Produced By: D. Sanders
Produced By is a series dedicated to sharing the stories of hip hop producers and to spark gratitude and inspiration for creators.
Desmond Sanders, professionally known as D. Sanders and who often goes by “Des” is a 25-year-old producer, engineer and DJ from Jackson, Tennessee who currently resides in Los Angeles.
As part of a rapidly growing community of creators raised on the Internet, he’s taken it step by step, one foot forward at a time even without knowing quite where things might land.
There’s a saying by motivational speaker Jim Rohn that you’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with. Those closest to you play a large role in your development as a person. For Des, he’s been able to build and grow with a close knit group of creators over the past few years.
Des is best known for his production behind Chattanooga-raised and LA-based rapper Isaiah Rashad’s music.
He has produced four tracks on Isaiah’s latest album The Sun’s Tirade released in September this year: “Stuck in the Mud” featuring SZA; “Wat’s Wrong” featuring Kendrick Lamar and co-produced by Al B Smoov; “Park” co-produced by Park Ave.; and “AA” co-produced by DZonYBeats.
Des produced “Heavenly Father” featuring SZA from Isaiah’s 2014 EP Cilvia Demo; his 2015 single “Smile”; and older songs from his unofficial mixtape Welcome to the Game, like “Hii (Fuck Love),” “Weak Shit” and more that you can still revisit here.
Beginnings of creativity
Des was born and raised in Jackson, TN to a Korean mother and an African-American father. They met when his father was stationed in Korea while in the Air Force. His father passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack when Des was 16. He was a huge influence on Des growing up, especially with music. As a music head himself, his father had all the gear and speakers to ensure music playing throughout the house always sounded great.
His mother has since moved to Nashville where she runs a Japanese-Korean restaurant. His Korean heritage played a key role in his upbringing. Des whose Korean name is 손대현 (pronounced Son Dae Hyun) visited Korea for the first time when he was seven and again at 12. At age 12 though, he ventured out to Korea alone to attend a summer school during the summer before 7th grade.
“I was the only black guy for miles. I got tricked into it. My mom said that we were going to Korea, and I thought it was like with everyone when I was seven. About a week before, she told me it was just me so I had to go through all that by myself,” he says.
Having a multiracial identity and straddling two different cultures and identities through experiences like these at an early age helped expand his cultural horizons. Fast-forward to the present: Des is currently in conversations with a music label based in Korea interested in having him bring his talent to cultivate more hip hop in the motherland.
Des was always surrounded by music as a child. His father would have jazz music and oldies like Stevie Wonder, Frankie Beverly and Maze, and Marvin Gaye spinning in their home. Des also learned to read music and play piano as a child and picked up clarinet and violin in middle school.
“My main thing was that when I got grounded, they took away my TV, but they didn’t take away my boombox,” he says.
Spending a lot of time in his room, he’d consume as much music as possible and the doors of creativity began to open. He would redraw and repaint album art covers of the music he would be listening to. Eventually he began drawing fake album covers for his band called Three in One. “It was three of us in the band, but we can come together as one band. This was during the time when I was into NSYNC,” he laughs.
While music was a constant presence in Des’s life growing up, it wasn’t always at the center. Throughout high school, he focused on competitive sports, particularly soccer. He played midfield and competed at state level twice. Once senior year rolled around, he was offered multiple scholarships to go onto play at colleges in New York, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. He turned them down though because he didn’t want to live far from home.
Instead, he enrolled at Lipscomb University in Nashville as a pre-med major but realized his heart wasn’t fully in it when halfway through the school year, he realized he didn’t like hospitals.
He switched over to Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) in Murfreesboro where his passion for music and creating would begin to unfold.
While he wasn’t accepted into MTSU’s engineering program in the music school due to low grades and skipping class to make beats, academia didn’t deter him from learning on his own.
To define a sound or not?
Des counts Pharrell, Timbaland and heavy hitting Southern-based producers and rappers like Bangladesh, Drumma Boy, Gucci Mane, Lil Wayne and Zaytoven as his primary musical influences. He’s also a big fan of music outside of hip hop, like John Mayer, Kings of Leon and Paramore–they’re local Tennessee heroes for Des since they’re from Franklin, a 2-hour drive from Jackson.
The variety of musical influences across genres explains why Des doesn’t want to be known for creating a certain kind of sound:
“Honestly, I don’t try to have a sound. I want to be super versatile. I never go to a studio thinking I want to make a Future beat or a Drake beat. Whatever idea comes in my head, one day it’ll be R&B, or boom bap hip hop sound, or a lot of times late night at night, it ends up being trap beats. Whatever comes in my head, I try to get out because you never know what anyone’s looking for.”
The Internet has lowered the barriers to entry for creators wanting to create and share their sounds. The pool of creators simultaneously expands, and instant gratification is at an all-time high.
Sometimes people choose to stand out by associating their sound with other prominent artists.
Search on YouTube or SoundCloud and the amount of “Future-type,” “Drake-type,” “Isaiah Rashad-type,” really any “X artist-type” tagged beats that results are in the millions. Learning to recreate a beat seems easy too. Searching “‘How to create Drake type of beat’” on Google returns thousands of results. One of the top results is a forum post explaining how to make a “Drake beat” in less than 10 minutes on FL Studio.
Tagging a track as an “X artist-type“ of beat is a way to describe one’s own production by comparing it to a familiar, existing sound based on a known artist.
Undoubtedly familiarity is a comforting feeling and may bubble up more potential opportunities. An aspiring rapper may jump on a “Future-type” of beat in hopes that it will churn out a hit that resonates with Future fans. A producer might feel that by titling their beats with a recognizable artist’s name, their production will be discovered more easily.
Des says it’s important for him to not pigeonhole himself to a certain sound because he doesn’t want to limit his creative freedom and potential success down the road.
No matter the motivation, it’s important to understand and define who you are and what you’re about that will bring you long-term success. Inspiration is everywhere, but at the end of the day, don’t forget to create for yourself first and embrace the creative process with curiosity and patience.
The catalyst for making beats
Like any creator, Des can trace back to the moment when he first found motivation to start making beats. During the winter of 2011, he and his childhood friend Cliff were on the road from Jackson to Murfreesboro. Cliff handed Des his laptop to run through and play beats from while Cliff freestyle rapped for 45 minutes straight. At that moment, Des realized he could take a crack at making beats based on his experience learning instruments and his passion for music.
Things began naturally unfolding once he started making beats on a regular basis. One day, Des was over at Cliff’s house which was a regular stop for local artists to record music at. Chattanooga rapper Tut had come to record in tow with rappers Michael da Vinci and Isaiah Rashad. It was the first day they had all met.
“I played beats for Zay and he was coming up with hooks super quick, and it was like ‘Wow, this dude is something’ and from there, we’ve been working on stuff randomly,” he recalls.
Building community: TheHouse🏡
From that friendship, Des met more members of TheHouse, a collective of rappers, producers and friends, which originated with Isaiah, Michael da Vinci and Tut in Chattanooga. It has since expanded as they each met other creators along their individual journeys, like Des, Ktoven aka Tiggi, Park Ave., Brian Brown, Philaracci, Shoey, Chris Paul and more. The house emoji 🏡 emblazoned on some of their profiles online is a symbol of their belonging to the group. Chris Calor, ThankGod4Cody, Free P and The Antydote have also worked with Des and Isaiah early on.
They all connected as creative individuals and collaborated often especially those who started off at MTSU together.
“We all knew each other because we were doing music. To be real, as for quality, not to rag on anyone, all the good people who were pretty good at rapping and producing, we knew and could call each other up so that worked out pretty well,” Des says.
TheHouse embodies the importance of friendship and community in music. They have their own individual sounds, styles and careers, but they also come together to forge a community and make their mark in Chattanooga and represent for Tennessee hip hop at large.
Persevering through turning points: From Cilvia Demo to The Sun’s Tirade
Isaiah’s career was beginning to take off in 2012. He was invited to join the Smoker’s Club tour that year, and he asked Des to join him on the road.
“We’ve been tight ever since,” says Des.
In March 2013, Isaiah signed to independent hip hop label Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE). His EP Cilvia Demo was released on January 28, 2014. It was met with universal praise for its raw lyrics and production and was featured on several hip hop year-end album lists of 2014.
Des recalls how stunned he was when he first found out that the track he produced, “Heavenly Father,” had made it onto the EP.
“I remember I was working at a gas station the day they dropped the track list, I was like ‘Oh, this is for real,’” he says.
Des moved out to LA in August 2014 to help work on Isaiah’s next project which would become The Sun’s Tirade.
“When we got here, we were just straight up working on stuff. We were thinking the project was going to be coming out soon. We thought we were close to being done with it. That’s when all the stuff with Zay was happening,” he says.
Isaiah’s personal and professional struggles of addiction and almost getting dropped from TDE took a toll that left him in a hiatus for two years before he pushed forward and things started looking up in 2016.
“We got kicked out of one crib, almost got sent home, and then we finally got back straight,” Des says.
Once Dave Free, President of TDE, set the release date for what would become The Sun’s Tirade, what followed were days and nights of nonstop work.
“We were really dropping in a month and zoning in and getting everything done,” Des says.
The Sun’s Tirade was released on September 2, 2016 which Des says felt like “a huge weight off the chest” because of all the work that went into it.
The album spans two to three years of work. It also spans years of friendship and the completion of the project signifies the perseverance and tight bonds they built since starting out together in Tennessee.
“It was all a process. We’re all learning. Everyone grew from it and we came out with a tight project.”
Some of Des’s favorite tracks to work on were “Rope // rosegold” and “Wat’s Wrong” due to the transformative process of “Rope // rosegold” and the collaborative process and surprise of Kendrick Lamar jumping on “Wat’s Wrong.” Listen below.
The Sun’s Tirade thus represents a milestone for all those involved and embodies how far Des, Isaiah and fellow producers and artists on the project have come together through thick and thin.
The praise it’s received from fans and critics also serves as a reminder for Des that he has every right to continue progressing in LA.
He’s currently focused on continuing to cook up more beats and improve his production and hone in on his engineering skills all the while remaining closely knit to the people who he grew and created with.
Learn more about his career, musical influences and memories of working on The Sun’s Tirade in this interview clip compilation.