From VHS Beat Tapes to Dr. Dre’s “Compton”: The Story of D.R.U.G.S. Beats
Apex, North Carolina producer D.R.U.G.S. (Dope. Real. Underground. Sound.) Beats has many fond memories from his years of DJing and producing, but the ones spent building a shared love of vinyl with his mother stand out. “My mom, she bought me all my early records,” he tells me. “She bought my first record, LL Cool J’s ‘I Need A Beat’. That came out in ’85 when I was five.”
Growing up in Atlanta, the mother/son duo’s love for music went far beyond the records they listened to at home — attending live shows together also became a cherished ritual of theirs. “She would take me to all the concerts,” D.R.U.G.S. remembers. “My mother was young, so she was into the hip-hop scene. She’s definitely a center piece to this whole puzzle right here.”
With his love for hip-hop well established by his teenage years thanks to his mother’s tutelage, aspirations of being a creator of music as well as a consumer began after D.R.U.G.S. heard Pete Rock’s production on Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s “In The Flesh”. Listening to Pete’s SP-1200 wizardry was like hearing musical poetry for the young hip-hop connoisseur. “It was like a sound that I never heard before. I had headphones on and I was very young. I think I was stoned or some shit,” he says. “The first time me hearing that hook, man, it was like the first time I ever heard music.”
Couple that watershed moment with hearing Group Home’s Livin’ Proof album and D.R.U.G.S’ future career in music was on its way. “That did it for me. That’s when I really wanted to start dibbling and dabbling,” he says.
“I made a beat tape on VCR tape when I moved up to North Carolina. All I had was a MPC and a keyboard. Nothin’ to record my ideas on.”
With his interest now sparked, D.R.U.G.S. faced a major problem — the price of an MPC was enough to put an aspiring producer in debt for the rest of their life. “Around that time MPCs was like two grand, three grand. I couldn’t afford no damn MPC at that time,” he says.
Not content to sit on the sidelines until an MPC became a financial reality, D.R.U.G.S’ mother helped kick-start his production. “My mother bought me two Technic 12s and a Scratch Master mixer with an 8-second sampler on it,” he says. “So I had a tape deck and the little sampler and I would loop up breakbeats and stuff like that. Kind of like pause-tapes.”
Though the drive to produce was there, D.R.U.G.S. grew weary of making pause-tape style beats and didn’t click with the ASR-10 keyboard sampler his friends were using at the time. “I had kind of kicked the whole beatmaking thing, I just wanted to DJ,” he says.
That all changed when a friend came across an MPC 2000 and eventually gave it to D.R.U.G.S. between 2004 and 2005. “It kind of came natural once I got my hands on the MPC. I just fell in love with it,” he says.
By the time he started using an MPC, D.R.U.G.S. already had years of experience playing records as a DJ and studying vinyl with his musical mentor. “My mom kind of taught me the art of vinyl — digging through certain genres, color patters of records,” he says. “Like ‘This is where the drums might be’ or ‘The drums might drop out at this certain part of the record if the color is lighter or darker.’”
“The first time me hearing that hook, man, it was like the first time I ever heard music.”
After a few years honing his craft and adding keyboard to his repertoire, D.R.U.G.S. started entering beat battles to gain exposure and experience. “I started with the beat battlin’ down in Atlanta at this club called The Apache. I’d say a year, two years straight, really just whopping ass in beat battles,” he says. “This caught the attention of Def Jam — Luda and all them dudes — and it just kind of took off from there.”
Since his early beat battles in 2008 and 2009, D.R.U.G.S. has crafted tracks for 50 Cent (I Just Wanna), Ludacris (Can You Buy That), and Royce Da 5'9". Another creative milestone and Grammy nomination happened when Dr. Dre heard his The Gift: Volume Ten album and used one of his beats for the Compton song “Darkside/Gone”.
Add to that front-to-back production duties on Fatt Father’s Veteran’s Day and Illpo’s Worst Case Scenario, two full-length instrumental albums on House Shoes’ Street Corner Music (including The Gift: Volume Ten), and two new instrumental projects near completion, and D.R.U.G.S. is busier than ever. While he is appreciative of the album placements with people like Dre and Luda, he’s equally appreciative to be on a label like Street Corner where he can build his own body of instrumental work. “What Shoes is doing is just a beautiful thing,” he tells me.
“There’s some kid out in Idaho or Iowa who’s really bumping your beat tape hard and it’s getting them trough some troubles.”
D.R.U.G.S. is keeping a hidden gem in the stash for possible future release while he grows his instrumental catalog. “I made a beat tape on VCR tape when I moved up to North Carolina. All I had was a MPC and a keyboard. Nothin’ to record my ideas on,” he says. “So I just hooked up the RCA jacks and outputs from a mixer to the input auxiliary of a VCR. I got a VCR tape with damn near 50 beats on it and this is some of my best work.” Friends keep encouraging him to put it out, but only time will tell if the project ever makes the transition form VHS to official release.
Whether his next release is another instrumental project or an album placement with a major label rapper, D.R.U.G.S’ goal to touch others with his music remains the same. “Hey bro, you never know who’s listening,” he says. “There’s some kid out in Idaho or Iowa who’s really bumping your beat tape hard and it’s getting them trough some troubles. Hopefully we inspire many.”