As this heavy duty week nears a close, it is nice to have a story that is about creation, not destruction. Thus I am thrilled as all get-up to officially introduce the city of Chicago to “White Sox Fitted,” the latest single from Young General.
“White Sox Fitted” available at iTunes
Inside the Making of “White Sox Fitted”
BY JACK M SILVERSTEIN
Chicago hip-hop track “White Sox Fitted.”
Conceptualized by Young General with a beat from Volcano, “White Sox Fitted” is a new kind of city anthem: a Chicago song from an out-of-towner’s eyes… a sports song that is region-specific within a city… a merging of studio production and live instrumentation. The song was recorded at both Horse-Drawn Productions and The Attic, mixed by The Attic’s hip-hop wizard G-Ball, and features verses from Young General, Mikkey Halsted, and Twone Gabz with a violin performance from Lee England Jr.
In this collection of interviews conducted during August 2010, Jack M Silverstein sits down with the minds behind the song to discuss the story behind its making…
YOUNG GENERAL What you need to know about the song is that I’m a Chicago-transplant. I’m not from here. So when I got this beat from the producer Volcano, it just made me think about the city of Chicago and what I’ve seen. It was an observation. It’s an emotional song. I did two verses on it, and I felt this would be a great song to get a featured artist. We thought about it as a camp. We did a, “Who would be a good person to get on this song?” And we thought of Mikkey. We were like, “Yeah. We get him on this, that would be a good look.” I’m looking from the outside in, and we want someone who can bring this from the inside out, as far as their experiences in Chicago. And let me guarantee you that’s exactly what happened.
VOLCANO, hip-hop producer One late night, about 2 a.m., I was watching the movie 300. Some of the music in the battle scenes kind of inspired me to make an epic sounding track. I turned the tube off, went down to my basement, and started to piece the track together. I know a lot of producers brag about how fast they make beats from scratch, which I can do in some instances, but this one took a little while. It took a while because I couldn’t get the drums how I wanted them. When I finally got it right it was probably around 8 a.m. (Laughs.)
I went into the process with no idea of what would come out, so I didn’t have any artist in mind. I just wanted to recreate the feeling of one of those battle scenes. After the process of making the track began, I thought it had to be some sort of anthem-ish song because of how big it sounded.
YOUNG GENERAL I got the beat, heard it. How I write my songs is I drive around in the car. I play the beats in the car and I just drive and drive and drive. And that’s when the song’s concept came, as I was driving around the city of Chicago. That’s how it came together.
JASON GARCIA, YG manager I heard the beat for the first time in G’s car one night after Sub T. At the time, there was no concept in place. It was just a super hard beat that I was really feeling. It reminded me of Coming To America when the king comes to NYC looking for Akeem in his limos. It’s almost the same drums.
We both agreed that he had to do something with a beat that raw. G said to me that riding around listening to that beat just reminded him of Chicago and he wanted to implement that into the song.
LETTER L, YG collaborator When I first heard the beat – I mean, I’ll be honest with you Jack, man, it’s kind of interesting how these things come up. You’ve been to G’s house. You know the process of how he picks beats. He’ll start playing people beats, and he won’t tell you who it is, he’ll just see how you react. That kind of thing. Me, I’m a producer. I’m competing for a spot on his album at all times, know what I’m saying? For me, it’s hard to give it up for a beat. And when I first heard the beat, man, it was cool.
The thing that really catches you is those drums. (Acts out drums). I’m almost convinced he sampled that off Coming to America. And that is sick. Maybe it’s a difference of opinion – me, I like more melodic stuff. G always teases me like, you know, “You gotta stop trying to be the conductor of some kind of orchestra. (Begins conducting mid-air orchestra, Fantasia-style.) You got your strings coming in this! And your horns coming in here!” But what I’m starting to learn, in hip-hop, a lot of times simple is better. A little three, four note melody, but the bass is hitting hard. What really makes the beat is the choir, the horns that come in eventually, and obviously we’ve got Lee England who adds some authenticity.
VOLCANO I was actually more sold on a couple other tracks that I let him hear. This track was one of those tracks I thought I would be the only person that saw the beauty in it. I shopped it to a couple other artists and A&R’s, and they kind of ignored it, which I didn’t understand. Must’ve been meant to be. He kind of poker faced the first couple tracks I let him hear but after I let him hear the track for “For Y’all,” he opened up. Then I let him hear this one and that was it. He really dug it.
JASON GARCIA I reached out to Mikkey’s manager Javin 4Man about the track. After G laid down his verses, I sent it over to Javin. Mikkey heard it and absolutely loved it. The following week he came to the studio and put down his 16.
MIKKEY HALSTED, Chicago MC Crazy song. Young General doing his thing… sent me the record… I heard the record. Once I heard him spit, and the energy on it, immediately I had to jump on it. I knew it was gonna be something big. Came here, really just wanted to vibe and get in the moment with the record. That’s really what I like doing moreso than doing a whole bunch of pre-writing – I kind of just listen to it, get some ideas, and then try to come in and just put the finishing touches on it, so I can be in the moment. I got into the song, got into the beat.
LETTER L When we first got in the studio, we doing what we usually do. Sitting there, bullshitting around on the computer, broadcasting from wherever, USTREAM or whatever. I’m sitting on my computer and I hear G start doing the hook. We had heard the beat a couple times – I looked up, and I was like, (makes stunned face) “Oh!” And you know, as he adds layers, the engineer puts reverb on it, that kind of stuff, it starts to thicken up and sound more like radio playable, right? First take. I don’t know what he was doing, but it caught my attention right away. He always starts with the hook, and that kind of make you want to do your head like this (bops head), that David Banner kinda…
He starts to lay it down, and it’s like, “Yo man. That sounds pretty good…” He does his verse, and it’s like “Yeah man. You really hit it!” The thing that tripped me out about the verse was it was so authentically Chicago. Like, “You from Minnesota, man. What do you know to be writing these verses?” But it sounded real.
YOUNG GENERAL You know, not being from here, it would be like the new kid in class. You’re always concerned about being judged, and kind of being isolated and people not showing you love, but it’s been really the exact opposite. When I came down here, it was, people want to come to shows. It seems like they really respected talent. When people see talent they want to get behind it. That was really important to me. So it’s a big deal. Coming to Chicago has been the best thing that’s happened to me in my life.
When you look at successful songs in hip-hop, they usually have the contrast in voice. Any good song, there’s great contrast. And when you hear Mikkey’s voice tones and my voice tones and the style of rap – all the lyrics are on point, but it’s the contrast that really fits on top of the dramatic landscape of the song. It really keeps you engaged, really does make you want to listen to it.
MIKKEY HALSTED It’s dope. Good energy. It’s a feel-good record. One thing that I like about it is that it’s an “up.” And a lot of people, producers, feel like I’m a mid-tempo guy. More of a storyteller because they hear “Liquor Store.” I don’t get a lot of ups. And this is an up-tempo record which allows me to do what I do. I love that.
YOUNG GENERAL Mikkey’s at the album stage. People know who he is. People are just starting to find out who I am. I’m at the single stage. You need to get one or two songs out – like Mikkey talked about “Liquor Store.” It’s a slow record, but it’s a record everybody knows. I’m trying to get my first couple records that everybody knows, so this fall – you know, I got Mikkey on it for a reason. To promote it, and to get people interested in the other music I got. You start getting to the point where you build your infrastructure and build from there. I’m at a point where I have enough music to do an album, but I’m just focused on getting one or two songs out that people like.
TWONE GABZ, Chicago MC The record is so Chicago. It’s the embodiment of Chicago, particularly the South Side. Who doesn’t wear a White Sox fitted cap proud, walking through the city? That’s like your go-to hat. If you’re from Chicago, especially from the South Side, and you’re a sports fan, you got a White Sox hat somewhere stashed away and you wear it proudly. Everything on the record, from the production, myself, Young General, Mikkey Halsted – the record is crazy. It ain’t just a song. It’s a movement.
YOUNG GENERAL We were put in touch with Twone Gabz by Javin, Mikkey’s manager. He said, “It’s a nice song, and I think Twone would be a good guy to get on it.” Because we wanted to get some official Chicago guys on it.
What of Twone’s work had you heard at that point?
Dog, you don’t understand. All these beat battles and stuff like that… I had been at Twone Gabz’s beat selection party, where producers came and brought beats for him to listen to for his new album. And it was stacked in there. That’s how I linked up with Omega Supreme and a bunch of other different producers, because for me, it’s like (makes “easy” sound.) Remember Coming to America and the Black Awareness Rally? When they had all the woman up there? You know, “There’ll be some good, clean girls over here.” (Laughs.) Whatever Akeem doesn’t pick, I’m taking home with me! I’ll take the leftovers at the Black Awareness Rally.
That’s how I felt going to the Twone Gabz beat selection party. I’m like, “You’re telling me it’s just going to be guys playing hot beats, and he’s going to pick three or four out of the thirty or forty that get played?” I’ma be like, “Yeah, we need to get that guy’s information right there.” I’ve known about Twone – he had a big song a while back called “Bully.” He’s got a new album coming out. Twone’s been doing this forever. He’s been doing mad shows. I knew he would be official for it.
TWONE GABZ I listened to the song over and over a couple times. I hear so much of the same stuff recycled in hip-hop. And when I heard the record, I listened to the record over and over because it was inspiring me and motivating me. I listened to it and said, “You know what? I’m not going to wait to do this rap.” And I wrote off the inspiration I felt from listening to the record. I wrote my verse right then and there.
LETTER L Twone came in, laid it down, one, two takes. When Twone has the line (pauses) “something like a Cyclops/ kill and skin a Cubby Bear/ turn ‘em into White Sox,” we all looked at each other. You know how it is at the Attic. You have to be still when they’re recording because he’s got that, like, open thing…
What was so raw about Twone – his delivery is so clear and crisp, I was able to start saying back his lines already on the second take. I had just heard ‘em. It was like that.
YOUNG GENERAL Watching Twone do his thing was really cool, because as a hip-hop artist now who considers himself a professional, it’s like a pinch hitter. Jim Thome is a great pinch hitter because he comes in in clutch situations and delivers. Everybody knows how difficult that is. And it’s the same thing with a hip-hop artist when you’re coming in for a feature. Your verse has to be on point, and not only that, you don’t want to be wasting a bunch of studio time trying to lay down your 16 or 32 or whatever you’re doing. And Twone came in there, he was prepared, his verse was hot. I hadn’t even heard it. But that’s why you get people on the level who you know are gonna come with it. Same with Mikkey. I didn’t hear Mikkey’s verse; he just came in and dropped it.
I had heard about Lee for a long time. Had followed him. It’s funny – I’m working with a guy named Khalid, who put together The Vail Soul Fest. We’re trying to book some shows out in Denver, and, you know, he wants to get to booking something with me, but he doesn’t have time right now because he’s so busy with The Vail Soul Fest. So I look at the lineup, and sure enough Lee England Jr. is one of the guys playing at the soul fest. And then I find out Lee England’s on the Vail Soul Fest mix CD. I see Lee is doing his thing, because that’s a pretty nice ticket. So then I start thinking “Okay, Lee’s doing his thing. He’s definitely up and coming…”
LEE ENGLAND JR., hip-hop violinist I love orchestral music. Don’t get me wrong. I love violin concertos and all that good stuff. But at the end of the day I don’t enjoy playing it as much because most of the time it’s kind of boring. When you’re doing string quartets and things like that, that’s fun. But this, it’s in the moment. It’s what the people are going to hear, so you want to put your best foot forward. It’s gonna be good to get that response – you know, it’s a different kind of response.
YOUNG GENERAL Lee was a whole different ballgame. It took a long time, but it was amazing. When you do something on a song, it has to be repeatable. You have to know what your words are so you can say them over and over. So although Lee can play improvisation violin, you can’t improvise a part of a song and then do it again the same way, especially with a violin, because of all the note changes. What Lee actually did was he composed it. I watched him go write it via piano, just like a person would who plays the guitar – compose it note by note, write it down on a piece of paper, and then go in and play those notes exactly on the song. Which was a phenomenal experience. I’ve got the whole thing on tape. It was awesome. Speaks a lot to his organic creativity.
LEE ENGLAND JR. I sit there, listen to the track, I find out from whoever produced it, or whoever’s rapping on it, if it’s the General or whoever, find out what they’re thinking – you know, he let me do my thing. I would rather sit there and plot it out first, because most of the time, I go in and do one line and that’s it. But he said “Put your stamp on it,” so I’ma go in and give it more of a bigger feel with the live strings, kind of add something to it so people are like “Man! That string section on the end – what was that?” Then they’ll come looking for me. (Smiles.) What I was doing was basically just sitting down and writing out the notes so that when I get in front of the mic I just one-take it.
Most of the time, people want to produce you. “Do it like this, and I seen this one person doing this but I don’t know who it is and I can’t describe it, but I want you to do that!” And it’s like, “Come on man.” When it’s all said and done, nine times out of ten, they’re like, “Alright, just do what you was gonna do then.” (Laughs.) So for him to start with that, that saves so much time.
YOUNG GENERAL Think about the fact that you’re writing violin notes and songs and tones on a hip-hop beat. That takes a certain type of mind to be able to do that on the fly. He’d heard the song, he liked it, he knew he wanted to do it, but he didn’t write the stuff before he got there. He wrote it on the spot in the studio. That was a pretty cool experience, to see a different side of music from a composition standpoint. Because I write words, and he writes notes. It’s the same thing: the pentameter, the way you say things, the inflections, all the different things are just like the sharps and flats on violin notes. The emphasis on words, and the drops, and the spaces – it’s the same thing. No difference. Only, it was amazing to see him do it with an instrument. That motherfucker’s for real.
MIKKEY HALSTED It’s a process. It starts with a thought, and then you really gotta put a rhythm to the thought and get inside the beat and become an instrument on it. Once I started getting the feeling, you could really see it morph. Everything starts for me from freestyling. It goes from freestyling to the iPhone so I don’t forget. I remember when I first started rapping I used to have, like – (looks up at Young General and others) You know, you had your seven go-to verses? (laughter in room) Last time I checked my drive, I think I had 376 songs on there.
TWONE GABZ I’m a writer. I’m a writer, period. I write short films, short stories, R&B. I do ghostwriting for a lot of artists. My thing is always pushing yourself. When I go to write a rhyme or a song, I listen to other stuff that I feel is really dope, be it from myself or whoever, and being like “Okay, how can I top that the next time around?” And when I heard the record, and when I heard Mikkey say he a South Sider, and just “White Sox Fitted Cap,” like it’s Chicago, the concept is Chicago, but let’s be honest: that’s some South Side shit.
JASON GARCIA The hook is very simple but so catchy. I love that the song is not about the White Sox. It’s a song about Chicago and the people who rock White Sox fitted caps.
VOLCANO I really liked the song concept because it just put words to what I wanted the track to be. A big, anthem-ish kind of deal. I think he nailed it. Then when I heard the finished product I was really impressed by what those guys did. Each one added to the appeal of the song, rather than detracting.
LETTER L I wish it was my song, but it’s not. That’s okay. I’ve got plenty of good ones out there. It is what it is. But I support my man Volcano. (Raises voice.) Volcano – hey man, really, on some real shit, Volcano hooked me up with a lot of software about two weeks ago, and showed me how to use it. I cannot hate at all. He’s just a real lookout, you know, good dude. (Pauses.) I still wish it was my shit! (Laughter.) I still wish it was my shit. But I got the opportunity to do the song. I got the opportunity to meet Javin, to meet Mikkey Halsted, to meet Twone Gabz. It opened up another network for me. The song’s already done things for me that I really, thus far, had not been able to do for myself.
MIKKEY HALSTED The Young General song, this song, is an important song because he’s really getting me when I’m strictly in album-mode. I don’t do a lot of features when I’m in this mode because you try to stay focused. But like I said, the record was of that quality, and he was spitting on that quality where it made me feel like, “Man, I won’t have to go outside myself to do what I need to do. I can still be focused on doing what I’m doing with my album.” That’s what it is, man. Chicago, showing love to Chicago, and doing what we doing. He’s a Chicagoan now. He stay here, he live here, so I embrace him like he was born here. And that’s just what we do. That’s what Chicago unity is all about.
YOUNG GENERAL Get ready. Get your popcorn ready. Yeah man. I’m fired up. I’m just happy to have a song that I feel represents my talent. This is a song that fits me, fits what I’m trying to do, and I feel like I’ve got the right people behind me this time that are gonna give it the legitimacy it needs to get the listens. Because here’s the difference – here’s how I feel: the difference between a well-known rapper and a not so well known rapper in a lot of cases is not talent. It’s just how many people have heard him. It’s just exposure. I feel like I’m on the level as far as talent. I can do this. But nobody’s heard of me. This is going to be a chance for people to finally hear me. And that’s cool. That’s cool.
Jack M Silverstein is a freelance writer covering music and culture in Chicago. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or say hey at twitter/readjack or facebook/readjack. His story on rock band Great Divide’s summer of touring runs Oct. 4th. Here is an excerpt.
*** NOVEMBER 4, 2010 UPDATE ***
THE VIDEO IS FINALLY ON YOUTUBE. Catch it also at whitesoxfitted.com