Cloud. Talks Beat Battles, His New Album, and Making Music For Himself

Cloud. is a man who makes beats. The Brooklyn producer is a longtime, low-key favorite of site founders eLL. & I. When I heard the beat maker was returning with a new release called Silhouettes, I got to work and quickly contacted Paxico Records (who released his latest album) to set up this interview. During our talk, Cloud. spoke on his hiatus, his journey through music and various other elements of his life and time in hip-hop. The beatsmith is criminally slept on, so after this, there’s no excuse! Get familiar with this one-of-a-kind talent by reading on:

STONE: Why don’t we start off – could you please let us know your name, where you’re from and what you do.

CLOUD.: My name is Cloud. I’m from New York and I make beats.

STONE: Where did the name Cloud. Come from?
CLOUD.: I guess kind of abstractly from Final Fantasy VII. But I also have this silly idea that I could be like a rain cloud that washes away the wackness (laughs). It’s like a silly concept. I just like the concept. I have different names, and even with Cloud., I used to alter it different ways, but it’s simple. I just wanted a simple name. Nowadays it doesn’t really mean anything, it’s just my name.

STONE: Early on, who inspired you to get into making beats and who were your musical inspirations growing up?
CLOUD.: Definitely RZA. In the beginning it was RZA, DJ Premier, definitely Large Professor… Mostly O.G. New York producers from the Golden Era. Later on, it was J Dilla and Madlib, and homies like that.

STONE: So those were your inspirations. Was there something where it clicked for you, that you wanted to start making beats? Was it something you tried out, or something you just kind of jumped into?
CLOUD.: Yeah, I actually got into hip-hop kind of late. I was actually in college and that’s when people were showing me Wu-Tang and stuff, it was very new to me. By that summer, I was trying to make beats. It just seemed like something that’s really simple; I don’t know…it just appealed to me. It was very innocent, I just got really shitty software, like Audacity and Sound Forge and I just started trying to make drum patterns and loops, basically.

STONE: What did you use to take a step up? What’s your current equipment?
CLOUD.: I was messing with Fruity Loops, and then I got one of the entry-level MPD’s, literally just the sixteen-pad USB controller. I really liked the idea of being able to chop stuff and being able to play them out on pads. But I had a really shitty computer, and there was always a latency so I could never lay stuff down right, I always had to program it in. Eventually I was looking into [getting] an MPC and eventually copped the 1000. That was my first [piece of] hardware. That’s when I started to get more serious, or at least trying to do something legitimate.

STONE: Yeah, because I remember when I first stumbled upon you – a friend of mine introduced me to your music – I don’t think you have them up anymore, but you used to have YouTube videos of you making beats live on an MPC.
CLOUD.: Yeah I took them all down. That was the culture back then, I don’t think people really do that anymore. That was like ’05, ’06, ’07, there were a lot of kids and [older] people making beats, showing how to make beats, showing how to use an MPC, just to show what they do. And I wanted to throw my hat in the room so I was doing the same thing.

STONE: Do you have any favorite samples?
CLOUD.: Not really, every time I try to use something new. Even with drums, I try really hard not to repeat drums, which is difficult. It’s all based on mood and inspiration, like stuff that comes to me. I also spend a lot of time just digging. I like trying to find music that people haven’t listened to. It doesn’t need to necessarily be a kind of genre or anything. I also like the idea of rare sounds that can be reused. Sounds that otherwise might be forgotten, but also have quality to them.

STONE: Right. Do you have a favorite record that you have already sampled?
CLOUD.: No, no definitely not. I keep moving. Maybe a couple years ago I sold off half of my record collection, because I had so many records that I had since I was a teenager, they didn’t mean much to me anymore. Obviously the experience of listening to those records was special, but I played them out. I live in the city, I don’t have a lot of space so I can’t be having a million records. So I just ended up dumping a lot of it, you know? And that’s how I feel with these sounds, I get what I need and then I keep moving.

STONE: Your first album was the Ice Cream Cola [Redux] album. Do you remember what went into making that project?
CLOUD.: Yeah, I was active on this blog Strictly Beats. It’s probably not the same as what it used to be, but a lot of the Internet was different back then. It was much easier to bootleg stuff. But they would just post instrumentals all day.

STONE: Yeah, they still do.
CLOUD.: Yeah, I don’t know how that kid found me, but the kid who runs [Strictly Beats] was reaching out to me. This was before I had put out anything and was still making everything on Fruity Loops. He was like “Yo, can you give us an EP or something?” I never planned on releasing anything, but I was like “Alright, fine.” I gave him a four-track or something, and it’s funny because people were hating so hard. I’ll admit, I wasn’t very skilled at that time. I think people were jealous, but there wasn’t much to be jealous of – I wasn’t anybody. But just the fact that [Strictly Beats] was putting me on, people felt the need to be critical. Ever since then, I don’t know if you can find all those posts, but half of the comments are negative, and then the other half of the comments are like “Why are you hating? This is really dope” or “This is a nice person.” I remember specifically that kid [who found me] had to make a post saying [I’m] a nice kid [laughs]. So that was all Fruity Loop beats. Once I was on the MPC, it was just accumulation. Over time, I just had enough stuff and I felt like putting it out because I didn’t know what else to do with it. I put it out and that was the first project.

STONE: Do you know if that one got better reception than the EP?
CLOUD.: It got better reception, but I mean I remember… You know, it’s whatever, I don’t really give a shit. Like people were just basic shit.

STONE: [Laughs]
CLOUD.: Looking back, I was trying to do a specific thing and I think that I was doing it. That project was released in the summer before I moved to Brooklyn. I think that came out in August, and then like two months later I put out Pimp Steak. I was in the city grinding making mad music. I never really got a lot of shine, and that comes right through to today which is fine. I like doing it and that’s why I did it, and keep doing it. But it was pretty mixed. I definitely had a lot people who were extremely supportive; I’m not going to deny that. But there were also people who thought I was fake, didn’t see any value in it. Some of those [people] are going to think that if you have any profile whatsoever, so it didn’t phase me.

STONE: Just on a side note, “Trust Me” and “All In Love” are some of the dopest sample flips I’ve ever heard.
CLOUD.: Thanks man. No definitely, doing that shit – I was really eager to sample soul records, and I flipped the Barbara Mason joint. And the other one I think is a Motown Record, like Etta James or something. I loved the sound of soul sampling and chopping, and I wanted to do that. Those tracks are me doing that, like I want to do this. I want to have a soul track with dope vocals and I want to chop it my own way. Those sounds are me discovering that for myself.

STONE: Right, so do you have a process when it comes to beat tapes or is it just you making beats and putting them into a collection.
CLOUD.: Yea that’s pretty much it – it’s accumulation. I definitely had some projects where I held off on releasing stuff as long as a year or two, tracks that I thought should be a certain project, but didn’t line up with anything else I had made at the time. Mostly it’s just accumulation. I’ll work on shit and once I have enough, it’s time for another release.

STONE: Alright, if I understand correctly, my friend who told me about you, he discovered you because he went to a beat battle that you were in? I was hoping you could talk about some of the beat battles you were in.
CLOUD.: Oh my god [Laughs]! Damn dude, it was funny I was telling mad cats about that. When I was coming up discovering this shit, that was how a lot of producers came up. If you look up the stories of Kanye West, Just Blaze and !llmind, they all came up through beat battles and showcases. When I was learning how to do what I was doing, I was watching videos and I loved the energy. It seemed like all love, like people would share [their music]. [The producers] would drop a beat and everyone would go crazy. It just seemed like a good thing, like a community, and I wanted that. So when I got to New York finally in ’08, that culture was already on its way out. I was at the very tail end. I’ll be completely honest, it was very shitty. It was all business; people were just trying to get paid, you’d have to pay to get into the beat battles, and then there’d be a cash prize. Honestly, looking back, a lot of it seemed fixed. It was pretty bad, man. People were really selfish and just wanted to show themselves and didn’t give a fuck about anyone else. I remember I went to a beat battle one time and this guy who wasn’t even participating started talking into the mic and he was talking about his own shit. He said “shout out to me” like he was a rapper or something. Honestly, man, I was pretty disillusioned. That stuff doesn’t even exist anymore; that stuff’s done. That was the beginning of me being in New York, it was just like “wow, maybe I made a mistake” [laughs]. Maybe the culture wasn’t what I thought it was. But the fact was, that thing in itself was on its way out. It doesn’t mean the music was shitty, it was me being in New York and not fucking with the right people, and also that culture coming to a halt. But that’s chill, that’s cool that someone remembered me because I used to go to those battles and I would have CDs and I would give people beat tapes. I just wanted people to know who I was, that’s why I did it.

STONE: I don’t know if he was actually able to get one of your CDs, but yeah, he say he went to a beat battle and that’s when he heard Ice Cream Cola [Redux], and then he passed that on to me. Ever since then we’ve been listening to your beats. But you did move from beat battles to performances, right?
CLOUD.: Yeah, I was doing both. I remember the first show I probably played was this place called “Goodbye Blue Monday,” which is in Bushwick. They have shows everyday, and it’s all submission-based. They don’t really turn away anyone because there’s no money involved, so you pick a date and if you can get a list together, they’ll just let you have a show. I had the [MPC] 2500 and I would play a beat and it was so awkward, it was like playing songs. I would just a play a beat out, and then I would fade it out and people would clap, and then I’d plan another one.

STONE: [Laughs]
CLOUD.: Then eventually I started using a mixer and two MPs, and then I would just mix beats. I’d play one beat, load up another one on the other MP, and when one’s done, play the other beat and then load up the other one and keep going until I play it out. I was part of the indie rock community in Brooklyn. I wasn’t really in the hip-hop community. I was trying to show people my music, but it wasn’t the right place at that time. I wasn’t around people that were interested in the same things. But like I said, I was doing it because I wanted to do it, I wanted people to know who I was.

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The author Stone

Stone is a hip-hop enthusiast residing in NJ/PA. As an aspiring hip-hop producer, Stone studies communications and shares his passion for music by letting the world in on the wonderful world of hip-hop.