Y’know those tracks that makes you feel like you just popped 10 NoDoz Alert Aids?
Ones with a beat so frantic, so intense, so urgent, that the rapper can barely keep up? Ones where even Lil Wayne sounds out of breath trying to maintain pace?
Ever wonder where that sound comes from? Here’s a hint – the name starts with STREET and ends with RUNNER.
A select few people get the honor of working with the hip-hop elite like Lil Wayne, Meek Mill, Eminem and 2 Chainz. Fewer still get Grammy nominations (and wins) for their work.
Nicholas Warwar, who you’ll know as STREETRUNNER, is one of those few.
But it has little to do with luck, and everything to do with a near-supernatural level of self-taught talent. From 1998 ’til today, from the MPC 2000XL to ProTools, the Miami-based producer has always done things his own way, on his own terms.
STREETRUNNER took some time away from cooking to share his thoughts on a few hotly-debated topics in modern production, like the best time of day to make music, his secret weapon for pitching tracks to rappers, and how learning ProTools affected his engineering process.
Pitching tracks to artists:
I always make sure I bring my A game. I work so hard to make sure that my play button is out of this world, no matter who I sit with. I could play 10, 15 joints, and they’d be like, “Whoa, this is fire.” I don’t do like 20 tracks in a session—I focus on one track, I make it really, really good, to where it has a very long shelf life. So this way, even if it sits on the shelf for years, you can come back to it and it’ll still be hot.
When I shop, I have the whole song formatted, I have a hook on it, I have everything to where all they have to do is come up with the verse and it’s done.
The best time of day to produce:
I’m just listening to samples man, just trying to get some ideas ready for tonight when I start working. I like to get in my zone, late night, just vibe out, make my music.
Producing with a rapper in mind:
I have certain guys that I constantly feed music to. So I try to keep my music rounded—that way any rapper can jump on it.
I like to get in my zone, late night, just vibe out, make my music.
Starting a track in the first place:
It could be inspiration, like I could hear a very good album that dropped, and I just want to start working on a beat, get inspired. Or, a lot of times, I like to get ideas from samples, or flip a sample, and then that’ll be the start of it. Different samples send you in different directions, different strides. Sometimes I’ll start with a sample but eventually get rid of it, not even use the sample, but it starts the idea.
What comes next:
Once I got the music, it’s all about drums, man. I’m very particular about drums. I really try to stay away from a cookie cutter sound, where all you hear is the same type of kits—so I try to stay away from that, and layer drums, layer sounds, layer snares, get the right sound, to where it sounds more original and less like the regular kid who just got his 808 drum kit.
I really try to stay away from a cookie cutter sound, where all you hear is the same type of kits.
Defining a memorable sound vs. “microwave productions:”
Listening to my favorite producers when I was on the come-up, they all had a very distinct sound. You didn’t really have to look at the credits. You would see, you would hear, ‘This has gotta be Mannie Fresh, this has gotta be Swizz Beatz, this has gotta be Pharrell, the Neptunes, Timbaland.’ Now it’s very hard to tell who’s doing what track. People don’t think about it like that anymore, they’re just tryna copy.
Microwave productions, you know what I’m saying?
Transitioning from an MPC 2000XL to ProTools (and how it can teach you engineering):
That was my main go-to drum machine. I bought it in ’99, and then I used it all the way through 2010. By 2012, I started messing with ProTools—but then I also got the MPC Studio, and then I got the MPC Renaissance. So I started using the hardware with the laptop—but eventually, I was just opening up ProTools and starting to do everything in there. I didn’t feel the need to use the hardware anymore, or even sequence a program or do anything on the drum machine once ProTools came out. Once I could do what I wanted to do on ProTools 10 I didn’t feel the need to do it on a drum machine, you know what I’m saying?
Especially when it came to drum programming, or getting music or samples on a drum machine—you could just do everything on ProTools. I got really good at that, but it was cool, because now I’m really good at engineering tracks too—I’ll be in the studio, and guys who are professional engineers, I’m like, “Move, get out of the way.”
Transitioning to ProTools helps with creative control:
I’ll be honest with you, it was kind of in the back of my head that I needed to [learn ProTools], but I was also stuck in my ways. I was like, “Nah, this is what I do, I jump on this MPC, I fuck shit up on there, that’s what I do.” But I knew for a fact that I had to start transitioning.
It was kind of in the back of my head that I needed to [learn ProTools], but I was also stuck in my ways.
But it worked out for the better. Because, when you go into the recording studio, there’s going to be ProTools. When you have to send in a session to get professionally mixed, they more than likely need the ProTools session. So by getting really good at working on beats in ProTools, you have the closest to the finished product, right before mixdown, that you could possibly get. Whereas on the MPC 2000XL, I was doing beats, and then dropping them into ProTools, and then sending them to get mixed, and I felt that creatively they were never mixing my tracks the way I wanted them to be.
Only a select few got mixed right. So now, I’m working on my tracks on the ProTools, I’m mixing my tracks on the ProTools, it’s like—your finished product is going to be A-1 by the time it’s all said and done.
Why you should never give up on a sample:
I got a lot of records, so I constantly go back to them. It’s crazy, you could go through the same 1000 records and you’ll always find something that you’re like, “What the fuck, how did I not sample that?” And it’s crazy, because I’ve heard people flip crazy samples and then I see where they got it from and I’m like, ‘Ahhhhh, I fucking had that record.’
So, different days, different vibes, different things you hear that you wouldn’t normally hear. Or maybe you’re putting a record on, the needle to the groove, and you’re missing that one little spot, that one little break, you know, sample riff, piano, whatever the case may be. It’s always good to revisit, see what you missed. I’ll even take a sample that I flipped ten years ago, and re-flip it, because I’m way better now, you know what I’m saying?
Influencing rappers with the vibe of your beats:
I’ll give you a back-in-the-day example, a five years ago example. When you hear Yuck, that was that 2Chainz record, the way that starts off, and it’s a sense of urgency that comes with the sound of that track, and when the drums come in.
It just depends on the vibe. Some of them are more soulful sample stuff, it’ll take you somewhere else, it’ll bring out a different emotion. But a lot of my stuff’s style is very energetic and it definitely has a certain urgency, like, ‘This needs to happen now.’ And when you rap on this, you need to rap ambitious, you can’t be lazy on this.
Even when Lil Wayne jumps on my tracks, he’s really rapping on my tracks, you know what I’m saying? I feel like it’s always brought out a very ambitious Wayne, when he jumped on my tracks.
Effects, and why “the right way” is wrong:
I honestly don’t know what other people do. I know I use reverb, I definitely use delay, but this is my thing; I’m self-taught on everything, on every level, from the drum machine back in ’99 to 2012 when I decided to put ProTools 10 onto my laptop and start focussing on my beats there. I’ve always been like, ‘Alright, lemme try this stuff out.’
This is what works for me; I get creative with automating EQs, filtering, and FilterFreak. I always use the Stereo effect, always use the reverb then maybe filter the sound with reverb, but I don’t know how other people would use it. Some people might not even think I’m using it right, but I like the way it sounds—so that’s the way I use it. Whatever feels right is the way I like it. I didn’t go to school for this, there’s no kind of training where I got to know, “This is the way you use a reverb.”
For a lot of the people who went to school or got super educated on beat-making or engineering, I feel like it holds them back, and it takes away from the rawness.
For a lot of the people who went to school or got super educated on beat-making or engineering, I feel like it holds them back, and it takes away from the rawness. I feel like a lot of people—me coming from a drum machine, I feel like I still have that raw sound when I make beats, when I make music.
Kids kind of skip that process and they use the same programs, like the Fruity Loops, or the Logics, whatever equipment, whatever VST or plug-in they tend to use to make beats—it limits them in the sense that they didn’t know what it was like.
For example, my first drum machine was the SD1200. [New producers] don’t know what it was like to have 12 seconds of sample time, on a whole drum machine. That’s all you had to make a beat. So you had to speed records up to 45, and then slow them down on the drum machine, and you couldn’t use entire loops, you had to use tiny sounds, and get creative with sounds, a kick, a snare, a hat, you know.
You couldn’t really sample long portions. And that’s why, when I got on the MPC 2000XL, I just kind of kept going with that method of sampling pieces and getting creative, making my own sound with samples. I never liked sampling a ten-second loop, and that was the beat. I never liked those beats when I did them. I like the more creative, chopped side of things. But I learned that from all those years of doing that, and when I get on to ProTools I use the same method in making the beats.