“Everything Starts Flowing Organically”: Samples, Synths, and Finding the Right Zone on The A3’s “The August Files”
Before scoring production credits for artists like Young Buck, Reks, and Black Rob, Inland Empire native The A3 grew up 30 miles east of LA studying the sounds of west coast legends Battlecat, Dr. Dre, and DJ Quik. To satisfy his growing curiosity about the production process, he started dabbling with his own beats in 2001 on FL Studio 3.4 and a cracked version of Cool Edit Pro. Unfortunately, his first efforts at beatmaking were rather lackluster. “The beats were garbage!” he admits rather candidly.
Despite his rocky first attempts at beatmaking, A3 stuck with the process and continued to hone his skills. Heavily influenced by The Neptunes during his early years, he tried to emulate their proficiency with keyboards to expand his skill set. “I was a big Neptunes fan at the time, and I learned to play keys through playing along to their productions,” he says. “Then I started digging deeper into hip hop and sampling once I made it to college. I would chop up the same little samples as many different ways that I could, which laid the groundwork for my sound today.”
Though he mostly uses Logic Pro X for his current production, a Roland sampler dominated his production process from 2009–2017. “For a solid 8 years, all I used was the Roland MV-8800, a turntable, vinyl, and no DAWs/production software,” he says.
“I was in a deep sample layering phase at that point in time. I was layering 3–5 different samples per beat at times.”
The A3 enjoys exploring the new capabilities provided by Logic Pro X, but there are certain qualities the MV-8800 has that are difficult to emulate with newer technology. “I feel like the MV has a nice warm texture as opposed to what software provides,” he says. “For the more visual producers, you can plug in a mouse and a VGA monitor and use it as if you’re sitting at a PC using software. I still have it and use it primarily for sampling.”
The MV-8800 also played an important role in a vital moment of The A3’s career, as his first official release was arranged, mixed, and produced entirely within the sampler. Titled The August Files, the album is “comprised of beats I made in August 2009 — hence the title.”
The August Files serves as an early testament to The A3’s versatility, as he channels everyone from Dilla to the aforementioned California legends who he grew up studying. This is not a mistake — blending a variety of sounds and influences together into a coherent listening experience is something he strives for with every single release. “Every time I make an instrumental project, I try to touch on different styles and vibes,” he says.
“I would chop up the same little samples as many different ways that I could, which laid the groundwork for my sound today.”
Although The A3 may have considered his earliest work “garbage”, his production process had become quite sophisticated by the time The August Files started to take form. No longer limited by basic beat constructions, A3 was proficient enough to weave together several different samples sources, a technique most evident on tracks like “Nite N Day”. “I was in a deep sample layering phase at that point in time,” he says. “I was layering 3–5 different samples per beat at times.”
Layering so many different sounds into a fluid composition without having anything clash is no easy feat, but the creation of “Nite N Day” happened rather quickly. “That whole beat was completed in one sitting in a few hours,” he says. “Once I had the main sample phrase going, everything else came together organically. I grabbed a Moog record, chopped and layered some synth pads, then played the synth lead.”
A fortuitous dollar bin discovery further inspired A3 to take the beat to another level when he stumbled upon an 80s hit that one of his favorite producers had put to use nearly a decade prior. “I found a 12 inch for 99 cents when I was digging out of town,” he explains. “One of my favorite Dilla beats is ‘Climax’ and I kept hearing he used pieces of it. I was studying that song to figure out what pieces of the track he took other than the little vocal sample ‘the rain is fallin’.’ Other than a few bass sounds, there was nothing else from that joint.”
“Once I get in the right zone, everything starts flowing organically and not forced.”
Energized by his careful of study of Dilla, A3 decided to interpolate the late producer’s work to see if it might unlock some more ideas for his own beat. “I had the other main sample from ‘Climax’ and I challenged myself to remake the beat for it just because,” he says. “After that, I just went ahead and started chopping up the 12 inch joint to see what I could come up with.”
Though he didn’t know it at the time, that beat would become a go-to instrumental whenever he entered a beat battle. “I first played that beat at one of the Kill That Noize beat battles that Noa James used to curate,” he says. “There was very tough competition at those battles, so you had to play heat! I remember after I played that joint Dibia$e was there and gave some positive feedback. That beat was the one I could pull out of the bag at any beat battle and get a good crowd reaction.”
Dilla’s influence is once again seen on “Mocha Brown”, where The A3 sought to create a “”90s Dilla, jazzy vibe” by using a beautiful guitar sample. “I usually start with samples as opposed to drums, it just depends on the vibe,” he explains. “I started off by chopping the guitar sample up. Then I already knew what drum pattern I wanted and I found the sounds and started programming.”
“I was a big Neptunes fan at the time, and I learned to play keys through playing along to their productions.”
As with “Nite N Day”, the creation on “Mocha Brown” was relatively easy once A3 got int he groove. “Once I get in the right zone, everything starts flowing organically and not forced,” he says. “And like I stated earlier, around this time I was layering like crazy. I snatched a little horn sample and programmed it. Then last I topped it off with the synth sample/loop.”
Rounded out nicely by the west coast-inspired “Tha Gruvsetta”, some shorter yet still impressive “Warm Up” beats, and the M.O.P. vocal sampling “Front Line”, The August Files holds up as a consistent and powerful listen from front to back. Looking back on the project almost a decade later, The A3 thinks the album helped him establish himself as a serious producer and build some important, lasting connections.
No matter where his career takes him next, he continues to feel gratitude for the album and the subsequent response. “I met some talented producers through this project, which I’m thankful for,” he says. “I would say this project set the foundation for my sound and style that people know from me today.”