Look At Me Now
Before DJ Toomp was producing some of T.I.’s biggest hits, he was a long-time struggling producer. The man behind T.I.P.’s “What You Know,” “24’s” and “U Don’t Know Me” received his start in 1985 with Atlanta MC, Raheem the Dream, producing Raheem’s self-titled record when he was only 16-years-old. But Toomp’s early success came as no surprise to his family and close ones. His father was the lead singer of the R&B group, the MVP’s, and groomed a young Aldrin Davis a.k.a Toomp to be a singer since the age of six. In high school, he was always musical but opted out of singing and began to DJ and produce.
After the modest regional success of Raheem the Dream, Toomp acquired a small local following in his hometown of Atlanta. He DJed for MC Shy D and Luke and the 2 Live Crew in the early 90’s but as a producer, he was still a relative unknown. Things changed, however, in 1997 when the A-Town boardsman crossed paths with local rapper T.I. The two formed a friendship and in 2001 Toomp served as associate producer for T.I.P.’s debut album, I’m Serious. In 2003 the two partnered again on T.I.’s gold selling album, Trap Muzik, which Toomp executive produced. On T.I.’s following albums — Urban Legend (2004) and King (2006) — Toomp decided to concentrate on making beats instead of handling an executive producer role.
His discography also includes, Ludacris’ “Two Miles An Hour” off The Red Light District, Young Jeezy’s “I Luv It” off The Inspiration and Young Buck’s “Pocket Full of Paper” off Buck The World. In addition, Toomp has signed two new rappers, Jack Buna and Suga Suga to his newly formed label, Nzone Entertainment. Minutes after attending a songwriter’s convention sponsored by EMI Publishing, Toomp sits with XXLMag.com at Time Square’s Hilton Hotel in New York City to talk about his journey as a producer and his relationship with T.I.
How did your fathers experience in the music business help you on your journey as a producer?
My father was apart of a group called The MVP’s. They were signed to Buddha Records, which was the same label Gladys Knights and the Pips and Curtis Mayfield were on. My father was the lead singer [in the group] and he can still sing his ass off. We used to sing in the car together and he used to teach me harmonies. So I was always interested in music. From there, everything [fell into place]. I started singing and listening to how music was put together. The first time I actually heard a DJ mixing on a tape, I already knew how it was done because I remembered how the original song went. So the first thing I did was a pause tape. Then, once I hit the turntables, I already knew how it went without anyone showing me. That’s when I first started to DJ.
How did you get into producing?
Through an artist from Atlanta, Raheem the Dream. We both started around the same time and we went to high school together. I was DJing at pep rallies at the time and he was throwing parties at different hotel ballrooms. So he asked me to come DJ and by that time, I had my weight up, so everybody was talking about DJ Toomp. So from there, I started going into different studios and playing around. Even in school, I used to hit a couple of notes on the piano. To this day, I still don’t know how to read music but I know what it’s supposed to sound like. So I was just tapping around on the keyboard and I figured I had the knack for [producing].
How has the game changed over the years?
Cats these days are scared to be fans. I’m about a year younger than LL Cool J, but I’m a fan. It’s like these cats are too cocky to be fans. I would love to see more new cats take the time out to do their history. You might have a 16-year-old R&B artist who will tell you his influence was Marvin Gaye. You know during those 16 years, Marvin Gaye wasn’t putting out music. But he went and did his history. For some reason, in hip-hop it’s out with the old and in with the new. People don’t take time to see where hip-hop came from and what it’s about. So I feel it’s my job to keep it going. I’m 37 and I’m still active.
Do you like working with a new artists as opposed to a well-established ones?
I wouldn’t say it’s better, but it does feel better when you break someone new. You can be a producer, jump on the right artist’s project and then all of the sudden your life changes. That’s why I give certain producers props. Like Scott Storch, he broke Chris Brown. Jermaine Dupri broke Jagged Edge, Kriss Kross and Da Brat. That is when you really become a super producer. I’m known for breaking T.I. When you can get credit for breaking somebody it’s a good feeling. There isn’t anything wrong with jumping on an established artists’ project, but it’s almost like a no brainer.
When you first worked with T.I. did you know he was going to be a star?
When I met him he had a hell of a presence. He was cutting hair at a barbershop when I met him, but it was the way he carried himself. You would think he already had bread. At the same time, I’ll be in the barbershop and all kind of women was checking for him. I was like, ‘Damn, this nigga already got hoes and everything.’ There are rap cats that got a hit record out now that can’t get that many women. I was telling him, ‘You got it already. So when you blow up, it shouldn’t be a problem.’ I saw that in him. At the time, I had a certain sound that I was going with and I needed an artist who could challenge me and he was the one. It’s a crazy chemistry and I’m responsible for that sound.
You have a unique sound that isn’t easily categorized. Do you sample or mainly use live instrumentation?
If I do sample, it may be drum sounds or certain horn strikes. So as far as loops, I love to play it over, rather than sample it. There are very few producers out there who really sit in a room and make great music by themselves. You could close me in an elevator if you want to, as long as there is a keyboard and an MPC, then [I’m fine]. Give me about an hour and I’ll have you some real shit. I’m creating my own sounds. On the first two T.I. albums, people started figuring out what kind of equipment I was using. Later on, I started hearing tracks that sound like mine — certain organs. So I’m always switching it up. That’s why it’s hard to duplicate Jeezy’s “I Luv It” or T.I.’s “What You Know.” Those don’t just come straight out of a keyboard. There is some other shit going on. It’s gonna be about five or 10 years before they get on that.
Does it bother you when you hear someone copying your sound?
Believe it or not, it doesn’t make me mad. Because when the public eventually notices, they are gonna be like, “This producer ain’t gonna last for long.” Almost every producer that came out sounding like someone else doesn’t last too long. Because when people want that sound, they are going to get it from the source. Why come out with a Lil Jon sound? You ain’t gonna get props. So I don’t get upset. If anything, it’s flattering.
More producers are starting to become artists. Do you have an aspirations to come out with an album?
I have been rapping for a long time, but I never considered myself an artist. Not that I’m afraid, but I don’t want the responsibility of having to be on a promo tour and all that kind of stuff. I’d rather stay home and do some beats. But I have ideas to put an album together, sort of like The Chronic. So I won’t rule it out.