88-Keys is one of Hip Hop’s best kept secrets, having spent the last two decades quietly producing gems on classic albums like “Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are BlackStar” (1998), “Black on Both Sides” (1999), “Watch The Throne” (2011) and his critically acclaimed solo album “The Death Of Adam” (2008). Though his career spans nearly two decades, he continues to reinvent his sound, never following trends and always pushing the creative envelope.
MechanicalDummy.com spoke with the Polo Ralph Lauren addict about his impressive catalog, his refusal to sell out and why he took a break from his high profile workload to offer exclusive remixes to indie artists (e-mail email@example.com with inquiries).
When did the idea to start working with indie artists come to you?
Really, I just started finding a few acapella files, CD maxi singles, that I’ve been digging out of my parents’ basement out in Long Island. So whenever I visit my parents’ house, I try to visit the basement and go back home with one of my belongings. So I no longer want to treat my parents homes as an additional storage unit. Seeing as how I have a bunch of CD maxi singles that I used to cop back in the days throughout the 90’s, and back then, cats used to put the acapella mix on their singles, which I wish people still did. Then I started running out. So i was like, you know what, let me get some fresh vocals and start taking ’em there. But doing it in the interim of me actually networking on some stuff for like major label artists and stuff like that. Cause I make beats all the time, so basically it’s kind of like taking a break, but not slacking either. I’m not making C-level beats, EVER, really, or if I do, they don’t get heard because they get deleted. But I’m not like making lower-level beats for unsigned artists. Everyone gets my grade A.
What projects do you feel have been instrumental for you over the past few years?
John Legend’s album, “Love In The Future,” got a joint on there. Action Bronson’s album. I did a song called “City Boy Blues,” which he went on record to say, several times on several different media outlets, that it was his favorite song on the album. And the John Legend song was called “Hold On Longer.” And I’ve been working with quite a few heavy hitting projects that people may not expect me to pop up on, which I’m actually not at liberty to discuss, due to the NDA’s I had to sign to keep the hidden, hidden. But Mumford and Sons, I worked with them, too. I also worked with Mac Miller. My song didn’t make the cut for sample issues, but we’re gonna have something in a different capacity, like outside of the album that he just released, “GOOD A:M.” We’re gonna have something together.
I ask because you’re one of those guys who’s a best kept secret. People don’t realize the gems over almost 20 years.
Thanks. I just attribute that to cats not putting in the effort to read credits anymore. They’re there. But I guess that’s like not on anybody’s radar, besides like executives.
The culture’s tendency is to only acknowledge producers in a super producer perspective. But you haven’t sold out, meaning establishing one sound and giving it to everybody at once. That creative decision is courageous. How do you balance that compromise when you’ve got a family to feed?
For me, back when I was way younger, I used to not have a sound that people could identify my music or identify me by. And I used to think it was unfortunate that, to my knowledge, I didn’t have a sound. Not that I didn’t have anything that would separate me from everybody else, because I think the quality of my beats separate myself and put me on a different platter. But I didn’t think I had anything distinctive, where it’s like, “Yeah, 88 made that beat.” But now, I thank my lucky stars that I never developed a sound. Because I feel like I would have been stuck in whatever era cats would have known me from. If I had a particular sound when I was producing for “Black on Both Sides”, then I probably would have made it like a year or two after that. And then my sound would have been like, “Oh, this sound is synonymous with 1999-2001 and we’re beyond that right now. So I just go in and I just really make what I consider is dope music. I just do stuff that I like to hear and trust that there are gonna be several others who would want to hear the same thing out there.
Whose feedback do you take and value when it comes to your work? Whose opinion do you take most seriously?
My ears. I’m open to suggestions and opinions and stuff like that, but I sift through all of that with my own ears and what I feel. And I think, it’s funny because I think that’s one thing that is lost in people today. It’s almost as if people lost their own sense of direction. Where it’s like, “We’re gonna follow what the trend is.” But it’s always been a thing to follow trends for the masses, but I just feel like it’s at an all-time high because there’s some things that I feel are arguably questionable but cats are riding with it because everyone else is riding with it. Or because the song is posted by an Instagram bottle service girl in her car, while she’s driving. And now it’s the shit because it’s in that setting.
Young artists go through those moments where they doubt themselves. Have you ever questioned your journey when another sound was working and yours wasn’t?
Nah, whatever was trending and whatever was hot at the moment, for the most part, I didn’t even like it. So my thing is, I would feel safe to say that I would never do anything that I don’t like. In today’s day and age, co-production and multiple collaborators on a song is becoming a thing. So, if I’m asked to contribute to something that already exists, then I’ll basically put my stank on it by way of samples. Because unbeknownst to some people, I don’t play instruments. But I’ve mastered how to manipulate samples and stuff like that through chopping. Not even through software or VST’s or anything like that. I just hear something and I can chop it up or figure it out. Or if I start off or if I came into a situation or into a project with my idea and it ends up in someone else’s hands to kind of finish it off, that’s in someone else’s hands, to kind of finish it off. But me, I feel like I would enhance my style, I don’t change my style for anybody because I love what I do. My whole thing is the Tribe vibes. To this day, every time I sit down to make a beat, I always think one of the things either in the forefront of my mind or in the back of my mind, no matter who I work with, I think, “What would Tribe Called Quest sound ill on today if they were to cut another album and had the opportunity to lace up a a track?” And whatever people have heard from me thus far is the result of that thought. That’s just how I roll.