Executive producing an album takes a lot of patience, experience, and true comprehension of the human psyche—and as the buffer between the business and creative sides of the album-making process, it can be a tough balance to maintain. The relationship between artist and executive producer is one of the most essential aspects of bringing an album to life. Fans will listen to an album, but rarely understanding the sleepless nights, disagreements, and hard work that go into it.

XXL spoke to some of the hottest producers in the game today to get a true understanding of what the executive producing process truly entails. From sample clearances to label pressures to reproducing an artist's vision, DJ Khaled, DJ Drama, Just Blaze and Organized Noize take us through the ins, outs and shortcuts of being an EP. Layne Weiss and Dan Rys

Executive Producer: DJ Khaled
Top Credits: DJ Khaled, We The Best Forever
Rick Ross, God Forgives, I Don't
Fat Joe, All Or Nothing
Rick Ross, Mastermind
Favorite Executive Produced Album: Rick Ross, Mastermind
Most Important EP Attribute: Strength

DJ Khaled: The role of an executive producer is basically all around everything. Not only helping the artist musically, [but] also handling all the business dealing with the album. Executive producers are also the A & R. The title is bigger because you're overseeing everything. I'm both [EP and A & R]. It's basically about helping make the music for the artists, handling all the business. Making sure all the marketing is right, the rollout is right, as well as the all-around creative to help the artist's vision come to life. We add steroids to the artist's vision. We deal with the artists through the good and the bad. It's so many roles that people don't know.

It's also mixing the album. Overseeing that. It's also coming up with ideas to present, and really just executing every single thing. The executive producer is as important as the artist that's rapping or singing on the album, because it gotta be right, artistically, as well as handling the full project. You've gotta be experienced. You also have to have patience. More importantly, you have to be strong. Nobody ever said it was easy to win and be a winner and continue winning. Your expectations get higher and your goals get bigger. You have to make sure that the product is potent enough to meet your expectations, and well-rounded [enough] where it's beneficial to everybody.

The toughest thing is the responsibility. The artist relies on you just to make sure everything is good. You have to know that you're not going to be able sleep or see your family. Dealing with roadblocks some people might not want to make happen, and you have to make it happen. When you put out good music, you get recognition from your peers and fans. They respect you. I came up in the game a fan of hip-hop, and to be one of the biggest moguls out there right now...it's letting you know if you work hard it's gonna pay off. It just feels good to be respected by the people you respect, and to become a young icon.

Music comes first, business comes later. You make sure the music's right, but you also want the music handled right. People don't realize the responsibility behind the scenes. We gotta deal with the samples and all the clearances. All the legal stuff. People think you just make music and put it out there. Nah. You have to clear shit. You gotta clear samples. You gotta clear side artists. You have to negotiate situations. You have to do a lot of stuff before you can put a record out in the store. And that's the hardest part—it's a lot of stuff there. Nonstop.

Executive Producer: Just Blaze
Top Credits: Saigon, The Greatest Story Never Told
Additional Production Credits: Jay Z, The Black Album
Jay Z, The Blueprint
The Diplomats, Diplomatic Immunity
Favorite Executive produced album: Saigon, The Greatest Story Never Told
Most Important EP Attribute: Patience

Just Blaze: A lot of people interchange the term 'producer' with 'beat maker.' As a producer, your job is to do a vision and a finished product. So when Puff, or Diddy, or whatever you wanna call him, first came to prominence, his role was as a producer. He wasn’t sitting there programming beats. He had a style of beat makers that he brought together called The Hitmen and he directed that ship.

That being said, as an executive producer, you're basically doing that for the entire project. Your job at the end of the day is to go over the finished product. There are various degrees of organization that you're responsible for in terms of keeping things in line and keeping things efficient and within the budget, and also helping the artist realize their vision, or put together a vision, for that album and deliver that album. Being an executive producer doesn't mean that you're making every beat on the album. It's more about making sure the Ts are crossed. The Is are dotted, the record's mixed properly, the mastering is right. And bringing the best performance out of the artist as you can, by any means necessary.

You have to be patient, especially if you’re dealing with a group, because you have multiple personalities that all have to basically form one. There's gonna be differences of opinion. One of the things I always tell people [is] to be successful as producers you kinda to have understand the human psyche. You want to bring the best out of the artist and you want them to be comfortable with you, but you also have to be able to develop criticism that doesn't offend them. That's why you have to understand psychology; more specifically, creative psychology, because creative people, we tend to think and feel and act differently than normal people. You have to understand the psyche of a creative person and know how to criticize them while bringing the best out of them.

Music is a very personal thing, which is why you have to know how to deliver your input but still maintain the artist's [comfort] with you. You're hired to do a job. If the artist isn't comfortable with you, you're not doing your job. There are plenty of artists who are their own executive producers. Somebody like Jay Z, he knows what he wants his final product to be. He knows what demographic he's targeting. He knows what sounds he needs to cultivate to target that demographic. That's stuff that comes from experience. Not everybody's gonna know how to channel their vision. They may know what their vision is, but they may not know how to get there.

Executive Producer: DJ Drama
Top Credits: DJ Drama, Gangsta Grillz: The Album
DJ Drama, Quality Street Music
Lil Wayne's Dedication Series
Most Important EP Attribute: Vision

DJ Drama: An executive producer can be a lot of things—in my experience it's the backbone. It can be as simple as bringing ideas, bringing beats, concepts for hooks, putting things in directions, sequencing, deciding when you have 30, 40 songs how to bring them down to the 12 or 15 best songs. It's putting a lot of the pieces together. In its simplest form, it's not exactly in there banging on Logic or Reason, but saying, "Yo, that's the one, that's the beat right there, and we need to put so-and-so on the hook, and that song needs to go second after the Intro, and that's gonna bring all the colors out of the album for the direction that we're going in."

[You need] a lot of creativity. In some form to be in tune with what's going on both within the studio and outside the studio, with both the sound the artist is looking for as well as the sound that might be lacking in music at that time. There's definitely some leadership qualities—it takes somebody to really put their foot down in the decision-making process and saying, this is the one, or this shouldn't make the cut.

Another part of executive producing that also comes into play is after the music is done, and everything is sequenced and put in order, you have other issues. Sample clearance. What producers are getting paid for what. Clearances for all the artists. Making sure that so-and-so's single is not hindering the release date or your single. The extra stuff that comes outside of the music comes into play with executive producing. You gotta get your hands dirty, cross your t's and dot your i's. In the studio, you have to be like, "Okay, we're using this beat. This producer's asking $7,500, or this beat costs $20,000. Is this worth it? No, this has got to come off."

I just think I've become more experienced in it. I've tried to not overdo it. I've learned the basis of what an album is supposed to be and what it consists of, and what grabs the people's attention. What records you put out first, what records you put out second, and how you get the energy and excitement from a project as a full body of work, or even just being able to put together a full body of work, and not necessarily just putting together an album full of singles, or an album not full of singles. If you don't have someone who can come in and piece that together and make it a body of work, make it into an album with that vision of what you're trying to accomplish, it can all just wind up being music without purpose, without vision.

Executive Producer: Organized Noize (Rico Wade, Ray Murray and Sleepy Brown)
Top Credits: OutKast, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik
OutKast, ATLiens
OutKast, Aquemini
Goodie Mob, Soul Food
Favorite Executive Produced Album: OutKast, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (Sleepy Brown); Set It Off Soundtrack (Rico Wade); The next one (Ray Murray)
Most Important EP Attribute: Focus

Rico Wade: The executive producer has to produce your vision. You have to have the ability, or the creativity, to fulfill what they see, without them even telling you what they see. You don't even allow somebody to come in and tell you what to do unless you can trust their opinion. It's about giving the right direction when you get to a certain point. That's why it becomes about trust, so you know that you're both on the same journey to make this incredible album, to make this complete project.

Patience is important, but early on it's really about knowing a lot, having a lot of confidence. You gotta get them excited, keep them excited the whole time about what they're doing. It's our 20-year anniversary of being executive producers, 1994 with OutKast's first album. They were signed to us with a production deal, but as executive producers it was our vision. And OutKast trusted us; Big Boi and Dre trusted us. They were 16 and 17, and we were 19, 20, 21. We inspired and motivated them, and let them know it was cool to represent the A, but at the end of the day, they were the youth. They were just fresh out of high school. So they had the vibe.

Sleepy Brown: We learned how to stay in budget, and we learned to not bring a lot of people to the studio a lot of the time. We learned about each other, growing together as a team and trying to stay focused on music.

RW: We'd be the bad guy, the guy that L.A. Reid would always keep it real with. He'd say something where, I'm not gonna go repeat it to the guys, 'cause I don't want them getting mad at [Reid], but that's what built us up into that position, 'cause he would say some real shit, but we would be those people who could go back and sugar coat it. And not in a lame way, but in a creative way. 'Cause that's where it gets messed up. When you start trying to make records on deadlines, you'll get caught up in anything that's out right then instead of sticking to your formula. 'Cause once you're out there, who doesn't want another hit record right quick? And it shows the resilience of great artists.

Ray Murray: Think of it like this: an artist is in a band, they need a bandleader. That's what you need an executive producer for. That person has the overall vision. You as an artist are going through a bunch of extremes of personality and feelings, and to not be confined by whatever you personally are going through, but to stay focused on one plan and one vision. So an executive producer is, most importantly, the overseer, the mentor, the head coach.