Ray West is someone you need to get familiar with. Besides producing for legends like A.G. and O.C., West runs the indie label Red Apples along with his partner-in-crime A.G. Ray sits down with HipHopGame to discuss his projects, the label, his production techniques, the LUV NY project, and much more in this exclusive interview.
You and O.C. just came together for a really dope project, Ray’s Cafe. How did you guys make this happen?
We met through A.G. He brought O.C. to my home studio just to build. This was after me and A had done a lot of work. I played O a bunch of beats and he made a song called “Ray’s Cafe” because we ate upstairs at the dinner table and then we went downstairs to the basement and there’s old records. He said it was like being in “Ray’s Cafe” here. He just made me have an idea of doing a whole project called “Ray’s Cafe.”
Based on your history in the game and where O.C.’s coming from, that seems like a natural fit.
Yeah. I look at all the records, like jazz records and that sort of interpretation, and with how “Ray’s Cafe” came out, it sounded like we were in a little jazz club or something.
It has a real cohesive, natural sound to it, which is one of the hardest elements to capture in the producer-MC album. Why do you think that was?
Definitely was not forced because O wrote all of his rhymes in the studio. Every song we did, we did together. It wasn’t like I sent him beats and he wrote. We did them together. We would talk about stuff and he would write right there and put it down.
It doesn’t seem like non-virtual sessions even happen much these days.
I try to avoid the virtual sessions because I don’t do this for business. I do it because I love it. It’s about recording and catching a feeling. If I’ve already established a relationship, I don’t mind doing it virtually, but I would prefer not to.
Were these beats made specifically for the album or were these you had laying around?
Some of the beats were made specifically for the project and some of them are ones I had that I felt went well with what we were trying to accomplish.
What’s a session with O.C. like?
For me, it was O coming to my studio. We would always record at night and we would both be really excited about what we were thinking. He would come to the crib, we would talk a little bit, we would listen to the last songs we recorded, and then we would listen to beats, he would write a verse and then we would record. It was always fun and always natural.
You’ve also done some great work with A.G. How did you guys initially link up and form the Red Apples label?
I linked up with A.G. around 2008, 2009, just to do a song in someone else’s studio. We just got along. I let him hear more beats and we were both interested in doing more stuff. I had an idea for a project and he was with it. And then we just kept working together. We really just met through a mutual friend. It was a chance encounter situation that grew to him believing in my style and wanting to do more songs. That’s how Red Apples kind of came about.
For me, Red Apples, and I think for A, he has his D.I.T.C. legacy and his Showbiz and A.G. thing that he can do, and for me, this is just like an outlet for both of us to express ourselves in an artistic way. The concept of Red Apples is really physical product. It’s not really a label that’s looking to sign the next big act and do all kinds of stuff like that. We want to make classy records and physical things and expand on the culture. A can do whatever he wants with his legacy and I do what I want in my personal time and when we come together with this, it’s all about the artform.
What kind of plans do you have for Red Apples?
I just want to keep doing more of what we’ve been doing – making classy records, making things that matter, and adding on to what was before us.
You’ve been in the game for awhile now. How has your experience in producing helping you to run a label today?
The good thing about it is that I’ve been through a lot of stuff already in life. I’m not a little kid. I’m more focused on doing things that make sense and the biggest blessing is having A.G. on board with this. He helps me avoid potholes that I don’t need to step in.
How does a Ray West beat come together?
My thing is all about records. It’s about listening to records. And of course I use analog gear. I don’t really use the computer to create. It’s a lot of sample-driven drum machines like Moog and live instruments and live drumming or hand instruments. But it really always starts, for me, with records. It could be records that I’ve recently bought or things that I’ve been digging on. I’ll catch a vibe and it might bring me to a keyboard or something like that. But I’m really about digging and samplers. I’ve got a bunch of different tools that I use. It depends on what I feel like working with, whether it’s the SP-12 or the SP-2000 or the MP-60. I always change it up so I stay fresh.
What’s your output like?
I usually make three beats every time I go to the studio. So if I go to the studio, I usually make two or three beats or maybe a skit and two beats. My average is like three on a good day. I might get more than that. On a bad day, I might get two.
How do you know when a beat is done?
I usually go with my feel. When I feel like it’s got a certain vibe, it’s done. Some days I might finish something, other times when I’m struggling I fall back and let it marinate and listen to it with fresh ears. It all depends on the day or the actual beat. I’ll take it as far as it feels comfortable but I’ll never struggle with my music. I might just come back and leave some notes for myself, like I need to work on the bass. Some days I finish it completely and some days I have to go back. I make something that’s going to inspire a rapper and then I’ll add stuff to the music after the rapper does what he does.
What are your goals as a producer right now?
I’m really happy with the people I’ve been able to work with already. I want to do more with them. I’m not trying to solicit anybody to work. If it happens, it’s fine. I’m more interested in doing more work with my home team.
You were a big part in launching the LUV NY project, which features a ton of great MCs, including Kurious and Roc Marciano. What’s going on with that?
The EP is coming up. It’s got Kool Keith, Kurious, Dave Dar, A.G., Lord Tariq, and El Fudge. It’s a little compilation EP.
The trailer that dropped was crazy.
That was huge for us. This is a new one. This is almost like an extension of that one. Everybody’s still a part of it but we added some people. We added Lord Tariq and El Fudge. We added the King of Chill. He did a remix. It’s kind of short and compact. It’s only coming out on tape cassette. It’s kind of just like an extension. All the things we do at Red Apples have a theme, like our compilation Pianos in the Projects. We can add any artist and keep doing LUV New York records. That’s how I work, with collections. One day when Red Apples is finished, it’s going to be a bunch of collections. That’s how I structure it, and with A.G.’s guidance, that’s how I put it all together. And he gives me the creative freedom with it.
Where’s El Fudge been? I’m excited to hear some new music from him.
El Fudge, man, he’s been living his life. He’s got a good life. He’s chilling. He’s up in Washington Heights. I met him through Dave Dar and Kurious a couple of years ago. He’s a super-cool brother and he’s been coming to the studio. He wanted to do some songs and he’s got a project that he’s working on. He does music for himself, which keeps him really super-fresh. He’s real free with it. He’s not trying to be all stuck-up about it. He’ll spit a verse because he can. He’s a real cool dude, man. A real good guy.
What other projects are you working on?
I also got an album with A.G. and John Robinson that’s a full LP. That’s done already and it’s getting mixed down. I got a record with John Robinson that’s done entirely with the SP-12. I’m mixing about 15 Kool Keith songs that I did and I’m working on my partner Abdul-Jabbar’s album and I’m working on Dave Dar’s album. I got a lot of songs finished and a lot of songs in creation. I’m also working on songs with Blu. I’m not sure how that’s going to turn out, but I got a lot of songs done with Blu.