How does an aspiring producer pack up all his belongings, move to Los Angeles as a total outsider, and land a Young Thug placement about a year later? Just ask Judge. The rising beat maker spent a good part of the last decade crafting and developing his sound on street corners and basement studios in Kansas City, MO, before finally deciding it was time to take the leap of faith to Hollywood, and did things escalate quickly.
Fast forward to the present and Judge is slowly branding himself into a household name for placement seeking producers, showcasing an otherworldly feel for the right sound selection, vibe, and an unmatched versatility which has led to certain self-dubbed claims like being the, “only producer to ever work with Hoodie Allen and Youngboy Never Broke Again.”
Obviously, there isn’t one way to make a name for yourself in this industry just as there is no predetermined formula for success as an aspiring artist/producer. However, certain things do add their value to the grand scheme of things. Things like good music, persistence, and maybe most importantly, an active social media following, which in today’s filter-free day and age can lead to Twitter rants by Judge ranging from topics like why he needs to stop distorting his 808’s to why prime Marcus Camby is so slept on for example.
That persistence and comical randomness on Twitter remain a staple of Judge’s brand and personal connectivity, and could be looked at as reasons for a 300 Ent. A&R reaching out to a relatively unknown producer from Kansas City asking for a beat pack for one of the world’s biggest acts in Young Thug. Hundreds of beats later, Judge couldn’t help but continue to rewatch and stare in disbelief at a 20 second snippet of his favorite artist recording on one of his beats, further showing the power of having an “all or nothing” work ethic and a personable approach as someone who is easy to reach and work with.
We spoke to Judge about his past experiences in the industry, the Thug placement, and what lies ahead for the up and coming producer.
When and how did you start producing?
I’ve been producing since I was in 8th grade when my family got a computer with GarageBand, and that’s really how I started getting into making beats. Since then I knew I wanted to do music, and once I turned 20 I knew I had to come to LA and work with whoever I could.
What was it like moving from the Midwest to Los Angeles and how were you able to connect with different artists and producers so early into your time in Hollywood?
Growing up in Kansas City, there isn’t much of a scene out there and there’s just nowhere near the opportunities there are in LA. I was working with local rappers and while I was doing that I was reaching out to everyone I could, and started to work with artists from all over just through the internet. A lot of it’s talent and what not, but so much of making those moves is working hard, meeting people, and networking and going outside of yourself to make the connections you have to, which is really hard to do if you’re not in LA, and that’s why I left KC. I came out here a couple times and one of those times is when I met Lil Aaron, and he told me that he’s getting a house and that I should come live with him, and I was like “fuck yeah”. So much of us connecting was through Twitter and Aaron was just a random mutual friend through the app, who came through a session one night, and we just vibed instantly. We both work really fast and have similar tastes and I just owe so much to him because he helped plug me to a network of people who are really out here, you know, making a living doing music professionally.
What would you have told someone, before you moved to LA, who said that you would get a Young Thug placement in the first year of you living there?
I would say that you were fucking crazy! Cause I’ve been doing this shit really professionally since I was 18, and I moved to St. Louis with my best friend at the time, and we did the most hood-hustle shit just handing out CD’s on corners. Literally from the bottom of the music industry to that was crazy.
Geoff at 300 really pulled through with that connect for you.
Shout out to Geoff, he’s the homie. We still talk and we’re working on stuff and ideas which is cool and I just fuck with him heavy.
How many beats do you have to send an A&R, especially one working with a superstar like Thug, to where you could finally see some progress on a placement?
Every situation is different, but I sent Geoff probably 100+ beats because I knew him for like a year before finally getting that placement with “Take Care.” You could get a placement and it doesn’t come out for six months, so you know you have something coming, but there’s a pressure that’s super real where you have to progress and keep moving in the industry and working at that level.
Was the first time you heard “Take Care” the night the album dropped?
Yeah and it was crazy because the beat I sent Geoff was the last beat I sent in the pack, and I almost didn’t include it. I send Geoff 15-20 beats every so often and the last one happened to be the Take Care beat and a week after I sent him that pack, Thug posted a snippet of the track on his Instagram, and I didn’t hear the full song until it dropped after that.
I’d imagine the reaction was pretty nuts.
That was the first big placement I had gotten after being out in LA for a year and he’s also like my favorite rapper so it was a lifetime dream fulfilled for me. It really showed me that the music industry is still the Wild West, and that there’s no straight path to getting a job, and you really have to make your own.
Things definitely happened fast though. A Thugger placement one year after moving to LA, and now you’re getting ready to perform at Hard Summer a year later. What’s all that been like, and how do you feel about the positive response your music gets from the EDM community?
I was always a fan of dance music, but obviously as a producer i make music for artists, and once I moved to LA I realized I could be the artist by doing remixes and dropping my own songs with features where the production is the focus. But still, all the EDM shit was completely unexpected, just the fact that a bunch of my friends like Ekali, Josh Pan, or Y2K who do it and are really good at it, fuck with the music I make and gave me a chance to go from literally being THE bedroom producer to playing a huge festival is wild. It’s weird too because I really am not an EDM producer – I feel like I’m just JUDGE. I want to try to expand the boundaries of what you can do live, like for example my boy Kenny Beats is doing a live set with BigHead at Hard, and I think that’s fire.
It’s really cool to hear the insane variety of music you and your friends have been crafting over the past few years with that rock-electronic-rap blend, what can you say about some of the other artists you collaborate with?
Well I definitely want you to put this in the article – Dylan Brady is the best musician I know. Working with him he’ll just be like, “should we put distortion on the master and just fuck the whole song up?” He has such a vision and he’s the best artist I’ve ever worked with before just because he could do that and then turn around and do a beautiful pop song that is so well orchestrated and shit.
Lil Aaron too and you were saying you guys knocked out that entire “Aaron Judge” mixtape in one session is that right?
One day! We were in a studio in Hollywood, just me him and the engineer, and we already had like five beats done. We did all nine tracks that night and then had to wait and some features and stuff, and they’re all good, like there’s not a throwaway on the album for real. Aaron’s one of the best – if not the best songwriters I’ve ever worked with and that day was one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen.
You’re literally always in the studio. About how many songs/beats are you sitting on at the moment and do you ever wish you could just release all your music?
I have thousands of beats. I have a playlist that I think just hit 2,500 of just beats from the last two years, and to add to that I have songs that i make with artists that haven’t come out, and finally my own music, and it sucks because I just want to drop shit, but I also need to find a way to maximize what I drop. I wish I could put out all free music and put out all these hard beats I make every day. I’ve had some songs for like a year, so I have to make sure I do something effective with them, but for now I’m just focused on producing for other people now after being on the artist shit last year. I really just want to make rap shit, I just love making beats. But at the same time, this game’s competitive and I want to make money so there are some sessions where I treat them like a job versus recording with one of my friends which is like a passion, you know? I want to produce a Demi Lovato song, I want to make two million dollars off the radio if I have the talent to make it and run the session – but that’s not my goal as an artist.
Can you talk about this project you and Killstation have been working on? You’ve been going off on Twitter lately about how this is some of the best music you’ve ever made, is that fair to say?
We’re being a little subtle but we’re eventually going to drop some snippet videos and hype it up. We have a full album worth of songs but are still not sure if we’re going to add onto that – it depends how we’re gonna release it, but it’s coming soon and it’s fucking crazy. It’s hard to say if this is my best shit because you really do get better every day, but it’s definitely up there. Me and Killstation are like, “let’s make whatever we want” and this comes out, and it’s music you’ve never heard because it hasn’t been made before, it’s just something that we wanted to make without sitting there trying to make something preconceived. It’s been fire too because he’s never really worked with people on his music and I think the kid is a star, and I think he’s one of the most talented people I’ve worked with in terms of songwriting, vision, and taste and I think this is also one of my favorites because I’m the best I’ve ever been. So it’s the best produced music I’ve ever made and it’s really just the two of us collaborating on what our passion is and what we want to make and we basically made a new sound.
Off one listen, I feel like it’s definitely a culmination of so many of your tastes and inspirations coming together.
Definitely and on my solo shit I’ve done like R&B with Jesse Rutherford, some pop stuff, and worked with guys like Youngboy, and this shit is completely different and that’s what’s really cool. I grew up loving rap and rock, I fucked with shit like Pink Floyd and the Dead Kennedys and Led Zeppelin, so to be able to get that side of songwriting and combine that with hip-hop drums and sound design and even some EDM shit with the rises and drops is really dope. It’s not only my inspirations but kinda the meshing of all the music I’ve done. I played in rock bands as a kid, then I came up producing hip-hop, and I started doing EDM type artists production, which is actually something I call designer production.
Designer Production just rolls off the tongue. Can you elaborate on that phrase at all?
Yeah, well basically designer production is not a beat. I consider it like clothes where you can have your standard Carhartt shirt and then the “one-of-one” designer piece in the sense that the beat is handcrafted across the board and not just a four bar loop. That’s one of my favorite things about having done EDM stuff and remixes is because a lot of it doesn’t loop, and I’m writing a full song with bridges and breakdowns and that’s what makes a beat a designer beat. Same thing with Killstations vocals, his vocals are designer and it’s funny because we recorded all the vocals in GarageBand on his computer.
Would you say individual traits are more valuable than technical abilities when working with some of these artists?
Definitely, for example, the way your vocals sound is so key and more important than any technical shit you can add to them so I just told him to track his own vocals. I think it’s super key in music to not forget to put soul and feeling and character over any technical shit. If you can make a Killstation song on GarageBand on a little Macbook, that’s dope, you don’t need anything else. To add to that, the vibe is so important in a session and I know it sounds corny but it’s crucial to really connect with the artist you’re working with or else the music just won’t come out as good.
Even though sometimes opportunities take weeks and even months to materialize as a producer, it really is weird how fast things move after they happen in this industry, almost to the point where you can summarize your experiences in a sentence or two. Do you think it’s possible to do that about your career to this point?
I live my whole life in Kansas City, do nothing. Live one year in LA and get a Young Thug placement. Take the stage at Hard Summer one year later. That shit’s crazy.