There are a few things that jump out at you upon entering the front door of Bangladesh Studios in Atlanta. Immediately to the right in the lobby, there’s a portrait of the four-time Grammy-winning producer, compliments of Dungeon Family bad boy Dr. Dax.; an empty bottle of Hennessy treads the edge of the kitchen counter right in front of you; and, after walking into the main recording room, you’ll be more distracted by the collection of Star Wars action figures spread out across subwoofers and soundboards than the sea of blunt guts and ashtrays. There’s only one thing missing: Bangladesh.
At just a quarter past the scheduled interview time, the man born Shondrae Crawford walks in. After hearing the interview is for Pigeons and Planes, he immediately lets his thoughts be heard. “I’ll probably be the only one who reacts the way I reacted, like, ‘Man what the fuck is this.’” He’s referring to a recent post, Why Hasn’t Bangladesh Been Producing More?
“My son actually showed the post to me,” he continues. “He’s a teenager. He’s like, ‘You’re looking at it wrong, it’s a cool thing.’”
To be fair, it’s both valid to question where the super producer has been, and to get lost in a tracklist as extensive—in both quantity and quality—as his. Though Bangladesh had been putting in work for years before his first Grammy, the Iowa-born musician first caught the industry’s attention when he produced “What’s Your Fantasy,” the single that arguably helped launch Ludacris’ rise from local radio DJ Chris Lova Lova to platinum rap star. Bangladesh went on to reach his own level of superstardom, producing for everyone from Lil Wayne (“A Milli,” “6 Foot 7 Foot”), Beyoncé (“Diva,” “Video Phone”) and Rihanna (“Cockiness”) to Kelis (“Bossy), Ke$ha “Sleazy’), and five tracks on 8Ball and MJG’s most commercially successful album, Living Legends.
The platinum and gold plaques that line the hallways of Bangladesh Studios are constant reminders that standing behind the cloud of weed smoke and Atlanta Falcons snapback is one of the most prolific producers in rap and R&B history. It shouldn’t be surprise, then, to hear that at one point both Swizz Beatz (more on him further down) and Diddy wanted to sign Bangladesh to deals with their respective labels.
But let’s be honest—the man’s production output hasn’t been what the 24-hour news cycle has come to expect. So, naturally, upon hearing “Classic,” from Meek Mill’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, one couldn’t help but notice that the hip-hop futurism that made Bangladesh’s sound so distinct didn’t wane with his lack of releases.
Though shy by nature, Bangladesh has never shied away from being “100 percent in an industry full of 25 percenters,” as he says. He spoke to us about what exactly he’s been up to, his thoughts on Drake and Meek Mill’s beef, and why he’s not inspired to buy records anymore.
Did you feel like asking “Why hasn’t Bangladesh been producing more?” felt like a jab? Maybe it’s just that you’ve had so much success you can afford to chill.
It’s not even that I can afford to chill. For a minute, I could afford to pursue the things I really wanted to do as far as creating my label and really getting that off of the ground, so that I can step back from everybody else and focus on what I’m trying to do. You want to control like everybody else does. In music, as producers and writers, you’re trying to make the cut. So, the type of person I am, I don’t want to keep trying to make the cut. It’s like after you do a job so long you become an expert at it. It’s like, “Man, what are you telling me?” It’s like you call me to the studio, you want me to come fuck with you, but you give me this—another producer’s sound. “I need you to do something like this… something like that.” It’s like nah, I have a sound so I thought when you called me that’s what you wanted.
So, it’s frustrating doing that. I want to control my own gate. I want to be the one that says, “Nah, they didn’t make the cut!” I don’t want to be going to the gate asking for permission after I got four Grammys, and all these hit records. You’ve got to compete with the politics; it ain’t even really about what it sounds like. That’s what people are missing. Like, “Aw, he ain’t working” or, “He don’t want to be on shit.” Nah, I want to be on all that shit! But I don’t want to have to be going through the hoops circus-style, knowing that it’s all a game because on the backend all of these people are getting money together. So, why would you give this independent entity a piece of your pie? At the end of the day, people want you to be down with them or commit with them, so I stepped back to create my own conglomerate.
So then you emerge to do this track “Classic.” It’s vintage Bangladesh without sounding like you’ve lost a step with current hip-hop zeitgeist. What struck me about the track was that you’re on the song with Swizz Beatz. There was a time way back when you guys were allegedly beefing…
People are saying that?
Honestly, we never was beefing.
It was media generated then?
It was just something I said and I was in the interview and the lady was asking me questions but she keeps talking about other producers. Like, “Would you compare yourself to a Jazze Pha or Swizz Beatz?” I’m like, man, what the fuck? I said, “That’s not even relevant to the situation. None of them are relevant to my interview.” [In a fake newscaster voice] “Bangladesh says Swizz Beatz is not relevant.”
I used fuck with Swizz Beatz back in the day. I worked with his artist Yung Wun. They sought me out. I had just done [tracks] for 8Ball and MJG’s Living Legends, so they wanted that sound. Swizz was trying to sign me to Ruff Ryders back in the day. It was like Puff and Swizz around the same time because I had just done the 8Ball and MJG shit. Swizz, his A&R dude reached out to me and was a big fan. He was letting Swizz know about me so after a while Swizz was trying to sign a nigga. I never just wanted to be on somebody’s team like that. I wanted my own team.
Yeah, you still seem to carry that independent spirit…
I think when you rock with people, you have to be one in the same. You hang with people like you; you do shit alike. If I’m going to be on your team, we’ve got to be alike in a sense. I’m not saying we aint; we both make music. But, it’s marriage and I don’t really know you like that [Laughs]. You know most people just jump to the opportunity. I’m more like, “I’m going to jump back and check it out.” I’m not saying there’s something wrong with them, I just always felt like I had my own sound.
I get it. You’re very calculated now in terms of whom you work with. So then how did this collaboration with Meek Mill come about?
I think when you fuck with me you’ve got to FUCK with me. I think you’ve got to look at me in a certain light to really see that I’m on your album. Everything I’ve been on, [the artist] fucked with me like a motherfucker. From “A Milli,” that was like a pivotal point where people were not on yet and producers just started producing, and it inspired a lot of people in the game.
With a rapper like Meek Mill, he knows that brand, he’s heard that sound. He’s a rapper so he fucked with the beats already, so him being on, it’s like, “Man I would love to fuck with a Bangladesh beat.” I just gave him some beats a year and a half ago, and it was probably one of the last tracks he did. I went to the studio to hear his verses. So he raps the song and then he does the hook, and he was like, “Yeah, man I want Swizz Beatz to say this.” I was like, “You better not put his tag on there.” [Laughs]
So, are you active on social media at all?
If not you then who was posting From Farm to City: Dynasty stats to your Twitter account?
I’m not a social media dude so like all the technology I have—computer, phone—people will put [apps] on there for me. So like they’ll make the password up, they do all that shit. As long as I have it on there I’ll go on there and use it but, shit, when your phone breaks, you’ve got to get a new phone, you’ve got to download the app again, put in the password. It was [put in] two years ago and nobody knows what the motherfucker is. I don’t even have it on my phone. I had just gotten these interns and they were saying that I had all that, some type of game on Twitter. But I haven’t been on the Twitter in probably a good eight months.
I think in hip-hop—it’s just one thing. Just from that I don’t fuck with it because you’ve just got this one thing, and there’s like 100 artists that do the one thing.
As a producer, your ear is always on the music. Have you been keeping tabs on the current industry climate, and do you like what you hear?
I’m more into a variety. When I was coming up as a young kid I was inspired by hip-hop, inspired by R&B, and these other pop songs you just randomly hear watching MTV or being from the Midwest listening to the radio. I’m a melting pot of things. I think in hip-hop—it’s just one thing. Just from that I don’t fuck with it because you’ve just got this one thing, and there’s like 100 artists that do the one thing. When I was coming up in hip-hop you have this genre where there’s variety in that bitch. You fuck with N.W.A. because they sound like that; you fuck with A Tribe Called Quest—you had a variety. But now, there’s just one target, one agenda. Music used to make you motivated go buy [the album]. Even if you don’t go to store, you’d get on your [computer] and buy some shit. I ain’t bought nothing!
You can’t remember the last album you bought?
Kendrick’s first album. I would buy J. Cole, I would I buy all that. I used to hear shit and I’d be inspired like, “Man I’m going to go make a beat!” Now, I couldn’t do that; nothing does that anymore. You would hear Timbaland beats and think, “Aww man what the fuck is he thinking about?! Man, I need to go get me some Indian shit!” It don’t be like that anymore.
So if everybody is doing just that one thing in rap music, would you say today’s producers are suffering too? Is it still a fun place to be for producer?
Yeah, I definitely think it’s a fun place to be. I don’t think it’s us, the creators; it’s like the motherfuckers that control this shit, that actually press the button on the radio, that actually sign these deals, DJs that actually play these records. Now you’ve just got an overwhelming amount of the same thing. You’ve got about three producers on one track when they all make beats the same. It’s just weird; people want to collab so much.
I remember when a nigga put his shit out with no collabs on it. A nigga didn’t have no feature on the single—ever. Then, all of the sudden it’s the shit. Like, “Who he got on there?!” It’s like you can’t have single without a feature now. So there’s no real artistry. Social media makes you accessible when you feed into it as artists. You feel like you’ve got to have your numbers, and you feel like have to connect and all that. But being exclusive is the shit to me. I don’t want to know everything about you. I want to think about it. Like, “Man, if I could just meet him. If could just bump into her.” When you cop a CD you want to feel like this motherfucker is an iconic, untouchable motherfucker.
Yeah, you don’t want to know everything.
Yeah, the shit’s kind of lame.
You mentioned the lack of inspiration in today’s rap music. The first example that comes to mind is the beef between Meek Mill and Drake. I feel like the younger generation’s into it because it’s the first high-profile battle they’ve witnessed. But think about Biggie vs. Pac, Nas vs. Jay-Z. Hell, even T.I. vs. Lil’ Flip was better than this. You’ve experienced this type of thing with Swizz Beatz where the media builds hype, and the actual battle raps—if any—are secondary.
At the end of the day you’re going to have a weak link and a you’re going to have the strong one. It’s, “I’m trying to belittle him to be the man. I think he’s the man, I really admire him, so I’m going to go after to be the man.” To me, that’s how I see it so I really don’t really be feeling the rap beef shit, period. Shit be kind of corny. Unless it’s a real thing like when I see you, and if it’s that real I’m not rapping about it. The public doesn’t take it as an MC battle—we’re like wrestlers. You’d go to the wrestling matches and niggas would be mad and shit, but then they’d be in the airport chillin’ like it’s business. If it’s like that and the people accepted it as that, it’s cool, but when you’re all like, “Man, fuck Meek Mill! Fuck you nigga that ain’t your tour. That’s yo bitch tour.” It’s corny then. I don’t like that shit.
Well then, who does inspire you currently? Are there any artists out there now you’d consider worth your time?
I like a lot of people, don’t get me wrong. I could name a lot of motherfuckers I fuck with. Sometimes I just feel like niggas don’t do the right thing. Like, “Damn, I fuck with him but that’s the album?!” You know you could be a dope artist but sometimes you just don’t make the right music that’s inspiring to me. I just look at you in like a bigger light than what you did, so it ain’t like I don’t fuck with niggas. I fuck with niggas it’s just like we don’t get that satisfaction like we used to. I don’t think everybody’s putting time in, and the energy is just like a microwave system now, which isn’t always the artist’s fault. It’s the labels pressuring you to get the album done fast, or it’s what the radio picks. There’s just a lot of things that are out of the artist’s control, in a sense, when you’re trying to get that money. When you’re trying to get that check, you just go with the wave sometimes. Sometimes the rebels have more of a hard time getting to the front, but it’s more gratifying at the end of the day.
When you’re trying to get that check, you just go with the wave sometimes. Sometimes the rebels have more of a hard time getting to the front, but it’s more gratifying at the end of the day.
You mention label drama. You used to be very vocal about your issues with Cash Money, and Birdman over the songs you produced for Lil Wayne. When you see Wayne and Drake airing out the label’s dirty laundry and saying that they’re being cheated out of money does it not surprise you because it’s something you dealt with?
It’s not even really something you deal with, it’s just unexpected behavior. I’m not Wayne or Drake; I was never signed to them, so how I’ve been getting it, how it’s been getting done is how you would expect it to be. When you’re basically doing something that nobody else does and nobody says shit about it then you’re going to continue on doing business how you do it. For me, in that time, I was more in a mood where it was it was like that’s never been done before. This ain’t right. It always feels good to be a trendsetter and the first to do shit, and you look a certain way when you’re doing it. People don’t get it. It’s like, “Why would you do that? They’re going to fuck you up. They’re going to kill you. You’re going to fuck up your relationship.” I wasn’t thinking about none of that. For one, there wasn’t no relationship. If somebody’s dissatisfied, and you’re not correcting it and trying to make it right, then there’s no relationship.
So now you’re more focused on building the Bangladesh brand and record label. How do do you feel that’s coming along?
I’ve just been producing my group Famous 2 Most. They’re like 19, 20 [year-olds], coming out of Atlanta in the dance community. They’re the sole creators of the “Whip” and “Nae Nae” dance. None of the songs that refer to that dance are them though. They’re not just these dance-song creators, like these one-hit dudes. They really make songs; they’re really artists. They’re young dudes so they know how to use each other and piggyback on what each other does well. [I’m] assembling the team, and that takes time to do. It’s not so simple when you’re dealing with something you’ve brought so far and dealt with your whole life. You’ve got to get to know people, interact with people, take it slow. You don’t want to jump in the bed too fast just because somebody put you on. Shit’s got to be a relationship. I think right now I’ve gotten 75 percent of that done, and then I want to be DJing festivals, transitioning to getting money off of the history in a sense, not having to keep showing and proving.
Yeah, you’ve done that enough.
Yeah, I’m more into reaping benefits.