Based out of San Diego, boom-bap visionary Won87 has been serving up satisfyingly dusty loops for over a year now. Prolific in the underground scene, the beatmaker has assembled an already impressive resume, working with artists like Fast Life, Jamal Gasol, John Creasy, Skelzshhmoney, and more. Most recently, he and #TheWinners emcee Sage Infinite linked up to deliver the poignant Sleeper Cell EP, a political and social commentary served up over crunchy drum loops. I sat down with Won87 a couple of weeks ago to talk about his new project, starting out as a producer, the state of the underground, and a host of other topics. Read on or tune in to the raw audio below.
So first of all congrats on putting out your new Sleeper Cell EP. How long was that in the works?
My original idea to do an EP with Sage? For a while, like when I first started takin this shit seriously. I always thought he was really slept on so he was on my shortlist of people that I wanted to work with, and as far as actually gettin him the beats it took about 3-4 weeks between me sending him beats and him recording what people got to hear.
Can you talk a little it about the record? There’re a lot of pronounced social commentary on it. What was the inspiration behind trying to make this type of a statement with it?
Just trying to be different from what everybody else is doing. That’s kinda my mission statement with whatever I’m putting my stamp behind. I don’t wanna throw shots at anybody but it seems to be a lot of carbon copies, not just in hip-hop in general but in the underground as well. Just the same formula over and over, and what I want to create is something kinda set aside from everything.
So the idea behind Sleeper Cell is Sage calls himself the Rhyme Terrorist, and you know, when people think of terrorism they originally think of Islamic shit. My idea was, when I think of terrorism I think of these school shootings, so we just kinda took if from there. We didn’t exactly want to make a concept record but the general idea behind it was if certain people would listen to it, it would spark conversation. Like each track sparks conversation about a different topic. You got the school shooting one, you have a couple tracks about terrorism, there’s a song about 9/11, and in his bars there are little statements about what he feels and what I obviously cosign.
I guess it’s just a general critique on society, and I’m really fuckin proud of it. I’m not really happy with the push we put behind it but that was more me wanting people to hear the record as soon as possible.
You’re a West Coast-based producer. What inspired you to reach over to the East, cause you’ve been collabing with a lot of East Coast artists this year?
I have a couple things in the works I don’t want to talk about with West Coast producers but mainly man, everybody on the West Coast is kind of on their party shit. Even if they don’t talk about the club scene or whatever they do it over like a club record, and that’s just not what my ear likes, I don’t know. I gravitate mostly towards the grimy boom-bap and it just so happens that most of the artists that do that are on the East Coast.
I kinda been like the odd man out my whole life, I was one of the only people on Team Biggie when the whole East Coast/West Coast shit was goin on, only cause I thought Biggie was a better rapper. It had nothin to do with who fucked whose wife or anything, I just thought Biggie had the bars!
Would you say it’s weird coming up as a boom-bap producer on the West Coast?
I wouldn’t say it’s weird, it’s just harder to get business. It’s hard to find West Coast cats that fuck with that, and then on the East Coast they don’t really know you cause you not from down there. You’re all the way in Cali, they’re more hesitant to do business with someone that they can’t walk into a room with and chop it up with and shake hands with. That’s just something that I had to overcome for as long as I’ve been doing this and fuckin, I just let the music speak for itself.
To me it’s just a testament of when it does come out, it’s just gonna be that much better. I always say this shit’s not for everybody, the shit I put out is not for everybody, I’m never gonna go platinum or any of that shit, that’s not my ultimate goal. I wanna create shit that you can play 20 years from now and show somebody, and if they’re a true hip-hop head they’re gonna think that shit’s dope.
You produced for Fast Life super early on for both of y’all, how’d that connection happen?
He reached out to me online. I was doin the typical putting beats on Youtube shit for a while and I was just using certain tags and shit so that when they typed in whatever beat they were lookin for you know, boom-bap or whatever, they would get it. And I got a email from this dude and it was Fast Life, and he wanted to get a whole bunch of beats at once and I was like ‘oh shit’ cause he was really the first person to hit me up since I started takin this seriously within the past year.
He bought a batch of beats and one of the beats ended up being Devil’s Night which is on his debut EP. Later on down the line I ended up givin him the joint for Distribution Derby, and outta that first batch of beats I gave him, his cousin Skelz ended up using a couple for his debut project. So our working relationship started off the basis of we fucked with each other and we happened to get it started at the same time.
So I seen you workin with Rob Deniro on a project, is that coming soon?
We don’t have a release date on it, but that shit’s lookin like it’s gonna be real special based on the quality of work that’s coming out, It’s not just gonna be a typical instrumental EP, we’re gonna have some special guests on that. I’ve talked to a few people I’ve worked with before that are gonna be on that, Deniro is reaching out to people too so that shit’s gonna be real dope.
You also have a EP with Lord Juco coming up, are these shorts projects with rappers something we’re gonna be seeing a lot from you?
I can’t speak on the distant future but for now, my goal is to have a solid body of work within the first couple of years. That way I can have a resume before I kinda take my shit to what I consider the next level. If I blow up overnight, whatever you know, I blow up overnight but it’s all part of a plan bro. You can consider the EPs like a portfolio for my work and I’ll take it from there. The shit I put out already: the joints with Gasol, the joint I just dropped with Sage, the one with Juco you just mentioned, a couple other things I’m workin on right now that I don’t really wanna announce yet but yea man. I don’t wanna sound selfish but you know everybody I’m working with I reached out to them and this has all been a part of a bigger plan I would say.
Why boom-bap? I know you said you backed Biggie in the beef and all that but why?
When people think of San Diego, California they think of the beach and shit, but I didn’t grow up in all that. I grew up in a housing project and then I moved to my grandparents house that was in the middle of gang territory. San Diego was never a pretty place for me so I never identified with the whole California Love, all that shit cause you know, shit was always grimy growin up for me.
The first instance of me getting involved in hip-hop even as a fan was my older brother would have two box of tapes right, one for the whip and one for pad. The box for the whip was like the newer shit and then the box for the pad would get left behind, and I would catch everything comin out a couple months after it came out cause he was tired of it.
First tape I ever grabbed out of his box was the first Biggie album, Ready to Die. I just remember listening to it, and that shit was fucking incredible but then the reaction that my mother had when she heard what I was listening to, her wanting to beat my brother’s ass and what the fuck. There was just something, it wasn’t so much about getting in trouble, it was the reaction that shit invoked in her. She was literally about to beat the shit out of both of us over this fuckin tape. As I got older I understood it was more about the content but that was the moment I fell in love with hip-hop cause I was like damn, this motherfucker said some shit that got her that angry?
I got it early on at an early age, there was like a year period where I couldn’t even listen to hip-hop or I’d get fuckin chewed up. After that had all calmed down and I started getting my own tapes the first tape I ever bought for myself was Nas: It Was Written, so it’s not so much an intentional thing. It’s just the shit I came up on.
Top five producers of all time?
All time? Alchemist, Primo, Madlib… Let me see, this is fucking tough. Let’s just leave it at top three.
What do you feel is lacking the most in the beats that people are making today?
Try to be as original as you can. I know there’s only so many records and samples and so many drum kits but just try to be as original as you can. If I see something I’ve done and someone more popular has the same shit out or something similar, or if I catch a loop… Like I use videos on Instagram, and if I catch someone with the same video I wont necessarily look at it as biting I just look at it like damn dude.
Everybody’s trying to catch the same wave right now, everybody’s on the Griselda wave, everybody’s trying to work with the same five or ten rappers. I feel like everyone’s trying to work with the same 5-10 cats and there’s so much raw talent out there bro. Cause those cats that they’re trying to work with have inspired so many cats, and a lot of these cats on both the producer and the rapper end do not like what they see being presented as mainstream, so it’s kind of like an underground renaissance to bring this art shit back.
Is this the best time to be an underground artist in your opinion?
Hell nah, the best time to be an underground artist was in the 90s bro.
How underground are we talking though?
I’m talking like, motherfuckers would sell tapes out of their trucks, out of their apartment buildings, and labels would actually come and look for that motherfucker. Now you already have to have a movement, you already have to be poppin on Instagram, you already have to have so many Soundcloud plays you know. The internet changed everything, everybody had already known that it was gonna happen, people predicted it. Yo do you remember that show that VH1 did a long time ago, like 10 years back called the White Rapper Show?
Nah I don’t think so.
Word so lemme break it down real quick. This is when I knew that we were gonna get the Tekashi 6ix9ine’s and shit like that. There was this fuckin VH1 reality show, and it was around the time Eminem put out 8 Mile and all that so they were tryina exploit that white rapper shit, but that’s obviously not the point im trying to make. The point is when they got to the finals, they had dudes that were actually running major labels and shit. There was a Universal rep there, there was a Def Jam rep there, all kinds of shit right.
One of the fuckin label heads from Unverisal, one of the ones who helped get Cash Money popping and shit, one of the things they said that always stuck with me as fucked up was they weren’t lookin for people—this is all the way back then—they weren’t lookin for people who could rap bro. They were lookin for people who could write a fuckin song. It didn’t matter if you were the illest lyricist anymore, it was ‘was the beat poppin?’, ‘was your hook cool?’, ‘did it have a catchy melody?’, and all kinds of shit.
That was all the way back when like Lil Jon and them were fuckin getting shit popping as far as mainstream shit goes. And that’s kinda been a fuckin steady decline you nah mean? And now you get straight up albums where motherfuckers don’t even spit no more, they just mumble some shit. And for some reason people fuck with it.
I was just thinking, for people like you, 10-20 years back you wouldn’t have been able to link up with people across the country like you’ve been able to now.
Well, it would have been easier for people to start their own movement. Now, everybody has to have a gimmick in order to get the mainstream labels attention. Now if we’re talking strictly underground, it’s expanded to the world, like you can sell your record to someone in Japan or Europe or whatever.
That’s different, but then you have the flip side of that coin where people are trying to take advantage of that shit, they’re trying to charge fuckin 75—I think the most ridiculous shit I’ve seen in terms of someone trying to really work the overpricing shit was Mach Hommy put out a vinyl that was $1000 of his 2-year-old album. That’s taking advantage of the art shit bro, like I’m not gonna say where everybody got that shit from cause everybody knows who they biting, but I don’t wanna step on nobody’s toes.
Yeah I agree. You gotta make money off ya shit but at the same time charging $1,000…
But at the same time if you do the right thing and people see you really wanna work, the money’s gonna come bro. I always tell people it shouldn’t be about the money, if you’re in it for the money you’re in the wrong fuckin business man. Unless you’re trying to start a label and print ya own vinyls you’re not gonna mainly make that money off your shit. I do this cause I like fuckin spending time chopping up my beats and I love hip-hop and I only fuck with fools that I feel have the same passion and the same you know, commitment to what I consider is quality hip-hop.
Wrapping it up and getting back to the music, are you thinking of putting out your own project with peoples’ verses?
That is kind of what the EP with Deniro is gonna be. So let me give you a little inside thing: the Deniro EP is not exactly a concept record, but the idea is we take a sample and we both flip the same sample but in two different ways. So each record is gonna have a couple beat changes in there, one part he’s gonna be producing one part imma be producing. Theres gonna be some instrumental joints on there but for the most part we’re gonna have cats actually spitting on it.