'Shot Caller': Producer Harry Fraud On Bringing New York Rap Back : The Record The Brooklyn-born producer talks about sampling Don Henley and growing up in the music industry.
NPR logo 'Shot Caller': Producer Harry Fraud On Bringing New York Rap Back

'Shot Caller': Producer Harry Fraud On Bringing New York Rap Back

French Montana (in white shirt, chains and hat) and Harry Fraud (black shirt, black hat) at the center of the video for Montana's song "Shot Caller," which Fraud produced. Video still from Vevo hide caption

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Video still from Vevo

French Montana (in white shirt, chains and hat) and Harry Fraud (black shirt, black hat) at the center of the video for Montana's song "Shot Caller," which Fraud produced.

Video still from Vevo

Brooklyn hip-hop producer Harry Fraud made his name by composing with a streets-meets-pop twist — sampling Don Henley for the underground hit "New York Minute." Now Fraud's breaking through to the mainstream with what he calls "airy soundscapes." To see what he means, listen to the gleaming "Shot Caller" with rapper French Montana — a good example of Fraud's diffuse beats meshing with Montana's blunt rap style — and "Bird On a Wire" with Action Bronson and Riff Raff (the latter of whom has reportedly inspired a character played by James Franco in an upcoming Harmony Korine movie called Spring Breakers).

"Shot Caller" also exemplifies Fraud's knack for updating classic East Coast hip-hop style. The trilling trumpet — a sample from the Thom Bell Orchestra's "Theme For L.A.'s Team" — that tattoos the song onto your brain was used by New Jersey's Lords of the Underground in the 1993 song "Funky Child." The "baller / shot caller" chorus borrows from Diddy's "It's All About the Benjamins" (released back in 1996, when he was Puff Daddy). But the pristine feel is very contemporary, and all Fraud. The song was re-released last month with guest raps from Diddy and Rick Ross, marking it as an official anthem and making this an exciting time for the producer. During a 30-minute conversation in the Austin Convention Center during SXSW, as he sipped a Starbucks smoothie and wore sunglasses indoors, we discussed his work and his long history with rap in New York.

What clicks between you and French?

French knows his s---, music-wise. He listens to a lot of old soul stuff, a lot of old rock stuff. He's not close-minded at all. And me, I have the most eclectic palette in the world when it comes to music. It's not like I just send him the beat [via email], and he goes into the studio and raps. We're picking samples together and putting s--- together. It's a total collaboration when we work.

I like the sound of your beats and his voice.

We definitely try and make those airy soundscapes, so he can come in and cut through. You know what I'm saying? And be real present. And then the drums can cut through real hard, too. The samples and the drums are just as important.

Language Advisory: This song contains lyrics that some listeners may find offensive.

You can definitely hear that on "Shot Caller," which is completely sample and drums.

Exactly. It's like some real hypnotic s---. It's crazy that's our biggest hit, and that's like, kind of not — not the most switching-up of beats, how the s--- I'm really known for is big switch-ups and all this dramatic stuff. That joint's dramatic but it's dark. It's really like this sample stays present and the drums are actually what's changing up constantly. The drums change every four bars in that joint.

They have that jumpy feel.

Yeah, that bounce.

But melodic samples and general tunefulness are also a big part of your sound.

I mean my mother is a singer, and my father is an incredible guitar player as well as just a music buff and music industry dude. They was in a band together when I was a kid, and they would be gigging together when I was three years old at China Club downtown in the city. I always had a piano in my crib, guitars, everything. I could go downstairs and bang on a Les Paul. My younger sister who's 17 has an incredible voice. And my mother has an incredible voice.

Music is something I'm constantly immersed in. So I don't feel like I hear it the way a normal person hears it. When I'm listening to something, I'm listening with my soul. I know that sounds corny. But I'm listening with more feeling, and my mind.

What's the name of your parents' band?

Ah, no, I'm not [raises hands]. They did that to me in [The] Fader, too. I don't want to put that out there.

On "It's Just Me," French raps "nine-six, N.Y. / best year." Is that how you feel, too?

I mean '96 in the city, it was a very strong, heavy year. It was dudes like Notorious B.I.G. running Brooklyn. I'm from Brooklyn, and I was young, just about to be in my teens, running around in the street, wild [activities] going on. Biggie was coming up as I was getting ready to go into high school. In eighth grade, he was killing it. And I'm from right around the way, so that's close to home. B.I.G. and Boot Camp [Clik]. That's stuff your friend would be like, "Yeah, that's my cousin!"

But you were a little young for that. And even younger for Lords of the Underground.

What's crazy, and something people definitely don't know, was when my father threw the VIBE launch party for the first issue of VIBE Magazine, and Lords of the Underground and Run-D.M.C. actually performed at the party and I was introduced to them and kicked it with them, whatever whatever. It influenced me heavy. I was young as [hell]. And I don't know if people remember the movie It's Pat — remember "Pat" from Saturday Night Live, that weird character? So they were filming that right across the street from the venue, so I got to go meet Pat, and I was a kid, bro, I was probably nine or 10 years old. Maybe even younger. I was such a kid. To where my pops couldn't leave me alone I was that young. I couldn't run around by myself.

So that was normal for you to be around stars all the time?

Yeah, I was that kid everyone would hate in school because my pops would take me out for a week to do a concert somewhere. They hated me. I was definitely that kid.

In your song "New York Minute" where you sample Don Henley, and then Danzig on "It's Just Me" — where do those samples come from? Your personal music history?

"New York Minute," when I did the beat for that — obviously I'm a huge Eagles, Don Henley fan. "Hotel California" is obviously one of the best songs ever written. But I did that beat so long ago. Like in 2001. And it was a little skeleton in my mom's basement on the MPC. But French is the type of dude who, we'll sit in the studio and he'll say, "Play me everything." And in one of the sessions, that got played, "New York Minute." He said, "Beef this up," and I rebuilt it.

My perception is once something like the "Shot Caller" remix happens [with big name guests] everything changes in a producer's career. True?

It allows you to open certain doors, if you want to open those doors. You can reach out to people now and say, "Hey, I've done records with so and so." Or really, you can say, "I've done this record, and it's a record most people know." So that really helps. Because when you approach people they know your name.

And off that particular song, that's Diddy and Ross, and now I've started to slowly build a relationship with Ross, to where he saw something he really liked. And Diddy — but Diddy is way more removed, because he's, like, you know, Diddy. But yeah, I was down at Ross's crib in Miami for a couple days a couple weeks ago, and we knocked out some s---. So hopefully people can expect to hear some music. Hopefully. No guarantee.