Addictive Beats -- by Jordan R. MacNevin, September 2006
Everybody needs a hit. Listeners will become their fiends. They want to service their fiends with hot beats and smooth grooves. Music is their drug of choice.
It's Mid-August in Toronto, and tens of thousands of delegates have converged on the city for the World AIDS 2006 Conference. Bill Gates, Alicia Keys and Richard Gere are just some of the high-profile activists attending meetings at the Metro Convention Centre, galas at the Royal Ontario Museum, and lavish parties at the posh Drake Hotel. As I sit and wait for Dre Knight to arrive, Yonge Street is being shut down for an AIDS vigil.
As the spotlight shines on the week-long conference, Dre Knight has slipped into town undetected. As one-third of the buzz worthy production team The Narcotics, the expert beat smith has set up shop in a Scarborough studio to work on tracks with Canadian acts Keisha Chante, Jellestone and Jenna G. We caught up with Dre after a studio session with Jellestone, sitting down with him at Fran's Diner across from Massey Hall before he was to head to the Flow studios to debut some of the new shit he's been working on.
Buzz worthy may, in a way, be putting it mildly for the 29 year-old Flatbush Brooklyn Native, who in already a year, has racked up an impressive resume. It all started last summer, when Dre Knight was approached by people at Def Jam for him and his production trio to do the remix to Teairra Marie's debut single, How to Make a Girl Feel.
"The record was beginning to lose steam, and Def Jam wanted a remix." Dre says, as he tells about how the collaboration was made.
"I had just gotten one of my artists signed to Virgin, when [I was] approached to do the record." Dre begun working on the remix that day, and by Monday morning, he had a final product. He handed it in and said "this is the record. If y'all don't fuck with this, I quit!" Jay-Z was impressed and so was fellow Roc-A-Fella label mate and producer, Kanye West. "I got a call sayin' Kanye was doin' it." And Dre thought that Def Jam would rather go with hit maker Kanye West rather than with him, but he was wrong. "Kanye was gonna lay a verse, not do the remix," Dre said, and he couldn't have been any happier. By Tuesday it was mixed, Wednesday it was pressed, and that Thursday, not even a week later, the track was debuted on Funkmaster Flex's radio show. And that, as they say, Ladies and Gentlemen, was how history was made. "I was flat broke when that remix came out, too!" Dre said. Now he's beginning to live the life. Dressed in a yellow Lacoste golf shirt and a Yankees cap, the bling in his ear shows that this man ain't broke no more.
"We doin' aiight," he says when asked if they were at that hundred grand a beat asking price. "We not at a hundred yet," he says. But Dre believes that they'll get there. "My ultimate goal is to create my own headspace." Translation: he wants to live comfortable.
The Narcotics have just ended their rookie year in the game, and the have already racked up a roster of who's who in the industry. Carl Thomas, Cassidy, Chris Brown, John Legend and LL cool J are just some of the artists that they have worked with or are planning to work with in the coming year. They're also working on developing their own artists with their KDI Music Group, which stands for the first letter of their initials. They plan on developing their roster, and later shop them around to a major.
"I take pride in my artists," the self-taught writer, arranger and musician says. He himself was inspired when, at the age of four, he watched Prince pound out on the keys in Purple Rain. He sat down, played and mimicked what he heard Prince playing, and found his passion. During a bout in the military, he enrolled in the military conservatory of music, and made the natural progression from player to beat maker. He was there, standing in the shadows, when he saw Pharrell get signed. He watched as Ne-Yo was a struggling songwriter, and was there when Chris Brown was a fourteen-year-old, struggling to get heard and unable to get in the clubs.
"I used to make the trek from Virgin to Atlantic (Records) and back every day," Dre told Swagg. While walking Manhattan, he would make stops at Bad Boy, Def Jam, Motown and Sony before his destination at Atlantic Records. And he was noticed and recognized. He was everywhere at the same time. Meeting people, rubbing elbows, forging connections with label reps, and maintaining his contacts. Everybody said he was the next big thing to come out, but had to wait his turn. Through all of his waiting, Dre et al learned to perfect their craft, and beat the streets in their grime. They wanted to be incredible, so when the time finally came, they would be ready.
"I went to my father and was like ‘I told you so,'" after the Teairra Marie single hit the airwaves. His father just laughed. A sign that he knew his son was going to make it. So with the hard knowledge of the game, and being a developer of new artists, I wanted to know what Dre Knight thought of the Canadian urban music scene.
"I see Canada as two things," he told me. "First, it's a smaller market, without a huge audience [to play up to], and as a result, the music is not risky enough. It's safe. Record companies are not gonna take a loss on the artist's project. If it flops, it comes down to the record label." Dre also mentioned the fact that there are only four CHR (hip hop and R&B) stations in the country. So how do we combat that?
"Canada needs to develop its own stars," he states, "And take the same approach as ATL, and put money behind it." Think of Canada as a city in a global economy rather than a country. In this globalized world, Canada makes up only two percent of the world's population, and is one tenth the size of the United States. What ATL did, was build up a region of artists ranging from smooth, sultry R&B (think Monica, Ciara, Xscape, Usher) to the hard-hitting crunk hip hop. (Lil Jon, Dem Franchise Boys, TI.) Atlanta has gotten the moniker of the New Motown, because it's a region on top, and has made an entire era of urban music shift gears and look to the south. This is what Canadian artists, essentially, need to do. Become unified and innovative, because that's really the only thing that our artists can do to become stars.
"To really make a difference, you gotta do what it's gonna take. Money fucks wit money!" and this must prove to be true, because the few Canadian acts Dre has decided to fuck with are backed my some serious bank. Out of all the artists he's worked with so far, he felt that he and Canadian Jenna G had the best chemistry.
"She followed direction real well and had her own ideas of what she wanted," he describes. The hit Don't Wanna Let You Go, is gaining lots of attention, and hopes that it will be a huge cross-over to the US market. "When I pressed stop on that record, I knew it was gonna be a hit." And it's the song he's most proud of to date.
So don't expect any signature anecdotes from Dre Knight at the beginning and end of the songs like Tim and Jazze Pha do. You know the ones! But expect cameos in all the videos he produces. He wants to be out there like a dog on a three-legged cat. They're just getting started. As they continue to evolve their style, don't expect them to stay totally behind the scenes. Like super producers we have seen in the past, he busted his ass to get where he is today. The road to success is always under construction. "I'm hell bent and determined. Losing is no option."