As a child, Derek "MixedByAli" Ali didn't just play with his toys or his computer. He took them apart to see how they worked. This percociousness followed him to high school where he started recording his friend's vocals in order to make ringtones (which were ever so popular back in those days thanks to Nextel). Word spread, and next thing you know he was recording just about everyone at his school.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do," he says. "I was from the hood and I had nothing to separate me from anybody else. When I found out that I could record somebody through a mic and put a full song together, it intrigued me."

From there, he downloaded free recording and producing programs, like Fruity Loops and Cool Edit Pro, from Limewire. He also sought out online audio engineering communities to learn whatever he could about the craft. Little did he know, he was planting the seeds of his soon to be career as one of hip-hop's most well known sound engineers. Thanks to Dave Free (now President of Top Dawg Entertainment), Ali eventually ended up meeting the guys from TDE before any of them blew up. At the time, they didn't have an engineer so Ali became TDE's in-house engineer. He sat behind the boards for all of TDE's greatest projects including Ab-Soul's Control System, ScHoolboy Q's Habits & Contradictions, and Kendrick Lamar's Section.80 and good kid, m.A.A.d. city. He also helped mix parts of YG's My Krazy Life to help give it a unified feel.

Although he isn't particularly famous (and doesn't really care to be), like all engineers, Ali is an important part of the process of making records sound dope. While many people aspire to become the next hottest rapper or producer, we know many people also aspire to become engineers. They often end up paying thousands of dollars to go to audio engineering schools. But if you ask Ali, those schools might be a waste of money. We got on the horn with TDE's secret weapon for our first installment in our How To Make It In America series and he shared tips about engineering from his personal experience. Let it run Ali...

As told to Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)

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