INTERVIEW: We chop it up with Taylor Gang producer Sledgren about his creative process and direction since breaking out with Wiz Khalifa.
Sledgren has never cared what others had to say, he’s always been committed to establishing his own path. Being different has come naturally to the architect of Taylor Gang’s sound, which is fitting because the collective are known for their originality. Now, years into his career the innovative producer is blazing a new trail. That’s why releasing an instrumental album didn’t intimidate him, even though it isn't commonplace.
Sledgren - Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty Images
If you’ve listened to any of Wiz Khalifa mixtapes then you’ve heard him yell “Sledgro!” Shouting out the childhood friend and producer who helped him elevate his hip-hop persona. The record “Change Up” was the first of many times Wiz rapped over a Sledgren beat. It was the start of a rollercoaster ride for him. After a number of hit songs and developing a strong reputation, XXL magazine recognized the Pittsburgh native as one hip-hop’s best up and coming producers. Now, having realized that potential and planting himself as a mainstay in the industry, Sledgo is challenging his creative boundaries and he doesn’t give a f*ck what you think about that.
This interview was conducted over the phone in early February 2020, just after the release of Sledgren’s instrumental album. It's been edited for length and clarity. Listen to "Sagittarius Luv" here.
HotNewHipHop: How and when did you fall in love with music?
Sledgren: That just comes from my upbringing. Me and my family. My parents and my grandparents always had music playing in the background at festivities and cookouts. Those types of atmospheres. I said to myself, whenever I get older, I just want to be involved in music that’s timeless.
Is there a specific moment you can point to in your life when you knew that you were destined to create music?
Starting on the road. My first sold-out shows with Wiz. The records that I was making at my grandma’s house, in the attic. Watching people cry and pass out or long lines. That’s really what let me know that I should keep doing this and I should take it seriously.
Take us back to the first time you heard a song you produced on the radio - describe the moment and explain how that felt?
By the time I first heard our songs on the radio I had expected it. We had put in so much behind the scenes. None of it came easy. So, I was like yeah - that’s what it took to get on the radio? We had to go through that. The shows with nobody there. The projects that nobody clicked on, to get to the sold-out shows. To get to the projects that are number one.
You said you guys did a lot of projects that nobody paid attention to, shows that nobody went to. Talk a bit about how hard it was to get to that level?
For us, it’s different because we always had the hometown but we didn’t always have the hometown radio support. But going to LA and hearing our stuff on the radio and hearing our singles. Seeing organic singles go to number one and being on the road working. Doing radio. Doing touring and promo. It just felt like it paid off and we saw the formula to get there.
Is there one show in particular that you can think back to where even though there was no one there, you knew you guys had something special?
We had sold-out shows, but this was the first time every single show in a row was sold out. I just remember being at a show and somebody was like … ‘yo, Diddy about to come. He wants to come out with y’all.’ It was the same thing with Suge Knight or HOV upstairs in the cut and I meet HOV and I’m like damn. Why did HOV leave from his house to come to our show?
How did your connection to Taylor Gang start for you?
We are all family. We started Taylor Gang as one. Taylor Gang is from Taylor Allderdice. That’s the high school everybody in my neighborhood went to. That’s just something that rang with everybody. The Taylor abbreviation. It was just more of a way of life than it was a name. My parents. Everyone’s parents went there and our family still continues to go there. So it was about family. We kind of plot on that.
Even when you guys were young, the people you were around, did you know there was something special about your group?
We did feel like that. I just felt like, my musical - I felt like it was any given time. any record. Any co-sign. We didn’t ask for them but we didn’t get the co-signs that a lot of artists get and we started getting the recognition without a lot of that and that’s when I knew we were our own entity. Going to other people’s concerts and seeing the numbers - it helped us to see we had support without having to be attached to any other organization.
You’re credited with being the architect of Taylor Gang’s sound - how did you go about formulating that musical identity?
It just more, less what I’m into - what [we] have in common with everyone. What we grew up to. What I think I hear when I create. A lot of old schools. People saying smoking rags - that’s stuff I heard [growing up]. My uncle who was a flute player that’s where I get my inspiration for my leads and my flutes. And I just combine all those things. What I heard when I was growing up. That’s what I create now.
So, it wasn’t a situation where you had to search for that Taylor Gang sound. It was already in who you were and you just allowed that to manifest ...
Yea, I would definitely say our style started formulating. The marketing. The marijuana industry. The vibes. Everything just kind of came with Taylor. But I didn’t really search for that. I didn’t play my music all the time. I wasn’t marketing myself. I’m not the person that’s in the room and be like I got beats. I was more less, trying to develop my sound so that they [Wiz and other Taylor Gang artists] sounded good on it. But I didn’t really search for it. I started sampling video games because that’s what I played. I started incorporating styles of music that I heard.
You talked about your uncle, what have been and are now your musical inspirations along with him?
I had a cousin that produced and he was like seven or eight years older than me and he put me onto like the Three 6 Mafia, 2Pac, No Limit, Cash Money. Just growing up and being young in that time I think those are really like my inspirations. Even, the Jay-Zs, the Rockafellas, State Property, it’s a lot. I don’t have one that outweighs the other.
Talk about your creative process - how do you personally approach it and how do you feel that’s different from other people?
I don’t know if it’s different. I really approach it how the artists usually want to. Whatever they’re working on, I try to play it by that. I try to always factor in that I do have my own sound and where I can pull them into that. Create a new area or maybe something that didn’t exist. But, I usually always make stuff for an artist before I go in. I can make stuff on the spot. No problem. So, I take a couple in there - but worst come to worst we can map it out and build right there. I don’t want to be attached to too many styles and too many genres.
You just released your instrumental album, explain what it took to bring that to life? Where was the seed planted in your mind to do the project and then what did it take to bring it to life?
I started the project all myself, like some projects I don’t want people given me input or insight on it until it's done. I can bring it to my homies, a couple close friends. I got with the art guy, I wanted to create the direction. I went through a lot of songs and did a lot of post-production and I tried to like give my own style and my own genre of music that’s not what everyone is doing. I didn’t have formats of everything you hear on the radio, I didn’t have features on there. I wanted to make it something completely itself that I felt people were scared to put out. I love trap music but I just wanted to make this something else.
You said a lot of people are scared to be original - do you feel like that’s something you had to overcome? Reaching that level of vulnerability, like I’m not sure how people will receive this …
I’m a critic of myself. I’m a critic but I’m also confident in a lot of the work I choose to release. I didn’t care what people would have to say about it, I just felt like if you understood me or if you were a fan of my music then you would understand it.
Early in your career, do you think you had the confidence to do something like this or do you think it took the experiences that you went through to get to the point where you could be like I’m going to put this out and I don’t give a f*ck what anyone thinks?
I do say yeah to that, like I could’ve been done that. I mean a lot of people don’t drop instrumental albums, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. I had so many mock projects through the years that I thought were it and I’m like nah that not it. I’m hearing other people’s projects and thinking that’s good but it’s not what I want for myself. I think through experience and just looking at the market and trying to tap into it … I definitely waited a bit but, now … It was never about the quality of music, I just didn’t know how to present it. Like I don’t rap. I don’t want to sing on the track. I don’t want to show my face really.
How did you feel when the project was totally complete - what did that feel like?
The wild thing is that, I had the final tracklist but I didn’t know that was going to be the final. I was searching for the title of the project and for months and I didn’t have it but I kind of had the title for something else and it kind of fit this perfect. It just worked. I didn’t second guess it. I thought about doing more to it but I had so many projects that I’m working on now - I have my first instrumental project out and I’m happy that I’ll be able to execute those even better.
The name, Sagittarius Luv, what are you trying to say with that title? What is the message you’re trying to convey?
It wasn’t a direct message. More-less it was about moods of love and moods of life. If you listen to the songs and just the emotions that they give you. I’m a Sagittarius and I spelled it … l.u.v. on some internet/digital stuff. I feel like people throw that word out like it doesn’t mean “love.” So, it’s temporary moods of me, in a way.
Every project is its own story, what is the journey you’re trying to take people through with this album?
I’m trying to make people want more. That’s why I was cutting songs short. I have songs on there that are whole songs with videos and artists that I plan on releasing and I almost left it 'to be continued' for the next project. In December, I’m possibly doing a sequel with whole artistry and not just instrumentals.
So this was an appetizer?
I had a lot of people who complained to me about song lengths. I literally sat in the studio and I was like cut that. I’m cutting that way short. Cut it right there. I was listening to some inspiration from like Tyler, the Creator. There were certain songs he would just cut out of nowhere. He didn’t have to explain it to you. I could’ve gotten further into that but I wanted to stop songs and do certain things that were out of the ordinary.
The thing about that is, Mac was probably my favorite to produce with because he produced as well. So, before Mac even wanted to write to a track he wanted to like really produce. We would go get three or four records and take pieces from those records and then start building chords and then start adding stuff in Ableton and FL studios and guitar and sending it to Thundercat. Just doing so much, the process was so wild to his music. Just adding all his textures. He did that with every song. We're generating a sound that it took all these things to do - and that's something I got from Mac. I don't think he had a set formula or format.
Do you think people have enough appreciation for a lot of those idiosyncrasies that go into producing a great record?
HOV said people will never interpret your music for what you think. People never going to hear who played it. A lot of people are never even going to check for that part. Nothing wrong with that but that's just how I see it.
How do you think you're going to push the boundaries of your creativity going forward?
Embracing the past. Embracing the future and trying to work in both places. I'm making my trap sh*t, I'm making my east-coast boom. I make it all in my way. That why when people hear it they're like oh, they think sounds and flute progressions. Things I've done and they'll be like Oh, that's a Sledgo beat. And that's where I want to be at. I want to be my own sound. I want to have my own genre.
Producers are becoming the new stars in hip-hop because there's less of an emphasis on what emcee's are actually saying or their ability to be a lyricist.
I totally agree. A lot of artists aren't willing to put out songs without our tags. Like they have to let people know this is a such and such beat. We own 50% of the songs too. A lot of people don't say that or don't know that.