Above the Line: An Interview with Adrian Younge

“It’s always a pleasure to see that people care about the kind of music I’m making because there are not a lot of people out there doing this kind of stuff.”

Adrian Younge is a well-renowned producer and composer who made a positive impression on listeners via the Black Dynamite soundtrack, Something about April, and his work with The Delfonics.  So it’s no surprise that, because of his fascination with soul, he would get the opportunity to make his mark on hip-hop’s landscape too… And he did.

Adrian Younge and Ghostface Killah in Philadelphia, PA (2013).

In addition to being sampled by DJ Premier (PRhyme) and Timbaland (Jay Z’s “Picasso Baby” and “Heaven”), Adrian produced 2013’s Twelve Reasons to Die starring Ghostface Killah.  It was a concept album about how Ghostface as Tony Starks goes to war with an Italian crime family.  The project received rave reviews, and left fans yearning for more.  Thankfully, the dynamic duo reunited for Twelve Reasons to Die II which comes out today.

AllHipHop recently had the pleasure and privilege of speaking with Mr. Younge about, among other things, his working relationship with RZA, writing narratives for Ghostface, and creating the sequel to an amazing piece of work.

Not unlike the Wu-Tang Clan, Adrian Younge ain’t nothing ta f**k wit.

AllHipHop.com: As someone who has also scored movies, how did that experience benefit you in the process of producing beats for emcees to rap over?

Adrian Younge: To back up a little bit, anybody can score a movie if given the job.  Whether they do a good job or not, we don’t know.  But I think that being a film composer, someone that gets it and actually applies the music, it allows you to open up a spectrum of feeling.  You’re now allowed to approach the music from an audio visual perspective.  When people score films, the job is to be visual.  When people make music, it’s about evoking feeling.  It’s great when you get both feelings and being out of their head.  And that’s what I tried to do with this project.

AllHipHop.com: RZA has a real cinematic feel to his beats and then he transitioned into film scoring.  Does it work the other way too?

Adrian Younge: Yeah, for sure. Working with RZA [too],  I’d idolized him so much before I met him and became friends with him.  And he mentored me.  I still learn a lot from that dude.  It’s crazy because I never ever would have expected I’d be in a situation where, with all the things we’re talking about knowing, he can come to my studio and I can be like, “that beat is sampled” or he can tell me what he did for this certain sound on 36 Chambers or Return to the 36 Chambers.  It’s a special relationship that I have and I admire luminaries like RZA, Premo,  and all those types of people.

AllHipHop.com: Between your two projects with Ghostface, your music was sampled by Timbaland and appeared on Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail, what type of impact has that had on your career?

Adrian Younge: What it really did was  help open me up to an audience.  It was a blessing, man.  And it further  inspired me to push and go harder and to try to get other people to be exposed to this musical movement I’m trying to make.

AllHipHop.com: Sequels sometimes make people skeptical, especially when the original is good.  That’s obviously the case here with Twelve Reasons to Die being really dope.  What’s your response to people whose inclination is to say, “Why tamper with a good thing?” 

Adrian Younge: I’m one of those people, unless you’re going to try and make it better.  And that’s what I’m actually trying to do.  I’m trying to make a better product as opposed to making a new derivative version with the purpose of just selling records.

AllHipHop.com: What did you think you could improve on from the first album?

Adrian Younge: It’s one of those things where I make music for myself and hope other people like it.  So, from that perspective, I don’t feel like I fell short.  I feel like it was a natural progression from part one.  I feel like I wanted to do was go in a darker, deeper direction.  I feel it’s more captivating than the first and, the thing is, some people don’t want music like that.  They just want music they can bob their head to.  It’s a turn off, and so it might not make some people like it as much.  And it’s funny because there are people that didn’t like the first Twelve Reasons to Die because they don’t like my production.  So you never know.  The only shortfall that people could find in part two is that it’s a deeper and darker album.  If some one doesn’t want it to be deeper and darker, then it’s a shortfall.

AllHipHop.com: One of the biggest differences between the first and second album that I noticed is that Raekwon appears on multiple tracks.  Did you feel any additional pressure making music that will likely be compared to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx?  

Adrian Younge: Not at all.  Because that’s already a classic.  I try to make classics.  I don’t try to make things that aren’t good.  It’s always a pleasure to see that people care about the kind of music I’m making because there are not a lot of people out there doing this kind of stuff.  It just feels good to get the warm reception.

AllHipHop.com: Were you in the studio with Ghostface?

Adrian Younge: Stuff was sent back and forth, both times.  But for both [albums], I’d write a whole script and send the script to him.  Then from the script, I’d tell him what the narrative was and he’d go from there.

AllHipHop.com: That’s really cool.  So you’d send him a beat and a narrative, then he’d write a rap to the beat based on the narrative you sent him?

Adrian Younge: Exactly.

AllHipHop.com: What is it that you hope to achieve with this project?

Adrian Younge: Nothing more than making an album where people enjoy it.  It’s not like I’m making it to get a bunch of accolades and all that stuff.  I want to make it so people can enjoy it.  That people enjoy the music I make really means a lot to me and so that’s what I’m really looking for.

AllHipHop.com: 70’s soul music has obviously been very influential in your work.  What do you think today’s music can learn from that era that will make it too stand the test of time?

Adrian Younge: To me, when something is classic, whether it came out today or thirty years ago, it falls all in the same pot.  A Tribe Called Quest is just as classic to me as Curtis Mayfield.  When you get above the line, you’re above the line.  So my thing is I just want to make music where I am always above that line.  And that’s my goal.


Mission accomplished.  Get Twelve Reasons to Die II; available now!