Meek Mill & Lil Durk producer C-Sick filters Chicago's musical history through his knocking beats.
C-Sick has been one of Chicago's hardest working producers for quite a few years now, and within the last little while, his name has begun to catch up with his impressive body of work. Recently working with artists like Meek Mill, Lil Durk, and Chance The Rapper, as well as keeping up relationships with longtime collaborators King Louie and Logic, the producer is more recognized than he's ever been, but his work ethic has remained the same throughout.
As present as Chicago's history is in his music, C-Sick actually spent the first ten years of his life in France. His mother, who grew up in Chicago, studied overseas, where she met the producer's father and started a family. When the two divorced 15 years later, C-Sick's mother decided to bring him and his two sisters back to her hometown, which is where he began making music.
C-Sick went from casual experiments in juke and footwork to working with Nas in just a few years time. We spoke to him about his beat battle victories, growing up alongside greats like Chance The Rapper, and some of his most well-known production placements. Click through the galleries to read his story.
Transititioning from footwork to hip-hop, winning the Big Tunes Beat Battle & working with Nas While he had been a fan of rap since his childhood spent watching MTV in France, the first movement that C-Sick caught on to in Chicago was the lively regional scene of footwork and juke.
"It was like really popular in the 2000s, early 2000s, maybe even late 90s, I don’t know, but I know when I was growing up in Chicago when I was 10, it was huge," he said of the genre's cultural influence at the time. "You either played sports, gangbanged or you footworked or did the Juke music. Doing footwork tracks and that was pretty big in the hood. So basketball was like my main thing, that was my passion. Then one time, when it was cold out or raining, my homie just showed me how to produce. He showed me the basics for making footworking tracks. I was just curious, so from there, I downloaded the program, which was FL Studio -- because at the time that’s what he was making."
Gradually, the producer's FL Studio experiments made their way into hip-hop.
"After doing footwork for like a year, you know, just having fun with it. I switched to hip hop because I grew up listening to hip-hop, so why not switch the tempo up? So I just did that and then I got into sampling after hearing Kanye West and Just Blaze. After that, I started looking through credits and learning more about music and sampling and the art, just the art of sampling and creating music."
C-Sick credits Kanye West's "Through The Wire" with inspiring him to learn the art of sampling.
"My mom used to play the original record and Kanye West flipped it and I was kind of shocked – like, “Wow, that’s pretty amazing.” And then I just noticed that hip-hop is based off a lot of samples. I just did my research and found out more about it. I started to understand the techniques on my own and just by watching YouTube tutorials. I didn’t have any mentors or anything like that. I just learned through a friend that lived just on the next block who showed me the basics. And then from there, learned on my own. "
After developing his style as a rap producer, C-Sick got his first big break when he won the 2008 Red Bull Big Tunes Beat Battle in Chicago.
"I was like 17, 18 at the time," he recalled. " I wanted to, like I said, make a name for myself. So I started watching YouTube videos and they had like Beat Battles so I did my research and, you know, typed in “Beat Battles in my local area” or whatever. Luckily, they had one. I remember, it was the summer and I submitted like 3 beats to enter the battle."
After being selected, C-Sick took the title in his hometown, before moving on to the finals in New York, where he also emerged victorious, giving him the opportunity to work with a rapper of his choice. His initial pick was Common, who was special to him because they were from the same city, but when that fell through, he settled for his second pick -- Nas.
"That moment was definitely surreal because just growing up in France I remember watching MTV and seeing him and listening to him on the radio, or like watching his videos," he said of getting the news he'd be working with Nas. " And then the whole thought of coming to Chicago in the US, living here, and now I’m working with this guy. Like who would’ve thought? So that was pretty surreal. I wasn’t starstruck like that but I remember just the next couple days like, “Wow, I really made a song with him.” I like the old Nas a lot so I made sure I gave him something like that. He liked the whole fact that I presented the beat to him. Out of all the beats I played for him, I’m like, “This is really the one I really want you to get on.” And he killed it. So that would be like, you know, a precious moment in my life."
One of the first artists C-Sick developed a strong connection with was Logic, long before the Maryland rapper had made a name for himself.
"He had reached out via Twitter, and I had never heard of this kid before," he recalled. "I was probably like a freshman in college, like 19 or 20. He said he wanted to use the beat I had on my mixtape. I was like, “Yeah go ahead.” Like it’s a beat tape -- anybody can rap over it. Anyway, the “We Get High” joint which Fabolous, he had rapped over as well. From there, he’s like, “Could you sample this for me?” And he had sent me the sample which was the sample to “Dead Presidents 3” and we did that in like one day. The process was so fast like I was kind of blown away. After looking him up, I saw how versatile he was which is like one of my gifts as well. I was like, “Wow.” And the fact that he knew how to mix, engineer, and record his own vocals – like we was knocking out songs in less than a day."
The fact that both artists were extremely driven is what brought them together.
"I was hungry and he was hungry as well, said C-Sick. "He’s very dedicated to his music and his craft. Dead Presidents 3 is like one of his that people love. That’s how we developed a relationship.I flew myself to Maryland and I’m like, 'I gotta work with this kid'. Stayed there in his basement – his guy’s basement – when he had nothing, like when he was broke. I was there for 10 days in his basement, just working - him, me and 6ix, his in-house producer."
Since those early days, the two have kept in touch, with C-Sick landing "Run It" and "Never Been" on Logic's latest album, The Incredible True Story.
"I had missed his first album placement because I was in school I was doing a lot of stuff," he said. "But on the second album, he made sure I was going to be on the it because, you know, I laced him with a lot of free beats. Even from songs like 5 A.M. that had like 10 million views and counting to this day."
Quite recently, C-Sick linked up with Lil Durk to work on his mixtape 300 Days, 300 Nights, recording 9 songs, many of which were done in one session.
"Se did get into the studio and he did record like 5 songs," he said, suggesting the others were sent in a pack. "One of them was the “My Beyonce,” which was a single, and “Waffle House” and all of those other songs. He did that in one night."
"My Beyonce" is not only the breakaway hit from the project, but also one of the most R&B-leaning records C-Sick or Durk has ever done, and the melodic potential of the song wasn't immediately clear to the producer.
"When I made it, I made it at home," he said. "I don’t really do R&B songs -- like whenever they always ask me, 'Do you have R&B songs,' I'm like, 'Nah, I really don’t,' but I actually kind of did, I just didn’t know [laughs]. I was thinking about the typical R&B songs at the time and I wasn’t putting two and two together since the R&B style is changing. So then it was like... now I understand it. So that’s why I was able to do songs with like Tink or Lil Durk. Now I have more of those songs and a better feel of who could get on those types of tracks."
Another collaboration that recently took him out of his element was working on Donnie Trumper and The Social Experiment's debut effort, SURF, contributing to "Warm Enough" and "Windows". While it was certainly a different kind of project for him, working with Chance The Rapper was a pretty natural fit, as he's been tight with the CHance and his crew for years now.
The Save Money camp, I’ve been on them like forever, before all this music stuff," he revealed. "Just off parties and mutual friends and hanging out really. Vic Mensa and everybody have come by the house before, and just chilled or whatever. Everybody knows each other so it was just matter of like - Man, he had my number and Chance was like, 'Bro, I need you to come through the studio. We're working on this SURF project. I want you to just do your thing on the drums.'"
While it wasn't a "typical" process for him, it wasn't hard for C-sick to adjust to the sound Chance was looking fpr on the album.
"I come from all different backgrounds so I’m able to tailor certain beats for certain artists," he said. "It was a fun process because it's different and I was able to just do me. It was just us in a room at CRC Studios and everybody just collaborated and gave their input. He wanted some tribal drums, which is kind of completely left field. I just had that with him 'cause I have tons of drums, so I knew exactly what to do. And that’s how it came about."
As far as working with Chicago artists, that's something he's always looking to do.
That was part of my goal, my plan really, to work – to really make an impact on the Chicago scene," he explained. "To really be part of the culture cause like I said before like the Chicago hip hop culture just means a lot to me and I just want to truly be a part of it and not really try to fit in in somebody else’s city elsewhere and try to blend in. Which is fine you know? You can do that. To each his own. But I really felt like it was more important to me to leave you know – I wanted my brand C-Sick to represent Chicago to the fullest. You know, I gave a lot of free beats out but I knew it was going to pay off because sometimes its more than money."
Crafting Meek Mill's "Pray For Em" beat & returning to house
The latest thing you probably heard C-Sick on was Meek Mill's ferocious new record, "Pray For Em," which he was contacted about only a week before it was released. Luckily, he'd made an instrumental in case the opportunity ever arose.
"I had a beat for Meek that I always had," he said, "I had that sample for a long time and I actually went through a lot of different beats with it. I just added better drums to it. That sample is actually something that I grew up on in a footwork song. It was a popular, but I can’t find it to this day on YouTube. Somehow I forgot, but I found the sample and I just flipped it in a hip-hop way. A lot of those songs are like that. A lot of my samples too. Some of them like the Lil Durk “Ride 4 Me” it contains a sample that was originally flipped in a Footworking way."
Referencing his hometown's musical history is a theme that runs throughout C-Sick's music, and it won't be going away any time soon.
"A lot my work is a reflection of Chicago, he said. And I try to incorporate that because I want people, at least from my city, when they listen to my beats they understand like 'Oh, I know this sample. I grew up on this sample and he flipped it. And now the world gets to hear it.” But anybody from Chicago, they’ll come to me like 'Bro, I know you flipped that. We used to Footwork off this track, you know?'"
The Meek song might actually be the start of a new direction for C-Sick, as he ventures back through juk e and footwork and revives his love of electronic music. "I’m just trying to branch out this year and even get into house music, which is a side of me that people really don’t know," he said. I’ve been doing this hip-hop stuff for like years. I’m 25 now. And I just want to switch genres I guess, you know? Change is good."
No matter what, we know he'll always keep it Chicago 'til the end.