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Interview: Oak & Pop Discuss How Two Producers From Different Sides of the World Work Together to Make Hit Records

YouKnowIGotSoul has always had a great respect for producers and done our best to feature them and give them the credit they deserve for their part in creating hit records. Over the past few years, Oak has been a producer on our radar as one who was consistently delivering quality music on some major r&b artists’ projects. Recently, we began to notice that the producer Oak had turned into the production duo Oak & Pop; but we had no idea what happened. To get the best answer, we went straight to the source and interviewed the duo to hear it straight from their mouths. In this interview, we discuss how the two became a production team, Oak’s first placement on Chris Brown’s debut album, their style of production, working with everyone from Nicki Minaj to Ginuwine to Fantasia, what big things to expect from them in the future, and much more.

YouKnowIGotSoul: How did you guys form a production team? I had seen Oak’s name on songs for years, because I’m the type to read the liner notes, but now I’ve started seeing Oak and Pop more often.

Pop: We had the same management. I was with my current manager, me and my manager are both from Philadelphia, years ago I was just a hungry dude running around the hood selling beats for $500. She saw a lot of talent in me and thought I could grow so she shipped me off to Atlanta to meet Oak and he just became my mentor and it became a partnership eventually.

Oak: Yea, things kind of grew from a mentor ship situation to a full partnership. I always felt like the best type of proteges are the ones you learn from and I’ve learned so much from Pop over the last few years. At this point we’re partners.

YKIGS: First Oak, what was your first placement as an artist? Then, what was your guys first placement as a team?

Oak: My first major placement was “Ain’t No Way”by Chris Brown on his first album. It was a song written by Sean Garrett who was somebody I was working with at the time.

Pop: Our first placement I’d say we did together I would say was “Hair” by Ashley Tisdale on her album that came out last year or the year before that.

YKIGS: I actually wanted to ask you more about that Chris Brown song because it was my favorite song on his debut album. How did you get that big break and the chance to work with Chris Brown on that album?

Oak: I was working with Sean Garrett at the time, actually I’d known him for a while up until that point. It’s a funny story about that record because we had been working together and I came by studio and played him a beat. The original beat was sampled off of an old Chinese song called “Song of the Dragon and Phoenix”, it’s an old ass Chinese record. So I played him the beat and Sean loved it and he wrote “Ain’t No Way” to it and then he played it for Chris Brown and he loved it and cut it. What’s funny about it is I almost lost that placement because not too long after he cut the record, it kind of got to the original people who did the original recording of the song that I had sampled it and they asked me for some astronomical publishing amount. Now I thought at that point, the sample was public domain because the actual song was written like 700 years ago in Ancient China. But evidently I had to get around the master clause to getting a record sampled so I ended up having to replay it. So after I did that, I replayed it, re-sampled it, and they didn’t believe that I replayed it so I still ended up having to give them publishing. So I almost lost that placement!

YKIGS: I want to talk about your production technique because the term “producer” is used loosely these days. Some producers sell beats online while some producers are very hands on with the artist. Where do you guys fall in that spectrum?

Pop: We like to be very, very hands on with the artists. I feel like any other way, and no offense or disrespect to anybody out there who operates differently, doesn’t feel like you’re producing the record when you’re not hands on. If we were to do it like that, we might as well not call ourselves producers and just call ourselves beatmakers or track makers or whatever the terms are. We like to definitely be in the studio, there are times we can’t help it where an artist will record the record by themselves. But we definitely like to be hands on.

YKIGS: Yea, I definitely feel like when a producer is hands on it definitely has an effect on a record and you can tell by the way it comes out.

Pop: Absolutely, the song is a partnership between the writer/artist and the production team. So for it to come out to its fullest potential, everybody has to see each other’s vision. So like I said, it has to be a partnership.

YKIGS: Who has been your guys favorite songwriter to work with? You can give me a few, I know it’s a tough question.

Oak: I’m going to name one off the bat, few people really realize that Pop is not only a dope producer, but also a dope songwriter as well. He actually wrote the JoJo song “Other Chick”. He actually wrote that record, along with producing it. So I’d have to say personally one of my favorite songwriters is one of the ones I work with most often, Pop.

Pop: Awwwww! *Laughs*

Oak: *Laughs* Yea whatever, whatever!

Pop: I think I’m pretty good too! Actually my hand was forced into the writing by Oak and by my management because the truth of the matter is, as many good songwriters that there are like Ester Dean, Prescilla Renae, July Frost and Frankie Storm, there are bad ones as well in our opinion. So we weren’t satisfied with a lot of the records, so we they decided to write some of the records ourselves and it worked.

YKIGS: A writer who I interviewed recently who was mentioning you guys was Sterling Simms. Tell me what it’s been like working with him since he mentioned you guys were helping him on his new album.

Oak: Well first of all, Sterling is one of my best friends. I’ve known him for a long time, longer than he’d care for me to say. He’s actually one of our partners in some of the projects that we’re doing. He’s one of the dopest R&B songwriters I’ve come across, he’s also one of the few R&B artists who has a genuine love of the music. He actually loves what he’s doing. He’s incredible. But yeah, we are both working with him on his latest project.

YKIGS: Another artist I’d like to mention who brought you guys up in an interview was Elle Varner, she was raving about the work she was doing with you guys. Tell me about working with her and the work you’ve done with her.

Pop: It’s some magical stuff. In my opinion, and it’s up for debate, I have to say it’s some of our best work to date. We’ve done a lot, but we snapped when we did those sessions, I don’t know what got into us! She’s so influential and we were just so inspired by her and her personality and her energy. Oak and I are a couple loose ends and screws loose so it was a crazy fest. It’s incredible stuff and I can’t wait for the world to hear this.

Oak: That project is incredible, we had a lot of fun on that project.

YKIGS: I’m definitely looking forward to hearing those.

Oak: What’s funny about both artists that you mentioned Is that it’s not that often that you work with an artist and then you become a personal fan of. Being a producer or a songwriter, it’s so easy to go into the studio and look at it like “Okay I have to write a hot song today.” Very rarely do you work with an artist and say you listen to the artist on a regular basis outside of working with them. I can say that about both Elle Varner and Sterling Simms.

YKIGS: Talk to me about the Nicki Minaj album you guys worked on last year because by looking at your discography, it seemed like you guys had done mostly R&B up until that point. Was there anything different you had to do when producing for her?

Pop: That is actually a great question Tom! No, we actually didn’t do anything different. The great thing about Oak and myself, and a lot of people don’t know this, is that we’re from literally two different sides of the world. From a music standpoint, he comes from keys, chords, progression, pop, R&B and I come from the hood in North Philadelphia listening to rap records all day. The combination, as odd as it may seem, it just works. I already had known Nicki since 2006, since her come up with her first mixtape. I’ve been working with her since then and we did some incredible stuff for her. He added some music and pop essence to the stuff we were doing. Nicki is a very musical person, a lot of people don’t realize that.

Oak: You draw an interesting parallel too. It’s funny too because if you look at Nicki in the beginning of her career, she was basically straight up hip hop. It’s funny how the shift in Pop’s production to my production, with Pop being the drum, bass, sample driven type producer to me being a very melodic driven producer, the shift from Pop to me is exactly what Nicki did from the beginning of her career to now. So it’s such a natural tone for her. For us it was such an easy thing because she literally represented both sides of what me and Pop are on either side of the spectrum, from the beginning of what she was doing to what she was doing now. So I think it was an incredible fit, and that’s why we did three records!

Pop: That wasn’t the first hip hop project we worked on. We also worked on the Young Money album, but somewhere in there the credits were messed up and stuff like that.

YKIGS: Another album that you guys contributed to was Ginuwine’s “A Man’s Thoughts” album in 2009. I know you worked with R.L. who wrote a couple of the songs you produced on there. Tell me about that project.

Pop: One of my favorite tracks that me and Oak did is for a song called “Open the Door”, I’ve always loved that track. The Ginuwine album was really good for me because that was really my first taste of mainstream r&b and I just really loved the tracks that we ended up doing for that album. No disrespect to whoever the mix engineer was, but they kinda messed up our tracks, but the initials tracks were incredible. So that was another milestone in my career for me.

Oak: Yea working on that project was a treat for me because I had grown up listening to Ginuwine as dope as he was. Then, the person that actually owns the label that he was signed to, a lady named Ira DeWitt, was Turkish so that’s something me and her had in common. Working with that label has always been really dope. We did the majority of that record out in St. Louis, so it’s always good to be able to get out and do stuff at different locales because it kinda adds a different energy to what you’re doing. That actually might be the reason why the Elle stuff came out so good to, being that we worked on it in New York.

YKIGS: Talk to me about the work you did on Fantasia’s album last year. How did that opportunity come about and what was it like working with her?

Oak: Wowww. We ended up doing two records on that album, one of them being “The Worst Part is Over” which was written by Claude Kelly and ended up being a bonus track. I think that the “Collard Greens and Corn Bread” record that we did for Fantasia might be one of my favorite records that I’ve ever had anything to do with. I say that to say the funny thing about it is, weeks before the record was even going to come out, we were sitting the studio and Pop randomly was like “Yo! I have this idea for a song called “Collard Greens & Cornbread.” Now the thing about Pop and myself is we’re both larger guys, I’m about 6’5, Pop is about 6’2, so we love to eat. So Pop is just a very random person, and at that time he just said “Yo, let’s cook up some collard greens and corn bread”, and I looked at him at the time and said “Get the heck outta here!” *Laughs* So a couple of weeks later were listening to a track we had done and it ended up becoming “Collard Greens & Cornbread”. So we did the track, Pop helped write the song, cut the demo, shopped it to the label, and initially the label was iffy on the record because they were scared of the title. What a lot of people didn’t realize about Fantasia, and I love her to death, and I think the reason people love her so much is because she is from where she’s from, she’s country, and she loves the fact that she’s country. It was such a natural thing for her to say the things that she’s saying on that record. So initially I could see why the label would be scared, but they finally came around and today it’s one of her singles.

YKIGS: Earlier you mentioned the JoJo song “The Other Chick” which is the current song she has out now. How did you get the chance to work with her and what was that like?

Pop: I love JoJo, I love her to death, I think she’s awesome and she sounds amazing on the record. The way the JoJo thing came about is Oak had already been working with
JoJo, they did a bunch of records, some really amazing stuff. We ended up playing it for Barry Hankerson by accident and he was just like “This is JoJo’s record!” Because of the rock influence and because it’s so farfetched from what she does we were shocked that he picked that one. But she ended up cutting it and it sounds really awesome and I’m excited about it because people like it and it’s getting a lot of positive reviews so I can’t wait to see what it does this summer.

YKIGS: Who else are you guys currently working with?

Pop: Travis Porter. We’ve got Diggy Simmons new single called “Copy, Paste”. Bridget Kelly from Roc Nation who’s always a pleasure to work with. We’re always working on stuff with NIcki Minaj. The Trey Songz track “Unusual” which is out now and doing really well featuring Drake. Oak has some really amazing stuff coming out on CeCe Segarra’s album. Wynter Gordon. A young lady signed to Jive named Maria Kacanda has a record coming out called “Starbucks Smile”, she just shot the video last week, we’re very excited about that. We’ve got a lot going on! Elle Varner. Me and Oak also have several artists that we’re very excited about that we’re working on. There’s a kid from Philly named Robbie Casablanca who I feel like is going to murder everyone’s mind! He’s got a mixtape coming out in July called “No Turbulence” and I think it’s going to be one of the best mixtapes in a very, very, very long time. We also have a kid named Baby J, a young lady named Lindsay, a young lady named Shae’Li, We have an r&b quartet that’s incredible, a group called Imprint. So we’ve been keeping busy. We’ve got the Wiz Khalifa song out right now, “Top Floor”, which I hope they put out because it’s an amazing song.

YKIGS: Do you have a wish list of artists you’d like to work with in the future?

Oak: I’m sure if you asked both of us, we’d give you the same five people as all other producers would, so let’s go ahead and add those to the list, your Beyonce’s, your Rihanna’s, your whatever. *Laughs* Let’s go ahead and just assume that we’d say that, and then let’s answer the question outside of them. *Laughs*

Pop: I really, really, really want to work with Annie Lennox. As crazy as that sounds, she’s on the top of my list! I want to work with John Mayer. We had the opportunity of meeting Beyonce so I’m sure some work will come out of that in the future. We’d love to work with Alicia Keys. It’s funny because we can answer that question and say who we want to work with, but then it’s some things behind the scenes going on that we can’t talk about! *Laughs* We want to work with everybody and I think that’s the thing that sets us apart from every other producer. Especially with Oak being so humble and then me coming from the basement I have no choice but to be as humble as it comes. Whether it’s Beyonce or Boomquisha signed to F*** Your Block Up Records or something, we’re going to treat it the same! *Laughs* As long as there is talent there and the passion is in it, we want to do it.

Oak: We’re both kind of in this game to do as much as we possibly can. At the end of the day, you do this stuff because producing is a great and rewarding thing, and obviously you’re going to make money, but on top of that, we’re very passionate about it so it’s almost like a personal challenge to say “Oh, let’s go work with this dance act today, they’re really dope. Let’s go work with this rock act today, they’re incredible. Let’s do this record on this super hood rap act, they’re dope.” So obviously we want to work with the group of artists we want to work with, but beyond that it’s about working with other people who are talented.

YKIGS: Anything you’d like to add?

Pop: Thank you for your time. I love everybody on earth, God bless all people. Create positive energy for life. Robbie Casablanca, Robbie Casablanca, Robbie Casablanca, “No Turbulence” coming in July.

Oak: “No Turbulence” Robbie Casablanca, Robbie Casablanca. *Laughs* Yea that’s all we have to say.

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