Just because Sap isn’t a household name doesn’t mean you haven’t listened to him on multiple occasions. The Delaware-raised producer has been putting together high-caliber production for some of your favorite rappers for quite a few years; Meek Mill, Mac Miler, Freddie Gibbs, Wiz Khalifa, and The Game are only a few of the emcees who have graced his instrumentals since he scored his first production credit in 2008.
He’s recently shifted his focus to rapping and released Self-Employed, a mixtape on which he did 100% of the production. The sound was refreshingly different, and it was very well received on HNHH. We noticed, and chatted with Sap over the phone at his Los Angeles home last month to ask about how he got his start, balancing his rapping and producing, and what it feels like to start over.
What was growing up for you like in Delaware, before you started making music?
I moved to Delaware when I was maybe like five or six – from Chester, PA. For those who don’t know, it’s a small city outside of Philly. There’s not much going on in Delaware. There’s nothing really built there in terms of a major city thing. You had all the time in the world to be creative. Period. At first I was into trying to make clothes or whatever – drawing or stuff like that – but then, I got into making music at the age of like 15.
Did you have a person who was pushing you creatively, or was the spark for all that?
I would say really just my close friends. I got a friend named JM, Quan. Those were the main people that were like you know pushing me to do stuff – my friend Ike – we was just kids in a basement making records, making beats. Shit was just cool, it was just fun. That’s all it was – it was never something we looked at like this could be what it is now. It was just - there wasn’t shit all to do. We wasn’t into parties or going to this where everybody was poppin’, so I just had a lot of time to dig into my craft at a young age.
Where does the name Sap come from? Did you come up with that yourself, or was that given to you?
It was kind of given to me – it’s crazy ‘cause it started out ASAP.
Yeah it’s so crazy – I don’t really know where that came from. I’m glad I changed it to Sap. I guess people thought ASAP – it was too lengthy of a thing to say. So people called me Sap. I basically turned it into an acronym – Sound of a Pioneer. And that’s why I got the Pioneer Crew as my team, kinda as my label.
Do you think location was an obstacle for you when you were coming up?
Yeah for sure. It’s crazy because it was an 8 hour train ride to link up with Mac Miller. I ain’t even know about Mac until my friend told me, which was crazy because Mac Miller had actually hit me years before that in high school. He wanted to work with me but I never got around to the message on Myspace. Crazy. But yeah, I went there – I went to Pittsburgh and made Donald Trump. That was the first record we made – we made another record called “Wake Up” off Best Day Ever. Obviously that was my biggest record to date.
People still give it play. I mean the real Donald Trump hasn’t hurt things recently.
(Laughs) Yeah, that was wild for me too, seeing Donald Trump talk about that record. For him to just mention things about the beat, I remember he was taking shots at Mac, talking something ‘bout, “the only thing that’s cool about it is the name and the beat is crazy.” It was insane man. But you know, any exposure is good exposure.
Aside from the difficulty of coming up, what’s the music scene like out in Delaware? Was there a community of you guys out there when you were younger?
It wasn’t a big thing, man. To be honest with you, during the era I was coming up in Delaware, not to make it sound like I had it hard, but it was definitely very tough to even convince people from Delaware to take your music shit seriously. They were like, “nobody’s gonna listen to anybody from Delaware,” whether it’s beats or rap. There wasn’t really anybody taking it seriously – you had a few like the OGs to us, this guy named Richard Raw – you had a guy named Blue Chip who was actually messing around with Game before Game really popped off.
It never was taken serious until I started working with this artist named Shizz Nitty. That’s when I feel like a lot of people started taking things seriously. I did a song with him called “Sox In Da Air” – it was like a catchy ass song in Delaware. And there actually was a drink they made out of it, and then Meek Mill ended up getting on the remix of it – it was a big thing. Now you got people like Ricky Reyes – you got a lot of people that are doing their thing in Delaware now – they’re working – people are starting to make a music scene out there.
Right, and the new internet, with all the social media certainly helps that too.
Exactly. I was at the era when I was burning my beats on CDs, making little beat mixtapes. I had two three big boxes with me going into Philly tryna get on. As a producer, you don’t really have to do that now. You can make a Soundcloud link send it around – ya know, it’s crazy.
I just loved the fact that it was – a part of it was hard, a part of it was easier. Because sometimes people connect with your personality, and sometimes you might have bomb beats but how can somebody see your personality through social media. I think that’s a sense of art form, too. If you’re able to shine your personality through social media – not a lot of people are good at that.
Have you noticed any differences now that you’ve started to crossover into being a rapper in how you network, or how the industry looks at you? Do you come and say, “I’m a rapper,” instead of “I’m a producer”?
Yeah definitely. I don’t want to say too much, but you can get some funny vibes with certain rappers because there are certain rappers that like to have producers around when they want producers around. They don’t want nobody with a secret motive maybe plotting on any spots, you know how it go.
It’s definitely a lot of that goes on. But there’s some people who even take to me more because they see that I’m thinking more about creating beats from an artist’s standpoint. I understand their needs more, in a sense. There’s definitely some funny vibes with some guys. I don’t know what to say about that – it is what is – I’m just doing what I’m doing.
For sure. You made a pretty big name for yourself as a producer, and kind of reached a pinnacle – you got Donald Trump talking about your stuff – and then you started rapping. Do you feel like you’re starting from scratch?
Yeah I do, and I actually like that because starting something new always means growing. I was telling somebody – everybody knows I’m such a big Kanye fan – and I think that’s what he was going through with doing his fashion thing. Obviously it’s way bigger, he’s Kanye at the end of the day – but I think no matter what it is, when you’re good at one thing, you’re a certain level at one thing – you’re starting over almost because there are people that are just looking at that success you’ve already had.
Now I’m at a point where I have to get people who are rap fans – not fans of me or my beats. Know what I’m saying? That’s where it becomes difficult. Kanye’s doing clothes on a major ass level, where now he wanna do shoes – and he earned that. Now he’s got people going ape shit over his shoes but he earned that because that’s a whole ‘nother craft he’s getting into. And that’s how it is man. It’s rough. The transition even in music is rough. He had it rough. And Hit-Boy, when he was first trying to rap people were like, “oh man, don’t rap, just do this, this and that.” People are close minded – they don’t see anything until you show them.
It’s kind of like Walmart I guess. When they started selling car products, I know me, I would never buy a tire from Walmart. And Walmart might have great tires, but I was programmed to just think that they’re just like a big ass convenience store. I don’t think this is anything new man. It doesn’t mean it’s any less good – you gotta make people believers – they gotta believe that it’s what you say what it is.
Yeah, totally. I think that’s a good analogy – the Walmart thing.
Yeah, who would think I’m gonna go get my new tire from Walmart? Nobody really would think that. But I’m sure they probably have better tires than a lot of places where you can go get your tires from.
What first made you want to crossover from producer to rapper? Was there something that sparked you, or has it always been there?
Man, I always had thoughts of rapping. I didn’t really have that support to rap at first ‘cause I was so shy in the beginning to even rap in front of people, even rap in the studio. I always had the urge to do it – but I was like maybe this is not for me.
Then I recorded a few records one day, and the homie DJ GQ heard it, and he was like, “yo this is crazy. There were a lot of people who were shitting on it like, “man nah stick to beats,” but he was like, “yo but these are his first two records! He hasn’t even worked yet. Give him some time. His first two records sound like this?” He heard the potential. Shizz Nitty, the guy I mentioned from Delaware who had big records from my area – he blessed me and let me get on songs that he had. And put me on a platform back home where people were like, “ok he rapping and stuff now.” It gave me that courage and that confidence to just know that I had something good. It’s really the support, man, period. It’s really not even a time thing. Once you’ve got enough friends telling you something whether it’s good or bad – you’re probably gonna start believing it. Whether it’s good or bad, period.
As you rap more, and you’re working on another project, do you find yourself producing less?
Man, I don’t know – That’s a good question. I really don’t know at this point.
It’s still very new for you.
Yeah, some days I wake up and I’m like, “I wanna make beats all day.” Some days I wake up where I’m like, “I wanna rap all day.” I’m all over the place with it. I can’t even lie – if Nipsey give me a phone call, and Nipsey is like, “yo, we on the last leg on the album, man – come through and play some, ” then I’m in producer mode. I’m so amped off that shit. I could go a whole week without even writing a rap or something. It’s weird.
You haven’t really jumped into the trap sound or autotune. You definitely have a more traditional approach to rap. Is there a specific reason for any of that?
I would say the era. I’m 26 so; I come from an era where that’s the style and I’m molded by that era. I really lived my years of junior high and all that – I lived in the Dipset era. The Jay era. The Kanye, 50 Cent era. So of course those are my things that I like. And I like a lot of the new stuff, too. But some stuff isn’t for everybody. And with the music I make, I’m not trying to say, “oh I’m so hip hop.” A lot of people are doing that. But it’s more like that’s just me. That’s just who I am. I love some of the trap stuff. You see how I try to tap into that on “C4” with me and Mac – kind of trap a little bit.
Yeah, it has a little flavor.
Yeah, but it’s as you said, it’s not traditional trap, which you hear in terms of lots of synthesized sounds and maybe like heavy 808s. It’s more of like what I would do on a beat sonically with an east coast New York – like an east New York type of beat. In a trap way. Know what I’m saying?
So yeah, that’s just my sound. And I think it’s something honestly that’s missing. I think making that type of music on a big scale like where it can still be big – I think that’s really a missing thing right now.
Definitely. And you also, you ride solo on a lot of your stuff. Self-production, is that a conscious choice because your album is called “Self-Employed”?
It just worked out like that. That Self-Employed thing was really about me being – it’s self-explanatory, me being self-employed – I’m not tied into any deals. I don’t even have a pub deal, I never did a pub deal as a producer ever. I’m not signed to anybody. This is straight off of the hustle, everything I’ve earned. So I kind of feel like that was the story behind this project.
It’s funny, I didn’t even notice that until I seen people talk about how it’s self-produced, and I was like damn that might be the reason why people think it’s called Self-Employed. Yeah, it just happened like that. It’s just rapping off my own beats, and I just know what I like. I’m super picky, and I feel that I can be as picky as possible with myself without being annoying. Somebody else, maybe not.
Where do you see your place in hip hop? Is it really kind of bringing back that big sound – the more traditional hip hop sound?
A lot of people are gonna think I’m crazy. I think it’s the future; people really doing things their way ‘cause a lot of people are hard on artists and like talk about how artists sound the same. But we need to question some of the producers too. The artists only have the same beats to rap off of, know what I mean? Maybe it’ll get to the point where artists say “you know what, man? I’ve had enough, I’m gonna make my own shit. The music I want to make.” I think that’s where it could kind of start at. You hear a lot of stories of producer-rappers where they started making beats because they had no beats. J. Cole, I think it happened for Cole like that – I think it was like that with Kanye. I think that’s gonna be a big thing because people are tired of getting beats with the same sound over and over again, nahmean?
Hopefully I can be a part of, or the leader of that – of people being just doing what they want to do in hip hop. I miss the era when Dipset had their sound, Roc-A-Fella had their sound, C-Block had their sound.
Do you think it’s almost too much collaboration? Not that people shouldn’t collaborate, but people have gone crazy now because everyone can connect so easily.
Yeah man, everybody – that’s another thing - I feel like the game is way too friendly. You know what I hate man? I hate when I see interviews from rapper, right? And they’re asked a question, “Who are your closest people in the business, in the game right now?” And they’ll name everybody who has a top ten record out.
It’s like, “come on dawg,” you know all of those dudes ain’t your bro. I feel like there’s no integrity, there’s no boss in town in the game. Everybody is so scared to stand on their own two feet. People are so scared of people not agreeing with what they’re doing. Like man, just do what you’re doing.
I hate to sound like the typical old head who is stuck in the olden times, but that’s what I loved about that era. That’s what was dope to me. Everybody was themselves. Everybody was competing with each other by being themselves at the highest form possible. Nobody was like, “he got this model Bentley, let me go get this same model Bentley, but I’ma get two of ‘em and I’ma get it this color.” It was more like, “yo this is what this person wear where they riding? This is what we wear where WE riding.” Everybody had their brand. Like Dipset was big on matching the colors down to a T with the bandana. Everybody had their thing. Do your own thing, man, period. That’s how I feel.
I think that’s a great message. Do you have anything else in the pipeline you want to tease for fans?
I got production coming with Nipsey – man there’s some things I can’t give away – but I’m working on stuff with Nipsey. Victory Lap sounding crazy. Kid Ink, I’m working on stuff with him. I’m working on stuff for Wiz. New Mac stuff is crazy. I’m working on my next project. I got some dope features on it. One of them just made XXL Freshman, shoutout to Lil Dicky. I don’t wanna give it all away. It’s gonna be dope.