RedBull Atlanta Music Festival Presents: Trap Roundtable
Previously, we took you to the Gunner Stahl “I Have So Much To Tell You" exhibition. Well, we are taking you back but, this time, we aren’t here for the portraits. After you step back inside of the Lowery venue and get a second full view of the exhibit, you grab your complimentary RedBull and walk through to the next accompanying room. At the center, there’s a plush roundtable where the special panelists are to be seated, coordinating with the event's theme: trap “roundtable.” Host Travis “Yoh” Phillips comes out to introduce himself and then welcomes three legendary producers to the couch to share their stories and perspectives about the hip hop sub-genre known as “trap.”
First we're introduced to the man on the keys, Zaytoven, so he can give his story on how he went from cutting hair to cutting out legendary beats within five minutes. Second, we hear from Shawty Redd, the mastermind behind Jeezy’s Thug Motivation 101 AND Snoop Dogg’s Sensual Seduction. Unfortunately, Atlanta producer and co-founder of production company 808 Mafia, Lex Luger, wasn’t able to attend. However, DJ Toomp, the producer behind some of T.I’s biggest hits, was able to step in to grace us with his presence instead.
Kicking off the panel by sharing details about how they all came to be acquainted with each other and how they got their foot in the door of producing, you can see that each producer wears dedication and humility with each beat they’ve made. Zaytoven shares that though he's encouraged by a plethora of early industry risers including Toomp and Redd, he admits that, “making beats was something I just did for fun. I never thought about turning it into a career.” Toomp tells about his start in ‘92 with Lil Jon and just how pivotal it was to tap into the emerging Atlanta music scene during a time when there was the first major label in the city, LaFace Records. Redd tells how he had to encourage Zaytoven to get into music, seeing that his music style was something that he admired.
They collectively reveal that they never considered what they did to be “trap.” They never even labeled it “trap music.” Instead, social media gave their music the trap branding. They just made music based around the main subject matter that rappers like Gucci Mane, T.I., Young Jeezy rapped about: being in the trap life. Toomp states, “nowadays, with these new artists, trap has no real meaning. It’s just music to them, but it was originally based on a real lifestyle.”
Halfway through the panel, we get a special guest: Mike WiLL Made It, hitmaker who rose to prominence during Atlanta's “futuristic” scene dominated by the likes of Shawty Lo, YC, Future, and 2 Chainz (still largely known as “Tity Boi” at the time). He tells his story of how he built connections within the industry and found a way to fund his dreams all while attending Georgia State University. He admits it wasn’t easy at first. Despite how much love his music was getting in the Atlanta streets, when he met up with Mike Caren of Atlantic Records, he was told that he that he had a lot of urban records but no hits. Can you imagine telling that to someone who ended up being one of the most prolific producers of this decade?
Zaytoven gives the secrets to longevity in the music industry: “keep up with the times, stay relevant, be active, and make people care about you.” DJ Toomp tells how when he got his first real check after producing the famous "Dr. Doolittle" soundtrack, he took the money and got into flipping houses. Shawty Redd tells that he came out the gate with a full album publishing deal, something that is almost unheard for producers first breaking into the industry. Mike tells that he was producing songs at GSU that were getting played on the radio but didn’t actually have any songs registered.
Mike uses that to lead the discussion into the importance of learning the industry for yourself.
“There are three different parts to this. It’s like those cliques that you saw when you were in high school. First, it’s the music itself: the songs you hear. Then, it’s the music business: the money, the deals, the labels. Last, it’s the music industry, this is what I’m a part of: the producers, the artists, the songwriters.”
He then stresses how important it is to learn terms and agreements, contracts, and having a man-to-man agreement with whomever you are collaborating with instead of just letting lawyers handle everything.
At the end of the panel, I got a chance to meet Mike WiLL and Shawty Redd ask them what type of impact do they feel that they made in Atlanta music. A wide grin spreads across Mike’s face and he proceeds to ask me, “Where you from?” I tell him I’m from Atlanta too. He then laughs and says, “Well, shit you tell me!” Shawty Redd laughs too, spreads his arms out wide, and says, “You see it! My impact is right here!”