Potholes In My Blog is proud to present the production duo Keelay & Zaire to Open Mic Presents… The newly formed group already has a video out for “The Times” featuring Blu, Fortlive and Nino Moschella, and an EP available now on iTunes, Ridin High EP. These two met on the Hip-Hop forums of UGHH and the rest has been golden. Check for this group to make things happen in the time to come as their album debut hits stores March 10th.
Hit the skip for the full interview…
Reyn: New on the scene is production team, Keelay & Zaire. Who is Keelay & Zaire?
Keelay: We just two cats that love music and enjoy making music and enjoy the finer things in life aka malt liquor (Cough) St. Ides Holla (Cough.) We really pushin for that sponsor..(laughs.)
Zaire: Indeed a fan of the malt liquor, but also as Kee said, where just a couple of cats that enjoy making the kind of music we’re fans of. Of course, we’re hip hop beatmakers at the core, but we’re just some dudes that feel like we can make music our way regardless of what kind of music is thrown our way, and we pride ourselves on that. We probably pride ourselves on that a lil too much (laughs,) but that all comes out in the music which is a good thing in my opinion. But yeah, we want that sponsor (laughs). Reyn: How did you guys meet up and decide to become collaborators?
Keelay: Zai and I used to both frequent a message board on the internet (ughh.com). We had started sending each other beats over the internet along with our homey JFish. After about a month or two of that we just all decided to link up and start working together. The age of the internet I guess…(laughs) We all ended up meeting out in Pittsburgh back in like ’03 maybe. The whole trip actually turned into another trip and another, before we knew it we were all getting together 3 or 4 times a year as collective called The Sole Vibe. By the end of it all there were about 10 of us all together doin’ these trips we were rollin’ deep. In the end you know Zaire and I just decided we wanted to do an album, reach out to as many people as possible, and try to make something we both enjoyed. I guess that’s where we are now. Ridin High (cough) Feb. 24th (cough)
Zaire: Yeah, all of this started on the UGHH message boards. In ’03, I was just makin’ beats for the fun of it and I would just be floored by some of the music that I would hear posted on the boards and was equally floored that these 2 cats wanted to get down on some music tip. It was a wrap from there.
Reyn: What goes into a Keelay & Zaire production? Who brings what to the table?
Keelay: Umm I’d say we both do a little bit of everything. I like to think we both have our own strengths and weaknesses.. I can really go anywhere. Sometimes I’ll start off with a skeleton beat of something, but I want it to have that 80′s type feel or a crazy synthline, I don’t even attempt it, I just send it straight to Zai (laughs). I know he does the same for certain feels or textures of something he may have started as well.
Zaire: Yeah we complement each other’s styles really well. Me, I grew up listenin’ to mostly R&B/soul instead of hip hop because my pops was a old school DJ (shouts to Pops Boogie (laughs)). But with that, it gave me the taste of R&B compositions and whatnot, so that’s my favorite thing I like to get down on. Keelay got the biggest drums I ever heard, which is ideal for hip hop and also shows his talent in that area. With a combo like that it makes for very interesting collabs on the musical side of the game, which births our ‘sound’ so to speak. I think a cohesive collaborative effort from the musical aspect is something kinda fresh in this game, so we just roll with it and hope folks feel where we comin’ from.
Reyn: Who are some of your major influences and how did they help shape the sound that you create?
Keelay: I always say my biggest influences are all the cats we’ve met over the years, our homeys. Definitely Zaire and JFish have been the two who have forced me to really push myself musically. Early on obviously my favorites were Dre, Pete Rock, Dilla etc. These days I find myself really trying to study folks like Curtis Mayfield or Charles Stepney.
Zaire: Well, I got all the love in the world for the usual suspects like Pete Rock, Dilla, Battlecat, Quik, & Primo, but my biggest influence is Jodeci’s DeVante Swang. The composition him and his camp put together on joints where and still before its time, but like I said earlier, Kee & J.Fish helped me understand music & beats from the beatmakers perspective and helped me develop a lot of the sound that folks hear on our joints. Plus we basically use a lot of the same equipment for music because we have a general interest in certain sounds/vibes. It’s pretty wild that we met up and got down like that, but it makes all the sense in the world that me & Kee linked up and put together a good project.
Reyn: Now the album that is coming up is called Ridin’ High, talk about the concept behind that album.
Keelay: Well Ridin High is basically like a day in the life of ya average hip hop fan. At least that’s what we had originally envisioned. We wanted to create something that feels like your just riding around in your car. You may see different things or meet up with different folks along the way, hear different stuff on the radio, etc… Zaire: Exactly. Everyone can fully comprehend those days where you’re ridin’ around and the music you play is the soundtrack of your travels. ‘Ridin High’ tries to capture that and give you an entertaining album as well.
Reyn: A lot of producer albums fall into the trap of being just an album filled with random beats and mediocre features with no focus. How do you avoid this trap that so many other producers fall into?
Keelay: I’d say we didn’t really even think about any of that. We really just wanted to make an album and we wanted to reach out to folks that we were fans of to be on the album and we tried to make it happen. We knew we wanted to the record to have a theme and somewhat of a concept and that really helped. We were able to actually step to folks with ideas let them know what we wanted specifically and I think that really helped in outcome of the total album. We just tried to keep our vision intact the whole time, there were a bunch of features that got cut from the album just because we felt they just didn’t fit or they didn’t really come to the table with what we had envisioned, but in the end I think we are happy with how it turned out. Most importantly we are thankful to all the folks who did lace us on the album with their talents.
Zaire: Yeah, a lot of producer albums can be categorized as random tracks with hot emcee/singer x, and even that alone is hard to coordinate. But as Kee said, we really didn’t approach it like that. We tried to stay with a theme and gave the artists as much guidance as possible to rock, and they came through. We’re really fortunate to work with such incredible cats who got down like we wanted them too as opposed on gettin down how they wanted. That added to albums continuity, and in my opinion, set itself apart from being a compilation.
Reyn: The list of features on the album looks very eclectic. How do you utilize all these different artists in your album and continue to stay on track with the focus you set out to follow for Ridin’ High.
Keelay: I always find it interesting that people say the features are eclectic. I wish we could have really gone left field on them. But in all honestly I guess that is a reflection of our tastes and influences. We were honest with who we wanted to get and our only motive was just to try and make music with people who we have a respect for musically as well.
Zaire: Seriously, we could have went REALLY left field with the music and concepts, but chose to keep it simple; not the ‘simple’ that means boring and repetitive, but simple meaning lettin’ the album vibe and go where it wanted to go with guidance from us. I think I speak for both of us sayin’ that this album started taking on a life of its own as it grew, we just adjusted as it continued to grow. That’s the dope thing about this album is that it really is its own monster, and hopefully folks feel and understand what we put into it.
Reyn: The Internet has been a way for newer artists to create buzz and get exposure they never would have received otherwise. The look from okayplayer was dope! Talk about how the Internet has put you guys on the map.
Keelay: Well its just a whole new day and age I guess. People live on the internet these days. Obviously, it’s a great tool for exposure especially for artists like us, who may not have a major label level type budget. I think it’s a great thing in the sense that you can go to a site like nahright or 2dopeboyz and hear about what’s going on with artists like Lil’ Wayne or Jadakiss and the next column could be Emilio Rojas or Pac Division. It’s leveling out the playing field in many ways and it’s good to know you can really be exposed to a lot more music that you might want to hear.
Zaire: Couldn’t have said it better.
Reyn: The video for the joint, “The Times,” with Blu, Fortilive and Nino Moshella is out on mtvU.com. The vibe created on that record and then portrayed on the video is real smooth and uplifting. Discuss what went into the choice of features as well as the direction you guys wanted to go with the video.
Keelay: The times really turned out to be a blessing of a song for us. We really wanted to work with Blu, this was waaay before even Below The Heavens had come out. We had reached out to him and we just made it happen. Fortilive is like our team out here in the Bay, them dudes are really some of the most amazing dudes we’ve had a chance to work with. They are the type of cats that can turn any ruff song into something beautiful. It only felt right to reach out to the home team and try to finish this song. Just as we had laid all of the verses down for the song, our close homies (and fav Rhythm Section in the bay area) The Park had started playing with Nino Moschella. When I heard Nino for the first time, I knew automatically we wanted to get him on the album. “The Times” was just the perfect joint and in my opinion his contribution truly made the song. After everything was done, Zaire, JFish and I were just in the studio listening to the song and decided we really wanted to take the song on a more musical tip, which where the whole last minute of the song came from. Fish beasted out the keys at the end and it was a wrap. Really from there we went to our director Jeremy Thomas and asked him to help us with the video. Jeremy is one of the most creative dudes I’ve ever met, so we just let him run with it. We actually had an entirely different video planned out, different concept and everything. In the end we had some different factors that made that whole first concept not possible so we ended up really doing that entire video on the fly. Big ups to Jeremy Thomas aka Surreal. He’s a beast and be on the look out for our next video with him as well.
Zaire: Yeah, Blu, Fortilive, & Nino just murked this joint and we knew they would. I always considered this as an ‘anchor’ of the album as its one of my favorite joints off the LP. It became even bigger when Jeremy Thomas got involved because the creative aspect skyrocketed. It’s just fortunate that the stars aligned and we were able to get down with some talented folks to bring our vision alive and then some. I mean its extra points when you got Surreal (Jeremy) giving you what he sees for a video so well that you can actually see it then boom, its right there in front of you. Then you have Fortilive, who is just clutch by nature, come through laid it down in the lab and in the video. Then Nino came and put the icing on the cake. All that hard work just to make me & Kee look good (laughs). But truly a dope experience and an eye opener.
Reyn: Talk about the decision you guys made in searching for a label and the eventual decision to go with Myx Music.
Keelay: It was definitely one of the easiest decisions we’ve had to make throughout this whole process of the album. Basically we put out our Ridin High EP with OM Records, which was indefinitely a good experience for us. We just really got our first taste at how things work and what it takes to put out a product etc. To this day we are thankful for OM Records for giving us that opportunity, they were a big help. We had stepped to them about doing the album real real early even before it was near finished. At that time, I think they just had a lot on their plate, which is just how it works ya know. We didn’t really get a “yes” or a “no” from them. We were just happy to be working with them honestly. So at that time Zaire and I just wanted to continue our grind and finish up the album and figure it out when it was all done and ready to go. Right about that time when we were starting to finish the album, we decided to just burn a few copies of what we had and show it to our folks to get some opinions. Well some of those people ended up being my guys Rome and Karim over at Myx. When they had finally stepped to us about possibly putting out the album it was just the situation that we were looking for. The whole situation is really a blessing for us and we are just thankful to have somebody like Myx behind us who believes in the album.
Zaire: Yeah, gotta echo the big ups to OM, they really looked out for us in a major way and taught us a lot about the biz aspect of the game. But yeah, Kee linked with the homies Karim and Rome at Myx and its was lights out from there. They respected our music and proved it by holdin’ us down on the label side of the game and they are as real at the game as they come. I mean we basically went from 0 to 60 with these good folks, and man I can’t imagine anyone havin’ a situation like us, especially as producers. So yeah, being in the right place at the right time is a huge part of this story, along with having some good fam to back you when you need it.
Reyn: As 2009 approaches, what does the future hold for Keelay & Zaire?
Keelay: Well, indefinitely Ridin High will come out, along with a few more videos, a free project in the works. We want to try and be on the road a good portion of that year as well and really just trying to make as much music as possible! You will hopefully see a project we are doing with our man Khi from DMP; fully produced projects from our crewmates Mario Dones and Evangillest; a project with the homies Crew 54. We fully plan to be on all they homey DJ JRonin’s “All Elements” releases and our labelmate Jern Eye’s album which is coming out crazy right now. Hopefully you’ll see us on a whole bunch of other stuff, too, haha.
Zaire: We gonna drop Ridin High and see how folks take that to the vein and try to bring it on the road. That road leads to a lot of avenues and hopefully some of them are some bigger artists that we’d love to work with. Hopefully we get down on more left field projects like with the homies Nu Dekades, Jonathan Moore, Weather Pending, etc… I mean, producers gotta prove they own worth right? Hopefully ’09 gives us the opportunity to show and prove what we can do outside of the norm.
Reyn: Thanks a lot guys for coming out, anything else you want to let the people know?
Keelay: Nah.. Just thanks to everybody who’s already check out the music and thanks to Myx Music for makin’ everything happen the way it has… Payce!
Zaire: Much respect to all the folks at Myx, The Sole Vibe, Rightlane Ent., All Elements, Redsecta Mastering, and all the folks that been down since jump, as well as our new found fam! And thank y’all for the good looks! Holla!