- JOEFF DAVIS
- READY FOR HIS CLOSE-UP: In an industry where celebrity status is money in the bank, Bangladesh's success is an anomaly.
Bangladesh is still pissed at Lil Wayne's label Cash Money Records. Which is understandable, considering the Atlanta music producer claims Cash Money has yet to dish out, um, cash money for the huge hit he made for Wayne, "A Milli," more than three years ago. The label could very well owe him a milli by now, but so far he says it's given him nothing but excuses.
"They're hood niggas from New Orleans," Bangladesh says, none too gingerly, of the label's brass. "In the streets you use your muscle — you don't pay niggas. You don't do certain things you're supposed to do."
But who, might you ask, is this guy to be talking shit? Well, as an A-list beatmaker for more than a decade, Bangladesh has earned the right to speak his mind. Having gotten his start on Ludacris' 2000 major label debut, Back for the First Time, the 31-year-old unsung hitmaker has remained fiercely independent, declining invitations to join such established rap labels as Disturbing tha Peace and Bad Boy. While career decisions like those have probably cost him the chance to become a household name, they've also afforded him something money can't buy: the ability to stay relevant and true to his art. He's found time to craft a pair of upcoming solo albums — both of which sound pretty far out there — while simultaneously securing singles with the hottest artists going.
"He comes with big records, records that don't sound like anything else," says DJ Drama, the influential Atlanta mixtape impresario. "You don't hear five songs on the radio from him at a time, but the ones you do hear are always very big records. He's very smart about who he chooses for his production."
Yet in many ways, Bangladesh has struggled as an outsider. He's got no guaranteed income, and, per the Cash Money situation, even when he does make a hit he doesn't know for sure if he'll be paid. But by not associating himself with any particular sound, or any particular movement, he's been able to transcend fads and forge something somewhat unique in hip-hop — a long-term career.
Born Shondrae Crawford, he's called "Bang" nowadays and lives in southwest Atlanta, where he has custody of two of his four kids. He's tatted-up, with portraits of his children and the word "Warrior" on his arm, and often comes across cocky and self-satisfied, such as when he talks about why he turned down Diddy's offer to join Bad Boy. "What for? I'm the shit by myself," he says. "I don't want to feel like I'm working for a[nother] nigga."
Today, however, finds him in an introspective mood. He's speaking over the phone from his hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, where he's attending a family member's funeral. His clan has been ensconced in Iowa's largest city since his grandparents migrated north from Mississippi. Bang's father was out of the picture, but his grandfather and maternal uncles were "local celebrities," he says, for their singing and preaching talents. "They was pastors, and they all sang and played instruments. They had a gospel group and traveled a lot."
In that way, he's like many other rap producers who come from traditional musical backgrounds; Atlanta-transplant Drumma Boy's father was a clarinetist and first chair in the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, while the father of another Memphis native, Atlanta-based Jazze Pha, was the bass player for '70s funk band the Bar-Kays. Still, nobody predicted that Bang, a precocious kid from one of the country's whitest states, would become a highly influential hip-hop beatmaker — except for Bang himself. In fact, he cited "music producer" as his intended occupation during an elementary school career day, despite not knowing what the term meant. He just knew that he loved "Yo! MTV Raps" and BET's "Rap City," and so he began to formulate a plan. "I knew I didn't want to sing or rap," he says. "Probably by my sophomore year [in high school] I knew I wanted to make beats."
It was the mid-'90s, and after falling hard for local legends-in-the-making OutKast and Organized Noize, he somehow convinced his mother to let him go live with his aunt in Atlanta. He finished his junior and senior years of high school here — at Andre and Big's alma matter Tri-Cities High, nonetheless — and got serious about production.
His big break came while he was cutting hair, of all things, at a shop he owned in College Park called Loose Endz. A radio personality Chris Lova Lova, who later became known as Ludacris, stopped by, and Bang passed along his beats.
He ended up doing the majority of the production on Back for the First Time, including "What's Your Fantasy," one of Luda's most enduring songs. Highlighted by a vaguely exotic synth progression, its beat is subtly seductive and walks a line between commercial and avant-garde. This balancing act has come to define Bang's sound. He chose his producer name because his music feels, well, somewhat foreign. Not that it's easy to pin down; his compositions run the gamut from grimy and industrial — such as Eightball & MJG's "Forever" — to glossy and playful, like Kelis' "Bossy." Eschewing the comforting soul samples used by Kanye West, he often prefers distorted effects and strange tempos, creating a feeling of disorientation, such as on Nicki Minaj's "Did It On'em." One of his favorite techniques is chopping up vocals and distorting their speed or pitch, as on Beyoncé's "Diva" — which he co-produced and co-wrote.
"A lot of producers send out a lot of beats [to different artists]," says Drama, "but he goes in and makes a sound that's appropriate for the specific artist."
While flying solo can be difficult — especially come payday — remaining independent has its rewards, adds Drama. "When you don't have a big team," he says, "there's pluses and minuses." And Bang's ability to indulge his own artistic eccentricities is definitely a plus.
Indeed, he's gone off the reservation when it comes to fashioning albums of his own, each of which sound far outside-the-box for a hip-hop and pop beatmaker. The first of his two unfinished, unreleased solo projects features alternative and rock elements, he says, and is comparable to the Beatles. The album will incorporate his own singing and is intended to be performed with a live band; he predicts it will throw folks for a genre-bending loop, much like Andre 3000's The Love Below.
It doesn't have a title yet or a release date. Nor does his "producer album," which will pair new beats of his with big-name rap and R&B performers. He promises his efforts won't amount to a typical celebrity producer cash-in collection, but will be rather organic and cohesive. "It's going to sound like the artists were in a room together when they recorded it," he says. Guests will include Ice Cube, Ke$ha, Jazmine Sullivan, as well as Kelly Rowland "singing aggressive, out of her element." Other tracks will have twists as well, like those with T-Boz, Monica, and "Real Housewives of Atlanta's" Kandi Burruss (formerly of Xscape) rapping. "The whole thing with the album is to bring [out] what the artist wouldn't really do on their own," he says. "You have to create shock value."
Speaking of shock value, Bang riffs rather candidly about many of his collaborators. There's his beef with Cash Money over "A Milli" — which came off of Lil Wayne's 2008 Tha Carter III album, went platinum and dominated radio and blogs for months. Bang says he's taking the fight over uncollected payment to distributor Universal. He was told the delay is due to the song's use of an uncleared sample, but alleges that excuse is bogus. "That's not true because nobody on the album was getting paid!" he claims. Last year, in an interview with Rap-Up magazine he went particularly hard on Cash Money co-founder and rapper Bryan "Birdman" Williams on the issue. "He has his kids in furs — they're 2!" he said, proceeding to reference Williams' hit song "Money to Blow." "You do have money to blow, 'cause it ain't your money!" (Cash Money's publicists did not return calls or e-mail requests for comment.) Producer Jim Jonsin, meanwhile, claims to have been similarly stiffed after producing another Tha Carter III hit, "Lollipop," and producer Mannie Fresh told Hip Hop Weekly last year that his time with Cash Money was tantamount to "slavery."
But that hasn't stopped Bang from teaming up with Lil Wayne again, this time for the buzzworthy "6 Foot 7 Foot." The song features an accelerated sample of "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" — "six foot, seven foot, eight foot, bunch!" — and, like "A Milli," is the perfect platform for Wayne to go all in with a flurry of stream-of-consciousness rhymes. The song has also become a blog smash, and is supposedly the first single off of Wayne's upcoming Tha Carter IV, though his albums are often subjected to long delays.
If it seems odd that Bang would want to work with Cash Money again, keep in mind that it's hard to avoid Wayne's juggernaut these days if you're a rap producer; Nicki Minaj's top-selling Pink Friday album, for example, was also released under the label in conjunction with Wayne's Young Money Entertainment.
Bang is also frustrated with Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane, for whom he supplied memorable tracks "Stupid Wild" and "Lemonade" to 2009's The State vs. Radric Davis. The latter song in particular, which is built around a high-end piano riff and a chorus of singing children, goes perfectly with the rapper's playful style. Yet Gucci spurned him when it came time to pick beats for his latest album, The Appeal: Georgia's Most Wanted. Despite pledging to work with him again, Bang says, Gucci chose superstar producers including the Neptunes (Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo) and Swizz Beatz instead. (Ironically, the album was coldly received, largely on the basis of its lackluster sound.)
"Some producers have that effect on artists. [The artists] are really into them, no matter what [their beats] sound like," Bang says. "That shit don't complement his style." As a parting shot, he posits that Gucci could have been as popular as Lil Wayne, but the failure of The Appeal "killed his whole momentum."
Oddly, Bang reserves his kindest words for Ke$ha, of all performers, the hugely-popular but oft-maligned pop tart who's been called a talentless studio creation. Bang, however, insists she can really spit: "She's a real artist. She's dope as hell. She's rapping, and really killing it." He co-produced "Sleazy" for her recent Cannibal EP, a collaboration which came about after she declared him one of her favorite producers.
It's exactly this sort of mentality that has sustained Bang all of these years. He doesn't care what others think, doesn't follow trends and remains confident in his own abilities. Had he taken a quick, easy route to mega-fame — say, by linking up with Bad Boy — he might be a household name, but then again he might have been quickly chewed up and spit out.
"I could be all over the TV like Pharrell and them if I was deeply embedded, but that's not what I wanted to do," Bang says. "I value independence too much."