Business Insider sat in producer Statik's studio to get an idea of what it's like to take a sample and make it into a catchy hip-hop song.
Statik Selektah has produced records for some of the biggest names in hip-hop, including Nas, 50 Cent, Eminem, and 2 Chainz. He is also the mastermind behind “Detroit vs. Everybody” with Big Sean.
Business Insider visited Statik's Brooklyn studio along with Faith Newman, the senior vice president of A&R and catalog development for Reservoir, a music publisher and songwriting incubator that represents Statik. She is best known for discovering Nas. She also helped develop acts like The Fugees and LL Cool J and was Def Jam’s first female executive.
Statik produced the beat for Joey Badass and J.Cole’s collaboration “Legendary” on Badass's album "All-Amerikkkan Badass," released earlier this year, and Newman provided guidance on the album.
We got an up-close look with Statik and Faith in the studio at how you create a hit hip-hop record — and we found out it isn't what you think:
Statik Selektah is a record producer, DJ, and radio host.
You can catch his radio show on Sirius XM Radio’s Shade 45 every Thursday from 8 p.m. to midnight EST. On the show, he features unknown artists. One of those who's been featured in the past? Chance the Rapper. The show's been running for 12 years.
Statik’s studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn, is very cozy — New York code for small. But he’s made it his own over the years, complete with a refrigerator full of Monster energy drinks and shelves containing records of all genres.
Statik's studio is dotted with tokens of his Boston roots.
“I made that beat on the plane,” Statik said of “Legendary,” which he produced with Joey Badass.
“On the plane and wearing headphones, it’s not as easy," Statik said.
Statik also broke down how he created the beat for the song from scratch. He played the first sound that inspired him, and then built it up with other sounds that he gradually added. With every layer, the beat became more catchy. The beat was inspired by jazz, and all of the sounds Statik chose are reflective of that.
"It's not the most complex beat ever, but it's a vibe," Statik said.
Statik told Business Insider that he usually doesn’t come up with beats on airplanes. "But when I do, they either get deleted or they become hit records."
"I dig a lot on planes. I'll go through samples and use them later. When we're on Euro tours, and we're in the van or the bus, I make a lot on the bus."
He gets inspired everywhere. "I could be at a restaurant and Shazam something, and I'll replay it. Sometimes I'll be in bed and I'll hum something on my phone and play it. I've been trying to do a lot more sample-free stuff lately."
Statik doesn't always know when a beat he creates will turn into a hit. "A lot of the time it's when an artist gets on," he said. "I got my stash of stuff that I wouldn't play for nobody but the best."
"When I made 'Detriot vs. Everybody,' I knew. I knew this for Eminem. And I only had one song with him at the time, and the way the universe worked was so crazy because it was the beat I made in my new apartment. I bought the record because it was called 'Static.' I only bought it for that reason. So I put it on, and that was it. I was stressed, too, because my new apartment is twice as much money as my last one. I'm just sitting there, like, 'I gotta get on my grind.'"
Statik doesn't always create beats with specific artists in mind, but he likes to. "That's also saying like, 'Oh, Jay Z would like this gum. I gotta get it to him!' It's not that easy. When I make records now, it's like, this is Nas. This is so-and-so. And fortunately I have the power to play that for them, which feels good."
Statik took out a record at random from his deep collection and created a beat for us on the spot.
The music he randomly selected was an old Jewish record.
He picked his sample, added some additional sounds with his keyboard, and created an entire beat on his computer.
Statik did this in about 20 minutes, and all while he was engaging in conversation.
It was eye-opening to intimately watch an art form that's typically overlooked in popular music.
"Whether I use it [a sample] or not, I'm always inspired by the sound."
"I come from a traditional hip-hop background," Statik said. "That's one of the reasons I signed with Faith. She still holds true to the art form."
"There's not many people who do that, especially in her industry," he said. "Because they prefer it with no samples. They prefer it watered down like, 'Let's just put it out and get it placed.' And obviously doing that is amazing, but if you look at the music now it's pretty dumbed down. Sampling is very important for me. It's the backbone of hip-hop."
Statik added that taking samples out of hip-hop is like "taking the guitar out of rock and roll."
"Samples really are an art form," Faith agreed. The golden era of hip-hop in the late 1980s and early 1990s liberally used samples from all kinds of periods and genres.
When Business Insider asked Faith to describe her role at Reservoir, she said, "I sign stuff. I bring stuff into the company. Producers, artists, historic catalogs. I do a little bit of all of that. I do a lot of catalog acquisitions. We bought the catalog of a writer/producer named Willie Mitchell who did all the Al Green stuff. So I do a lot of historic catalog stuff that he [Statik] can sample, actually."
"Can I give you the less humble approach?" Statik added. "She discovered Nas and Big L. She shaped my childhood."
Faith said she discovered Nas when she heard him on a record, which was coincidentally on the floor right in front of us in Statik's studio.
Statik has been working with Faith for about two years.
"Everything just came full circle," Statik said of signing with Faith at Reservoir. He mentioned that 2 Chaniz encouraged him to do so.
"I knew about him," Faith said. "I assumed he was already signed. And here we are."