For today’s edition of Behind The Boards, Backseat Mafia travels to France, to speak with the producer and beatmaker, Dan.Akill, of Pani Problem Production, in Gironde. Dan.Akill is a veteran musician who has worked with a variety of artists in the United States and France.
In May, Dan.Akill teamed up with the Nigerian emcee LuGhz, to release one of the most hard-hitting, grimy hip hop records of the year, My Way, which was distributed by Cocareef Records. It is a must listen for anyone who enjoys gritty, hardcore street tales. In his music, Dan.Akill uses interesting and inspired samples from a variety of sources, including American soul and R & B, and even obscure French chanteuse music.
This interview has been edited for publication. Photos of Dan.Akill courtesy of Dan.Akill.
Backseat Mafia: What inspires you to create music? What inspires you every day?
Dan.Akill: I started as an emcee in 1996, to rap on B sides like many, and very quickly needed to make my own sounds! In 2000, I bought my first Akai MPC (which celebrated its 20 years during confinement; I made a free beattape called 20th Beatsday in its honor), and it’s always the same ritual: 1. Turn on the MPC 2. Listen to sounds 3. Sampler 4. Let inspiration do its work Maybe a disease or more certainly, a passion.
BSM: If someone asked you to describe the Dan.Akill sound, how would you describe it, in one sentence?
DA: Old school, and mainly based on samples from “soul music.”
BSM: Where is your usual or favorite place to work/create? Studio? Home studio? Specific room in the place where you live?
DA: In my laboratory, my own studio.
BSM: Are you a crate digger? Where is your favorite place to dig? Favorite shop? What was your greatest find when crate digging? Is there a record store you’re particularly fond of?
DA: I searched for a long time in the vinyl of my parents, relatives of friends, friends, flea markets … I often went to “La Fnac” (Editor’s note: European department store) and in hip hop stores, but since then I have subscribed to a musical platform in which I discover and store many samples. I still snoop around at the sight of an old vinyl bin.
BSM: What is your preferred music production software? What are the other tools of your work?
DA: I only make my sounds with an MPC (#justanmpc). For other tools: guitar, bass, percussion, a triton rack with keyboard, and a Mac with Apple Logic Pro, for my mixes/arrangements/ or records.
BSM: What is your favorite piece of audio equipment/gear/instrument? Why?
DA: The Akai MPC. I love its features, hitting pads to beat, and to cut samples. To date, I have 3: An Akai MPC2000XL, an Akai Renaissance and an Akai Professional MPC Touch. They each have a different color for sampling.
BSM: What is the one-non-musical item that you must have with you when you are working?
DA: My glasses! Thank you for quarantine and screens!
BSM: Dream/fantasy artist to work with?
BSM: Favorite artist or artist who you admire, in any medium?
DA: Difficult to name only one…..maybe Method Man.
BSM: Favorite music to listen to when relaxing or chilling or driving, other than your own?
DA: Hip Hop, Zouk (Editor’s note: popular dance music originally from the French Antilles) or Dancehall from the West Indies. We don’t lose our roots!
BSM: What album or track are you most proud of and why?
DA: Making an album is already a source of pride and being able to share it becomes a reality. The listener does not know how much time can be spent on a track or an album, the work done in the background. From an idea, from a simple loop to arrive at what the listener has in his headphones. I try to have the best result for each of my tracks, with each successful collaboration that I have! It is this result that I like!
BSM: Walk us though one track. Break it down and show us how you created it.
DA: Let’s talk about the track “Street Is Real” from the album. My Way (track number 10), one of my favorite tracks. Looking for a sample, I came across this title: “Marie Douce Marie” by Marie Laforêt. From the first 4 bars, this sample spoke to me. Entered it into the MPC, and I cut out each measure. I always start with the sample then comes the rhythm, then the bass and this tablecloth, which arrives in the first measure of the sound! Generally, I make a quick structure to send to the artist, and this sound was one of those sent to LuGhz that he immediately retained! LuGhz records his tracks and sends them to me! From there, I go back to the structure and arrangements of the beat, do the mixing, send the final mix back to LuGhz and once validated, masterization and the rest …
BSM: How did the collaboration with Lughz come about? Explain the process of putting that album together.
DA: I think it all comes from the “Da SoulvivorZ’s” project (Editor’s note: released in October, 2019.). My brother in sounds, Kheyzine, (Editor’s note: Bordeaux, France-based beatmaker), took care of recruiting the artists after having made a selection of beats. LuGhz was the first to return his copy. The following? The feeling, discussions on Instagram, instrumentals liked and the idea of making a collaborative album came quickly! LuGhz is an emcee who has a great talent, I was surprised each time I received a demo, as his adaptability is wide. I sent him the instrumentals, he sent me back the vocal tracks and then I took care of the arrangements, mixed, and mastered.
BSM: France has its own unique and rich hip hop scene. How is the scene in France different than the one in the United States or the UK? MC Solaar, Supreme NTM and Assassin are familiar to many US and UK hip hop heads. Name some of your favorite French rappers.
DA: I don’t think it’s that different. each brings a stone to the building, after the French language and more complicated to make the words sound, while giving a meaning, What we find more in the UK and American texts, and that gives a larger panel for flows. But basically, it’s the same social problems, the same demands, the same needs, the same fight. Hip Hop is universal. Some french rappers to quote: Fabe, Casey, La Cliqua, La Rumeur…
BSM: Upcoming projects? Collaborations? Shoutouts?
DA: Yes, I’m working on two collaborations, one with Jae Hussle, from the U.S. and another one with Lunatic, also from the U.S. Other projects continue to be implemented. And, working on the mixes of Kheyzine’s projects, including the new compilation he released, Robert McCall, which brings together French and U.S. artists. (Editor’s note: The album Robert McCall, was released in July, and was produced by Kheyzine, and mixed and mastered by Dan.Akill.
And we outta here…peace.
Connect with Dan.Akill on Bandcamp: https://paniproblemprod.bandcamp.com/music
Purchase a physical copy of My Way by Dan.Akill & LuGhz: https://cocareef1.bandcamp.com/album/my-way