After a trip to Atlanta in 2011, Leicester born producer Nat Powers cemented links in the US Hip Hop scene and has since been forging a healthy production career alongside some of the most well known names in the business, working heavily alongside his mentor Sam Sneed, a former Death Row producer. Now having produced an entire album (Doctor’s Note) for Dr. Dre’s son Curtis Young, worked with names such as Run DMC, Public Enemy, Akil the MC and Erick Sermon as well as UK names such as Genesis Elijah, he’s forming links both sides of the pond and taking his heavily UK influenced sound around the world. With his debut solo album currently in the works alongside a complete film score for a feature length about NWA, we caught up with him to find out a bit more about this English producer infiltrating a much larger industry.
Hi Nat. Give us a bit of an insight into your path through hip hop firstly. How did you get into it and how’s your career developed?
My career has been a really progressive and intense journey. My father is a published poet and book writer, so when I was really young, around the age of five, he encouraged my interest in Poetry and I even had one published aged six. Over the years my poetry developed into lyricism, so by 1998 I was writing my own songs and raps aged only twelve. As I continued to expand in writing and lyricism, I became more interested in providing myself with my own music to write to, so I started my journey into music production, which was also complimented by the fact I had been playing drums from the age of eight, and dabbling with guitar and keys at the same time – so my entry into production was fairly smooth. Growing up as a child, I also had strong exposure to old school hip-hop, especially The Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and Run Dmc, this shaped my love for the culture and directed me to be consistent with my lyrical content and musical compositional quality – something which has never left me.
Influences wise, what are three albums you couldn’t live without and why…
Beastie Boys- Ill Communication
Nat King Cole- Greatest Hits
Snoop Dogg- Doggystyle
For those not familiar with you, give us three tracks that you feel have been the most influential in your career or that you’re most proud of.
I feel very proud of my track with Run Dmc “Message To P Island”, I feel it sounds like it was dug out of a dusty record archive and carries that trademark of the 80s Hip-hop generation, I’m very proud of that, and honored that DMC told me he was delighted to write to what he called “one of the best in years”. The album I did for Dr. Dre’s son ‘Doctor’s Note’ was also a big accomplishment for me, but track wise – “Street Harmonies” by Curtis Young is something which I feel influenced me in return from creating it, as I wanted to bring a real west coast sound for that song, something which gives me goose bumps when I listen to it myself. Lastly, I have an instrumental titled ‘Da Vinci Code’, which I recorded with a 19-pice orchestra and 8 piece band. It is being used by one of the most famous current rappers in the world, but I can’t say who it is right now! That instrumental there is possibly one of the most epic things I have ever created, it sounds like a dramatic, cinematic, orchestral hip-hop crossover record – it sends tingles down my spine.
You’re from Leicester, a city you don’t hear much about in terms of Uk Hip Hop. What’s the scene like there?
Leicester has a very rich amount of talent, but the platform is very unsecure. They have closed a lot of clubs, and support is very low from people when it comes to local hip-hop nights and homegrown events. I feel bad for talking negatively, but anyone from Leicester who wants to reach high targets and further successes in Hip-hop, must get their mental telescope out and start infiltrating and exploring other territories in the UK.
Despite being from the UK, most of your work’s been with US artists, was this a conscious choice? Why so?
This was a completely conscious and deliberate choice of mine. I planned it for years, and executed it exactly how I imagined, and the benefits are amazing, both sides of the ocean. Again, I’m not going to go to much into the details, not because I’m hiding anything, but because I’ve chosen to elaborate on why, how and when I did what I did in a book I am currently writing about my career and advising others on how to stay positive and keep focused throughout the highs and the lows. I’m hoping to have that published in 2013, I already have a publishing deal in Atlanta.
How do you think your UK roots effect your sound and bring a different vibe to the US?
I think the rawness and the sharp edges of UK music in general have given me a unique sound for the USA, and also the rapid rate that things happen and change in the UK have enabled me to be swift, consistent and precise when working with artists and bringing up new ideas to the table. I also feel the tough sounds of Dubstep and Garage, Grime and D&B can only be authentic from the UK, so when I bring elements of these to my hip-hop, RnB and other styles of Production, it not only drops their jaws – but also remains authentic, believable and credible to the UK and my roots.
How do you think the attitudes of US artists and the US scene differs to that of the UK?
I’ll be very honest, in America the attitudes and general openness of the individual mindset is much better than that of the UK, people are more warm to your ideas and are incredibly enthusiastic to working hard and making new ideas work. I love the scene in the UK, but we don’t support our own enough, we support everything that is born out of the American market, primarily anyway, and this is a major problem for our identity and music industry. So I feel more comfortable being a British musician spending most of my career in the American industry, and I am there as a UK minded person, I bring my British roots, life, attitude, experience and sound to the US soil – I just feel more potential for me over there at present, and the rest of the world can open up to me when it’s ready. We were born on one earth, so I am not going to let segregated markets and industries tear me apart – if anything I plan to tear them apart with what I have in my cannon.
You’ve been mentored by ex Death Row producer Sam Sneed. How did you hook up with him and what do you think is the most valuable thing he’s taught you?
Sam and I hooked up over Facebook funnily enough, he was looking for an English artist to work with for years, and then he discovered me. I have learnt so may things from Sam, he put me through two years of intense development, which chiseled me like a sculpture of abilities on top of what I had already been investigating and learning on my own. It’s hard to narrow one particular thing I have learnt from him being the most valuable, but if I were to mention one, it would be him teaching me how to use a vintage signature edition Akai MPC given to him by Rza, and also Sam himself was taught how to use it in depth by Dr.Dre, and for that knowledge to be passed down to me, I feel truly blessed.
You work with orchestras and gospel choirs to create a sound that’s at once fresh and traditional. What inspired this move and how did you first start hooking that up?
This came as a very important decision for me. I grew up on classical music, with my poet father also being a trained classical pianist, so implementing this into my own creativity and writing was a must for me. I also found that by mixing such traditional and post-modernist styles of music together was a very impressive blend, and no-one had been doing it the way I was, so I continue till this day to mix and forge sounds and techniques together to create interesting and innovative results. I started doing such things during my time in my music degree, I had access to all kinds of studios and people, and basically stringed it all together in the most impressive fashion available to me.
By now you’ve produced for a heavy list of MCs/Crews such as Run DMC, Public Enemy, Akil and Ice-T. How does it feel to be working with greats such as that? Are your relationships with them mainly musical or would you say you know them as people?
It feels amazing to work with people that I grew up listening to, and continues to feed belief and influence into my career and its progression. With artists and individuals I work with, the relationships vary. Sometimes there is no direct contact due to labels and middlemen keeping a brick wall in between us, and sometimes I deal with the artists directly and form strong relationships which I build to last. But wherever possible, I always reach out directly and start something encouraging where they feel they can talk to me, so that we work more closely and create music as it is meant to be created – opposed to the new process of emailing tracks and calling it a day. I’m confident that 90% of the people I have worked with I have good personal relationships with them.
Who else would you love to add to the collab list?
There are so many names it would take me forever to write! Haha. I don’t criticize any genre or market, I don’t dedicate myself to the underground or the commercial scene either, and therefore I leave an open book for possibilities when it comes to collaborations and production placements. I plan to work with everyone from Drake to Flo Rida, Roots Manuva to Professor Green, Frank Ocean to John Legend, and Akala to Dizzee Rascal. The reason I say plan, is because I am constantly planning, executing and growing in my network – and to me absolutely NO ONE is unreachable, they are all humans and that means they can be talked to and they will talk back. I don’t believe in being blocked by the next person’s fame, it’s not in my dictionary.
If you could sit in on any studio session, what would it be?
I’d love to go back in time and be present for Nat King Cole’s ‘Unforgettable’ recording session. I was named after him, we are both Nathaniel’s, and I Iove that record and actually own an original pressing of it too. It is a deep, emotional and reflective song of past times, and if given a chance – I’d jump back into the past to have been there!
You’re creating the score for an upcoming movie about NWA, is that the first movie score you’ve done? Do you have any other experience producing for more then simply albums?
This is the first movie score I will ever being doing, and also the biggest in terms of scale. I haven’t had much experience with scoring or TV music, but I never let lack of experience affect me, I was approached for the job because people felt I was capable – which is a perfect chance for me to become experienced in that field. Again, I can’t say much as the deals are still being worked out and negotiated for production and executive producing with Ice Cube. But I look forward to getting stuck into it and adding something phenomenal to my credits.
You’re hoping to drop your own album in 2013. What can we expect from that sound wise and what MCs feature so far?
I’m going for something undeniable, classic, timeless and epic with my own album. Something which can be picked up 20 years down the line and enjoyed, regardless of the current music scene at the time. With guests, there will no rappers featured – I felt that with Hip-Hop albums, big guest features are always expected which makes it monotonous and repetitive, so I’m not featuring any other known rappers. Instead, I am featuring singers and groups from past fame, individuals that still receive millions of Youtube views today because they created something eternal in the 70s and 80s. I can’t mention names there either, but all I will say is I’m bringing back names from Studio 54 and Motown records on my album, for a reason, I want to do what no one has done before.
Is there a particular concept for it or do you have a name yet? Who’s releasing it as well?
I have all the concepts in place, and a few possible titles. I have negotiated with a few labels already for the release, but currently I am still open to suggestions in terms of distribution and release. It will certainly be a major label.
What else is planned for the future in the world of Nat Powers?
Wow, I have so much planned. My own solo album along with music video’s with short films blended in, my official website and Nat Powers campaign starts on new years day 2013, more interviews, media, studio footage, beat making video’s. There’s a lot happening, I also have some new plans with DMC for his career and solo material, and Bone Thugs, amongst some big names in the UK. I have also started working very closely with Bushkin and Fonti (Heartless Crew) in taking things to the next level and making history. I’m reaching out to new names and legends on a daily basis, and sometimes they are reaching out to me. I have no limits and maximum dreams, which means anything is possible.
What releases from other artists are you really looking forward to?
I’m kind of looking forward to Detox when it finally drops, but as for other releases I’m only really looking forward to stuff that I work on with people. I found that by locking myself out from the industries output and what everyone else is doing, I could do my own thing and stay progressive and current in my own unique way. I haven’t owned a TV for 8 years, and I never go to the cinema. I sound really scrooge-ish, but believe me I stay dedicated to what I do, and the journey I have had doing it has been better than films, TV and iPhones. Technology and the media have helped people to forget how fruitful life can be, and what we can achieve ourselves. Whether we achieve or not, others will continue to achieve for themselves, but what is most important is showing ourselves who we are and what we are capable of – and I think keeping your eyes and mind on yourself can help you to become something amazing.
Cheers for the time! Any last words?
I just want to say, thanks for those who have supported me, and thanks to those who have not, because all of you have helped me to become something amazing and the highs and the lows are my tattoo’s of the road I have been travelling on since I was born. Look out for everything that is Nat Powers, the brand, the sound, the visuals, and the classic essences that I plan to bring with it. I’m working hard everyday to provide people with unique music and amazing combinations of collaborations and ideas. And thanks for the time for the interview, I appreciate it and hope we can catch up in the future.