Author: Jake Paine
Ten years ago, 88-Keys was producing for groups like Black Star and De La Soul. A decade later, the one-time record store clerk has become a perceived rookie to watch this year, approaching next month's release of his debut album The Death of Adam. This afternoon, the New York producer told HipHopDX about his jump from a name buried in liner notes, to potentially the biggest independent Hip Hop success of 2008. "I think it was a natural progression. It took a very long time, and a lot of convincing, from the likes of Kanye West."
Having not intended to showcase his emcee abilities, the evolution of Adam from instrumental project to conventional Hip Hop album was inspired by touring. "It was just an idea that I had in mind for stage show purposes only. Initially, my album was supposed to be mainly instrumental, with a few features to help me bring the story to life or sew together the loose stitches of the album. I went out on tour with Common [click to read] and Q-Tip [click to read] as their opening act, but I was scaled back to having to deejay my set because I didn't appear vocally on my album anywhere, and number two, and I couldn't get any of the features to come out on the road with me," said 88.
After two to three weeks on the tour with the '90s legends, 88-Keys considered his own stage performance. "I would like to give people more of my album and more of me, and let people know who I am exactly, my personality and stuff like that. So I decided to make raps for the instrumentals on my album, that I was only gonna do for stage-show purposes."
In passing the producer mentioned his idea to old friend Kanye West."I told Kanye about my idea. I spit him a couple of verses, and he was floored. I got like a thousand times better at rapping than when he used to hear me back in the days, in like 2000. He started formulating all these ideas for me, and eventually asked me if I'd allow him to be executive producer of my album." While many artists have marketed their projects based on limited affiliation with the Chicago superstar, 88-Keys admitted to DX his own reservations. "I didn't jump at that chance, that opportunity at first. It took me about eight hours to come back around and decide. At first I told him no."
Subsequently changing his mind, the two showcase their collaboration on the album's first single, "Stay Up (Viagra)".
Since West's executive production role of The Death of Adam went public, a lot of attention was brought to the producer who had contributed years of work with the likes of J-Live, The Pharcyde and Mos Def. "I started seeing the doors opening when my mixtape [Adam's Case Files] came out. I don't know if people knew that Kanye was executive producing my album back then. I definitely have to attribute my newfound awareness to Kanye jumping on board. I noticed it way before."
The mixtape, which was made in several days, in comparison to album taking almost three years, is evident to 88. "I was so happy with the feedback that I got from the mixtape. I may've been the only person who knew this, but my album is way better than my mixtape." The work, which included Guilty Simpson, Tanya Morgan and Grafh, resonated with the producer. "Most of the people on there are my favorite artists," he said, adding that he first signed Grafh to his Locksmith Music Inc earlier in the decade.
As for the album, the project revisits classic concept album structure, something absent in Hip Hop as of late. "The concept is so tightly-knit," he says of the project, largely inspired by the vagina and its affects on society. "This is a concept album, a story and I hope people will walk away with a few lessons and jewels that I dropped within the story - just on the relationship between men and women, and where we are today in society, health hazards, the family unit."
All the recent attention has brought 88-Keys to the threshold of full circle from his start. Just as Kanye West and Pharrell returned as accomplished, once-slept-on producers, 88 has the opportunity to elevate his status, excelling in his former craft. However, he's not sure if that return awaits. "I'd rather not say who, but really major players in the game reached out to me to get beats. I'm like, 'Man, my hands are tied until my album is done.' I don't even know if I want to get back into making beats and hustling beats and stuff like that. Everything I do has been with divine guidance. Until God tells me what my next move is, my choices now are working on one of six other albums that I have ready to go or work with this Rock with group or get back into making beats." Moments later, 88-Keys hints at his direction. "I'm leaning towards working with this Rock group. But right now, I'm just a puppet."
The Death of Adam releases November 11 on Decon Records