Born in the Bay Area, raised in the UK and currently living in Los Angeles, producer Beatnick Dee has seen many places and faces to get where he is now. After being an intern for Tres Records—former home to artists like People Under The Stairs, Lightheaded, Blu & Y Society—half a decade ago he decided to make a permanent move to L.A. to focus on what he loves doing most: producing hip hop, crate digging, and selling records.
On your About page you mention being exposed to a variety of genres from a young age, when your father began taking you to Glastonbury. Must’ve had quite an impact if it’s worth mentioning in your bio…
Definitely. Not many kids get to see huge stars at such a young age. I got to see James Brown, Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Oasis, Foo Fighters, Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes, Roger Waters, and many more. It’s really the festival experience as a whole though that was so impactful. The atmosphere, the fans. It’s an amazing melting pot of cultures. I knew from a young age I wanted to do something creative.
Sounds crazy! But no hip hop yet. Can you recall the first moments of hip hop getting your attention?
When I was a kid, we’d move back and forth from the California Bay Area to the sleepy countryside. I soaked up music from both sides. I heard a lot more hip hop in Cali of course. Coolio was a very early memory, when I was around 9 or 10 years old. I loved the Beastie Boys and the energy they gave off.
When I was living in England, I would travel to the the nearest big city on the bus, which is Bristol. That city has a lot of musical history of its own. Portishead, Tricky, Massive Attack, Roni Size … I was skateboarding around that time too and discovered a lot of amazing hip hop from skate videos like 411 Magazine, Osiris The Storm, Shorty’s Fulfill The Dream, F.O.R.E and friends. I’d also just buy random CDs and blindly discover stuff.
After your internship at Tres Records, you permanently moved to Los Angeles. What is it exactly that attracted you so much to L.A., as opposed to London closer to home – which of course is also a huge musical hub …
I have a love/hate relationship with London life. The grind of that city, the weather, the rush and hustle and bustle of it all. I have great friends there, and there’s absolutely an incredible art and music culture there. For me though I was slowly losing interest in the UK hip hop sound and wanted to branch out. I still have immense love for it, but people had always told me my beats were more suited to US rappers, and specifically to California emcees.
Back in 2011, my friend DJ Insite and I went to Los Angeles and New York for an extended trip. It went so well – I’d already been making connections online working with rappers in L.A. – and with the fortunate benefit of having dual nationality, it wasn’t going to be a big hassle making the move. It was kind of a no-brainer moment that I should just try it out there and see what I could achieve, while still having connections in England as well.
What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned as an intern at Tres Records?
Tres managed to be perceived as a large worldwide company, which technically they were. But when I arrived I was surprised at how small the office was. Just one small room. The lesson there was that perception is everything. You can do things on a grand scale with a small team, and create a wide fanbase and make something look like a big production.
I can imagine it was quite impressive to be an intern at a label featuring “underground heroes” such as Blu, Thes One, the Lightheaded crew, Damu & Insight… Can you share a moment of really being amazed by it all?
Meeting Blu at a peak time in his career was really cool. He came to the office one day to pick up a royalty check. Around that time, he’d recently been featured on a song I produced called “Through The Flames” by Cashus King (f.k.a. Co$$). He was super down to earth and very humble.
I learned a lot from Chikara and he definitely helped shape my perspective on music in Los Angeles and how to kick-start a career over here. At that time, in 2011, when I was over there on a trip, all this stuff seemed to be lining up and going well and one day he just said, “Man, you know what, you should just move here.” It was so simple, but hearing it from someone like him at the time was very motivating. Six months later, I made the jump.
Can you make a living out of music now?
Just about! I’ve been self-employed now for six years. Basically selling records, and making money from beats/placements and some of my own projects, as well as being a partner over at The Drum Broker and doing kits.
It’s up and down, and can be feast or famine at times, but I have a lot of freedom. I’ve made a niche for myself on the record selling side, curating batches specifically for sampling producers. It goes hand in hand with what I do anyway, so it’s definitely fun.
(Photo: Chris Baliwas)
“People Under The Stairs always found some beautiful, obscure gems and that’s always fascinated me: there’s always something new to be found”
Can you tell us a bit about the Inspiration For Hire Vol. II guest mix you’ve made?
It’s a collection of songs ranging from Salsa, Prog Rock, Gospel, Jazz, Modern Soul, Fusion, and exotic sounds from around the world. I love the mystique and intrigue of private press records, so there’s some of that in there as well. Hopefully it’ll inspire people to go digging, to DJ, or to open up the beat machine and make music. Maybe it’ll put someone in the zone, or inspire them to try a new idea.
It’s not always current music that inspires me to create. Sometimes old music can do just as much as anything current, and not necessarily just for sampling. Studying a song, how it was recorded, how certain instruments were mic’d up or panned can really help crack the code on production techniques that can still be applied to modern music.
Whom or what would you consider an underground or forgotten gem which influenced you?
It has to be People Under The Stairs – OST. It’s probably the single most influential album for me. At the time I was really into that sound, but it wasn’t until years later that its longevity inspired me to the point of wanting to create my own music. Their sampling techniques and the feeling in their songs were what drew me in. They’ve always found some beautiful, obscure gems and that’s always fascinated me: there’s always something new to be found.
I also used to ‘intern’ for Thes One at Piecelock 70. When I first moved to L.A., I managed to connect with him and I gained a ton of insight and industry knowledge from him early on. I was fortunate enough to work with him on my debut album, Creative Medicine, as well. Much love, Thes!
Thanks for the interview, Danny. Big up! Cheers to those listening, buying records, and to all the self employed creatives out there: keep pushing on!