Southside of 808 Mafia recently received three production credits on Future and Drake's "What A Time To Be Alive." Now we go Behind the Beat with him, as he discusses getting his start as a producer, blowing up with Waka Flocka Flame and crafting Future's "DS2."
In the past year, the formidable 808 Mafia production team has seen its three most prominent members splinter off to take on more solo work, which in turn has made them all household names. Tarentino now has Future's "March Madness" and Waka Flocka Flame's bombastic new track "Workin" under his belt, both of which are easily strong enough to become his calling cards in the future. TM88's done even more, starting his Sacii Lyfe movement, sending Future the furthest he's ever been down the rabbit hole on "Codeine Crazy" and continuing to land beats on projects by everyone from French Montana to 2 Chainz (read more about his exploits in our recent interview). But Southside, officially the owner of the Mafia, might have the most impressive recent track record.
It's not every day that a producer lands multiple beats on two number one albums, but in less than a month this summer, Southside achieved that with his work on Meek Mill's Dreams Worth More Than Money and Future's DS2. That's only scraping the surface of his resume, too.
Clad in numerous Brick Squad Monopoly chains, the native Atlantan gave us the narrative of his brief-but-fruitful career, only pausing once to field a FaceTime from Waka. As was evident from how much his phone was blowing up throughout, this guy is one of the most in-demand names in the game, and rightfully so. Here's his story.
Photos by Justin Fleischer/hnhh
Southside grew up in a musical family-- his father was a producer who used to work with Organized Noize, his uncle Pookie was an aspiring rapper, and his stepdad Trey was friends with Jermaine Dupri. Legal issues also plagued his surroundings, though, with his father going to prison before Outkast blew up and his other uncle Scrilla still serving time to this day. The producer's introduction to beatmaking reflected both aspects of his background, as his first experience with the production program Fruity Loops came via a laptop stolen by his uncle: "He gave it to me, was like, ‘Learn how to make beats.’ I was 12, 13 years old… And we’ve been gold ever since then. So I owe my uncles for that, they really put me in music."
Back then, he was mainly into Three 6 Mafia and anyone else who was making "some demonic, crunk shit." When Jeezy dropped the Streets Iz Watchin tape in 2006, Southside became obsessed with the new trap sound. "I knew that shit front to back, word for word," he says. "I used to have my little CD player, the six disc player, and I would just be blasting it the whole day. My mom would be like, ‘Cut that shit off!’” After honing his skills and immersing himself in Atlanta's quickly-evolving music scene, Southside started taking things seriously when he met future Brick Squad artist Wooh Da Kid: "Wooh was the first person that ever really gave me a shot on music. Seriously like, ‘Bro, you gon’ be my producer.' That’s my best friend to this day still.” Southside was also hanging out with a rowdy dude calling himself Waka Flocka.
"I ain’t meet Waka on no ‘Hey, let’s make beats' shit,” he recalls, but soon enough, they decided to pursue music: "I made Waka’s first beat ever. It was called 'We On The Way,' back in ’08. We made that shit in the garage in the wintertime, no heat, no nothing." At that point, things seemed pretty bleak for them, but Southside credits their persistence to Waka’s optimistic encouragement: "He was like, ‘You know you can get rich off of this. You might end up being richer than me, because producers last a long time.’ And I was like (shrugs) ‘Alright.’ After I started seeing little checks for $40,000, I’m like, ‘Okay, I can really do something with this shit.’"
Music provided an outlet for their whole crew’s aggression— as it turns out, the Southside-produced Flockaveli track “Fuck The Club Up” was no tall tale. "We was wild as kids,” he explains. “It was a mission for us as kids to go to the club and beat the whole club up. We’d go to club 40 deep and beat the whole security team up, and it got to the point where the club owners were just like ‘Yo, our security can’t hold y’all— just rock with us. Just stop doing that.’” The turning point came when Waka made a small batch of tracks that included “O Let’s Do It.” “[Waka] played 'O Let’s Do It,’” Southside recalls, “He was like, ‘It ain’t it, that shit aight.’ And I was like, ‘Nigga, that shit is a hit. You fuckin’ crazy.’” The next time they hit the club, they brought the track with them. “We went to the club 80 deep, so if 80 people in the club moving to this song, what is the rest of the club gonna do? Jump around and be wild the same way.”
Flockaveli, Waka’s breakout 2010 project, soon followed, and suddenly 808 Mafia was in-demand across the country. "I thank Waka and Wooh for that," says Southside, speaking to his rapid breakout, "They really showed me that I could be something in this.” Placements on projects by Gucci Mane, Meek Mill and others soon followed, and by the end of 2011, Southside had even scored a credit on Watch The Throne bonus track “Illest Motherfucker Alive.” Kanye West had requested a pack of beats from Lex Luger (one of which would eventually become “H.A.M.”), but as is the 808 Mafia way, Luger gave his crewmates some shine by also throwing in a few of their instrumentals, and Ye ended up loving one of Southside’s. Soon enough, the two connected: "Kanye was one of the first people to ever tell me ‘Yo, you, so-and-so, so-and-so and so-and-so are gonna be me in the next five years.’ Although Southside’s hasn’t yet had quite the foray into rapping that Kanye has, his current dominance in the industry is certainly on-par with West’s production run in the early 2000s.
Soon working with artists from locales as far-flung as Detroit (Big Sean), Cleveland (Machine Gun Kelly) and Chicago (SD), Southside was a key player in the nationwide popularization of the sound that started in Atlanta. Some may have had their hangups about outsiders adopting trap posturing and sonics, but with world domination as the goal, he saw no problem with working with Northern rappers who wanted Southern sounds: “It just told me our sound was growing and that Atlanta was about to take over for a little while.” Almost without a doubt, that takeover’s still in full effect.
Despite Southside’s clearly versatile resumé, in 2015 his sound is inextricably linked with one artist in particular: Future. After producing all but one track on 56 Nights and having a hand in nine DS2 joints, Southside is, along with Metro Boomin, one of the main architects of Future’s recent hot streak. Their working relationship is only a few years old, though, as they didn’t land on a track with each other until 2013’s FBG: The Movie. "You know what Future told me when I first started hanging with him?” Southside says. "He told me, ‘I always thought you was the shooter. I used to always see you with Waka,' but I’d never talk. I’d have a hoodie on, my hands in my sweatshirt, and let Waka do everything he’s supposed to do. And he figured out who I was, he always knew my name, but face-wise, he’s like ‘I never knew that was you.’”
Part of that initial confusion was also due to the “Prod. by 808 Mafia” credit that appeared on most of Southside’s solo joints back then. Even after he sent ten self-produced beats to Future for FBG, he says that "At the time, Future thought that me and so-and-so was making these beats, but he started learning certain things, and he was like ‘Oh nah, it’s just Southside. Okay well, I’ma fuck with him.’” (As was also the case in our recent interview with TM88, any time Southside hyped himself up, he was quick to big-up his 808 teammate: "Not to take nothing away from my nigga, my nigga’s dope also-- he made 'Codeine Crazy.' Same swag, but me and Future just got a different mesh. It’s just a little different.”)
After FBG, Future shifted gears for Honest, interspersing a couple of Southside collabs with tracks designed to have more crossover appeal, but after the project wasn’t received as well as the rapper had hoped, it was back to the drawing board with Southside and Metro. "Me and Metro was in Future’s ear so much,” Southside says, “Like, ‘Yo, you’re talented. You can write for whoever or whatever, but you gotta think how you came out, my man. You came out ‘Same Damn Time,’ ‘Tony Montana,’ it’s time to get back to that.’” With that aim in mind, they got back to work at a furious pace. “[Future will] call me and say ‘Lil bro, send me some beats. I’m in the lab right now.’ And I’m like ‘Aight, I’ll send you 20 beats.’ He’s gonna do 20 songs that night on all 20 of those beats. So it’s not no specific name to the songs, it’s just ‘Southside 1, 2, 3, 4.’ So we might be up to Southside 85 right now on songs.”
The results of these marathon sessions reveal a chemistry between Future and his two right-hand men that's almost unparalleled in the industry— they always manage to keep it fresh, seemingly never falling into the monotonous trap rut that plagues many of their contemporaries. When asked to explain this, Southside pauses for a second and then says, "You know what it is? He don’t argue with us, bro. he listens to his producers. I don’t give a fuck what kind of beat I pull up, he’s gonna attempt to rap on it. If we don’t like it, we can always erase it, and that’s how he looks at shit, always.”
One might think that Future’s projects, especially the concept-driven 56 Nights, are plotted with specific tracks in mind, but as Southside tells it, he’s kept in the dark for much of the track sequencing and release process. “Future is so unexpected, bro,” he says, citing a specific moment at this year’s South By Southwest festival that proves his point. After taking his six-year-old son Carmelo up to Future’s hotel room to meet the rapper, Southside sat down to listen to 56 Nights for the first time. “[Future]’s like, ‘I’m dropping it tonight at twelve o’clock,’” he says incredulously. "That was my first time hearing about it. Like, ‘What do you mean you’re dropping it at twelve o’clock?’ That shit changed the world, that shit fucked shit up. He’ll drop shit unexpectedly and it goes crazy.”
This summer’s DS2 had a similarly out-of-the-blue arrival, with Future announcing it just one week in advance. “I just pulled up on [Future] a week before he dropped the album,” Southside says, “That was unexpected. Like, ‘I’m dropping the album next week!’” Despite the abrupt release, Future seemed to handpick beats that represented a broader sonic spectrum than his other recent releases— with luxurious Zaytoven keys interspersed with harder-hitting trap fare, the spacey “Rich $ex” giving way to the melancholic strains of “Kno The Meaning,” and above all, some truly out-of-character moments for his producers. The most noticeable outlier is Southside's “The Percocet & Stripper Joint,” which blends G-Funk synths and an infectious horn sample with low-key trap signifiers. For this one, the producer says he reached out to Seattle native Jake One (a boom bap veteran who’s worked with everyone from G-Unit to Drake) for horn samples, telling Jake, "‘Yo let me get them beats, sample them, and I’ll give you half of the [profits from the] record.’” Southside says that as little as a year ago, if he sent certain rappers beats that were similarly inventive and experimental, they’d say "‘Nah, I want the same old trap sound.’” These days though, “It’s just like whatever I send, they don’t even give a damn,” he says. "They’re like, ‘Just send it, I trust your judgement.’"
Elsewhere, many of DS2’s tracks are results of collaborations between Southside and Metro, whose chemistry is probably a result of a relationship that dates back several years:
"That’s my little brother, man,” says Southside. "That’s one of my best friends. People don’t understand, I’ve known him since he was fifteen. Metro was calling me from high school, in the ninth grade like, ‘Big bro, I look up to you.’ Big bro this, big bro that, ‘Big bro, what do I need to do to my beats?’ I used to always tell him like ‘Bro, you gon’ make it. It’s no way in hell you 15 years old and you on the phone with me right now.’ This was when me and Lex was poppin’— I’m five years older than [Metro]. We hang together on the regular, so it ain’t no, ‘We gotta have a specific way we collab.’ Nah. It’s just, ‘Pull up at the house bro, let’s go crazy.’”
The next big thing on the docket for Southside is Waka’s long-awaited Flockaveli sequel, which has had rumored release dates for years but is still in its construction phase. When Waka FaceTimes in during our interview, it’s to touch base about some tracks they’d laid down just three days prior. Southside explains how, similarly to his recent work with Future, these sessions were aimed to bring Waka back to his roots and away from the more mainstream, EDM-adjacent music he’s become increasingly associated with.
"I just erased the whole entire album that he had,” he says, beaming at the realization of how crazy that sounds, “Because it wasn’t that vibe to me. And I just redid it in five days. It’s crazy right now, ratchet, straight gangbanging, Waka Flocka shit, like ‘I’ll shoot up your mama house' type shit.” He maintains that the electronic world Waka’s infiltrated isn’t all that far off from trap rap— "That’s where the EDM came from, remixing the ratchet shit”— and says that he’s elevated his game to account for the genres’ respective evolutions. “What I did with Flockaveli 2 is I got shit so ratchet, and just fucked up, that it won’t be nothing for them to remix it for the EDM.”
Southside also seemed very excited about Jeezy’s new single, “God,” which dropped shortly after our interview with production from him and TM. Elsewhere, new material with A$AP Rocky, G-Eazy and of course, Future, is on the way. It’ll be interesting to see where the prodigious beatmaker goes from here, and beyond that, how the rest of hip hop attempts to keep up with him. Lord knows they’ve been trying.