Meet Nard & B, the Atlanta duo behind one of the most inspirational movements in hip-hop production.
“We want people to know, when you come to Atlanta, you deal with Trench Werk and Nard & B.”
The production duo is an indelible part of the Atlanta rap scene, and has been for years. Both Nard & B have been in the city for their whole lives, though they have dreams of taking their brand worldwide. That vision is now beginning to take shape.
When a song opens with a stuttering “Trench Werk,” one can expect a product of hard work and one with deep respect for the Atlanta music culture. It’s fitting that they’re behind the hypnotic backdrop on “T-Shirt,” one of the biggest hits off the Migos’ Culture.
Like the trio’s raps, Nard & B’s beat is a master class in taking a track to another world without obscuring the foundation of their craft: The bottom — the trenches — and all of the grit one might find there, which makes trap music of this quality feel so authentic.
Nard & B met in the mid-‘00s at engineering school and started working on music together shortly thereafter. Nard got a gig interning at Grand Hustle, and he got a chance to show off his and B’s stuff one night when the team didn’t have any beats on hand. That night, they scored their first official placement, on Big Kuntry’s “That’s Right,” which featured T.I. on the hook. And they also earned themselves a record deal.
Months later, they used the Tip connection to link with Just Blaze and co-produce Maino’s “All the Above,” which would become a top 40 single. They wouldn’t see another hit like it until “T-Shirt.” But therein lies the integrity of Nard & B’s movement.
Soon after signing to Grand Hustle, the duo set up its own production company: Trench Werk. Their goal wasn’t to rack up big-time industry credits but to establish a ground-level reputation, with their constant workflow resonating throughout the Atlanta streets. They wanted to work with hungry, like-minded young rappers. One such artist was Future.
Since producing “Splashin’,” the still-undeniable collab between Future and F.L.Y. (Fast Life Yungstaz) that ended up on the original Dirty Sprite tape in early 2011, Nard & B have been behind some of the Freebandz President’s best work. That includes Pluto’s “Straight Up” and “You Deserve It” as well as “Throw Away,” the harrowing two-part exhibit of heartlessness and heartbreak off 2014’s Monster.
Everything they’ve worked for — and built together from scratch — is channeled into Purple Reign’s “Inside the Mattress,” an anthem brimming with earthshaking levels of triumph.
Though Nard & B have become tied to trap music, and everything it represents, their sonic palette knows no bounds. It so happens that some of their toughest tracks are made up of the most alien sounds — those rarely heard in the street-oriented genre that they operate in.
To them, there’s no limit to what can be born out of the trenches, and what sounds can be created in Trench Werk studios. Taking a break from an everyday cook-up session, Nard tells me, “You can be in a mansion and listen to somebody that’s making music from a one-room apartment.”
Learn more about Nard & B’s production philosophy, as well as some of their favorite moments from their decade-long career, in the below interview.
HNHH: "T-Shirt" is really blowing up right now. Did you make that beat with the Migos in mind?
B: We kind of have a little process here at Trench Werk studio. We kind of cook up a certain batch of beats that we want to shop industry-wise, and that beat happened to be in the batch that Nard shot over to Takeoff.
HNHH: Did you know what they had in store with the crazy video?
B: Not at all. They really took that beat, and just created a whole vision for it. We really feel blessed and privileged to be a part of what they're doing right now with that Culture album, and that track being one of the frontrunners for the album.
HNHH: And that's not even the first hit you've had called "T-Shirt."
B: We actually had "T-Shirt" on Honest, for Future.
Nard: It's one of our favorites.
HNHH: Let's take it back now. When did you guys first start out in the scene?
B: We got our first official placement with Grand Hustle when we signed with T.I., and we had a song called "That’s Right," with Big Kuntry, and T.I. was on the hook. That was our first official single. Then we got a song with Maino and T-Pain that we co-produced with Just Blaze.
HNHH: "All the Above."
B: Yeah. That’s probably to this day our biggest song, as far as performance-wise on Billboard.
HNHH: What was it like getting a huge hit like that right off the bat?
B: You know what, coming in, being fresh in, it was definitely a blessing to have that type of success straight out of the gate. But what I would say it kind of did is just what we learned down the line — was that it kind of spoils you, ‘cause you fail to really lay your foundation down and build your name in the area you’re in and the city you’re in. It gets kind of rough when you don’t get that foundation down first.
HNHH: So after "All the Above," you still had a lot of work to do to build up your brand?
B: Yeah, that was kind of always our motivation. We always have that mindset — “from the ground level,” “from the bottom level.”
Nard: Trench Werk — working from the bottom up. When we got that single, you know, we really had to sit back and think about: How can we really monopolize the whole industry — underground and major? So that’s when we sat back and really started digging in as far as underground artists. We started working with artists like Future. That’s when he first came out.
HNHH: You've been a duo ever since you started out. Is it always gonna be that way?
B: Yeah, definitely. We believe so. At the end of the day, you can never out-beat the power of two heads, compared to one. It kind of prevents us from really having those down times and them dry spells or beat blocks or anything. You know, the ideas just keep flowing.
HNHH: I'm hearing these days that the Trench Werk studio is becoming a legendary spot in Atlanta. What's the scene like on an average day?
Nard: When we first built the studio, our whole mindset was more production-wise. So we could just have somewhere — a central location — to pull up and make beats and work on songs whenever we wanted to. Once we got that, all the artists that we’ve been working with decided like, “Oh, that’s where y’all are?"
And what ended up happening is, we ended up doing bodies of work. When we did those bodies of work, that’s when we started the Trench Muzik series — Trench Gotti, Jose Guapo tape — Extravagant Trench Shit. Man, we working right now on Skooly’s new tape that we gonna drop in February.
HNHH: You had a crazy output last year. With the tapes you just mentioned, along with Trench Zuse and K Camp's RARE. Was last year your most productive year ever?
Nard: The reason why the outside would look at it as our most productive year is because of the songs and the success we had last year. But our whole mindset from January 1st to December 31st is, you know, we just gotta keep working. We gotta get with as many people as possible, put our name and our brand out there as much as we can, so next year, we can sit back and say, "We did well last year, so now this year we can do more." That’s our whole goal every year — do more.
HNHH: Let's highlight some of your biggest songs. Future's "Inside the Mattress." That's one of his top motivational songs.
B: We have the type of relationship with Future where — we play him 5 beats, he’s gonna record to 4. It was one of those ones we took over there that night, and he heard it, and that’s just the vibe he was in at the moment.
HNHH: When you're working with Future, are you always in the studio together?
B: Yeah, it’s because we started out that way with him. You can see it online — in the "Making of 'Feeling I Get'" video. That was always our foundation when it came to working with him, so even now — while a lot of producers may send him beats while he’s out on the road or moving around — we’ll just wait until he’s back in the city. And he’ll just call one of us, like, “I’m back in the city, let’s get in.” We have to keep that vibe.
HNHH: With all the guys you're constantly working with in Atlanta, are you content in keeping your operation there, or would you like to expand your brand to other cities?
Nard: We’re definitely trying to expand our brand — to the whole world. We’ve always been real adamant about using this [Atlanta] as our solid foundation. We never wanted to be like, “Ah man, you know, they on the road now, and we don’t really see them." We want people to know, when you come to Atlanta, you deal with Trench Werk and Nard & B. We made Atlanta that solid foundation, and from there, we're gonna try to spread out as much as we can, and travel as much as we can in the oncoming years.
HNHH: It seems that even as you get bigger, you're always gonna stay working with the young, underground artists.
B: Yeah, absolutely. At the end of the day, me and Nard, we really, really enjoy the craft of producing, know what I’m saying? And working with that new fresh talent, we kind of get that opportunity to just do what we do best.
HNHH: I wanna go back to Future, 'cause you guys get to see him work in a way that most don't. It must be special to see him do a song like "Inside the Mattress" and then completely switch gears for a song like "Throw Away," with so much dark energy.
B: What a lot of people don’t know about Future is that he’s a great multitasker when it comes to mapping out his future projects. Perfect scenario — we’ll go to the studio, and we’ll play him a batch of beats. He may record six records — full records — and all six of ‘em will sound completely different from each other. But he has six projects that he knows he wants to put each one on.
He thinks that far ahead. And that’s inspiring for us. Going to the studio with Future, like if we don’t even do any songs, we learn so much besides just making music.
HNHH: I wanted to ask about the work you did on Trouble's Skoobzilla tape, which was one of my favorites. I thought it really brought out the Trench Werk sound. What's it like working with him?
Nard: That’s our brother, seriously. He’s one of the most genuine people we’ve met out here. And you know it’s kind of hard to find genuine in the music industry. And the fact that he’s always getting better. I feel like every time we go into a session with him or do a song with him, he gets better every single time. Like he’s one of the fastest-growing artists that I’ve been around the last couple of years.
HNHH: I also want to touch on Lil Uzi Vert's "Seven Million" [featuring Future]. That one does a good job of striking a balance between more spacey, trippy sounds and the grittiness that you guys are known for. Do you have that approach in mind — in bringing those two worlds together?
Nard: I mean, it’s funny you say that because we’ve put that mindset into our beats for probably the last 10 years, but people are finally noticing it. Like ever since we’ve been doing songs like “Futuristic Love” by Yung LA, we’ve been trying to break that mold. You can be in a mansion and listen to somebody that’s making music from a one-room apartment. We’ve always been trying to break that mold, like people don’t have to listen to genres of music, they can listen to all music.
HNHH: I know y'all have plenty of stuff cooking up as we speak. Can you give us a few things we can look out for in 2017?
B: Our focus is really back on our executive production projects. We got a project with T-Wayne that we’re dropping. We got one with Skooly. We got one with OJ Da Juiceman. We got one with Yung LA that we're really, personally, excited about just ‘cause of the history we have.
HNHH: Before I go, just give a quick shout-out to XL, ‘cause I've been seeing him on a lot of your best stuff recently. What is his role within the Trench Werk team?
Nard: That’s our little bro. We met XL like two years ago, and he started coming to the studio and working every day. You know, our big thing is work ethic, and if we see somebody with a great work ethic, and we see that they have some potential, that’s all we need to mold somebody great. So we’re blessed to be able to have a young entrepreneur like XL with us, ‘cause he’s only 21 years old, and we pretty much ushered him in the door with us. He’s gonna be a monster by the time he gets to our age.