Before the Aug. 4 release date, XXL spoke to producer Polow Da Don about the origins of “Anaconda,” the contribution from Da Internz, Nicki returning to her roots and his confidence in having another No. 1 record on his hands. —Eric Diep
Polow Da Don: The original, original idea really came from this producer in my camp. Me and Timbaland got this producer and his name is Anonymous. He’s a young kid out of Brooklyn. He’s got a group called MDMA. He’s like, "Yo, come check this out. I got this idea." I was like, "Word? Let me check it out." He was like, "Nigga, we need to do this shit for Nicki." So he played it for me and I had already started working on the beat. Me and him just finished it and we just produced the record.
I hit Nicki like, "Yo, this your first single." This was before "Pills & Potions" came out, and me and her have been kind of going back and forth on trying to find a joint. You know, she was like, “I don’t know about this one. I don’t know about that one.” So forth and so on. I tried to convince her to do a couple of other records, 'cause I feel like it's a certain sound that she should be doing right now. Niggas need a woman with her own opinion and train of thought and philosophy and so forth and so on.
She hit me right back five, ten minutes after I sent her the music. I remember she was like, "Yo, you think this record sound like me?" She was laughing at this one record. It’s bananas though. What’s crazy about the record is that [it was] Missy Elliott’s first single. Missy ended up doing that record and she kind of didn’t want to fuck with that. So then [Nicki] got to this joint and she just texted me right away. She was like, "Yo! This shit is fire."
She recorded it right away. Flew me to L.A., me and Anonymous, three or four days later. We mixed the record; I didn’t hear the verses until I first got to L.A. When I heard the verses, I lost my mind. She went in on the verses. The whole concept is crazy. We always knew it was a hit. I was surprised that she put “Pills & Potions” out. I always thought she’d put that joint out right away.
Polow Da Don: This was about two, three months ago. It’s top of the summer. This is a summer joint. It’s perfect. She went with her own train of thought and theory so forth and so on. So anyway, then “Pills & Potions” came out and I was still like, "Yo." One thing about this record is it's a club record and it got tempo to it. And girls are really gonna go crazy. While I was in L.A., I flipped it again and added some more stuff to it. She was like, “I don’t know about this new stuff. I don’t like it. I hate it.” She actually told me that she hated it. I was like, “What? You hate it? This shit crazy. This hard.” Anyway, she ended up taking the new stuff out.
After a while, it didn’t come out. I finally heard “Pills & Potions” and I was like, “Alright, okay.” At first the word was that we had the first single, I had the first single and she was about to put it out. We got all the clearances done and everything. When it didn’t come, and I heard “Pills & Potions"—which is kind of the opposite of this record—I was like, “Damn, what happened?” Then I was hitting her like “What’s good with the joint? You need to stop bullshittin’. You need to put that joint out. That’s the one.” She was like, “I feel like it's incomplete. I think it could be better.” So they hit me a couple times. You mind if this person work on it with me, and this and another. I’m like, “It’s all good. Let me just hear it. I want to hear it before y’all put it out.”
Polow Da Don: Nicki would always have a different vision for it. She felt like she was missing a part. She always felt like that. She wanted to add a bridge, 'cause of how she did her flows. She kind of did it in real song form. The flows, the verses are similar on each bar. It’s not like the same cadence. She meshed the bars up. Only a few rappers can do that. I’ve seen Ludacris or something like that do that before, where the verse will be formatted the same on each verse from a delivery standpoint. You know, just like a real song approach.
Finally, Da Internz hit me one day and was like, "Yo, let you know. Nicki asked us to work on the joint. Out of respect...” I was like, “Shit, do your thing.” I was just trying to get the best product. I wanted to see her vision through with her. So, yeah, they did their thing and it came out dope. It’s different than it was originally, but I still think it’s gonna be No. 1.
Polow Da Don: First of all, the way she rolled this single out, I think it’s dope because we live in the world now where people just lost the art of setting music up and having the anticipation. She put the artwork out first. Video is already shot. It’s not a song she puts out and tests to see how it does, hope she gets hot enough, and then shoots a video.
I love Cash Money. I think they are the new Def Jam, what Def Jam was when I was growing up. That’s what they are now. They just see hip-hop being bigger than some street shit. They see it as World music, really. They see street shit as well as World music. They promote it like it's pop music. They promote it like it's entertainment, national music. That’s what I mean by that. But anyway, the way she set this thing up, I love the fact that she went back. I never heard her this excited about a song, ever.
She called me. We spoken the most we’ve ever spoken [for] the song. She texted me in the middle of the night. She called me screaming. She’s so excited. When I first saw the artwork, I said, “First of all, forget the song. That fuckin’ picture. That’s the hit right there.” It’s so smart because that photo would have been something part of her first album’s photo shoot, or artists trying to get on, in my opinion. To me, she took it back to the beginning, which I thought was really dope.
I think, like how Beyonce and her whole project [came out] and the visuals on the album, it made you fall back in love with her, as a guy. It made girls want to be cool with her again or be down with her again. I feel like this photo and this approach is the same thing for Nicki. As a dude, I always want a hit. Whatever—I think you sexy. But it became routine to believe that. I didn’t realize how sexy she really was until I saw this picture.
Polow Da Don: She told me that her video is the best video. She was like, “Polow, when you see this video...” She’s so excited. First of all, Colin Tilley—that’s who shot the video—I feel like that’s his best work. She’s like, “I feel like this is my best work. This is huge.” The way she set this single up and released it, I think a lot of artists and labels are afraid to put their balls on the table. I always tell people this; it's what’s great about the position I'm in.
First of all, being from Atlanta is a privilege; you get to see what's actually happening before it happens to and for the rest of the world. The new trends, the new dances, just the new hot shit. Because there is not no real major label here, [so] I feel like everyone is competitive from a creative standpoint. It’s not a lot of politicking going on. When you go to New York and L.A., the music business is surrounded by a bunch of lunches, dinners and meetings. Atlanta is strictly getting yourself hot. Atlanta really teaches you and forces you to get yourself hot. The people really choose what they want to hear.
I get to be inside the buildings as well. I’m the guy that’s in these board meetings and staff meetings. Also, I’m just out with the regular people too. I kind of see the best of both worlds and the worst of both worlds. So what’s dope about what Nicki is doing is major labels are afraid to put their nuts in the table. They're afraid to put a certain amount of backing behind a song and project before it has its own buzz. Somebody like Jeezy—who went platinum on every album except one, or something like that, but goes gold or platinum on every album—they expect him to get hot first. So Jeezy will spend his own money, put a mixtape out. Put some joints out. He does it himself. Gets hot and turns in his album in. And they put it out. It’s not like back in the day.
Polow Da Don: I think it's a No. 1. I'm very confident. I really am. One thing about it is I feel like the day I gave it to her, it was already a hit. It’s more of a hit now; before it was more of a rap song. I think I'm an A&R, and she does, too. I’m always trying to tell her what she should be doing. She listens, but she has her own mind and she'll debate. We go back and forth. It’s more of a hit now, which is dope. That’s what we're here for because she’s doing a bunch of features and street joints. But she’s the type of artist that needs a home run, too.
I’ma tell you this, what’s dope about it—it’s a fun record. Girls are gonna love it. I feel like there’s a sense of fun that’s missing in hip-hop right now. Basically, street has become commercial, so anybody that’s gonna get popping [will] talk about dope and the streets and shit like that. This record is still street from the elements of feel and sound, but it’s a smash. The stuff I was adding was harder basslines and stuff that dudes want to listen to, basically. I think her vision was, we need a home run. We need to slap this joint out the park. That’s what she did. That’s what the Da Internz added to it.
Anytime I let a girl hear the record, they start dancing, smiling, tell me to play it again. And she’s talking crazy on that joint at the end. It’s like an outro she does. She’s going crazy. You know she’s changing characters and all that shit? But the way she’s doing it is like on some...it’s not like the Roman-type character. It’s more on some ratchet shit, silly girl shit. But she go back to hardcore. It’s crazy. All in like two sentences, she’s turned into like three people.
Polow Da Don: I’m just a Nicki fan, but I think everything goes in a cycle. It’s great to see people climb. And when we see people climb, eventually we want to see them either fall, start over or do it again. With Nicki, we saw her start from a mixtape market. She gained so many fans from the mixtape market. So we fell in love with that artist. She began to evolve and change. Music was at a certain place. So I think that she continued to turn into something else.
I would say, from a personal place, I want to see her do just soulful joints. She should dedicate an album to that, since she’s from New York, number one. I feel like no other female can give it to us properly. That’s probably the biggest thing. But I think the biggest thing is that we’ve seen her go be this big pop icon. Once she did American Idol, you gotta balance that out by spoon-feeding us what you gave us in the beginning. It’s hard to ask an artist to do that. Obviously, you can tell she’s smart. You can tell by how she raps that she’s smart. The marketing that she does for herself, she’s smart. It’s hard for somebody who is forward-thinking to go backwards. We’ve been asking Andre 3000 to go backwards from day one and he never has. And then all the shit that we thought was weird is now what people are copying. It’s a thing that Nelly fell for that he wished would never listen to people.
I love when Nicki do hard shit. It’s a feeling that Nicki gives me that basically you can say it’s almost like she’s a girl, but she knows what guys are thinking. So I love when she talks that crazy shit. I think her and Missy are the only two girls who really say super duper crazy shit. You're never offended, it's entertaining. I want everybody to do hardcore hip-hop right now. When I say hardcore hip-hop, I hope [Bobby] Shmurda can really bring Brooklyn back. I think New York, period. I want New York to come back, to tell you the truth. I just need a different sound for hip-hop. I don’t want people from New York sounding like they're from Chicago and Atlanta like that.
Previously: Polow Da Don Is Skeptical That Eric Bellinger Contributed To Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”
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