Hailing from Ypsilanti, Michigan, 14KT started his music career in the mid-90s with the Athletic Mic League crew. He spent his nights after school and basketball practice making pause tape beats and recording verses through a busted pair of headphones after the rest of his family went to sleep. His love of production only grew when Mayer Hawthorne introduced him and the rest of the Athletic Mic League to Cool Edit Pro in 1996. Though the software was not designed to make beats, he didn’t let that stop him. KT honed the sample-chopping skills he is known for today through hours of chopping drums and samples on instinct instead of with a metronome.
Though 14KT graduated to Maschine a few years ago and has worked with industry heavyweights like Aloe Blacc, Black Milk, Bun B, and Danny Brown, he insists his years of practice on Cool Edit Pro and Adobe Audition helped make him the producer he is today. To show fans his evolution, he is releasing his vast back catalogue, starting with his early pause tapes. When I read about his decision to give listeners an intimate look at his growth as an artist, it seemed like a perfect excuse to ask about an interview I’ve wanted to do with him for years.
For anyone out there feeling stuck by their lack of impressive gear, I hope his story inspires you to create.
“Innovation is a short way of saying breaking the rules. All innovators break rules because you’re creating something that people don’t see yet.”
Gino: So I’ve been researching the origins of your Cool Edit Pro use. If I’m not mistaken, Mayer Hawthorne introduced you and the rest of the Athletic Mic League to it in 96.
14KT: DJ Haircut (Mayer) bought it to the crew and four of us started using it. We had a crack of the program, so we were all new to it at the same time. Nobody showed anyone else how to use it. We would just go back to our own labs and come back with beats. The fun part was trying to figure out how the other guy did what he did, because we all had different styles.
“The fun part was trying to figure out how the other guy did what he did, because we all had different styles.”
Gino: A lot of people praise your production for the unique and precise sample chops. Were your early beats just simple drum loops with looped samples? Or were you chopping things up right away?
14KT: When I first started making beats on Cool Edit, I was trying to figure out how to chop better. I already had an ear for chopping when I was making pause tapes. It actually got easier when I started using computers, because I could get my ideas out faster.
“When I started using Cool Edit Pro, it was easy because I could just record into the computer and see the wave on the screen so I knew exactly where to chop.”
Gino: Do you mind breaking down how you were able to chop with pause tapes?
14KT: I would “chop” by putting the cassette player’s record button on pause and then un-pausing it when I wanted to record a snippet of music. You repeat this process over and over until you create a loop of any drum break, sample, etc. So you play the break, pause it, rewind the tape, play the break again, pause it, and keep repeating the process.
Gino: I love it. I used to do that shit when I was younger too. I like that the pause tape process helped inform what you were doing on Cool Edit Pro.
14KT: Yeah, when I started using Cool Edit Pro, it was easy because I could just record into the computer and see the wave on the screen, so I knew exactly where to chop.
“I already had an ear for chopping when I was making pause tapes. It actually got easier when I started using computers, because I could get my ideas out faster.”
Gino: I’m curious about how you did drums in Cool Edit Pro. Would you just sample a drum loop or would you piece together different drum snippets?
14KT: At first it was just a sampled loop because I didn’t have an archive of drum samples. So I sampled breaks off of hip-hop records until I started digging more and finding the drums loops myself. Then I would put the sampled loops on a CD and load them into Cool Edit on one track. I could see the kicks, snares, and hi-hats on the screen. Then I would just nod my head and place the kicks, snares, and hi-hats wherever I would hear them. I didn’t even use a metronome or sequencer. I just nodded my head and chopped. (Laughs)
“I didn’t even use a metronome or sequencer. I just nodded my head and chopped.”
Gino: So you wouldn’t necessarily follow a grid?
14KT: Naw, I didn’t know what a grid was. I didn’t know what BPMs were.
Gino: It’s amazing that you were able to be so precise just going off of instinct.
14KT: It’s funny cause when AML started going to an actual studio to record the engineers would always ask, “What’s the BPM?” And they hated us because we never knew and they had to figure it out. (Laughs) And because it was off instinct, the beats usually didn’t loop precisely.
Gino: What year was that?
14KT: We started recording at a real studio around 1997. That was the same year I started using Cool Edit Pro too.
“Cool Edit Pro wasn’t really for beatmaking and production at all. It was more for video editing and being able to edit the music for video.”
Gino: On some of your more recent work you used Adobe Edition, which is an updated version of Cool Edit Pro. You did Nickel & Dimed on Adobe Auditon, right?
14KT: I did Nickel & Dimed on Adobe Audition. The only joint I did using Maschine was the bonus track with Roc Marciano. That was like the third beat I ever made on Maschine, when I first started using it.
Gino: Did you like Adobe Audition as much as Cool Edit Pro or did it get worse with updates? I know sometimes people are unhappy with later models of samplers and programs.
14KT: I used Adobe Audition 1.5. That was my favorite version. After 1.5, I didn’t like it.
Gino: What made it stand out to you?
14KT: The editing on there was perfect. It was ahead of its time. I use Logic Pro X to edit now and I picked up Logic Pro X quick because it was somewhat similar to the flow on Adobe Audition 1.5. Plus the mixdown time was fast on Adobe Audition. It took Pro Tools years to finally let someone mixdown a song without having to listen to the whole track at the same time.
“I could mostly hear the idea in my head first. So using Cool Edit was an exercise of memory and seeing how fast I could transcribe the thoughts in my head to the computer.”
Gino: It’s crazy to me that up until a few years ago you were doing all of your beats on a program that isn’t really made for beatmaking.
14KT: Cool Edit Pro wasn’t really for beatmaking and production at all. It was more for video editing and being able to edit the music for video.
Gino: I love it because that’s what rapping and making beats is all about. Lighting the rules on fire, making music, and doing what you feel.
14KT: Innovation is a short way of saying breaking the rules. All innovators break rules because you’re creating something that people don’t see yet. So they resist it until they believe.
Gino: Do you think the chopping skills you learned on Cool Edit Pro have translated well to Maschine?
14KT: Yeah, definitely. With Cool Edit Pro, I could mostly hear the idea in my head first. So using Cool Edit was an exercise of memory and seeing how fast I could transcribe the thoughts in my head to the computer, which would usually take a long time. But when I started using Maschine, I got my ideas out quicker.
“I would chop the beat in my head and start beatboxing it and humming the melody I heard chopped up.”
Gino: Just to really drill down on your process, I want to talk about hearing the beat in your head before making it. With a beat like “Single”, which is one of my favorite beats ever, you would hear the chop progressions in your head first, then you would just try to emulate it?
14KT: Yep. That’s crazy cause that beat came on in my car today. I would chop the beat in my head and start beatboxing it and humming the melody I heard chopped up. Many times I would record myself beatboxing the drum pattern into the computer, replace the beatbox with drums sounds, then do the same thing with the sample for the chop.
“Many times I would record myself beatboxing the drum pattern into the computer, then replace the beatbox with drums sounds, then do the same thing with the sample for the chop.”
Gino: Damn that’s crazy. Did you ever leave the beatbox in?
14KT: The beat “NNE Mode” off The Golden Hour album is a prime example. With that beat I left the beatbox in there and still put the drums on top. You can hear me singing the chopped sample part and then the sample comes in doing the same thing. I leave the beatbox in a lot of the backgrounds of my beats.
Gino: People get salty about software vs hardware sometimes, but it seems like a slow evolution from pause tapes to Cool Edit to Maschine made you a better producer.
14KT: I appreciate the era I came up in. I was able to see the evolution of beatmaking first hand from pause tapes to using computer software. I remember when cats used to give us a hard time for using computers to create. They would say that we weren’t hip-hop because we weren’t using a SP-1200 and a MPC2000. And now those same cats are trying to put me up on to the latest edition of Ableton. (Laughs) It’s just because they really couldn’t see the future in 1997. My crew definitely were visionaries and were always trying to think of what was gonna come next.