krucial” Brothers, and I have JL Brown who has worked with Mateo in the past on a lot of his stuff and so I kept him part of the team. Another producer of mine who goes by the name of Zeke.
What is a mixtape anymore, really? It’s an album that you don’t have to pay for.
Mateo: Exactly. It’s an album. And Interscope just threw it up on iTunes and it’s an EP on Spotify. So let’s just call it an EP/album—whatever you want.
I started doing these little sessions in basement studios in Brooklyn. Like really, really horrible studios. Like I’m recording in the laundry room with the washing machine going on. The person engineering in the other room was falling asleep while I was cutting vocals. —Mateo
Oh it’s actually on iTunes now for purchase?
Mateo: Yeah, it’s on iTunes right now for purchase.
Krucial: It started as a mixtape and then kind of did so well that they made it available on iTunes recently. Whcih was a surprise—we didn’t expect them to do that.
So what’s the song that’s really making an impact right now?
Mateo: Every person has a different favorite. Of course, I have my personal favorite. My personal favorite on the mixtape is “Looking You Up.” It’s a feature we did with Stacy Barthe, who’s another artist signed to John Legend’s label. I love that track. But other people are loving “Over You.” That’s a track that has like an ’80s vibe to it. Also, [I have] “Don’t Worry About Me,” which is sort of a ballady-type of thing. It’s kind of reminiscent of the more organic stuff I’ve put out prior to this. People are loving it. And we also did a flip of Lana Del Rey’s “Blue Jeans.” You gotta check it out. It’s actually a live performance we did at the studio in L.A. It’s like a stripped-down version of it, but it came out really sick.
Krucial: The video just took off.
So are you working mostly in L.A. now?
Krucial: Well, we’ve been working in L.A. out of Raphael Saadiq’s studio for most of the album, but we did the mixtape in New York.
So that’s why it’s a live thing? Because Raphael is that live music guy.
Mateo: Oh man, it’s the best energy in that place. Yeah man, you’ll be there and Earth Wind & Fire walk in.
Mateo: Yeah. Stuff like, he’ll be working with Chaka Khan. Just legendary people.
Krucial: Sheila E. There was one time even Eddie Murphy came through to work on some of his music. I don’t know if he’s been working on the side or whatever. It’s just legends coming through there. It’s pretty cool.
Eddie Murphy? I haven’t heard about him doing music since “Party All The Time.”
Mateo: I know, right? Exactly.
Let’s step back a little bit. How did you two connect?
Krucial: Well I met Mateo through Quddus [Phillippe]. At the time, Quddus was managing him and he had a deal at MySpace Records. He contacted me saying, “Hey, I got this record. I want to see if you want to produce it, and meet the artist.” He played me the record “Complicated.” I heard and loved the record. I met Mateo in the studio and it was like, “Oh man, I definitely want to be involved.” A year or so went by and whatever happened with MySpace didn’t work out. I was like, “Hey, I’m starting to have my own brand; my own label. Would you want to sign with me?
What year was that?
Krucial: That was the end of 2009 when we met, and I signed in 2010.
Mateo: It was cool. It was perfect timing, too. We had just met—last time I saw you before I signed to you. It was literally the day before we did this live EP called Get To Know Me: Live at Swing House. That was what actually got more love in the blogosphere, which was really my claim to fame. It’s been all online stuff. We put that out and in that very moment, things were happening at MySpace and we were like, “It’s time to move on.” Right when we were thinking of moving on, Kerry was like, “I’m trying to have you as one of my artists on the label.” It was perfect.
What was your path into the music business, Mateo?
Mateo:I went to school in Atlanta down at Morehouse [College]. And I was always doing music on the side. And I was like most people, you don’t really know if you want to do something that risky, so I got a regular job and moved to New York. And I hated it. It was terrible and I was like, “Man, I want to do music.”
Mateo was the first artist that really gelled perfectly, and he understood how it is in the business. You know, you meet young artists and you tell them how it is. They’re believing what they heard—you know, fantasy stories. After a while, they’re trying to tell you how it goes and you’re like, 'What?'
—Kerry "Krucial" Brothers
I started doing these little sessions in basement studios in Brooklyn. Like really, really horrible studios. Like I’m recording in the laundry room with the washing machine going on. The person engineering in the other room was falling asleep while I was cutting vocals. [They were] full-on horrible, horrible, sessions. At the time, I took those demos down to a producer in Philly, who was doing for music on TV in L.A. And he was like, “Yo, come out to L.A.”
That’s how I ended up in L.A. and doing the live scene out there. I just started performing around the city and putting up songs on MySpace at the time. That’s what really started helping everything—because of MySpace. I just started building a following just through organic people. I mean that’s the best way to do it cause you really get true responses from everyday people. It’s not like a business executive telling you what music you need to put out. It’s like hearing a song and being like, “I love this.”
At this point, most A&Rs are just looking at the Internet to decide who to sign anyway.
Krucial: True that. Might as well cut to the chase, right?
What was the record that got you signed with MySpace?
Krucial: It was a song called “Complicated.”
Mateo: It was funny. I was playing piano and it was actually one of the first songs I ever wrote on piano. I was just trying to do the whole—
Krucial: Writing to beats.
Mateo: Writing to beats and stuff like that. Finally, when I did “Complicated,” I found the niche. I found my sound, which is kind of a mixture. It has some urban, R&B-qualities to it, but then it has some—I don’t know, it has some Coldplay and something else in it. Synths, big drums, a really euphoric kind of sound. That’s when we first did that and that’s what got me the MySpace deal. And that’s how I met Krucial—all through that one song.
I know you’ve got this Krucial Noise situation going on. Was he the starting artist for that?
Krucial: He’s the first artist that I did a major deal with. I had other ones before that didn’t work out or whatever. But I used it as learning curves and learning what not to do with an artist. But he was the first artist that really gelled perfectly, and he understood how it is in the business. You know, you meet young artists and you tell them how it is. They’re believing what they heard—you know, fantasy stories. After a while, they’re trying to tell you how it goes and you’re like, “What?”
I’m the one that’s been in the game for years.
Krucial:Yeah, I’ve been in the game 10-12 years and that’s not the reality. [Laughs.] That’s not how it is.