Chief Keef’s Producer CBMix Breaks Down the Making of ‘Thot Breaker’
In late April of 2014, Chief Keef's fans were thirsting for his official sophomore album Bang 3. He was still on Interscope at the time, though he'd be dropped later that year, and he was promising fans an unrealistic amount of side projects, including a Bang 4 EP, a mixtape with Fredo Santana called Blood Thicker Than Water and a collab project with Tadoe called Best of Glo Worlds. And while the world patiently waited to see his next move, he announced another mixtape—Thot Breaker.
We never got any of those projects, save for an entirely different version of Bang 3 in October 2014, and once Keef split ways with Interscope, a deluge of random mixtapes came spilling forth: Big Gucci Sosa with Gucci Mane, Back From the Dead 2, Sorry 4 the Weight, and Almighty DP 1 and 2, to name a few. But still, no Thot Breaker.
Until tonight, when, after three long years, he finally releases the long-awaited mixtape on iTunes. Featuring production from Mike WiLL Made-It, D. Rich. K.E. on the Track and Keef himself (as Turbo), the project is one of his lightest in years, straying away from harder drill beats and into softer pop/R&B territory.
One of the guys who helped him go in that direction was Chris Barnett, a producer/engineer from Chicago who goes by CBMix. He started working with Keef around May of 2016, when Sosa was setting up a studio in his huge new house in L.A. and needed someone to hook up the studio equipment properly.
Born in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, CBMix spent his young teenage years playing guitar and trying to form different bands, but when he could never get one together, he became his own one-man band by learning Fruity Loops. He spent the next five to 10 years making "really shitty music" until quitting his day job in 2010 and moving to Chicago to work full time as an hourly engineer in different studios. "I moved into the Music Garage, built a relationship with Vic Mensa and Chance The Rapper—they were right down the hall in the rehearsal room—and then I ended up building a relationship with Young Chop." Working with Chop lead to linking with Sosa, and the rest is history.
CBMix produced on six out of the 13 tracks for Thot Breaker, so we talked to him about making the project, what Keef's recording process is like and the direction the Chicago rapper is going in next.
XXL: When did you first start working with Keef?
CBMix: I guess you can say it all started from a relationship I built with Young Chop back in late 2012, early 2013. We did a record called "Declined" with Chief Keef and Lil Durk, Chop put it all together. That was the first time I worked with Keef, I think that record came out in 2013 or 2014. But then one day Keef just called me out of nowhere and flew me to his house the very next day because he moved into a new house and his Pro Tools system wasn’t working right. He needed to get it up and running so he just flew me out and then that’s when me and Keef built a real strong relationship, producing and recording together. So I went out there and got a studio all hooked up right, and since then we’ve been working a lot together.
Was this his home studio?
Yeah it was his home setup. It’s just a modest home setup: Apollo interface, Neumann TLM107 mic with KRK speakers, subwoofer. Nothing too crazy at all, like really some super basic stuff. But that’s really all you needed.
Does he do a lot of recording at home?
Yeah, lately he’s been doing a lot of his recording at home. Basically since I came around, because he’s been in plenty of big studios here and there, but what he said himself, he’s like ‘Damn, you got the crib sounding like Paramount.’ It’s really a different kinda situation with him. And I see with a lot of people, it’s a different vibe when you’re at home and you’re relaxing, and then whenever the inspiration strikes you can just go record as opposed to booking a session, having to find your transportation and show up on time. All that stuff kinda gets in the way when you’re in a real studio, it’s like work. When you’re at home, it’s more relaxed.
So I find we catch a way different vibe at the house, and it’s any day, any given hour. If the inspiration strikes, we gotta get to work. I gotta be ready to record right away. The mic is always on, Pro Tools is always open 24/7. And I’ll never see it coming. He’ll be like ‘Come on CB, let’s record right now,’ and I have to be on my toes at a moment’s notice to get to work. So I think he really likes it, because a lot of other engineers – even in the pro studios – they spend a lot of time doing shit that really doesn’t matter. But what really matters is capturing the moment, the inspiration in the moment. Fuck all that technical shit, that can wait ’til later. We gotta capture a moment.
Was there a recent moment you guys captured together while recording Thot Breaker that sticks out?
Well, the “Going Home” record. We recorded that back in January. So whenever I’m at his house I’m basically just making beats the whole time, taking little naps in between – there’s no sleeping at all, really. It’s definitely in my best interest to keep working when I’m out there, so I’m making beat after beat after beat, probably at three or four in the morning. He wanted to record, so I started playing some beats. All the beats were laid out and weren’t really sticking so I went to my email and started playing some beats, the “Going Home” beat. It’s a beat me and my friend Hollywood J made, it was just sitting in my email. It’s something I would never expect Sosa to rap on, but you never know with him so I just took a chance and played it, and he was like ‘Load it up, let’s record.’ So immediately we got to cutting vocals on it, as soon as he heard it.
I don’t know if you heard him on Zane Lowe but he said that’s probably his favorite song on the project and he listens to it every day.
We probably recorded it in 15, 20 minutes. We did a quick little balance, bounced it out and I could tell he likes the song if he puts a snippet on his Instagram. Right away he put a couple snippets on Instagram of him vibing out to the song, so that’s a good indication that he likes it. I’ve probably recorded two or three hundred songs with him just over the past year, it’s all fire to me – I like everything he does. But he’s very particular with what he likes, I guess you could say. He’s very, very fast at making songs, he makes a lot of songs. But you never know, some he’ll end up liking, some he won’t. There’s no way for me to tell – even with the beats, what he’s gonna like or what mood he’s gonna be in. So I just try to be completely open and available to any situation that arises. We used to play the beats out of Fruity Loops or iTunes and when he was ready to record, it takes too much time to load it in Pro Tools so I started playing the beats out of Pro Tools. So when he hears a beat he likes, it’s ready, good to go.
Smart. When you started working with him, what were your first impressions of him as a recording artist?
It’s perfect. I own and operate a couple of recording studios in Chicago. I’m engineering, I do hourly studio time to pay the bills. I’ve seen it all when it comes to recording artists and different styles of how people record. And it’s aggravating working with shitty rappers with bad material and on top of that, they’re trying to tell me every step of how they want me to do everything.
With me and Keef it’s like unspoken understanding. Our brains are on the same wavelength – we don’t have to really communicate, we’re just both attacking the song from the same angle. And it’s my favorite way to work. We’ll get a song, record it and it’s done. We’ll make the beat together, record the song, [and] bounce it out of Pro Tools [in] 30, 40 minutes. In no time. We’re not overthinking anything or worrying about technical bullshit when it comes to studio gear or how shit is supposed to be done or any of that shit. We’re just on the same page, and that’s how I like to work. ’Cause that’s how the most magical shit happens. Don’t overthink it, just do it. Let the music breath on its own, instead of overthinking and sucking the soul out of it. So my first impression right away was just ‘It’s perfect. This is how I like to work.’
From speaking to Chop, and speaking to Sosa and speaking to you, it's obvious Keef records a lot of music. And obviously with the studio at home it’s pretty easy for him. But he sort of took 2016 off. What was going on last year? I know Alki [David] had also sued Metro [Boomin], Zaytoven and Sonny Digital, producers that Keef had music with, and the music was being released in some way or another. I don’t know if that affected his off time, but what was 2016 like for you guys?
I know nothing about that whole situation between Keef and Alki. I was aware he wasn’t dropping any music, but I think part of it was because you don’t want to oversaturate the market. It creates a supply and demand of some sort. If you’re dropping a song every single day, every single week, the hype may die down. When you don’t drop a song for a whole year and then finally drop something, the hype’s gonna be through the roof. And I think his music really deserves that.
When I first went out to his crib out in L.A., he had just moved into that house. Pro Tools wasn’t set up – even the whole house wasn’t set up. They’re still hanging [up] artwork or whatever, making a house into a home really. So I think that kinda has something to do with it. He had to basically get resituated in his new crib to where he could start focusing back on recording. Before that, he was doing a lot of work at home, but he wasn’t really… like when I came and hooked up the studio at the crib, I got everything hooked up right. With the right cables, the right gear. And it sounded like a pro studio. So once that happened he realized ‘Oh shit, I don’t have to go to big studios anymore. I can stay at the crib and work.’ It was like a change in his work flow, how he made music.
When did you go out there and hook the crib up?
May of 2016. Some random number was FaceTiming me at six in the morning. I just happened to be up. I’m like ‘Who the fuck is this?’ I answer, it ends up being Keef. He was like ‘Man, my Pro Tool’s fucked up. You need to come out here. Give me your name and birthday, I’m gonna book your flight right now.’ The he called me back in 10 minutes like ‘Your flight leaves at four o’ clock tomorrow.’ I didn’t see that coming at all, but as soon as I got there, day one, we were right to work. Immediately [with] me and Keef, it was like we already knew each other and knew how to work. It was very weird.
Do you record his music?
No. When I’m out there I record all of it, but he records a lot of it himself. Like the Two Zero One Seven mixtape, probably half of it was recorded by him himself. We were about 100, 150 songs in, and I had no idea when they were dropping or what they were dropping. I had no input on those decisions, so he just put together a tracklist. For Thot Breaker he kind of did the same thing, but this time, [Peeda] Pan [Keef’s manager] reached out to me like ‘here’s the tracklist, lets’ get everything mixed.’ So I was actually able to go in and mix and master everything properly. So there’s not gonna be any low audio at all on Thot Breaker like there was on Two Zero One Seven.
Well I had seen you telling people on Reddit that you’d done that on purpose. Were you trolling or were you trying to cover up Keef’s mistake?
I was probably trolling. They won’t believe anything I tell them, anyway. The real fact of the matter is there’s a recording template we have over there – you record your song, then you enable the mastering plugins. And he just did not enable the mastering plugins.
Thot Breaker is a project he announced years ago. From your knowledge, how many of these records are new? Is all of it stuff he recorded since you guys started working together? “Slow Dance” is on there, that’s an older record, right?
“Slow Dance” was done in October 2016. Everything on the Thot Breaker tracklist was done in the last year and a half. It’s all new stuff.
And I see people on Reddit asking if “Mr. Cleaner” is gonna be on there. But I don’t think so, huh?
I have no idea what that song even is. They just be asking for anything. Honestly Keef is in the best position to know what he should do for himself. I think taking advice from kids on Reddit probably would be a bad move for him, so I don’t blame him – or even myself – for not listening. They’re asking for old songs.
Now Keef said another one of his favorite songs on Thot Breaker is “You My Number One.”
I noticed he said his other favorite songs are “Slow Dance” and “You My Number One.” I was pretty surprised to see that because those are records that I produced that are a similar feel to the “Going Home” record. It’s definitely not drill music, it’s more so on some pop level shit. I was definitely surprised to see that. It’s very unexpected. I gotta be ready and willing to adapt to whatever he wants to do. That’s really what he wanted to do, so I was at his house making pop beats, trying my best. And I guess that’s the stuff he likes.
Talk about making “You My Number One.”
CB: I was just sitting there trying to catch a vibe. I don’t think he was present when I was making the beat, he was in another room or something if I remember correctly. I was trying to catch a different vibe because I know how to do the heavy-hitter, trap drill shit, but he’s been doing that for years. He’s trying to switch it up so… he texts me every now and then or always will ask me ‘Any pop beats? I need some pop beats.’ And that’s something I really don’t do that much, so whenever I do he ends up liking it. I don’t really quite get it. The “Going Home” beat was made here in Chicago by me and Hollywood J for an artist we work with called Nick Bean. I initially made it for Nick Bean and I was trying to capture the vibe of Nick Bean’s music, and it was something he never ended up rapping on. So it was just sitting in my email and then I played it for Sosa and he rapped on it. If anyone’s familiar with the artist Nick Bean, it’s kinda almost funny that I made a beat for Nick and then Keef ended up rapping on it.
And discuss “Slow Dance.” Was that another song that you made while you were at the crib?
That was a beat I made at Sosa’s crib. The beat was originally filled with drums. We recorded the whole song, then Keef stepped out of the makeshift booth we have there and told me to move. He sat down on Pro Tools and looped the intro over and over again. So “Slow Dance” has no drums in it until the very last chorus. And I thought that was a little odd but I wasn’t going to question his judgement. I was like ‘Alright, let’s roll with it.’ And the fans, for some reason, are going crazy over that record. I don’t get it, but again, I’m not gonna question it, I’m just gonna do my job.
What’s your favorite song off the project?
I really love the intro, “Alone.” It’s got such a dope feel to it. The 808’s hit super hard on that record. They didn’t have a tracklist, they said ‘Just mix all these songs and send them through and we’ll put them in order.’ But when I heard all of the songs, I said ‘Oh this has to be the intro. It sounds like the perfect intro for Thot Breaker.’ So I labeled it specifically, all caps, ‘Intro,’ because I didn’t want them to go and change it up. Pretty much they took my advice and left it as the intro. So that record, I didn’t record it. He recorded that himself, he made the beat himself. I never heard the record until I got the session sent over to me. It’s just a perfect record for him, he’s almost singing on it. Of course I like “Going Home” a lot too.
“Can You Be My Friend” is a record that Keef said was directly influenced by Drake’s “One Dance.” Talking to Chop about making that record, he said all three of you were involved on the production tip. What do you remember about making that song?
That was crazy. That was actually legendary. I had to step out of body for a second to really realize what I was a part of when that was all going down. I think around that time me, Chop and Keef were driving around going shopping. It was me in the back seat, and Chop and Keef in the front. I’m just rolling around with them like ‘Damn, this is kinda legendary.’ They went to the Louis Vuitton store, bought a bunch of shit. Went to Best Buy, bought a shitload of Xbox’s, just doing dumb shit. I was like, ‘This is awesome.’
We went back to the crib and the vibe was already there. They’re already turnt up and we just attacked the beat together. Chop did the majority of the drums. I don’t think anyone expected the record to go in any sort of direction until Chop started doing those type of drums. I laid down the piano keys [and] it came together really, really quick. We immediately recorded it, from start to finish less than an hour, for sure. I didn’t think nothing of it really, I was like ‘Cool, that’s a dope song.’ Moving on, over 100 songs later, I had no idea what plans he had. Down the line, he decided to drop that song, so they hit me up like ‘Yo, make that song for me.’ I was like ‘Alright, lets’ get it.’ Me and Chop sat here in Chicago and mixed the record. I had no idea how the world was gonna react to it ’cause he’s never done anything like that. Once again, I’m not gonna question it. I’m just gonna do what I’m supposed to do and make it work the best it can.
What is Keef’s recording process like beginning to end? He said he hasn’t written anything since Almighty So or Bang 2.
CB: He hears something he likes, he says ‘Pull it up,’ he gets on the mic and he immediately starts putting it together. He’s a genius with it. He’ll just do a couple bars, two or four bars at a time. There’s been times where we recorded the whole song and then he’ll be like ‘Alright erase the hook, I wanna do a new hook.’ And we’ll record the song three times within the same song, ’cause we’ll keep changing shit. But it’s incredibly fast every time. I think he’s able to keep it moving like that because how fast I am when I’m recording. Music’s always playing, it’s always recording and I’m just capturing shit together as fast I can. So if an engineer can keep up with what’s going through in his head, then it’s gonna come out nice.
Do you remember some of the first songs you and Keef recorded were and what they sounded like?
I do remember the first day I basically fell asleep in the chair. We probably did like six or seven songs and he outworked me. I was falling asleep, he was like ‘Oh, you done? Cool.’ I didn’t even know where my bedroom was, I’m like ‘Where can I go sleep, bro?’ He put me in a room. A bed, clean sheets, all that. I think he woke me up three or four hours later to record again.
I know one of the first songs was “Whoa.” Me and him made that beat together. And that’s like some EDM, dubstep, trap – I don’t even know what to call it. It was out of control. There’s way too many sounds in the beat, way too many ideas going on, and I just had to keep it moving and contain it. And I guess I pulled it together because he really like that song when we did it, and he like it enough to put it on his project. It’s definitely the most unique record on the project. It’s one of the first ones we did together, maybe that explains why it was so unique. We didn’t really have that relationship yet where I could take too much control and direct his creativity. I just had to roll with it. But I think it was a mutual understanding between us, we were both on the same page. We know how to get it going without overdoing it.
You had mentioned Mike WiLL. He has a beat on the project (“Couple of Coats”). When you were in the studio with him and Keef, is that the song you were working on?
I can’t remember. He did quite a few songs on Mike WiLL production, I think like five or six. ’Cause we did some work at the crib, we did some work in the studio, then they were running around shooting scenes for videos. All in between I’m not eating or sleeping right, so I can’t even remember. But I know it was from that era when Mike WiLL was around for a few days.
And he has a song with D. Rich that he dropped, “Kills.”
CB: He produced “Kills,” “Kills” wasn’t on the project. D. Rich did produce a record called “My Baby.” I love D. Rich’s production. D. Rich and Shawty Redd were, at one point, my favorite producers way back in the day, and still are. They paved a way for what’s going on. So I was excited to see Keef and D. Rich working together, ’cause I’ve always loved D. Rich’s work. Out of Keef’s mouth he’s like ‘I want some trap shit, I want some trap shit.’ After he’s asking me for all this pop shit, now he’s looking for trap shit. That song he recorded on his own, they just did a session and mixed it. But it’s a whole different vibe out of him on some D. Rich production. It’s very creative. Like with “Kills,” the way he’s bouncing on that record, the type of flow he was doing. It’s just very unique, something I never heard. He kinda did the same thing on the “My Baby” record.
It seems like Keef is really focused on this project.
I just reached out a bunch of times like ‘Don’t drop Thot Breaker without me touching it up.’ I didn’t want anything less than perfection to leave the computer really. But I had the time to get all the beat files, I slowly mixed and mastered it in my studio in Chicago. I used a lot of outboard gear on it, too, so it’s not no bedroom studio shit. I really mixed this shit. The only records I didn’t have track-outs for were the Mill WiLL one, the D. Rich one, the K.E. on the Track one, and one Sosa produced called “So Cal.” We just couldn’t find the file, but I made it work. Everything else we had track-outs on it, so I was able to push the bass really hard and make that shit slam. But everything is gonna slam evenly.
Wanted to mention K.E. on the Track, too, ’cause he’s been such a dope producer for so long, and he’s had so many different sounds. Talk a little bit about that record, “Drank Head.”
I wanna say I recorded that but I honestly can’t remember. It just sounds familiar when I got the session. I can’t remember if I did a premix at the crib or if I recorded it, but I brought the session back to Chicago, mixed it up. He’s almost singing on the record, and the music is so angelic and open that those vocals have a lot of reverb on them. Keef likes K.E.’s work. He did a record like that with K.E. back in the day, and that’s what he did with my “Slow Dance” record. He took all the drums out, looped the intro over and over, and that’s kinda what’s going on with “Drank Head” too. When they sent me the session I noted K.E.’s beat was all chopped up to where it was basically like the intro and there were parts with no drums through the whole beat, so it’s kinda like a ballad.
To sum up Thot Breaker, what are your thoughts on the project and the sound of the project, and the direction it’s going in?
Sonically it’s perfect, front to back. No matter what order you put the songs in, everything just sounds perfect to me. I don’t even know what to expect from it. I think it’s gonna go super crazy, it’s gonna be really successful. But there’s no way for me to tell, like, I’ve already been wrong so many times before with him, so I try not to form an opinion on it.
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