Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo has such a diverse cast of collaborators that it's easy to overlook some gems on the record. West, who has an impeccable ear for production and can bring the best out of his guests, brought in Mobb Deep’s Havoc to do drum programming on TLOP. The veteran producer is credited on two songs—“Real Friends” and “Famous”—but he says they’ve made several records together during the TLOP sessions that might come out in the future.
Surprisingly, Havoc revealed that this is the first time him and ‘Ye got together in the studio to make music. Q-Tip, a major influence on Havoc’s production style, was the one who nudged Yeezy to work with him on The Life of Pablo. By now, hip-hop fans know what they can expect when Havoc’s name appears on an LP: “You just get that 'all in the room by yourself feeling.' Dark. On a Tuesday night—nothing is popping off. Time to think. You get one of them kind of tracks when you're fucking with me.”
Last week, we hopped on the phone with Havoc to break down his experience with Yeezy, when he first heard the final versions of “Real Friends” and “Famous,” and if he’ll get called on again to do more Pablo work downt he line.
What was your first breakthrough in production when you realized you developed your own sound?
I would have to say when I completed The Infamous album. Before that, I hadn’t really produced for anybody. And to come with an album, to produce it and for it to go Gold, it really told me like, “I think I could make a career out of not only being an MC, but being a producer.”
How has your style changed?
It’s a little bit more enhanced as I gain more knowledge about the equipment that I'm working with. Making the sound a little bit thicker, fatter, wider and stuff like that. The main foundation of it never changed.
Were you influenced by Q-Tip?
He was one of the producers that came in and actually helped me cultivate my sound. I was a huge fan of A Tribe Called Quest. The music they put out—sonically—was just ridiculous. To this day, it’s some of the best music that I ever heard in hip-hop. I always looked at that as a benchmark for production. I aspired for my music to sound that good—the drums in particular. When he came in and gave me his expertise, it was him really looking out for a brother. He didn’t have to do that shit at all. I don’t know where I’d probably be if he didn’t help out. Definitely shouts out to Q-Tip.
Q-Tip is one of the reasons why I even got on this project. I think he mentioned it to Kanye. Threw the bug in his ear. Everything just went 360 [degrees] from working on The Infamous album to him throwing the bug in Kanye’s ear. Like, “You know, I think you should work with Havoc.” That was dope.
Kanye is not in a box. He’ll do a song like 'Fade' and do a song like 'Famous.' Both are dope as hell.
When Kanye says stuff like he wants Mobb Deep drums, what do you think he means?
He likes that dark sounding hip-hop drum. He’s still a fan of that. That’s where he comes from. He likes those dark sounding drums, ‘90s sounding drums. He’s a real fan of that. He’s a real artist. He's multifaceted. He’s open-minded. He’s not in a box. He’ll do a song like “Fade” and do a song like “Famous.” Both dope as hell.
When did he call you to work on The Life of Pablo?
I would say almost a year ago. It’s almost going on a year because I remember being out there last year around this time and just at the studio with him really grinding it out. [We were] there for hours. He's got a studio at his spot in L.A. I got a chance to really see the life of Pablo.
He recently tweeted that Drake and Future would come in the studio with no strings attached. Did it start that way for you?
They called me up to come work with him. I wasn’t thinking about money at all. No points, no credit, no nothing. I was just happy to be involved. The experience was good enough for me to work alongside somebody of that stature was sufficient. That was the first time we ever were in the studio together. We crossed paths, but not on the musical level. We were working on a bunch of stuff and these two just happened to end up on the album. It was a possibility that it didn’t end up on the album. I didn’t know. I was just working. We started on various records and those came into the fold during the process.
What was the mood like in the studio?
Sometimes it would be a party atmosphere; sometimes it would be real somber. You know what I’m saying? Let’s get this work done. Sometime it’ll be a listening session. It was like all different kind of vibes going on, but all of them real positive.
How many records have you guys worked on?
I would have to say at least a dozen. So there are still songs that didn’t make the album that you never know in the future. You might just hear them one day.
The final credits on “Real Friends” have you, Boi-1da, Frank Dukes and Havoc. There’s additional production by Darren King, Mike Dean, Noah Goldstein. Were you guys all in the studio at one time?
The only people I was in the studio with when I was working was just Kanye and Noah. I guess the other stuff was being done separately. It was cool with me.
How many times did you have to redo the drums on “Real Friends” to get it just right?
I really didn’t have to do the drums too many times over. Maybe just a few times. But usually, he loved every time I did the drums. He’s just so much of a perfectionist that he just wanted to pick the right one. He loved every time I laid certain drums to it. But it was just a matter of him like, “You know what? We want options.” You gotta respect it. I try to give the artist options unless the shit just fucking blows them away the first time then cool. I want them to love it, and not just me.
You did “Famous” too. What was your approach for that one?
I just do what I usually do. I just take the drums and the sample and mix them all together and come with this product that you really could feel. It’s kind of dark but at the same time it’s just a universal feeling. It just gives you that feeling like, “Oh yeah, I feel this.” You hear the dark vibe. You hear the positive vibe through it. I just like to create. I picture when I’m making beats for other artists, I’m making beats for myself and not try to emulate what I think the artists wants.
When did you hear the final versions of “Real Friends” and “Famous”?
I heard it when everybody else heard it because they keep everything tight to the vest. And rightfully so cause shit gets leaked. They wouldn’t even let me hear the final versions. I didn’t know if I made the album yet. I just was working.
I knew I was on it probably a week before he dropped it. No, two weeks cause when he dropped “Real Friends” I was like, “Oh, OK. Well, at least I know I got that one.” But I didn’t know about any others. [Laughs.] If all else fails, at least I know I had a part to do with “Real Friends.” And then the album was about to drop a week before, I found out about “Famous.”
Kanye has been fixing songs lately. There also have been leaks of previous demos and original versions of songs. Do you think we’ll hear a different The Life of Pablo later on?
With Kanye, you never know. I would expect so to definitely hear different versions and this that and the third.
Do you think you’ll get the call to work again?
I hope so. It was a real pleasure working with him. Even though I’ve been in the game for 20 years, it’s still always a pleasure working with somebody that appreciates music just as much as you do and is open-minded. Not just stuck with just one thing. To be around him is just a positive thing.