You know “Put On” by Young Jeezy. And you know “What Up, What’s Haapnin'” by T.I. What you might not know is that both epic cuts are the handiwork of Memphis-bred, Atlanta-based producer Drumma Boy, who’s gone from hawking bass tapes at local high schools to pulling in major figures for his studio touch. Here, Drumma Boy speaks on his choice to drop out of college and how he’s following in the footsteps of Quincy Jones.
GIANT: What do you remember most about growing up in Memphis?
Three 6 Mafia. As far as what was actually going on, it was almost exact. There was a lot of crime. There was a lot of bodies getting locked in the trunk. A lot of clubs were really gettin’ torn up. Everything they were rapping about was actually going on. But I also remember the historical music: Elvis Presley, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield coming through. I got exposed to both sides. My daddy’s the first-chair clarinetist with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra for thirty years. He teaches at the University of Memphis. And my moms was an opera singer. I got the best of both worlds.
Did you have a musical childhood?
Oh yeah, my first instrument was the recorder. Then I moved on to the clarinet, and I took piano lessons as well.
What music were you listening to as a kid?
My biggest obsession had to have been “Gin and Juice” by Snoop Dogg, one of my favorite rappers. That was my introduction to hip-hop. When Snoop came out, I just fell in love with rap.
How did you get into producing?
I got my mom to buy me my first keyboard at thirteen, and I made bass tapes for my high school. All the kids in high school used to hit me up, like, “Yeah, I want one of those tapes you made Jimmy.” Because Jimmy had a system. Everybody started asking. I started charging $100 a bass tape. I started playing basketball for the high school, and we’d warm up to my beats. So I got on a couple radio stations, and the next thing you know, I had all the high schools on lock.
Where did it go from $100?
Senior year I was probably getting maybe $500 a track.
Were your parents surprised at the path you chose?
My mom wasn’t. Even though she was an opera singer, she was still real hip. My dad was more upset. He wanted me to pursue the youth symphony orchestra and move on to the symphony orchestra. I pretty much didn’t tell him about my music until I was eighteen. Even then, when I told him, he didn’t really strongly support it or believe that I was gonna be successful. Even at eighteen, I was really big in Memphis. He didn’t have any touch with the streets, so all he was hearing was what was coming out of my mouth.
Was picking hip-hop a rebellious choice for you?
[My parents] just wanted to make sure I wasn’t wasting my time. They were just being parents, man. I went to college for them. I was making good grades, [but] I came out of high school making $3000 a week. For me to waste my time in class… I got calls. I’d be sitting in class, and my phone would be blowin’ up. So I hung in there for about two and a half years and finally dropped out. But my dad thought I was still in school. So he goes to the office, checks on my grades. He teaches at the university, so he’s cool with the dean. He calls me: “What the hell are you doing?” So we meet, and I’m telling him how much money I’m getting and how successful I am. He says, “If you’re so successful and since you want to be so hard-headed and go your own route, show me $100,000 in your bank account in less than twelve months.” Ten months later… And that’s pretty much the end of that story.
How do you work in the studio?
I might be riding in the car, and I’ll record a lot of ideas that come to me on my phone, or I have a little voice recorder. I’ll get to the studio and go through my voice recorder just to listen to all of my ideas. That’s one way. I might start off with a clap. You can always start a beat with a clap. You’re in a room full of people, and you’ll just get everybody clapping. And then you just go from there with the music. I might have an a cappella. I get people wanting me to make the music around their vocals. So I might do it that way. I might be in the studio with one of my musicians and start the music off with guitar or bass. It all depends, man.
What’s Drumma Boy Live?
Drumma Boy Live is pretty much anything I produce with live musicians or live instrumentation, whether it’s a live drummer, live guitar, bass, piano, string section, horn section, whatever it is. Rick Ross’s “Here I Am” is the first Drumma Boy Live placement.
Do people seem to dig that style?
People are in need of quality music. I’m trying to bring Stax back. I’m trying to bring Motown back. I’m trying to give you a combination of Berry Gordy and Quincy Jones. Somebody’s got to do it.
What edge does being able to read music and play instruments give you?
I grew up listening to orchestras every day. I used to go to all my dad’s rehearsals. So [I know] how to put the horn section together, as far as the trombone, the tuba, the French horn, the trumpet, and then put a string section together as far as my viola, my violin, my cello, my bass. I hear all of these things going on in my head, and then I just orchestrate it.
Do you ever have to dumb it down?
A lot of times I feel like I have to dumb it down, but I’m still creative with how I dumb it down. I keep the elements I hear in my head present, but I make the drums extremely simple. There’s always a way you can get away with it, and the ear doesn’t really know that you’re dumbing it down.
So what’s it like to have huge tracks on two of the biggest rap albums of the year?
It’s great. I’ve been working with Jeezy for four or five years now. But TIP is somebody who I’ve been aiming at since I moved to Atlanta. It’s hard to watch all of those albums come out in your face. I watched I’m Serious come out. I watched Urban Legend. I watched King. To finally catch him at the time he needs me the most is a blessing.
You’ve had a busy year. Are you gonna take some time off?
I’m good, man. Nah. I’m do that in my thirties.