Najahead - L.A. Beatmaker Is Modernizing Beats & The Art Of The Remix (009)

The ninth guest on The Rec Show, the world’s only Twitter Voicecast is an amazing L.A. based sound wizard who lives in the heart of where beat culture was cultivated by the likes of Dibia$e, Flying Lotus and others. You can see his evolution in his journey throughout his 17 album discography. This beatmaker /semi-retired Emcee goes by the name of Najahead (nod your head). Enjoy the read!

Question #1: For those beat heads that might be sleep, please introduce yourself, tell us what your name means and where your from.

I go by the name of Naj Ahead, and I’m an L.A. native, born and raised. Naj Ahead is a play on the words “nod your head”. Aside from dancing, nodding your head is a natural reaction to hearing music that you vibe with. With that said, not all of my music is created strictly for head nodding. Moreso, it’s a reflection of whatever catches my ear at the time when I’m in my zone. 

I used to go by “N/A” which stood for No Alias, but I changed it because I felt that N/A was too vague, and there are other artists who also go by No Alias. I wanted to find a creative way to keep the spirit of N/A alive by using the same initials, and reintroducing myself as Naj Ahead was my solution.

 

Question #2: Can you recall your first memories of your musical journey, musical influences and how did you get into beat making? 

My mother (RIP) had a big influence on my musical taste growing up. She was into a lot of ‘70s & ‘80s Soul/R&B, Funk, Smooth Jazz and even Hip Hop. She’d record her favorite jams off of the radio on tape, and that rubbed off on me, as I started recording my own favorite songs off the radio when I was around 8 years old. A lot of the music I sample is stuff I grew up listening to or from that era. 

My musical journey is a long story, but I’ll try my best to be brief! I began to really get into Hip Hop as a teen. I started rapping in the 6th grade. In middle school, stumbling upon Hip Hop shows on the radio like Friday Night Flavaz, The Joint, The Wake Up Show and We Came From Beyond put me up on underground Hip Hop. The artists that were played on these shows had a big impact on developing my rhyming skill and my taste in Hip Hop.

  In high school I became close friends with Kevin and Kirby who also rapped, and we recorded songs at Kirby’s house on a karaoke machine. For the beats, we used instrumentals from cassette singles and 12” singles that I had dubbed to tape, or used the pause tape method on open parts of songs.

After high school, another friend of mine hooked me up with a producer. He and I were working on a solo EP, but he was going through some personal matters and we fell out of contact. Meanwhile, Kevin and Kirby were working with a producer but they weren’t feeling his beats. Ultimately, the need for original production to rap over was what got me into beat making.

I found some software online called Madtracker, and we were using that to make beats for a while until we decided to pitch in on a used MPC 2000 that we bought from eBay.

My cousin Marc taught me the basics of the MPC on his 3000, so I shared what I learned with Kevin and Kirby and applied it to the 2000, and the rest is history! A few years later, I would end up getting my own MPC 2000XL.

Question #3: Your an Akai MPC Live user...what is it about the production machine that you like? How does it help you express your music creativity? 

What I love about the MPC Live is how it comes standard with a lot of effects and capabilities in a standalone unit that either aren’t available or standard on the older MPCs. I have nothing against software and had even considered going that route. However, my main concerns were being able to afford a reliable computer, on top of buying the software and MIDI device to use it, and dealing with the learning curve. The funny thing is, when I first copped the Live, it was so much different from the 2000XL that it took me a while to figure it out. I still have a lot to learn but I’m much more comfortable with it now, to the point where I’ve been transferring my 2000XL beats to the Live to touch them up. The effects allow me to further flesh out ideas and mix down my beats in ways that wouldn’t be possible on the older MPCs without additional outboard gear. (I’ll never part with the 2000XL though!)

 

 

Question #4: What is the beat scene like where you live and how do you connect with your local beat making community? 

The pandemic has really put a damper on the scene at the moment. Honestly, I had been out of the loop for a long time and missed out on so much during the height of the LA beat scene. Outside of a few events I’m aware of like Beat Cinema and Beat Battery (Project Blowed beat showcase), in recent years I feel like it hasn’t been as popping as it was in the past decade. Low End Theory coming to a close was a big blow as well. 

I regret that I’ve missed out on so many shows over the years, either because of being tired from working, being far away from spots where the shows were happening, or simply not being aware. And because I wasn’t really out in the scene at the time, I feel disconnected to the community, but I’m hoping that once things open up I’ll have the opportunity to be more active.

  

Question #5: You have a total of 18 albums or singles available for listening and purchase. With every project, do you feel like your creating music that will stand the test of time?

I create music I’m feeling at the moment, hoping it will stand the test of time, but it’s not up to me to determine if it will or not. If the music is good, then it shouldn’t matter how long ago it came out or when someone comes across it. I’m constantly finding music made before my time or that I wasn’t hip to when it first dropped that resonates with me in the present. In my experience, people have told me that they dig my beats I made over 15 years ago, so that’s a good sign!

 

Question #6: You have share on your social media, you like vinyl shopping at your local record stores. What are your favorite places to shop for vinyls and do you have any tips for people that feel intimidated by the process? 

Poo-Bah Records in Pasadena (RIP Ras G) is a personal favorite. It’s far from where I live now, but I used to live in the area at one point. I also dig Record Surplus in West LA and have been shopping there since they were located on Pico years back. Freakbeat Records in Sherman Oaks is local to me and they’re cool too. From time to time I’ll see if I can get lucky at Goodwill, Salvation Army, Out of the Closet and other thrift stores. I used to hit up the Pasadena City College Flea Market on the first Sundays of the month when I lived out there.  

For the record (pun intended) I don’t hate Amoeba Records, but it’s not my favorite place to shop for records, and especially for selling records. I really miss and wish Aron’s Records in West Hollywood was still around. I lowkey blame Amoeba for putting them out of business, whether it was actually true or not. 

My tips for aspiring diggers: don’t be ashamed to start out in the dollar bin and under sections. Don’t let the cheap prices fool you. You can definitely find some gems in those bins! Conversely, a pricier record doesn’t guarantee you’ll find some heat on it. Use the listening stations if they’re available, and if not, look up the record on YouTube or your preferred streaming service on your phone and listen to decide if it’s worth copping. As you build your collection, pay attention not only to the artists that you like, but also to the names of the musicians and the instruments they play, the record labels that released the albums, and the years of when they were released. In time you’ll start to get a feel for what you like based on these things as you gain experience.

 

 

Question #7: Who are your beat maker superheroes and why? Not super producers in the main stream industry. 

To be completely honest, my answer would be long enough to write a whole book, and even then I’d be upset at the number of people and things I’d unintentionally forget or leave out after the fact. If I had to choose one, it would no doubt be the late great J Dilla. To say that his music changed my life is an understatement. He is my biggest influence beatwise. I was fortunate to have bared witness to his genius and evolution in real time while he was alive. It was as if he knew exactly the type of music I liked to hear and he kept making it consistently until his untimely transition in 2006. With all due respect, there are many beat wizards out there from the past and present who are worthy of high praise. He’s my personal GOAT beat maker superhero based on the combination of his talent, his musical ear and his work ethic. 

As far as a beat maker superhero that I know personally, that would be Dibiase. I met him at Project Blowed back when he was with his crew Missing Page and going by Diabolic. It has been a pleasure to know him and to see his grind pay off through winning many beat battles, dropping fire projects, showing love and sharing gems within the beatmaking community and being good peoples in general. And it’s crazy how he can make some heat on just about any machine, DAW or gadget you throw at him. He definitely deserves all the flowers!

 

 

 

Question #8: What advice would you give to the younger you when you first started out making beats and how can the internets find you?

 I would have told the younger me to keep going, no matter what! I’ve suffered some setbacks in my time of making beats that I allowed to hold me back. Between a freak accident that blew out my MPC outputs that I didn’t get fixed for years, and not finding the will or energy to create due to a demanding job, I believe I would be further along in building my legacy if I didn’t let those things slow me down. I can’t turn back time, but I’m doing my best to make up for the time lost.

 

The Internets can find Najahead here.

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