The Kount — Toronto's Latest All-Star Beatmaker — Catches the Ear of Madlib, Noname and More

The producer wages a "war on wack drums" with his acclaimed sample packs
The Kount — Toronto's Latest All-Star Beatmaker — Catches the Ear of Madlib, Noname and More
Photo: Jack Harrison
Koal Harrison is not the first producer to hail Madlib as a ruler of rhythm and beats, nor will he be the last. But the Toronto-based musician, who records music as the Kount, can claim the distinction of catching his favourite living musician's ear with his all-original sounds, which have received the revered producer's stamp of approval.

Last November, Harrison checked his inbox to discover that the hip-hop icon born Otis Jackson Jr. had purchased a selection of custom drum sample packs from his online store. Though initially unsure if the name on the receipt was legitimate, Madlib himself weighed in weeks after on Twitter, with two flame emojis confirming that Harrison's beats bring the heat.

"My sister framed it for Christmas," Harrison tells Exclaim! of Madlib's fiery co-sign, before carefully taking an enlarged print of the post out from behind his drum kit, housed in a detailed gold frame. It will assuredly soon hang on his studio wall, should he trade hand drums for a hammer.

From Madlib's Beat Konducta release series, to the revered Madvillainy, to the eccentricities of Yesterdays New Quintet, Harrison cites the producer's combination of percussive force and feel as the driving force behind his fandom. "He just has the best pocket and his drum sounds are so raw," he expresses. "Some tracks are so overtly raw, just nasty sounding. Then he'll have another track with some of the polished, crisp drum sounds you'll ever hear. Just incredible range." The blessing of one of music's most celebrated beatmakers is a milestone accomplishment in what Harrison humorously calls "the war on wack drums," a battle the artist is helping musicians of all styles and skill levels wage in the name of creativity and community. The tools are his collections of self-produced sound and sample files, which have recently appeared on Noname's 2021 single "Rainforest," Luna Li's Jams EP, and Kid Cudi's 2020 LP, Man on the Moon III: The Chosen.

As a burgeoning beatsmith sharing music through SoundCloud, Harrison recalls entering the world of sample packs not unlike how many have found his work today: scouring the internet for sounds prominent producers swear by. "The Jake One, Illmind, Boi-1da kits were the first ones floating around that I would buy," he shares. "Once I got a pack, I would go through and curate it, picking sounds that were versatile enough to use in different styles."

However, Harrison felt the beats he was pulling from packs could be better served. While at work on a degree in electro-acoustics in Montreal, he sought to put his sound design skill to the test in developing his own drum samples.

"I was getting really into recording live percussion, miking my drums to have an organic quality to my stuff," Harrison explains. "You could get live drum packs, but they never slapped like the trap kits did. Then you have the trap kits, but you're not getting natural percussion, or more textural, unique drums."

Harrison's SoundCloud presence would eventually catch the attention of Splice, a popular music production marketplace through which he would make his debut with The Kount Sample Pack in 2019. The success of the 132-file collection, which features both drums and melodic instruments across 69 loops and 63 single-strike sounds (known as one-shots), led to him to launch an online store of his own.
Here, Harrison leaves little mystery to what producers can pick up, breaking down sound packs in detail and offering trial selections of samples for those interested in trying before buying. Packs can be purchased for between $10 and $50, with many others available at no cost. A free of charge, fourth instalment in his recent Kount's Care Package release series saw proceeds go to local women's organization Sistering.
The sounds up for sale are most prominently featured in Harrison's beloved beat videos, which offer a real-time look at how a Kount production comes together. The clips were how Noname came to find the beat that would inspire her to write this year's "Rainforest," picking the production Harrison had first shared in January of 2020.

"I usually don't just sit down in the studio and say, 'I'm gonna record a snare drum,' 'I'm gonna make a kick sound,'" he reveals of his kit-curating process. "I'll just start making the beat, recording the sounds in the studio, and when the sounds are hitting really hard, I'll pull the sounds out of that session and create a stockpile."
From there, the individual sounds undergo "rigorous testing" in Logic Pro, Harrison' DAW of choice, as he feels out how the sounds fit in new compositions. "I feel like I'm a perfectionist when it comes to groove and how things feel," he offers. "I'll sit for, like, 20 minutes playing a tambourine or a hi-hat, just to make sure a bar loop is sitting exactly where I want it to. I look at the bigger picture, 'how does the track feel?' 'Does the beat get me excited?' And usually, when I'm excited, I'm like, 'okay, it's done.'"

Months before Madlib came calling, the producer moved his workspace from his basement apartment into a close friend's garage in Toronto's west end. While the pandemic has ruled out an in-person visit, a webcam tour is enough to catch the Golden Hour sun shining into the warmly lit structure through a small front window.

Harrison rents the space — now properly finished with drywall, insulation and paint — with the vision of it becoming a collaborative hub post-COVID, not to mention a space to create away from those not always appreciative of his process. "I was driving an upstairs tenant mad with the noise," he admits. "I was never making beats at night, but during the day, it was kind of a constant rhythm of bass looping — which I understand could drive anyone mad. I had, like, four hours a day to work on music using monitors. I'm not much of a headphones guy."

Harrison's studio desk sports a pair of ADAM A7X monitors and a Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol keyboard, with which he triggers samples using Logic Pro. Instruments including a C&C Custom drum kit, Behringer Poly D, Roland Juno-106 and Sequential Prophet-6 synths, and an Akai reel-to-reel tape deck flank his workstation. Recording is handled with a Warm Audio WA-47 condenser microphone and a Focusrite Scarlett audio interface.

Underneath the desk lies a chest chock-full of auxiliary percussion, amassed from digging through Kijiji and antique shops. To his ears, these treasured finds "sound miles better than anything from Long & McQuade."
"Percussion is the toughest to buy if you're new to it and don't know where to look," Harrison says. "I love going to those odds and ends-type stores where things are strewn everywhere, where it feels like the whole place is going to collapse on top of you. There's always a really weird cowbell or something in there that sounds dusty and awesome."

When asked about his strangest sonic find, Harrison brings a homemade, staff-like instrument in front of the camera. Two sets of sleigh bells are attached to the top of the wooden post with L-brackets, and as the webcam comes into focus, a set of strings and tuning pegs are revealed. Harrison notes that an orange demon face affixed to the post, smiling away for decoration, has led studio visitors to deem it cursed.

In terms of an indispensable piece of gear, Harrison points to a pair of '60s-era Zildjian hi-hat cymbals plucked from Toronto's Century Drum Shop. "As long as I have live hi-hats, my life is so much easier," he shares. "I feel like when I work those in with programmed drums, I can approximate whatever kind of drum loop or pocket I want." Outside of the skins, it's his Fender Rhodes: "That sound is just timeless, and it fits in almost every beat that I make."

Among the ear and eye-catching instrumental stars of Harrison's recent videos are a guzheng, a Chinese plucked string instrument with moveable bridges, and a sitar that fellow Torontonian Sameer Cash brought back to Canada from a trip to India.
"It's exciting to get a new instrument and be super inspired with it," he says of the former. "If I can make, like, two or three beats with it, then it's worth the price." As for Cash's sitar, he jokes, "He hasn't asked for it back as long as I keep supplying him with the bangers. I should bust that out again. I need to tune it and it's a real pain in the ass."

As his sounds continue to circulate, Harrison is more than happy to help his supporters march to the beat of their own drum. Social media followers get to put their production skills to the test with the Kount Challenge, in which Harrison offers up a drum loop for use in a creation of their own. Of course, Luna Li's "Kount Challenge" from her Jams EP is the instrumental that captured the top prize in the inaugural edition.
"It's inspiring," Harrison says of sifting through entries. "I like seeing other people work, too. 'What you're doing looks like fun, so I'm going to go do that now.'"
"People can be pretty secretive with the plugins or gear. For me, I could tell you every single thing that I'm doing, and what you make is not going to sound like me. It's going to sound like what you're doing, and speak to what your influences are. I feel like all that technical stuff is meant to be shared."