interview / Interviews / Main / rileysbest

A Convo With Harlem’s Own VDon

“Once you’re legendary, you’re going to be legendary regardless. But, you’ve got to switch it up. I don’t want to be stuck in that…with my beats sounding like dinosaurs.”

— VDon

The digitization of the industry has changed the way we interact with the elements that go into making the music we all love – notably the artistic credits. Often we can go through a large number of (digital) tracks, many improperly tagged, without becoming overtly aware of the hands behind the boards making your head nod. As well, streaming services like Spotify and Deezer fail to detail the production credits correctly. Maybe that’s what helps young producers like the Harlem-based VDon stay so humble. Although he’s not (yet) a household name, he has a resume that most producers will live – and die – without topping. So far, he’s worked with names like Bodega Bamz, Trae The Truth, Styles P, Black Rob, A$AP Rocky, Smoke Dza and many more.

I recently had a wonderful chat with VDon, discussing his background, his 2016 aspirations, and his latest EP, The Opiate – featuring Dave East, Dark Lo, and others.

Check out the interview below, and grab The Opiate here.

How did you get into producing?

I got into it because my pops was a local DJ. He always had equipment around me, like keyboards, drums – that’s how pretty much I started. He used to try to teach me how to make beats when I was around 12-13, but I just wasn’t interested at the time. I didn’t get into it until I moved out of New York. I moved down south for about three years. I was bored out there because I’m from the city, so going down south was a different pace. I started making beats; I was sending my beats to my friends back in New York, and they were telling me, “you got talent, you need to keep it going.”

Who was the first artist you produced for?

The first artist? Well, there were two that happened around the same time. I did a track with Jae Mills (YMCMB), and I did a track with Ransom.

How did you connect with them? When you first started doing it, was it just you going around handing out beat tapes, that sort of thing?

I was doing that, and back then when I first started, I had a partner. We were like a professional duo. We would make beat tapes and hand them out; we would also get into studios. We knew people from the streets too, so that led us to meet lots of artists. Harlem is a small place…

A Convo With Harlem's Own VDonIt’s interesting because I’m in Toronto, but I’ve been to New York a lot. People don’t realize that it’s a big city, but it’s a small place at the same time.

Yeah, New York is just the scene man. That’s another reason I moved back too; I knew I had to work towards getting the artists I wanted to work with, so, I moved back. You know just being out in the city you’re going to bump into rappers, you’re going to bump into people. That’s pretty much it. In the music scene, everyone knows somebody through one person or another.

What’s your process? Do you sell a beat and walk away? Are you hands on?

Now that I got my studio in the Bronx, I like to be hands on. I mean, if the artist is in another state – and it’s my homie – I hit them up and send music over email. Lately, though, I’ve liked having artists see me in person, you know, especially if we’re in the same city.

That’s a whole different experience.

It’s a different vibe when you’re there with the artist, sharing ideas with each other. As far as making the beats, I like to be by myself creating/preparing them –and then when the artist comes through I just playing a bunch of stuff I have. I can make beats on the spot too.

Can you talk a little bit about The Opiate?

The Opiate is pretty much a compilation of all the artists I’ve been working with for the last 2 to 3 years. I just decided instead of me being on everybody else’s projects, giving them beats, let me put together my EP. It just happened that we had extra songs that artists didn’t use for their projects, so I ended up keeping them, and as well, I had collaborators come into the studio to sit down and work with me. I just molded how I wanted it to sound. It’s a showcase of my beats really.

Which is dope, I like that. I like the emphasis on the producer.

Yeah, I appreciate it. Thank you.

So what else are you working on? What else do you have in the works?

I got a few tracks with Dave East that are unreleased, I’m trying to do a project with him, and I’m attempting to work on a project with my boy Dark Lo from Philly – we’ve been talking about doing something. And top of 2016, I’m aiming to get some high profile placements. You know, I’m trying to continue doing EPs. I don’t want just to do one track on somebody’s mixtape anymore. I’d like to handle most of their production; you know what I mean? I’m looking forward to working with new artists too.

Would you more prefer to focus on one artist? That changes the vibe of an artist…

That’s really what I want to do for the majority of 2016. I think that’s how a producer gets an identity and how they can separate you from other producers. I enjoy doing that. I like doing a whole project. This past year I just did Bodega Bamz‘s Sidewalk Exec project, I produced the whole thing; I’m trying to do some more work like that.

Who are some of your favorite artists you worked with thus far.

I like working with Bodega Bam. We click together. Dave East, he works fast. Really, like all the artists on The Opiate, I have good chemistry with. That’s why I chose them to be on my project.

What are some of your goals as a producer? So do you see yourself maybe getting into like film or other avenues at all?

I would love to; I would love to get into film because I’m a big movie head. I know every classic film, I got every movie. So definitely like ultimate goal would be to score a movie. And as far as being a producer, yeah, I would like to be mentioned with the greats, the great hip-hop producers, I want my name on that list, you know?

Here’s the hard question. Who would be your top producers?

Top 5?

That’s hard as hell, I know.

It is. I would have to say, Alchemist, Dr. Dre, Timbaland, Pharell…

If you notice, a lot of the producers you mentioned are producers that did film scoring – and did mad other shit. They went to a whole other level. Like Alchemist with Gangrene, you know, doing the score for GTA.

Oh yeah, and Pharell is a genius. He’s like the new Quincy Jones; he’s going to be around forever. Would want to take it there, you know.

So what else do you have coming?

I have some videos coming up from The Opiate, top of the year.

What tracks do you have videos for?

Right now, the Dark Lo track, The Message. Honestly, I’m trying to shoot everything off the project, so you want to look out for new videos. I also have new drum kits coming out, new sounds. Just be on the lookout for upcoming projects man.

You know, before I learned about you, I’d heard some of your stuff before, but just didn’t realize it was you.

That’s basically what I’m trying to do right now, let people know who I am. People probably heard my stuff, but they didn’t know I did it.

It’s hard; that’s the hard part about being a producer.

The producer is stuck in a cut – behind the scenes.

Yeah, you got to look for it; you’ve got to know to look for it. Like Dre, you just know Dre did it. If you’re making a Dre track, you make a point of telling everybody it’s a Dre track. Artists don’t do that for just anyone.

Yeah, he broke so many artists. He started a lot of things; a lot of times you need to work with an artist that’s going to push your name like that. A lot of these new artists, they get what they get from you, and they keep on pushing rather than trying to build. Metro Boomin’, he got a bunch of people—he got fire, but he also got a bunch of people pushing him too.

Absolutely. As a producer you’ve got to have the foresight to kind of say, “I think these people are going to make incredible, amazing shit.” Like Metro Boomin’ is in a good place because a lot of artists he worked with just exploded. Like 40’s in a great place because Drake just went bonkers, you know what I mean?

Exactly. Like me, I’m a little bit all over the place because I work with so many different artists, but I think that’s going to push me forward. When I came in the game, I was doing a lot of stuff for Vado. I did a majority of his first couple of mixtapes. But then, I don’t know, we just went our ways.

You never know.

I’m not mad at him, just you know…

You just got to have foresight. That’s what it is. All The Opiate artists, you just click with. But, you’ll do tracks with some people, and they’ll be aight, but it just won’t click.

Yeah, sometimes you just got to find that right… like you said, foresight man; but, sometimes you can have the wrong foresight.

It’s also work ethic.

And, the game is just different now. Shit’s different. You’ll be cool one day – and then it switches up the next. That’s why I choose to work with various artists too because I don’t want to be stuck working with an artist that just ups and leaves. I don’t want to be looking at the wall like “This nigga shitted on me.” Shit’s crazy, man.

That happens. Look at Guru, before he died, everything he put out was done by Solaar. He dumped Premo…who dumps Premo?

He shitted on him man. That’s how you know shit wasn’t right. Even other artists shitted on him; Jay-Z, he just stopped working with him out of nowhere, onto the new.

That’s the progression of hip-hop, too.

Premo doesn’t change; I mean, once you’re legendary, you’re going to be legendary regardless. But, you’ve got to switch it up. I don’t want to be stuck in that shit with my beats sounding like dinosaurs.

Well, it’s a different day. Things come in cycles. If you’re a producer that was stuck on 90s shit – and you just didn’t leave that vibe – this is a good time for you right now, you know what I mean?

I got a little bit of the old stuff in my beats mixed in with the new things. I can do trap drums and shit like that, blend it in…I’m just trying to do whatever sounds good to me. Got to stay relevant.

Absolutely. You got to stay relevant and just be like 5 percent innovative. You’ve just go to be different enough; you know what I mean? So you don’t get bogged down. If you’re a creative soul, making the same thing all the time will kill you after a while.

It gets boring. You got to add more to it. Sometimes you might need a break so that you can come back hard. It’s all about who raps on your shit. It all goes back to that again. What’s the Pusha joint called? Untouchable. Like alright, to me, the beat is fire, but you need a rapper on it. Not just anyone could kill that beat.

Yeah, that whole album was on fire – incredible.

Yeah, I’m glad somebody did it, man, because rap is terrible right now.


I’m glad somebody did it. Someone on that level… yeah. I think that’s regular fire to me. His album, a lot of people are supposed to be doing that. That’s what people are supposed to be doing, but rap changed. It’s not even all the way rap now, it’s just a bunch of genres just blended, you know what I mean?


As far as a rap album, that’s an excellent album.

That’s the best album I’ve heard in a long time. He’s just straight up bars.

Yeah, people think you can’t rap anymore. You can rap, but you just got make it sound good. Pusha T makes it look good. He’s got good videos, he’s fresh, he’s talking about real topics. You just got to make it look appealing. I like the Schoolboy Q’s album too that shit was pretty dope.

I liked that as well. TDE in general.

They’re like the new people that’s running rap, man. That’s what New York is supposed to be sounding like, TDE shit; but, nobody wants to say that, nobody wants to admit that. People want to do shit the same old way they were doing it, but that’s not going to work, anymore.

Riley About Author

Riley here — father, artist, videographer, professional writer and SERIOUS hip-hop head. I'm a member of the Universal Zulu Nation, and I think everything is better on vinyl. Add me on Twitter! @specialdesigns