“Work with What You Got, That’s All” — An In-Depth Conversation with Tuamie
The Mutant Academy producer breaks down his origin story, his ‘Water Loops’ debut, “Grandma’s Spot”, and much more.
Mutant Academy producer Tuamie knew he wanted to do something creative with his life from a young age. Unfortunately, his first foray into art was kind of a bust. “I was drawing and then it just turned out I wasn’t good at drawing,” he says. “I bought books and things like that on how to draw, but it just wasn’t working out.”
Tuamie’s focus shifted to music in 2007 when he caught a YouTube video of 9th Wonder making beats with Fruity Loops. Only 13 at the time, watching the now famous producer and Jamla records owner make professional-level instrumentals on a computer sparked an interest in trying his own hand at production. Before long Tuamie acquired FL Studio 7 and was off to the races. “Somehow making beats was easy to me,” he says. “I told myself that if I wanted to be good at it, I’d have to study, research, and listen — which lead to finding out samples and then trying to re-make beats.”
Drawing frequent inspiration from producers like DJ Premier and Pete Rock, each successive beat taught an important lesson. “It was like every time I’d make a beat I’d learn something new,” Tuamie says. “And then it would be easier for me to make the next beat after I learned something. That helped me continue on.”
“I ran everything through a Casio SK-1 to get it to sound how it sounded.”
These early days of endless practice and careful study marked the beginning an intense musical regiment that would carry Tuamie through the remainder of high school. As he explained in an excellent video interview and tutorial with Very Sick Beats, “From 13–17, all that was no sleep — straight YouTube, research, studying, looking for samples. Learning techniques, reading any interview I could on Pete Rock or whatever producer, watching every documentary and video of them in the studio, of them working.”
The constant repetition, study, and practice gave Tuamie the confidence to post some of his work on SoundCloud. By the time his senior year of high school rolled around in the fall of 2011, he was evolving from individual SoundCloud tracks to working on his Water Loops EP. “During the time of making that, it was like me stepping outside of the SoundCloud platform — like ‘Oh, OK there’s other places I can go without SoundCloud,’” he says.
When he started recording Water Loops, Tuamie remembers reading about the unique qualities of the E-mu SP-1200 and feeling inspired to match the legendary lo-fidelity grit other producers had achieved with it. Since he didn’t own an SP-1200 and the price tag for a used one was rather high, he improvised with a more modestly-priced vintage sampler. “I ran everything through a Casio SK-1 to get it to sound how it sounded,” he explains.
“I told myself that if I wanted to be good at it, I’d have to study, research, and listen — which lead to finding out samples and then trying to re-make beats.”
When asked to break down how he used the primitive sampler that legends like Easy Mo Bee employed for their early beats, Tuamie references “High Eyes” — a cut from Water Loops and one of his best-known productions to date. “As far as the sample, I don’t remember,” he says. “I had a SK-1 on the desk and then I threw that up and re-sampled it in FL Studio.”
As Tuamie continued recording Water Loops, his senior year drew to a close. With questions about his future looming as graduation day in June of 2012 approached, he also faced the daunting task of relocating from Fredericksburg, Virginia to Atlanta. Still on the fence about whether or not to pursue music as his full-time job, Tuamie decided to give his first official project an extended listen to help him decide what path to take. “The day I graduated I drove back down here and played Water Loops,” he says. “I had burned it to CD before I put it up online. I played it in the car — that’s when I made my mind up.”
For Tuamie, the confidence he felt while crafting Water Loops and the pride that came with heating the end result of a sustained creative undertaking were both key factors in going after a production career. “During that process of creating I felt good, so I put the CD in, and when it was done I was like, ‘Yo, I made this. I have the ability to make a whole CD, so I can do this again. And if I do go about it the right way I can probably make money from it and get my own apartment,’” he says with a laugh. “I think I was just proud of myself that I completed something — I started something and I completed it.”
“The day I graduated I drove back down here and played ‘Water Loops’. I had burned it to CD before I put it up online. I played it in the car — that’s when I made my mind up.”
The surge of positive feedback Water Loops received when he first uploaded it to Bandcamp provided an additional boost of encouragement. Instead of people simply purchasing it and moving on, the majority of people who bought it took a time to leave him positive feedback. “Each payment had messages in it,” Tuamie says. “It was like SoundCloud comments but a lot more.”
Six years later, Tuamie wants aspiring producers to be inspired by his success, but he also encourages them to exercise patience and understand how much effort it took from him to make his breakthrough project. “It starts from 13–18 years old, practice every day to get Water Loops and then growing from there,” he says. “You gotta take that into consideration.”
The release of Water Loops the same year Tuamie became a legal adult proved to be a watershed moment in his career. Since then there have been several others, including the making of “Grandma’s Spot” — a breakthrough 2017 song from Mutant Academy MCs Fly Anakin and Koncept Jack$on. “‘Grandma’s Spot’ is a major step in this story,” Tuamie told tyrondeharlem in a February 2018 Casa de Lowrey interview. “It’s an important song for my career. I made that beat on my phone.”
“The people you play the music for don’t really care what you use. Because your favorite producer’s using it doesn’t mean you have to. Work with what you got, that’s all.”
Using the iPhone Beatmaker 2 app as his production suite back in 2016, Tuamie remembers listening to G-Unit’s Beg For Mercy debut for two weeks straight for inspiration. Interestingly, he first piloted “Grandma’s Spot” on the self-released If You Ever Need To Cry. remix project as the song “Micro Wave” before sending it off to Anakin and Jack$on. “That beat, I made a G-Unit remix first and then I sent it to them. I was like, ‘I hope they use this,’” he says with a laugh. “That’s one of my favorite beats I made.”
“Grandma’s Spot” — along with the rest of the much-praised and all Tuamie-produced Panama Plus album — launched Tuamie into a new level of visibility. Before long Freddie Gibbs jumped on a remix for the trio’s song “Promise”, helping to further extend the growing Mutant Academy network.
After making album-quality beats with an iPhone and a $12 app, Tuamie points to “Grandma’s Spot” as a friendly reminder that you don’t need the latest and greatest equipment to make music that resonates. “It really doesn’t matter, as long as you can sequence and record on whatever you have,” he says. “The people you play the music for don’t really care what you use. Because your favorite producer’s using it doesn’t mean you have to. Work with what you got, that’s all.”
“It’s just now, 2018 — things are kind of starting for the second time again.”
Beyond embracing limitations, Tuamie also encourages aspiring producers to read, research, and study the craft just as he did during his formative years — pointing out the book Everything You’d Better Know About the Record Industry by Kashif as an essential, must-own guide. “If you wanna get better at something you have to study it and get comfortable with the amount of knowledge that you have and always want to grow,” he says. “I try to tell that to everybody.”
Now, as he continues to build his own expertise and crank out his Emergency Raps series, sample kits, and a endless string of instrumental releases, Tuamie senses a second career wave coming after a very successful 2016 and 2017. “It’s just now, 2018 — things are kind of starting for the second time again,” he says.
Whatever challenges and opportunities next year brings, Tuamie seems more than ready to tackle them.