So glad Conway is finally getting the respect he deserves on a larger scale. Dude really is one of the illest MCs of all-time. Watch his NPR Tiny Desk Concert above, recorded live at Sweet Chick in Queens, and make sure you go check out his latest album From King To A GOD—it’s easily one of the best of the year.
It’s been four years since I interviewed Daringer for NahRight’s In The Lab series. And since then, Griselda has exploded, with Shady Records and Roc Nation deals, and countless releases that have made their catalog of modern-day classics seemingly endless. And their in-house producer Daringer has been at the boards through it all. Take a trip back four Septembers and go In The Lab with Daringer, and see just how far him and his team have come, and also how some things are probably the same as they’ve always been.
This article was originally published on NahRight.com on September 15th, 2016.
Written by Daniel Isenberg
Beneath the brazy bars of Buffalo-bred brothers Westside Gunn and Conway, you will commonly hear incredible soundscapes crafted by a sample-based producer from the same city—Daringer. In the past year, this three-headed monster has ushered in a new wave of hard body hip-hop, keeping that real street shit many of us grew up on alive and well. And Daringer has been at the helm, spearheading the production on recent celebrated projects like Flygod and Reject 2, not to mention a shitload of Soundcloud loosies and EPs. And though it’s steeped in tradition, Daringer’s beats are not just a bunch of recycled ‘90s nostalgia. Instead, he’s putting his own stamp on the sample-flip style with a signature sound that legends in the game like Alchemist, Just Blaze, and DJ Premier have all publicly saluted.
It’s not easy to go back to basics and still help push the genre forward, which is what intrigues us most about Daringer’s discography thus far. So we hopped on the horn with him to find out how he constructs his tracks, and dug into some interesting history along the way. Plus, we got a feel for the vibe in is Buffalo-based, crib-set studio, and what it’s like to record with two of the illest new dudes in the game. Let’s take a trip upstate, shall we? It’s time to get In The Lab with Daringer.
Daringer: “I started on the DJ route before making beats when I was 17, 18. I wanted to get turntables and a mixer and records and start scratching, and everything that came with DJing. So first thing I did was cop a couple Stanton turntables and a mixer, and I started digging and buying some hip-hop 12 inches. That’s pretty much what got me hooked.
“From there, I wanted to do it all. I wanted to start making beats, so I started figuring out how to go about it. What I need to get, and see if there was anyone in town I could talk to that could show me the ropes and what I needed to do to get that rolling.
“I was working a kitchen job when I was younger to make a couple extra dollars. When I finally had enough money, I was able to finance an MPC from Guitar Center. I got the MPC2000XL, and it was on from there. One of my homies from around the way, Tone Atlas, he knew how to work the MPC. I knew if I could connect with someone and learn a little something, I could at least get it working.”
“I’m working out of my apartment in Buffalo. It’s not any special, crazy studio space that people might think we’re recording all this shit at. We’re doing this shit in my living room. I’ve been making all my beats in this apartment for the past four, five years now, so damn near everything you hear has been made in this living room.
“I’m rolling with the same thing—Technic 12s, MPC2000XL that I bought years ago, and I have a newer MPC Studio so I can be on the computer, working on the go. I mainly got into it for travel reasons, but it became more of a permanent piece for me. I’ve been rocking out on the MPC Studio for pretty much everything now. It’s more tech savvy—easy to chop up and keep it moving. The workflow is nice on those things.”
“It really started by getting into my pop’s crates. That’s what got me wanting to make beats from the beginning. He had dope jazz, Blue Note records—he was a jazz pianist, so he had a lot of shit that was jazz-related, that he was buying when he was younger. So I started going through those records, finding samples used by guys like Premier and all the guys I was listening to at the time. Primo was a big influence on me at the time with all the piano samples, and Pete Rock and Alchemist. Those were my main influences at the time when I was in high school. So I’d be sitting in my basement chilling, and low and behold, there were piano samples galore.
“One of the first records I found in there was the Gary Burton ‘Las Vegas Tango’ joint. That was sampled numerous times. Cypress sampled that shit so Muggs was on top of that, there was a song off Capital Punishment that RZA produced with that sample I think Organized Konfusion used it. It’s a popular song, but when I heard it I was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy.’ Once I heard that, it was like, ‘I want it all.’
“We have a couple spots around Buffalo, but there really aren’t too many. It’s very selective. There’s a record show that comes around twice a year, and some private dealers, but it’s not like New York City where you can go to ten different stores and go digging. So I’ve been keeping it low-key with a couple record spots and record dealers. Record Theatre, and Revolver Records which is only a couple blocks away from me so it’s very convenient. I don’t have to go far to dig.
“And I do the online digging as well. A lot of the shit from different countries isn’t in the crates in Buffalo. But I’m not downloading—I’m going on eBay, Discogs, or something like that.
“But honestly, I’ve been collecting vinyl for so long that I’ve been constantly just going back to my collection and working off that. Any time I get frustrated with not finding what I want, I just hit my crates. Now that I’m just producing, I have a decent amount that I’ve been able to work off of. I can always go back to that, which is crazy because you’d think I would have used it all by now and there wouldn’t be anything left.”
“I try to have a set schedule, but sometimes it winds up being something else. For the most part, I try to get my day started early. I’ll listen to some records, try to find something that I like. Get a groove going, get inspired. Once I throw on a couple records, I’ll fuck around and usually start hitting some beats up. Sometimes I’ll stay up late making beats, and I’ll wake up early and start messing with what I made the night before. It depends.
“Sometimes, having the transfer my samples from the box to the computer, I’ll go through records and stack samples up. But sometimes I’ll find something, and I’ll be like, ‘I gotta work on that shit immediately. I don’t even wanna wait. I got an idea for this now, let me see if I can find some drums. Or shit, I might just be looping this motherfucker.’ You already know the signature Daringer loop is definitely getting out there. So as much as I want to show everybody I can be an ill producer with the drums, we’ve been doing a bunch of these loop joints and these shits have been working out for us, so you never know.
“We’ve been working so hard, I don’t get a chance to sit and listen to music as much as I’d like to. I gotta be whipping up beats right now. But I gotta do what I gotta do. So I just get the shit cracking, and keep cooking. We’ve been working on the Conway album for the past couple months now, so mainly everything we’ve been doing has been going for that. We’ve been dropping a couple loosies—when West’s in town we’ll record something new and put it out on the fly. I’ll play some beats, and before you know it, we’ll have some songs done. I always gotta keep a stack with me for when West comes into town, because we get busy.
“We come from a town where nobody’s really been able to make anything happen. So for heads in the city to see what we’re doing, and see me getting praise from the people that inspired me to even start this, it’s mind-blowing at the same time. This is very, very new to the city, so we’re tapping into a vein that’s never been touched before. We’ve got something to prove.
“There’s a lot to learn still, too. All the programs, all the new technology. I’m kind of doing it the throwback way, more simplistic. You’re not hearing me play all sorts of instruments on top of it, or adding synths. I’ll do my crazy sounds over the top of these beats, but I’m not sitting here with the keyboard playing some magnificent chords over the top like some producers can. Not saying that I don’t want to or can’t—I can definitely play a couple notes, and my pops is a piano player so I want to learn the instrument more and progress as a producer—but we’re just keeping it simple for these records right now. I’m not into the overproducing—I’m trying to stick with the formula and keep doing what people want to hear from us.”
“We’re constantly smoking—that’s a fact. That’s definitely a method behind the madness. Smoking weed crazy all day every day here, from the moment we get up until we pass out. [Laughs.] Whether that has an influence or not, that’s just something we do regardless.
“We get some good strands. We’ve got some kids getting some shit from Cali, so we always got some good Cali strands coming. It’s not like we’re stuck with some boo-hoo Buffalo homegrown shit. We don’t get the best shit from Cali, but the kushes and Girl Scouts and sours, that all comes around.”
“We got a little hole-in-the-wall Irish bar called Kelly’s Korner, that’s pretty much our favorite wing spot out here. That’s our go-to spot for the wings. They got like a weird hot sauce with crazy crushed red pepper and Frank’s hot sauce—it’s not your average hot sauce. It’s a unique taste.”
Westside Gunn & Conway
“They’re definitely two completely different individuals, but they come together and both work the same. They’re very fast writers. They work on the spot—they’ll hear something, and they’re damn near ready simultaneously.
“Conway’s an amazing writer because he can just keep going. West is a great writer too, and both boys just kill it on the spot. But Con sometimes gets into writing more and having longer verses on some of these songs, and push the limit as far as giving people the bars, the delivery, the punchlines. He’s always been like that.
“They love the references. Between the two of them, you never know what they’re gonna say. There’s always some fresh references that they’re thinking of at all times, so it’s like, how are they gonna fly ‘em.
“I wouldn’t say they’re competitive, but they do like a lot of the same beats. So that’s why we get the Hall & Nash joints.”
Studio Time with Alchemist
“When we went to New York in January, I was able to finally get in the lab with Al. The boys got to get up with him and work on a couple of these Hall & Nash joints. So I was able to get in the lab and actually kick it and chill with Al. That was dope, because he’s always been someone I’ve been influenced by for years.
“Al’s still doing everything on the MPC2500 still. I thought he was doing more in the Pro Tools with all the crazy sounds and effects he’s got going on. But he’s just killing shit in the MP still. So that really made me think a little bit differently about everything going on—just keeping it ill, and doing everything in the box still.”
“The Town” ft. Conway, Westside Gunn and Sadat X
“We had Sadat here for a show, and that’s how it started. He came and did a show here in Buffalo at one of the hip-hop spots around the way—DBGB. They’ve been holding down all the hip-hop shows lately, bringing in legendary artists, that’s been their motto. We wound up linking with Sadat that night, and our homie went and spoke with him, checking his temperature and seeing what it was. And before you know it, that next morning, we got him in the studio, right in my apartment.
“He came through, we got some 40s crackin’ and a couple blunts in the air, and we played that beat which I was working on at the time, a soul 45 joint. We already had a Conway verse on it, and we had sent Sadat the beat the night before, so he already had something prepared for it. He didn’t write it on the spot, but he revised it. But Conway already had his verse over it, so I think that definitely helped with the process.
“Once we got Sadat on it, West heard it and jumped on it as well. Then we did a quick mix on it and dropped it. When I hear it now, I’m like, ‘Damn, it could’ve come out a little bit better.’ But it’s another situation of where we mixed it here and let it fly. And people loved it. So I don’t really take anything back, other than maybe I can do another mix for it.
“You never know, it might wind up on a collection of mine. I’m gonna start working on a Daringer project soon.”
“Rex Ryan” ft. Conway, Westside Gunn and Roc Marciano
“It’s like, ‘Who would’ve thought?’ Because that was something that was made quickly. I didn’t think about it much, and didn’t think it would get to where it is today. Con just happened to pass out on the couch over here, and I’m here just trying to come up with something for the album. I heard a couple sounds, and just threw them together real quick. I cooked that beat up fast, and didn’t think much of it when I did it too. I just kind of saved it and went on to something else.
“A couple hours later, Con was trying to work again. So I pulled up the beat, and he knew right there that was it. And I’m over here scratching my head like, ‘Really? You Sure?! This is probably the fastest beat I ever made, or one of them.’ But he wanted something stripped down, so I was already looking for something for him. Plus we wanted to get Roc on a track, so that was the motto—something stripped-down and simple but still raw.
“Conway laid his verse to it, and we shipped it off with the hopes of getting Roc and West on it. Roc wound up fucking with it, and we got the audio back like, ‘Yeah. We got us one here.’
“We’re really excited about the response it’s gotten. We put the video out, which has the most views on it. It’s one of our more popular songs, for sure.
“I had my thoughts about it. I thought I could’ve done more to it. I could’ve added the big drums, but the boys wanted to keep it simple. It worked out. It sounds ill, with the snare kind of peaking in, the kick is still in there a little bit. It’s not like it’s drumless, it’s just not a boom bap track.”
“Cooked In Hell’s Kitchen“
“I was going through records, and that dark bassline just popped out. I was like, ‘This is kind of ill, let me see if I can find some drums.’ I’ve gotten so many questions about what I did with that beat. It’s another simple one, just the bassline and a guitar. I didn’t really do the toppings over it like I would normally do with the extra sounds on it. I just chopped those guitar sounds and threw a crazy effect on it, and people are thinking I got a live guitar player in here, hitting pedals. Or they think I got a crazy plug-in. I can hear a rock band playing that shit, it sounds like some ill metal shit almost.
“That’s going on the G.O.A.T. That’s a good thing too about dropping it on the Soundcloud, in terms of what’s album-worthy and what’s just gonna be a loosie.”
“That was West in the studio, coming in from Atlanta and legit just pulling through everything I had here. A lot of those beats were already made, some were new. It was a collection of everything going on at the time, and some songs we had already started within that month we were putting it together. We worked on it for a couple months, he was cooking on the spot.
“The ‘Dunks’ joint is definitely one of my favorite songs on the album. It’s got the ill bassline. People were going ballistic over it when we performed it in Boston. They performed it with Just Blaze, and that was one of his favorites on the album too.”
“I’ve been getting flooded lately. The love has been overwhelming. It’s been crazy, anyone you can think of. People I don’t know, people I do know. It’s just been a huge array. It’s flattering.
“As soon as we started getting it in with Roc and he started inquiring and actually paying attention, that was big. I always wanted to do a song with Marc, he’s one of my favorite MCs. And then, we started getting it in with Action and Meyhem and they started getting to know us and our work and kicking it with them, because those are two of the newer MCs that have been killing shit and paving the way. I still have yet to do an Action record, but he’s definitely listening and has inquired about some beats as well.
“I’m trying to keep working and get some other ill records done this year. They did the Prodigy joint, and all of a sudden he’s looking for a batch. It’s all across the board. We were just kicking it with Ras Kass and Planet Asia, they’re showing dumb love. Royce showing love and getting Conway on his mixtape. It’s dope to see these legendary artists co-signing our music. And not just the music—really fucking with it as a collective, wearing the merch, talking about the boys in interviews. For them to be showing that kind of love, we gotta be doing something right.”
“The G.O.A.T. is next. That’s the cream of the crop. We’ve been working on it for months. There are some exciting pieces on it. That’s gonna be a special one.”
Special thanks to Daringer, Westside Gunn and eskay!
Listen: GRISELDA MEGAMIX
MC Eiht and Conway with scratches by DJ Premier? Yes, it’s as good as it sounds.
Props to Ferhan C on the production. *UPDATED WITH VIDEO* – watch above.
Griselda and Preemo? Automatic post.
This “London Pound” beat is nuts. Props to Cookin Soul.
Also, check out the first track off Conway’s new project E.I.F. 3 out now on all streaming platforms. A version of “London Pound” is on there too with a guest spot by Berner.
Here’s some crispy footage of Benny The Butcher’s full Tana Talk 3 show at SOB’s from a few weeks back, featuring fellow Griselda MCs Westside Gunn and Conway. Beats are bangin’ in there, right?!
This Griselda show at Webster Hall from 2017 was so legendary and historic for New York hip-hop, with special guests Prodigy, Jadakiss and Styles, Raekwon, Roc Marciano and more all saluting the hardest new rap crew in the game. Watch the full show all the way through below when you have time it’s incredible.
Gunn let a few loosies loose this week, my favorite of the lot is below. Check out the rest HERE.
More fire from Alchemist, this time featuring Westside Gunn, Conway and ScHoolboy Q. Crazy.
New Westside Gunn & Conway, produced by Alchemist. You already know this is heat.