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In Retrospect: Crown Royale

December 24, 2010

Crown Royale Album CoverMastering this album was a wonderful experience for me. It started approximately a year ago, when Karim Panni (who was then at Myx) called to say that the label had taken on the Crown Royale project, a collaboration between legendary DJ Rhettmatic and Athletic Mic League representative Buff1. They had a single featuring Kam Moye that needed to be mastered ASAP called “After All” and Karim asked me if I was down to do it; he needed it right away because it was going to be pressed on Wax for a single (which in my line of work usually means “we don’t have time to go back to the mix in case something sticks out to you.”) I didn’t tell Karim that I had a whopping eight projects on my plate that I was working on at the time, all with different deadlines, so my answer of course was “no sweat, boss!”

The mix for “After All” was a bit crunched already, so I broke it down into a Mid/Side Matrix and did my best to give the mix a bit more punch and fatness and I remember staying up pretty late that day making microscopic changes to processing done on the side channel, because I realized that if these cats didn’t like the way it turned out, chances were that I wasn’t going to get a shot at mastering the full project later on, so I suppose saying that I was “sweating bullets” would be a little bit of an understatement.

I spoke to Karim a couple of days later and was pleased to learn they liked the way the master came out, the single was already being cut at the plant. Part of Mastering Audio is rolling with the punches.  If for whatever reason the mixes aren’t optimal, your job is to make sure they translate as best as possible – and you better have a hat and some good tricks in it, simple as that.

Months later, Karim put me in contact with Rhett for mastering the album. Rhettmatic has been to many world-class mastering facilities and Karim was hoping I could have Rhett sit in on the mastering session because that is part of the traditional experience of mastering an album!

Now, you have to appreciate that I don’t operate a commercial facility. Redsecta isn’t a commercial mastering house – it’s for the most part a mentality, it is truly a revolutionary concept that I have been working on for over a decade, and I say “revolutionary concept” because I have earned it from years of experience and clients saying things like “You do better work than that expensive mastering spot we did our last album at!” You are not supposed to be able to master audio with great results this way. It is not at all a traditional mastering studio in the sense that there’s front office, a lounge room and the mastering room has a nice comfortable couch, no. It is the living room in my home! (okay, in all fairness, we also do have a comfy couch). My speaker listening situation is not the most ideal for a wide area of my space and the accuracy of my speakers starts to get skewed a little bit above the nominal range of the speakers; can’t do much “super loud, punchy & impressive” monitoring here.

This was the same environment and mind state that I had when I mixed and then mastered Keelay and Zaire’s “Ridin High”, which the SF Weekly said “showcased a soulful signature sound slicker than the usual indie-rap beats, with songs that boomed with the professional weight of something that might emerge from Dr. Dre’s stable”. This is all fine and well, but would Rhettmatic, legendary DJ, be cool with this?

Thankfully, Rhett had heard this album and liked the quality of my work and was completely understanding of my situation. We settled on the idea that we should have a session where he could come in and we could sequence the album (after listening to the masters over his preferred systems). We did eventually have a session where Rhett came in to make sure the sequencing of the album was just right.

It’s worthwhile to mention that Rhett has been the only client who has come to Redsecta. I’ve turned down work from people who have said they needed to sit in the session (totally understandable), so having Rhett come over for sequencing was the least I could do and I am grateful he gave me a shot regardless of my non-traditional situation.  I would have completely understood if he would have had this album mastered at a proper commercial facility, being that it is his first album project production-wise, so I made sure that this album could not be mastered any better by anyone else, in any other facility on the planet.

The album was mixed by Scott “Tenacity” Martin. The mixes already had a bit of bus compression so I didn’t do much in that department. Interestingly, a couple of months before working on this album, I had gotten rid of my API 2500 which was the only outboard compressor I had been using on a lot of my masters for the last couple of years. I decided to get rid of it because often times, mixes come in compressed already so I was only using it for gentle comp’ing duties, plus I own all of the UAD Compressors (and often times like those better when mixing, when the sound of the API wasn’t working out).  The “weight” that you hear all over the album was done largely in part with the Triode, Pentode and Tape processes of my Crane Song HEDD , so there is no analog “loop” on this album (the HEDD is indispensable for adding that “tube” flavor to digital mixes even when mixes are already somewhat “beefed up”). The UAD Precision EQ is also all over this album, it is a very “non-digital-sounding” EQ that rounds off sharp frequencies nicely.

Performing "We Gotcha" at the L.A. Release Party (at The Little Temple, December 15, 2010)


While working on the “We Gotcha” single, I knew I had heard that beat before. This is one of those joints you hear and don’t forget, but I couldn’t remember where. Last week I got the CDs I ordered from Fat Beats (a few lucky friends of mine are getting this as a Christmas gift) and then I read Rhett’s liner notes for this track:

“How this song came together was somewhat ironic…A year & a half ago, I was asked to participate in an All Star Producer Showcase with Illmind, M-Phases and Keelay & Zaire, that was being held in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. In addition to the producer showcase, on the bill was Supastition aka Kam Moye & Illmind’s group, Fortilive were booked to perform live. Anyways, knowing that I was going to be on the same stage with some of the dopest hip hop/music producers that are out right now, I actually went into panic mode. I didn’t have any new beats at the time, so I made at least five new beats for that particular showcase because I wanted to be able to keep up with these guys. Compared to these guys, I felt like the underdog…”

That was at the 2nd Street Jazz Club in Little Tokyo and I was there. When Keelay and Zaire are in town, I try not to miss an opportunity to link up with them and later in the night, I saw Rhett and walked up to give the man props for being a legendary DJ and holding down L.A. for so many years. Little did I know I would get a shot at mastering his album almost two years later! Nothing against the other talented producers at the showcase, but being a 90’s head from Los Angeles – which was an era when The Beat Junkies and associates (Dilated, Visionaries, etc.) reigned supreme, it’s interesting to read Rhett’s thoughts about him being up on stage with the rest of those “newer school” cats.

This album is something you do not want to sleep on, please believe. It’s got sick tracks provided by a legendary DJ and an MC that represents the art form masterfully.  I’ve already caught these guys live twice and it’s not your typical hip hop show where the MC rhymes over an instrumental. They have a true cohesive energy and each performance is different – it’s great to see a true DJ/MC performance still alive in Hip Hop and I consider myself blessed to have been a part of this project.  Please do your ears a flavor and pick up the CD and pop it into a nice system!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Karim aka Nightclubber Lang permalink
    December 24, 2010 11:23 pm

    very well written mi amigo..and oh so true.

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