BEHIND DA BOARDS: TEAM DEMO (PRODUCERS OF 50 CENT’S “CRIME WAVE”) EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW W/ CHAMPMAG.COM
The Boy Hollywood
CHAMP: What’s up Team Demo? What are you guys up to at the moment?
Zechariah Wise: Working on music, running a company.
J. Cosell: Music and raising kids.
CHAMP: I definitely wanna start off by getting the background on you guys. Where are you guys from?
Zechariah Wise: The four of us (Zechariah Wise, J. Cosell, DJ Dialtone & Jady Experience) grew up together in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. We currently all live either in DC or Virginia. Our studio headquarters, Depth Charge Studios, is in Alexandria Virginia literally 3 minutes from DC.
CHAMP: Who were some of your influences growing up and listening to music?
Zechariah Wise: The soundtrack in my house was eclectic – everything from Motown to Fleetwood Mac. Run DMC was the group that got me into hip hop.
J. Cosell: Eric B. and Rakim, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane etc.
CHAMP: What was the first beat or sign that made you wanna make beats?
Zechariah Wise: It wasn’t really like that. Cosell, Dialtone and I started making music together in 1988 when we were in grade school. Back then, in-house production was the norm for hip hop. Rappers either did their music themselves or they had one producer doing their music. Making hip hop back then meant you were involved in everything. We all rapped, and learned how to make beats together. Dialtone and myself dee jayed house parties and all of us were into dancing. We were 13, 14 year old kids coming up in the golden age of hip hop. We were like sponges absorbing everything so making beats was just part of being a hip hop head for us.
CHAMP: I definitely got introduced to you off the Crime Wave – 50 Cent joint. Crazy crazy joint. How did that whole situation happen?
Zechariah Wise: Back in 2004, Riggs Morales at Shady Records heard some of the stuff we were doing with Illa Ghee and took interest. Since then we’ve developed a great relationship with Riggs and we pay him a visit every three months or so to submit tracks. Eventually, that led to direct contacts within G-Unit and Jady would shoot over to their office and drop some beats on them directly as well. We ended up doing a track called “Hold Up” for Obie Trice and some remixes for Eminem and Stat Quo that never really got out there. Finally, we got word around Christmas time of 2008 that 50 picked a track from us. The deal went down a short time later and here we are.
CHAMP: What was your reaction when 50 dropped the video to his movie with “Crime Wave”?
J. Cosell: We were excited. It all happened so fast. We knew it was on the album but we had no idea he was pushing it as a street single with the video. They intentionally kept it very quiet.
Zechariah Wise: I was working on location at a live sound gig when Cosell called me saying “it leaked, it’s out, it’s a single!” Within an hour my phone was ringing like crazy. The next night, we had a session at the studio so we got to take a break and watch the video premier together. It was surreal.
CHAMP: What was your reaction when people accused 50 of stealing the beat from Fabolous?
Zechariah Wise: We chuckled. They just sampled the same record folks. It happens! We made the “Crime Wave” beat in 2005 and submitted it to G-Unit in 2006. We’ve made something like 350 beats since then. None of us heard the Fab track and from what I gather, we did ours before Fab’s was even out.
J. Cosell: It’s just a coincidence. The fans can decide which one is better.
CHAMP: Where do you guys stand in the argument of sampling vs. original based beats?
Zechariah Wise: I think with the technology that is now available, the argument is moot. There used to be an obvious difference in the sound of a beat based on samples versus one done synthetically, and some producers still have that really brittle “synthy” sound that none of us are that crazy about. But now, if you know what you’re doing and you have the right stuff, the sky is the limit. For example, when you play piano in a plug-in instrument or on a newer module, you’re not playing some synthetic representation of a piano. You are playing a piano that was sampled from a real grand piano recorded note by note and style by style in a recording studio. Computers have become so powerful that you can literally have a sample by sample totally organic version of every instrument you can possibly think of at your fingertips. When you couple that with premium pre-amps and compressors, your only limit is your talent and your knowledge of instruments and recording techniques. Getting that, “sound” used to be impossible without a band and an SSL Console. Not any more.
We do both completely original beats as well as beats with samples from other music. The ones containing a sample also have plenty of original elements: everything from basslines, to orchestral arrangements. Sampling is a tool in our toolbox. Some of us use it more than others. Obviously, samples cost us money as producers so there can be a business issue with sampling, but if we can’t clear it, we can re-create it. We have plenty of tracks where people have asked me, “where did you get that sample from,” and the beat they are referring to is totally original. The bottom line is, whether it’s original, or contains a sample, if it’s dope, it’s dope. If it’s a hit, it’s a hit.
CHAMP: Now the name Team Demo. What’s the origin behind the name?
Zechariah Wise: It’s actually short for Team Demolition. We were, and I guess still are a hip hop group. We put out a bunch of independent 12 inch records starting in 1997 and an album called “Demolition Derby” in 2001 and a second called “Yo! TD Raps,” in 2004. We made a little noise. Sold like 50,000 total units if you count the downloads. In 2004, the decision was made to focus squarely on production.
J. Cosell: Illa Ghee started calling us Team Demo for short and a bunch of other artists we were working with followed suit. It stuck.
CHAMP: What’s Team Demo top three beats from other producers?
Zechariah Wise: I don’t think we could possibly narrow it down to just three. We are hip hop historians with a particular expertise on the time period of our youth – 1986 through like 1994. When you have been doing this as long as we have, your frame of reference becomes so large that it’s impossible to narrow it down.
J. Cosell: We all probably have our own individual favorites, but I’m sure no one will disagree that we all loved the work of the Bomb Squad, Marley Marl, DJ Premier and Dr. Dre. That’s four producers, not three beats, but you get the idea.
CHAMP: What projects are you currently working on that the people should look out for and what else can we expect form Team Demo?
Zechariah Wise: First and foremost, I would encourage everybody to pick up some of our earlier work such as the albums we talked about earlier as well as “Bullet and a Bracelet,” by Illa Ghee which came out in 2007. We did the majority of the production on it and it also has tracks by Havoc and The Alchemist. We have been working closely with an artist from DC named Kingpen Slim who has made a ton of noise regionally and has some real heavyweights interested so if you haven’t heard his stuff, you will very soon.
J. Cosell: Early next year we are putting out a mixtape called “Pocket Full of Music,” featuring DMV (DC, Maryland & Virginia) artists and Wise has an album called “Mister Wise” which should be out around the same time. We also have tracks in the works with Sean Price, Tabi Bonney, Kurious, another Illa Ghee album and a bunch of stuff we can’t really talk about yet. Stay tuned. Visit depthcharge.com for news and links to everything.
Left to Right: J. Cosell, DJ Dialtone, Jady Experience, Zechariah Wise
Photo by Chapi-D