Nate Fox doesn't live the life of a big name producer.
He currently lives in the boondocks of Pennsylvania, working construction, trying to save up enough money to move to Los Angeles. But that doesn't mean he's not a big time producer, even if he's not a big time name—yet.
Fox was heavily involved in the production of Chance The Rapper's breakout mixtape, Acid Rap. He produced "Juice," "Favorite Song," "Lost," and "Chain Smoker." But he's also been steadily making a name for himself by producing for a number of Cleveland acts (Machine Gun Kelly, Lorine Chia, and Tezo).
We sat down with the budding producer for a few hours at the Elevator studio in Chicago to talk about how his records with Chance came together, how he approaches collaborations, and how he got into music in the first place. In the process, he told some fascinating stories, like one about taking acid with Chance, or the time he made his first rap song with a friend on Windows Sound Recorder.
Interview by Alex Gleckman (@andfeedingyou)
How did you start making music in the first place?
I was 14, and my friend was like: "Yo, you wanna make a rap CD?" So we’re at his house and his sister had one of those handheld Windows mics, those old, like long-stem [ones]. They look like The Price Is Right mics.
We got a beat from Napster, whatever was the “Free Download,” and it was some like corny-ass "hip-hop-style" beat. We recorded on the Sound Recorder [program], so he had to do it all in one take. We finally got one done, and we sent it to our friend and he was like, "Yeah, this is cool."
And so that was all that it took, one person being like, the first thing you ever did was "cool." It was obviously terrible, but one person told me it was cool, and that feeling, "somebody liked something that I did," was just like, "I wanna do that...forever."
So I hear you’re working in construction. Are you familiar with the guy who produced “All Gold Everything” [Devon Gallaspy]? He was this 28 year-old in Alabama, also working construction, submitting beat tapes to DatPiff. Then he heard the Trinidad James song on the radio. I guess that’s why you’d want to figure out publishing, because Trinidad got a deal for $2 million...
...And that dude has a job working construction. That's the thing I’m trying to avoid. I went to go save some money, because I want to move out to L.A. I want to be in the thick of things. I think sometimes the problem is that I'm just not accessible. I’m not right in the middle of something.
Yeah. The Internet will be the Internet forever and always, but a handshake is still the best way to do business. You can't beat that.
Yeah, it's like a joke, I always picture myself like on VH1 Storytellers or something like ‘Man, I remember the day I got the phone call from Diddy. I had just put the sledgehammer down. He was on the other line like eh-eh eh-eh [Diddy voice].’
Where are you staying at the moment?
I'm living in Northern Pennsylvania. It was literally snowing until like two weeks ago. Like, come on. That's not even science-possible.
It's definitely weird to be in this position right now, doing some regular-ass shit but then having these super-huge other things going on. It's almost like two worlds. I always picture myself on VH1 Storytellers or something like, "Man, I remember the day I got the phone call from Diddy. I had just put the sledgehammer down. He was on the other line like eh-eh eh-eh [Diddy voice]."
So how does this environment affect the music that you make?
I haven't made a beat in like a month. Me and Chance had been working on shit for like a year, or longer. We met for the first time at the Illmore at SXSW [two years ago].
We were introduced, but he was already like, "Oh yeah, Nate Fox, I know who you are." I was like, "Chance The Rapper, I know who you are." It was just that awkward first conversation, like, "What's up, should we exchange numbers?" "Yeah probably."
I was in Chicago and we ended up getting into the studio. I brought a bunch of beats and shit and he heard a couple. I went back to Cleveland and he called me like three weeks later and was like, "Bro, you gotta do the whole tape." I was like, "What do you mean the whole tape?" Not like "you gotta do every beat," but "you gotta just do the whole tape." He was like, "I want you to executive produce the tape."
So I started coming down here a little more, we went into the studio a couple times. I think the only time I was ever in the studio while he was recording was the "Chain Smoker" song. Other than that it was all kind of like, I'd leave, come back, hear some pieces, just back and forth. He let me be super involved and hear tracks and ask my honest opinion on songs and how to piece things together. He already had a vision of what he wanted to do.
So were there some tracks that you tried that just didn't work out?
Yeah, I think there were a couple songs. Well, we actually ate acid together one time. That shit was super tight.
His partner was like, "You guys wanna do some acid?" I mean...you know, Acid Rap. Obviously we're gonna do some acid. And he gave us these SweeTarts.
What happened that day?
My friend, who is in this group called Trill Waves, we went to their studio. His partner was like, "You guys wanna do some acid?" I mean...you know, Acid Rap. Obviously we're gonna do some acid. And he gave us these SweeTarts. So it was drips on a SweeTart. Maaaan. So good. Such great acid. Such a clean trip. So tight. So we're at the studio and, we went outside, we're smoking a cigarette...
What part of the trip is this?
This is the beginning of the trip. I was like, "Yo Chance, I'm ‘bout to go for a walk, I'll be back in 16 minutes." So we're on the South Side of Chicago. I'm not from there, I don't really know where I'm at. He looked at me and was like, "Alright, bro." So I left and I started walking and I must have got like 15 steps down the road, threw up all over the place, and just kept walking. I was actually gone for like two hours.
So what kinds of samples did you use on the Chance record?
On “Lost” that's a Willie Hutch sample. Which is just such well-composed music. Super-soulful. That kind of shit’s easy. I like music like that too, like Curtis Mayfield. I’m a big Weldon Irvine fan. “Morning Sunrise” is one of the best songs ever.
There are certain things you can’t sample, though. Like you can’t sample Michael [Jackson]. Just don’t touch him. Just leave him alone. I’m not a fan of like, when people sample Billy Joel and like bigger-name artists, ‘cause it was already popular. It was already cool. Finding really unique samples is always cool.
Well, yours are not obvious.
Yeah, the “Juice” one is actually one of my favorite samples, it’s a Donny Hathaway cover of "Jealous Guy," written by John Lennon, and it’s a live version. Very cool sample. Very cool song. So soulful. It’s crazy, Donny Hathaway might be one of the most soulful singers ever. Super overlooked. It’s cool because I’ll always wonder the same thing: Where is that sample from?
So what are you looking for right now? Are you open to staying independent?
Yeah, I would, but it would have to come with some kind of way to manage that. As cool as the idea of doing whatever you want creatively is, if it doesn't add up to a check... You have to find some way to balance being creative and doing business. I’m trying to eat. I'm living in the middle of nowhere right now, bro. It's so weird, because I recently moved from Cleveland to Pittsburgh to work this construction job, make a bunch of money.
So what's next for you?
I'm just waiting for the right thing to develop. I don't ever want to try to force anything. I just want to make sure that everything is real organic and feels right and everybody benefits.
Like with Chance, I'd bring beats through and he'd wanna sit down. He'd be like, "Well, what if it does this here?" And he'd be thinking of how he'd fit into it before he'd even record on it. You know, to the point where he'd write 8-10 lines or something and then spend the next hour walking around the room, singing it out loud, making sure that everything made sense.
He really took the time to piece it together and that's the kind of stuff I want to keep working on. I don't wanna work on one-off's or things like that. That's what I'm looking for, a publisher or a label, or someone that understands that concept and is like, "Yeah, absolutely, that's what we're tryna do."