In the ever-changing culture of hip hop, adaptability is key.
In our exclusive interview with Inland Empire-based artist/producer Curtiss King, adaptability is a theme that continues to appear, especially in regards to MURS’ latest track “The Strangest” in which boom-bap and trap seamlessly intertwine to create a diverse and exciting sound bed for MURS’ latest lyrical rampage.
Curtiss explains how he met the Living Legend and how their relationship came to fruition in the form of boundary-pushing hip hop, first in the form of their project $hut Your Trap, and now with their latest collaboration “The Strangest”.
Check out the full interview below and make sure to pre-order MURS’ upcoming album Have A Nice Life dropping May 19!
How did you link up with MURS? Had you worked with him or met him before your paid dues campaign in 2012?
I met MURS when my boy Noa James – another artist from the area that I met – he campaigned in 2010 and 2011 to get on Paid Dues, and basically I did whatever I could to help him out. Amongst one of the campaign trails he went on was the release party for MURS and Terrace Martin’s project they did together, and it was on Melrose.
So we went up there and visited him, and the first time I met MURS he told me he’d already heard of me because of the work I did with Ab-Soul and the first thing he did was ask me to send him beats [laughs]. Like, “pleasure to meet you, here’s my email, here’s where you send beats.” So my first time ever meeting him was that exchange.
From there we didn’t really build a relationship until I actually started campaigning [for Paid Dues] the year after and slowly started building on stuff with him. Even the beats I sent him initially, I don’t think he liked any of them. I never really heard back from him, but I’d say after the campaign and after he invited me to open up for him at House Of Blues in Anaheim we really started to build a rapport and a relationship.
And then you guys did $hut Your Trap, which is one of my favorite things MURS has ever done.
Oh yeah, that and his stuff with 9th Wonder. You two have such a great chemistry, and I loved hearing him over that different sound.
Well, I appreciate that first of all, and it’s crazy because that’s a rare thing to hear from a MURS fan. That was a little polarizing to a lot of MURS fans, to hear him over such an aggressively – I don’t know if you want to say modern – but just the whole trap genre isn’t something you’d expect to hear MURS over, but it’s dope because 9th Wonder is one of my favorite producers ironically. So, for me to be able to produce for him after the tradition they already laid out, that was an honor.
And then for him to really let me do what…in my heart of hearts, I’m a hip hop producer. I started off doing samples and really boom-bap material, but I always had an eccentric side and loved making different music, so for him to let me show off in that regard, and for him to just do what he does being MURS, that was perfect for me and I think it kind of prepared people’s palettes for “The Strangest”. It was an honor to do that with him.
Your sound is super-diverse and ever-evolving, yet it has this kind of subtle familiarity to it. What do you strive for in your production? Do you want to have sort of a trademark sound?
In terms of my sound, you don’t have a Curtiss King beat without the drums. Drums are dominant in pretty much every production I do. Whether it’s R&B or trap or sample producing, I’m just heavy on percussion, I love drums. That’s why I love producers like Timbaland. Even 9th wonder has some very hard hitting drums, and cats like THX … a lot of these cats that I look up to, they all have really heavy production.
So if I’m not known for anything else, I want to be known to be somebody that can give you just that heavy percussion. Style-wise, I love all kinds of different music. I love soulful music more than anything else, so if there’s any way that I can incorporate that soul into my melodies, I’m gonna do that, but at the end of the day really my drum work is where the heart of my sound is at.
How do you feel about producers like DJ Premier where you can immediately be like “Oh that’s a Premier beat”?
Right. I think it’s dope, but I think it’s dope to a certain degree, because obviously he made a legendary career off of that sound, but I think what happens nowadays with producers – I think it happened to Lex Luger too, and he’s one of my favorite producers as well – is that his sound became such a dominant sound that everybody immediately learned how to do it. They went on YouTube tutorials and tried to figure out, “Damn, how can I do this my own way?”
The problem with him having such a dominant sound is he went into studio sessions with artists that heard the sound and don’t wanna hear anything else he’s capable of doing so it kind of pigeon-holed him and put him in the box of that particular sound, and as human beings we’re not going to be in the same place forever, we’re not supposed to be.
We’re supposed to grow and go across the globe and be influenced and try different things so for me – maybe because I’m an Aquarius, maybe cause I’m a crazy creative – I love being able to do something that challenges me, and repeating the same sound over and over again for me in particular, I just grow too bored with it.
So like I said, at the end of the day as long as I have my drums and they’re hitting the way they should and the snares are snappin’ or whatever, I’m good. However, I need to always be able to try different things and try to incorporate my sound into whatever I do, but you gotta make sure you grow with the times, because these folks are a lot less forgiving of a person that’s kind of a one-trick pony.
I think that’s kind of how you tell an artist from the rest. Somebody that knows and actually wants to grow, and not just find that one thing that works and stick to it forever.
Absolutely. I think that’s the genius of Kanye. He’s been able to last for so long because of his adjustment to whatever’s going on.
Same thing with Tech – that’s what I love about Tech N9ne is his adjustment and his willingness to open up to different production, whether it’s west coast production or whatever he’s feeling at the time. His willingness to work with all these different artists is what has made his career last so long and what has kept him relevant for so long. He’s open to his own growth, first of all as a human being, and secondly he’s open to new sounds and new ways to present his message. The message doesn’t change, it might change a little bit because you’re a human being that’s growing, but the sound has to change.
When you listen to Kanye – like you hear that new song with Big Sean, “I Don’t Fuck With You”, and what’s crazy is you hear the sample of Earth, Wind, And Fire in the beginning, then it goes into the Mustard beat, and then it goes back into that sample again with Dj Dahi.
That right there, you could tell it was sort of the inner-workings of Kanye, figuring out what he can contribute to the sound that’s going on right now, and in a lot of ways I look at myself in that same light. Like, I don’t ever want to be looked at like a dinosaur, or someone who’s too stubborn to change with the times.
I think that’s definitely a large part of the recipe for longevity and sustained relevance. Now for our readers who weren’t already aware, you’re an emcee as well, correct?
Yes I am. I started rapping before I started producing actually.
Who would you say is the best rapper/producer?
Best rapper/producer? My favorite is Kanye. Hands down, it’s Kanye. Another one of my favorites – and people don’t really look into his productive like that – but I love Andre 3000 as a rapper and producer, because I think a lot of the things he did as a producer were really groundbreaking and didn’t get a lot of shine like that.
There’s a lot of dudes doing it now. J. Cole is another one that you definitely have to mention. I’m not always a huge fan of his production, but I love what he’s able to do and his willingness to be open to different things. It’s a few cats out here, I’m trying to think…but really it comes back to Kanye, that’s one of my biggest influences.
Obviously we have to talk about the new track you produced for MURS, “The Strangest”. This track has a sample of Tech N9ne’s vocals from “It’s Alive”. Did MURS come to you with an idea of what sample to use and how to use it? How did that go down?
What’s crazy is MURS called me and had an idea to do a very boom-bap sound, sort of in the light of like a Premiere production, and he wanted to have like some crazy switch in the chorus, which ended up being the trap switch, but he didn’t want to use any samples at all. He didn’t want to worry about sample clearances.
So, for me it was kind of a challenge. Like, how do you capture the Premo sound without the piano chops? Or, how do you catch the essence of that sound without really diggin’ into some crates? MURS was just basically like, “I don’t know, you’re the producer, figure it out.” [Laughs]
So even in terms of the sample, there was no discussion of any sample at the time, but I figured if I was going to use any sample, I would probably use Tech since he’s on Strange and MURS is now on Strange, it’d probably be safest to use that. I actually had a few Tech N9ne acapellas I’d been wanting to use, I just needed the perfect song to use them on.
MURS gave me the boom-bap idea and I knew I wanted to have the scratches and the piano chops, and I knew I wanted to have somehow bring a Tech acapella into that because I thought that’d be so dope as his first track.
What I actually did was got on Fruity Loops, opened up a piano, opened up some Rhodes – because a lot of the samples that Premier used to use were Rhodes, like really dynamic pianos. So I sat there and pressed record literally played for ten minutes, and the first keys that sounded like a true piano player played them, I was gonna stop them, export them and basically open them up and sample those. So I basically sampled myself.
Woah, that’s really cool.
You know what I’m saying? If we’re gonna get that boom-bap sound, that really hip hop sound, you’re going to have to sample. So what I did was I pitched down my actual original keys, and I just sampled myself and I was able to get those clean chops on it. Then I put it together and brought in the Tech N9ne “It’s Alive” acapella, and it was dope how this thing came together. It was very organic.
I sent MURS a few different versions of it and he loved it. I sent him a version with the trap chorus and he was all for it, because it was really like an ode to $hut Your Trap. You’ve got to understand that with $hut Your Trap, you had sort of a split between people. You had people that loved MURS for doing his soulful songs with 9th Wonder and very hip hop and…almost anti-trap. Then you have the trap audience that’s like, “We don’t wanna hear this guy over our trap production!” For MURS to be able to do it the way he did on that and “The Strangest”, and for him to be open enough to me taking a chance with it and trusting me with it is huge. I think that’s why people love it so much, it’s a balance of what people love about hip hop and at the same time it’s for people who are just open to something new and something fresh and something that’s with the times, so we just brought those two worlds together and said “Deal with it.”
How were you able to create that balance between the two sounds? Because when you hear it, it sounds like it’s just supposed to be that way, like it’s always been that way.
Well, it’s crazy because I’ve done it before. I’ve had beats where I would make those changes, even within my own music, because with my own music there’s no boundaries. I think people who are fans of my artist side, they understand I don’t really have any boundries, because I don’t have any responsibilities to a sound or whatever the case may be. When I’m making my own beats, I’m experimenting like this all the time because I have more leeway.
This is probably my sixth or seventh attempt at doing it, and I think this was just the right timing, to be honest with you. I think what made it so seamless is I was able to practice the sound, practice the transition and make it to where it feels like…here’s the thing, people who don’t really understand music, they try to divide music like with trap and hip hop. What they don’t understand is we’re still using kicks, we’re still using snares and hi-hats. The only difference is the timing, the style, and the swing. It’s still kicks and snares though, so there shouldn’t really be a divide between the sounds.
Of course the lyrical content is different, but the reason it sound so seamless is honestly because they’re one in the same. I might get crucified for saying that, but they’re literally one in the same when you talk about he instrumentation. That’s why it may sound like it’s seamless, because it’s all music. It’s all clips of kicks and snares, and we just put the worlds together because they shouldn’t have ever been divided in the first place. Music is supposed to be energetic, it’s supposed to make you feel something, and that’s what we did.
That’s what I loved about $hut Your Trap so much is there really is no difference, and you guys basically tricked all these people into falling in love with the trap sound. Like, here’s your backpack messiah over some dirty, filthy beats.
Right, and you’ve got to understand that with MURS, like you said, he’s looked at as this “backpack messiah” going in over these trap beats. So in some circles I got crucified for doing this. People are like, “How could you do this to MURS?” as if he didn’t make the decision to rap over this production.
It’s funny because MURS reached out to me about this project called $hut Your Trap, before he even had the title. He hit me up like, “Do you make trap beats?” because he knew me as a sample producer. Most people know me as that, but I had been working on some recently so I was like, “I’ll let you hear what I’ve been working on.”
I think people put these divides on music that really shouldn’t be there. It’s all about what it takes for you to feel what you need to feel. Music is medicine for people. So what does it take? Some people use Advil, some people use Excedrin, to each his or her own. MURS didn’t change who he was, he wasn’t talking about drugs and chillin’ at the trap house. MURS was doing MURS, it just so happened that the aesthetic behind him changed.
Basically you guys just took Advil fans and slipped ’em an Excedrin and were like, “Hey, your headache’s gone isn’t it?”
[Laughs] And you know what? Nobody complains once the headache is over. I just think it’s people being people, and honestly I’ve come to learn that most people who are angry about it are not people who necessarily understand music – and that’s ok. They’re not wrong, they’re not right. At the end of the day, you’re entitled to love or hate whatever you want to, but you have to understand that you cannot put the responsibility on an artist to stay in one lane for the rest of their lives.
You can’t expect MURS to sound like MURS & 9th Wonder forever, even over 9th Wonder production. These are two grown men who are growing every day, making additions to their families, experiencing different parts of the world. 9th is doing professor and philosophy work. Your ideology and who you are changes, so the music is naturally going to be a reflection of who you are. It’s going to change.
That’s absolutely right. Do you have any other production credits on Have A Nice Life?
Yes I do. I have another song on there. MURS told me to stay tight-lipped about it so I don’t know how much I can talk about it because of the feature that’s on it, but I definitely have another piece of production on this album.
What can we expect from you in the future? Where can fans find your work?
Well first of all, my production you can find on curtisskingbeats.com. That’s really my business, that’s my 9 to 5, building that up every single day.
As an artist, I’m getting ready to release a project. I haven’t released the title yet, but it’s going into mixing as we speak. In the beginning I was an artist, and production just happened to open up so many more doors for me, and faster. I’ve always pursued both of them with the same aggression and hunger, so I’m gonna continue to provide beats at curtisskingbeats.com, and I’m going to release new music soon on curtissking.com
If you’re a fan of [“The Strangest”], you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the music I create, because I’ve been an artist longer than I’ve been producing.
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