I heard a rumor once… Some may even call it a legend. It revolved around a producer from Toronto named Frank Dukes. As the story goes, Dukes landed in New York City with only his MPC, $20 and a suitcase full of vinyl. Since then, Dukes has managed to work with 50 Cent, Drake, Ghostface Killah, Joel Ortiz, Kool G Rap, and many more MC’s.
After some searching, I finally tracked down Dukes. We discussed many things; beat making, 2 tracking, pan handling… and I found out how true some legends can be.
A Suitcase Full Of Vinyl:
The Frank Dukes Interview
__________Note: The audio clips contain portions of the text interview, as well as some extra jibberjabber from myself (Jim Bond) __________
- What was the first beat you ever sold?
The first beat I ever sold was to was… I think it was this guy from Toronto called General Too Smooth. The crazy thing is, the song it kinda sucked. But he did a 12″ and all of that, so it was my first official record on wax. It was cool to me. To me, at that point it was just cool to be getting money for making a record. I got like $250. To me that was dope, you know? I could buy some records or something.
- What made you want to make beats?
I was DJ’ing. So I was buying records, then I started buying records of all the original samples that different producers were flipping. Then when I heard them… you just sorta start breaking down in your head how so and so made each beat. Then I was like, “I’m gonna try this” and I bought an MPC.
I think things were different then. That was probably like ’99 or 2000. So I was like 16, 17. I think I bought an MPC in 2000. But it was just a little different, the whole process of getting into making beats back then. It wasn’t like now where you can say “I feel like making beats”, then you just download something and then your making beats 30 minutes later and getting into it. I worked a job at a marketing research company just calling people, doing surveys on the phone. I was 17 years old, saved up & bought an mpc. When you’ve invested that money in it too, it makes you…
- Force yourself to learn it?
Yeah, exactly. And I couldn’t go online and check out youtube tutorials or anything like that either. I had a couple people show me some things though.
- When did you start getting serious about shopping your music?
It was probably around 2005 or so. Here’s the one thing… when I started making beats I think I maybe jumped the gun too quick, initially, to try to start shopping my tracks. You think you are the shit back then. Then in retrospect, I kinda feel like instead of focusing on that business shit, I should have just been working on my craft at that point.
Probably around ’05 I linked up with this dude Mo Joints who was shopping beats for a few people in Toronto that I knew. I sent him my beats & he was really fucking with it. He was out here in New York and he was shopping my beats. I ended up recording some songs with Lloyd banks around ’05, ’06.
- So this is after General So Smooth?
Yeah. This was after General Too Smooth, long after. I think the beat I sold him I made in the first 3 or 4 months of making beats. I did some little local stuff here and there. Some I didn’t get paid for, some I got paid for. But it didn’t happen till I linked up with (Mo Joints). You know how it is when you first start out. Just trying to get beats to somebody seems like such a huge mountain to climb, to get someone famous to listen to your beats. So when I linked up with Mo Joints, that seemed real crazy to me at the time. Just the fact that 50 Cent, Lloyd banks… I can’t remember who else he was shopping to. But it was pretty much anybody who was major at the time. And I think that fucked with my head a bit.
- How so?
(Mo Joints) was like, “ah man, they are going crazy for your beats at so and so…”. There was this artist on Bad Boy that wanted to buy a beat, Lloyd Banks was supposed to buy a beat and it really got me on some “I want to be in this industry shit”. So I would try to make a beat for so and so. And it would really be outside of my realm of the music that I do. Then when I look back at it now, the beats were corny.
- What kind of style beats?
They’d be like “Yo, we’re looking for some uptempo club bangers”, and I would actually try to make an uptempo club banger. And that’s embarrassing to me in retrospect. Half the time I was just trying to get that fucking paper. It’s funny. If you don’t make that type of music… like me, I like that rugged ass rap music. It’s funny when dudes try to step out of their realm, cus 90% of the time when you try to do that shit and you don’t even like it, it’s probably goanna be wack.
- Do you still have management?
No. I have people that help me out that do some shopping of my beats, but I do most of it myself. That’s one thing I’ve realized. No one is gonna push your shit the way you are gonna push your shit. A lot of the reasons that I can push my own shit is because I’ve done a lot of shit as favors or in trade and not got paid for it. But people now know songs I’ve done and some of my work. Even if you are not getting paid, if you are a nobody and nobody knows who you are, having people know who you are, that’s your payment. Especially when you are just trying to break into the game.
The funny thing is, a lot of the stuff we have done, we have done trades. Cus I am working on my album. so I’ve done a lot of stuff for certain people and then in return they do something for my project. It’s also a time in the industry right now, where shit is fucked up. So you can’t expect the money [that you used to get]. Half the time, to me, it’s more valuable to get a trade than to get a thousand dollars for some shit.
- What’s an example of a trade you might do?
AZ… I did a song for his album, he is doing a song for my album.
- Do you have a set amount of verses or bars you need to get in return?
Most of the time it’s verbal. Sometimes if you get too professional and too businessy with them, like “Yooo I’m gonna get a contract!” and it kinda turns them off and they don’t want to fuck with you. Sometimes you gotta just put faith in a handshake and hope for the best. It all depends on the situation too, depends on who you are dealing with.
- Are you a cokehead or something (note: this question was asked in jest and in context with something not printed here)?
Only on the weekends (joking). Nah I don’t fuck with that. I smoke weed.
- Do you think that helps your beat making?
Not really, no.
- It doesn’t help you see samples better?
Nah… I don’t really smoke weed when I make beats. I’ll smoke when I’m tweaking them and finishing them. I know it’s weird to people who smoke. They’re like “Oh, you don’t smoke BEFORE you make beats?!”, but I don’t. I find when I smoke, my vision gets all cluttered. I start thinking I can do shit I can’t do. I like to have a clear head when I’m starting a beat. Plus since I’m a chop heavy producer, I chop all my shit into like 100+ pieces. If I smoke and then do that, by the time I’m done doing that, I feel like taking a nap or something…
- How long does it take you to make a track?
It all depends. Sometimes I’ll bang out something crazy in like a half hour. Sometimes I’ll fuck with a beat for a few hours and it doesn’t come together till the fourth hour. Everyone says this, but it’s true, usually the best shit comes together like THAT. I feel like when I’m onto something usually it comes quick and those are usually my best beats. Then usually the shit that I’m tweaking for hours and hours… usually by the end, like five hours in, I hate the beat. Partially because I’ve been listening to it for five hours straight
- Do you make non sample tracks?
Yeah. I do some stuff without samples. But here’s the thing, with some of my non sampled tracks, I’ll work with other people. I have my dude Nick Brongers, I don’t know if you heard of him. People are definitely gonna hear about him soon. He actually made the sample for “Over”, the Drake song. He did the whole string part. He’s doing some major major things. He’s on the Eminem album, he did a song with Dre. He’s real crazy. He did the intro for Jake One & Freeways Stimulus Package. He is a real crazy dude. I just did something on the Lloyd Banks album, he did the sample. Then I flipped it and put my twist on it.
- When you do that, do you give him a sample to replay?
Nah, he is basically a sample writer. He just writes his own samples and sends them off to the producers he fucks with. He’ll put together like a 30 second sample. It’ll have a loop, it will have a breakdown, it will have strings coming in and out. And it sounds Isaac Hayes made it. Like a full out major production, but he does it all himself on his computer. He is doing something that nobody else does in the industry right now. He is doing a lot of big things. I wouldn’t even say he is on his way, he is there.
- So this album that you are working on, how many tracks in are you?
I got about six.
- Are you keeping your A+ stuff in the stash for that one?
Not necessarily. I’ll shop the [A+ stuff] to people that I really like or think that [the music] is a really good fit for. I’m just trying to get a leg up in the game. A couple records on some major label level would do a lot for me and that would probably help with my album anyway. So I do have shit I’m holding for my album, but I’m not holding back and I’m shopping things. I can always make more beats.
Note: A 30 something year old dude walks down the street with a cardboard sign reading “Keep It Real: I Need Money For Weed”.
- What do you think about these people in New York that beg, with the creative signs?
Yeah, we have that in Toronto too.
- Would you say the begging game is better in Toronto than it is in New York?
One thing I will say is, in Toronto you got a lot of people that straight up beg. I see more people out here doing something for their money. Like singing… I’m sure you have seen those dudes on the subway. Them old dudes that are hella raggedy and they sing together on some barbershop quartet steeze… and they are actually good. I’d be more inclined to give them some money then someone who is just like “give me some money”.
- Have you ever considered working with a street performer?
If they were that dope, for sure. I definitely would. It’s just gotta make sense right? I don’t have much use for a barbershop quartet in my beats, you know? But if I see someone ripping the guitar, like real filthy. I might holler at them and put in some work.
- Who would you say your favorite artist is? Ghost[face Killah]?
I like Ghost a lot. I’ve been a Ghost fan…
- That Redbull thing (Red Bull Big Tune) is the first time you met Ghost?
- Was that the first time you ever got beats to him?
No. Here’s the funny thing. I met him the year before at the Redbull finals in 2008. I gave him a beat tape. The funniest shit was… I introduced myself, “I’m a big fan… been a fan for a minute… I just want to give you this beat CD” and Ghost was like “Yo whats this?!”. Then I was like “This is beats.” He just said “Yo… I love beats”. That’s all he said to me. That was kinda ill. Then when I was playing my beats on stage Ghost was like “Yo! Give me a CD!” And I was like “I already gave you a CD!” Ghost: Give me another one just in case I lose that shit!
- What was the first time you were in the studio with an artist you really respected?
That was the first time that I was in the studio with an artist I’m really a big fan of. Like actually been in the studio. I live in Toronto, so getting in the studio with the artists that I’m trying to work with, for the most part, is damn near impossible. They are usually in The States somewhere. And even if you are in New York, even then it’s still damn hard to get in the studio.
- Because everybody is 2 tracking everything anyway?
- How do you feel about that two track situation?
You know, it is what it is. Would I prefer that people didn’t 2 track and called you and were like “come to the studio, we’re gonna fuck with this song”? Yeah, that would be dope, but that’s not realistic in this day and age.
- Don’t you think the music is being hurt by this?
Yeah… The fucked up part is there are so many producers and so many random beat makers that the [real] producers don’t get the respect they should, in that sense. I asked somebody recently. [There was] an artist on a major label. He was using some of my records and was doing a mix session. I asked if I could come to the mix sessions for the songs they did to my beats. The A&R damn near laughed at me, like “Mannnn… come on… you can’t do that”. I’m the guy who produced the record and you are acting like that’s an absurd question to ask? You know, it was friendly. They weren’t malicious about it, like laughing at me.
- Well… even if you are at the mix session, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the mix you do that day will be the final mix.
I agree. But there’s definitely more of a chance that you can be like “Turn this snare up” or “The sample sounds a little flat”, or whatever. Or you could add a drop, bring your MPC in and be like “let’s add this little thing in here”. That for me is a big thing. When I’m making songs, not beats. It’s like nothing is really final till you have the vocals tracked out and the beat tracked out and you start messing with it. You might go in a whole different direction and change the drums or whatever. Nothing is really final until that point.
- With Mike (Ghostface’s Manager) & them, I asked them if they could send me, because they 2 tracked [the songs], “just send me an mp3 of the acapella. You can send me the shittiest mp3 you have for the acappela. Just give it back to me so I can track out my beat [properly]. They did and the songs we did came out hot. They came out way better because of that.
I think that’s the funny thing and that’s sort of a lesson in itself. When you send out beats to people, don’t send them expecting that they will send you the shit back so you can finish it up later. You really gotta send the final version with all the drops, all the little instrumentation added in, pretty much everything. Chances are, they’re not gonna let you fuck with it, you won’t have the chance.
- How are you planning to market your album? On the business side, is that all you?
Yeah, as far as the marketing of it goes. That might change. I don’t know if I’m gonna try to put it out completely independent, try to get distribution and just do it myself. Or maybe wait till it’s done, half done or 3/4 done and then shop it to an indie label. I really don’t know what direction I’m going. Right now I’m concentrating on the artistic side of things. I think a big part of my marketing is just gonna be continuing to work with artists that make sense for me to work with. So every time I do a song with someone, that I feel represents my music, that’s marketing in itself. Doing songs with Ghost, that marketing.
- So what’s your plan to get Ghost on the album?
Well the song we did for that Redbull thing, I’m actually using that for my album. It’s a different version, it has a different beat and it has a nice little surprise guest on it. People are gonna be surprised. It’s not a collabo that you would expect.
- Lady Gaga? Justin Beiber?
No. Off the record, it’s _________ on a song with Ghostface. So it’s not really what you’d expect, but _______ is such an ill rapper that you can’t really go wrong with him. Especially since he is spitting over some more aggressive shit. So it sounds right with Ghost.
- Did you rework it? Or is a whole new beat?
A whole new beat.
- What tempo is it?
Like 90… 91.
- Ah, that’s the Ghostface tempo… “91″… Around 90.
He doesnt usually go for those slow beats. I make a lot of beats in the 80′s, in that early 80 range.
- When you first started out. What was the average tempo of your beats?
It was definitely in the 90′s, like 93/94. In that range. I was heavy on making those fake Primo beats. It’s funny. When you start out, you always have your fake ass “insert producer name here” period. I think when everyone starts out you have your fake ass Primo stage, fake ass Dilla stage. I was definitely making some fake ass Primo type beats. I made some fake ass Dilla beats too. But that’s how you learn right? You look at what the producers you look up to are doing and then you try doing it. When you first start out, your shit sound like a bad ripoff of that. But eventually you start to apply those techniques to your own tracks and you flip it in your own way.
- Out of all of the producers out there, who would you say you have learned the most from? Or taken the most ideas from?
I take something from everyone really. When I first started out, as far as chopping samples and trying to flip them, definitely Primo… Pete Rock. Pete Rock always did the layering thing, usually two different samples seamlessly. That definitely influenced me to do that sort of style. I always liked Alchemist’s ear for samples. He would take shit and wouldnt even necessarily flip it all crazy, but he would do it tastefully, where it just sounded dope. When I hear that type of beat, it makes me realize sometimes less is more. You can do less and it actually sounds better. Like I said, I really learned something from everyone.
- Do you “E-dig”?
A little bit. I mean, I dig for real. I’ll hit some blogs every now and then.
- Will you make tracks out of the mp3′s? Or track it down and get an official copy?
Sometimes [I'll use mp3's]. I’m not an elitist in that sense. I definitely prefer having the record. Just buying the record and having it.
- How do you feel about the vinyl prices in New York City?
They’re not that bad to be honest. That’s the funny thing. If you’re talking about stores like big city and Academy and stuff, yeeah some of the records are priced, but they are priced at what they’re worth for the most part. In most cases, I think they’re priced a little lower than they’re worth. In Toronto we have some of those, mainly one store that is that boutique-y type record store, with the rare shit. But everything is priced WAY higher there than it is here (in NYC). The one thing I’ve noticed about record stores in New York is that if something is not in perfect condition, you will probably get it for a pretty good price in the cheaper bin. You know, little scratches here and there.
- What’s the most you have spent on a piece of vinyl?
The most I’ve spent was about $300.
- That was just for a sample?
Nah that was some Russian Psych soundtrack thing. The music was real crazy. I didn’t sample anything on it. I just thought it was really ill. It was rare and some shit that no one else had.
- Final question, is it true that you came to New York with only your MPC, $20 and a suitcase full of vinyl?
Stay tuned for an exclusive beat making video from Frank Dukes!