In the new issue of the Scion AV Journal, we feature a conversation between producers 45 King and Nick Hook. 45 King is a legendary hip-hop and breakbeat producer who is one of the founders of New Jersey’s famed Flavor Unit and was the primary sonic architect of the crew. He is responsible for such classic tracks as Queen Latifah’s “Ladies First,” Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life” and his own “The 900 Number.” He also hosts the long-running Scion Radio 17 show, Making The Beat. Nick Hook is a Brooklyn-based producer, DJ, engineer, bassist and go-to dude when dance music artists want to start messing with analog equipment. He has collaborated with Azealia Banks, L-Vis 1990, El-P and many more. We got these two on the phone to talk about figuring out the balance between the creative and the business sides of their chosen profession.
When did you realize that what you were doing artistically through music was your career?
45 King: There’s really no career in art. Art is art if the person putting it out is liked. If they stay out of trouble and keep their name good, then they’re going to be good. People like whoever is known. You have to really put out some garbage to lose your name—you really have to do something bad or put out music that’s so far away from you’ve done.
How tough was it to make a name for yourself and get people to hear your music?
Nick Hook: It was definitely something that took a while, but I made a choice to make it organic and try not to skip any steps. I always felt like doing what I wanted was more important than trying to get my name out there. Once I solidified myself, I felt like I was going to be here forever, rather than some guy who shows up for an hour and is gone.
45 King: When people started saying I had good stuff, I started getting work. When people stopped saying I has good stuff, I stopped getting work. You know what I’m saying? And that goes for someone who nobody knows what he looks like.
How long did it take for you to get good?
45 King: That’s a crazy question. Once you start to get attention, that’s when you get good, I guess. But who says I’m good?
Nick Hook: I made music as a teenager for a very long time, but my first real experience in music was actually signing to Warner Bros. [as part of the band Men, Women & Children]. The first record I actually put out was on Warner Bros., which is a different process than most. No one ever liked what I did from age 14 to 24, then we got signed and I learned one aspect of the business, but then I learned that it’s hard to make money, so I started to diversify. I started DJing because I liked it, but then people started paying me money to do it. Then people started paying me money to do remixes. Having five careers going on at once was the best way for me. If one of them disappeared, I’d have four to keep working on. If you keep it diverse, then people start to hear about you in different circles and they all start to correlate eventually. I feel like my career is kind of just starting.
What is it about your career that makes you feel like it’s just starting now?
Nick Hook: I’m just now getting to do what I want to do. Before it was just groundwork. Now I’m legitimate in other people’s eyes. In the business, the people who are signing the checks, they need to trust you. It’s a stupid game that we need to play. The Azealia Banks thing or working with Hudson Mohawke or certain milestones in other people’s minds verifies you. Now I want to go beyond that, whether it’s cultivating artists that I meet in the clubs or mixing records for $2000 each or producing a big major label rap record. Someone isn’t going to write a young producer a check for $100,000 and say, “Make an album.” They want to make sure that’s a good investment on their part.
When people ask you for advice, do you tell them not to go into music or do you tell them, “This is what you need to know upfront…”?
45 King: I don’t advise anybody to get into this. Art is not a concrete thing. Art can be anything. Art can be a rock. I would tell people to get something concrete, because art is not something concrete. But I would never tell anybody not to do this. If you can do it without it hurting, then you should do it. Because a lot of it hurts. You meet a lot of people, you fall in love with a lot of people, and then you find out they are not around when you need them. And that hurts and that’s called show business. I don’t want anyone to think that I’m bitter, that’s just what happened to me.
Nick Hook: For real, I tell them not to be delusional. I always had a job until last year, which I relied on to pay my income, then I could do my music and make it my music. A lot of these kids, they’re trying to make a banger that puts them on the map. The reason I think I’m here is that I kept it true to what I wanted. I would never tell someone not to make music, but when I started doing music, it was as a hobby. When I was 13 I didn’t start doing music to make money. Nobody liked me and girls didn’t like me, and I was like, I might as well hang out with these other nerds and make music. Now that we got a little bit of money and a couple of girls like us, it’s cooler, but I still try to keep the ideals of why I started. I had to save up all summer to buy an MPC when I was 18. It was $1200. To get $1200 in St. Louis when you’re 18, you’ve got to deliver mad pizzas. And I delivered those pizzas and I kept that sampler and I learned how to use it. It’s not a flash in the pan. I see these kids, and once a genre starts getting popular, they can learn about the whole genre in a night. When I wanted to learn about hip-hop, I went to the record store and put my headphones on. And that knowledge sticks with me to this day.
With the larger availability of software and the possibility to download basically any song you want, it’s tough to tell a kid to go save up for an MPC.
Nick Hook: I wish these tools would have existed when I was a kid in a way, but I think when we were DJing when were young, we’d go see 45 King because he had his crate and I had my crate and another dude played electro records. We were all unique. It was a different process. Now a guy like DJ Sega from Philly has a $100 PC and he can show his ideas through his brain. We’re cutting out that thing where you have to be middle class to make music, and that’s a beautiful thing. Things change.
45 King: It’s not that I don’t like kids, but I never thought about what the kids were going to learn from me when I do things. I just try to be nice to everybody. So if they can learn that, there’s not really much more they can learn from me. Treat people the way you want to be treated.
Nick Hook: There are a million people more talented than me, but the phone rings because I have fun when I work and I’m easy to work with. Giving someone the experience of a good time is more important than money. I’ve seen artists who might be making their manager five million dollars, but if they’re miserable, you don’t want to sit with them. The thing that changed my life the most, I did for free. I recorded “212” for Azealia Banks when she had 100 followers on Twitter and then she became a worldwide phenomenon. I did it because a friend asked me to. It wasn’t about making money, it was about being dope. And because we had fun that day, there was an energy that was transmitted through the music and it resonated. That got me a million more jobs, the chance to travel the world with her and legitimate fees.