First off, tell me a little bit about yourself. What do you do?
23 years young and living in Pittsburgh. I’m attending the University of Pittsburgh attempting to get my M.Ed. (Master of Education) while interning at the financial aid office at the local community college. I’d like to be an academic advisor, which is the guy students come to with questions about classes they should take, scholarships that are available, internship opportunities, etc.
Is music something you’re currently pursuing?
At one point in my life I thought I might’ve wanted to do something with music, but I decided I would rather work in a field that would provide me with more financial stability. I wouldn’t wanna be an amateur musician or producer whose constantly wondering where their next paycheck is coming from and most background roles in music (i.e. mixing, staging, promoting, etc.) don’t really interest me. Thus, I do creative projects like Paul just for fun and for Internet views. When I was younger I’d always dreamed that I’d have thousands of people checking out stuff I’d create like music, and the power of the Internet has allowed me to accomplish this while still having a quote-unquote “real” job, so I’m basically getting the best of both worlds.
Why do this project? There are some flashes of brilliance in there. I’m curious as to what motivated you to put the time into doing this.
One thing that a lot of people might not know is that this wasn’t my first remix of Pablo. When the album was initially released I was disappointed in how inconsistent it was sound-wise, especially when compared to the original Waves tracklist Kanye had planned for the album that started with Famous and ended with Ultralight Beam. Once some of the early demos for the tracks started leaking out in the weeks following Pablo’s Tidal release, I rearranged the tracks and created a new version of Pablo using the early tracklist, dubbing it “the gospel version of Pablo”. It got a decent response on the Kanye subreddit but nowhere near the publicity that Paul has gotten.
A couple weeks after my remix came out Kanye released the remastered version of Pablo to Spotify, Apple Music, etc. People asked me whether or not I’d redo the gospel version with the new tracks and my answer was no: I was largely satisfied with Pablo after Kanye re-released it and felt no need for it to be “fixed”. Months went by and I’d barely even remembered that my remix even existed. Then in September one of my good friends on the Kanye subreddit who goes by the name MissDOA made a wonderful post for my birthday and linked the gospel version of Pablo in the post. It reminded me that I never had done another remix using the remastered tracks and planted the seed in my mind to actually do it.
Beyond this, my motivation for doing the project was to see what the album could sound like if Kanye had fleshed it out a little more and extended the track lengths to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy levels of maximalism. I also wanted to place an emphasis on the original samples used for the songs on the album. I believe that Pablo has the best sample selection of any Kanye album and I wanted the original samples to play a major part in the remix. It was more an appreciation of the artists Kanye sampled to create the record than anything else.
Some of my favorite moments are scattered throughout. The top moment for me is definitely the tour version of Father Stretch My Hands. What was your favorite song to explore?
Father Stretch My Hands was one of the first songs I did for the project and is definitely one of my favorites as well (particularly with the addition of Pt. 3), but I think my favorite song to explore musically was All Day. I’d argue that All Day is one of Kanye’s most underrated singles (along with Only One) and the material I had to work with on that track was pretty substantial. The good people over at the Kanye Leaks subreddit were able to provide me with an early 2014 demo version of the track along with an unreleased remix featuring Kendrick Lamar, and the production flourishes on those versions that didn’t make it onto the single version of the track really flesh it out when compared to the original. Also, another redditor was able to identify the intro sample to the Kendrick remix just a few days ago and I was able to download it and reincorporate it into the song, so the version of Paul that people have doesn’t even have the final version of All Day on it. I plan on getting an update readied and hopefully out by the end of the year.
To me it seems that this project is more of an exploration of the possibilities that this album could’ve been, rather than something meant to compete or even compare to the original. Would I be correct in that assumption?
You would be 100% correct. I made a point to emphasize that I don’t consider this album to be any better or worse than Kanye’s original. In fact, in a lot of cases I do feel like his version is superior. Nobody really needs a near 8 minute version of Fade or a near 9 minute version of No More Parties in LA. Actually, had Kanye just let the samples play out mostly unedited as they are on my version I may have been disappointed with it. Kanye has a knack for knowing when to pull back from a track and not let it overstay its welcome. Still, there is a certain appeal in hearing these tracks when they’re blown up and stretched to their limits. I consider this an alternative listening experience of Pablo more than anything else.
I have to admit, there are some moments that feel very messy. Do you plan on polishing those up or leaving the project as it stands? Is there anything you would’ve done differently?
Much like Kanye’s original, I plan to keep updating Paul whenever I have the opportunity to improve on the tracks. I wound up releasing it three weeks ahead of schedule which left me little to no time to properly mix it, so I’m planning on going back and improving the mix at some point. Someone also pointed out that the version of Pablo I used for the tracks was actually of lower sound quality than it could have been, so I’ll likely bite the bullet and purchase the ridiculously overpriced $20 320 kbps MP3 copy of the album from Kanye’s website.
I’m also planning on editing and revising some of the songs as well. Fade, in particular, sounded a bit overblown after I listened to it again a couple days ago; I’ll likely shorten it a bit for the next update. Other than that, I’m guessing the only changes will mostly be additions to the songs as opposed to reductions. But I also realize that the edits I did to songs like Famous and Waves were very hit-or-miss for some people, so I’m planning to release single edits for those tracks as well as a couple others that line up more with Kanye’s original vision for the songs.
What’s your weapon of choice as far as software?
I stitched the entire project together in Sony Vegas, which is typically video editing software. I’m a video editor at heart and Vegas is what I am most comfortable with for editing audio. I also used Audacity to change the tempos of certain samples to match better with the actual songs. The downside of using Sony Vegas for the project was that there were a lot less options for audio effects than there would be in a program like Pro Tools or FL Studio. I only really used base equalization and reverb VSTs to edit the tracks. I’m going to try learning a professional audio interface to remaster the album at some point which should hopefully resolve some of the issues with sound quality and audio effects.
Tupac or Biggie?
To be honest, I haven’t listened to nearly as much Tupac as I probably should have at this point in my life. I’ve only heard his first two albums, which, outside of the occasional gem (i.e. Brenda’s Got a Baby), are not considered to be Pac at his absolute peak. I’ll probably make time to listen to Me Against the World sometime over Thanksgiving break to remedy the issue, but seeing as how I’ve heard everything from Biggie that’s worth hearing I have to give it to him by default.
Are there any other projects to expect from you in the future?
Outside of future updates to Paul, I don’t want to promise anything that I won’t be able to deliver on in the future. Any projects that I might have coming out likely wouldn’t be music related as much as they might be video edits or song remixes that I’ll put up in the Kanye subreddit on occasion. One such example is a version of Father Stretch My Hands that I remixed earlier this year by changing the lyrics to be referencing nothing but bleach and t-shirts; it’s called Father Bleach My T-Shirt and can be found here:
There is a moment in Highlights where you spend a considerable amount of time focusing on a Carole King sample, what was the inspiration behind that?
The Carole King sample was included on an early demo of Highlights but didn’t appear on the final version Kanye released on Pablo, most likely due to sample clearance issues. I always felt like it would have been an excellent addition to the track and wanted to include it as the intro as I felt like it pierces through your soul in the best way possible to start it off. Plus the way it blends into the little bit I’ve got of Kanye and Thug singing over the organ before the technical “start” of the song worked a lot better than I could have ever expected it to.
What are your top 5 artists dead or alive? (doesn’t have to be hip hop)
This list can change on a whim, but as of today this is what I would rank:
1. Kanye West - Obviously. He’s the GOAT. Enough said.
2. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys - Essentially, the Kanye West of the 1960s. The ideas he brought to the approach of recording pop/rock music were completely unprecedented and immeasurably creative for his time. The way he recorded his magnum opus, Pet Sounds, draws parallels to the recording of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: bring in a slew of musical and lyrical collaborators, put everyone’s ideas together and emerge with an incredible piece of work. Unfortunately, Brian’s mental health took a turn for the worse after the release of Pet Sounds and we never really got to see what his full potential could have been. There’s a pretty good movie from last year called Love and Mercy which details the experiences Brian went through during the 1960s (with a large emphasis on the recording of Pet Sounds) and the ensuing 20 years of mental health issues that he endured before reemerging in the public eye during the 1990s; highly recommended for anyone who is a fan of music.
3. The Avalanches – The way these guys work with samples is pretty much second to none. They created the perfect dance record in the year 2000 with Since I Left You, 60 minutes of music composed of some 3,500 samples that simultaneously sounds like the past and the future of music perfectly blended into one. After its release they pulled a Brian Wilson, completely disappearing for over a decade. They finally reemerged earlier this year with their second album Wildflower, and amazingly it ended up meeting the insanely high expectations I had for it and has pretty much been my album of the year since the day of its release. Anyone who is a fan of sample based music needs to check them out.
4. Wu-Tang Clan – Kanye would not exist without Wu-Tang. It’s as simple as that. In my mind they’re the greatest hip hop group of all time. Their run from 1993 through 1997 produced more classics than most artists could even dream of creating over the course of their entire careers. You would think that a group with 9 (and sometimes 10) members would cause most of them to get lost in the shuffle, and in the case of U-God and Cappadonna this is occasionally true, but beyond the two outliers every member of the Clan had a distinctive voice and style that sets them apart from the others. You’ve got Method Man’s stoned charisma, Raekwon’s dynamic storytelling, Ghostface’s commanding mic presence, GZA’s intellectual lyricism, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s drunken debauchery and Inspectah Deck’s razor sharp delivery, while Masta Killa plays the underdog role to a T. But the real key to the group was the RZA. At his peak, his production style was second to none, and the way he was able to tailor his beats to match the members of the Clan he was working with was genius, not to mention he wasn’t a bad emcee in his own right. There hasn’t been a group as diverse yet simultaneously consistent as Wu-Tang.
5. Wild Nothing – This is a bit of a wild card choice as the group’s music isn’t wholly original and hardly considered to be canon, but Virginia musician Jack Tatum’s solo project was the first really “indie” thing I ever got into and the music he’s released as Wild Nothing has left a lasting impact on me. The first time I heard it I had no idea how to feel about it. It was very dreamy, very pretty; it was significantly less masculine than anything else I was listening to at the time, but once I got over the stigma I was associating with the music in my mind I became completely obsessed with it. It put me in a sort of waking dream state only comparably accessible through drugs. For a time I was adamant on listening to any and all kinds of dream pop that I could get my hands on, particularly artists on the Captured Tracks record label. Beyond my appreciation for the sound of the music, though, Jack Tatum is an excellent songwriter which sets him apart from a lot of dream pop groups that bury poor songwriting in a ton of sound effects. The new Wild Nothing album from earlier this year is reflective of this: it isn’t dream pop at all, eschewing the group’s early style for a more natural sound, but with how strong the songwriting is it doesn’t suffer from the drop off in quality that some artists do when they stray from their signature sound. Very underrated group that I feel deserves more attention.
Is there anything that you feel is overlooked in the world of music that listeners should be paying attention to?
There are so many great artists today that really aren’t getting their due. Off the top of my head I can think of S.Maharba, Ricky Eat Acid, Laurel Halo, Nosaj Thing, Astronauts etc., Onra, Forest Swords, Still Corners, Teebs, Holy Other and Pure Bathing Culture. Also, Clarence Clarity has gotten some decent press in the last couple years but he still isn’t nearly as big as I think he should be.
If you could be a fly on the wall during the making of any studio album, what would it be?
Definitely Yeezus. The recording sessions for that album are still pretty mysterious, especially compared to Fantasy and Pablo. Whereas Fantasy had a full scale Complex piece on its recording and fans got a good amount of access to the Pablo sessions in the month leading up to its release, the Yeezus sessions are mostly unseen outside of a short clip of Kanye recording vocals for I Am a God with Rick Rubin. I would have killed to hear the 3 hours of music Kanye played for Rubin in the weeks preceding the album’s release. I can only imagine all of the cool shit that got taken out of the album in favor of the minimal album we ended up getting out of the recordings. Even to hear a full version of I Am Not Home would be a godsend. Honorable mention goes to Watch the Throne, specifically because we still haven’t heard the cut track Living So Italian and based off the title of that song alone I know it would have been spectacular.
What makes that album so special to you?
You mean Yeezus? Just the gall that Kanye, one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, had in releasing a project that was so blatantly uncommercial. The lyric “How much do I not give a fuck?” from On Sight sums up the record perfectly: not a single fuck was given in the recording of that album. There was no concern for radio ready singles or songs that worked in a traditional hip hop sense. Kanye did something that felt right to him and that’s all that mattered. Yeezus is an album that impacts you in a variety of ways, both positive and negative. It’s hardly perfect but it doesn’t need to be. He put something out that he knew a good portion of his fan base would not understand, something that is more in line with electronic music than hip hop, and I respect the hell out of him for that. It clearly wasn’t a failure as it won the Pazz & Jop poll and songs like Black Skinhead, Blood on the Leaves and Bound 2 will be staples of his live shows for years to come, but a lot of people still see it as a blemish on his discography for some reason. I am not one of those people: I’d rank it ahead of Pablo, Graduation and even 808s, which given the recent critical reevaluation of that record is something a lot of people might call foul on. Yeezus is not something I play all of the time, but when I do I’m struck by how unique of a listening experience it is for a rap record. People make comparisons to Death Grips and other industrial hip hop artists but I just don’t see it. MC Ride would never have done something like Guilt Trip, or Hold My Liquor, or Bound 2, or Blood on the Leaves, or the 2nd half of New Slaves. It might take influence from industrial and electronic music but it’s still Kanye at its core. I feel like people will appreciate it a lot more 10 or 20 years down the line.
If you could have Kanye collaborate with one artist of your dreams, who would it be and why?
Impossible to pick just one, honestly, because there are so many possibilities. Kanye working with Clams Casino on a track could be really special; same with Jamie xx. Kanye and Donald Glover’s styles feel like they would mesh pretty nicely. A Damon Albarn collaboration would be interesting too. Thom Yorke doesn’t fuck with Ye so I doubt that would ever happen, but you never know. Also I would love to see an actual collaboration between Kanye and Andre 3000 because let’s be honest, those 30 Hours adlibs just don’t cut it. Beyond anything else, though, I would kill to see Kanye & Lil B work together. It wouldn’t even need to be a musical collaboration; like, just a dual interview between Kanye and Lil B would probably move mountains.
What do you think we are getting first, The Ye/Drake collab, Cruel Winter, or Turbo Grafx?
If recent reports are to be believed the Kanye/Drake collab may be coming sooner than people think, but I’m still skeptical on that. One rumor suggested it could be a New Year’s drop, which I don’t believe is actually going to happen since Drake has More Life coming out in a couple weeks and all of the things that have been happening with Kanye lately would make for really bad timing on it. This is pure speculation but I’m thinking Ye + Drake in the late winter/early spring. I’m still not 100% convinced that Cruel Winter is coming at all, but if it does I’d bet on summer or early fall. TurboGrafx-16 probably won’t come until 2018 at the earliest. Kanye has a history of starting to work on an album, getting overexcited for it and announcing it way in advance of release, and then having to continue to work on it along with other music & fashion projects until it ends up coming out far in advance of its originally announced release. For all we know, we might not even get a Kanye related album in 2017. I don’t think it’ll come to that but you never know.
Are there any producers that you look up to? I can think of many that really helped shape TLOP, even among producers who didn’t directly work on it. Is there any producer that really makes the lights go off in your head?
Mike Dean is embarrassingly underrated. In my view he’s up with the Dres, the Premos, the RZAs and the Kanyes in the upper echelon of hip hop producers. His ear for beats as well as his musical acumen is almost second to none in rap. He’s been a force in hip hop for over 30 years, far longer than the vast majority of his contemporaries. He’s credited with being one of the key innovators of the Dirty South sound back in the 80s and 90s, and with his recent work with Kanye, Travis, Frank, Desiigner and so many others he’s arguably more relevant today than he’s ever been. That’s more than you can say for virtually every other producer who started in the 80s. Like, I’m looking forward to Desiigner’s debut album almost solely for the patented Mike Dean Magic™ that’s bound to grace the record. He evolves with the times better than anybody else and, in my eyes, he will always be a legend.
What was the most challenging aspect of creating “The Life of Paul?”
Getting everything to blend together correctly. A lot of the demos and samples used on Paul were of varying sound quality when compared to the Pablo tracks they were combined with. I’m mostly satisfied with how things turned out but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. I’m hoping that once I get an opportunity to mix the album a little better I can correct a lot of the mixing issues on the record.
What is the best Kanye album in your opinion?
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, period. It’s my favorite album of all time, regardless of artist or genre. It’s had a larger impact on my life than any other piece of music, mostly due to the timing: I was 17 when Fantasy dropped, a very impressionable time in anyone’s life. At the time I was listening solely to underground and 90’s hip hop, and hearing that Kanye was recording an album with DJ Premier, Pete Rock, RZA, Q-Tip, Madlib and a slew of others was nothing short of a dream come true. At the same time, I was getting into some non-hip hop stuff for the first time and started dating a girl who was into indie rock. Fantasy wound up being so much bigger than the old school rap record it was originally envisioned as: it was traditional hip hop mixed with progressive rock in a way that sounded completely natural and dope as fuck. It pushed my musical tastes into strange and unexpected directions. I discovered artists like King Crimson, Aphex Twin and Bon Iver for the first time through Fantasy. I did an art history minor for my undergrad and visited the MoMA because of Fantasy. In my opinion, there’s never been a better hip hop album before or since. I’d be pleasantly surprised if Kanye ever tops it. It’s the defining moment of his career, and its release is a defining moment of my life. I’m actually writing the responses for this interview on the 6th anniversary of the record’s release which is just crazy to me, I remember the day it came out like it was yesterday… Just a perfect album all around.
If you could do anything in the whole world, and money was no object, what occupation would you choose?
I would love to be one of those people who makes money off of YouTube for a living. I already love making videos so it’d be a cinch if I could do it full time; plus some of the things that people get paid to do almost seem too good to be true. There’s a guy whose YouTube channel is called CustomGrow420 and all he does is smoke weed on camera. He has over a million subscribers and people send him free weed and paraphernalia. I really can’t think of a better life than that.
Thanks so much for your time. lastly, are there any links to other work you want to plug or share with anyone who might be reading this?
I’ve got a YouTube channel where I take already existing videos and remix them to create something new. I started making the videos in my adolescence and as a result the humor is very adolescent-oriented, very perverse; essentially I tap into the darkest areas of my psyche and try to be as offensive as I possibly can in the span of a couple minutes with them. They’re a lil immature and I’ve been distancing myself from creating them in recent years as I’ve grown out of the humor a bit, but I’ve got a decent fan base off of them so I still upload one or two things a year just to satisfy those people. My channel is named Squadala9001 and you can find it at YouTube.com/Squadala9001.
Glad to do the interview bro, you’ve got some awesome YouTube content and I’m honored to have done this, keep up the good work!