“I Don't Believe in Giving Up on a Beat": An Elaquent Interview
The Mello Music Group artist on almost walking away from music, dusting off 14-year-old beats, and collaborating with Blu, Oddisee, and Guilty Simpson.
From an outsider’s perspective, the decade-plus leading up to Elaquent’s latest album Forever Is A Pretty Long Time likely seemed like an impressive hot streak. After self-releasing his debut In Colour, Vol. 1 in 2008, the Guelph, Ontario producer put out a remarkable 19 records in 12 years, including a string of successful projects with Toronto-based label URBNET.
After earning a release in Fat Beat’s prestigious Baker’s Dozen instrumental album series, he signed to Mello Music Group—home of Apollo Brown, Quelle Chris, Open Mike Eagle, Oddisee, and many other celebrated MCs and producers. When the label put out his debut Blessing In Disguise in February of 2019, Elaquent appeared poised to make major moves.
Beneath the surface, however, frustration brewed. The grind of continuously making music, keeping the public’s interest, and a social media side hustle that so many artists must contend with nowadays led to fatigue, and more recently, a near breaking point. “That's something that I have to sort of live with multiple times every year,” he says. “Last year in particular, I almost said just fuck music altogether on at least five different occasions.”
A modest initial response to his Forever Is A Pretty Long Time rollout—one that included movie poster-style artwork for the Guilty Simpson-assisted “Thread Count”—didn’t help. Comparing the online reception of his hard work to the clamor over the latest celebrity gossip made him question his career path. “I have my moments where I just feel unstoppable,” he says. “But I also have a lot days where I'm just like, ‘Why am I still doing this?’”
Thankfully, Elaquent was able to navigate the highs and lows and stay the course. His sophomore Mello Music Group effort hit shelves in February 2020 and has since earned strong praise from several outlets. Ashley Hampson wrote an especially glowing review for Exclaim! that praised the album’s drastic shift from his typically beat-focused releases, with guest MCs spitting verses on nine of the album’s 13 cuts.
Though the volume of guest vocalists is notable and may be a sharp contrast to his earlier records, the creative process for Forever Is A Pretty Long Time remained largely the same. Elaquent is still leaning heavily on FL Studio 8.0.0, a version of the famed software that came out 12 years ago.
His preferred version of Windows being in an “end-of-life” phase may force him to upgrade eventually, but until then, the veteran producer remains content leaving things as-is. “I'm kind of stubborn,” he says. “I'm a very strong believer and if it didn't break, don't fix it.”
To chop up samples for his expertly constructed FL Studio beats, Elaquent often puts the 22-year-old multi-track recording program Cool Edit Pro to work. He also us uses the DAW for much more advanced tasks in his composition process. “Especially in the case of this record, when I'm actually arranging shit with locals and so forth, it's usually Cool Edit where I'm doing my edits and sort of lining things up with the beat,” he says.
(Cool Edit Pro project session for “Reminisce” featuring Blu & Cicero courtesy of Elaquent.)
To set the perfect tone for the album, Elaquent dug into the archives and pulled out the “Forever Intro” from his 2006 session files. First composed in a much less refined period of his beatmaking process, he initially made the song by chopping up a sample from an UndergroundHipHop.com producer forum sound pack with Cool Edit Pro. In an exercise of addition by subtraction, he removed the hi-hats, kick, and snare from the 14-year-old beat until it was something fresh and new. This process of breathing new life into old, unfinished beats is something Elaquent prides himself on. “I don't believe in giving up on a beat,” he says. “I've literally never deleted a beat that I started before.”
The album’s second track “Guidelines” is another highlight moment—one that almost didn’t happen. After connecting with Oddisee at the Toronto Jazz Festival, Elaquent first emailed him the instrumental while his labelmate was in the middle of a busy tour. With the album deadline looming and no reply email containing a recorded verse, Elaquent decided to reach out one more time before leaving the song as an instrumental. To his pleasant surprise, he received a complete song a few days later with deeply personal verses and a beautifully sung chorus. “I was kind of just in awe, like, ‘This is is one of the best songs that I've had my name attached to,’” Elaquent says. “I was borderline in tears just geeking out about it.”
Working with variety of MCs in addition to Oddisee was also a humbling experience, one that taught Elaquent when to scale back his production to let the verses shine and when to use the hook as a way to inject a different energy into the song. This was especially true on “Reminisce” featuring Blu and Cicero. “I basically had to sort of strip down the beat a little bit during the raps, otherwise, you know, it gets drowned out,” he says. “Then it's like, “Dude, you have Blue on this song. Let him shine on it.’”
On other standout tracks, Detroit legend Guilty Simpson bodies a beat outside of his typical wheelhouse with “Thread Count,” producer peer and MC brainorchestra. laces the head-nodding “Lottery Check,” and the stuttering drums, beautifully laid piano keys, and a fluttering accents on “Vices” provides the perfect instrumental outro.
Even though he was close to walking away from music recently, Elaquent’s latest project proves that his work is needed now more than ever. What was originally intended to be a mostly-instrumental LP morphed into an important entry in the producer album canon.
Regardless of what he cooks up next, the music on Forever Is A Pretty Long Time will undoubtedly endure.
Thanks for reading, see you on Friday!