After supporting Run The Jewels on their extensive North American tour, Nick Hook is the Brooklyn-based producer that continues to unite the New York music scene.
Nick Hook is the in-demand Brooklyn-based producer, who has been accredited for his work alongside Kilo Kish, Baauer, Hudson Mohawke, Run The Jewels, Young Thug, and more. His studio has become a pitstop for many emerging artists within the New York music scene and, considered to be, Hook’s actual home as he always goes above and beyond the working hours to deliver the finished product.
Last year, Nick Hook released his own studio album titled ‘Relationships’ through Fool’s Gold Record. The record saw collaborations with ILoveMakonnen, 21 Savage, Novelist, DJ Rashad, and many more, whilst documenting the key moments within the producers life over recent years.
After performing with Run The Jewels at Terminal 5, New York, Vaunter had the chance to sit down with Hook to discuss his creative process for the album, what he’s learned from the tour, and how he copes with the ever-rotating studio door. This is what he had to say:
Hey Nick, thanks for spending the time to talk. You have just finished night three at Terminal 5, NYC, how has it been performing in your city?
It’s great, El and I actually beat everyone back by about a week as we’re from here. It’s been a tour where we’ve not wanted it to end at all and then you get home and realize that 36 dates is a long period of time. It has been so special and I know when we look back on this, we’ll remember what it was like to go out on the road as a family.
Now, the great thing has been that we’ve had to really go out and make it special. After all, this is an RTJ show, and I’m sure seeing me solo would be something completely different. I feel that my job on this tour has been to hand the ball of energy to Gaslamp Killer and then he passes the mantle to El-P and Killer Mike [Run The Jewels]. The thing is we know that RTJ don’t need any ball of energy given to them, they create their own, but the reason I crowd-surf or get wild is to show you guys that you can get crunk before RTJ even hit the stage.
After the first week, I was playing more of a party-rock set and El-P pulled me aside and was like, “I didn’t bring you out here to party-rock. Play your own stuff m**********er”. Then, we had Zac [De la Rocha] with us in Washington, D.C., and he was explaining about how Rage Against The Machine had to open for Bad Brains, and how he had to for the crowd then.
Thankfully for me ending it in New York, I get to see all my friends and watch them come to cheer me on. Touring is like going to yoga every day man; I have this crazy six-pack now. I swear I started this tour with love handles. The challenge for me now is how I get more shows and put out more records.
El-P has been a big influence though. I’m four years younger than he is, and I suppose he sees a lot of himself in me which is great. He’s always pushing me to my limits, as he had to do the same in his career to get where he’s at. Now, for me, it’s about graduating and getting to stage two of my career like Gaslamp has – whether that’s releasing a new record or touring extensively.
Congratulations on the release of your debut record too. I read in an interview that it took you three attempts to complete it. Are you pleased with the outcome or, as a producer, do you always feel like you could have done more?
There is three finished versions. I’m happy with how this final version came out, I stand by every note that is in it. I did like the other two versions, but I had to realize that something’s I could not control.
If anything, what I learnt the most about this process was, I had to learn to trust not only the songs but also the universe. There was a point where I thought I wouldn’t actually love the album that came out, but I just let go of that. Thankfully, the universe gave back to me.
‘Gucci’s (featuring 24hrs)’ actually replaced the other ILoveMakonnen song. I had that demo for months, but it was one of those things where I kept playing the demo for friends and I learnt when to play the right things to the right people, as their eyes would roll up in excitement.
Then, by chance, I smoked hella Adderall and weed and the song ended up coming in ten minutes. Now, it’s one of the biggest tracks on the record. When I listen to ‘Relationships’ now, I only listen to this version. The same way that you never re-listen to your demo, if you have the finished product in front of you.
You announced over Instagram that you created this album after you had an acid trip in Paris and thought you had a story to share. What is the story?
That’s just my story. Two of my friends died on the same day, I fell in love with a girl and she got scared off; I can’t take any of those things back. If we were to talk about another album, I’d obviously have references to Run The Jewels and Gaslamp Killer as this is a new chapter to my story.
I think, for me, my music is always just a narrative of where I’m at. ‘Without You (EP)’ was a record showing about my frustrations of leaving a band as well as breaking up with my girlfriend of ten years. I sell my records for the same price and I tell people the exact same thing, you listen to the yellow one first [Relationships] then go back and listen to the other one after as you will see how I got to where I am now.
I learned one thing. If you never share, people will never know how you got there.
That’s the great thing about art. You can go to galleries and see Picasso at aged six, then you watch where he took a ton of absinthe and went into his sculpting and cut outs. People don’t do that with music. If you live mid-country, you’re most likely to be making country. If you live in zone six in Atlanta, it’s doubtful you’ll be making polka as you’ll be producing trap music. You are a product of your surroundings.
‘Relationships’ features a lot of collaborations, how did you approach the tracks creatively?
Every song is its own prescribed case. I don’t have a rhyme or a reasoning. If you want to know any particular one, I’m sure I can share that story…
Shall we discuss Novelist?
Of course. This is actually one of the most amazing ones. Phase one; I helped Baauer with his album. Phase two; he ends up working with Novelist. Phase three; the great thing about being an artist is I can be connected to other artists, as I’m pretty much an A&R guy as my studio is available 24/7.
Novelist and I were actually playing a show together in Poland, and I had a demo version of his track – which he had never even heard before. So I was like, “Yo Nov, it’s Nick Hook. I got your demo. Want to hear it?”
As you know, Novelist is Novelist. He and I share the same energy. So a few months pass down the line and J Cush, of Rinse FM, pings me asking whether Novelist and his crew could use the second studio to make some beats. By chance, I happen to be working. They popped over and we went up on the roof, and Novelist just looks over and he’s like, “What’s that?”. It was the Empire State building. He’s a young boy from Britain, who doesn’t ever expect to know what that building was. If anything, ignorance is bliss.
Then, as he’s 18, he stays up forever. Sadly, I’m not 18 but I do stay up forever. He came in at 6am as they were about to leave and he was like, “Play me some s***”. I did. It touched him and we ended up writing 90% of that track on the spot. It wasn’t planned. This is one version of sixteen unique song experiences.
[In walk Todd Weinstock (Glassjaw) and Erick Arc Elliot (Flatbush Zombies)]
Talking of mindset, you have mentioned in the past that you use your sober self to utilize which drug to take to help you creatively. Has there been any experiences in the studio that it had the complete opposite effect to you?
That’s my entire life [laughs]. Thankfully, I have good people around me. The thing is, even when recording an album, there gets to a point where you just question whether any of it is good at all. Talking crudely, if you’re sleeping with your girl the same way every day, do you even know where you’re at by the end?
Luckily, with music, that’s what a friend is for. They come in, listen to it, and give you the critical feedback that you need. I am friends with honest people and it keeps me grounded. The thing is that I now know the center of my clarity. There’s no alcohol, no drugs, etc. I’ve been sober more than I have not, so I know where my clear middle brain is.
Your album actually saw you reunite with Hudson Mohawke, The Rap Monument is probably my favorite collaboration in recent years, and how was it collaborating up again?
The record was the first thing he and I ever did together, that was back in 2010. I see things as if you’re in my home court, you play by my rules, and if you’re in their court [points to Erick as an example], then you play by his rules.
Every time that Hudson Mohawke and I have worked together, it has always been something different as we’re in different locations. We made ‘Jumanji’ in his spot and the track on my record, this was the first time that I’d ever used a piece of equipment called ‘The F***ifier’. I would have never had put that on the album, if it was not for me feeling like it was a good time.
For hip-hop itself, and particularly Brooklyn, you are an in-demand producer. With a scene that is often associated to the African-American youths, what do you feel it is about your approach that has helped you tackle that stereotype?
I’d say I’m sometimes in-demand [laughs]. Thankfully, I’m from St. Louis. I grew up in an area where 40% of my school were African-American children. My music has always just been my swing.
I don’t make German techno, as I wouldn’t know how to properly do it, but I have been listening to rap music since I was five years old. That’s why I’m proud of my record, the album is so true to me. I’ve sustained in the game, as people accept me and want me back in the studio. I’ve always tried to improve and adapt. If people didn’t f*** with me, then we probably wouldn’t even be talking.
I read that you were going to write a book titled, ‘Share Everything You Know’, talking about how you can use whatever equipment, and still produce great music. Do you think you will ever be able to finish that?
I will do that, but it’ll just be a different version. I swear if I have an actual look through my phone, I probably have photos of the true notes, but I do want to work on this. The frustrating thing is that I need to let go of that past, mapped out, version and start this one fresh. I can’t keep comparing it or I’m never going to be satisfied enough to do it.
I’m still super pissed about losing that book though. I think in my head, as I’m a kid from St. Louis, I didn’t ever expect to see myself where I am at. I think that’s also the main reason for the book. If I can get here through the right guidance, why shouldn’t I support other emerging producers with the opportunity of getting to where I am at as well? People should always try to push themselves and never settle.
Whilst part of my journey may be making sick records, I think the other part could be me helping people achieve the goals they have set. That’s what this album was all about. I wanted the entirety of the record to be mixed with different types of people, who all bring something unique to the table.
And for my sets, I don’t try to cater to everyone. I play music that I want to play because I want to remain true to myself. I would prefer to play to a smaller crowd, who wanted to be there and share this moment with me, than be playing huge capacity venues and everyone just looking at their phones.
Whether it’s this tour, this album, or whatever else, I’ve learnt that you have to stick to your message. I’ve seen El-P do that. I’ve seen him build and grow; I think Run The Jewels 3 is better than Run The Jewels 2, and so on and so on. That’s what Outkast also showed me. They grew and now Andre 3000 is practically Prince.
If you allow people to grow, they can flourish.
You can order ‘Relationships’ by Nick Hook, here.
For more information on Nick Hook and any forthcoming shows, visit his Facebook page.