WRITTEN BY REGINALD ALLEN
PHOTO BY PRISCILLA JIMENEZ
You might not know this, but there’s a hint of Birmingham in some of your favorite songs. Whether it’s the newest bop from Nicki Minaj or the Grammy award-winning album Lemonade, you are likely to be familiar with mastermind producer Snipe Young’s work. Hailing from the Magic City, the Alabama native is responsible for today’s chart-topping singles from everyone to Dr. Dre to Flo Rida. Most recently, Young’s work can be heard on Chris Brown’s newest LP, INDIGO, which was just certified Gold.
Music Bham Monthly had the opportunity to chat with the Los Angeles-based producer about his career and upcoming projects.
For starters, congrats on the success of your Chris Brown collaboration. How did you two end up working together?
Thanks! Well, I worked with this writer named Goldie, one of Chris Brown’s favorite writers, and we linked up probably in August or September of last year. We did some work prior to the Chris joint on Star and Empire. When it came down to Chris getting ready to start cutting records, I just reached out to her. We were already cool anyways, so we got together and started working. We did five songs. That was the first two we did and sent them over and [Brown] was immediately like, “Yo I love these records, man,” and he wanted to cut them immediately. We sent the records over, and pretty much kind of did it.
You’re currently based in California, right?
Yep. Los Angeles
How did you end up on the West Coast?
I’ve been out here since 2010, so it’s been nine years. I came out here originally working for Atlantic Records doing engineering. But I came out here to do what I do now as far as production. I came out here because there were more opportunities this way than New York and Atlanta and because its more of a music capital than what Birmingham is. I came to where I could make a dent in the industry and then represent where I’m from, so people can come back to Birmingham to find more talent. It’s more so I’ll be the sacrificial lamb and see if it works, so people can start looking at my city. My city has a lot of talent.
You’ve worked with a lot of big names throughout your career. When did you start garnering attention from artists?
I would say around 2016. I started getting attention from the major acts because my mentor is Theron “Neff U” Feemster. He’s worked with Michael Jackson, Dr. Dre, Baby Face and Will Smith. He taught me everything he learned from MJ and Babyface, from the technical side to the sonics theory side. I learned a lot from working with him, so I got a lot of co-production with him. The higher-ups respected me more from the association with him because they know he’s a veteran. Once they checked me out, they made sure everything I put out was undeniable.
What was the big break?
The very first thing on the production side was Sophia Rez, a Latin pop artist, and she went Gold. It debuted on the billboard 200 for Latin pop albums. I also do sound engineering, as well. The first break with that was with Maschine. I do sounds for Maschine and MPC. I worked with those companies directly. Those are the two biggest virtual companies in the production world. That took me into another space of sound design, which led to the Grammy win with Beyoncé’s album, Lemonade.
So within two years, you land a spot on Beyonce’s record Lemonade?
It all started on the sound design thing. The sound design element was introduced to me by Neff U Feemster because I started doing drums, creating custom sounds for his particular palate. What it would do was challenge me to make different sounds that nobody had heard of before to use in his productions. That’s how that started. I started doing that, and that led to Native Instruments and the MPC, which led to one of the producers on the record reaching out for a sound they wanted to use on the record. I provided that sound, and that record ended up winning the Grammy.
With a Grammy win in your arsenal, how do you top that?
With wonderful production. I need a Grammy for something that I produced. It’s a different category. You can get one for songwriting. You can get one for engineering and marketing. You can get all kinds of titles under the Grammy-winning category, but that was more of an engineering space. Engineering is cool. That’s not what I came out here to do. I came out here to do production. That’s why the two songs on the Chris Brown record meant more to me than the Grammy did in totality because the song was something I produced from scratch. It was something that I did, and it went on to one of the biggest artists in the world. People don’t have to question if I didn’t do certain parts.
In addition to your work as a sound engineer and producer, you’ve spent some time in front of the mic as a rapper. How did you go from rapping to finding your calling as a producer?
It’s not that it didn’t work. I was rapping first. Sebastian Kole and I started doing music together. We started at age 14. We came up together, but he went to Auburn University when we graduated from high school. He was our producer. It forced me to really grow as a producer to make the music for our rap group because he was in school. So that’s how I tapped into the production space real heavy- because I had to. Because of that, I learned how to write hooks and different types of R&B songs because we had a whole camp of artists and I had to be the sole provider for the creative space on the music side. I had to learn how to do all these things out of necessity. Because of this, I was doing the production, recording, mixing, and engineering, and I was rapping. As I got older, the content of the rap industry changed. It got so raunchy and rugged that it didn’t reflect the way I lived so that I couldn’t go on there and portray this image of what they love to see and hear nowadays when it comes to rapping — popping pills, calling women out of their name. I’m not that type of person.
When it comes to your thought process, what influences your production and sound engineer work? How do you approach each client?
I like to do a lot of studying for an artist. If I’m producing, I want to find out what makes that artist tick. What do you like? What is your relationship status? What happened in your last relationship? What do you love about your new relationship? I want to know who this artist is, so I can go in and create something that they’re going to love and something that can reflect them. That’s how I approach all the records that I do. Sending tracks to people kind of cramps their creative process because I don’t really get to interact with the artist. I feel like the best work comes from when you have the artist in your face, or you have direct communication with that artist to know what they would enjoy singing. You will get a better performance when you have something that they want to sing versus a song they have to sing.
So, what’s next for Snipe Young? Can you tease some new projects that you’re working on?
I have some more major joints coming out that I can’t talk about, but I can say as far as the t.v. stuff, I’m doing the next season of Empire. I can’t name the people I have coming down the pipeline but, I know people are going to love the records that are coming. It’s more of the R&B space, but I want to get more into the root of where I come from. More of the hip hop. I also have some stuff coming out from my artists later this year.
What is the mantra that you live by?
I want people to know that they can do it. All they have to do is apply the principles. As long as you apply the principles, it can happen. If you want to be a doctor, you can’t just say, “Hey, I’m going to go to the hospital and apply for this job and hope it’s going to work.” No, you have to apply the principles. You have to go to school. You have to learn it. It’s the same with anything else- you have to learn the craft. I’m living proof that it’s possible because all I did was apply the principles.
Being a product of Birmingham, do you ever do collaborations with local artists here in the Magic City?
I do. I have a label, Nine22 Music Group. Everyone on my label is from Birmingham. Every one of them. Rej Archie, Dani, Sly Slim, and Josephine Clark. A few of them stay here. A few of them moved away. That’s always been my goal. When I moved out here, it was my goal to bring awareness to the city that I’m from. I know that everyone can’t just up and move. I just happened to not have kids and was available to pack up and go across the country.