Producer S1 (Symbolyc One) is known for his work with some of the biggest artists in the world. He’s produced and won Grammy’s for the likes of Jay Z, Eminem, Beyonce, and Kanye West, in addition to Lecrae and Braille to name a few. He is also known for being an unashamed Christian and was Rapzilla’s celebrity judge at our 2018 Beat Battle.
When asked what he was looking for from the contestants in the beat battle, “I’m looking for the wow factor. The speakers never lie. At the end of the day, it’s about how the music moves you and makes you feel.”
S1 would know, as he participated in national beat battles during the mid-2000s.
As a veteran in music, he isn’t afraid to admit that generational gaps of producers need each other. Most of the participants in the beat battle were young. Both younger and older can learn from each other.
“I constantly learn from the youth every day,” he explained. “I observe and study. My younger son is a producer (Vohn Beatz) and I learn so much from him. It’s a matter of just respecting the new generation and bringing to the table what I do. You can never be too old to learn anything.”
He continued, “Some producers have no idea of the history before them and are just going in creating which is cool…but you have the generations before them that are able to pick pieces from them and apply something new to it to push the envelope.”
Like most people in the hip-hop/urban music community, S1 grew up in the church. He was part of his church’s gospel music worship which laid the groundwork for his career.
“It had a part in just being able to notice and feel substance,” he said. “Being in church is all about feeling with that being my foundation and just branching off from that it gave me a little bit of an edge.”
He started off playing the piano for his Sunday school classes. This is where the passion was sparked.
“I wish piano is something I would have stayed in. Being in church all the time, I was just amazed by the musicians. So, I started taking piano lessons. I just wanted to play,” said S1. There were two songs I would play. It gave me the foundation of theory and knowing certain chords. I was so intrigued by music and at that time; gospel music as well was always an inspiration.”
Being a producer was not even something he knew about until his senior year of high school. Now he gets to do it for all kinds of artists, citing Beyonce and Jay Z as the most talented. “They found a way to be able to really tap into what they do.”
“I witnessed Jay Z not write one thing down during the Watch the Throne album. He’d hear a beat, walk around the room for 10 minutes, and say, ‘Let’s go’. To witness and experience him focus and hone in is amazing.”
This is not a new fact about Jay Z, but it hasn’t exactly been explained how he does it. The explanation is pretty remarkable and hard to believe.
S1 said he asked about the process, to which Jay Z explained that he’ll say lines in his head. Then he’ll add a line while still repeating the previous ones.
“So every time he’s saying it, he’s actually storing it in his memory. So by the time he gets to bar 16 he’s memorizing his verses,” the producer said. “He had to do that when he was on the street hustling. He didn’t have a pen and a paper and would do that until it became a habit.”
S1 was asked about the knowledge of Christian music and rap in the mainstream world. He believes “a lot of people are aware” as evidenced by Chance the Rapper.
“It’s really an individual thing. On the other side, you have people who may not know enough, but they are definitely aware.”
With artists such as Lecrae, NF, and Andy Mineo breaking the barriers of where Christian hip-hop has gone, it’s no surprise. S1 is currently working on some music with Lecrae and produced Braille’s 2009 album Cloud of Nineteen.
Much like Christian music, he has come a long way himself. He went from the church, to a project with his cousin, to the Strange Fruit Project, to a now in-demand producer.
“When I started my first group, Strange Fruit Project, the response was so good, it built my confidence. ‘Maybe I am good at this’.”
However, with all the successes, comes the pain of about a dozen failures and dead ends.
“People just see my successes, but even until this day, there’s always 10 to 15 failures before I get to that one people see on Instagram,” he admitted. “I fail daily, I fail weekly, it’s just pushing through those moments of failure. I’m always the person to take that and use it as fuel and go back to the lab and readjust and figure it out. Every time I was failing, I was getting better. I was figuring out how to be more strategic. It’s still the same until this day. I take the time and maneuver until I get to the success.”
He continued, “That will never end, there’s always going to be those moments. God has shown me so much, when I worry about things, a couple months later I’ll be on to something bigger. Because he’s proven himself so much over and over, I don’t worry about what I’m supposed to have. When I do fail, there’s a reason for that.”
So what’s next for the Symbolyc One? He says it’s time to start focussing on himself a little while giving back.
“At this point, it’s just a matter of building my own,” he said. “My whole career I have been contributing to other people’s vision which entails mine, but my focus is now on my own things that I have going on. Right now I have my S1 Assembly going on. I’ve been going to different states and it’s an intimate conversation with 30-40 songwriters, artists, producers where we have conversations to encourage and motivate individuals.”
His passion for that is also spilling over into his first book, “Pray, Focus, Plan, Execute.” He is hoping the book will be ready in the first quarter of 2019.
“It’s a collection of moments in my career where God put the pieces together.”
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