Play-N-Skillz: Spreading Wings…From Chamillionaire to UGK

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Hip-Hop is a music that often is built on regions. It began in the North East before migrating to the West Coast and then down South. In recent years the Mid-West has really become a serious force in the industry. With artists like Paul Wall, Lil’ Flip, Slim Thug, and Chamillionaire, Texas Hip-Hop sought to continue the legacy started by groups like UGK and the Geto Boys.  A major influence in keeping Texas prominent on the radars of serious Hip-Hop listeners is the production duo of Juan “Play”  and Oscar “Skillz” Salinas, also known as Play-N-Skillz.  While scoring production work with 50 Cent, Lil’ Flip, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and Pitbull, Play-N-Skillz are keeping the ground in Texas fertile.  In 2006 they took home a Grammy for Producing and co-writing Chamillionaire’s “Ridin'” (Dirty). Although a great highlight in their budding careers, Play-N-Skills are quick to note that “Ridin'” is not the top of the mountain for them. Play-N-Skillz time out with AllHipHop.com to discuss what it takes to stay in the game, how Lil’ Flip helped launch their careers, and how they go about crafting a hit.AllHipHop.com: Who are some artists that you’ve worked with?

Play:  Bun B, Lil Flip.

Slim Thug to Hillary Duff, which was a chance to do a pop record, to Tego Calderone to Nina Sky, Akon, all the Texas stuff, to Chamillionaire

of course… 

AllHipHop.com: Congratulations on the Grammy! 

Skillz: Thanks, appreciate

that. 

AllHipHop.com: Who would you

like to work with in the future who haven’t worked with already?

Skillz: Definitely Jay

Z, of course but it might be too late I don’t know. (laughter)Maybe next time we’ll catch

him.

Play: Also, Michael Jackson,

but those are like the dream artists. But, we’ve been blessed because

the list of people we want to work with, we’re close to…! 

We’re from Texas and UGK is our favorite group of all time.  

We had the great opportunity to work with Bun B and Pimp C.  Bun

has been like a Godfather to us. He was very humble when he first got

in the studio to work with us. He’s really given us a lot of great

advice. That right there was like a dream come true.  Of course,

Bone Thugs~N~Harmony is me and Skillz’ other favorite group. We’re

doing Krayzie Bone’s whole solo project and we’re doing a joint

venture deal with him for a solo project through our production company. 

So, that right there is just a dream for us.  So we’ve been blessed

to work with two of our favorite groups growing up.

AllHipHop.com: Tell us about your

“weapons of choice” – the gear you use to create in the studio.

Skillz: The MPC4000

all day – that’s the main weapon right there. I bring my sounds

from back home and as long as they have a 4000, we’re good to go.

We use the Phantom, the Triton, and I just ordered the Miko; the Motif,

the Virus, old school records, and turntables.

Play: It’s all preference

because, you know, they got six, seven different models of the MPC. 

Sometimes I pull out the 2000XL and bang on that and still be on the

4000! As long as you got a MPC of some sort, you’re good to go. Now

our sessions are expanding and we’re using live musicians a lot. We’re

bringing in live guitar, live bass along with the “weapons of choice.”

AllHipHop.com: You mentioned UGK and Bone

Thugs-N-Harmony earlier, but tell us about your other musical influences,

both past and present?

Play: We want the readers

to know that we started off as DJs.  One thing we’d like to

stress is that some of the greatest producers in Hip-Hop were all DJs,

or are DJs in some type of form. I don’t think that’s a fact

that’s publicized enough.

Skillz: Timbaland,

DJ Premier, Just Blaze, Swizz Beats….

Play: What being a DJ

does is, it enhances your ear towards hot music. A DJ’s job is to

play all types of hot music.  A good DJ plays Reggae, plays Hip

Hop, plays a little old school, maybe a little house, and gets down

with some R&B, so you’re influenced by so much because you’re

playing a bunch of hit records. That’s what really inspired us to

be producers. As far as one artist, probably not. We don’t come from

a musician background or anything like that.  It really just all

stems from us being DJs. 

AllHipHop.com: When did you start DeeJaying?

Skillz: I think I was

fifteen, and Play must have been seventeen.

Play: Yea, like end

of junior year, Sr. year in high school. It’s really a weird story

how we even did it. It was actually my birthday, and I was looking for

something to do. I was watching MTV, and saw DJ Scribbles.  I don’t

know if you remember, but DJ Scribbles used to DJ on a show called “The

Grind.” He used to play all these records, and used to scratch it

up. I saw the power he had of controlling the crowd and I thought that

was so dope. Besides all the women going crazy, I thought, “this may

be a route I need to go.”

Skillz: I was watching

the women! (laughter)

Play:  Nobody wanted

to hire us as DJs because nobody knew us, so we started throwing

our own parties within high schools.  We gained popularity throwing

parties in high schools, and then we would rent hotels out and take

the ballroom – $3 for the guys and $1 for the girls.  Those parties

were crazy packed!  That built into us going into the clubs and

everything else.  That was like the start right there. 

AllHipHop.com: Your team produced 12 tracks

on the Lil’ Flip album U Gotta Feel MeHow did you meet Lil’ Flip?

Play: I just want to

let people know that no matter what state or situation he’s in now,

or whatever trials and tribulations he’s gone through, Flip was big

part of helping me and my brother Skillz out, and I don’t ever want

to take that away. I think sometimes people blow up and don’t give

credit. Whatever may have happened, you still have to give credit where

credit is due.  Flip at the time, ’02, ’03, ’04, was the

biggest thing in Texas. He was the Jay-Z of Texas.  To be

able to work with Lil Flip at the time was an honor within itself. 

Flip happened to come in town, playing at show. We were actually working

on the Play-N-Skillz artist album, and wanted to get Flip on a record.

So, we went to a club he was playing at and one of our guys got at him,

and the next morning he actually came through.  He wanted some

money for a verse, but we were like “nah, we’re not gonna pay you

for a verse; we’ll give you some beats.”  You’re talking

to the Jay Z of Texas at the time! He’s like “C’mon are you serious?

I’m Lil’ Flip…” So, he heard the music and felt our vibe and our

whole lil “get up” and what was doing and that opened up the relationship

for us to start recording. At the time he left Suckafree Records, and

he didn’t have no where to record.  So, like a week later I get

a chirp back from him on the Nextel, and he’s like “Yo, is your

studio available for me to do some freestyles.” I said “Yea, come

on down.”  He was like “How much?” and we said “Man, don’t

even worry about it – let’s go…From there, it was over. He stayed

eight, nine months in Dallas and we recorded U Gotta Feel Me and

did numerous mixtapes.  He took a chance on two Latin guys doing

Hip Hop with nothing under their belt  It was a blessing to even

get that opportunity. You gotta give him props – no matter what the

situation with him and T.I.P.  Sometimes people don’t look back

at where people were in their careers. Three or four years later, actions

or things occur and people forget.  But, it still is what it is. 

   AllHipHop.com: What advice can you offer

aspiring producers as far as getting in the game?

Play: You gotta have

your own sound.  That’s number one. Let’s say, snap music is

in, so  a producer goes and starts doing snap songs.  But,

they have to remember that somebody else is the guy who actually really

did the record, and he’s actually the guy who is responsible for that [sound].  So, he owns that type of “brand.”  They’re

gonna go to him, before they go to you, if you’re mocking his sound.

It makes it that much more difficult for you to go and try to do it.

If Kanye West is speeding up the soul samples, and granted he’s not

the first one to do it, but that’s what he’s known for. If you’re

doing it also, I think the major label would rather have the Kanye West “brand” behind that beat than you.  And then, number two, you

got to create your own opportunities, however it may be.  Through

an artist, through YouTube, through Myspace, and going to all these

different conferences that they got.  People act like these conferences

don’t help you, but they do because it’s great networking – you

meet different people.

Skillz: It’s all about

the relationships.Play: This whole business

is all about relationships. 

AllHipHop.com:Once you’re in, what advice

can you give regarding staying in the game?

Skillz: You gotta keep

making those New York and LA trips, and stay in the A&R’s faces,

and keep playing them your music. 

Play: That was a big

problem for us.  When we won the Grammy for “Ridin,” the

number one record at the time, nobody knew we did that record!

Skillz: You gotta let

‘em know….

Play: We didn’t have

the publicity team that we have now, which was a big mistake. We should

have hired the biggest publicity firm in the world. We had the biggest

record! Why is Pharell such a successful guy away from the incredible

talent and songwriting and all the abilities that he has as an artist? 

He’s in every video, he’s at every party, he’s in every magazine

– he’s a superstar within himself.  So, consistency, really

staying out there – going to the parties, meeting people, doing interviews

and all that stuff is what helps build a brand. As young artists, that’s

what we’re learning – to put a face – to let the world know what

we’ve done. A lot of people don’t know half of the music that we’ve

done, except “Ridin’.”  There’s more to us than the “Ridin'”

record. 

AllHipHop.com: Tell us about your mental

approach when working with an artist/producing a

record…

Play: We try

to transform ourselves into the artist, but at the same time, take a

chance with everybody.  “Hits” is the name of this business, you

know? A great album cut does not equate to making a hit record. 

So, you always wanna make the best record with somebody. After making

a record like “Ridin’,” everyone expects for you to make a number

one record for them.  Anything less is probably not good enough. 

If we’re working with Bun B, and we know this is the King of the Trillz,

Undaground King right here, you would think that he would want to make

the best street record. But, in actuality, I wanna take Bun to a level

he’s never been.  If he’s never made a “girl, top 40” type

of record, I would like to take a chance a make a “girl, top 40”

record with a street edge.  That’s more valuable to me than making

the standard type of street record he’s been making for 20 years.

What’s the point? If I’ve never worked with you before, and for

20 years you’ve been doing great with whoever you’ve been doing

it with, what would be the point of you coming and doing it with me

too? If you’re going in with us, let’s take a chance, but stay within

the lane.  That’s a challenge within itself.  One thing

about Play-N-Skillz that we want people to know is, the majority of

the time when we work with somebody, songs are already done – and

I’m talking hook, beat, idea – including “Ridin” That record

was already done. Finished – the hook, beat and Krayzie Bone’s verse

was already on it.  A couple of words got changed based on the

fact that Chamillionaire does not smoke or drink, cause the original

concept was about that. We come in and have the majority of the record

done.

Skillz: Especially when

you’re making the beat.  A lot of times you might actually go

to that note, because you’re already hearing the chorus in

your head.  That’s why you’re already changing the part on

the hook so that’s why we might be like “let’s lay the hook now.” 

As we’re making the beat, we’re actually making the whole song. 

They might come in and be like “I’m not feeling it” and change

it around, but most of the time it’s done. Even on Flip’s album,

half of the records we did on that album were actually gonna be on our

first album, on the artist side.  That’s why on a couple of

the records, we’re actually on the hook.  Like on our new album,

probably half that album has been scratched, just because we already

gave them (the tracks) to different people. But, for us it’s not a

problem, because we produce first, before we do the rap thing. And,

as a producer, you can’t be scared.  If you scared, like you

can’t do it again, then you must be in the wrong business to begin

with. 

AllHipHop.com: Is there anything else you

want to leave with the readers?

Skillz:

We definitely always looking for artists too, so if they want to hit

us up on the myspace page, myspace.com/playnskillz, we’ll check

it out.

Play: We got our own

record company, we’re in the process of finalizing a label deal –

called G4 Recordz. We got a R&B artist by the name of Reyes we’re

working on.  We got this Hip Hop/Rock band that’s a fusion of

a little bit of everything called the Big Red Roster, which we’re

really, really excited about.  Krayzie Bone’s solo project that

we’re gonna put under our label , Pitbull’s single with Lloyd “Secret

Admirer,”  Lumba, and of course the Play-N-Skillz album coming out

sometime next year on Asylum called The Titaniq.

     

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