Producer Def Dee is one half of the hive mind responsible for 2010’s Gravity (the other half is the emcee La), a 2-0-6 handbook for Golden Era revivalists if there ever was one. 206UP.COM has sung the praises of the album enough already so I’ll say no more here.
Def’s new beat tape, Cheap Heat (available for the price of three clicks, here), is inspired by beat-centric instrumental collections of the same ilk. Beat tapes by bedroom producers with grand aspirations flow in and out of the 206UP.COM Inbox like tributaries into Lake Washington, which is to say there are many in existence, but few worthy of spending much time navigating. Cheap Heat is most definitely one of the latter.
Def is clearly inspired by complex layers of rhythm and sound. His beats on this compilation ride the same rail as the other great metronomic minds — J Dilla, Madlib, Premier, and Seattle’s own Jake One and Sabzi, to name a few — which places him in very lofty company.
When separating the real hip-hop producers from the fake, the devil is often in the details, which Def’s beats have in spades. Subtle inflections in tone, well-placed breaks in the rhythm, and the effective interspersion of sound effects so as to add and not distract from the track’s overall vibe, are key. We’re talking about “smart” beat-making here which, judging by Cheap Heat‘s 29 tracks, is what Def Dee does.
Unfortunately, Seattle doesn’t know a whole lot about the producer — though his beats are grade A quality, his name is generally absent from the production credits of The Town’s “major” releases. So after Def hit up 206UP.COM with a download link to Cheap Heat, I hit him back with a few journalistic shots of my own and he was generous enough to agree to a brief interview.
First off, tell the readers a little bit about yourself. How old are you? Where did you grow up? What part of the city do you now call home?
My name is Dom but most people call me Def or Dee…surprisingly. I’m 21 years of age and was born in Seattle. When I was two my fam and I moved to the eastside where I lived for about 12 years or so. My Mom and I then moved to Oahu and I got to live in paradise for about a year and a half. Then In my junior year I moved back to Seattle to live with my Padre and been here since.
As a toddler I was up around the Madison Park/Central area so that definitely feels like home even though I was just a little guy. I been up by UW for the past few years so I suppose I’d call that home. But I think Seattle in general is home for me, I feel like anywhere I go in the town is home for the most part.
How did it come about that you started making beats?
Well, I first started DJ’ing before I thought about making beats. I got my first set of tables in the summer of sixth grade and just got obsessed over the fact that I could control and play/alter the music I listened to on a daily basis. So at that point I knew this was something I was gonna be doing for a long time. I had been put on to a lot of classic hip-hop records when I got the tables as well as soul/jazz/funk records from my mom and dad. My boy Pat Obrien-Smith started me off with Heltah Skeltah and Lord Finesse. I mixed and beat-juggled those two joints for like the first year I had the tables, haha. But I think the tables with the combination of records ranging from hip-hop to jazz to soul helped shape the way I think about hip-hop music. I got to study for a long period of time to know what I liked and disliked in songs and how I might be able to contribute to the culture. That’s when I felt I had to take it a different direction and start making my own music.
Your sound is clearly influenced by NYC boom-bap of the Golden Era. I hear J. Dilla and Madlib influences in Cheap Heat, but name some other artists that you listen to and who inform your style. Name one or two musicians/producers that you dig that might surprise folks.
I mean, the Golden Era was the shit I was listening to growing up and apparently I never grew out of it. I feel like the overall vibe and feelings you get from music today is a lot different than that of the music back when. Not saying “Golden Era this, Golden Era that” — it’s just a certain emotion I think that the time provoked that’s missing today.
Dilla, Madlib, Preemo, Pete, RZA, Supa Dave West, Jake One, Vita, Nottz, 9th, Alchemist, are definitely the usual suspects for me and a lot of other producers out there and I definitely take inspiration from them on a daily basis. I can’t forget my mans Damu the Fudgemunk out of D.C.!
As for something that might surprise folks? I mean, Boney James got hits…haha!
What type of equipment or software do you primarily use to make your beats?
The equip I use is my MPC 2000xl, mixing board/hard disk recorder, Technics, a synth that I bought for 50 bucks off ebay and a few old Casio keyboards, not to mention the records. That’s it for now.
How did you connect with Language Arts (now known as, La) for Gravity? How’d the creation of that album come about exactly?
I connected with La (pronounced Lah for those who still call him L.A.) through the dude Ronnie, aka One-Eighty. I was trying to put together a mixtape with artists from the town to get on my beats and La was the first dude I stepped to. I heard him on a DJ Premier beat and a Dilla beat and I was like, “Yo…this is the emcee I been looking for.” So I got his number from Ron, if I remember correctly. I gave him a CD with 24 joints on it, and he just told me, “Lets make an album.” That’s when Gravity took its first baby steps back in ’07.
What’s your general take on the SEA hip-hop scene? In your opinion, does it have a particular sound or style and if so, how do you think your sound fits into that? What specific SEA groups or crews are you feeling?
In my opinion, Seattle definitely has its own sound and style. If you go from Blue Scholars to Macklemore to Grynch to Sol to other local heads I do feel like there’s a reccurring theme/sound that a lot of people can relate to, which is dope because there has been a big following in the past few years, locally, which I feel is necessary first before we expect to blow up nationally as a city with dope music. As far as my music fitting in with that sound, I do feel my stuff takes a different direction but I hope I’m still recognized as a Seattle head with Seattle music.
What upcoming projects can folks look forward to?
You can definitely expect a lot more releases from me soon. I’m trying to put out as much material as possible before the world ends in 2012…just joking. But seriously though…Gravity 2 is something I’m trying to get rolling with La, and a 96 (Pickup) tape with the people I consider my fam. Few know what 96 is about and what we plan to do for the town but hopefully it’s something that will be recognized in the coming year. (And) a few more beat tapes I’m planning on releasing before 2012.
PEACE to 206UP.COM for taking the time to do this interview! Keep supporting that good music!