The sound of an Adé Hakim beat is unlike anything else.
His ear for chops, flips, and sample manipulation has led him to create iconic beats for the likes of Earl Sweatshirt, [sLUms], Medhane, MIKE, and of course, himself. Having grown up in New York City’s kaleidoscopic new underground, Adé has been quietly pioneering a new approach to hip hop that at times sounds more like IDM than boom bap. Sometimes, his beats barely even sound like beats – the rhythms can be hard to track down, the downbeat seemingly never comes, and the vocals are incomprehensible. But then, the sounds wash over you, commanding your full attention as the subtleties of his production reveal themselves. His production on songs like “Planet” and “Nowhere2go” is frankly stunning, showcasing his ability to transform samples into entirely new sonic tapestries.
Adé’s solo work is also spectacular, with his latest album HAPPIEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WIDE WEB revealing an artist dedicated to empowering others and spreading happiness by any means necessary – tracks like “Indigenous’ Anthem” and “You Got the Power (Antidote)” will have you bobbing your head from the second the beat kicks in. The album is a beautiful collage of a flourishing NYC rap scene, capturing the excitement of the city and the vibrancy of its inhabitants. His passion for the city extends out into the real world as well; Adé has been organizing free subway shows featuring many of the same collaborators since February, making space for creatives who exist outside of the formal structure of venues while also bringing music to the people directly.
Over a plate of rice and beans, we sat down with Adé himself to discuss his approach to production, his latest record, and his advice for upcoming producers. You’ll also find various stems from Adé’s projects scattered throughout, so you can get a closer listen to his sampling process.
How did you get into music production?
I was around 14 or 15, writing a bunch to MF Doom beats and all these ‘type beats’ on YouTube, but then I started getting tired of it. I didn’t understand the concept of people selling beats or leasing beats. It just didn’t make sense. So, I just decided to start making my own.
I didn’t find ‘the style’ until after [sLUms]. It helped me branch out – working with different people really made me find who I was as a producer.
What is [sLUms], for the people who don’t know?
[sLUms] is a collective of six people (MIKE, Jodi10k, King Carter, Adé Hakim, Darryl Johnson, and Mason). Two of us are from the Bronx, two are from Manhattan, and two are in Brooklyn, and we worked in Queens. [sLUms] is a real New York experience of five black men and one white dude, just coming together to be heard, to sing our way out of oppression.
So you mentioned you really started to hone in on your sound when you started working with [sLUms]. Do you have a specific moment when you made a song that you were just really proud of?
Yeah, and it was actually way before [sLUms]. I was showing my brother my first beat tape, and there was this Patti LaBelle sample. There were these chops that I was playing for him, and his passion for listening to that beat was there. That was the first time someone was hyped for something I created like that, and it just felt so good. He told me he could see what I’m working towards, the quote-unquote ‘vision,’ and that motivated me to keep going. None of my friends at the time understood my music, but that Patti LaBelle sample really spoke to my brother.
Within your approach to sampling, are there things that you naturally gravitate towards or things that really excite you?
Soul – I just try to find soul. I can feel the soul speaking to me when I listen to it. In these old-school songs and records, even just the chords can sound really beautiful. I like to find really beautiful melodies, smooth basslines, and nice rolls. I really like placing a faint voice in the background; that’s always dope because a voice that’s too overpowering can be hard to rap over from a rapper’s perspective. So, I like having humming or words that you can’t really pick up that can be added as an instrument.
You manage to transform these beautiful sounds into something that’s totally different, while still preserving the original’s soul. What’s your process for doing that?
I warp sounds a lot. That’s something Ableton’s really good for: stretching out a sample, changing the pitch, etc. I do anything I can to create new drum patterns. For me, looping a song or chopping up a sample is very easy. But, adding your own drum pattern over it is what really makes it yours. If you’re just looping, you’re just bigging up the person who made the song. Chopping is a little bit different. Chops make it unique, and the drums really solidify it as yours.
I’m just trying to stay out of my comfort zone in terms of chopping and doing something different. I feel like people are already catching on to what I’m doing, because honestly, I was just inspired by other people who sound like they use Ableton. They stretch out samples and manipulate drum patterns – it’s not really my style to claim.
You mention people catching on to your style. Is that something that you think about actively?
I’m aware but I’m not afraid, because the style that I made more recognizable isn’t mine to claim, since I’m still sampling someone else. I still learn from listening to other producers; I just found my own way of doing it.
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Where did the concept behind HAPPIEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WIDE WEB come from?
I put a lot of truth from my own life into my projects. Some people just listen for the beats, but there were a lot of hardships that I went through making the music. HAPPIEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WIDE WEB was basically me coming back to focusing on being happy, now that I’m on to better things.
I know people from all over just through the internet, and people from all over know me. We all have this collective conscious that’s going through our devices, and we can use it for something better. It’s more than just aesthetic; it’s a real movement of trying to promote love and happiness, and knowing that even though the world isn’t perfect, we have the ability to change things ourselves.
A lot of people had the decision to go left or right at some point in their lives. Some people feel like they don’t have that decision, and I can’t take that away from them. But, I knew that I had that decision to go right or left, with right representing happiness and left representing being stuck in the past – and I was going to go right. I just wanted to acknowledge that and use the internet as a tool to create happiness.
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You have lots of different people featured on the album – how did you approach the collaborative process?
I just wanted to work with people who made me feel good listening to their music, those who needed more exposure in my eyes, and those where I just heard the beat and heard them on it. And sometimes, things would be spontaneous, like on “CREATIVE CONTROL” – I didn’t know anybody on that! That’s the most mind-blowing thing. I was making a beat at this place where Wiki used to record. Isaiah from Onyx Collective was there, and he came through with a sax. Sporting Life suggested he play on it. Zola Aminah, an amazing singer, came to sing the hook, and it just happened.
I was being really receptive to all these different talents on one track, and I feel like that was more of a collaboration between me and Sporting Life. Even though he didn’t really touch that beat, he was orchestrating and conducting.
I’d love to know the story of how “Nowhere2Go” came together and how you got that to Earl Sweatshirt.
Thebe and I had met one time outside Supreme, were Mike and I just said we liked his music and kept it rolling. We later met him formally at the XL Recordings studio. Building that relationship since then, I was sending him beats through email, and got his attention with a few tracks.
When Darryl and I were making the beat for “Nowhere2Go,” it sounded really good to me. The sample was amazing. Darryl was just like, “Let me see what I can do.” He’s really humble – he’ll just go, “I can try,” and then just go and do it. I sent it to Thebe as a beat, and also wrote a little verse over it. He sent me “Nowhere2Go” back. I was like “Let’s go. That’s Earl on the beat.” At the time, I was so excited about that.
But a lot came out of that. If it weren’t for Thebe, GQ, and Sony, I wouldn’t be as confident in selling beats on my own, because although those were only two beats in one year, after that, I started living off of it. I quit my job because I could live off of it. Barely, but I did. It was a blessing in itself.
What advice would you give to someone who’s also on the verge of getting their first major placement?
Don’t rely on the placement to keep yourself financially sustained. It’s going to give you a lot of attention that you didn’t really ask for. Keep being independent. Be your own artist. Don’t let a cosign or placement define who you – stay true to who you know you are as an artist.
Hear more tips and insights from leading music creators:
April 21, 2020