Exclusive: Bay Area Producer Maki Talks Producing Jacka’s “Barney”, “Million Miles,” & Much More
The Jacka’s infectious underground record “Barney (More Crime)” remains one of the Bay Area’s most lauded songs. More than an ode to a purple cannabis strain, it was an outlet for Jacka to vent his struggle with balancing lucrative street endeavors with a burgeoning rap career.
The melancholy creation was produced by Pittsburg, California’s Maki. One-half of production duo Blahk Operah, Maki’s sound typically consists of music samples paired with thudding bass.
In May, Maki dropped his production album Kilo Hero. The effort features a star-studded list of Bay Area artists, as well as outsiders like Curren$y and Freeway. Kilo Hero is dedicated to Jacka, the first artist to rhyme over Maki’s production.
Maki spoke with A Humble Soul about creating Kilo Hero, coming up in Pittsburg, and producing Jacka’s underground classics “Barney” and “Million Miles.” He also touched on being “schooled” by the Mob Figaz; his friendship with RobLo; Jacka helping him break into the music industry; and his SoundDope movement.
AHS: You’re from Pittsburg, California. I got wind of that area by listening to The Jacka and Husalah. Tell me about coming up out there.
Pittsburg, it’s a small town. When I was coming up, it was very family-oriented, because it was small. It’s kind of like Richmond, California, just on a smaller scale. It ain’t really too big. It’s only a few exits, but it’s a dynamite city. It’s a lot of real niggas that come up outta there. It’s always been like that. Before my time, it’s been like that. It’s a good place to get schooled. Me personally, I got a chance to get schooled [and] come up under Jack, Rob, Hus, Rydah, AP, Feddy, ya feel me? Then it was other niggas doing it, like, Freako, Dubb 20…it was a room full of them niggas. And then you get to get your turn, so I was in school. The work you’re hearing now, it’s the residuals of that.
You and RobLo have the production group Blahk Operah. Aside from that, you have your own movement, SoundDope. How does that differ from Blahk Operah?
It’s not different. It’s just to let niggas know that we all do it, and we can all stand on our own two. I’m one-half of a group, Blahk Operah Music Group. But at the same time, I do my own music. Not to say it’s nothing wrong with working with my brother, but we’re all doing it to win, so I try to put a stamp on it. Really, SoundDope came from Jacka. Jack said that shit in a song, and I never forgot it. I attached it to the music, and I used it.
By the time we did the “Barney” beat, I had already made “Million Miles,” which was on his first album. I was just in the lab fuckin’ around. I had a couple of my partners in there. I found the sample; Rob came in there and plugged me in. Rob played the bassline on that mufucka. One of my partners was rapping on that; Jack wasn’t even in there. Then Jack walked in. He gave me a look, like, ‘Boy, cut that shit off. This is ain’t even for them.’ Out of nowhere, hella fast, he started saying the hook. ‘Sellin’ dope is cool, but rap is on my mind.’ He started doing that, and then after that it was locked in. We knocked niggas off the song, and Jack ran with it. Rob was doing everything — Hus, Jack, Mob Figaz. Anything that came to the studio, Rob was touching. I had my two little hands on a few things. When Jack heard my one or two things, he would actually take that shit. He wouldn’t let that shit linger around. He put me on. He put a big battery in my back.
“Million Miles” is one of my favorite songs by Jacka. Take me back to when that track was created.
That was the first song that I ever produced. Around that time, I had a Triton Keyboard. Rob had the MPC and all that shit hooked up professionally. We had two 15s that stood on a fold. That shit used to fuckin’ rock the building when we pressed anything with the MPC. I used to be like, ‘Man, turn that shit off.’ I used to always run from the MPC. But one day, I just started fuckin’ with it. Then I started fuckin’ wit the sample and shit. Jack heard it. It was like the same thing with “Barney,” but it was just me and him in that mufucka. He did the same thing. He put the hook on that mufucka. He just melted everything.
Before you got a name, how long were you producing? And how did you develop an interest in production?
To be honest, we grew up in this rap era. Everybody went to sleep with their headphones on. It wasn’t nothing that was foreign to me. I knew what I liked. I knew what sounded good. My cousin used to have a studio when I was young. Before that, my partner, rest in peace, Jamar Allah Muhammed, he used to put me on to these Magic Mike tapes. We used to dub instrumentals and all that. That was probably like 11 and 12. I kind of knew I wanted to do that shit, but when I got with Rob and all them niggas…I went to school with Rob, junior high, high school and all that. But by the time I got with Rob, I was probably 18. Rob just started showing me the shit. We had money. I had a lil’ change, so I just started buying equipment. Shit just started coming together. I took a liking to it. One day, Jack asked me, ‘Man, you think you gonna try to make it as a producer?’ I said, ‘Hell yeah.’ I kind of had a clear picture of what I wanted to be.
Things blossomed from there?
From there, I was doing it, taking little breaks and doing it. And then Jack threw me on his album. He gave me a name in this rap shit.
You recently dropped your album Kilo Hero. Analyzing both the title and cover, I got the impression you were paying homage to the ’80s and early ’90s.
I mean, you kind of hit that on the head. It’s definitely paying homage. The title is actually personal to me. We went through some shit, and it’s kind of out there, with Hus’ situation and all that. That was, like, one part of it. When Jack passed, I knew I had to do some music to commemorate what we were doing. Yet, at the same time, I had to keep it in the realm of what Jack was doing, and what everybody knows us for. Kilo Hero, it’s kind of self-explanatory. We was fuckin’ wit it in the streets, and a nigga never got caught. I commemorate a nigga that never got caught; just be heroic, make heroic music and stick to the script. Keep it mob. The music is just a continuation of things you heard from us before. I tried to keep it as close as I could without going into too much new age, even though I could’ve produced the sound that’s on the radio. We could’ve did that, but I tried to stay away from that as much as possible. I really didn’t want it to be a certain type of album — no dance album, no Hyphy album, like, none of that. I wanted one thing all the way through. I tried to make “Barney” all the way through.
There are a variety of artists featured on Kilo Hero. When you were producing the tracks for the album, did you have the features in mind, or did that come after the fact?
Most of these songs came after the fact. A lot of them were in my hard drive, and I kind of redid them and touched up sounds. The only song in particular that I wanted to match up was track six, “Gun Language 2” with Blahk Jesus and Freeway. That, and the Nef the Pharaoh song with Tigg. Tigg, he’s an up and coming artist out here in Filmore. He’s actually from New Orleans, but he’s been out here in the Bay Area for a long time. He’s pressin’ a hard line. The rest of the songs, they were kind of pieced together. I was just kind of going about it slow. One thing I learned from RobLo about making an album, you’ve got to give people combinations that they’ve never heard before. That’s what I really tried to do.
Considering there’s more than 20 artists featured on Kilo Hero, how were you able to grab so many people for the project? Do you have personal relationships with a lot of them?
The only two that I don’t have a personal relationship with, a musical relationship with, is Curren$y and Nef the Pharaoh. I’ve crossed paths with them. All of the other people I’ve got a cool relationship with, thanks to the Jack. This is a Jacka breed. All of this really happened because of the Jack.
Blahk Jesus is a spitter I dig heavy. I’ve never heard a full project by him, only tracks here and there. But he’s featured on several tracks on Kilo Hero. Will you two be doing more work together?
Blahk is one of the dopest artists from Oakland. Seriously, one of the dopest, hands down. He has like 200 songs in RobLo’s computer. He’s just one of them niggas. I’ma be honest, that boy has shit. If he wanted to drop something, he could. But I hope this article gets to this nigga, so it can put some fire under his ass. We have new songs that we did. He was actually trying to come out with a street album this summer. Be on the lookout for that.
?On this project, you use a lot of samples and a lot of bass. Why did you choose to take that route with your production?
To be honest, it was my way of not doing what was on the radio. Keep the hi-hats poppin’, keep the lo-end fuckin’ knockin’…the same shit that we like. I just tried to keep it in our way of doing music. That’s why I kind of went about it like that. But I didn’t want to go too far…because you’ve got the youngsters (listening). You want the youngsters to actually pick this shit up, too, and enjoy it. Just that style, you at least got to have that shit hittin’.?
How long has this project been in the works?
About five or six years ago, I had a project called SoundDope. I kind of let it go to the Internet. I didn’t go full fledge with it. It really was going to be a street album. This album was supposed to be out, maybe, two years ago. Like, two years ago, I kind of started putting all of the songs together. Unfortunately, what happened to Jack kind of forced me to hurry up and do it.?
What’s up with the interlude with Jacka rhyming? When was that recorded?
My partner Montana…they was fuckin’ around in Akron, out with the boy Ampichino and Cellski. I wasn’t out there, but when I was putting the album together, my nigga Montana was like, ‘Bruh, I got something you probably want.’ He had like six little recordings on his phone from when niggas was in the room freestyling. He slid them to me, and I threw one on that mufucka. That was some exclusive shit. Jack probably didn’t even know he was being recorded when they recorded that.
One of my favorite songs off Kilo Hero is “Life in the Mob” with Jacka and Kazi. Just listening to it, I can tell it’s vintage Jacka. When was that song recorded?
To be honest, I think it had to be between 2002 and 2004. It actually came out on the Lil KeKe [and Jacka] album. KeKe had something he put out in, like, 2006 or 2007, and it was actually on that album. But I don’t think too many people knew it was on the album. I don’t think too many people even knew I produced the song. They were kind of napping to it, until I threw it on the album. My other brother Kazi that’s on there, he’s doing life in prison right now.
Yeah, I used to hear Kazi on Jacka’s earlier work. And I heard Jack mention him throughout his music over the years. I was going to ask you what his current status was?
I talked to Kazi about five or six months ago. His spirit is up. I didn’t ask him too much about the time situation. His spirit was up, and that was good enough for me. ?
You’ve been connected with RobLo since the beginning, who has several projects out. Why wait so long to release your own?
To be honest, I wasn’t even really trippin’ on this project; I was just doing this shit to be good at a craft. To keep it real, I wasn’t ready to do no project, because I didn’t feel like my production was good enough to carry a whole project. I chilled out on it for a long time, served beats on the street. I wasn’t trippin’ on it. ??
? For whatever it’s worth, I really encourage you to continue to go hard with your production, because you’re extremely talented. From “Million Miles” to “Barney” to “Gun Language,” you’ve made some dope cuts. What are some of the songs people probably don’t know you produced?
Man, shit, nothing that’s probably worth…you know, Jack is already underground, so anything beneath that is extra underground. You wouldn’t even know. The shit we did with Jack was underground, but he made it famous from the underground. That’s why it’s worth knowing about. Anything else…I did hella shit with Johnny Cash, if you’ve ever heard of Johnny Cash. RIP to Johnny Cash. Unfortunately, he lost his life a couple years ago as well, out here in the Bay Area. He had a couple albums with Rydah as Money Gang Mob. I got shit with Cash. I got some shit with Hus that niggas probably never heard, but it’ll surface soon. Shit, this nigga Tigg. That nigga’s a real ass nigga. I advise y’all kind, if y’all into this Kilo Hero shit, you’ll probably enjoy that nigga Tigg. He’s on the song with Nef the Pharaoh. I got some shit that’s kind of floating around with him and Kid Kid from G-Unit. It’s buzzing around the Bay right now.
Tell me about your whole production process.
Sometimes I’ll get in there and tip tap, and sometimes I’ll get in there and sit on that thang. I use Logic Pro. I search for samples. I use samples, samples, samples and samples. And then whatever you feel, you just start going in. And then my particular process is melody first. I need all of the melodies. I need the music first, then I’ll go to the low-end, and the percussion last.
Do you agree it’s a difference between making beats and producing?
Yeah, it is. It took me a while to realize that. But all of it is art, though. Yeah, making beats and producing is two totally different things. If you’re making beats, you’re not really trippin’ on how the session turns out, how the vocals sound on it. But once you get in there with somebody who’s producing, they actually care about their track. They’re going to make sure you’re saying all the words right. They’re going to make sure that you’re on the one. They’re going to make sure you’re coming in with a hook that’s supposed to come in. They’re going to finish producing the beat after they’ve made it. That’s the difference between production and beat-making. When you can go in there and conduct a session with five or six niggas or young ladies, and get that shit straight, that’s when you’re producing.
Who is Maki a fan of? Who influenced you production-wise.
When you’re coming up, you’re influenced by everything that sounds good, first and foremost. [This is] before you even touch anybody’s studio. Second, I was mostly influenced by RobLo, because I got to watch him hands-on. He showed me how to use his equipment, so it was kind of hard not to admire him. Coming up, anybody who had that shit — DJ Quik, George Clinton, everything that was slappin’. I can’t even front. From En Vogue tapes to Three Times Dope to anything that sounded good, I was a magnet to that shit.
Are you feeling anyone production-wise right now?
I feel all the new young niggas. I feel niggas like Timbaland and all that shit. Out here, it was a little different. We had niggas like Tone Capone, One Drop Scott, Sam Bostic, and Mike Mosley. I would be a fool not to mention that shit, because that played a big part on what’s going on right now. Sean T. Most of all, that boy Rob Lo. He’s the ringleader if you ask me, even though it’s other niggas dope out here.
Did RobLo pretty much teach you the art of producing?
He showed me studio etiquette. He showed me how to be in the studio. I don’t think nobody can show you how to produce. You know how to produce once you touch that shit. I ain’t gonna lie, all of my technical work comes from Rob. It comes from the school of RobLo, most definitely.
How would you describe your style and sound?
Mid-tempo mostly. Very street-orientated, even though I do other stuff. The sound Maki is street-oriented. Shit, hip-hop, point blank. Get the samples; let’s cut this shit up and do this shit how it was supposed to be done from the gate.
You’re more of an underground producer right now, but is one of your goals to have a Top 10 song on Billboard?
My goal is to not be an one-hit wonder, but to have one, no doubt. I’m most definitely chasing that.
Is there any advice you can offer to readers that may have the desire to become a producer?
If this is a part of your drive, your passion, just do it. Your today ain’t gonna be your tomorrow. It’s always gonna be a better tomorrow, if you’re passionate about it. And that’s my testimony. I ain’t really come in making this shit how I wanted to make it. It took a while, but I was passionate about it. And you really ain’t gonna trip off time passing, especially if you’re passionate about this shit. Ten years’ll pass you, and you’ll enjoy every last bit of that shit. If you’re passionate about it, and you’ve got that shit in your heart, that’s going to give you the drive to do it. Just do it…pick it up and stick with it.
Now that Kilo Hero is out, what’s next on your radar?
I’m about to fall back into production mode, and work with a few nigs, like, Blahk Jesus, Tigg, Dubb 20, D. Dre, the rest of the fuckin’ mob. And, um, look out for another producer’s album probably in the next five or six months. I’m gonna try to swing it back around, try to pick up where I left off.
You got your hands in anything besides production?
I’ve got some shit that I dropped with the album, some streetwear. I got some crewnecks and some “Kilo Hero” t-shirts, as well as some snapback hats. You can find some of that shit at www.blahkoperah.com, as well. The inventory’s getting low, but we’re fin’ to restock. I did that for the album. I got a few designs that I’m trying to have come out around next fall, it’s “El Crazy Chicken Talk.” It’s just an extension of what we did for the Kilo Hero album, the crewnecks and t-shirts. But we’ve got some more designs for the streets and shit.