Ali Shaheed Muhammad
Doc McKinney, the Minneapolis-born, Toronto-living producer and manager who's worked with Lucy Pearl, The Weeknd, Drake, Young Buck, Esthero and thestand4rd spoke with us about brands and music — he had a reluctant hand in the Hamburger Helper mixtape that popped off in the spring — Canadian hip-hop past and present, the ways having kids affected his business and his art, the ideal circumstances for collaboration, Spongebob, Lee Scratch Perry, Janet Jackson, the pitfalls of interviews and J Dilla.
ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: Doc McKinney with the crazy smooth, "And I'm Doc Mckinney" voice.
FRANNIE KELLEY: Did you practice? How much did you practice?
DOC MCKINNEY: I practice this a lot, Frannie. A lot. If I could just ditch the lisp.
KELLEY: You'd have a second career? Fourth career?
MCKINNEY: Yeah, if I could get rid — I mean, you know, I don't have a problem with lisps. They just can come off weird sometimes.
KELLEY: Yeah. I mean it's tricky. I think accents and like — not affectations but like different sounds — sound really good on the radio, and the bosses disagree.
MCKINNEY: Yeah. I work on other accents and lisps just to throw people off, but they always come off horrible.
MUHAMMAD: My favorite is your Rude Boy.
KELLEY: I've heard that before.
MUHAMMAD: That's Yardie. Yardie talk.
MCKINNEY: Yah, man. Yah, man.
MUHAMMAD: Yah, man. Yah, man.
KELLEY: Well that reminds me of the last time I saw you, which I think was two years ago.
KELLEY: Exactly two years ago because it was Coachella, and it was Outkast Coachella, and I have this really amazing picture of you guys in the limo. Do you remember how we called an Uber and a limo showed up? And he was like, "My bad! We just don't have any other cars. It's going to be regular price!"
MCKINNEY: Yes! I do remember that.
KELLEY: And so we took a f****** limo from the house to the tickets.
MCKINNEY: It had the neon lights and all that —
KELLEY: — and the neon lights that Ali wouldn't stop playing with, and it was full of water.
KELLEY: It had no liquor. So you and I were mad, and Ali was like, "They made this limo just for me!" And so in the picture I have, Ali is, like, ear-to-ear grin, and you're just like, "What the f***?"
MCKINNEY: Sounds about right. Like, "How am I supposed to do this without being drunk?"
KELLEY: Oh god. And then we got there and we were lost or something, and then they came and got you guys in the golf cart.
MUHAMMAD: Oh yeah, that's right.
KELLEY: And then they were like, "Frannie, here's your stop." Then I got off, went in with the regular people and you guys continued on.
MCKINNEY: Oh, for real? You didn't have the —
KELLEY: No. Well, I was working so I didn't want to — I needed to be with the people.
MCKINNEY: It wasn't that live backstage, anyways.
KELLEY: I don't give a f***.
MCKINNEY: Yeah. I'm still in my radio voice.
MUHAMMAD: I see.
KELLEY: Yeah, you're very chill.
MCKINNEY: I'm tryin' to get this job as another co-host. Beat out Jean Grae cause I know she's got too much personality. So ...
MUHAMMAD: We'll have to, I don't know, change wiring in here if you keep that low voice going on.
KELLEY: I know. Usually it's him with the cool, calm, collected.
MUHAMMAD: I got the low tone.
MCKINNEY: Yeah. I'm working on it.
KELLEY: Bedroom interview.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. We don't need two of us, man.
MCKINNEY: Am I supposed to take it back up?
MUHAMMAD: You got to take it up, man.
MCKINNEY: You want me to take it up to Toronto?
KELLEY: Why don't you tell the story of how you guys met?
MCKINNEY: Alright. Well, I met Ali right after I did this album by — well when I was a part of a group called Esthero, and I had did this album that I thought was pretty good. I was really not sure how it was gonna be received, but it was received pretty well and one of the first peoples to call me, period, was Ali and Raphael — whose studio complex we're right now, Raphael Saadiq. Shout out to Raphael.
KELLEY: Did they call you together, or separate?
MCKINNEY: I don't know if it was together or separate. I used to smoke a lot of weed up until six weeks ago, so —
KELLEY: I feel you.
MCKINNEY: — let's just say they called together. I think that's the image I'll —
KELLEY: Let's ask the sober person in the room. Do you recall?
MUHAMMAD: I don't think it was together, because —
KELLEY: So it was like, of your own accords.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, but the crazy thing is when Raphael and I — which still happens — we'll talk about a song, like, and we just give each other that look like, "Oh, you know that." You know that brotherly — like I know we were separated at birth kind of thing. But what was so crazy is that the Esthero album wasn't like a huge commercial record, so mentioning it, it was just like, "Oh man, you really digging the crates." Like, we both had that mutual respect. So yeah, that's what happened. And he told me that he was actually had a meeting set up to —
MCKINNEY: Oh you know what? We had the same manager at the time, actually.
MUHAMMAD: Was that what it was?
MCKINNEY: Yeah. It was Ruth Carson. Shout out Ruth Carson. I don't know where she's at but, yeah. We had the same manager at the time.
MUHAMMAD: I forgot that part.
MCKINNEY: Was she managing him? I don't even —
MUHAMMAD: She was managing him. Yeah.
MCKINNEY: Yeah, she was. Yeah.
MUHAMMAH: And then me at some point.
MCKINNEY: Oh, she was?
MCKINNEY: So we all had the same manager.
MUHAMMAD: I jumped in.
KELLEY: Girl made it happen.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. So, I'm sorry. You can continue.
MCKINNEY: Yeah, so start all over. We had the same management.
KELLEY: This lady Ruth had a idea.
MCKINNEY: Yeah. Lady Ruth had an idea. So we met up and just got on really well, and from there we, you know, just kept in touch all these years and have obviously worked together a bunch, and yeah. That was it. I used to go to New York quite a bit, so whenever I'd go there I'd check for him and hang out and stuff like that.
KELLEY: I remember when Ali was going up to Toronto a lot to work with you, and he's loved Toronto.
MCKINNEY: Yeah, he's a — we loved having him in Toronto. It was awesome. We had a cool spot up there, for what? Like five, six months?
MCKINNY: So, yeah, I mean Toronto loves Tribe, Ali, from long time — actually the first show I went to when I went to Toronto was a Tribe Called Quest show, by myself.
MCKINNEY: By myself. Yeah. All by myself.
MUHAMMAD: I don't know if I knew that. Were we playing outside?
MCKINNEY: No. Inside, at the Spectrum. I think it was you guys and De La, I believe.
MCKINNEY: Yeah, so —
MUHAMMAD: That was forever ago.
MCKINNEY: Yeah, so it was just me by myself.
MUHAMMAD: That's crazy.
MCKINNEY: Yeah. It was amazing.
KELLEY: Don't you like going to shows like that?
MCKINNEY: Yeah. I did. Well, at the time it was really interesting. It got kind of old quick, cause then you're like, "Damn. I don't have any friends." I mean usually, you know, people talking in your ear, just being able to get in and get out and all that other stuff. Yeah, sometimes it's cool, but it's fun to turn up with other people, obviously.
KELLEY: It's just two totally different things, I think.
MUHAMMAD: Can we go on about the Esthero record for a moment?
MCKINNEY: Yeah, absolutely.
MUHAMMAD: That was a masterful album, man.
MCKINNEY: Thank you.
MUHAMMAD: Classic, from my page and several other notable musicians. What were thinking about when you were making that record, because there's such a mixture of sounds. So what were you thinking about?
MCKINNEY: Man. Well, I think, at the time, because I had just moved to Toronto, I was actually just my whole, you know, experience was — the whole experience of Toronto was something different, creatively, than growing up in the Twin Cities. Shout out to St. Paul/Minneapolis. But growing up there was a totally different thing. There was whole new music. They had like reggae, calypso, even house wasn't that big in Minneapolis. So it was all these new sounds that were like, you know, I was being consumed by and it was very inspiring, not to mention to be able to look out and see a whole different skyline, etc.
So, and then I think just being like, just trying to be great. I think when you're doing records, you're looking to your peers to be able to shock them and impress them, and the people even that I was surrounded by at the time, it was a whole different, you know, a whole different kind of vibe. So some of the stuff actually — I always say I was just really inspired by the city and just couple that with trying to be great — being able to experiment. Obviously Esthero is very, very talented, so she definitely was — I think helped me take it to the next level from the inspiration standpoint.
So, yeah, that and a lot of the songs actually started off as songs that were like, actually hip-hop songs. So a lot of it is funny cause, you know, stuff that she wanted just was kind of like the slowed down version. And then I think just once we kind of found out what our vibe and direction was on it, being able to, I think, go outside of the box at the time of what we were kind of in the confines of — you know, what is hip-hop or what is R&B or what is indie rock — and able to draw from everything and you know, it was what? Mid- to late '90s? So it was really encouraged to be different. You had things like Bjork and Radiohead and, you know, random other things that were actually on the radio, so that obviously incorporated different textures that I was really inspired by. Massive Attack, Portishead obviously. We kind of got in on the tail end of trip-hop, so that whole wave was definitely inspiring.
MUHAMMAD: Okay. Just wanted a background on hip-hop, really.
MUHAMMAD: Well, more than hip-hop because hip-hop encompasses so many different genres. It has from the beginning. So maybe that's why I was gravitated towards it, but I don't know. It was just something really different about that record. I never heard anything like that. Like Massive Attack, but Massive Attack didn't really grab me like that. Was it Morcheeba? You know, stuff like that. I don't know if it was — I shouldn't single out a British — I don't know. It's something different about those records. I really love them, but the Esthero record just had some other lushness happening.
MCKINNEY: Well, I think it's interesting, cause at the time — which is very similar to now — it's like, you know, I hang out with a lot of hip-hop heads, so I'm trying to hit them in the head when I play stuff. So, you know, those records, really, I don't feel like would have seen the light of day if, you know, if the heads wouldn't have been, "Yo, this s*** bangs." Or, you know, it was like, I remember Smoothe Da Hustler was one of the first people to come by the studio and hear joints just randomly, and he was like, "Yo. I f*** with this. This is crazy."
MUHAMMAD: What you do in the studio with Smoothe Da Hustler?
MCKINNEY: He just came by with a friend of mine, Too Rude, who's a long time producer in Toronto who's done like — I actually met Monch, Pharaohe Monch, through them and a couple other people. He was doing I think like a compilation album — his solo album, but it was everybody from Saukrates to Smoothe Da Hustler and Monch. So he would randomly bring them by and stuff like that. He was a big supporter of my stuff early on.
So it was randomly getting to play these records and for, like, real hip-hop heads and hip-hop artists, that was outside of, like, Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning from Broken Social Scene. That was kind of like the two worlds that I was pressing play for, and they all were like, "I really fuck with this s***." So I was like, "Wow." You know, surprised, because I definitely was in a bubble to a certain extent, in my little kitchen making these records.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, but — you say you were in a bubble, but you don't really live in a bubble. Like, you introduced me to "I'm a Stoner." That night you played it in the car was like, "Doc has lost his mind" but —
KELLEY: Was it a convertible?
MUHAMMAD: Nah, it was like the dead, cold winter of —
MUHAMMAD: And he was just blasting this. I was like, "What on earth is this?" No, you keep well grounded to the streets — to the pulse of youth music.
MCKINNEY: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think Young Thug has been pretty consistently one of my favorite MCs for a while. I just love his voice, his flows, everything about him is, like, crazy. And some of the lyrics, I feel like, are so Richard Pryor — you know, early Richard Pryor offensive — where you're like, "Damn!" You know, there's something that I really like about that. I feel like a lot of the stuff isn't that brave, or it's just shock without the talent, but I feel like, I don't know, his tones and his pocket is just incredible to me.
MUHAMMAD: What do you find that's exciting about hip-hop now that gives you that feeling of what you experienced back in like the mid- to late '90s?
MCKINNEY: I feel like definitely now there's a lot more experimentation. I feel like right now, in the last couple years, we've hit the ceiling on some of the — you know, after sampling, everybody stopped sampling. Well, at least more mainstream stuff, because people were so concerned about the publishing and clearances and stuff like that. And now a lot of great producers are figuring out how to get that sound that I grew up loving, themselves.
Like yourself. You know, real instrumentation. My dude, Frank Dukes — where you're like, "Wow. This sounds like classic recordings." Great hip-hop producers actually spending the time to do the found sounds and, you know, randomly record weird things instead of just looking to like a Motif or a Korg for the latest patch. So I feel like that part of it has, to me, been the most exciting from the production side.
And then I feel like from the MC side, I feel like has been really cool. I mean, you know, obviously there's Kendrick's album. Everything that he's done. I like the honesty but also being, you know, aggressive with it; having a real point, which I feel like at least — like what I'm talking about, obviously we all know there's a lot of great underground stuff. I'm talking about stuff that makes it to the top because so much of it, once it gets to the top, has been diluted to the point where, you know, it's just not the same thing. Kendrick's last album is, like, wow. He actually — which I was like, "Oh, man. He took one for the team," because he could have just followed up with "Swimming Pools" and you know, been the biggest pop rapper on the planet. But I feel like even for stuff like that actually being really appreciated, you know, watching rallies, Black Lives Matter using your song as a protest song — bumbaclat. That is super inspiring. It takes me back to '90s hip-hop.
Also I feel like a lot of the artists are coming together and you know, realizing there's more strength in numbers; which also, too, I feel like that was missed out on. People would have their crews and stuff like that, but not really building together outside of that. Now I feel like there's a lot more of that going on.
KELLEY: Did you see that group of guys who went to the White House the other day to talk about mass incarceration?
KELLEY: Yeah. I don't know anything more than that, but it was photos and people said that — it seems like most of MMG, and then like Cole and Pusha and —
MUHAMMAD: Oh, and Busta and Talib. I saw photos.
KELLEY: I didn't see that it was them, but yeah. Yeah. I don't know. It seems like a lot of stuff happens behind close doors in the White House.
So in that, and in the way that you guys met, what do you hear that makes you want to be like, "Oh, OK. I would like to work with this person." Or, "I would just like to tell this person I appreciate what they're doing." Or, "This person is fine without me. I'm just gonna observe from afar." What is it that makes you kind of switch over and say, "We should work?"
MCKINNEY: For me, personally, I mean I grew up playing in bands and stuff like that. I mean, it's really just connection, period. I just feel like a lot of this is — like right now. I would encourage you right now, if we, like, lived in the same neighborhood, I'd be like, "Yo, Frannie. You gotta get on the mic. You gotta do something here." You'd be like, "I'm not really ... I'm not really ..." I be like, "Yo, trust me. You just get on the mic. We'll be cool. We'll do this group." That's really what it is.
I've never — for myself, it's not about this person — you know, obviously, there's different artists that you meet and you go, "Wow, you're incredible," but that doesn't mean anything if there's not that connection. Similar to when you meet somebody, you know, you love. You're like, "Oh, man. This is an instant connection." You know? Some other connections, it's not the same as that, when you first meet them, and you gotta spend time, then you grow to love them. But I feel like, for me, first and foremost, it's that connection and then as long as that connection's there I usually could work with everything else. Any shortcomings, any ego, anything else. As long as, like Quincy Jones said, the trust and love is there, I feel like I'm a pretty awesome collaborator.
KELLEY: Got it.
MUHAMMAD: I agree.
KELLEY: Is it similar? Yeah.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. I just was an admirer of Doc's music, so then we met in New York, actually with Raphael —
MCKINNEY: Sorry, was this speaking to just our relationship? Sorry to cut you off. Or was that just in general?
KELLEY: And whichever.
MUHAMMAD: So we met in New York and it was just, like, you know, our very first time meeting someone. So it was like straight off the bat. Like, man, we all admire one another and liked each other, but not too long after that, Tribe was doing something with Much Music, and invited Doc to come kick it and hang out. Ever since that, really — that point — we just kind of always connected. Be it in New York or Toronto. And I don't think it was like — well, I guess we did kind of — there was a working off the bat because we were working on Lucy Pearl, and Doc did some music for Lucy Pearl.
I think the work part comes after, between he and I, cause that's my boy. Just got to say that, for the record.
KELLEY: Full disclosure.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. Full disclosure. But it is definitely about the connection you have with another spirit in the room and that determines, I guess, how far you can take it and what you can do. And you gotta have, I think, some sort of a vision in terms of working together, too. You feel like there's something in the dynamic of what you each do, which will make something special.
KELLEY: Yeah, that's kind of what I was asking. Like, is there a point where you're like, "Oh, I see how with our powers combined, we could make something I couldn't make by myself."
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, or sometimes you just want to try something. You know, let's just turn this stuff on. See what happens.
KELLEY: But then both of you guys, separately, apart from your own relationship, have other relationships that have had their ups and downs, and separations and coming back together and everything. Does that affect the way that you hear the music that you made with those people?
MCKINNEY: With the ups and downs?
MCKINNEY: Yeah, I mean, I feel like for me it's family, right? So, when you're able to find resolve in some of these relationships that usually are messed up over business. I've never had a falling out because, you know, a woman that I worked with slept with my girlfriend. Or a guy that I worked with, you know, was hitting on me too much. You know what I mean?
MCKINNEY: I've never had that.
KELLEY: Those are really strong examples.
MCKINNEY: I'm just trying to say it's never been even oddly personal like that. It's always come down to business stuff that kind of rolls over into the personal things, so I feel like when you're — same as family members, you're able to get past it. It's just one more — when you go back in the room, it's like there is no inhibitions. There's no anything. You know, you've gone to hell and back. You've seen the worst. So I feel like as long as you're able to genuinely find the resolve, it's not based in, "Oh, what can you do for me," or you know, "you want to make money here," but genuinely wanting to work together, then I feel like it's just — it makes everything more transparent, more honest, more purposeful.
Whenever I've had any problem or any issue with anybody, the ones that, you know, you go, "It's not the same thing." It's kind of like breaking up with a girlfriend. You go, "Yup. We had a great run there. Didn't really work." But when it's really something, it's more a family thing when you go, "We're never breaking up here." We can not talk to each other for a couple years, but, you know, I often equate these records to having kids. So you're like, we're usually good for being in each other's lives for a good 18 years or so, if not the rest of our lives.
KELLEY: Funny that you mention that. That was actually my next question: you have kids?
KELLEY: Did having kids change anything about the way that you make or listen to music?
MCKINNEY: Yeah, I mean for better and for worse, I feel like when you have kids, especially in this business, you have an accountability to provide for them. There's more — not just in this business — but when you have kids you have to provide, so some of the selfish decisions that you make just based off your own ego that have to be actually really go like, "Where is the back end on this? Where is the money?" You know, I have two mouths to feed. So that was a little bit weird to deal with at first because I felt like at times I did stuff that I normally wouldn't do, in an effort just to really provide for my family, and —
KELLEY: Do you regret doing those things?
MCKINNEY: Yeah, because it just never works out.
KELLEY: When you do stuff for cash?
MCKINNEY: Yeah, when I do it for money, it's just like, I immediately suck. I immediately am like — you can hear it and it doesn't lead to anything more, but other s***** gigs for money. So, I mean, happiness is success at the top for me, right? So the second I'm not happy, my kids aren't happy and they're not — you know, my kids are very, very — what's the word? I don't know. My son — both of 'em — I've asked, "Hey, what do you want Christmas?" They're like, "Uh, I think we're good." So they're not really needy kids like that. Well, weren't. Shout out to my kids, and my son and daughter hitting me up every week on schedule like, "Hey, what's going on? I was just wondering, I need some money."
But, yeah, and then to the other side of it, just, infinite amount of inspiration. The other thing is, you know, I had loved music up until I had kids, more than anything. And then when you have kids you get the same fulfillment out of watching your kid walk from one side of the room to the other, as you do as what you feel like having written a hit song or big tune. That's something that really makes you feel incredible. Also, too, to actually get on a plane, go across the world to work on music and be away from your kids becomes very difficult. So that was very problematic for a long time. Like, a lot of things that I passed on or didn't do just because I was super content on just hanging out at home, watching Spongebob. Shout out to Spongebob. You asexual guy, you.
KELLEY: I don't understand Spongebob at all. Like, I don't — probably because I don't have kids, but my friends' kids talk to me about it, and I'm just like, "What? None of what you're saying makes any sense."
MCKINNEY: Spongebob starts off — Spongebob, to me, was amazing, but I started doing acid when I was 13; so that's, like, as soon as I saw Spongebob, I was like, "I get every part of this."
KELLEY: Isn't there also — now there's like a reggae pig or something in the U.K.? You heard of this? [Frannie was confused. She was thinking of Peppa the Pig and one time some people faked a video of Peppa the Pig enjoying reggae. Babies do love Peppa the Pig though.]
MCKINNEY: No. It sounds amazing though.
KELLEY: It's another thing that apparently the children love, and I'm —
MUHAMMAD: I'ma check for that as soon as we get done. Reggae pig.
KELLEY: I'm saying the name wrong.
MCKINNEY: A Rasta pork chop. That sounds like blasphemy.
KELLEY: Saidahknows what it is.
MCKINNEY: That sounds like blasphemy.
KELLEY: Yeah, it's very confusing on a lot of levels, is what I'm saying.
MCKINNEY: It's some blasphemy. I don't know. I'll leave it up to Lee Scratch Perry.
MUHAMMAD: Speaking of Scratch Perry, you follow him on Twitter?
MCKINNEY: I follow him on Instagram.
MUHAMMAD: You follow him on Instagram.
MCKINNEY: Half of my Instagram is like reposts of his.
MUHAMMAD: Why is he so intriguing to you?
MCKINNEY: Because he is the truth. He is like, unfiltered truth, and just — I don't know what he's tapped into, but — am I allowed to swear on here, cause I've been swearing?
KELLEY: Yeah, it's no problem.
MCKINNEY: OK. I mean just the things that he did and continues to do, it just seems like he's tapped into frequencies that — he just seems like he doesn't, he's not motivated by anything other than whatever, you know, vibration is going on in the planet. And the reasons that he does stuff and, obviously, stuff that's been, I feel like, detrimental to his career — like he could have done, you know, way more. Quote, unquote. Seems like he doesn't care and he's still happy. And to me I look at, like, his happiness — whenever I see his photo, I love his outfit. He looks like just the most colorful soldier of god ever. And any dude that's gonna, like, nail your master reels to the wall, or bury them in the backyard until he feels the world is ready, like, that's speaking my language. Shout out to all the people that don't get their songs from me.
MUHAMMAD: Hold on. I wasn't even gonna go there, but since you brought that up, do you feel that — seriously. You're really passionate about what you do, and because I know you I'm treading here on this interview, but there are people who don't get their music from you. It's a criticism sometimes.
MCKINNEY: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I just dealt with that at Coachella. A young artist, who's awesome, she was like, "Yeah, you're nice, but you're also, like, mean. You never gave me the songs, and then you said some things to me that were hurtful, but, yet, inspiring." Yeah, I mean, I don't know.
I feel like the world does not need any more bad music. So I feel like I'm trying to help out everybody here. Now, I know a lot of music that I've put out, some of it's questionable. But I feel like some things it's like — I don't know. You get that feeling in your gut and you want to love everything that you put out. You could imagine if you had a child and you're like, "Eh, I don't really love this child." It's probably not yours. You know? So unless you're really willing to adopt another child, take responsibility for this kid for 18 years, I think sometimes you should just — you know? Well, I mean, I don't know. I don't want to use the word "abort the baby" cause —
MUHAMMAD: But I get what you're saying. You, unlike most producers and musicians really — I shouldn't say that — but there are quite a few people who just don't really care and they'll just put it out without having a real deeper connection to the spirit of what's gonna happen once it's out there —
KELLEY: Can you clarify the timeline for me? Why do you have it and not her? Cause you were gonna finish it? Cause you started —
MCKINNEY: Yeah, so in this scenario, which is common, I don't just, for any artist I want to work with, you need to spend a day or two in the studio with them. I don't just —
MCKINNEY: — sign up for producing people without spending the initial day or two to kind of see what their vibe is, exchange some ideas. Sometimes it can actually be a week or two. You know? But it's all like — this is usually 99% of the time with people I've never met before. Where I've been like, "OK. I like your music." Or "Met you out. Come by the studio and let's try a ting." You know? And then it's just not inspiring me to do anything great. Or —
KELLEY: OK, so you just sort of leave it there.
MCKINNEY: I just sort of leave it there, because, you know, I can't — it's like I try and force, I try and force it. I'm not into the ghost producer thing. I could hand it off to somebody and be like, "Cool." But that's just not really my thing. So for me to get it from A to B, I have to be inspired by it.
I feel like, also, a lot of great artists that I work with get the song, whether I like it or not. You know? And not by illegal means; just by being like, "Cool. I'm back at your house tomorrow." Like, or, "I changed something to get you inspired by it." Or did something. It really takes like, I feel like, that chemistry and that relationship. There's no amount of money you can pay me to be like, "Here." I really got to love it.
And in the past when I had been like, "Eh, I don't really love it —" Unless it's like, say for instance, Abel, The Weeknd. You know, he's super brave with it. So I would — House of Balloons was not done to me. Abel was like, "Yo let's put out it tomorrow," and you're like, "What? It's not done."
So that's what I mean. Some artists, I feel like, they have a strong vision and their confidence sometimes can make up for my insecurities or me not feeling like it's done. I feel like there is times where I'm like, "It's not done." And you know, the artist's bravery and confidence will be like, "OK. I feel comfortable."
But when they — when sometimes that isn't there, which, not saying anything about the artists that haven't gotten songs from me at times, but I like working with a lot of new artists just because I feel like I have more of a, I can take it anywhere, they're not boxed in by any expectations, everything else like that. But what comes with that, lots of times, is not really being confident, or having a strong vision themselves, to compensate for maybe what I feel is some of the shortcomings with the song or the production.
MUHAMMAD: You do have a great vision when it comes to an artist, as to who they are, and I know that means a lot to you. More than just plugging in and playing. You've transitioned that into outside of the studio by taking on a manager's cap. How, in that position, — what about an artist draws you to wanting to help guide their career?
MCKINNEY: I mean I feel like the management thing has always been there. I've had a label and I guess I've done management duties when I was encouraged by my partner, John, to manage. A lot of what I was already doing was managing. I like being a part of the whole process. You know, I come from publishing. I started off working in publishing in the business, as far as from the business side, so I love all the aspects of that, and I like being able to dream with the artist in different ways, you know, outside of just the studio.
So I feel like, now, management — it's kind of worked out. One: I feel like I have a lot more to offer the younger artists that I feel like need management, or that I really want to work with. Cause, actually, with the artists that I manage, I work with them kind of, sort of, on the music, but it's really based off of management stuff. I feel like it's just I'm passionate about that. I feel like I've been able to, like I always help an artist really kind of refine their vision and help them get an album right. And same with the business side. I just didn't take it serious. I don't think I had — well, I know I didn't have the infrastructure before around me, cause you definitely need — especially myself — need a good supporting cast.
MUHAMMAD: In the changing world of the music industry and the infrastructure of how people get their music, how do you use the now formula to make the artist successful?
MCKINNEY: Well, really pay attention to where they're coming from and the grip that they have on their fans. I feel like trying to — what you could do before is there was this template of how things went. I feel like the artist, specifically the artists that I like working with, are very, kind of, on to themselves. So you have to be very aware of the subtleties of, you know, their fan base. There's a lot of things that, you know, with Abel, Corbin, Bobby, Psymun; these guys, you watch them, you go — I don't manage Abel — but even things that they did that I wouldn't necessarily have done because they're tapped in. So you have to be really aware of that now because they're talking to the world every day. So if there's a misstep or inconsistencies, it can be extremely damaging. So a lot of the artists that I work with, you — from the management side — you have to be really tuned in.
I feel like before you could kind of run the template and be like this is how you get from, you know, here to MTV. Now, it's very easy to play yourself out before you even got 10,000 followers on Twitter. Right? So, knowing where they come from, knowing the culture that they're involved in, and respecting that 1000%, and putting that at the forefront.
Especially the artists I work with money's definitely secondary. They're trying to change the world and have, you know, really impact as artists. So, patience; I feel like you need a lot of patience. There's infinite opportunities now. All the artists I work with get DMs and ads about all these amazing opportunities. Being patient enough to turn stuff down, and look at more of the long game. So, you know, it's hard for them and it's hard for me. There's a lot of things that I'd like to, "Hey. But it's a million dollars!" But you really have to dial it back and just keep your eyes on what your real intention is here.
KELLEY: Then can we talk about the Hamburger Helper mixtape?
MCKINNEY: Yes. Absolutely.
KELLEY: So, then whose — was this Bobby's idea? Like how does that sort of fit into the philosophy you just outlined? How'd that go down?
MCKINNEY: Well, Bobby Raps is a genius. I call him Bobby Warhol cause he's definitely very brilliant and extremely passionate about everything he does. I was like, "Let's absolutely not do Hamburger Helper."
KELLEY: I knew it.
MCKINNEY: I was like, "Uh."
KELLEY: You're like, "That sounds terrible."
MCKINNEY: Yeah, you know.
KELLEY: Can I just tell you, that was one of the most texted things in recent memory, to me.
KELLEY: Yeah. People were like, "What are you doing? Get on this."
MCKINNEY: Yeah, that's why he's like a baby Andy Warhol. He seems to — some artists they just can't do anything wrong. Like, it's weird. You know, everything just aligns for them. I've seen this a few times where you're like, "How did the Hamburger Helper thing become cool?" Like, on what planet? When Samsung and all these people are trying to do these "tapped into" this music thing and they've just, you know, haven't done it the same way, I think, with the same kind of effectiveness.
KELLEY: It's cause it was good.
KELLEY: That's what everybody else hit me up about. They were like, "Shocker of the day. This is f****** dope."
MCKINNEY: Yeah, exactly. So he was like, "I'm gonna do it," and quite truthfully, you know, for $5,000.
KELLEY: So did they go to him?
MCKINNEY: Yeah, so they went to him. So General Mills —
KELLEY: Why him specifically?
MCKINNEY: Because General Mills is based in Minnesota and Bobby pretty much, you know — him and Corbin and Psymun — that's the group, thestand4rd, that they're in — they're like one of the bigger things, if not the biggest things, in new music in the city. So, being there, the marketing department are fans of him, you know, coming to his shows and stuff like that, so they asked him to do it, and I was like, "Absolutely not." Then I was trying to figure out how to do it and be like, "OK cool. Roll it into your DJ collective," with his partner DJ Tip — shout out to Tip — that he DJs with. And I was like, "OK, maybe we do it as that." Take off the Bobby Raps and just kind of let it live as that. Cause they wanted them to do numerous songs on the mixtape.
So, yeah. I was like, "Cool. Let's not do it." Bobby was like, "But it's $5,000." I was like, "It's $2,500 split between you and Tip." But when you're living in the studio, like that's a lot of money, and in Minneapolis that's like a year-and-a-half worth of studio rent. So it's bigger money than it is in LA or New York. You could definitely stretch that in the Twin Cities for a while.
And then once it came out, it was like — the Hamburger Helper guys were great. It's crazy that I'm sayin' that. Shout out to Ralph. Shout out to my guys at Hamburger Helper. Lefty, what up. You can get that finger back, homes. So yeah, they were very — they're all really cool, and I get it. They're really like — they were at Bobby's shows before this and stuff like that, so they really — and I think with Bobby's thing, you know, he doesn't mind taking the piss out of himself. He's got a song called "Fuk My Baby Mama," and he doesn't have a baby mama.
KELLEY: I can see why.
MCKINNEY: So him and Corbin both don't mind clowning and having fun with the music. So it worked with that. Once it came out, we had to be like, "Wow. OK. How are we going to — wait. Change it from Dequexatron to Bobby Raps." So, just trying to take advantage. I mean it got like, what, five million spins on SoundCloud so far in the last couple weeks? I think it says a lot to Bobby's artistry and production. He did the beat and the song. He literally knocked out the vocals like an hour before it had to be delivered.
So, yeah, those decisions — once again — and I have to say this: I was not going to do it. And then even when it came out, they had put on SoundCloud, which they weren't supposed to do, Dequexatron X000 and then Bobby Raps and Tip underneath it. That was not the deal. It was supposed to be just, whatever. So I had went from calling them to scream on them, be like, "What are ya'll doing?" to being like, "Um, sorry. Can you put their name bigger?"
I was actually walking to the office with my dude Trouble Andrew, who's killing it with the Gucci Ghost stuff and doing the fall line of the Gucci women's line, and he was like, "What are you talking about? This is crazy." So, perfect example of like, it's easy to know too much or do it the absolute wrong way. You gotta be, kind of like tapped in, and once it was like going, I was like, "Oh. This is an Andy Warhol moment." You know?
KELLEY: I whole-heartedly agree that there's plenty of bad music out there, but partly because of that, there does seem to be this chance where if something is really good people can recognize that. And it's extra celebrated cause there's so much b******* that is getting crammed down our throats all the time. The way that people are working with brands is odd, and unpredictable to me, anyway. I wonder what people are gonna regret in that way down the road.
MUHAMMAD: Oh, it will be a mountain pile of regrets. That just happens. But I don't think anything — well, I was just thinking that the first thing that thing that came to mind was Mary J Blige Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial, but —
MCKINNEY: I love that commercial.
MUHAMMAD: But, yeah, I mean, it definitely served its purpose. I don't think that anyone has done anything so shameful, unless my memory is just faded, but that just comes with life. Like, you know, you'll do something because it seemed like, in the moment, the right thing to do — be it from a creative perspective or financial. It's not always financial. And it just seems like it was the thing to do, and then you find out later, like, "Man, yeah. OK. We made a mistake." But that's the beautiful thing about being an artist, is you can take risks and take chances and hopefully be secure enough to just keep going with it if you fall flat on your face.
MCKINNEY: I think there's been a lot — when you think about brand collaboration and music, and you look at like — I mean, Frank Sinatra I think had an album with a TWA plane or some s*** on the cover. You know, you think about Michael Jackson burning his head for a Pepsi ad. I mean, there's always been that. I feel like it's interesting because —
KELLEY: TheStones did a cereal commercial.
MCKINNEY: Yeah, I mean, this is been there for a long time, and I think that the artists — I think, even the Mary J. Blige commercial, I think if she wasn't like, "Did someone say chicken?" or whatever she said at the beginning, where I feel like that was a moment where people were like, "Eee." Like, that's a little bit whatever. But I feel like, similar to Drake — I feel like Drake, you know, takes the piss out of himself and it really adds some human type of thing to it. So I feel like some of the stuff — which also going back to this Hamburger Helper thing — not like, "Oh, this is a joke," but, "Yeah, it is. It's a joke." And I'm confident enough as an artist to, you know, have fun with it and not be held to the fire that this is my whole artistry.
I dig what Radiohead and all these people that are completely anti-corporate whatever; but I feel like also, too, there's a thing where I think it's really empowering to the artist because before we used to only have record labels. If you had a record deal, that was the only way you were getting money. I feel like now, there's Samsung or Apple or Sprite or Red Bull. I feel like there's a lot of opportunities that if the brands come around to actually, I feel like, doing more music initiatives, and figuring out how to maybe respect the art and culture and not have it just be a one-off cheesy promo grab for whatever — like what Red Bull is doing where I feel like they've really got behind artists and have done the Red Bull seminars and all that stuff. I feel like that's really cool and it's beneficial for a lot of the artists with a lot less commitment than, you know, going to record labels. Even indie labels, which by the way — shout out to the record labels — but they're doing the brand partnerships all the time. So even though you're signed to Super Cool Records U.S.A, they still, lots of times, are doing some kind of corporate something in the back, and it eventually will show up somewhere.
I do feel like if you know what you're doing and you don't play yourself out that, you know, it can be empowering for the artists. And a lot of them need to know, having that direct relationship — I know Bobby dealing with a major corporation's marketing department is a whole different thing, and getting that kind of education of what it is, it can be beneficial. But I do feel like if it's done wrong or you do some wack s***, yes, you will definitely have some regrets.
KELLEY: So I also wanted to talk about — you don't do interviews.
KELLEY: And I'd love to know why you don't do interviews and then if you sort of, how you might advise your guys in that regard also.
MCKINNEY: Well, yeah, I don't do interviews. You know, it's funny; I don't think anybody cared to do an interview with me between 2002 and 2011 when the House of Balloons dropped, and when that dropped —
KELLEY: That's some b*******. This is what makes me very angry about music journalism and rap writers. It's like at least do the reporting. You don't have to publish it, but at least go talk to people. Read a f****** liner note once. Ask somebody. I'm done.
MCKINNEY: OK. That's one of the reasons that I don't do interviews, cause I get turnt up real quick, just like that. I'll be like — but I go a lot further, Frannie. I have serious Tourette's when I start getting upset or passionate. I'll be like, "Did I say that out loud?" Well, I mean, yeah, so, but a lot of 'em don't. And a lot of it — I mean, obviously, too, during that time it was Internet just — social media just took over. So almost everything became clickbait right away, which is another reason — but I'll talk about that in a second. But the thing is with, I feel like for me, honestly, with interviews you have to trust the person that you're listening to and talking to.
KELLEY: Yeah, you put your name in somebody's hands.
MCKINNEY: Yeah, and that's a very weird one because, even without — which has happened before — it's not even about them, it's about other people, you know, the higher ups, that want to turn the story into something all about, you know, The Weeknd. Or turn the story all into something like — and it's not very good journalism. I mean my children's mother is a brilliant journalist and so I've been privy to some of that and had an education from her on this. And she works hard at — well, now she's a producer — but when she was doing the journalism thing she worked really hard and was very thorough and making sure she got a great story and not something that was just basic cheese just to get the headline. And also, too, I love talkin' s*** so, you know, more times than not I'ma do an interview and be like, like I said, "I can't believe I just said that."
KELLEY: Regrets. Everywhere.
MCKINNEY: Yeah, and then any radio interview, I have to put some bass in the voice just so I can actually listen to it. But I feel like, which is different going back to the artists that I work with — sorry, going back to like when The Weeknd album dropped, he wasn't doing interviews, so it would have looked hella stupid for me to start doing interviews, you know, talking about him, and I actually thought that was super cool. I felt like it actually created more mystique when everybody was quick to tell you what they ate that morning. I feel like that's taking some of the magic out of the business.
KELLEY: Well, then what happened? Didn't he do one and he felt screwed? Then he was like, "I'm done."
MCKINNEY: I don't know if that was it. I think he just didn't want to do interviews. I think he was smart in that I think he thought it was cool to not do interviews, but I think he was also, like, he's too cool for interviews, which is awesome. You know, like being an artist and being like, "Yo, why am I even talking to the press right now?" I feel like there's not enough of that.
KELLEY: That's the best question.
MCKINNEY: Yeah, right? So, I feel like there's, you know, unless you really have something to say or there's a real purpose for it — right? It's really just a narcissistic thing where you just, I guess the intention is just to like bring more shine on yourself. So unless it's actually with a purpose, you got a record comin' in, or I don't know. Something like that. But it's like same thing — I go on Twitter or Instagram, and it's posting s*** for no reason. There's a narcissism to it that's just like, I feel like the same is kind of the press.
Fortunately for the guys that I work with, you know, one of them is really good at handling the press and then the other two really don't do any press, and really don't have really any interest in doing stuff. I tell them the same thing as, like, be mindful because they will twist your words and it will become clickbait.
I was telling you earlier I did an interview with The Guardian, and the headline was "Something Something The Weeknd," and it's just like, it had nothing to do — I was actually just showed up to meet friends who were doing an interview with The Guardian. I wasn't even supposed to be there. And then it turned into, basically, you know, connecting these people to The Weeknd somehow. I'm just like sitting there and I told the writer later on, "That's why I don't do interviews." And he's like, "Oh, that was the editor, blah, blah, blah." And I'm like, "Yeah. Well, it was a cheap applause."
I just listened to a Rick Rubin interview and I was like, "Man, he talks about so much cool s*** that's not music." You know? So, I feel like — I don't know. And he doesn't do many interviews. And he has a lot to say; a lot of, like, knowledge to pass on to people. So I feel like, you know, probably good for this one this year and maybe another one with you guys next year, and we'll have more to talk about.
MUHAMMAD: Well, if it's going to be next year, we'll probably have a new president at that point, right?
KELLEY: Oh Jesus.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, I'm going there. Nah, I'm not gonna take Doc into the world of politics.
MCKINNEY: Come on! Let's go! What? Let's go into politics. Come on, you already know. But, you know, I live in Canada.
KELLEY: And your prime minister is like, what? Super fine and knows how to do push ups and quantum computing at the same time or something?
MCKINNEY: Yeah,Justin Trudeau, I mean, he's a good-looking chap I would guess, if a lot of women think he's a good-looking chap, you know. I just feel like there's just, we have numerous parties so I just feel like there's more competition. And how elections are run and the fact that you can call an election when somebody's being extremely wack. You know, I think that's amazing.
KELLEY: I really appreciated when OG Maco was talking about it. It's like why can everybody else recall people and we just, like, don't?
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. You're not doing a good job. Next.
MCKINNEY: Yeah, exactly. But a lot of this, I mean, I think the corporate interest is just so heavy in the government. I just feel like that's what we're really talking about here. It's not —
KELLEY: Well, and low key, that's what I was talking about when I was asking about brands and regrets is these — so you get some money. Drake gets the Nike money — or I'm sorry, the —
MCKINNEY: Apple money.
KELLEY: Apple money. Doesn't he get Nike money, too?
MCKINNEY: Yeah, he gets Nike — Drake gets all the money.
KELLEY: Yeah, so Drake gets all this money, but he gives them — he does give them — influence and stature and reach, and what do they do with that? You know, they don't make our lives better. They don't make anybody's life better. They take our money.
MUHAMMAD: Well —
MCKINNEY: I don't know. You seen the new Jordans?
KELLEY: I'm not a sneaker girl.
MCKINNEY: Have you seen the old Jordans?
KELLEY: Is that very meaningful for a certain segment of our listeners?
MUHAMMAD: No, I think the point that I was going to make is, I mean, when you look at it from that perspective, all of this is b*******.
KELLEY: Yeah, exactly.
MUHAMMAD: But you know, there are some people who take the assets they received in doing these deals and do great things with them. You know, some people don't. And to say that someone should be held to a higher caliber because of their position in life or as coming from a place where others before them have paved the way to allow them to be at that point and have a forum and a platform to get rich of? I mean, we can scrutinize artists, specifically, based off of their decisions, but me personally, they have no power. You know what I mean? The power is with the people, truly in the person; in the individual and so it's not necessarily for anyone to have any regrets. It's me living as an individual citizen; do I have regrets on my choices, of which has nothing to do with music?
KELLEY: Yeah, I understand that.
MUHAMMAD: I mean that's just my individual take on it.
KELLEY: So take some responsibility, basically?
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, I mean cause I'm giving you whatever it is, $10 for your record. Like, that relationship really ends there. I have no —
KELLEY: There's no causal relationship between lyrics and people's actions.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, for me personally. And that's just because —
KELLEY: No, that's proven.
MUHAMMAD: Well, yeah. I'm gonna lead myself, really.
MUHAMMAD: Looking for a leader because you stand on stage, command 50,000 people? Like, I'm good on that. I don't even like standing on stage in front of 50,000 people. Hate that position, just because of what can happen the moment you do something or say something. And if you're not saying anything that really can unite mankind, then like, you f****** up, in my opinion. You know, so I don't know. Corporations always are controlling things, and we have the ability every day to do something about that. Every day.
MCKINNEY: I mean I definitely feel corporations are psychopathic by nature. Right? That's what they are. They have no feelings. They do crazy things. So, you know, if you've ever been friends with a psychopath, you know you just got to kind of keep your distance. You have lunches out in public, you know. Stuff like that. You gotta keep it real cool. You can't be like, "Hey, let's just walk down this back alley together after you've been tweaked out off of cocaine." But I'm not as afraid of corporations I think as I once was.
I think a lot of 'em are super dependent on us, and I feel like the more business savvy — I mean shout out to Jay Z and some of these other people that have really, you know, gone in on the corporate thing. I think that has been really inspiring to I think a lot of young kids, specifically black kids that have been like, "Cool, I can actually have conversations with corporations. It's not weird. It's not whatever." Rather than leaving it to your attorney or the guy that can talk like them, or whatever else, and having more confidence in that you really have something that they want, and as long as you conduct yourself somewhat respectfully and I think have a — like some kind of business savvy — which I think a lot of kids do but at times just are, you know, livewires with their negotiations and their expectations are unreasonable; but I do feel like some of it is good, and I feel like we have an opportunity to utilize some of these relationships and some of their money for good s***.
MUHAMMAD: Word.Can I change the subject a little bit?
MUHAMMAD: How you let Drake be like the one to really put Toronto on the map, man? Like, sorry.
KELLEY: This is the best interview ever.
MUHAMMAD: Just sayin'. Cause you make as equally a groundbreaking mayor representative of the city of Toronto. I mean, like, you had Chaos in the ranks. I mean you make some real special material. What's going on? I'm sure doors are knocking down, or people tryin' to knock down the doors to get on your radar to help give them some life from Toronto. What's happening in Toronto? It's always been full of creative people. What's going on now?
MCKINNEY: I mean there's so much. I have to say, you know, I think what Drake was able to do was, at one time, seemed impossible. You know even though Toronto has a long history of hip-hop; you know, Michie Mee, Maestro Fresh Wes. I mean the first time I saw Michie Mee was in Word Up magazine in St. Paul, Minn. I was like, "Damn. She is bad." I hadn't even heard the music. Like, she's amazing. And then after talking to Monie Love many years later, talking about how thorough Michie was, and then — I think this was about 10 years ago — her coming by my house to work on something. We did something for this television show and she came by two days in a row with Chuck D.
I mean, Public Enemy's — I don't know, I would have to say Top 5, definitely Top 10, Top 5 for me — of any genre of music. Extremely influential. What they were able to do was, I mean — they had a song that says, "Farrakhan's a prophet and I think you ought to listen to what he can say to you," right? With Anthrax in the background, with a sea of white kids singing these lyrics. Like, I don't know if that's ever been done since. That was, to me, incredible. Whatever you think about Farrakhan or The Nation of Islam, that's on you; but for him to put that out there and then do a remix with a massive metal group, and then it being sung to a stadium of predominately white kids. Yeah. Top — man, that may be Top 5 now I think about it. That was a real moment for me.
But anyways, so it's always had a long history in Toronto and when I first met Michie, I was like, "Wow. This is incredible." So it's always been there; I just feel like what's interesting is they had to find their thing and kind of carve out their own thing and I feel like just because 90% of Canada is within an hour of the U.S., there's a lot of trying to sound like people. I was in Toronto when everybody was trying to be Mobb Deep, you know, and you go, "They're not trying to hear the Canadian Mobb Deep." As good as some of it was, it definitely needed to be something that was clearly Canadian; which I feel like Drake was able to do and still continues to make even the Toronto-specific lingo, like, global. It's crazy that the way my kids talk is setting the tempo for everybody else around the world. "Whose mans is this? A wasteman still."
To me it's baffling. I remember a time where everybody was afraid to sound like they're from Toronto. So, yeah, there's a ton of talent and obviously, you know, now everybody hits me up like — well, it went from everybody hitting me up, like, "Who's new here?" to people from across the globe telling me who's new in Toronto. Right? I mean it's definitely a huge time in Canada and Toronto, specifically. There's tons of new music. I mean, I could list a bunch of artists, but I don't want to miss anybody.
KELLEY: Do you have any Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis stories?
MCKINNEY: Absolutely. Did you know this?
KELLEY: What do you mean?
MCKINNEY: About my Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis story?
KELLEY: No, I didn't know. That's why I'm asking.
MCKINNEY: Oh, that's why I'm in Toronto, because of them. Shout out to Jimmy and Terry. Yeah, I went out; friends of mine from Mint Condition got me an interview with them to be an assistant to Steve Hodge, who is their engineer at Flyte Tyme, and, man, I didn't get the gig. It was also, too, the guy who I interviewed with, he had this spiral screensaver — so like how Ali's sitting there with the computer behind him — it was a spiral screensaver. And I couldn't stop frowning. Not to mention I went to the mall —
KELLEY: Cause you were, like, unhappy with the screensaver?
MCKINNEY: I would answer happy and frown. It would be like, "Oh, I'm just excited to be here." And then the other thing — I mean, come on. Let's be real, the whole reason I wanted the job is just to be next to Janet Jackson. So I probably uttered Janet's name like a maniac like 40 times, and then came the real questions: "So, what do you want to do, you know, in the next three to five years?" "I want to be a producer." Well, I was going out for a job being an Assistant Engineer, so, obviously they want you to be Head Engineer at some point; not their job. So, I was basically told at the time that I didn't have the job.
I had bought a suit — this corny suit. Had my waves all together. I was, like, I was so ready to be in Flyte Tyme. And they were like, "Basically, you don't have the gig cause we want somebody who just wants to be an engineer." And I was crushed; like, crushed. But at that time, they were like, "Yo, what are you going to do?" I was like, "I'm probably gonna move to Toronto." Because I had been to Toronto a year prior to that and was like, "I've done everything in Minneapolis I can do outside of, I think, join Prince's band or work for Jimmy and Terry." So as fate would have it, not too long after that I packed up my things and moved to Toronto.
MCKINNEY: Yeah, but if I would have stayed there, you know, it would have been horrible. I would have just been in the corner looking at Janet all weird. I probably would have got fired in like two weeks anyways, so they were pretty smart for that.
KELLEY: What if she called you today?
MCKINNEY: I mean, come on. What are you talking about?
KELLEY: I'm just saying — I know that you would take the job. I'm saying, do you think you could compose yourself?
MCKINNEY: I mean, yeah. I think I can keep it together now. I mean, I'm a grown man. I have like — you know. But yeah, Janet Jackson; I mean, truthfully, Janet and the records that she made with Jimmy and Terry were insanely influential for me. I put her up there right next to Michael for me. Like because the records, I mean, "Rhythm Nation." Even what she was talking about lyrically on that record; like crazy! That record was insane. And obviously for me, like "Pleasure Principle," that was the first time I was like — I mean. OK. I've been loving Janet Jackson since Penny. So I mean, it's been a long time I've been loving Janet Jackson. So yeah, absolutely.
KELLEY: My theory is that that Beyonce album, self-titled, is really just a track-by-track remake of Control.
KELLEY: Yeah, I could go in to it.
MCKINNEY: Wow. That's cool. It's not. I mean, let me not get started on Janet. Janet — let me just talk to you real quick, Janet. I'm out here in L.A. for a couple months. Holla at me. We can take it back; take it back to "Pleasure Principle." Anyways.
MUHAMMAD: Could you tell us your Dilla story? I love this story.
MCKINNEY: Oh, man. My Dilla story was one of those stories. I went to his house — Toronto is right by Detroit; obviously — so I was lucky enough to get invited to go out there. And I was there and he played — he's like, "Come on." You know, "Come on downstairs." He had a, first of all, basement full of records with a Rhodes in the middle of the floor, and — actually I was with my dude GE-OLOGY. Shout out to GE-OLOGY. So we went out there and he was like, you know, had this Rhodes in the middle of the thing with the ADATs and just the MPCs and I was like already a fan, you know, and brought my new songs that I was working on. You know, selected perfectly; you know, my hottest s***. Right? The big tunes. You know what I'm talking about, Ali.
So we go out there. Cool. Dilla's there. He's like, "Yo, let me just play you my album that I just finished," and proceeds to play Welcome 2 Detroit. Now, I tell people this is like, from the beginning of the record, you're like, "OK." It was like, "Eh, I don't know if I — definitely don't have anything hotter than that joint." And then by three songs in, my demo CD was basically in my sock. I had pushed that s*** so far down it was like, yeah. He's like, "You want to play some stuff?" I was like, "Absolutely not." I'm like, "There's no need for that." I'm super competitive, too, so I'm like, "Yeah. I definitely lost."
Fortunately he had already heard come of my music, so it wasn't my only time to play him music, but, yeah, I was just absolutely blown away. And he's such a sweet soul. Like, very cool — Frank n Dank. Shout out to Frank n Dank, they were paying pool. And first time I met those guys and you know; super awesome. I really wish I had a chance to work with him before he passed, but you know, definitely continues to inspire me.
KELLEY: Welcome 2 Detroit is '01.
MCKINNEY: '01. Yup. So it had to be a couple years before that. Yeah, that really threw me off. I was like, you know, on a path, and I think the whole city was like, you know — every producer was like, "You are not dope until you had your thing swinging like Dilla." So, and considering he didn't quantize, that was very difficult to recreate, which is why you should definitely do your own thing. But yeah. Super inspiring, and immediately raised the bar like tenfold.
KELLEY: Was Voodoo '01 also?
MUHAMMAD: No, Voodoo was 2000.
KELLEY: 2000. OK. I think of them, like, around the same time.
MCKINNEY: Yeah. Very close.
KELLEY: Is there anything else you've always wanted to ask Doc on the record?
MUHAMMAD: Ha! On the record! The first question that came to my mind was — or two — one: how'd you hook up with Young Buck?
MCKINNEY: The homie D Prosper.
MUHAMMAD: D Prosper. What up, D Prosper.
MCKINNEY: What up, D Prosper. The legend. The genius. Yeah, D Prosper, who's head of A&R for G-Unit with Shah, used to come to — I mean he used to be at every session. You know, D Prosper would be there hustling beats and connecting people and everything from a long time. So I met him right after I did Res' album. Sorry, during making Res' album, and we just always were cool and he became the A&R for G-Unit. He was, "Yo, man. Send me some beats." And I never send beats, but I was like, you know, I sent 'em. Sent him some beats and he was like, "Yo, Young Thug's taking this one." It was a song called "Slow Your Roll" on —
KELLEY: Young Thug or Young Buck?
MCKINNEY: I'm sorry. Yeah, Young Buck.
KELLEY: Dreaming again?
MCKINNEY: Yeah, sorry. I'm like, "Young Thug took one of my tracks!" But yeah, sorry — On Buck the World. And it was cool cause he like, you know, I feel like same thing as on the Drake record that I did; I'm lucky enough that when MCs take joints they usually spit the real. I mean, so I was really happy cause the lyrics that he dropped on it were just very honest, you know. I'm not with all the foolishness. I like real lyricists, even it's just on the one joint I do with them.
MUHAMMAD: More on the record questions — this is a challenge for me.
KELLEY: What part?
MUHAMMAD: What part? Interviewing one of your best friends is — plus me: I go to the grave with the stuff, in case you don't know.
KELLEY: I know.
MUHAMMAD: So, just saying.
KELLEY: Nobody has ever sworn me to secrecy quite as often as you.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. I do. Now that I think about it —
MCKINNEY: I'm glad I'm not the only one. I was like, "I know I talk a lot, but damn."
MUHAMMAD: Well, one is how come you don't work with more MCs? But I also know that you don't do beats, and a lot of people like to send in beat tapes and stuff like that — which I don't either cause, I don't know. I just hate it. So, I don't know what else to ask you, man.
KELLEY: Do your kids ever put you on to anybody? Do you like your kids' taste in music?
MCKINNEY: Yeah, I mean, I think my kids have really good taste in music. I think my son's favorite artist is, by note, is Kendrick. You know, they both really like Drake, which is cool. Yeah, they put me onto different stuff. A lot of it's really weird. I mean, my kids are super aware. They confuse me sometimes because I feel like a lot of kids now, they don't — just with music — they're not really like — they know a lot of the stuff that they listen to is foolish. I don't remember ever being like, "Yeah, I know this artist is corny, or sucks, but I listen to them." You know?
I feel like they definitely are up on a lot of stuff and for me, it's great because they're constantly like, "Yo, like —" my studio is in my house so they'll be like, "Yo. That one's hot." You know, or, "That one's lit." Or you know, whatever. It validates some of the things that I like. It gets a little bit weird because, you know, when you're listening to the same music as your kids, it's cool, but — we don't listen to Thug together. Ever. We don't listen to Thug together. We'll listen to Kendrick and Drake and stuff like that, but some of the more extra stuff, they have to listen to on their own.
MUHAMMAD: I don't know. I picture them having more of a mature palate than you, cause I don't know. Like just the other day you were playing a whole bunch of stuff I've never heard of. I was like, "Man, I'm so out of it right now. Doc is connected." Like, what was the one thing you played me? Oh, it was the new 2 Chainz song. Was it 2 Chainz?
MCKINNEY: Oh, yeah. Yes. 2 Chainz.
MUHAMMAD: "You mad," cause, nah —
MUHAMMAD: What is it? What is it?
KELLEY: "You gettin' mad. I'm gettin' rich."
MCKINNEY: That's hilarious.
KELLEY: Ali, you secretly love that song cause you bring it up all the time.
MUHAMMAD: I bring it up because Doc introduces me to stuff that I'm just like —
MCKINNEY: Well, it's funny —
MUHAMMAD: — he's just so connected, even more so than my young nephew. My nephew is like, Rakim, you know, like — with stuff we love but it's just, I look to my nephew to be like, "Yo, tell me what the new young —" and he's just not interested in certain things, but then I'll talk to Doc and Doc knows all of it.
MCKINNEY: Yeah, well, this comes from sleeping on the floor at the studio in Minneapolis with the guys. I feel like there's one thing to hear it and there's another thing to actually really share the experience with these kids. Listening to it, definitely I don't think without Bobby being — and Corbin being — so into Young Thug, and being like, "Yo, this is genius." And seeing how they get excited and highlighting the great parts of his catalog or the great parts of the song. It's a lot. It's definitely, I feel like, makes getting it and being passionate about it a lot easier.
A lot of the great music that I've loved my whole life, it's like, I don't know if I like that much at first. So usually I'm not really — like it takes me to listen to things a couple times, and, you know, really get into it to really sometimes connect with what I feel like is ground-breaking music or really great songs.
MUHAMMAD: Speaking of sleeping on couches, I've heard you make a statement, and I think you have sort of a philosophy that's behind that statement, of sleeping on couches, as it pertains to how far one's willing to go for their artistry. You know what I'm talking about?
MUHAMMAD: Could you share that?
MUHAMMAD: Well, I mean, I feel like, I don't know. I think every artist that I've worked with, definitely any artist that I've done more than four or five songs together has seen me sleep on floors. That's, one, based off of like, you know, I think I'm working smarter now, but even up till a month-and-a-half ago I was literally slept on the floor at the guys' studio in Minneapolis. And I just feel like there's, one, working till you literally drop and being so geeked that you don't want to go home. You just want to get up and get back to it.
And I think it's also just staying young. I'm still that passionate about it, and I think a lot of artists have to see that. You know, you're in this game long enough, it's easy to get comfortable and have to be treated like this or that, when, if the music is great and you really believe in it, discomfort means nothing. So I feel like that's with a lot of things in life. I feel like actions speak louder than words. And so for me, one, I'm not bothered by it. I'm not afraid of discomfort as long as it's based on my passion. And I'm good. I feel like for some of the artists I work with, it speaks volumes to 'em. Other artists, they're like, "Doc's just sleeping on the floor."
KELLEY: Doc just likes floors.
MCKINNEY: Doc's just old and that tired.
MUHAMMAD: I don't have any more questions.
KELLEY: No. I mean, I'm very happy. This is gonna be awesome. Is there anything else you want to talk about?
MCKINNEY: Let me see. No, I think, I'm just so honored to be here and I was like overly geeked when Ali asked me. So yeah, I mean; obviously a big fan of the show. I feel like you guys are the new Oprah.
KELLEY: Ah s***, we didn't make him cry.
MCKINNEY: What? No? I'm crying on the inside.
KELLEY: I was about to go in.
MCKINNEY: I'm crying on the inside. I created this emo s*** so you know, I'm made up of tears.
KELLEY: "I made 'The Ride.' I can cry whenever I want."
MCKINNEY: But, yeah, thanks for having me, you guys.
MUHAMMAD: Thanks for coming bro.