In many ways, Michael “Seven” Summers is the unsung hero of the Strange Music empire.
Release after release, this quiet, hardworking dude from Wichita consistently pumps out beats that make their way into the ears of millions of fans, often without their knowledge of who crafted the tunes that have them losing their shit in the middle of a traffic jam.
Since 2006, Seven has been orchestrating varied soundscapes for a diverse, ever-growing roster, and that’s something that very few people could manage.
We recently sat down with Seven to speak about the origin of the “Strangeulation Cypher” beat, his production history, and what he has in store for Tech N9ne’s 15th studio album Special Effects.
Check out the full interview below, and get to know the man behind some of your favorite songs.
You knew that the cypher beat was going to be crucial to this album because obviously you’ve got 13 emcees hopping on the shit. That’s been anticipated since the BET Awards Cypher that Tech was on. People have been wanting to hear this and you knew it was going to be a big deal. Tell me about how you guys went about making this beat, because I know there’s a history behind it.
Yeah. It is kind of interesting actually the way that that beat came together, the cypher beat. The way we did that beat is something Tech has been wanting to do for a long time, since actually Anghellic. The story is back in 1997 I did a beat for a project called 50 M.C.’s and it was just like a compilation album put together by DJ Fresh, a Kansas City project and everybody from Kansas City got on it. It was my first time being involved with a local album that actually came out and was in local stores. It kind of jump-started me producing and getting my name out there.
There was a song on that album called “Ready For The Meat Wagon” that Tech got on. I did two beats on that album and one of them had Val Bakarii on it and the other one had Tech on it. We did that song, it came out, 50 M.C.’s and then when Tech started working on Anghellic he told me that he wanted me to remake the beat for “Ready For The Meat Wagon” and do live drums on it and all these things. He wanted it to be the title track for Anghellic. We never got around to it and lost contact or whatever and we never really talked about the idea again but then on this album he was like “I think it’s time to finally do that idea.” So what it is is “Ready For The Meat Wagon” that beat but redone in 2014. I took the original bassline that I put on that beat. If you go back and listen to “Ready For The Meat Wagon”, if you can find it online or whatever, it’s so weird to listen to something that I did that long ago. Even for me to listen to it I’m like “God…” Now if I could do it again I would’ve done so many things differently with it, so this was my opportunity. I was like “I’ll do everything with that beat that I wish I could’ve done” and that’s what I did. I did all these live shit on it and we turned it into the cypher.
Did you have the vision back then for it to sound like this or not?
I think back then, I was in high school. I was probably a sophomore or junior in high school. I just had a workstation at that point in time. It was a Korg I3. These series of keyboards that came out right when workstations were being introduced. This was before the Tritons and the Trinities and all of that. I just had this Korg I3. I would just make a million beats a day on it. Now it’s different. Now I make like a beat a day or I work on a beat for a whole week or whatever and it’s much more evolved. But back then, you know how it is, you’d just make shit and it wasn’t as intricate. I think that that was just a beat that I made and I just had and back then it was sort of my sound though because I would use lots of strings and pianos and orchestrated stuff. I sort of feel like I might have introduced that sound a little bit to Kansas City, especially with Tech and everything and that becoming his sound with operatic stuff with choirs and strings and pianos and that vibe. I think I just made it then and it was just something that I made and DJ Fresh heard it and was like “We have to use that one for the album and it has to have Tech on it.” That’s what that one was.
What do you think makes it fitting for a cypher beat?
Well originally I didn’t want to use that for the cypher. Tech said we should turn it into the cypher. I was just like “I don’t know…that’s not what I envisioned at all for the cypher,” but then I thought about it and was just like “Yeah, that could be crazy. That really works for a cypher.” It’s the type of beat with the type of tempo and the type of vibe that you have to kill shit, if you don’t, you’re definitely going to be able to tell that you’re not killing shit. Your verse has to be crazy with that vibe and that tempo.
So this is a collaborative effort that kind of started from your guys’ first collaboration, from then until now. Tell me about your guys’ musical relationship and how it’s grown over the years.
With every album I’ve started to understand Tech more and more over the years. I’ve always felt like I’ve had a strong understanding of who he is as an artist and what he wants to do musically, like where he wants to go. I think that just not being around him as much, because I lived in a different city, I think that we could never get all the way there like on the same level. We could always connect musically but now we really connect. Now it’s like some different shit. I think he has an idea too of me and what I’m envisioning much more now than ever, which I think is even more important because I could always step back and just study Tech and listen to Tech and understand what he wants to do creatively, but I don’t think he’s ever wanted to be so open to hearing outside ideas or listening to someone else’s creative vision. That’s hard to do. That’s hard for me to do, like if I’m around another producer or whatever. It takes time to get to that point. I think we’re finally at that point where Tech can even open up to my ideas and my visions. I think there’s a trust there now. He could tell me “Nah, that doesn’t work,” and vice versa.
Do you think Something Else was a big turning point for you guys?
Well yeah I do. I think when we did All 6’s and 7’s we started to really learn how to work with each other like on the entirety of the album. I think it became sort of a thing to where it was like “Now we can work together and make a cohesive project.” I did a lot of production on that album. Then Something Else came around and it was even more involved. It was really truly about creating a cohesive project and a lot of times that comes when you’re not using a whole bunch of outside producers. It’s kind of like when it’s two people or a group of people who have a vision and you’re working towards the same thing, just trying different things. It all starts to naturally sound cohesive. That’s what we did on Something Else. When we were making that album, because I felt like Tech was trusting me more with that album I really paid attention closely to the cohesiveness of it. I’d pay attention and be like “Man this doesn’t really sound like anything we’ve done on the album so let’s not go that route.” Tech would have ideas and I’d be like “Yeah that works perfectly with the album” or “Yeah I don’t know if that idea will work with the album.” I think he started to listen to me on that album.
So there’s a definite rapport that started there. When you look back, I know the beat for “Come Gangsta” was a big moment for you and your career.
It was because that was the first thing that I did for Tech since “Ready For The Meat Wagon”. “Ready For The Meat Wagon” was the first thing that I ever did for Tech.
That wasn’t even really for him either, was it?
It wasn’t really for him, they just put him on it. I guess he really liked the beat because he always brought it back up after that. I think that’s kind of how I became acquainted with him. Then “Come Gangsta” was where it really started though. That was for Everready. I had watched Anghellic come out and then I watched Absolute Power come out and I was just like “Fuck man I gotta figure out how to work on these albums. I want to get involved.” Yeah, “Come Gangsta” was like “This is it, if I’m going to work on another album I have to figure out how to do this” and I spent three days working on that beat. I had all these ideas for it, I did all these breakdowns and all these crazy parts and my whole idea was that he could follow those parts rhythmically. I gave him the beat and I didn’t say anything to him about it and he did exactly what I wanted him to do. The breakdowns, where I wanted him to follow the stuff rhythmically, he did exactly what I was thinking.
I always view that song as a cool piece of folklore as far as Strange Music and how you guys work together is concerned. I know you were working on that beat with the lights off or something like that.
Yeah, that was a different time for me. That was like me in my kitchen, rather than having a kitchen we just had the studio in the kitchen, we didn’t have a kitchen just the studio in the kitchen. We didn’t have anything. Yeah that was like ramen noodles and making beats and that was life. That was definitely a different time.
Tech thinks you have ghosts in the studio. Has he told you this?
Yeah he says stuff like that sometimes (laughs).
But he doesn’t believe you that you have a computer program that can emulate some vocal tones.
I definitely use shit. I don’t know, maybe there is a ghost or energy or something like that, but sometimes here at this new building weird shit definitely happens. When I was working on Strangeulation weird things would definitely happen in this room with weird stuff going on when I was working on particular tracks or whatever. It doesn’t have anything to do with the way I chop up the vocals and stuff when I put together stuff. I know he thinks “E.B.A.H.” and the way that came together, but I mean, I just had an idea. When he told me he wanted to do a song called “E.B.A.H.” and he explained the idea to me, what it was and what it stood for and what “E.B.A.H.” was basically, he said he wanted to make a song called “E.B.A.H.” too. I went home and I thought about that and I went “Man, I would love to put a choir in this,” so I programmed the choir with it saying the syllable “E” and then the choir going “Ah” and chopped it up and just found a very small bit of “buh” there. It was like “Ee” “ah” and then I put the “buh” right there before the “ah” and it was like “Ebah”. That’s what it was. I just figured out a way to manipulate a choir sound going “E.B.A.H.”
Do you think it freaks him out that you’re able to match his feelings so well sometimes? When I listen to “E.B.A.H.” it’s like, you can’t imagine it any other way.
Well that just comes from me understanding him. Most of the time he just tells me – I just know what he wants to do. When we made “Fear” I just went over to the other room and I said “What do you want to do today?” He’s like “I want to make a song,” and I said “Just give me a word,” and he said “Fear” so I came over to my room and made “Fear”. I asked him “Well what do you fear?” He said “I fear if God is real or not.” I was like “Oh, I know exactly what this needs to be like,” and then I came over here and I made “Fear” and it was exactly, I think, what he was envisioning. I just understand him.
Did you have that understanding before? Because to me that’s what made “Come Gangsta” so special is that when that understanding came to fruition and I know you made that beat like “This is what, as a fan, I would want him to rap over.”
He may not know this but I did feel like I understand him. I was such a big fan of Anghellic and Tech N9ne before. The story of “Ready For The Meat Wagon” goes even a little bit deeper, because the way that I even found out about Tech N9ne was I was just in middle school and I had the Gang Related soundtrack. Of course the song “Questions” was on there and it was the only song I liked. This was back in the days when you just bought soundtracks and you just bought fucking cds for no reason. I just bought that and was like “This has new 2Pac songs on it, I have to fucking buy this,” so I just bought it and I didn’t know who anybody was on there, but there was this song “Questions” and I was like “God, this is the only song on this whole fucking double disc soundtrack that I actually like. It’s amazing. This is worth every penny just for this song.” I used to just listen to that song like over and over and over again. I remember being in the Popper’s basement once and I was just talking to him like “Have you heard the Gang Related soundtrack?” and he was like “Yeah, yeah.” I was like “Dude, have you heard the song on there called ‘Questions’?” and he was like “Dude, you know who that is right?” I’m like “I don’t know, some guy named Tech N9ne or whatever?” And he’s like “Dude, Tech N9ne is from Kansas City, he’s from right here” and I’m like “Dude, are you fucking serious?” “Yes! I’ll have him come over right now!” He called him and 30 minutes later Tech was right there in DJ Fresh’s and the Popper’s basement. That was the first time that I met him. I was like “Oh my God!” Up until that point I had no idea who Tech was. I didn’t know he was from Kansas City. I just knew that –
– that this song blew your mind.
It was like the best song I’d ever heard in my life. I was just like “I’ve never heard anything like this before.” It was just so crazy: the beat. I knew who QDIII was and I was just like “God, this is the craziest QDIII beat I’ve ever heard and it’s got this dude that I’ve never heard of before and he’s just killin’ it!” Then there he was in DJ Fresh’s basement with The Popper and we’re just sitting there talking or whatever and I’m like “This is crazy!” At that moment, that was sort of like, you know, like Kanye always talks about how “Man, I just had to figure out how to get a beat on Jay Z’s album,” when he was trying to make it, that’s what he would say.
That was like the moment. At that point in time I made up my mind “I’ve got to figure out how to get a beat with Tech. I’ve got to figure this out.” I just paid attention so much after that and I was such a fan of what he did as an artist that I just started to understand him. When I made “Come Gangsta” I almost felt like, if he was able to listen to that beat – it wasn’t a question of whether or not he would like it, I was just like “How can I get him to listen to the beat? I know that this is what he wants to do, this sound.” Maybe I’m wrong about it, and maybe it’s all in my head. I’m not trying to sound big-headed or anything like that, like “I understand him!” I just felt like I understood that about him. Anghellic is like one of my favorite albums of all time, ever. I’ve never listened to any album ever recorded more than I’ve listened to Anghellic.
So from listening to that you were just like “I bet if he heard something like this he would shred it.”
I just understood the colors and everything that he would use, him and Don Juan would use with music, and the vibe and everything. I really understood that vibe. Especially the darker shit because at that point in time all I made was shit with strings and pianos and dark shit. I was a depressed teenager, you know, and I wanted to make shit that was emotional. I listened to Eminem all day long: Marshall Mathers. Just like every other teenager I was obsessed with Marshall Mathers at the time so that’s the kind of shit that I was making and the way that Tech rapped I was just like “Man, there’s so many things that can be done rhythmically with this vibe that would just sound so crazy if he rapped on it,” and I hadn’t heard it done at all. Even the way the kick drum pattern is in “Come Gangsta”, the way at the end of every other bar the kick speeds up and it follows a pattern. I was just like “It’d be so crazy if he followed that.”
Up until this point, a lot of the classic songs in his catalog you more or less co-wrote in a way, because you provided these choruses, these sounds and obviously the beat. How does that make you feel, from being a fan to being where you are now?
Whenever I go to a show I don’t ever go backstage. I always go out in the crowd. Nobody ever knows who I am or anything like that. I just stand far back, I’m never up close, and I just watch him perform. Whenever he does a track that I did it’s just surreal. It doesn’t even seem real. Sometimes, like at other shows, he’ll shout me out on stage and I just kind of stand there and, I dunno, it just doesn’t even feel real. Which I guess is a good thing. I just hope that it can always feel not real. It’s just the value that I have for those moments. I never feel like I deserve any of it really. I’m just really…
Yes, that I can even be a part of this. It’s just not even real.
What are some of your favorite songs that you guys have done together over the years?
Well “Come Gangsta” is my favorite song that we’ve ever done, for sure. There’s nothing that really compares to that song. Hearing that song, he recorded it and I went to a show and we went and listened to it on the tour bus, he played it for me. It wasn’t mixed or anything like that. That moment when I was listening back and he followed all the parts exactly everything that I wanted him to do, there’s no moment that really matches that moment. After that moment I felt like we had an understanding. He would know what to do with the beats that I made, and he never lets me down. He always does exactly what I want him to do with the beat. Most of the time I’ll make a beat and something different gets done with the beat than what I had in mind and sometimes I hate it and sometimes I love it: “I would’ve never imagined doing a song like that on this,” but with Tech, always, it’s exactly what I imagined. It’s just really cool. It’s like if I get really experimental with the beat, he does something experimental. It’s always like “That’s exactly what I was making the beat for.”
He’ll match the feel or the approach.
Everything. He makes the song that I was hearing in my head when I was making the beat.
Do you hear him rapping when you make a beat?
Yeah! I always think about that with every pattern that I do, every single pattern. “Make Waves”, when I was making that song for Strangeulation, when we did the guitars for that, (hums guitar melody) and I put all the bongos and everything in there, I made that so they could follow that part, and they followed it! Tech followed it, you know what I mean? Every time he does what I was imagining.
Any other songs other than “Come Gangsta”?
Yeah. Like when I made “He’s a Mental Giant”, that was another really big one for me. There was a really big timespan between “Come Gangsta” and “He’s A Mental Giant”, but I kind of felt that when we were making All 6’s and 7’s, it was right after K.O.D., I almost envisioned everything starting back over again. Because K.O.D. felt like the plateau of something. I felt like we got to the top of something and then when we went back in to do All 6’s and 7’s I felt like it was the rebirth of something again. I don’t know. That was the end of this big thing and now we’re starting back over with something new with All 6’s and 7’s and that was the new Anghellic in a way, with obviously a totally different vibe and a totally different sound.
The jump off of a new era.
Yeah. To me I always remembered it in my mind that way. That’s how I think of it. When we did “He’s a Mental Giant”, it was sort of the same kind of thing. I had been working on that album, that was one towards the end of the album. I really hadn’t made anything up until that point that was like “the song”. I wanted to for that album because I was so involved with it. I had that idea for “He’s A Mental Giant” for a really long time, I was just unsure about how I wanted the beat to be, how I wanted it to feel and everything, but I knew that I had the vocal chop for “He’s a Mental Giant” and I was like “Man, this would be so crazy for Tech to do this.” I never told Tech the idea or anything like that, but I was just like “Man, for him to do a song called Mental Giant? That would be fucking crazy. That’s perfect for him.” Then one day it just hit me. I woke up and knew exactly how I wanted the beat to be: “For that chop I should make that and I know that we’re pretty much done with All 6’s and 7’s, but I need to quickly make this beat and give it to him.” I quickly made the beat that day, it did not take very long at all, it only took a couple of hours and I sent it to him and him and Trav listened to it and were like “This is what we should make the first single.” So that’s another one of my favorites.
I think we all looked at that album as a new stage of Tech N9ne.
It felt like a new era of something, especially coming off of an album like K.O.D. which was a really hard album to work on. Even I kind of didn’t want to work on that album at all.
It seems like everyone involved with that album had a tough time with it.
I just didn’t like the energy. I was just like “I just don’t want this kind of energy in my life.” I know it was just because of what Tech was going through but when the album was done and it came out it was like “Whoo” (sigh of relief). It was a deep breath and then like “Now what?” It was almost like, well what can you do from there? You start over, so let’s just start over. I didn’t want to do dark shit anymore after that album, but then we did Boiling Point but by the time that came around I was ready for some dark shit again.
Where do you guys want to take things in the future? What’s popping through your head when you think about Special Effects?
I mean so much. Now that we’ve opened this door going from All 6’s and 7’s to Something Else to Strangeulation and now we’re going to start working on the new album, I kind of feel like the boundaries that were there before, because I’ve always felt that there were these boundaries, I’ve always felt like “I know what I want to do for Tech and I know what Tech wants, but there’s till these boundaries that we have to live within. “Well we shouldn’t do that because that’s not something that Tech would do and we can’t do this because that’s probably not something that he would do.” I don’t feel like those boundaries exist anymore so I feel like now it’s as simple as me creating something, whatever it is, no matter what it is, and me just being like “Hey dude, we should do something like this.” I’ve never been able to do that before. So the boundaries just don’t exist and I’m like “Finally, now we can really create something.” Now we can really warp the direction of music or the direction of Strange Music or Tech. We can change the direction. We can do whatever, because there’s no boundaries.
What do you think has dissolved those boundaries, or do you think it’s something that’s kind of happened on its own?
I think that a big part of it is me moving to Kansas City and working at the studio and being involved on the level that I am now. When we did K.O.D., I really sort of for awhile, stepped back for a second and just “Man.” It just felt weird. Then when we did All 6’s and 7’s it felt like a new energy again and ever since then I’ve just wanted to be more and more involved with Tech and Strange on a different level than I ever had before. I want to create what you think of when you think of Strange and Tech. I want to create that sound more and more and I want to always keep changing and growing and evolving. Me just living here and being around Tech everyday, learning to really trust the visions that we both have and each other that we’re going to make dope shit. Between All 6’s and 7’s and Strangeulation it’s just been a huge change and things have grown and evolved.
So anything can happen?
Now that the boundaries are gone I don’t feel like I can’t just make anything. Now I feel like I can make anything, no matter how far away from what you think of Tech normally doing. Now I want to make shit that’s unlike anything he’s ever done or anything you’ve ever heard him on or thought you wanted to hear him on. I just want to make shit that’s like totally unpredictable, unexpected and not what you would think when you think of Tech, but still of course keeping it what you expect in a way. Keeping it true to who Tech is and what his sound is. I just want to change it enough that it’s totally different.
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