Published Jul 17, 2015Adrian Younge is no mere rap producer — he's a hip-hop auteur. Aside from penning, performing and mixing cinematic instrumentals for some of the genre's most acclaimed recent releases, he also wrote the script for a legendary MC — literally.
"I wrote complete scripts for each song," the L.A.-based producer reveals about his work on his just-released Ghostface Killah collab Twelve Reasons to Die II. "I wanted them to make a narrative."
Longtime fans of the Wu-Tang Clan alum might argue that he needs no writing tips, but results speak for themselves — imagery-rife rhymes that viscerally capture horror-flick worthy gore abound on both 2013's Twelve Reasons to Die and its sequel. "I wanted each song to propel characters, as if it were a film. I gave that to Ghost as a guideline to go by, and he did."
That visionary approach shouldn't come as a surprise to Younge's fans. After all, his breakthrough came from his all-analogue, soulfully original instrumentals in the 2009 blaxploitation send-up Black Dynamite, which Younge scored. Before long Jay Z, Souls of Mischief and Bilal were applying the breadth of Younge's widescreen sound to their albums.
Younge's own narrative came full circle while working with Ghostface and Wu-Tang mastermind RZA on Twelve Reasons to Die II. "They, individually and together, influenced that cinematic quality of my music," Younge says. "They're both masters of that. And now Ghost steers me in new ways, musically. His flow really meshes with dark psychedelic soul. So I pulled those kinds of compositions out of my head to make him sound even better."
Younge created an equally cinematic aesthetic with Bilal on the just-released In Another Life, which finds the Grammy-winning R&B artist crooning character-driven numbers over organically soulful arrangements.
"Bilal is so creative as a singer that I can give him a lot more chords to fall into. We push each other's musical boundaries," Younge says. Kendrick Lamar gave Younge another fresh perspective on his own work when he appeared on In Another Life track "Money over Love." "I've always been a big fan of Kendrick's, but it's different when you hear him on your own production. He really smashed it hard, and just left me thinking: 'Oh, shit…'"
Earlier this spring, Younge released Linear Labs: Los Angeles, a compilation of some of his best songs so far. "I wanted to make sure people understood my catalogue. Hearing the similarities and differences of various projects on this compilation helps to further define what my plan is."
That plan is simple: defy today's generic digitization in favour of gritty analogue recording. Younge will next employ that retro aesthetic to former A Tribe Called Quest MC Ali Shaheed Muhammad's new solo LP, due this fall. The album will retain Tribe's soulful, jazzy tone but not with samples, instead using Younge's original compositions.
"There's a lot that he does that people don't realize he's done, producing for Raphael Saadiq and D'Angelo… He's underrated."
Younge is certain to avoid such marginalization, thanks to his newfound mentors. "People like RZA and DJ Premier are really on the balcony to scope my musical theories. They also help me focus on making sure I make money, making sure I get the notoriety I should, just regular stuff that friends do when you're in the business. And to call them friends is amazing."
Twelve Reasons to Die II is out now via Linear Labs.