The past few years have been incredible for Atlanta based producer DJ Toomp, a veteran in the Atlanta music scene who has been behind some of hip-hop’s most popular songs. After establishing himself as a bankable hitmaker through his work with T.I.—he produced nearly all of the King’s hits, including “U Don’t Know Me,” “Dope Boyz,” “What U Know” and “24’s”—Toomp was forced to branch out in 2007 after Tip decided to work with other producers on his most recent album T.I. vs. T.I.P. As it turns out, nothing could have been better for Toomp, who co-produced “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “The Goodlife,” the two biggest singles from Kanye West’s Grammy-nominated Graduation album. And with Jeezy’s “I Luv It” and Jay-Z’s “Say Hello” also on his recent resume, its no surprise that Def Jam gave Toomp a shot to get in the studio with Mariah Carey for her upcoming 2008 album.
While Toomp already won a Grammy for “What U Know” in 2007, this year’s ceremonies will be an even bigger affair, with his Kanye collaborations being nominated for nearly every major award, not just the hip-hop ones. XXLMAG.com caught up with the producer on the set of Glasses Malone’s “Certified” music video, just one of the hits he’s already cooked up for the new year. Now that his services are in higher demand than ever, and a reunion with T.I. is in the works, 2008 is the year that you can’t tell Toomp nothing. Right?
“Certified” has been blowing up on the West Coast. What made you link up with a new guy from Cali like Malone?
I’ve got a whole lot of new stuff coming out for 2008, [but] what makes this particular project right here so special is that I’ve been telling my manager for the past three years that we need to go out to Los Angeles and find out about some of the new cats out there. Of course we know Snoop—he’s a made man. I’ve always known that the West Coast has got to have other artists though, and I wanted to find out so that I could bless them with music. I’m a big fan of West Coast music, so I always felt that there had to be someone in the trenches out there that I haven’t seen or heard of yet. My wishes were answered when a friend of mine brought Glasses Malone by the studio in Atlanta. He told me that Glasses had requested to have me on production. The chemistry was great—we vibed and had some of that good Down South soul food. We sat in the studio for like three days just bangin’ out music. Since then the relationship has been good, we’ve stayed in contact. When he had that situation with Sony, I knew that he would get another deal because you can’t ignore talent.
2007 was a huge year for you, career-wise. You had the biggest hits on the biggest hip-hop album of the year.
I really just made my mind up after breaking T.I. and being responsible for like 90 percent of his hits, to spread myself out. I posted up in New York, got with Kanye, got with Jay Z and I’ve got a new single with Mariah Carey coming out. I’ve also got Rick Ross, Ludacris, and a whole lotta stuff. It’s been a good year so far—I’ve been blessed.
How was working with Kanye?
It was excellent. He decided to come to Atlanta in order to get that true Southern recipe and you can hear it on the album.
Since Kanye is such a dope producer himself, did you feel a lot of pressure to really bring something extraordinary to his album?
There wasn’t any pressure because I basically looked at it like, “You’re a producer yourself and you’re calling me to come in, then you must respect my craft as well.” There wasn’t really any pressure or any egos—none of that. People can get a misunderstanding of a person just by what they see or hear in an interview, but Kanye is just a dude that speaks his mind, like me. The chemistry between us was great. He respects what I do and I respect what he does. Now we are about to get a Grammy [laughs].
But you’ve been through the Grammy thing before, right?
The first time at the Grammy’s, I was nominated for T.I.’s “U Don’t Know Me.” We didn’t win that one but we did end up winning Best Solo Rap Performance for “What U Know.” So now I’m back with Kanye and hopefully in 2009 I’ll win with Mariah Carey. My plan is to get a Grammy and be certified every year from now on.
How’s T.I. been? Have you spoken to him recently?
We talk at least twice a week. He’s keeping his head up and waiting for this storm to pass over. His spirits are definitely high and he’s working on a new joint. Right now we’re in negotiations to get it all together. I told him that if he can let me get in there—and this isn’t about greed or anything—but if he can let me get in there as a co-executive producer, I can make sure that this is another classic album. The chemistry with us from the previous albums really helped to make those classic albums. I want to oversee the album, even the music that I don’t produce, just to see to it that it’s a thorough album. The situation is cool. Like I said, we’re just waiting for all of this stuff to pass over. He made a few wrong decisions but he’s going to be alright.
Your synthesizer sound has become pretty distinct. How did you develop that?
It comes just from my love for music. My father was in a band back in the days with a group called MVP. He taught me how to sing when I was kid, so I’ve always known how music is supposed to go. To this day I still don’t read music, but my ears are tuned to where I know what’s what. As far as my style, it comes from me paying attention to the arrangement of old school joints. You’ll hear the synthesizers, the strings, the brass and the big horns. I am a big fan of Earth Wind & Fire, Tower of Power, Barry White—a whole lotta old school stuff. That’s what I vibe to before I even go to the studio. Me being born in 1969, I’ve had the chance to see some of the greatest.
Are you ever going to put out your own album?
Man, every time I hear that it just makes me think harder about making up my mind and just doing that. I definitely want to do it but I don’t want it to be a compilation. When I do it, I’m going to approach it like a Quincy Jones thing, where it’s going to be rap and R&B on there. It’ll be a well put together album. When I do it, I want to shock a lot of people and be like, “Wow! He’s got this artist on there?” You may not even know who’s featured on my album until you buy it. That’s really how I want to do it—with the element of surprise. Some people I will reveal just to hype up the album, but I want to have the element of surprise on mine.
Do you have your own company or imprint?
My production company is Zone Boy Productions. My imprint is N-Zone Entertainment—my partner Bernard Parks and I started that. I’ve got an artist named Suga Suga and an R&B group called SIX20. I have a publishing company called Toompstone Publishing. So every project that I’m on, you’ll see Toompstone/Zone Boy Productions on there. I’ve been focusing on blowing up the production and the publishing companies up lately. I’m going to come back to the label thing soon, because it’s not as easy as I thought it was [laughs].
Aside from Mariah Carey, is there anything else in ’08 that we can look out for?
I can tell you who I’ve been in the studio with. I can’t tell you if everything is going to be “solid” though. But I’ve been in the studio with Jamie Foxx—I did three or four songs with him. Also Lloyd—he’s out of the ATL—he had a pretty successful year in 2007. I’ve been working with Lil Eazy-E on some stuff out here. Most likely I will be cutting three or four more with Glasses Malone too. Lets see, who else? There’s Luda. I’m about to get on the next Young Jeezy album. Then like I said earlier, T.I. and myself have been chopping it up a whole lot lately. It’s about to be another beautiful year. Be on the lookout for this Glasses Malone project. You’ll definitely hear me on some more West Coast music. I’d love to come out here more and work with whoever is willing. I just want to bless and be blessed. Also look out for my group SIX20. They’re singers, writers and producers. Remember that name—they’re going to be one of the next hottest R&B acts out of the South.
Good luck at the Grammys!
Y’all stay tuned to your TVs. I just might walk off with one of them things [laughs].