How do you get something out of Kanye, even if your time is limited?
It’s just a matter of getting him to focus a little bit on what you’re trying to do. He’s got so much going on—that’s the challenge—but if the timing’s right, and you do the right things, you get that focus. You just gotta manage his focus.
How do you get his focus?
My thing is: If he has to take a phone call while I’m playing a song, I just play it again when he gets off the phone. You just gotta make sure he’s paying attention, and it’s pretty easy to tell when someone is or if they aren’t. He’s always 100 percent honest, but he’s very demanding of himself and demanding of others too.
Do you feel pressure when playing a song?
I’m trying to impress him, and I know he’s not easy to impress. But if I know he loves it, I know most people would probably love it. His bar is higher than most people’s bar. That doesn’t mean everything he loves I love and vice versa. Like I say: Sometimes we agree, and sometimes ultimately it’s my album, and I’m gonna do what I want. Honestly, I’d prefer that he loved every song on it because if he did it’s gonna be pretty dope because he has good taste.
Your first two albums had a lot of Kanye, but your last album didn’t.
It’s funny because Get Lifted only had, like, four Kanye songs, but in the marketing and the way we talked about it, it was definitely more influential on that album. But he was just as influential in Once Again. The only one he wasn’t as influential in was Evolver, where he just raps on one song. For this new album it’s back in the mode of Get Lifted and Once Again.
What’s the difference between working with Kanye West and working with all the other producers you’ve worked with?
I work with a bunch of producers on every album, but the difference for Evolver was that I couldn’t get any time with Kanye. I forget what he was doing at the time, but he was all over the place. We were never at the same city at the same time. Everything about making the album was the same except I didn’t get any joints with him, really. I definitely missed that, and I wanted to work with him more on this album, and I have been able to.
Has working with him has changed your process?
His attention to detail, craft, and making videos and everything else just sets a high standard. It makes me want to reach that as well.
Yeah and he’s changed a lot over the years.
His core hasn’t changed. Part of his core is that he’s always pushing himself. That’s always been part of his core. The fact that that’s at his core is what makes him try new things with each album.
When I look at the G.O.O.D. music roster right now. There’s a very eclectic mix of artists. What do you think is a common thread between all of them?
The attention to quality, creativity, and how each of them have their own lane.
There are some new additions to the roster. I don’t know if you’ve gotten a chance to work with them.
I’ve worked with Pusha, Big Sean, Cudi, and I’ve worked with Q-Tip.
Real interesting is 2 Chainz. He’s such a wildcard in that mix.
Yeah, he definitely is. [Laughs.]
If you did a song with 2 Chainz, that would be some other shit.
You never know. Hip-hop is one of the most free art forms there is. There’s so many sounds you can use, so many things you can bring in. You never know, man. I bet years ago people would’ve never said they would hear me with Rick Ross, and we did four classic songs together.
You’ve been there from the beginning. Is it weird for a G.O.O.D. Music album where you’re not all over it?
If I was new, I might’ve because I needed promotion. If cats hadn’t heard me on another hip-hop joint already. But I’m on so many. It’s not gonna affect my career.
So what’s up with your album?
I don’t want to talk too much about it, because it’s not done, and I don’t want to over-preview it, because things might change. But I know the sound. I know what my mission was when I came into it. My mission was: How do I make a definitive 21st century soul album? We’ll see if I accomplish it, but that’s what the mission is.
I think last year some interesting things happened in R&B, especially with acts like Frank Ocean and The Weeknd. But I wouldn’t call them soul artists.
I look at Frank, and I think he’s a soul artist. But it’s modern soul, and that’s part of what it means to define what 21st Century Soul is. It should be fresh, and it should be different. I haven’t heard The Weeknd that much. I’ve listened to a little bit of it, and I liked what I heard. I know Frank’s music very well and I love Frank. I think he’s phenomenal. I love his sound. He has an interesting mind and interesting lyrics. He really makes some cool music. That’s an example of—he doesn’t like to be categorized this way—but I think it’s modern soul music. Because if you just want your soul music to sound like your grandmother’s or your mother’s soul music, then that’s not really answering the question that I had earlier.
I look forward to hearing the album. I hope it’s not like my grandmother’s music.
It won’t be.
We'll hold you to that.