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RubyHornet: We’re taught in science class that an experiment starts with a hypothesis, something to investigate… When you guys first put on your lab coats, what was the hypothesis?
SMKA: Too funny, we were talking about that the other day. Let’s put it this way…our studio has a bunch of Bunsen burners, schematics, blue prints and test tubes. SMKA Hypothesis = If you put talented artists together, they will eventually make beautiful music. The more talented people you have, the better.
RubyHornet: So the controlled variables were the production talents of SMKA. How did you go about picking the independent variables?
SMKA: It was a combination of things. No two songs are created equally. Some of the artists on the project reached out to us, and we found a song for them to hop on. Other artists we wanted to get on the project, so we would find production that would best fit their sound & style. We also had some tracks we knew we wanted on the project, so we would reach out to artists that we felt would sound best on that track. The artists are what make the production into a beautiful song, so it’s very important for us to find the right artists for each track. Which is why we have such a diverse group of talent, that are all in different stages of their career. But when you have one year to put a project together, all types of crazy stuff happens.
RubyHornet: Did the success of the first 808 Experiment make the second one easier as far as getting artists, promotion etc?
SMKA: One Word: YES. Vol 1, was our first project EVER. No one had EVER heard of SMKA. After the success of Vol 1 artists could see that not only is the music we produce really good, but they could also begin to see our vision for SMKA and the 808 experiment series. People want to be a part of something special & professional…and the 808 experiment is just that. Towards the end of Vol 2, we were getting hit up at least once a day by an artist looking to get on the project. Now that Vol. 2 is out, I imagine Vol. 3 will be that much easier. Media outlets have also caught on. Vol 1 didn’t have a very big online blog presence, but grew organically through people who LOVED the project. It became a cult favorite and the fan base just grew and grew. The first big look was a full-page article in Creative Loafing. Now, the work we do gets picked up by blogs and media outlets fairly quickly.
RubyHornet: On the flipside, did it present any extra obstacles, or creative pressures?
SMKA: There was definitely added pressure that we put on ourselves. The project is called the 808 “Experiment,” and we wanted to make sure the music fit that title. The project is supposed to create new music by experimenting with a talented and diverse group of artists. We didn’t want to have 20 songs on a project that sounded the same. We also had a lot more people paying attention, so if people didn’t like it, we would hear about it.
RubyHornet: Let’s say it was 2006, would this kind of project be possible? What factors regarding the music/arts scene make something like this doable?
SMKA: To be 100%, we can’t really talk about making music in 2006. We started SMKA in 2008, and have only been working together for a little over a year now.
RubyHornet: Can you name an artist or two that most surprised you, either in what you found out about them personally, their recording process, or pure talent as a result of their inclusion on 808′s?
SMKA: I could tell you a story about all of the artists on the 808 experiment, but I won’t. You learn a LOT about an artist through the recording process. Every artist, has their own style and process for creating.
After you work with Yelawolf, you have to respect the guy. He truly is an artist. He knows what he wants and had mastered his craft.
Aleon Craft is a blunt away from one of the most talented and creative people making music right now.
Playboy Tre is a PRO. I sent homie the track, song concept and chorus… 1 hour later he sent me back the recorded vocals for his verse. And the verse was CRAZY!!! Honestly, one of my favorite verses on the whole project… and it only took him an HOUR to: write, record and email. He hit me with a text like, “check your inbox and let me know if that’s cool?” I had to call him back and just started laughing. That’s love!
RE, who isn’t all over the blogs, is one of the most talented MCs we have worked with. Not only does he have great flow, but his content is amazing. He approaches each song with like he is creating a small motion picture. He explains what his vision was for the song, what he wanted to get across and why! When he listens to production, his mind goes into serious creative mode.
RubyHornet: You guys handled all the production, why give the album out for free?
SMKA: I could write a 5 paragraph essay for this question, but I won’t. In short…We created The 808 Experiment as a platform for artists. It is a special project for us, and we really just want people to listen and enjoy. We can make money with other projects.
RubyHornet: The majority of the artists on the project are from Atlanta. While it makes sense because that’s also the birthplace of SMKA, was there also a focus and desire to showcase Atlanta artists and also use this as a piece of ambassadorship for ATL Hip Hop?
SMKA: You could say that. We (SMKA) were all born and raised in Atlanta, and we have a lot of love for this city. Atlanta has a rich musical history and an enormous amount of talented artists. However, if you ask, most people will say Atlanta is known for trap music. So… we could sit around and complain about it, or try and do something about it…we chose the latter. The 808 Experiment: Vol 1 was our first project and we really wanted to put together a unique project that showed all sides of Atlanta’s Hip Hop music scene. The project has grown organically from that concept. We like crunk, trap music, but we also like funk, rock, soul, blah, blah, blah. That’s the beautiful thing about Hip Hop, it incorporates all other types of music.
RubyHornet: Conversely, have you seen artists from other areas reach out to you for production?
SMKA: Yeah. We live in Atlanta, but talent exists everywhere, and we aren’t blind to that. We would be doing ourselves a disservice if we only worked with artists from Atlanta. Artists reach out to us from all over the world, and that’s a beautiful thing.
RubyHornet: Back tracking a little bit, who makes up SMKA? Is it fair to say that a production collective is an “experiment” in itself?
SMKA: 808 Blake, Mike Walbert & 7King started SMKA together back in late 2008. 808 Blake produced most everything we have released to date, including 100% of Vol 2. 7King plays guitar on certain songs, tours with B.o.B and is working on a few projects. Mike is an entrepreneur and Semi-Professional Ping-Pong player. We all went to high school together and thought it would be “fun” to start SMKA…so far, so fun. As we began to grow, we brought Robert McDaniel ll in as an audio engineer intern. However, it turned out (on top of being a great engineer) he is also a really gifted, and unique, producer. So we brought Robert in as a full time member of the team. We also work closely with a lot of VERY talented musicians, artists and other people who helped us create art. Shouts out to…Motion Family, Esperanza, Parker Smith, Lee Starnes, Slavik Gabinsky and many others.
You could say everything we do is an “experiment.” We entered the music business, while it was (and is) in a spiraling decline. No one knows what the business will be like in 1, 5 or 10 years. We started SMKA with the idea that we would make music, work our asses off, and try to figure out how to make a business out of it. Every day we continue to make music is a bit of an experiment. We don’t have any idea where we will be in 10 years, 1 year, 2 months or next week. So to recap…SMKA = 808 Blake, Mike Walbert, 7King and Robert McDaniel ll.
RubyHornet: To switch it up, I’d like you guys to talk specifically about a few select tracks on the album and share some facts about the recording process, getting the track together or another interesting story…
SMKA: I’ll say one of the most fun (or funny) songs we recorded was “Spotlight” by Tom P. When we had finished recording the verses, there were no Muppets on the song. We knew we wanted to put something on the chorus and the song had a very playful vibe. 808 Blake was playing around with the tracks and we added the intro “This song was brought to you by the letters S-M-K and A.” When Tom P came back over the studio to play around with the song we asked him if he wanted to take the song in a different direction. It just so happened he can do a couple Muppet voices really well. We spent the next couple hours laughing, and recording. We knew the song wasn’t for everyone, but those who like it, love it. And we like it, which is most important.
We recorded “Right Away” with Outasight, Kyle Lucas & Donny Goines during the A3C Festival in Atlanta. SMKA was co-hosting a stage with Fadia Kader and we had a bunch of artists come through to work on Vol 2. Outasight is an amazing talent, funny guy and has a decent jump shot. He came up with the chorus and we built the song around that. Donny had a sore throat and couldn’t record, so we asked Jay West to hop on the song. Jay West was the perfect complement to the song.
RubyHornet: Lastly, let us know about anything else you guys have going on?
SMKA: Glad you asked, we have a LOT going on actually, if you can believe that.The final performance of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s “Concerts for Young Peoples” series is on Feb 3rd. 808 Blake composed a song for the series and we got Aleon Craft to write lyrics and perform it live with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The series has been going on since October and has reached 60,000+ students from the southeast. it’s a beautiful thing to see our work being performed live by some of the most talented musicians in the world at the Atlanta Symphony Hall.
7King has production on B.o.B’s first album coming out on MAY 25th…so be on the lookout for that.
We are creating a lot of beautiful music with Aleon Craft. You can expect 2+ albums from Aleon Craft in 2010. He is the truth and people will realize that soon enough.
We are working with a very exciting young rock/alternative group called, “Soviet Rockets.” We are going to NC in Feb to work on their album.
We are working on a great project, produced entirely by 7King. I can’t say too much about it, but expect good things.
Expect us to be involved in a lot of great projects!
Expect The 808 Experiment: Vol 3 in 2011.