Image by Trey Smith / All photos courtesy of Southside
Atlanta, Georgia. 2047.
Imagine The Road taking place on Moreland Ave. The city is gone, and violent hordes have taken over the metropolitan area. There’s no law, and human beings are left to be their most savage selves. The smell of death and open sewage linger wherever you wander. A thick, soupy fog covers what’s left of the once-vibrant skyline, leaving a haunting, all-consuming cage over the city. It’s a wasteland as far as the eye can see. Only evil and despair live in this place.
This is what Southside beats sound like.
Originally signed to the imperial Gucci Mane’s 1017 Brick Squad, the producer, who takes his name from the region of Atlanta he grew up in, has since become one of Southern rap’s most important innovators. You’ve been listening to his music for the past half decade, even if you don’t know it. He’s one of Waka Flocka Flame's closest collaborators, having produced songs like Flockaveli's "Fuck the Club Up" and most of Waka's second album, Triple F Life: Friends, Fans & Family. He worked with Kanye & Jay Z on "Illest Motherfucker Alive," Future on "Fuck Up Some Commas," Meek Mill on "Check," and Young Thug on "Danny Glover." He’s created the platform for some of the past year’s best received songs and, alongside Metro Boomin, been unmissable as part of many of 2015's biggest and best projects: Future and Drake's What A Time to Be Alive, Future's DS2, Travis $cott's Rodeo, and, above all, Future and DJ Esco's masterpiece 56 Nights, on which he produced all but one track.
At the age of 26 he’s covered as much of the spectrum as one could hope to. Along with his musical endeavors, Southside is an entrepreneur. He’s the owner of 808 Mafia, the production group that is responsible for dispersing the Judgement Day sound prevalent in trap rap today. Having established the group first a collective, he’s turned it into a business entity comprised of some of the most prominent faces in rap production today. He has plans to take a share of the trap EDM market. ("I respect it, I love it, but I've got to bring what I went through as a kid to that world also," he explained to me.) And they’re not stopping at music. Southside has a vision for breaking into different channels to make 808 Mafia a household name.
While we’re on the topic of diversification, over the past year or so Southside has gone back to his first love: rapping. Under the name Young Sizzle he's previously released two mixtapes in the Free Agent series, and he's preparing a third. I recently gave trap rap’s renaissance man a call to discuss being one of the most sought-after musical minds on earth, working with some of the other most sought-after musical minds on earth, and chain location chicken wings. As it happened, he was just sitting down to eat with Waka Flocka Flame, who he's been working with on Flockaveli 2.
How’s Flockaveli 2 coming?
Flockaveli 2 is crazy right now. We almost finished a couple sessions on it actually. Me and Waka are like brothers, man. I could not see him for two months and then just catch up with him like I did with him today.
Is Young Sizzle going to be on Flockaveli 2?
Young Sizzle’s all over Flockaveli 2 beat-wise. I don’t have no features or nothing. Flockaveli 2 is all Waka, man. Maybe one feature, but it’s all Waka.
Who else have you been working with recently? Future? Thugger?
I just had a whole week session with Future actually. Shit was crazy. I’ve been limiting my time, though. Like really limiting my time. Anyone else it’s like… yeah. And Waka’s working on two albums at once.
Is that your approach now? You pick one artist and work with just them and kind of focus on that?
Yeah, that’s how I like to do. I like to focus on one artist. I don’t want to be drawn out. I want to make the best body of music people can listen to.
Back to Young Sizzle for a minute. How did it all come about?
I started rapping with Waka a long time ago. We had a song called "Lamborghini" this summer. I was supposed to rap, but I said “I’ma just make these beats; you can rap.” But now I’m back on it shit’s going crazy. I had to record quick, like faster than everybody thinks. I might make ten beats and five songs in a night every time I go to the studio.
Southside and Waka Flocka Flame
When you’re producing what kind of zone do you like to be in?
It really don’t matter. As long as I have something to smoke, my friends around me, I don’t care where we’re at. We could be in the car or wherever. It really doesn’t matter. On a plane. Anywhere. I ain’t bougie, man. I’ll pull up, cook up anywhere. I don’t care. It’s still the same.
What’s working on Flockaveli 2 been like?
Flockaveli 2 is more pressure. It’s like how Dirty Sprite 2 was pressure. It’s part two of an epic album, so it’s gotta be crazy.
There’s more to tell about this chapter of Waka Flocka.
There’s a whole lot more. So much more has happened. We done lost a lot of people; there’s a lot of tragedy. We dropped Flockaveli 1. Flockaveli 1 changed our whole lives. We have a lot to talk about.
On Flockaveli, you made "Fuck the Club Up." What else did you do on the album?
I made "Buss Down" with Lex Luger. "Fuck The Club Up." That’s shit’s so old I don’t even remember everything I made on that motherfucker. I touched everything on that first album for real. Even if it says Lex Luger I still touched it. I touched everything on the first album.
Can I take a quick detour question really quickly? Do you prefer wings from American Deli or Publix?
[Pause] Wings from where? From American Deli or Publix?
What kind of question is that, man? You came to Atlanta with the wrong people.
Where do I go?
It depends. Some good Mardi Gras wings from Publix that’s cooked fresh? Then I’ma fuck with Publix, you know what I’m saying? But it’s hard to find fresh ones. They’re usually real dry. American Deli wings are always poppin, but it depends on which American Deli you go to. That’s the trick to it.
Which location do I go to then?
The best American Deli to me is in Southlake Mall in Clayton County. It’s crazy. You go to that American Deli it’s like everything. The wings are perfect, the drinks are perfect, everything’s perfect. [Laughs] You should see Waka’s face right now. Waka’s face is like “aww man, why you doin that?”
Let me ask you about 56 Nights. It’s my favorite album of the year. I got a jersey with 56 Nights on the back.
I seen Future with one on in Vegas like that I said, “I gotta go get one now.” You got one. I gotta get one now.
With 56 Nights, you sent Future a bunch of beats and one night he told you he was putting the album out?
Actually, I had made all those beats for my artist Slugg Mania. Slugg called me and was like “Hey bro, you ain’t made me no beats in months. Come on bro, what’s going on?” So I said pull up on me we’re gonna make you some beats. I made him all the beats, and then Future called me. And Slugg looked at me and was like “Bro just shoot them shits to Future.” He actually called me the other day and was like “Bro, I would’ve never did what that nigga did, ever in life.”
Is it always the same process? Or in different situations do you have to adapt and make what you feel is right for the artist?
It’s always the same. I just do me. I don’t even make beats for artists. I just do me. If me and an artist click, then we click. I don’t make beats for artists. That’s the difference. I’m a producer. I like to produce my own records. I don’t want you to produce my record. You’re an artist.
You’ve managed to find some great artists to work with. How have you managed to do that?
You've got to understand: I’m one of the forefathers who changed the sound of hip-hop. I ain’t gotta find nobody to work with. Everybody wants to work with me. I just be acting funny sometimes. I might just be like, “I’m just gonna work with Waka for a year and a half.” But I done came out my little shell, and now I’m working with everybody. I don’t give a fuck.
We talked about influences a little bit. Are there any works in other art mediums that have inspired you?
I love the movie Dope. Dope made me want to make a 100 million dollars.
Your music’s kind of dark, and from what you’ve said it comes from where you’re from. How are you able to translate it into sound so well?
I gotta tell you something crazy. I’m in this restaurant right now called Dick’s, and everybody is just an asshole to you in the restaurant. I just watched a waiter throw straws on a little girl.This is the dopest restaurant I’ve ever been to in my life, man.
But back to your question, I honestly don’t know. I've just been doing this for so long, since I was 14 years old. And I always liked how Three 6 Mafia beats sounded, how they were real evil, you know what I’m saying? Like how Shawty Redd always sounded real evil. I loved that.
Kind of like the apocalypse or something.
Yeah like that. It just sounded like the world was ending. I always loved that. Always.
How do you keep it from feeling like work?
You just gotta have fun, bro, like how I’m having fun with you on the phone right now. You just gotta make the best of everything. That’s all. Once it starts feeling like work I don’t want to do it anymore.
Working with other producers, how do you all manage to stay on the same wavelength and make it all make sense?
I just got my vibes. Like me and Metro got a vibe like no other. Also I fuck with an old cat named Jake One. Jake One is dope. He made "The Percocet & Stripper Joint" with me on DS2. But I've got to have a vibe with you. If I don’t have a vibe with you I can’t fuck with you. I could try a million times, and it’s not gonna sound like nothing.
When it comes down to it, are you going to want to be remembered mostly as Young Sizzle, or as Southside?
I just want to make a mark on music forever. I don’t care how it go. Make a mark on music forever so my grandkids could be like “My grandfather was the emperor.” Type of shit like that. I don’t care if they accept me for rapping or not. I don’t care. I make music for my friends and my family. That’s it.
Trey Smith stands on furniture in the club. Follow him on Twitter.