As I sit across from Toronto underground hip-hop producer Vokab, in his quaint little house that he shares with his family, surrounded by grass and farmland, I can’t help but continuously glance at the spot behind his record shelf where he just finished telling me about the metre-long milk snake he found while cleaning last week. His studio walls are adorned with foam sound pads, various film and music posters and a long sheathed katana, the curved shape of its blade bringing me back to the image of the snake’s curling tail.
Vokab hails from Brampton, Ont., but currently lives in King City with his long-time girlfriend and two daughters. Since he was 12, he’s been experimenting with different hobbies – from skateboarding to breakdancing (his group, Swift Demons, was actually sponsored). Finally, he has found his niche in the music business. A recent collector of rare and hard-to-find vinyl, he samples the lesser-known bits from songs he finds while perusing different records.
“I started rapping in 2002,” he says. “I made the full transition to producing a few years later in 2005.” Vokab began to delve into the world of producing, and after unsuccessfully juggling rapping and producing, he began to fully devote his time to producing since he “wasn’t really making any progress” artistically or financially as a rapper. Over time, he realized that both his zeal and prowess were molded for the behind-the-scenes of the music industry.
When asked about the time he devotes to other passions in his life, he says, “I am a full-time father and producer, and there is nothing else that I am more absorbed in right now. I find it hard to try and juggle many different things in life.
“I find that I can accomplish more when I focus completely on what I love, and that’s music. It’s the only way that I can continue progressing as a producer.”
“People lie to me about their commitment to buying beats and literally try to steal my work,” he says. Although most of his clientele aren’t in the business of pulling fast ones, there are many amateur artists who cannot afford to spend money on well-produced beats, and it is something he is constantly aware of when dealing with new customers.
Though this may seem like the worst thing to happen – that is, dealing with swindlers – Vokab admits that it gets worse.
“The worst thing that could happen to a producer, and it’s happened to me a few times, is to not get credit for your hard work. I’ve been in a situation where whoever was in charge of writing the credits for a song wrote a different producer’s name in my place by mistake. Sometimes it can’t be fixed because it’s already been printed, and I never end up being fully recognized for it.”
He can spend anywhere from two hours to two days to two weeks working on a track and at the end of the day, nothing lessens the blow of not receiving credit for his work.
His creative flair doesn’t shut off once he’s finished putting the different bits of sound together.
“When I’m finished a track – which I create using FL Studio – the next steps include mixing and making sure everything sounds right.”
Vokab often collaborates with a musician who helps to add varying elements to the instrumental track. This helps him combine his work with real, live instruments. Vokab sells his music to various artists – regulars and newcomers. They purchase exclusive rights to his track, which means they own full rights and can tweak the beat to better match their personal taste and the vocals they wish to use.
“When it ends up in the artist’s hands, they engineer it how they want,” he says.
I asked him about the best part of being in this business, and his response turned out to be something everyone probably wishes they could attest to.
“Working with and meeting some of my favourite artists that I listened to growing up,” he answers.
“I like to focus on working with artists I enjoy listening to. That’s not to say I only work with people whose music I enjoy – that’s not what producing is about. You work with people from all levels of the industry and you gain a certain level of respect within the community.”
He further explains that, if a producer is able to get someone relevant on their beats, it raises the respect they receive in the community. The majority of the time, the artist on their track is not someone whose music they necessarily enjoy.
Producing music has its up and downs, which Vokab has clearly experienced throughout his music career. From lying customers to not being acknowledged, the business obviously has its cons, but it’s the energy and creativity that a producer breathes into the music and the knowledge picked up along the way that make it worthwhile.
So Vokab will continue banging out sick beats while laying low behind the record shelf. Out of sight, but definitely not out of mind.