By Alex Siber
As soon as I hopped in the Uber the driver started discussing Future’s Dirty Sprite 2.
After labeling Meek Mill’s “Wanna Know” a weak diss and referring to Kendrick Lamar’s TPAB as “artsy, but still good,” the driver, a Queens native, returned his focus to Future’s recent LP, the chart-topping crest of a yearlong wave. “The production is just impeccable,” he repeated as I scrolled through 808 Mafia figurehead Southside’s timeline. The producer behind 56 Nights also played a major role in the creation of Monster and DS2, among countless credits for other artists.
The following afternoon, several hours before speaking with the man born Joshua Luellen, I revisit a towering, two-story Best Buy that was stacked with copies of DS2 a few weeks prior. The store needs a refill. An attendant tells me to try my luck at another location, though he admits customers have gobbled up the CD. I thank him and leave to admire a flock of pigeons crowding a nearby fountain.
Southside is in the city on a press tour. The busy day of work ultimately concludes at the small but plush Ludlow Hotel, where he’s expecting a call from friend and collaborator Metro Boomin. The beat maker wonders whether he should nap or journey to that evening’s Audio Push/Travi$ Scott concert when I sit down on a small seat in a crowded room. Sporting at least six gleaming chains, countless tattoos, and a confident smile, South quickly readjusts his attention to the questions at hand. He has a lot to say.
Luellen talked about the making of 56 Nights and DS2, but we also looked to understand an underlying trend in his life: whether personal or professional, most things begin with family. Read on to learn about the former Little League star’s first time meeting Waka Flocka, stealing Pokemon cards as a kid, and his ranking of Future’s three momentum-igniting mixtapes.
First, an important question: what’s your personal policy on wearing sunglasses in the studio?
Sunglasses in the studio? Shit, my n*gga. If I’ve been drinking, if I done drunk a whole eighth of Red my n*gga, you know? If I smoked half a zip by myself? [Laughs] You might catch the kid in there with some circles on, even if it’s pitch black. And I might be looking at your b*tch with my circles on, alright? Matter of fact, my boy came to the studio with his b*tch, and I had his circles on, looking at her. [Laughs]
What did you love to do as a kid, things you don’t have time for anymore or simply outgrew?
I used to play baseball. I won mad Little League World Series. I’m ambidextrous, so I could hit with both hands, I could throw with both hands—I was real good at baseball. I played first base, I pitched, centerfield, catcher. Everything. My coach had us doing it all, he wasn’t playing. I ride dirt bikes and shit too, dirt bikes and four-wheelers and all that. I don’t have time now but that’s what I like to do.
You ever take a stab at playing second? I played that position poorly as a kid.
I played second base one time and you know what happened?
The ball hit me right in my mother*cking head and I had a bruise in the middle of my head. I called my mother right there then the coach took me home, my mother was like, “WHAT THE F*CK HAPPENED TO MY SON?” The shit was so funny. I never played second base after that, no more. I told my coach I’m not ever doing it again.
Were you ever a Pokémon guy?
Yeah, but I was a little bully so I used to steal Pokémon cards from kids, like fuck it. That was back then, though. I grew out of that.
I was curious because TM88 is actually like a thing in Pokémon.
He looks like an old Pokémon character, too. [Laughs]
How often do y’all see each other? There seemed to be a beef for a little bit then things settled down.
Nahh, it can never be no beef when I’m the boss. N*ggas signed to me, what’s the beef? I can shelf you with no problems. Never that, that’s my brother, I don’t beef with my brothers. N*ggas get in they emotions and type shit on the internet. The reality behind it is, I did a lot for him. He didn’t make “Danny Glover” with me. He didn’t make a lot of shit with me, he make beats though. I put his name on important records to blow a man up. So if you’re gonna act like I didn’t do that, cool, but I just talked to him earlier. That’s my boy.
You know what the illest shit is? I’ll make beats with no sound playing… And that beat will probably be the craziest thing you ever heard.
I heard you used to spend 15, 30 minutes on a beat. Is that still the case?
Aw man, is that how much time they put on me? You know what the illest shit is? I’ll make beats with no sound playing. I could be sitting right here talking to you, making a beat on the computer. I’ll cut that shit out and it will be a whole beat in like six minutes, literally. And that beat will probably be the craziest thing you ever heard. Damn, they made me old. They put thirty minutes on me? That’s crazy. [Laughs]
You said around 2010, 2011 the lyrical rappers weren’t eating and all of the non-lyrical rappers were. Do you feel the same now, and could you give an example?
Lyrical rappers are eating right now, and non-lyrical rappers are also eating too. It’s hand in hand now because the internet is so big. It’s grown so much since 2010, 2011. There’s so many more blogs, so many more people on it, so it’s a whole crowd of people who focus on just J. Cole’s music. I love J. Cole’s music. But then there’s a whole crowd of people that just focus on Future’s music. And I make all of Future’s music [Laughs]. Now it’s like it’s one big music circle.
It’s definitely opened up a lot.
Yeah, it’s opened up a whole lot bro. That was back in the age of time when Waka Flocka changed the sound of music. Completely. Rick Ross was jumping on Lex Luger beats and jumping on Southside beats because Waka Flocka did a whole album on them, and his shit went crazy. He led the way. They don’t give him enough credit.
Around that time you said Lil Wayne was your dream collaboration. Who’s next?
I work with Lil Wayne now, shit there ain’t nobody in rap left. I worked with everybody in rap. Nobody left. The question is who wants to work with me now. Not to be arrogant but I can make you, bring you back, give you a hit, save you, however you want to kick it.
You’ve got your third Free Agent tape dropping and you’ll be spitting on that. I know you can do both, but would you rather produce the country’s #1 song or rap over it?
Aw man, that’s crazy… Well, right now I’d lean on rapping. I’ve had chart-topping songs, the #1 album in the country as a producer. I did so much as a producer already that I’d chose rapping, right now. That’s what I’m pushing I feel like a whole new person as Young Sizzle on Free Agent. I’m starting all over. I’m not past nobody. I’m starting from the bottom, just at the beginning like everyone else.
There are a lot of well-known producer tags in Atlanta. Could you name some of your favorites?
London’s tag is dope. I love all of Metro’s tags. “Young Metro! Young Metro! Young Metro! Young Metro!” I hear that and it makes me just want to “Aghhhhhh!” and go crazy. And, “Metro Boomin want some more,” I love all of them. Even TM’s tag is hard. Sonny’s tag is hard too. DJ Spinz’s “Cut it up.” That’s about it though, bro. I don’t fuck with too many people.
A part of the ATL scene that hasn’t seen much respect is engineers. Could you speak to their importance?
Now, that’s very important, especially because I rap too now. It’s very important to have a great engineer with me. Records, too. I just did a record last night, if my engineer had been there it would have been done an hour-and-thirty minutes earlier. I respect engineers a whole lot. Alex Tumay, he does all of Thug’s shit. That’s my boy. He slaved with us building Young Thug with me and Metro. He slaved with us, bro.
What’s your fondest memory of 56 Nights? Future kind of dropped the news pretty suddenly, right?
We was at SXSW, I took my son with me. My six-year-old son, Carmelo. We went to Future’s room and my son saw him. We were chilling, he was talking to me, then he started playing me the record like, “Yo I’m about to put out this mixtape called 56 Nights.” I was like, “Aiiight, when?” He said, “Tomorrow! In the morning!”
That’s when me and TM got into it too. TM got mad Future put that out and he had no beats on there. Tight. I told my brother, “You should never get mad at that. When you have some shit coming out, I feel happy.” I’ll be jumping with joy, like, “We killing these n*ggas! My boy’s shining, my boy’s looking good. I’m happy.”
Your dad was a record producer, too.
He’s a lot of things. I didn’t know my dad growing up though, bro. That man is crazy. He acts just like me times ten, but he was though. He used to make beats for OutKast. I’ve seen Big Boi and he walked up to me like, “You look just like your dad.” I didn’t even have to tell this n*gga who my dad was. He was like, “You’re definitely Lil Capp. Capp’s your dad, right?” I was like, “Yeah.” He was like, “N*gga, give me a hug. Your father’s my n*gga like that.”
And I’ve seen Andre 3000 at a Jamaican spot, I told him he was one of the illest n*ggas ever to me. He kept looking at me like I looked like someone he knew. I was like, “My dad’s name is Capp.” He was like, “From East Point?” I was like, “Yeah.” He was like, “I knew it!” He went crazy. My dad was around the Young Bloods, all of that. He just didn’t quite make it, but he’s happy for me.
Where was your relationship at when you started getting into production?
I tried to beat my dad up bro, in front of everybody. I tried to hurt my dad. You know what’s crazy? I did a song with Waka called “Lambo Dis Summer” and gave it to my dad to sell. He put it on iTunes and it ended up selling 50,000 copies. He stole all the money from me. Now, I laugh at him. I pull up with $50,000 in my pocket. I love him to death though, bro. He’s always trying to give me the money back but I tell him I’m good. We all good.
You have a tattoo inspired by FL Studio, and a few others. What about the permanence of ink resonates with you?
It’s like a pain reliever for me. It doesn’t hurt me anymore, just relieves stress. It feels like a massage to me now. Except for this unfinished tattoo on my back, a big one. That shit hurt. I got my son’s name, Carmelo. My daughter’s name, Carly, is on my face right here.
You became a dad around when you started taking production seriously. How has fatherhood helped you as a creative?
Fatherhood saved my life. I’d probably be dead or overdosed on drugs. A lot of shit I can’t do because of my kids, shit I shouldn’t do. I’ve always been with my kids. It’s never been like my mom’s raising them. I’m in my kids’ life. I talk to them everyday when I’m gone. My son has a cell phone and my daughter. They both have iPhone 6s and FaceTime me. “Dad what you doing?” “Making beats.” “Who are you making beats for?” “So and so, so and so.” I always make time for my kids, like always. I just had a new son too, his name is Legend. He’s three months old.
Fatherhood saved my life. I’d probably be dead or overdosed on drugs.
Congratulations, that’s huge. There’s a sense of family in a lot of what you do.
I treat everybody the same. It’s us, bro. This my brother [Points at someone else in the room], my real brother at home with my mom right now. Ain’t no difference. I’m gonna do the same thing that I do for my little brother at home. We get into it, we fight, all of us. I could be fighting with him, wrestling with him, scuffling with him, and if you try and jump in we’re gonna jump your ass together. Like, don’t bother us n*gga. [Laughs] These are lions fighting.
Do you think you can thank people like Gucci and Waka for that energy? It’s rare for such a collaborative spirit to take place rather than one of ill-spirited competition.
Of course, of course. Gucci was big on that back then. Waka was too. Waka learned all of that from him. Gucci was big on the collaborative shit. We were just at his last studio, he tried to get me a room. He had every producer in Atlanta that’s popping right now in one place, working. Metro, everybody. That’s Gucci.
Do you wonder if the ATL beat scene could reach a place where things grow overly saturated?
Nah, I don’t think so, because everything is timing. Everybody isn’t popping at the same time. Some n*ggas who was turned up six months ago, they’re struggling right now. It’s just the real. Future is annihilating everybody in Atlanta right now. He just sold, what, 150,000 copies his first week? Barter 6 did 20-30,000 copies its first week, you know? Not to take anything away from my n*gga Thug, he’s amazing, but it’s just time difference. Thug might drop an album in six months and it’ll sell 200,000 the first week. It’s just a time difference.
Got you. I also need to ask if you can rank the three mixtapes that led to the release of DS2.
That’s hard bro. Um, I would say Beast Mode the lowest, Monster, and then 56 Nights. 56 Nights was the best tape he did I think, and not just because I made the beats. That shit just rides from start to finish. But I love Beast Mode too though. I was riding around bumping Beast Mode like crazy for a minute. Monster just fucked the world up, period. That just opened everything back up.
Did you notice a change in Future’s mentality over the eight months or so, during that tape run?
He’s still the same, bro. He ain’t really no different. He’s himself now. He’s back to himself. That man ain’t change, he knows exactly what he’s doing.
Travis Scott’s Rodeo is supposed to be dropping soon, and you play a pretty significant role in that.
Rodeo‘s dropping very soon. It’s going crazy. Travis doesn’t want to say too much, but it’s crazy.
People are fiending for that album.
They fiending. I got like four, five beats on G Eazy’s next record too.
Future said, “Fuck another interview” in “I Serve the Bass.” What’s your take on the media?
This is my first press run. Last press run, you know what I did? “Fuck another interview” [Laughs]. They were so tight at me, they were mad. Like, “Why did you do that?” I’m like, “Fuck that shit.” I wanna drink lean, n*gga. Ride around with choppers. Fuck that shit [Laughs]. But I’m with it, it’s time now. Too much is going on.
Do you think you’re going to stay in Atlanta?
I love New York City, but LA. Yeah. We’re out there, we’re rolling stones. We live everywhere. That’s what happens when you get rich. It doesn’t matter. I didn’t bring no clothes with me. [Asking friend, who shakes his head] I bring any clothes? I flew with a book bag and a laptop, that’s how I fly everywhere. I don’t fly with clothes. We go shopping when we get there.
If you ever came from nothing and tried to make something of yourself, I fuck with you, whether you’re Spanish, black, white, I don’t give a fuck.
How important is to continue your longevity, to keep Atlanta on top?
I can’t speak for all of Atlanta, everybody doing their own thing. I ain’t just ride for Atlanta, I’m riding for our culture as a whole. If you ever had to live a fucked up life, and I’m not just saying black people, just period. If you ever came from nothing and tried to make something of yourself, I fuck with you, whether you’re Spanish, black, white, I don’t give a fuck. Just the poverty. That’s what I mess with bro, regardless. I love somebody who has nothing but still becomes a $100 million n*gga. It’s crazy to me. That’s what I ride for.