Focus...'s given name is Bernard Edwards Jr., after his father Bernard Edwards, bassist and founding member of noted '70s funk band Chic and creator of one of the greatest bass lines of all-time. Born and raised in New York City, Focus... launched his music career at a time when jazz was frequently sampled in East Coast hip hop, and he brought that jazz-heavy production sound when he moved from NYC out to Los Angeles in the early '90s. He drew inspiration early on from jazz musicians like Grant Green and Horace Silver and hip hop groups like A Tribe Called Quest. In our phone conversation, he listed Dr. Dre, DJ Premier, Prince, and, especially, Stevie Wonder as his biggest influences.
"Whatever color Stevie is trying to paint with his music, I try to listen intently and do the same thing with my music," he explained. "Because he had the most vivid sound and vivid color that he paints in his music, and I really want my music to resonate like his."
He caught the biggest break of his career soon after moving to Atlanta in 2000, when a few songs he made with an artist named Daks found their way into the hands of Dr. Dre. Dre was impressed with the production and eventually met with Focus... and signed him to Aftermath as an in-house producer. In the years that followed he would produce for a bevy of hip hop and R&B stars, but the most successful records of his career came from the most unexpected places.
The first was Mac Dre's 2004 classic "Get Stupid" -- perhaps the defining song of the hyphy movement (“I’m mister stupid, doo doo dumb!), a rollicking good time that has immeasurably enriched millions of functions across the globe. Mac Dre took the beat from from a beat tape because he thought Dr. Dre produced it, as evidenced in the lyric, “This beat pounds, cutty where’d you get it? Oh you ain’t know, Dr. Dre did it!” But Dre didn't produce it -- Focus... did, although it is true that the song's minimal drums, mischievous guitar, violin stabs, and descending piano plink evoke Dre's signature aesthetic.
The song was already a massive hit in the Bay Area before Focus... heard it or even knew about it. "A friend of mine by the name of Don Cannon was rocking the song in the Bay, and he was like, ‘Yo, you got a hit out here,’ and he played it," explained Focus... "He was onstage and I heard the people singing the song, and I was losing my mind. But I didn’t even know he did the record. And I never got to meet him because he passed soon after." Thizz in peace.
The best-selling record of Focus...'s career was the result of his collaboration with Spanish hip hop singer Mala Rodriguez. He produced the bulk of her album Dirty Bailarina, including "No Pidas Perdón," which would win a 2010 Latin GRAMMY for Best Urban Song. "She didn’t speak a lick of English. And the sessions were amazing."
Focus... rescinded full-time duties at Aftermath in '08 to start his own production company a.Fam Entertainment. There was no ill will towards Aftermath and Dre, only a desire to do his own thing.
"I was just making a lot of music, and we weren’t putting anything out over at Aftermath at the time," he explained. "So it was really one of those things where I wanted to hone in and do what Dre has taught me as a mentor. Everything he did from every label he was at, he always had an artist that he wrote for, developed, and brought out to the world with his sound, or their sound that he made for them. And I was like, I can do that."
He signed eight artists, which turned out to be overly ambitious, as he was felt he was unable to give each of them the individual attention they deserved. "I bit off more than I could chew, to be honest," he said. In 2014, he shelved a.Fam and returned to Los Angeles and rejoined Aftermath as an in-house producer.