The entry of 88-Keys into the ‘Artist’ category is a long time coming. After years of working with everyone from Mos Def to Macy Gray to Talib Kweli, the heralded engineer saved enough of his own beats and concepts to create The Death of Adam – a modern retelling of the male-female saga found in the Biblical book of Genesis.
After all this time, 88-Keys feels ready to debut and the guests are plentiful on this new disc. In our interview with the Long Island native, he tells us about his friendship with Kanye, his spiritual beliefs and what it’s like to take a monetary risk.
SSv: After so many years on the producer end of things, what makes this the appropriate time to go solo?
88-Keys: The stars are aligned basically. I feel like everything happened the way it was supposed to. Nothing that I did on my end was out of the ordinary. I was a part of the beat generation. I was a part of the original line-up. It wasn’t in the cards then for me, but it’s in the cards now.
SSv: Was that hard to discern when it was time? And how do you discern that? Is it a gut instinct?
88-Keys: I’m very literal when it comes to God and stuff like that. What most people would term a gut instinct is pretty much the word of God trying to advise them on where to go and what to do. I just try my best to seek God’s advice and go with that. Basically it was about hearing the word of God which told me to stop trying to sell beats and stop trying to be a part of other people’s writing and just go cold turkey on that, but instead to start making my own thing. I didn’t know where my next check would come from. But I just ran with it and I’ve been taken care of to this point and it’s been an incredible outlet.
SSv: Does that translate to spiritual content or a spiritual slant on the album?
88-Keys: I wouldn’t say it translates. It just so happens that this album is called The Death of Adam and it revolves around the story of Adam and Eve, but a modernized version of it – from my own perspective. It’s my take on the male and female relationships in society. It’s always been that way since the beginning of time. My spirituality made this album intentionally faithless, in terms of just reference or anything. It just so happens that’s how the album turned out in this theme, but I have other albums ready to go in my head that are heavily conceptual for stuff like that. As of right now, there is no spiritual connotations to it, but I look forward to making another incredible album that will.
SSv: Did your experience as a producer play heavily into making your own album? I just wondered how you saw that…
88-Keys: Definitely! Without a doubt! I wouldn’t have been able to do anything had I not had the experience. But more so, I actually learned a lot from myself by making this album. There’s a lot of stuff creative-wise that I learned. I actually learned a lot about myself personally as well. There were things I was facing, going down one path or another and the paths I chose told me a lot. I didn’t think I’d be able to go down certain paths, but I did and it taught me. I also learned a lot from friends and family – one being Kanye West and his own adversities. That taught me a lot. I take a little from this person and a little from that experience and apply it to my current state of being and go forward from there as far as I can in this little game called entertainment. [Laughs]
SSv: You mentioned Kanye. How did you come together?
88-Keys: It was pretty natural. He’s literally one of my five best friends and has been since 2000. As for his involvement on my album, that came from his excitement that I got my real shot to make something happen for myself. I finally got a chance to put an album out. At the time, it wasn’t for Decon, which is the label it’s finally coming out. Originally it was for another company based out of the UK, so when I told him I got out of the deal, he got more excited than I did. He said, ‘You know I gotta be on your album, right?’ And I’m thinking, ‘Cool, man.’ This was about two years ago while he was working on one of Jay-Z’s record, so when he said that to Jay-Z, he said, ‘If Def Jam clears you.’ We all got a good chuckle out of that one.
SSv: You’ve worked with so many artists from the mainstream side of hip-hop to the conscious rapper. Do you find yourself drawn to one side or another?
88-Keys: No, not really. I’m at a new place in my career right now. If you would have asked me back then, just to keep it 100% real, I would have told you whoever has the signed check. That’s who I’m into. But now I won’t say the check is the least of my concerns, but it’s not in the forefront. I gravitate toward whoever is the better artist or the most creative or the dopest act – the one that I feel will make an impact on the industry or who will have longevity.
SSv: How do see the state of hip-hop right now as you’re entering the game and what are you bringing to the table? Or do you even think about those things?
88-Keys: I don’t know that I think about that, because I’m just making the kind of music that I like to create. I do think I’m making a contribution to the music entertainment world rather than just hip-hop. Of course, hip-hop is included in that, but it’s not just about hip-hop. What I bring to this is, first off, fun, fun, fun. [Laughs] I had a lot of fun making this record over the last two and a half years making this record and I want the fun I had making this record translate to people and have them have as much fun listening and absorbing it and being able to visualize what’s going on with The Death of Adam. Also, I have a lot more of jewels that are dropped on this album. Sonically there are a lot of things that are just awesome. I can’t describe them any other way.
But as far as the state of hip-hop now, honestly I tuned out while I was making my album. I just finished my album 100% so I’m just waking up and my eyes are still blurry. I’ve been hearing some names here and there but I haven’t had a chance to check out their work and see what the buzz is about.