Hip-hop’s beatsmiths are fixed reminders that the DJ was the first star of the show and the emcee was a supporting force. In the thirty something years of hip-hop’s life the DJ returned to eminence by the time Jam Master Jay reached his peak. Christopher “Drumma Boy” Gholson is one more shining producer to come out of the school of beats and rhymes that the Bronx Three set-off in the ‘70’s. The Memphis native who’s most popular work is the cliff-hanging piano and keyed-in horns of Young Jeezy’s “Put On” is up for two Grammys for that song and work on T.I.’s platinum selling Paper Trail. His Drum Squad has been moving at a viral pace since he did work for Pastor Troy’s D.S.G.B. project a few years ago. Music was not an unusual choice because he was raised in a home with an operatic singing mother and professional woodwind player and music professor for a father. If his parents were not listening to the music that paid the bills they enjoyed the company of stellar local stars and would often have Isaac Hayes visit for breakfast. But it is his older brother Slice T and friends like Jazze Pha that inspired and educated his interest in becoming a hip-hop producer. Busta Rhymes, Young Joc, Keyshia Cole and Monica are some of the people in his appointment book but his success has not deterred him from modesty and humility in a business that thrives on ego. In this interview he describes his earlier life in Memphis, his family, beatmaking and his new TV show Welcome To Dreamland.
I know that you grew-up with different kinds of musicians in your family and I also know you studied an instrument yourself. What made you choose hip-hop for your profession?
It wasn’t really a choice it was something that I grew-up on and really I was just making music I didn’t really classify myself as hip-hop. Hip-hop just found me. A lot of the artists that came out of Memphis are pretty much hip-hop artists Al Green is only doing so much with his music like as far as the blues rhythm and blues it ain’t really no R&B artists out of Memphis other than what’s the lady’s name Stone (Angie Stone) I can’t even think of her name it’s not even that many artists coming out of Memphis other than hip-hop. So you gotta take what my daddy used to always tell me “You gotta take what the defense give you” you know what I’m saying if that’s what they giving me that’s what I’m going to take until R& B artists like so much of my hip-hop music that they want me to do R&B for them. I expressed that with “Here I Am” the Rick Ross joint getting musical and letting the world know I am a music producer I can produce any genre of music. And I also demonstrated that on this reality show we just shot called Welcome To Dreamland the artists that I had made it down to the finals rock, pop, Lenny Kravitz type artists and they doubted me nobody thought that I would pull it out and I mean we brought some real crazy material to the table. I mean it’s just a blessing to have this talent I mean for people to not really know I was capable of producing any genre that is brought to me.
I didn’t know hip-hop was the most popular music in Memphis?
As far as Memphis like you got Three-Six Mafia, you got Eight Ball & MJG, new artists such as Yo Gotti, Kinfolk Thugs as far as the hip-hop scene so you know when I was coming up it was Gangsta Boo, Tela, Eight Ball & MJG those were a lot of the acts I was able to get on real young like fourteen, fifteen. And it’s not like I was really rebelling from my father but I grew-up I was born in the Orchestra I experienced all genres of music. My mother was an opera singer my daddy was in the orchestra still currently in the orchestra. So I grew-up like going on stage and going to the rehearsals for The Nutcracker and behind the scenes of the orchestra like that’s what I was doing day in and day out. My mom rehearsing for hours and stuff like that but she was still very much in touch with Isaac Hayes. Isaac Hayes would come over for breakfast on several occasions a lot of her friends Joyce Cobb just blues friends you know people knew her musically. She had some real signature friends as far as the city of Memphis James Hyder who used to sing the “Ole Man River” for the Sunset Symphony performance a lot of people are familiar with him. It was a blessing to grow-up around that because my mom would wake-up on Sunday and Saturday mornings cleaning. Saturday was cleaning Sunday we’re going to church so I still got that Baptist feel I still got the choir the Mississippi Baptist choir in that soulful church environment every Sunday. I was in the choir. It’s just so many different elements of music that’s incorporated into me as a person and me as a producer. You know waking up Sunday mornings to Smokey Robinson, Patti Labelle, I mean the oldies but goodies.
How have your experiences with other music helped you make hip-hop?
It don’t help me to make hip-hop music it helps me to understand music. You know being in touch with any and every genre of music makes you understand music in-depth. It’s just like a woman knowing a Filipino and Japanese woman, a Chinese woman, a white woman all types of women which means that your experiences with women overall your knowledge of that knowing what culture just knowing different cultures women like to eat this. It’s the same thing with music understanding different artists. If Whitney Houston comes to me man I know she might like saxophones coming from Kirk Whalum I grew-up with Kirk Whalum and his nephews so I know she’s really a woman who likes saxophones. Where as J-Lo or somebody like that might want more Spanish music some acoustic guitar some electric guitar you have to understand which instruments bring out certain artists.
You have to understand what to present for certain artists if I’m working with Jeezy I know he’s going to want some horns trumpets that’s his instrument just the horns the brass section. So it’s understanding instruments and understanding a sound that’s one thing I think I do as a producer create a sound from scratch. Any new sound if it was up to me I think I could create a new genre of music. So it’s just a blessing to be able to compose, be able to arrange to be able to produce such as a Quincy Jones and your Jimmy Jams I’m trying to bring that back I’m trying to bring that Berry Gordy back.
Are there any producers you listened to and admired and used as an inspiration and/or prototype?
Quincy Jones by far like no doubt him coming from playing an instrument coming from understanding music very similar backgrounds. It’s a lot like Quincy Jones, Jimmy Jam and even Dr. Dre as far as more hip-hop the quality of his work the quality of his mixing and understanding how to mix. It’s so many elements you need to survive in this industry and I feel like Dre had one of the elements I feel like Quincy Jones had one of those elements I feel like Puff Daddy is one of those elements. Those are guys who have longevity and have been in the game successfully ten, fifteen, twenty years. Berry Gordy same thing that’s what I’m trying to stand by you know D.R.U.M. Squad stands for Deeper Roots Uniting Music so it’s a universal language. It’s like a movement of producers, writers, songwriters, artists it’s just about giving back to hip-hop about giving back to music in search of creating a new genre of music and continuing to change the life of music
The south is known for a certain sound like rattling drum rolls I guess it’s the 808 drum machine where does that come from?
A lot of 808s come from Run DMC, booms and 808s is just purely hip-hop these little beat machines when these boxes were coming out hip-hop was getting started. DJs playing around on turntables to me 808s and 909s and all of those booms and stuff like that come from hip-hop that was the evolution of hip-hop but booms was around before the south was even popping like that.
But southern producers use the 808 differently.
That’s that bounce that’s all that is it’s like the way we use our booms New York is going to be more like hip-hopish. We started Crunk like this is the definition of Crunk John lets the world know on a couple of videotapes and expresses his motivation of where he got Crunk. Like Three-Six Mafia, DJ Spanish Fly, Player Fly, Eight Ball MJG like Juicy J those are the originators of Crunk “Tear the club up nigga tear the club up” we was getting crunk niggas is mobbing through the club and throwing bows like way before Luda was talking about throwing bows it’s just the way we bounce. When we make our beats in the south it’s just that boom a lot of people down here like to dance. Like New Yorkers a lot of people up there do dancing but it’s just a different style of dance like the “Walk It Out” a lot of oomph music a lot of the Soulja Boy music lot of Young Joc music a lot of these artists down here down south it’s all on the way we make the 808 bounce it’s all about that bounce.
How did you craft your sound how do you pick your machines?
I pretty much do me I make music that I like when I first started making beats I used to make anything that I like it’s not like I have a specific target or a specific goal if I like it I’m gonna make it a lot of people started to have an ear for what I like. Just like if you have a certain say you create this new food that you like a mixture of chicken, rice, vegetables that you came up with. And somebody gets a hint “What’s that you eating” they get on it somebody else get on it, it just spreads that’s how I feel my music went I felt like I was putting people up on something. Even my manager was like “You have a certain sound just the way you deliver your music.” Long story short a producer should be able to paint a picture so if I’ve got something in my head I’m going to paint it until he looks or sounds the way it was in my head. My older brother was making beats on MPCs Slice T Carlos Broady he produced “Average Chick” (“Video”) for India.Arie Slice T did a lot of stuff with Triple Six Mafia “Where Dem Dolla At” Gangsta Boo a lot of stuff. And Jazze Pha coming out of Memphis all of them learned from Slice T. Slice T is like the originator producer of all the producers in Memphis everybody was learning something from him. I was the youngest of all Jazze is like fourteen years older than me my brother is fourteen years older than me Slice all of them like thirteen fourteen years older than me so I was like a young dude watching them do their thing pretty much took what I knew from the orchestra from all the different genres of music because I listen to all music so I just felt like man I can do this.
I read where Pastor Troy was the first artist you worked with that gained recognition. How did that project come about?
That was like the first artist I got in Atlanta he heard about me through a couple of cats and everybody on the independent side that I was working with he was working with. He had featured three of my beats before I even met this dude like damn man we done three songs together and haven’t even met yet. He finally called me he was in Chicago got my number from some guys I worked with in Chicago who called me while I was in Atlanta I just happened to be in Atlanta that weekend and he was like “I need some of that heat I need some of them beats” I was like “I’m here now.” He got like two beats that night the first night I got with him he paid me off for two beats and them two beats popped on the DSGB album “Off In This Game” and “Pop That Pussy” those were the first tracks I did with Troy came out through Universal.
Can you tell me about Drum Squad?
Drum Squad is a production company it stands for Deeper Roots Uniting Music pretty much a production company based out of Atlanta from Memphis. I’ve got several artists under the Drum Squad I got Young Phenomenon out of Memphis artist named Kristyle is a young rapper he’s eighteen out of Memphis he already got a couple of songs popping on the radio “Got A Good Gangsta Grill” out in the street got Gangsta Boo. Check out the website Drum-Squad.com. I got Drumma Boy live popping.
Do you have any dream projects? Like your ideal project?
I don’t even look at it like that. I look at it like whoever needs my music they gon come holla at me. I consider myself a life changer I consider myself a blessing to anybody who comes and contacts me from knowledge wise to spiritual to mental wise to music wise so even if we just have a conversation or do any business I feel like I’m going to enhance your life that’s how I feel and I practice that. So whatever projects are meant for me will be brought.
What do the Grammy nominations mean to you?
Grammys to me are appreciation for hard work like thank you for giving good music this year. Especially in the state of hip-hop what it’s in and what it’s been in anybody that got a Grammy this year or just a Grammy period it shows appreciation. It’s like hip-hop or the Grammy organization showing you appreciation for the work that you put in that particular year. So I consider it a blessing it’s definitely a privilege this is year number eleven for me this is something I’ve been doing for a minute and just putting out hard work my heart everything into it. It’s a blessing to just be amongst the nominees not even taking one home just to be amongst the nominees that’s letting me know that I have arrived that I’m here that I finally got recognized for putting in all them weeklong no sleep sleeping in the cars taking the roadtrips your parents not believing in you certain times you get it all.
What about the Welcome To Dreamland show you are doing with Jazze Pha?
Welcome To Dreamland is me against Jazze two producers from Memphis been up the same road. One is more established thirteen number ones been in Atlanta doing his thing he’s familiar with making a star you know this is something he’s done this before. It’s the new producer new school against old school young brother against little brother I mean older brother against little brother. The underdogs against the more experienced which one can make a star. Out of three-hundred girls thirteen girls make it down to the finals. Jazze get to pick four girls I get to pick four girls we narrow it down to one girl for the grand performance at Club Opera. Each team consists of four people a photographer, a stylist, a choreographer and a writer all of the people on the team are up and coming people. Nobody’s established no one is well known everybody’s on the come up everybody’s grinding trying to get their next spot. I put my team together he put his team together and then we go in we got two weeks to come up with a star. The last day of the show we put on a show for the world for TBS Turner Peachtree TV. Jazze Pha against Drumma Boy which one of these producers will make the next queen of Dreamland.
Is producing for an R&B artist different than making a hip-hop track?
It’s definitely different a lot of R& B artists don’t write their music a lot of rappers write their music. A lot of R&B artists can come up with hooks real easy rap artists have a hard time coming up with hooks sometimes. Rap artists can cut a song in an hour sometimes it might take a whole day to cut a song. As far as R&B artists a week it make take a month to do one song.It’s a lot of differences R&B requires more music more instruments maybe sometimes a bridge changes in the music it’s more loops more just straight to the point. It just really all depends.
Check out the website Drum-Squad.com we got Drumma Boy live cranking the first Drumma Boy live placement was “Here I Am” Rick Ross featuring Nelly, the second Drumma Boy live placement is “You Ain’t Missing Nothing” that was on T.I. so stay tuned for the third one we got some crazy music coming up I got DJ Drama’s new single “Daydreaming” featuring Snoop, Akon and T.I. I got the new Sophia Fresh single coming out on Atlantic called “Drop It” and the new Gorilla Zoe joint single called “Lost.”