Pittsburgh is known for its historical significance in American History. Well, Pittsburgh is also known for making great fucking music. The epicenter of it all? Eric “E” Dan, record producer/engineer with over 30 plaques on the wall. In August E released his own instrumental album, Play How You Feel, 12 vocal-less tracks made solely to remedy E’s itch to create. Lucky for me, E agreed to sit down and pull back the curtain. I had the pleasure of listening and learning about E’s young life, the legacy of ID Labs, and how Play How You Feel came to be. Friends, put the blunt down and pay attention to this one. There might be a few gems.
Before he started his career as a record producer/engineer, E was in a rap group for 7 years. In this period of time the group, Strict Flow, was recording albums 1 and 2. E noted that studios back then were merely “some weird dude’s bedroom that had some gear”. Pre-laptop days meant analog gear was the only option. The process was “cluncky” according to E, “No one had any technical skills”. People didn’t understand the sound Strict Flow was chasing, since they were a rap group in Pittsburgh pre-internet.
E had a brilliant idea to open up his own studio, “We might as well not know what the fuck we’re doing on our own and figure it out”. He spent some time working at Pianos N’ Stuff, a popular music store in Pittsburgh. E lived a double life for a minute, store associate during that day, studio owner/producer/engineer at night (“Studio” meaning E’s home basement). Any extra money he had, E spent it on studio equipment. Sadly, the band started to fizzle out, but happily E received the news that his wife was pregnant with his first child.
Business started to boom and E teamed up with a friend, Huggy, to open up ID Labs “1.0” in Lawrenceville, PA.
5 Years into it, E, DJ Huggy, and another player, Chad Glick, released ID Labs first mixtape. Soon after the release the original ID Labs staff slowly went their own ways. Now introducing – Big Jerm and Josh E. At this point a young Wiz Khalifa frequents ID Labs, dropping mixtape after mixtape, Big Jerm, Josh Everette, and E split time producing, recording, and mixing Wiz’s records. After some time, Wiz’s career hit a plateau after the release of “Say Yeah” under Warner. “It felt like that was our chance”, “everyone spent some time kicking rocks”, E said. He was “tired” and “spent”, he noted. Remember, E was running a studio, raising a young family and developing one of the generation’s biggest stars.
In 2009 Wiz released Deal or No Deal under Rostrum alone. Immediately, the album jumped to #10 on Itunes. “Oh Wow! People really give a fuck”. This heightened spirits in ID Labs, raised morale swooped in at the perfect time for E and Big Jerm to bring Wiz Khalifa’s vision for Kush & OJ alive. “At first, I didn’t really get it”, E said. But he did trust Wiz’s ability to do something dope.
At this time E started noticing issues with his studio. There wasn’t enough room, he wasn’t comfortable in the space and people would purposefully use the bathroom to talk to him. He told me about a kid whose first song Josh recorded was called “The White Boy Drunk Dance”, the same kid would excessively use the bathroom just to talk to E. He knew he’d have to expand eventually.
Enter Mac Miller.
Mac Miller signed with Rostrum Records around the same time that Wiz was recording Kush & OJ. At this time E was responsible for the majority of mixing and production for the studio. Big Jerm and Josh handled the recording. Benjy from Rostrum set up a session with Mac and E to make the song “Knock Knock”. E noted he took the sample Benjy gave him and added a bunch of different sounds. E noted how talented Mac was, highlighting Miller’s cadence and flow. At the same time Wiz made “this whole new sound”. “You couldn’t deny anything different”. “I give him 1 billion percent of his credit”. E listed 3 things Wiz Khalifa did to kick start his career; he pushed Youtube “Day Today” vlogs, Wiz carried himself with respect online, and his vision for Kush & OJ was different from anything else.
Fast forward, “Black and Yellow” is released and is a hit out the gates. The collective momentum from Kush & OJ and “Knock Knock” kicked everything into high gear. “It was crazy I had 2 young kids and was still a dad and now I’m the epicenter of a Hip-Hop scene”. Dan strays, “I’ve been 10-7 in this bitch for a long time”. “On one hand I was surprising myself that I could keep the lights on but I wasn’t killing it by any means”. E’s humility is something I wish to match someday. It’s amazing that someone with such a strong legacy still works like a dog and respects every man in the room like his own.
Following the release of Rolling Papers, checks started coming in and people started moving out to LA. I asked E what he did. He explained he received a publishing deal and invested that into his career. He noted that he received a six figure pub deal and used that money to build ID Labs “2.0”. The very building that I have the pleasure to interview and write this article. “I took all that money and built this fucking studio!” E exclaims with passion.
That leads perfectly into my next question for E. Dan, “What inspired Play How You Feel?”. E noted his 2 major projects of the year were no longer a responsibility with Wiz spending most of his time in LA and the passing of Mac Miller (RIP). E felt bored and deflated. “Will suggested I make an instrumental album”, he said. I asked E what his process was, he unfolded it step by step. In November and December of 2020, E started putting real odd beats in a folder, beats he thought no one would like. Once he had a stockpile of mix-matched beats he challenged himself “How do these [beats] exist on their own and still be interesting?”.
I followed his process up with asking who inspired his sound, he noted DJ Shadow, DJ Premiere, Dr. Dre, and Frank Dukes. E was tired of putting drums over loops, he said it’s a “recipe for boredom”. “I like the wall of sound that can happen” he says as he explains that he worked on the album on and off. It took about 7 months, mixing and life both took up a lot of E’s time. He highlighted the cover art (the original painting is hung up on the wall to my left as I write this) which was created by Miller McCormick and Steve Jazz. E also thanked his management team, Will and Michelle, who both handled the logistics for the release. “I’ve earned this place in my career because I enjoy it. Simple,” E said. When I asked him what the goal was for this album he said “to do something that appeals to me aesthetically and no one is standing in the way”. He wanted to make something and give it as a gift, “here it is world!”.
The introduction, “Simplest Thing” is a melody of random cords that E recorded on a whim. You hear the voice of Jazz pianist Chick Korea explaining that “the simplest thing to forget, what music is about and what any kind of art is about, creating the kinds of things that you think are beautiful”. E found this snippet on Instagram and immediately knew it was what summed up the album. He later found out that the snippet was from a longer video. The original video was an interview Chick Korea did in Pittsburgh, what a coincidence. E grinned, “this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
I couldn’t help but ask E where the hell the titles came from. “Telemed”, “I had a Dr visit online that day”, “Thursday’s Dream” – “Literally I’m here on a Thursday nodding off”. E had bought a fold out bed to take cat naps during the pandemic, luckily he was recording while he played the first few cords half asleep, literally. “I didn’t put a lot of thought into the titles”. Adding to the candid feel of the album. E made it clear that he didn’t overthink anything throughout the creation of Play How You Feel. “I needed something I could enjoy as a process”. E mentioned his personal favorite was “Whoozy” because he was “dizzy while making it”, “the dude JAMS was sitting there while I played the first few cords”.
A father of 2, full time studio owner/engineer/producer, and epicenter of an ever growing Hip-Hop scene, Eric “E” Dan has the respect of a whole city behind him. Play How You Feel, is the answer to a drought of empty music.