After being a guest judge in the finale of one of my recent Battles That Knock beat battles, I had the opportunity to conduct an interview with DJ Khalil. We talked about everything from DAWs to his time working with Dr. Dre. Check out the full transcript of the interview below.

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DECAP: I’m sure people are interested, what DAW do you use?

DJ Khalil: I use Ableton and I use Reason depending on the genre that I’m producing. So, if I’m making Hip-Hop, I’m on Reason. If I’m making Pop, anything else, or even just editing; I do all my arrangement in Ableton. So, a bit of both and now that you can use the rack inside of Ableton. Because, all of my sound design stuff, I do in Reason and I’m able to use all the Reason plugins inside Ableton. It’s incredible – the best of both worlds.

DECAP: When I first started out, I did my stuff in Cool Edit and learned that I can use MIDI and it’ll make things way easier. That’s when I got into Reason 2.5 and then eventually Reason 3.0, back in 2003. It’s wild how far Reason has come. I stopped using it because you couldn’t put in your own VSTs. I just find that now that there is VST support and everything, I definitely want to get back into it using it as a rack.

DJ Khalil: It’s incredible. The rack extensions and the stuff that you can get on their platform that you can’t get anywhere else. There are some definite cheat codes for sure. And even the stuff Reason has in their native plugins like Scream 4 and Pulveriser. And to be able to use that in Ableton is pretty insane. You can color your sound with all those different devices in a way that’s nothing like Ableton. Or even Sound Toys or other plugins. I feel like Scream 4 is the first of its kind in terms of a saturator distortion plugin. And the EQ is amazing. Reason’s secret weapon to me is like Scream 4 and Pulveriser.  

DECAP: I haven’t tried Pulveriser but I have seen Scream 4. I’m definitely going to mess with that. Does it have a soft clipper, saturator?

DJ Khalil: Yeah, and it has different settings. It was the first to have a lot of tape saturation.I use it on my snares and kicks. Definitely using it on samples. I mean it’s great for coloring sound and adding texture. I feel you can add a lot of texture. That’s why the samples you hear of mine, a lot of those are like a combination of Reason and Ableton. I even use Serato Studio on some of them because you can make really dope samples in Serato Studio. But just using Scream 4 on top of it as another texture definitely gives you another layer that makes it stick out a little bit more.

DECAP: When I started becoming familiar with your production it was around the time that Detox was rumored. When I heard your sound and how it caught my ear gave me chills it was so wild. Can you tell us a little more about your experience working on Detox and what that time was like?

I was like waking up at like 5-6am in the morning and making beats until 12am. I was so confident, I was going into the studio and it got to a point where when I walked in, Dre would stop what he was doing, even if he was recording a song. He would say, “What do you want to play because I know you’re about to kill the room.”

DJ Khalil

DJ Khalil: I mean that started when I first signed with Dr. Dre. I remember he was finishing Get Rich or Die Trying. I remember sitting in the studio with him, and he played In The Club after he finished mixing it. I was making beats on the Ensoniq ASR-10 at that point, and he was super into what I was doing. It was a unique sound because I had a blend of East Coast and West Coast. My sound was influenced by Pete Rock and Dre. Those two are my heroes and then obviously Dilla. So, it was a combination of those things and that was around the time he first started talking about Detox. It was forming in his mind, and he had a staff of producers. I was the new guy, and it was surreal because you’re watching a master put together records. I remember bringing in beats, and at that point, I was making around 8-10 beats a day. Slowly, I started getting better and I remember getting to a point where I was in such a work mode.

I was like waking up at like 5-6am in the morning and making beats until 12am. I was so confident, I was going into the studio and it got to a point where when I walked in, Dre would stop what he was doing, even if he was recording a song. He would say, “What do you want to play because I know you’re about to kill the room.” So, it got to that point where I was bringing a new sound that caught his ear for whatever reason. I was bringing these new sounds since I buy a lot of analog keyboards and was using Reason, when I made that transition from the ASR-10. I feel like I had more control over what I was putting in my music and I was putting in these weird sweeps and lasers, weird FX and all that. He was super into it, so it just grew from there.  Then the album, most of it got leaked because somebody hacked his Gmail account or the A&R’s Gmail account. That kind of killed the momentum at that point. It was insane. A lot of the records that I worked on were all over the internet. That’s when all the blogs had taken over Hip-Hop, and almost every day there’s another leak. But we just kept working, you know? I got so many gems from Dr. Dre, it’s crazy. I have a whole interview with him, and I never put it up. But I did an interview with him in Las Vegas where we talked about his creative process, what he does when he gets beat block, and a lot of stuff that we don’t really hear from him. One day I’m definitely going to put it up. I feel like every creative needs to hear what he’s saying because he’s at the mountain top.

DECAP: Absolutely. If you can, please release that, because I think that’s something that the community totally needs.

You mentioned that you were using the ASR-10. The ASR-10, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a classic sampler that came out in the early 90’s. It was manufactured by Ensoniq. I’ve never actually used it, but from what I’ve heard it’s a super punchy sounding sampler. How would you compare it to something like Reason or Ableton in terms of workflow and also sound quality?

DJ Khalil: The ASR-10 is a workstation, but the downside was you had to load up your sounds. So, like if you wanted to load up a grand piano, you had to pull out your floppy disks, and load it up. At first you had limited sample time, so you have to add more RAM to have more sampling time, but it’s analog, and that’s where the punch comes from. The output is crazy, and if you think of Timbaland, Kanye West, Pharrell, they’re all ASR-10 guys. Nottz and Jake One, too. I mean it’s incredible because it has its own built-in effects you can record into it. I feel like I was pretty good on the ASR-10, but when I heard Nottz, Jake One, or even Kanye, I was like man, I got to find another way to step it up. And that’s when I got on Reason. Reason kind of changed my life at that point. But the ASR-10 has a robust sound when you dig into the effects. You can put effects on your kicks and snares. It has a sound you’re not going to get anywhere else in my opinion. But it’s limiting because when I was working on G-Unit, I made Lay You Down on my ASR-10, but back then we used to print to CD and literally had to track it like a performance, so when it came down to tracking it, it was challenging to recreate it. There wasn’t automation and stuff like that then. So, they had to use the two track, because I would try duplicate what I did on that CD and it just wouldn’t work.

DECAP: Thank you so much for coming through and glad we got to kick it and chat for a bit. Thank you for being a super inspiration to the producer community.

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