French Montana’s Engineer On The Making Of ‘Excuse My French’
When Steve Dickey landed an internship at Bad Boy Records’ Daddys House studio in 2005, it didn’t take long for the Institute Of Audio Research student to make himself useful. “I went in there and told all the engineers that I knew what I was doing, and if they needed a hand with anything, I could give them a break,” says the now 28-year-old New Jersey native. “Sure enough they realized that I did know what I was doing. So they would all leave at night and go out and left me to run four rooms by myself as an intern. So I earned my stripes that way.” It wasn’t long after that Dickey became Bad Boy’s in-house engineer, working on The Biggie Duets as well as Danity Kane and Day26’s Bad Boy debuts. His latest project, which is in stores today, is French Montana’s long-awaited Excuse My French. We got a chance to chop it up with Steve about his experience recording and mixing French’s debut album. Here's what he had to say:
XXL: When did Excuse My French enter your life?
Steve Dickey: I started working with French as soon as he got signed to the label, which is going on about two years at this point? It's been a while. We've done hundreds of songs. When you get booked with a client to work, you really don't have any idea where it's going to go. It could be mixtapes or features with other artists or just promo records they might want to throw out. Once you start gelling with an artist and get booked with more and more sessions with them, then you get privy to information like "We're working on an album" or this or that. All of that comes after your initial sessions.
So initially, you're just kind of working on a handful of different French songs without an album in mind?
Yeah, at first you don't really have a direction or anything. [French] may not necessarily have had a direction. Everybody's just doing records. Later on comes a timeline and deadlines, and then everything starts to funnel into that lane of "This is going to be for the album" or "This is not going to be for the album."
This is an album that saw a lot of delays. Did you guys have a full body of work ready to go last summer?
We had probably 300 songs by then, but with a situation like that... It's a process. Most albums go through this. It's gonna get pushed back for one reason or another. Until you're done and upload the final album to the label, you know there are still going to be changes made. It's usually not a creative thing when that happens. It's the business side. Clearances or maybe it's not the right time of year for an album to come out. Maybe they want something else to come out behind it or with it. Once I get more time with it, it opens up a lot more time to do work. So it's a blessing and a curse at the same time.
How did you like working with French?
He was actually extremely talented and way more musically aware than I thought he was going to be. Usually, when we're assigned to work with a rapper, I just figure they're only going to be into rap. But he came in with this broad spectrum of music he listened to to pull ideas from. It's awesome to work with somebody like that.
Does he have any interesting studio habits?
[Laughs] French is a whole other monster. Most sessions are late at night and go into the morning—that's the usual audio engineer life. But we were doing two and three days in a row type of sessions. I'd go home for four or five hours, change clothes, grab some food or whatever and go right back in for another two or three days in a row. Especially towards the end of this album. I think January was the fourth quarter for us where we put all the final touches and tightened everything up. I think I only went home maybe five days in the whole month of January, and that was only for a couple of hours each day. The rest of the time I was just in there working nonstop. It's work at the end of the day, but we all love it, so it's fun. It didn't really feel like I was going to work. There were just so many nights you get real close with people too.
Do you have any personal favorites on this album?
I really like "We Go Where Ever We Want," the one with Raekwon. I think that's a good hip-hop joint. I really like the intro, the Max B one. That was a real fun one to do. We took the phone call that was recorded and wanted to make it the intro to start the album like that. "Ain't Worried Bout Nothin" I love. "Paranoid" is dope. I really like the "Gifted" joint with The Weeknd. That to me has got like a Deftones-y rock vibe to it almost, which I thought was really cool.
You said you guys had recorded hundreds of other songs. I'm guessing some of those ended up on some of his mixtapes?
Yeah, I did the whole Mac & Cheese 3 mixtape with French too.
Is there a difference when you're working on a release like that versus the album?
A lot of times with the mixtapes, you won't get the full music tracks. You won't get everybody's vocal features. You'll just get like an a cappella to a track, and because no one is charging for it since it's a mixtape, you're not going to be given all the files. Sometimes that makes it harder to make it sound as good as an album, but you just deal with what you have. For an album, you get full control over everything.
Do you feel particularly nervous or excited about the release of an album, or do you view your job as finished after you've done your part?
At the end of day, of course I want it to do great. It represents me and my work. I definitely want to see it do good, and I think it's going to do great. It's a great album all around. I definitely don't feel the pressure as much because I have other work and I keep it moving on to the next thing. You know, as soon as this was done I hit the ground running with whatever else came my way. Right now I'm actually working on Fabolous' album. I did a couple sessions with him. But yeah, I'm definitely nervous to see how it's received.