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Dun Deal isn't a household name like Lex Luger, Mike Will, or DJ Mustard, but he's become one of the most inventive producers in Atlanta's competitive scene. Alongside guys like 808 Mafia and DJ Spinz, Dun has made a name for himself by operating as the engine on which the South's sounds run.
In particular, though, Dun Deal has a left field sensibility. Nowhere is that more clear than on his production for Young Thug's hit song "Stoner," which sounds like Dungeon Fam or Pimp C mashed together with snap music. In other words, the perfect Frankenstein's monster beat for Young Thug to coo reassuringly about how he feels like D4L's Fabo.
Dun Deal has known Young Thug nearly as long as the rapper has been recording, and has worked with him on some of his earliest material. He gave us insight into the rapper's recording process, and a bit of his own history. Much like Zaytoven, who had a different kind of oddball production sound, Dun Deal came from the West Coast before settling in Atlanta to make beats in the early 2000s.
We spoke with Dun Deal over the phone about what Young Thug writes in his notepad, adjusting to making beats in the South after coming up in Cali, and the real origins of the Migos flow.
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Interview by David Drake (@somanyshrimp)
First, let's talk about "Stoner," which is one of your biggest songs right now. How did that come together? How did you first link up with Young Thug?
I linked up with Young Thug six years ago. I’ve known Thug since he was around 17, 18. I had a studio over in downtown Atlanta, and Thug was just a kid coming through and he was interested in rapping, so I took him on and we started working. He’s always been really, extremely talented so we always had a good work relationship.
What was the first song you guys did together?
The first song we ever did together was called “This Is My Life." This was 2009. And then the next song was one that Cash Out and him did together called "I Got It."
What were you trying to go for with "Stoner"?
I never know where I’m going with my beats until they’re finished. So I was just making the beat. It wasn’t originally for Thug, I didn’t know who it was going to be for.
But I called Thug to the studio one day with some beats in mind for him. When he came to the studio, the first beat he picked out was that one. The beat wasn't finished at the time, so I went in and finished it, and then we recorded “Stoner." It took like 15 minutes.
That beat, what struck me about it at first—it sort of sounds like it’s a snap beat, then it has this guitar come in. Do you play guitar, or was that like a keyboard thing? How did…?
That was a keyboard thing but I do play a little guitar. I was just playing around. I wanted to add a different element to it, you know? To make it something a little bit different.
How would you describe what Thug is like in the studio?
This is pretty crazy but when I first got in with Thug, when he was 16 or 17, he would literally...he would go in the booth and he would—I was thinking he was a speed writer or something—but he would go in there and the song would be finished in 15 minutes. He would just run through the whole song and I was thinking, Wow, he writes real quick.
He used to just draw pictures, he would draw pictures of crazy stuff and I guess that’s where he drew the inspiration of the songs but that’s what he would do when he was younger, just draw. And then rap and then end up…
So you could see that he had a pad in there with drawings on it, and not words?
Yeah, he kind of left his little pad that he would have in the studio and I asked him one day, Thug, what are all these drawings? He was like, "well you know, that’s how I write my raps."
Did you ever get to keep one of them?
No—the studio I had, we got shut down for smoking weed in the building.
Who are your favorite artists to work with?
Future and Young Thug, they’re both efficient and quick and very creative. I respect that a person might take their time if they had to, but when they don’t have to, they can just really come up with good concepts and good songs.
What's it like working with Future in the studio?
Future has just this natural hit factor. I don’t know long I’ve been working with Future—six or seven years ago or whatever; Future has had this understanding of what a good song is.
I’ve done songs with other people like Franchize Boyz and other people like that, and you give them your beats and you’re like, OK, this is cool. And then when Future got to it, you would give him the same option for the beat and he would take the song and turn it into something totally different.
How did you first get into production?
I was a rapper. Me and my friends had this little group, and we got signed by a label. We got some budget money. Most of my friends spent all their money.
I took my money and bought some equipment. I went ahead and got ProTools, a Motif [keyboard] and an MPC. And I was like you know, let me figure this stuff out, if I’m going to do it. And we couldn’t really buy any beats anymore because everybody spent up their budget money. So that’s what I did, I put it together.
What was the group called?
Did you guys have a hit or anything, a big song?
It was more like we were prospects. We had the talent and they wanted to put it together for us. It was a label through Ruff Ryders. This was maybe back in 2003, 2004.
What was the first big beat that you had, what was your first placement?
I did some music for a movie company first. And the music ended up getting on some of Tyler Perry’s movies. Madea’s Family Reunion and Madea Goes to Jail. Through a company called Visual Grammar, they used to do all the music for his plays. And they asked for some music for the movie he was about to do. I ended up doing some production for it. It’s credited under Visual Grammar. I didn’t really get any credit for it.
Then the actual first song that I ever got that got any recognition on the radio out here was for the Rich Kidz, “I See You.”
That was quite a bit later. So what else were you doing in the time in between, like your deal was in '03 and that came out in 2010, somewhere around then? 2009?
Yeah, '09. I was developing my sound. I’m from California, so I had a real California sound. My beats were all sounding like you know, some Eazy-E, Dr.-Dre stuff. I had to get into making my down south beats, so I was really just developing a sound.
Where did you grow up in California?
I lived in a few places. First place was Compton; I lived in Pasadena; L.A.—the heart of L.A., downtown. I ended up moving to Arizona. I moved to Arizona around 9 or 10. And then Arizona, I stayed there for another two years—well no, I stayed there for three years and then I moved to Atlanta because I used to be a problem child, get in a lot of fights and stuff.
So I moved out to Atlanta in 2000 and I had to understand the music out here, which was kind of hard for me. When I moved down here they were still playing, like, “Shorty Swing My Way” and stuff on the radio, it was like any...oh wait, it was the, the rapper’s name was Drama. And he spelled out Atlanta or something, “A-t-l-a-n-t-a G-a...something something that’s where I stay” ["Left, Right"]. Something like that.
I was like, what? I really didn’t get it, but the first music I really liked from the down south...well one was OutKast, of course, and then the other one was Three 6 Mafia. I kind of gravitated towards Three 6 Mafia’s music a little more because it was still like kind of gangster rap but with different beats.
Who are the producers you were looking up to at that point, from Atlanta, when you had to adjust? Who were you listening to?
Well, it wasn’t exactly Atlanta, but I’d have to say Mannie Fresh is one of my favorite producers, DJ Paul is one of my favorite producers. I like Drumma Boy and I liked Polow da Don and all those people. I was more...I more gravitated towards the Mannie Fresh-es and DJ Pauls.
Everyone sort of describes Young Thug as kind of an eccentric character now. What was he like in 2009?
He’s always been this eccentric character. He was the first person I knew who was really wearing skinny jeans and like pea coats and stuff. He’s never been your typical Atlanta guy.
Musically, when I hear some of that early stuff, he reminds me of Lil Wayne. More so then than he does now, really. What was he like musically at the time that made you think, I want to work with him?
Well, he didn’t only like...rap. He studied music more than everybody else. He wouldn’t just listen to a song to listen to a song—he’d listen to a song and be like, "You see how he switched up right there? The flow changed." And all that kind of stuff. I respected his views on music and I felt like if he could just capture that point of it, he would be a superstar.
Right. And when do you think it was that he sort of figured it out?
When he got in with Gucci and did that 1017 mixtape, I felt like he was getting closer to figuring it out. His style, he had switched up a little bit and finally something just snapped in him and he learned how to tone it down but still be this...I don’t know, he learned how to tone it down, but turn up. Without all the extra stuff that he used to do, but he found some new extra stuff to do that made it sound better.
What do you mean? What was the extra stuff he used to do?
Sometimes he would sing on stuff and he wouldn’t care how off the singing would sound. And then he would kind of do this slow flow that wouldn’t match with the beat but it would make sense to him, but it wouldn’t make sense to everybody else.
Kind of like experimenting?
Yeah, he experimented until I think he found his niche
Did he and Gucci work together a lot? Did Gucci help him at all? Do you remember what their relationship was like?
I felt like Gucci developed a lot of people in Atlanta. Like he really helps people out. With him, he just made a lot of sense out of Thug because he understood Thug, even though everybody else really didn’t—Gucci was the one that really understood like yeah, this one’s going to make it. So he definitely helped him in development.
I draw more inspiration from songs by Coldplay, Capital Cities, Foster The People—I really like their music.
What do you like to listen to? When you’re not working?
Right now I’m really...I bought a few albums. I like to listen to Kid Cudi; I’ve been listening to Schoolboy Q’s album. I just checked out the new Rick Ross joint. Surprisingly like, rap is cool and all, but I’m more into...I draw more inspiration from songs by Coldplay, Capital Cities, Foster The People—I really like their music.
What would you say are you favorite beats that you've done?
Gucci Mane, "Point In My Life." August Alsina, “Get Ya Money." "Stoner" by Young Thug. Trey Songz, "On the Menu." It's about to come out either this month or next.
I got to ask one other question: where do you think the Migos flow came from?
Do you remember what song it was when he first used it?
Let me think, what was the first song with Gucci…”We don't want no problems," with Lil Wayne.
“Gucci’s armed and dangerous, cocaine, codeine and angel dust/This AK-47 will hitchya everywhere from the ankle up."