Interview: Producer Rapture Stewart of Keybeats Talks Aaliyah, Making Music With Static Major and Playa
We had a chance to speak with Rapture, who along with E. Seats, produced the majority of Aaliyah’s final album. Along with talking to us about the whole creative process behind the album, Rapture let us in on the work he did with Static Major and his group Playa.
YKIGS: How did you, as part of Keybeats, originally get to work with Aaliyah?
RS: As far as that crew, we started with Playa. Before Playa’s album came out, they did a showcase and Montell Jordan’s band used to do all the Def Soul artist at the time. So what happened was Shep Crawford, who was the producer in Montell’s camp, they pulled him off the tour to work on Montell’s new album. So I replaced him and what ended up happening was when they got done with the album, Montell’s manager was like “There’s so much work coming up for them that his band wasn’t going to be able to be the band for the whole Def Soul anymore.” So Shep got at me and wanted me to put together a band for that. Now Seats was the drummer from my camp and we were on the road at the same time. So long story short, we did a showcase for Playa and some artists on Def Soul. So that’s how I met Playa, so then we did several shows with them and there was one show they had coming up with Timbaland, so we ended up doing that show with them. Then Timbaland asked us to do a TV show for him and Magoo and we did that. Then Playa had another showcase at the House of Blues in LA, but that showcase had the entire Blackground camp. They were all there and they wanted to work with us too, so we ended up doing Aaliyah, Missy, Ginuwine along with Timbaland. Magoo and Playa. That’s how the whole connection came about, and then Static was like “I know you guys got some tracks too,” so I let them hear some of the tracks we did and he mentioned it to Timbaland, and he mentioned it to Missy and we ended up doing work with them. And then through the work with them, Aaliyah was like ‘I would like to get down with you guys too’. From then we did Romeo Must Die. We didn’t do songs with Aaliyah, but we did a song with Chanté Moore, Destiny’s Child and Dave Hollister, but from those songs, she had already told Blackground that she wanted us on the next album. So after Romeo Must Die, that’s what started it and we started working with her.
YKIGS: Give us on some background on the song “Rock The Boat”, we read that the song was made in 1999. Talk about that song and talk about how come it took so long for that one to release.
RS: That’s actually a funny story because when Seats and I were doing that track, we were at the studio earlier before Playa came to the studio, we were working on that track, but the funny thing is we didn’t like it the way it was. It was just the beat and a couple of sounds and we were like “It’s cool, but we’ll come back to it.” It’s funny because as we were going to something else, Static had just got there and they heard the song coming down the hall, so when he got there we already cut it off and he came to the door and was like “Wait put that back, what is that?” He told us to pull it back up and he instantly got the melody and he went right in the booth and he didn’t do any words, he just put the melody down. And then the next couple of days, he did the whole song. The ironic thing with Aaliyah is that we did most of our songs over the end of 1999, beginning of 2000. We did the bulk of our songs were in those 3-4 months. All the songs we did on the album were already done then. It took so long because she went over to do the movie and she had so many things going on, so the recording of the album stretched out a little more than a year, but the whole time they already knew that the songs we had already done were going to go on the album.
YKIGS: Talk to me about “Loose Rap”. We read originally that it was going to be the first single. Tell us the background behind that one.
RS: We always had a saying like “That’s just loose rap”. It was just a slang we would throw out there all the time. The day we did the track, the first line Static came out with was “loose rap.” He kind of mumbled the hook because he didn’t really know what words he wanted to use, but the only part that came out with was the “loose part”, so he decided to write about that. Pretty much that song was basically a term that we all already used anyway but we basically just turned it into the song. So that’s how he came up with the concept of the song. Originally about the single part, the album was pretty much considered done. Over the last week before they closed the album and picked the songs, Timbaland came on board. Timbaland was so busy that he wasn’t able to do his songs until the last week and they didn’t know if he was going to make it in time for him to do it, so the first single was going to be “Loose Rap”. But when Timbaland did his records, because they had that connection, they decided the first single had to be a Timbaland record and that’s how “We Need a Resolution” came about.
YKIGS: Tell me about “Extra Smooth”.
RS: In my opinion, Static is the best writer to me because he’s real and to the point with things. And like a lot of times Aaliyah would come and Static would ask what she wanted to do on the album, and she didn’t really write a lot so she would tell Static what she wanted to do. So she might just drop a bug in his ear and a whole song would come about. Pretty much most of the songs, Static would freestyle it and wouldn’t write anything down. So when a track would come on and he felt it, he would write it right there. From there, he would go in the studio and piece it together. He would basically go in and freestyle it and the idea would drop in his head. I guess at that time, they were having a conversation about how guys are so extra smooth. It’s funny because a lot of things that we would just around and joke about, they found their way into becoming a song, so that happened a lot on that album. We would just sit around and talk about various things and they would end up becoming songs.
YKIGS: What do you remember about “It’s Whatever”?
RS: I remember when we did that track. That was actually the first track that we actually laid when we were in the studio actually working on her album. So we finally got in the studio with Static and Black, we kind of just played down all the songs we had done and he marked off the ones he liked and that was one of the ones he really liked because he always said he liked the piano element in there. That’s why when he first heard that, he automatically was like “That’s the one I want.” So that was actually the first track we actually did.
YKIGS: How about “Those Were The Days”?
RS: We actually thought he was going to use that for something else. When he first started writing the song, we thought it was going to be a Playa record. He ended up changing it up and was like “I think I’m going to write this for Aaliyah.” So he came up with the whole concept and everything, and when he put all of the lyrics and melody together, he decided to write it for her. She actually had come to the studio one of the days we were working on that, and then he sang her the melody and she liked it, so he made that a song for her.
YKIGS: There’s also “U Got Nerve”
RS: Black wrote that song. That track was kind of like the theme at the time. We had “Loose Rap” and “Those Were The Days” at the time, and the song was crazy because Static and Black are guys and they write it from a female perspective, but they were right on it. She would always just think about things she wanted to talk about. So when we were in the studio with Black, the song came about when he was like “You know what? I’m going to keep the theme and imagine a girl asking if a guy had nerve.”
YKIGS: Tell us about “Messed Up”
RS: That track wasn’t going to make the record, but at that time while working on that album, because the time frame was so long, a lot of people were wondering what songs she was going to use. If whatever songs she wasn’t going to use, would the other songs be available? So everything was on hold because she got first pick. That was kind of the way we had worked with it. So “Messed Up” wasn’t going to make the record, but various people in the industry started inquiring about the song, because it was not on the final list. So she basically was like ‘Nah, I know that’s a good song. It’s just not going to make my album. But I’m going to use it as a bonus track, so no one else can have that song’. She liked the song, but that was the one when she had to narrow it down to the number of songs, that was the last one that didn’t make it so she ended up deciding to go with it as a bonus track. She didn’t want to give it away and use because she actually liked the record. Quite a few labels had called us and called Playa and called the office of Blackground inquiring about that song, so Aaliyah decided to keep the track.
YKIGS: What was the origin of “Erica Kane”?
RS: It was actually a Playa song. Static wrote it for Playa. She liked the song and wanted to record it even if she wasn’t going to use it. There’s a Playa version and Aaliyah version of that song, but she liked that song and what it talked about. Basically you could be addicted to a drug in that manner and she was moved in that song. So she was like “Even if I don’t use it, I want to record it.” So basically after she passed, that was the only fully recorded song that Keybeats had that she had done. So that’s why they were like “We definitely have to use that one.” We actually have some other records that she had maybe laid the hook on or started laying but she never fully laid the whole song, but “Erica Kane” was a song she already fully laid and we had a full version of her doing it. That song didn’t even get mixed until it was the time for the album because we really fully mixed it because it was never really thought of to be her song, but since we had that version, they were like ‘It would only be right for us to release that on the I Care 4 U album.
YKIGS: Were there any other songs that you worked on that never got released?
RS: We worked in the studio with her a lot, so Static and them wrote so many songs to where it was a lot of songs we did. All of our songs were done, so we were over there working on new things seeing if we could come up with something new. But she touched up some of the vocals on our songs, that’s pretty much all she did because we had recorded them in New York for the most part, before we left for Australia. There were a few songs that she had, there’s a song called “Danc’n” that Black had wrote and that was one she had only laid the hook on. She probably had about 6 other records that she had at least laid some vocals on. We said we could go back to those records but we never got around to it, because the album started moving at such a pace and it caught fire so we ended up going with what we knew for sure was going to be something that she was going to use. They are archived somewhere, I’m sure Blackground has all of that stuff. And it wasn’t really enough for them to be released. I know it was an idea for a while to maybe take some of the songs she had a hook on and maybe add a rapper to it. We played with that idea for a little while around the time of working on the album after she passed, but it never panned out.
YKIGS: Was there any type of competition between you producers out there?
RS: It’s funny because it really wasn’t a competition. We were all fans of each other’s productions and we were all cool outside of the studio. On that particular album, we collectively just wanted to make the best possible album that we could. It was really like a family type of thing, there wasn’t any hostility recording that album and that’s why the album came out the way it did. No one was competing to try to out produce somebody else. Everybody had their own style to bring to the table, so that made it a collective effort from everybody because we knew each person was going to bring fire to the project, so it wasn’t even an issue. It was almost crazy because in the studio we would be in one room, J-Dub would be in another room and Bud’da would be in another room. So pretty much between Static and Black, they would kind of just bounce around to the various rooms. It’s funny because they don’t write lyrics down, so it was almost amazing for them to work on like 10 songs at a time. Everyone agreed that it was going to be a good album even when we started playing various tracks to each other. The whole vibe really made the album what it was.
YKIGS: What was Aaliyah’s spirit like?
RS: She was a really cool artist. Me and Seats lived in New York for a while and her place was maybe 5-6 blocks away from ours so she always came over to hang out so we already had a cool vibe. She was real down earth. She was very precise and very fast in the booth. For the most part, Static hardly ever had to write the words down for her because she would come in the studio, she would listen to the song one time and she would be like “Okay, you just give it to me line for line while I go in there.” And he would just go in there and sing her a couple of lines and then she would lay it. It wasn’t even a long drawn out process. She had so many other things she was doing, so she wouldn’t really sit in the studio all day. We might go in around two in the afternoon and she would come in around seven and she would stay for three hours and lay a whole song. It was always like that, she was always good and precise and she was very good at craft. Before I worked with her, I was already a fan. Working with her gave me a whole new outlook to actually see her in the studio and saw that she was very talented. For some singers, if it wasn’t for pro tools, it didn’t really come out right. She didn’t really have that problem. It was refreshing for me to see somebody like that. She was a real artist, she didn’t just look good, she wasn’t just a dancer, she could sing too and she could deliver the songs. She would always take the songs the writers wrote for her and she found a way to make it her own. That’s one thing that was shocking to a lot of people because she didn’t write any songs on the album, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from how she delivered it because she always delivered the song like it was her own.
YKIGS: I’m a big Playa fan as well. You and Seats produced my favorite Playa song and that’s “Incense Burning”. How did that song come about?
RS: Playa were always in New York, but sometimes they would go back home to Louisville. At that time, me and Seats were staying in New York full-time. We were always in the studio, always doing tracks and then when Barry and Jomo approached us about doing the songs for the “Exit Wounds” soundtrack, we were like “We’re going to do a song with Playa.” So they were like “We have to find a song” so we were like “Okay, well while you guys were back in Kentucky, we did a few tracks. Let me play you some.” When it was a song that Static liked, he catches the vibe fast. If he doesn’t catch the vibe, he’ll go on to the next one and when that song came on, he was quiet. I could tell he was thinking and then as it went along, he was like “This is what I’m going to talk about it on this one.”. He started singing the entire hook and that’s how the whole song came about. I believe Black and him both wrote that song if I’m not mistaken. It was one of those ones where they liked the vibe of the track, so when it came on they were “Oh yeah that’s it.” We actually recorded that song and didn’t know that was going to be the song they were going to use for the soundtrack. We were always doing songs with Playa all the time in the studio, we would work on a lot of different things but we would always write new songs. So when it came time to really nail down and say “We’re going to put a Playa song on that soundtrack”, that was the song that everybody felt would be right for that soundtrack so that was a song they chose collectively to go on the soundtrack.