Chances are if you're listening to mash-ups or blends in 2020, you know DJ Critical Hype. He's the man behind projects like The Damn. Chronic, Wu-Chainz, and In Search Of... Cole. You can probably guess the nature of those projects off the titles alone, but these aren't your basic 2010 mash-up projects where vocals are haphazardly slapped over instrumentals. Critical Hype is a master of the blend, and he takes his work seriously.
His latest project is called ANDRE, a tape that pairs André 3000 vocals with Tyler, The Creator productions, and he's been working on it for the last 10 months. Tyler, The Creator himself even sent some unreleased instrumentals, reacted to the snippet previews, and asked where the project is when it took longer than expected to wrap up. It's finally finished, and we're happy to premiere it today.
DJ Critical Hype is already planning his next moves for 2020—he's putting Nipsey Hussle vocals on 2Pac beats, Griselda vocals on Diplomats production, and considering a project that would blend DaBaby vocals with 50 Cent instrumentals. Until then, enjoy ANDRE, and read our interview with DJ Critical Hype below.
You've been making these mash-up projects for a long time now. Is there an end goal, or are these simply passion projects?
They are definitely passion projects for me. I love the idea of being able to mess with a song and make it fresh and new, while still paying homage to great lyricists and producers. As for the end goal, there isn't a definitive one, but I am planning to executive produce an EP of original music sometime in the near future—which will include some of my own original production—so that is definitely something I am excited to start working on in the new year. I would also love to do A&R work within a label one day—not something I’ve ever officially done but confident in my ear so I know I would be great at it. I would love the opportunity to learn more about it and work hard to help develop acts.
How do you decide which artists and producers to combine? Is it purely sonic or are there other elements you consider?
I choose artists and producers that I love but the visual is also really important as I generally want to use a classic album cover to not only mash-up the music but also the artwork. Sometimes I’ll have an idea that is sonically dope but can’t think of the right cover art so I won’t release it. Also I like to combine older and newer artists to bridge the gap between fan bases and educate people about these artists. Not all Tyler fans are André 3000 fans and vice versa. Not all Kendrick Lamar and Dr. Dre fans know the other's catalogue, 2 Chainz & Wu-Tang, Drake & 9th Wonder, etc.
These aren't simple mash-ups where you just combine vocals and beats. Are you working with original stems, recreating sounds, or how do you isolate all the pieces you need?
It’s rare to get stems unfortunately. But, I continue to try to work with labels and artist management to make the process easier. For example with the André and Tyler project I made the acapellas for 25 out of the 34 tracks using DIY techniques and tricks I've been learning for over 10 years and counting. Necessity made me master things my own way. Sometimes I’ll spend three to four hours or more trying to make one acapella.
Other times it takes minutes, so not always the same process. I don't recreate the sounds but for the instrumentals I do a lot of chopping and looping. For older beats like Neptunes, Dr. Dre, Wu-Tang, they used to actually release them. When I did the J. Cole and Neptunes project I only looped six beats, and the other 20-plus beats were released on the singles. Dealing with the labels or management directly always makes it easier. I got a few unreleased Wu-Tang instrumentals, 2 Chainz acapellas from management, and a few J. Cole acapellas from Dreamville.
Was there something specific that sparked the Tyler and André combination?
It's funny how things work out sometimes. A couple years ago I was planning on flipping André 3000 vocals on Kaytranada beats so I talked to Kaytranada’s manager and label about the project and they seemed cool with it but after working on it for three to four months they said they didn’t want me to release it anymore so I had to respect that.
For a while I was trying to figure out who to flip André vocals over because he's one of my top five rappers and I had to figure out the best match sonically and visually. After Tyler dropped IGOR I got the idea and could already picture the cover art (shouts to Ian Klarer for doing the amazing cover art for it and all my other covers). So I'm actually glad the first idea didn't work out because I think the Andre and Tyler idea is amazing.
Any favorites, or tracks that gave you a particularly hard time?
Favorite tracks right now are "Come Home," "Chronomentrophobia," "Int'l Players Anthem," and "Vibrate."
"Aquemini" gave me a really hard time. I was trying my best to make a better quality acapella. I must have made 10 different versions of the acapella using DIY techniques. I still wasn't totally happy with the best version but I think it sounded good enough to use. I really love André's verses on that song so I felt it was necessary to include on the project.
Also, I tried to include "Hey Ya" but didn't find a good enough blend in my opinion, so that was a bit disappointing. The "Royal Flush" verse was something I wanted to include but Tyler didn't have that many beats I could use in that tempo. The few beats I tried didn't sound tight enough. Besides the "Cherry Bomb" instrumental album that was released, Tyler doesn't really release his beats so that limited my options. Tyler has a lot of progression in his production so just looping the beginning of one his beats and putting an André verse on top usually doesn’t sound as good as it would if I had the official instrumental.
On average, how long does it take you to make one of these songs?
After the initial process of collecting and making acapellas and instrumentals, it takes me about two to six hours to record a single blend. What I take even more time on is listening back to what I recorded. The majority of the time I’m listening to the mixes a lot to make sure they still sound good after multiple listens. If it sounds better the more I hear it, that's a good sign. I get tired of a lot of my mixes, and the mixes I start off with usually don't make the cut. I record way more mixes than I actually end up using. I worked on this blend tape for about 10 months now. It was definitely the most challenging one I’ve done but also was the most rewarding.
In July, [Tyler, The Creator] DMed me on Twitter out the blue and said, "Dude where the f*ck is the andre igor.”
You mentioned that you got in touch with Tyler about this project right? How did that come about?
Actually he got in touch with me, which is fucking crazy. I released the cover art on my social media and dropped a couple short snippets, and I guess Tyler heard about it somehow. In July he DMed me on Twitter out the blue and said, “Dude where the fuck is the andre igor.” He sent me two unreleased beats from IGOR—"WHAT’S GOOD" and "A BOY IS A GUN*"—and has been mad cool. It's so dope that he reached out to a DJ and showed love, DJs don't get the love we deserve nowadays. Still blows my mind that I've been talking to him. I know he's probably busy as fuck so I really appreciate how helpful he's been.
Did he give any direct feedback after hearing it?
I sent him the snippets, which were 13 joints off the project and about 40 seconds of each track. After he listened he DMed me back and said “wow.” It was a short and sweet response but was incredible to hear positive feedback from such an amazing producer. I fucking love Tyler as an artist/producer.
In the past, are there any other artists or producers whose vocals or production you've used that have responded or shared your work?
Yeah, 2 Chainz shouted me out on a post and said he was fucking with the Wu-Chainz, 9th Wonder posted the Drake and 9th project and said it was dope. Ibrahim and Dreamville showed love and posted the J. Cole and The Neptunes blend tape. Ibrahim told me J. Cole loved the snippets I sent him and gave the green light to send some of his studio acapellas. So the last few projects I've dropped, the artists have definitely been supportive which means a lot to me.
With the rise of streaming, most producers gave up on mash-ups because you can't distribute to DSPs. Why have you stuck with it? Do you also make original production?
Original production is definitely something I plan to focus more on in the near future—I think it's the natural next step in pushing myself musically and is something I have dabbled with in the past.
As for why I've stuck with it—honestly I do it mostly for the love, I really enjoy creating blends and mash-ups and have been doing it for so long at this point it feels as natural as breathing for me. I think there's a void for mash-ups today so I'm glad to be one of the only ones dropping them, because people really love hearing them. But I do like seeing other DJs doing blends and mashups because I'm also a huge fan of them. With all music being at the fingertips of music consumers instantly, it creates a type of exclusive and unique version that I can release that no one else has.