In the Studio: Trackademicks

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The Oakland-based rapper-producer schools us on his post-hyphy synth-hop.

Trackademicks (a.k.a. Jason Valerio) moved to the head of the class with his remix of E-40’s “Tell Me When to Go,” which gave the hyphy hit an entirely different musical context. Since then, he’s remixed everyone from J*Davey to Platinum Pied Pipers, and Honeycut to Chromeo, plus Mistah FAB, J-Stalin, Lyrics Born, Joyo Velarde, Goapele, and Pharrell. Oh, and have you heard his update of Ready For the World’s faux-Prince classic “Oh Sheila”? Ba-na-nas. Track’s also an artist in his own right, affiliated with both A-Trak’s Fool’s Gold label and Honor Roll, his Bay Area crew. Equally grounded in hip-hop and electro, his synth-based style recalls ’80s freestyle while retaining a forward-thinking, progressive approach. From his Oakland studio, he spoke about his creative process, and why he considers Tears for Fears and J. Dilla equally influential.

XLR8R: What’s your current gear set-up?
Trackademicks: I use the Ensoniq ASR-88, Roland Juno 60, the Nord Lead, two Technics 1200 turntables, and an iMac. Basically, a real low-budget pre-production-type studio—real synth-based and centered around the workstation. In the last year and a half, I’ve warmed up to soft synths. I really like the sound I get from analog gear and hardware, but software definitely helps round out situations. There’s so much you can do with it. I use Reason, too, and I’m actually about to get up on Logic. But that’s pretty much the tools that I use.

Not a whole lot of equipment.
Nope. Occasionally, I’ll have someone come in and lay some guitar down or something like that. But pretty much, the bulk of my sound is around the ASR-88, the Juno, and the Nord.

What piece of equipment could you not live without?
My studio burned down a few years ago. The first thing I got back was the Ensoniq. I had to find it. With this piece of gear, because of the onboard effects, I don’t care what [else] I need. It’s that warmth I get from it, that fat-bottomed sound.

Which of your remixes are you the most proud of?
Oh, man. At this point I’ve done so many remixes that it’s hard to say. With the remixes, I like to showcase my sound. When I work with people, I like to bring out their sound with mine. It’s kind of like a hybrid. A lot of the remixes are kind of like my pet projects. I’d have to say Violet Stars’ “Happy Hunting,” “Many Moons” for Janelle Monae… “Tell Me When to Go” remix, that one was one of my favorites. I was running around the room after I finished it.

That one brought a whole different aspect to that song that I don’t think anyone even imagined it could have.
Yeah, definitely. The Bay Area is a region that a lot of people like to confuse all the time… There’s a lot of different sounds that come out of here. That one was a sampled, hyphy-type track, but it wasn’t really hyphy—it was uptempo and energetic. There were a lot of people who didn’t like the quote-unquote hyphy sound, but they could get with that. That’s the main objective in anything I do.

Does your approach change when you’re doing a track for someone else, as opposed to a track for yourself?
Usually the songs I do for myself are just right on the spot… But when working with somebody else, I actually consider their past catalog. I consider what it is they’re trying to do for their present project. You gotta match their energy and their temperament and their feeling.

Do you consider yourself a hip-hop producer or an electronic music producer, or both?
I usually don’t put myself in categories. I will say if I had to answer that question, hip-hop, because hip-hop has grown so much nowadays. I definitely do hybrid music; you hear elements of electronic music, which is a monster in itself. You have a million types of electronic music. I can’t say that I do all of those, but definitely some house music, some electro, new wave elements. It’s definitely under the guise of hip-hop, ’cause that’s my frame of reference… I’m just trying to create something that’s worthy of all my influences.

Who are some of your production influences?
Oh, man, that’s crazy all over the board too. I definitely have to say OutKast, The Neptunes, Tears for Fears, Todd Rundgren, The Roots, Khayree from Young Black Brotha, DJ Quik, everyone from Pete Rock to Dilla—I wanted to be him when I was younger.

Who do you try not to sound like?
I try not to sound like everybody else, if that makes any sense. I try to sound not like someone who is trying to sound like somebody. Because that’s when ya lost.

Trackademicks’ remixes of J*Davey’s "Slooow" (Interdependent Media) and Boy Crisis’ "L'Homme" (B-Unique), as well as his production on Kid Sister’s Dream Date (Fool's Gold/Downtown), are expected in the coming months.