50 Cent, G-Unit, Ludacris, Lupe Fiasco, 88-Keys, & Jadakiss.
AKAI MPC 4000, Roland Fantom G & Studio Electronics SE-1
Growing up in the Midwest exposes you to all types of music, which is a beneficial when choosing the music industry as your career field of choice. Lansing, Michigan Native Khari “Needlz” Cain got a slow start coming into the production world, but that didn’t last long. His first big record Young Buck’s “Let Me In” hit the airwaves and he hasn’t looked back since.
Unlike many in his craft, the NYU alum has both the education along with the talent to back his skills. We talk his come up, why he’ll need to get gassed in order to become an artist and creating one of the biggest records on this year’s Notorious Soundtrack in twenty four hours.
AllHipHop.com: Who gave you the name Needlz?
Needlz: I was diagnosed with Cancer in ’99, and when I was going through chemotherapy, that’s how I came up with the name. I just started making beats and had to come up with some sort of name, and I was sitting in there getting chemo and I was looking at my arms and had needles all in my arms and that’s how I came up with it.
AllHipHop.com: What type of music did you grow up listening to?
Needlz: Hip-Hop; I’m from Lansing, Michigan. We listen to everything. We listen to a lot of East Coast but we also listen to a lot of West Coast with Snoop, Dre and NWA. A lot of Hip-Hop, House, Base music; growing up in the Midwest you get exposed to all that.
AllHipHop.com: Describe your first taste of the grind.
Needlz: I went to NYU for grad school and part of the curriculum was to do an internship, so I did one at Bad Boy. I was there for a little less than a year and that was pretty much running around in the department that was over the producers. I was working for Francesca Spiro, she managed the Hitmen. Then Folayan Knight, she was an A&R executive there, saw potential in my work and offered to manage me and help me craft my skills.
I first did work on Drag-On’s “Put Your Drinks Down” track that was back in 2001. It was crazy because I didn’t even realize it was on the radio until one day I was walking outside and heard somebody listen to the song I produced.
As far as what put me on, I would say Young Buck’s “Let Me In” from Straight Outta Cashville” and 50’s “Piggy Bank” were two pretty big records. With Young Buck I took a whole bunch of snippets and samples. Same with “Piggy Bank” and a lot of records I’ve done.
AllHipHop.com: When was the first time you got jerked?
Needlz: I wouldn’t necessarily say getting jerked, but it’s the nature of the business. You have to give a little or give a lot and also take a little bit from each situation as you’re moving up. You definitely get punked a lot on your way up, but once you get up there then you can turn around and start punking the labels. You just got to do your research and start fresh.
AllHipHop.com: How would you describe your style of production?
Needlz: Dirty, just dirty. It’s a dirty sound mixed with clean synths. It’s mostly just a lot of street, dark music. That’s pretty much my style for the most part.
AllHipHop.com: Are you big on sampling?
Needlz: I sample, but I sample in a weird way. I take snippets of notes and make them my own. I do both. Sometimes I’ll take one artist, and just sample that artist. But for the most part I just take snippets of notes and stabs.
AllHipHop.com: What was the toughest record you’ve created?
Needlz: I just produced the track with Jadakiss and Faith “Letter to B.I.G.” from the Notorious Soundtrack. When I did that track, I had to recreate the beat in one day because the original version I mixed was lost. It was crazy because I only remembered small parts of it, then I used one of those devices that you hold to the air when music is playing, and that helped me remember the rest of the original beat. And I was able to recreate it in 24 hours.
AllHipHop.com: Do you make beats for a particular artist, or do you create them and send it off to the first taker?
Needlz: A lot of times you don’t get to work in the studio with the artist, that’s just how the business is sometimes. In the past with some artists I’ve created the beat, had it shopped around and then they get in touch if they want to use it. With newer artists you have an opportunity to really sit in the studio and work with them one-on-one.
AllHipHop.com: What separates a producer and a beat-maker?
Needlz: A producer is a person that is definitely hands-on with the artist but its becoming a rare thing because of technology and the way things go. A lot of artist record over songs they were sent and it’s becoming a rarity for the producer to be in the studio with the artist; unless your like Swizz or somebody that big. I think a lot of songs would come out better if there were more input from the producers. The way a lot of producers combat that is by sending their demos with their hooks on there. I’ve submitted songs with hooks and flows and everything. So if I’m not able to work with the artist I’m putting as much input on there when I send it off.
AllHipHop.com: Which artists have you worked with?
Needlz: When I first started I did some work with Ruff Ryders. I’ve also done stuff with G-Unit, Ludacris, Fabolous, The Game, Lupe Fiasco. I did a remix of “The Friend’s Zone” on 88-Key’s last album. I’ve also done some work with R&B artist Meagan Rochelle. Right now I’m in the studio with a new artist named Archie Eversole, and we’re working on his upcoming project.
AllHipHop.com: Are you particular about who you work with?
Needlz: Not really, but I’m actually about to start working with newer artists. I’ve also worked with established artists, but you can’t be picky especially in this economy.
AllHipHop.com: Aside from production work with artists, what else have you worked on?
Needlz: I’ve done work with both BET and MTV. I’ve done the theme music for BET’s Top 25 Countdown and Rap City. I’ve also done MTV’s Sucka Free Sundays. I also did the music for a Corona ad in the past and did music for different video games. There are definitely other facets of production and you don’t have to stay in one area.
AllHipHop.com: Since your move to Atlanta, what have you been up to?
Needlz: I’ve been working with a lot of southern artists. It’s been different. You can’t always get the T.I.’s and the Jeezy’s or whoever’s hot right now.
AllHipHop.com: You seem like a pretty mellow easy-going guy. Where do all these dark beats come from?
Needlz: I guess I’m depressed on the inside [laughs]. I don’t know, when I start creating beats they always come out really dark and grimy and that’s what I’ve become known for.
At Home With Needlz