After helming three projects behind the boards for New York hip-hop trio RATKING, producer Eric Adiele, better known as Sporting Life, is stepping out for his debut project on R&S Records.
55 5’s is a collection of beats written over the past couple years, and serves as a prelude of sorts to Sport’s proper full-length debut arriving in 2016. Titled in homage to the producer’s gear of choice, the Roland SP-555, the 10-track beat tape – coming out on cassette – showcases his diverse influences and attempts to bridge the gap between Dipset and DJ Rashad.
I met Sport at Dimes, a health-conscious spot in New York City’s Chinatown located a couple blocks from the producer’s new apartment. After living in Washington Heights since moving to New York from Virginia in 2005, he’s now has made the move downtown. Over salad and juice, Sport discusses the creation process behind 55 5’s, New York City, his sonic influences, equipment setup, and plans for forthcoming projects.
“Footwork changed my life.”
How did you end up releasing on R&S Records?
A guy who works with them named Tomo introduced himself at a RATKING show a year ago. I forget what city we were in. He introduced himself like, “Yo, what’s good?” He was a fan of RATKING, and a fan of my productions. Since then we kept in contact through emails, and when I went back to London, we’d see each other and chill sometimes.
I was just sending him tracks and we would just listen to music and go to shows together. For the tracks on this project, we curated a mix out of the 50 tracks I sent him. We curated a mixture of different ones with different sounds, and those ended up being the album. Then I replaced some stuff with stuff I was working on more currently, so It was stuff from over a couple years.
Do you feel like releasing on R&S Records is going to introduce your sound to a new audience?
Yeah, I think from all the stuff they have put out, they have people who definitely listen to what they have to say. Renaat from R&S came from Belgium to London for the 55 5’s release party, and I had a good conversation with him. He’s hilarious, and such a dope dude. He’s like Bobby Knight or something, like an eccentric coach. I feel even more hyped about the relationship and the bridges it can build between, idea-wise, where I’m coming from, and where everybody else is.
Are there any releases on R&S that you really enjoy?
I like the stuff Lone did, the Aphex Twin stuff they put out. There’s this DJ named DJ Hell. They’ve got such a wide catalogue that I’m still getting into it. But all of it it is good, however it makes its way to me, because I can use it to make something good.
How is it different when you produce for RATKING versus your solo material – how do you decide what goes where?
It’s really no different. If we’re all in the mindset of making an album, we’ll all know that everything I’m making in that time period will be for that. I’ll be trying to hit a certain beat so that we can all be into it, so that will be my mindset. But with my own stuff, I’m trying to stay constantly making stuff and developing structure with Ableton Live. That way you can make things quickly but also have those things be ever-changing and have the ability to flower out. That stuff is just like taking notes, and then out of those notes, the albums come out. So basically like sketches.
This is the first tape release on R&S in years. What was the inspiration for releasing it on that format?
It’s good to have something exist in the physical as well as in the digital. Then you decide what’s the best way you can do that, and what we came up with was the tape. Tape gives it a certain audio quality that changes over time, so in a year, all the tapes that were sold to different people will sound slightly different. When that stuff gets put back on the internet, it all sounds different. It’s also a chance to design a tape, and I came up on listening to tapes. You never really need a good reason to make a tape.
I saw in an old interview that when you went to Chinatown in San Francisco you dug for weird cassette tapes. Are any of the samples from this project pulled from those kind of places?
Yeah, the project definitely includes stuff pulled from my bag of tapes. Both from the stuff we did in SF as well as new tapes, because I live in New York’s Chinatown now. There’s always a place you can stop by and find some out-of-date electronic equipment, cassettes, or VHS tapes and stuff like that to gain different found sounds from. They’re all kind of mixed in so they have a good fidelity with the digital stuff, but yeah, they’re definitely sprinkled in there.
“I came up on listening to tapes. You never really need a good reason to make a tape.”
You previously mentioned how the vocal sample on ‘Badd’ is actually a pitched drum. How do you arrive at those type of results from the samples you use?
There’s a certain setup, like plug-ins you can get that can turn one sound into many sounds. It was more like a set of drums than one drum sound, but if you process it up in the right way and pitch them in Ableton, you can get it to kind of sound however you really want to.
Are there any other samples that will surprise listeners?
I think all of them will surprise you because none of them are really that direct, you know what I mean? Even if they do sound really clean. At least the feedback I’ve gotten of what I’ve made, people hear one thing, and that makes them think it’s one definite thing. Like they will say, “Oh, I love the saxophone in that,” and I’m like, “That wasn’t a saxophone!” I warp maybe two or three sounds in different ways, and then they hear a saxophone. I think with most of the stuff I make, I have no idea how people hear it and what they hear in it.
I was so sure it was a vocal sample.
Yeah, it’s basically just sample manipulation of different elements, and trying to create something, or at least trying to hit a point where you know this sounds like the reference you’re going for.
So why not just go directly for the vocal sample? Why take the time to warp the drums?
It’s really about how you get there, not the ending point of it. In routing Ableton Live in different ways and processing samples with things like Isotope, you get some really cool results. Their drum libraries are really expansive and layered, and they’ll have one patch and it’ll be a drum sample, but layered with three, four different things so you can extract and solo out each of those different sounds and pitch them in different ways. It’s a really cool way to work for me.
What equipment did you use to write the project?
The project was done with Ableton, Sinevibes plugins, SP-555, MX-1, Roland mixer to resample, SPD-SX drum pad, and that’s pretty much it.
Who mixed it?
It’s this producer Daddy Kev. I guess he’s a mixing engineer by trade, but he also works at Low End Theory. He mixed it, and the sound system there has been tweaked and re-tweaked by the same dudes who are mixing in there, so who better to mix your album than a dude who built and maintains and also masters tracks. Good ears, you know?
With this there was no mixing engineer. Basically all the tracks were live takes in Ableton recorded. I mapped certain changeable parameters to keys. Like key one or key two on your laptop, like four things you can change, and just hit record and that’d be it. Just over time doing that, the sound quality will get better. Things are pretty muddy at first, but at least if you want to, you can make things sound better and better. [On a] scale from one to 10, I can get a seven or eight live. Over time you pull the tracks from making them that way.
Did Wiki or Hak give any feedback for this project?
I feel like they gave me a lot of feedback in terms of how they like it now that it’s out. They can hear it in a new light. I’m always making stuff, so they don’t know what’s for what project. It’s kind of interesting playing instrumentals for different people, and who feels it versus who doesn’t. Someone might think a beat is wack because someone doesn’t immediately have a response to it, so I’m always trying to receive feedback from whoever I’m hanging around. But as far as from them, they were really positive towards it.
Who did the artwork for 55 5’s?
The drawings were done by friend of mine. His name’s Cairo Marcopoulos, [photographer and filmmaker] Ari Marcopoulos’ son, and my friend Camilla photographed it. I scanned it out and I wanted to track down the font Ralph Lauren uses, so I met up with Arvid who’s the creative director for Letter Racer. He drew the So It Goes artwork, and we bounce a lot of ideas off each other. We made a combination of the Polo and R&S logo, the Polo man on the R&S horse, and that’s the Sporting Life logo. Then we took a video still from the RATKING video for ‘Piece of Shit’, one of my face, and used that as the picture inside. I was really pleased with how it came out.
“In New York, at least for most people I know and people who listen to music, it’s not even about what’s hip-hop and what’s dance.”
What’s your setup for when you perform live?
Right now, it’s Ableton, Roland MX-1, SPD-SX drum pad, and a Leap Motion controller.
Has the setup evolved, especially playing live with RATKING for a couple years now?
It’s definitely evolved from where it started. I’ve always had different combinations of MPCs and SP-404 and things like that and just carrying [them] in a flight case. But as you’re traveling more, you realize that portability starts to become more of a thing. So you start to look for lighter weight things, and luckily technology has been just ahead of where I need it to be. I can get really lightweight things like the Roland MX-1, the new Aria line they put out? Genius. It’s just the lightest weight gear that still sounds so heavy. Technology has just been in my reach so things can be compact, and we’re a band out of a bag, but we give what a band gives with RATKING.
When we did our tour with Trash Talk, I was trying to be more powerful, so instead of just left and right coming out of a drum machine or a mixer, I wanted to send individual tracks out of the mixer to the soundman. So I would have the 808 just isolated, samples isolated, and it’s just another level of heaviness. When I start playing bigger shows, I already know what I want to do. It’s changed over time and now it’s of in a more compact form, but I can still expand.
Is there any difference between when you’re performing as RATKING rather than by yourself?
Yeah, well, I haven’t really done it that much, but I’m learning all the different things you can do to add variations, growth, and a story to your set. I don’t really know what it’s going to be, and it’ll probably grow and change, just like how RATKING has over time. I’m just learning from other DJs and other electronic musicians when they’re presenting their stuff live when there’s no MCs, like how Mount Kimbie and their visuals are. I take influence from how they put their live show together, and especially how much of a part the visuals play. I went to one of their shows and it was this grainy, high-definition visuals of flowers morphing into different things. I was really impressed by that.
Do you have a favorite place to play in New York?
I’d like to play Output. Elvis Guesthouse is cool at certain times. I like every spot though. Every spot is different and has different sound systems, but playing with RATKING I learned not to stress the sound too much. I really like playing in spots with quality sound systems, but when you go to different towns you just have to be able to work with what there is, and make it sound good for that particular room.
We just did the East River Park show, and it was so good. I don’t even think I understand the ramifications of it. We’ve just been touring and playing more shows, so it hasn’t sunk in how well that went. The fact we can do that in New York City in that park at that bandshell… Rammellzee and mad breakers were pop locking and shit right there, and we were just, like, murking it with drum machines and stuff. It’s a lot of history in that place, so to do that was really cool.
In an old interview you mentioned the difference between being a hip-hop producer for emcees, and a producer unencumbered by genre limitations. Is that something you’re growing towards?
It has more to do with how you completely tell a story with just your own music, and maybe with the intention of an emcee but without an emcee. How you mimic an emcee with your drums and things like that. I’m still trying to explore new ways, and how to create new caverns in hip-hop. Hip-hop can be a sphere, and you’re just chipping out from it, creating new areas within it. So it’s not necessarily a departure from hip-hop, but it’ll just be like turning the Rubik’s Cube a little in a different direction. With all the same integers, but just put in different places. Hopefully I can still do it within something that will be considered hip-hop. I’m not necessarily trying to go away from hip-hop, or trying to emphasize too much the difference between the people who make hip-hop and the people who make electronic music. At the end of the day, like right now, they’re as close as they ever were and so it’s all just music to me.
In New York, at least for most people I know and people who listen to music, it’s not even about what’s hip-hop and what’s dance. It’s more about the individual artist is playing and what they’re mixing together. I don’t know if people are even grouping things like that together. Maybe they are, but just not really on my level or the level that I operate on. I don’t even know what I’d consider hip-hop and dance, My friend Brad Hoss is putting out this record by this girl named Sadaf, and her stuff is really cool. I don’t even know how you’d categorize it or what genre you would put it in. Or even, like, Show Me The Body, they’re a punk band but they make footwork as well. That’s the kind of stuff I listen to. Those are the kind of nights I would go to.
How do you feel about footwork?
Oh man, footwork changed my life, are you kidding me? Footwork is like, production wise, it’s a pillar. At least in my artistic development. The first part was just listening to albums and seeing how an album could be a movie. The next thing might be like Kanye West’s College Dropout, the next thing would be like Dipset, and then footwork. That’s just like a pillar to me. I don’t know, it was just a bridge between so many different things. Like, the shit Cam’ron raps over is 80 BPM, footwork is 160 BPM. It’s the same—that’s the bridge. That’s ‘Badd’, Cam can spit over ‘Badd’, you know what I mean? DJ Rashad and Cam’ron should have made an album together, can you imagine that? That’s what my stuff is. I try to make it in that type of mindset, like if DJ Rashad was making shit for Cam’ron. It wouldn’t be as complicated as DJ Rashad’s tracks, obviously, because Cam would be spitting over it. A track like ‘Bethel’ from 700 Fill is like that. Simultaneously footwork and some Dipset shit, you know what I mean?
Yeah, like I can hear the Just Blaze and Heatmakerz influence on ‘Badd’, but also the drums underneath are crazy.
It’s intricate as any dance music is up until this point, but still ill like hip hop is ill, you know what I mean? It’s like the illest dance. It’s like Nas on the dancefloor or Mobb Deep on the dancefloor. It just blew my mind, like “oh shit!” They’re taking the same samples because they came up and were influenced by hip-hop, but they’re just making music for a different reason. The fact that it has a physical aspect to it as well, the sport element, and the fact that these tracks were built for competition. RP Boo is a character as well, like all his ad libs, all that stuff. That’s fresh water to me. But yeah, footwork will always be an influence on me, and it will always be something I can go back to.
55 5’s is a prelude to your full-length album debut, correct? What are your plans for that one?
It has to be really dope. I have to build something that’s really powerful, musical, and kind of flowering out. Really beautiful, and able to integrate friends, but also be able to grow over time I guess. I’m also writing a lot of good raps for it as well. I’ve already started writing some raps and they’ve been coming out pretty good, so who knows. I have all the song titles now.
I saw that your guys are working on Wiki’s solo album as well, how’s that going?
It’s going pretty good. He has, like, 16 or 17 songs now in different stages of completion. Probably still needs a couple more layers of care and ideas, so we’re going to have the end of September to November [when] we’re going to go hard in terms of scheduling studio time and mapping it out. Going into that, we are going in with like 16 or 17 tracks. We’re trying to put out a mixtape and an album, so we’re trying to figure out what goes where. It’s a good start, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.