With all due respect to the Triple Six, the most known unknown of late has been the Philly-born DJ/producer Don Cannon. Though you may not know the details of his resume, you’ve probably heard his name dozens of times, either on his 28 Grams mixtapes, over tracks on DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz series or at the beginning of his head nod–inducing productions for the likes of Young Jeezy and T.I. Now, with Jay-Z cosigning his beats, production work streaming in and his own stable of emerging artists, Cannon is taking aim at the industry. Get Aphilliated or get left behind.
A huge turning point for your production career was landing the beat for “Go Crazy” on Jeezy’s album. How’d that come about?
What happened was I originally gave that beat to T.I.
And he turned it down?
No, he didn’t turn it down. He did a verse on it and Drama put it out. At that same time, ironically, I had given that beat to Jeezy and he was just coming up and he was like, “Wow, I love this beat,” and he ended up using it for his album. I think they were about six songs deep at the time when they cut the deal with Def Jam and Jay-Z got in the office. They wanted to play the songs for [Jay] to show progress and my song was number six out of the songs they played. Jay-Z was listening and when my record came on, he just stood up like, “That’s the one I want.”
How’d you feel when Jay-Z hopped on the remix?
It was weird. Jay-Z is my favorite artist, so I was like, Damn, my favorite artist got on my first major beat, what do I do now? I already did what I wanted to do, so where do I go now but make more beats for him?
So what would be your dream production job?
Jay-Z, probably. I already did that, but maybe producing a whole album. Jackson 5 is one of my favorite groups of all time, or I would like to do a Stevie Wonder record.
Jay’s gonna need somebody to put together his comeback mixtape…
If I did the Jay-Z comeback tape, it’s out of here. Also, I’d like to do a Beanie Sigel tape. He’s my second favorite artist and I’m already working on some songs for him.
You started producing at a young age, right?
Yeah, I’ve been producing since I was 11. I didn’t have nothing to do the beats on, so I would do this thing called pause tapes. I would put a sample on a tape, press pause, then go back on the record and do that loop again, pause it and do that for 5 minutes until I had continuous loops to rap on.
DJ Drama is also from Philly. You linked up at college in Atlanta, but did you ever have contact with him before that?
Well, my homeboy who knew a lot of people that went to his high school in Philly was telling me, “Yo you got to hear this cat Drama, he’s crazy,” but I never had a chance to get in touch with him. As soon as I came to Atlanta to go to Clark [University], I ran up on him told him what I did, that I produced, and he put me down with the squad. He had been there a year before me, so he was already putting a whole team together. Drama and Sense lived together. They had a duplex in the 4th Ward of Atlanta and I used to get a bus and just go chill at they crib. We just started being really musically inclined together.
A lot of people became familiar with your name because Drama would do the “Cannon” drop on all his mixtapes. Was that always the plan?
It’s all branding. We so tight, brotherhood-wise, [if] you hear a tape by me, you gonna hear a Dramatic drop. You might not hear a “Gangsta Grills,” ‘cause that’s the name of his tapes, but you will hear a Drama or Sense drop. We brand each other. I got fans that he don’t have, he got fans that I don’t have. That’s how we make you see. It’s all about marketing.
You’re working on establishing your own crew of artists, including Detroit Red and Willy The Kid. What made you sign them?
Yeah, they’re signed to the Aphilliates Music Group. I’ve been down with them since ’98. We also got a little crew called Blood Sweat and Tears. It’s kind of like an N.W.A.-type thing with me, Detroit Red and Willy. Detroit Red is crazy right now. I’m excited about his project because he has the mind of a prodigy. He likes to do so much stuff with his music. He wants to really get into the music and bring certain elements of rock into it and [combine them with] hip-hop and R&B. Willy, he got crazy buzz in the streets, as far as him being the second coming of rap. Everybody I talk to about him is like, Man this guy is crazy. You don’t see too many young people with wordplay. He has that raw flavor from ’94, ’95, with a little 2006 glazed sauce on it.
Outside of the crew, who are you producing for?
I did about three or four tracks for Jeezy’s [next album]. I’m not sure how many they’re keeping. I know two of them are keepers so far. I did a joint for Claudette Ortiz [with Ma$e]. I co-produced that with Brian-Michael Cox, he kinda arranged it. I’m working on the Paul Wall album. I just got a page while I was on the phone with you from Mike Jones. I’m working with Slim Thug and his group Boyz N Blue. I was just talking to Sha Money earlier today, trying to get on a couple of projects. I’ve been working on Drama’s album. His stuff is my main priority right now.
What’s the craziest thing someone has done to try and get you to host their mixtape?
This guy said he’d give me $30,000 to do his tape.
And you said no?
Yup. Some people might have said I’m a fool for that. You can’t pay me enough money to destroy what I’ve built. [Maybe] if the music was halfway decent… But we get it all day, people want to give us clothes, people want to do this, but we turn down a lot of stuff because it’s all about quality. Fuck the quantity.
I guess you’re always running around with Drama and Sense. Which one of you gets run up on the most by fans?
The funny thing is, we all get it. If they know one of us, they know all of us. We can’t go out no more, especially Drama. He just went to Wal-Mart at 11:30 this morning and he had people following him around the store. It gets uncomfortable. We were at the mall the other day and in less that 15 minutes, people walked up on us asking us to sign autographs. When we in the street we get love because we still the people’s people. We doing what we do. The people love that, especially in Atlanta. Drama goes a little further. When he goes to Cincinnati or New York, somebody will stop him and say, “Yo, you DJ Drama!” But the rest of us, it’s coming.