HEAT RISING: Sounwave made his first beats using a video game, and now he's Top Dawg Entertainment family
by Aaron Zorgel
March 20, 2013
Producers are an integral part of music creation, but so few of these sonic gurus get the recognition they deserve. HEAT RISING looks at the best beats by an up-and-coming producer, and talks about where they’re from (ROOTS), what they’ve done (RESUME), and why they’re an exciting presence in music today (REASONS TO WATCH).
ROOTS: Sounwave has been an in-house producer for Top Dawg Entertainment since 2005, and he’s been lacing the Black Hippy collective with bangers exclusively ever since. In an interview with Fader, Sounwave says that he’s never even sent beats to anyone outside of his circle. He explains that because there are only four artists on TDE, he’s “gotta put [his] team first.” With Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, and Ab-Soul on the roster, it’s safe to say that Sounwave’s loyalty to Top Dawg is paying off.
Sounwave‘s first beats were made by banging on tabletops, but apparently his father got pretty sick of that, and bought him a simple Korg drum machine when he was only ten years old. From there, Sounwave eventually graduated to MTV Music Generator, a video game that was also used by Taylor Gang in-house producer Cardo. The beats Sounwave made on the Music Generator caught the ear of Punch, the president of Top Dawg Entertainment, and ever since, Sounwave has been holding it down as part of the in-house TDE production collective Digi+Phonics, now using an Akai MPC as his main production platform.
RESUME: The Digi+Phonics is made up of four producers, including Sounwave, Tae Beats, Willie B and Dave Free. Sounwave describes the Digi+Phonics as a “Voltron of production,” with their respective strengths coming together on co-productions to make TDE’s beats shine brighter. Their approach to sample-based production is elevated by Sounwave’s flickering 808 hi-hats, stuttering beats, and his ability to fuse traditional instrumentation with synths swells and EQ sweeps.
Sounwave’s earliest work for Top Dawg surfaced on the self-titled Kendrick Lamar EP, and Jay Rock’s compilation track “Fa Sho” in 2009 and 2010 respectively. He then handled production on four tracks from K-Dot’s brilliant Section.80, and the Black Hippy posse cut “Rolling Stone.” You’re probably most acquainted with Sounwave’s recent work on ScHoolboy Q’s signature cut “There He Go,” and his work on some album called good kid, m.A.A.d. city.
REASONS TO WATCH: Sounwave and the Digi+Phonics crew have been instrumental in the rise of TDE’s artists, especially the explosive ascent of Kendrick Lamar. He’s not opposed to working with other artists in the future, but don’t expect to hear Sounwave’s signature production style grace anyone’s record outside of the TDE fam. His loyalty shouldn’t limit the scope of Sounwave’s success, since the Black Hippy profile is on a steady rise, verging on rap game domination. It doesn’t hurt to have produced three tracks on one of the best albums of 2012, either.