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February 8, 2014

T-White, the Whitest

T-White, the Whitest

If you’ve ever been on twitter and follow Detroit hip-hop music at all, then Chances are you follow, or know who Dj House Shoes is. If you know Shoes (as he’s often referred to as), then you know his history as not only J Dilla’s close friend, but also having been dubbed the Detroit Hip-Hop Ambassador to the world, an avid crate digger, amazing producer in his own right, and now a record label boss. One of the many talented acts who appear on his Street Corner Music is one of Chicago’s finest up coming producers, T-White, the Whitest. I had a chance to talk about his musical bloodline, production techniques, and what to do when you can’t find the sample you want.

OK, first up, why don’t you tell me a little about yourself, and how long you’ve been making music for:

That’s a hell of a story to tell. I was born in Nashville, and grew up there for a while, with divorced parents. My dad was a songwriter for Sony Music over on Music Row, and my step-mom was a national radio journalist, interviewing cats like Willie Nelson and The Eagles and shit. Between them, I grew up watching a lot of music business politics being played out, saw a lot of weird things. My mom, on the other hand, was a night nurse. She married an undercover cop and that was a different lifestyle. I can’t remember the time when I first started making music, it’s just fuzzy memories. There was always a keyboard or a guitar lying around, and those were what I picked up first.

Later on, I spent a lot of time growing up in Broward County, Florida. I started making little beats, then, programming MIDI on this gigantic Roland Phantom. Jamming in garages here and there, just doing whatever. Mostly it was just getting chased by cops, getting up to really wild stuff that I probably wouldn’t talk about to this day. It was rugged. After college I escaped to Chicago, where my girlfriend’s a native, that was seven or eight years ago. That’s when I scrapped the keyboards and ADAT recorders and all that for a computer and a record player, and just starting buying a lot of wax whenever I could. Stacks and stacks of records from consignment shops.

That’s wild about your dad, has that effected your approach to putting music out publicly?

Absolutely. One-hundred percent, yes it did. I saw a real ugly side to the major record labels, even back in the early 90’s, being a little git, and I was reminded many times that the record executives couldn’t be trusted, the studio system was hell, and public relations was a treacherous thing. I remember being real small, and being told, “Never trust a man who says he’ll make all your dreams come true, then asks you to buy him a coffee. It took me a while to really understand that. I don’t think there’s ever been a time in my life that I wanted to play with the majors; I always wanted to do my own thing and stay away from all that. Still do.

Chicago has a rich history when it comes to music, and has birthed a lot of talented producers. What influence, if any did they have on your approach to beat making?

I wouldn’t say that the Chicago scene had any direct influence on me, but there are people here who definitely made big changes in my life. There was, and always will be, just as much shady shit going on as there is sincere, honest work. An MC named Cochise Soulstar was the first dude to start working with me, and nobody knew who I was until I produced an album with him called Vs. The Future. Denmark Vessey engineered on that one, that’s how we met. After that, I just got pulled out there. I can tell you that there are some very amazing producers here right now – Scud One, he’s done a lot of good by me, and he’s a very clever producer. Raj Mahal, he’s got an installment in House Shoes’ The Gift series, coming up very soon. He’s amazing. Rafman ,who is my own engineer, he’s on the next level, too. I don’t know, I mean, I can’t say that Chicago has had any influence on my sound at all, it hasn’t. But it’s taught me a lot in other areas.

What’s your set up like? Are you a software/DAW (Ableton/Reason/Fruity Loops) person, or out board MPC/SP person?

It’s a very strange setup, I guess, which is very Frankensteined. It goes well beyond software, but I don’t play around all that much with MPCs. It’s a combination of different software, and live recordings, and a lot of things coming straight off of the vinyl. I’ll program things, but then switch the mic on and rattle change, or shuffle cards, whatever I can do to bring an organic pattern to the drums. Sometimes I’ll just capture whatever’s going on in the room. Recording directly from the turntable is a big part of what I do. I’ll scratch now and then, but I don’t claim to be the best at that. I try to keep that to a minimum, have just enough of it to strengthen an instrumental or add color to it. I guess it’s my fondness of mic’ing shit comes from having learned most of what I know about recording on an ADAT system from the 90’s I inherited as a kid, doing shit on tape.

Forgive my analogy if it doesn’t come out right; to me your style is like a patchwork/collage which i really love. You’re able to take what sounds like a lot of source sample material and join it to create a narrative all your own. What’s your process like when sampling and arranging? Specifically when going through records, how do you piece together what you want to build into a song?

It all starts the same way. I sit down, and listen to a record. Every now and then, I might already have something in mind, but usually, it just starts with one record. While listening to it, I wait for what I call ‘sweet spots’, and when I hear them, I pause the record, and recreate in my mind what it might sound like looped, or any other use I could have for it. That will usually end up being the basis, but then I just go on a mad dash, cramming things on top of it. I’ll grab another record that I think might suit that sample, and start looking for instruments – little guitar licks or drum breaks. Too many times, I imagine a certain guitar lick or organ lick, and I can’t find what I’m looking for, so I mic up and record it myself, and afterward, I’ll beat that recording up, screw up the EQ, throw bacon hiss on it, whatever, to make it sound like it WAS sampled. I’ve written entire instrumentals that way, where I couldn’t find the beat-up old sample I was hearing in my imagination, so I make it myself. There’s a track on The Gift Vol. 5 called “Renegades”, that’s a perfect example of that.

Almost always, a track never sounds finished to me. I have to keep throwing things in there – go through the sequence and throw the volume out-of-whack in little parts, or deliberately make sure one of the inputs has a bad connection. I don’t want my beats to sound the same from beginning to end; there should always be little pieces of dirt every other measure, little accidents.

Finally, I’m not sure why, but I’m compelled to make each instrumental sound like it has something to say. It’s always a picture in my mind, because I’m a visual person, and as wack as this is going to sound, I feel like each beat has these different colors, and I’ll focus on those colors or images and find sounds that match them. I’ll go through old time radio shows, VHS, DVDs, old public domain B-movies, talk shows, whatever; and try to find samples of people saying the things that I’m thinking while making that production.

That’s an incredible process man! So how important is track length then in this process? I’ve noticed a lot of yours run around or under two minutes. Is this on purpose?

Yes. Sometimes that becomes a problem for MCs, when they want to use something I’ve done on a tape of my own. There’s not really any space for a hook, or not enough measures for a proper sixteen bars, whatever. And features – shit out of luck, there. The thing is, I love to produce for MCs, I couldn’t rightfully call myself a producer if I didn’t do that, I’d just be another beat kid. I really do believe that producers are important to giving an artist’s album a consistent sound, and that’s what I aim to do. But, on my own, when I’m doing these tapes, I figure that an instrumental shouldn’t go on so long that it bores the listener. It’s the same reason I put so many little notches and change-ups into each track. I want it to come and go, and if it was good, then the listener will play that track again. I’m happy with that.

With the climate of music being very internet/blog based, do you feel that now having the support and backing of someone on House Shoes level will help get you more to the for front exposure wise? Or does it still seem overwhelming trying to get your music picked up on web sites/blogs? Or do you say fuck it all, and just let the music do what it does? and hope people find it by word of mouth?

I’m going to say straight-away, I think that House Shoes, and Denmark Vessey, and Scud One, and my good friend Cochise, those guys put me on a journey to places I never thought I’d be. But I’ll put it like this – Denmark once said to me, “If none of this ever happened, and you didn’t know anyone, would you still be doing this?” and of course the answer is yes! Absolutely! I make music because I want to hear it and enjoy it, and because it’s therapy.

So, to me, I’m just grateful for every new listener I get, and every new mentor. Like Shoes, for instance – if anyone knows how to give you a pep talk in as few words as possible, it’s House Shoes. With all that being said, I don’t give two fucks about exposure. I just want to entertain people, and you can’t entertain somebody who doesn’t want to be entertained. Those people are none of my business, let them be.

How did the “The Whitest” in the name come about? I’m sure people will read this, who don’t know you and want to know the story.

A buddy of mine down in Fort Lauderdale, he just started saying that every time I walked into a room, and it stuck with other people. I adopted it the same way I took my working name, T-White – it’s the name that was given to me. It’d be wack as hell if I made my own name up. I didn’t get that choice when I was born, why should I otherwise?

On twitter recently you hint at a project with Denmark and Scud, when would that project see some light? Is it DIY or on a label of some kind?

There’s a completed project, and it’s been sitting around since the middle of 2012. Cult Classic wasn’t released yet, and we wanted this EP to accompany that release when it happened. But right now we’ve just been going back and forth on what would be the biggest, best way to put that one out. In all likelihood, we’ll put it out ourselves. It *will* happen though.

Lastly, I like to do a word association thing so I’m going to throw out some stuff… and you say the first thing that comes to mind.

No ID: Shia Lebouf.

House Shoes: Viking.

Chicago Pizza: Ulcer

Horace Grant: Hugh Grant

MF Doom: Beard

Denmark Vessay: Juice

J Dilla: Polo

Oreos: Police

Any Final Words?

Sure, buy records.

T-White has a new “Pay what you want” album You Little Bastard that is out now, and he has a record under House Shoes current The Gift series coming on record end of March