Beats, Cats & Videogames with Samiyam

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Next to Flying Lotus and Thundercat, Samiyam completes the trifecta of Brainfeeder’s most celebrated acts (but of course every one from their roster is worth a listen). His sophomore album Sam Baker’s Album rejuvenated interest in instrumental hip hop like it was still the late ’90s when music critics were still gushing to Shadow’s and Prefuse 73’s (then) odd beats. JUICE caught up with Samiyam after his show at Singapore’s Home Club, found out the best way to handle things that annoy you, and even got him reminiscing about his childhood…

Image Theo Jemison

You’re quite unconventional on the decks, you use a sampler instead of the typical DJ set. Why so?
I dunno. Maybe someone has something to say about it but I don’t really care though. I’ve always been more comfortable on the drum pads because I started making beats before I ever did any live shows, so it makes sense for me to do my live sets like that.

What was it like to transition from making beats to performing?
Kinda like a crash course. I was making music for what – 6 or 7 years? – before someone ever asked me to do a show. And I was just doing it for my own therapy – I was doing it for myself. The transition was a little rocky, I was doing it not because I want to perform to people or anything like that, it just came along once I let people listen to my music and interest was generated.

You were labelled a bedroom producer. Don’t you think the term carry a negative connotation to your cred as music maker?
Nah, I don’t find that to be a negative term at all. I think the word producer is loosely thrown around these days, it used to mean more. And bedroom producer is pretty appropriate for what I’m doing, I mean my whole set up is in my bedroom – the bed’s there and 3 feet away there’s my little studio area, haha. So yeah, it’s not a negative description at all. Bedroom producer, I like that because it’s what it is, really describes what I’m doing. I have a real simple set-up and I make do with what I have. Lately I’ve been buying a few new pieces of hardware but my set-up has always been simple.

You’ve been the proud owner of 2 midi cables since 2004. What’s the current piece of tech that helps you with your live performance?
Still just the SP404. I was using the 303 before doing everything with the 404. When I make music everything goes in there – the sampler – my live sets over the past couple of years at least have been also after 404. That’s the most important thing. I can get sounds from anywhere really, they just need some sort of output. Well doesn’t even need to have an output really, I’ll just record ‘em on a tape player or something. Then everything goes on the 404. For the longest time it’s been the most important part of my set.

Flying Lotus discovered you on Myspace. Is he a mentor figure to you?
In a way he has been a mentor, but it’s a hard relationship to describe. We’re friends, we’ve done shows, and we’ve done business together, so he doesn’t purely play the mentor role.

Speaking of which, will your collabo with FlyLo, Precious Cargo, ever be released? Wasn’t that the first thing announced by Brainfeeder when the label was just founded?
Haha, you gotta find FlyLo himself, ask him the same question and immediately let me know if he has an answer. I’m not really sure, he has mentioned that he wants it released but I dunno when that’s gonna be. I don’t want to get people excited or anything since I’m unsure myself.

You did mention that some of your FLYamSAM stuff are gonna come out during the gig at Home Club though.
Yeah, like I said he did mention it, which is why I told people that, hey, this might actually come out someday.

We think you’re one of the more prominent names in the Brainfeeder roster, can you name us any slept on acts from the label?
I feel like everyone who has come out through Brainfeeder has been well received, maybe Austin Peralta’s record was a bit slept on. If people are interested in more of our kind of music, they can find it on Brainfeeder, it’s all worth a listen.

A lot of hip hop producers in LA don’t make songs for rappers anymore. They’re almost straying away from the genre. Why do you think this is happening?
I have no idea, I still wanna work with rappers! It’s just that I haven’t done much of it at this point. I guess a lot people take the whole ‘beat scene’ thing really really seriously and that’s what make it stay like that. There are lot of the fans who are just interested in hearing instrumental, beat kinda stuff, but personally I really can’t answer that. I really wanna work with some rappers in the next year or so.

Anyone you have in mind?
There are a few. I wanna do some more stuff with Danny Brown from Detroit. He’s definitely been doing his thing lately and people are starting to recognise him. He’s dope, he can do a lot. Good strong voice, clever, and capable of telling a story.

You dropped a lot of Gucci Mane sh*t before. You should make a beat for him.
Haha, I could probably make something for him. That could be cool.

About a decade ago, purist hip hop cats were really averse to what they consider stupid rap. But these days people don’t give a crap. Why?
That’s a stupid way to think. Rap to me has always been about style and sounding good over a beat. Just having your own personality, sure some stuff can be over the top but at the end of the day if it sounds good, it sounds good. Of course it’s always dope when someone really has a message though. People have been hitting me up with some dumb sh*t like… “Hey, there’s no way the actual Samiyam made this Soulja Boy remix,” and I’m like, why not? I did make that sh*t, what’s the problem?

Gucci Mane and Soulja Boy, who’s the swaggest of them all?
Oh my goodness, I can’t… I dunno, I don’t really see things in terms of swag. That’s just still a really strange word other people say. I think overall Gucci is a little doper than Soulja.

On a related note, ‘swag rap’ is an annoying term to some people. Any personal pet peeve in hip hop you wish would disappear?
I don’t really pay attention to stuff if I don’t like it. At times I have checked out some stuff and finding myself not digging them much, but at this point in my life I realised that if something isn’t good to me, then I don’t need it. No reason to think about it. So I don’t really have a pet peeve, if I don’t like it then it’s not for me. People can do whatever they want.

You make hip hop music, sans the rapping, but some music critics classify you as something else. Does that get to you at all?
It can. At the end of the day it’s the same as the previous question. If I read some journalism piece and I think that person is full of sh*t, then I don’t need to continue reading it. I don’t need to read the whole thing. It doesn’t matter, they can call me a 5-piece polka band, I don’t give a sh*t.

Who’s the kid on the cover of Sam Baker’s Album? Is that you?
Yep, that’s me as a beautiful blonde haired 3 year old. Look at the sweater, I wish I still had it.

What happened to the blonde hair?
Haha, I don’t know. When I was 10 or 11 my hair just started getting darker. For a few years when it was summer, when the sun was shining down, my hair would get lighter again. It’s f*cking weird. But now it’s just brown. Not Goldilocks anymore.

You sample a lot of 8-bit sounds. What was your favourite Nintendo game?
One thing I’d like to say first about that question, I sample a lot less videogame samples than people think. People hit me up about sh*t on my album like “dude, that’s from Super Mario 64 isn’t it.” There’s no samples on the album. There’s 1 track that’s all samples, that’s it. A lot of the tracks people think I sample from Nintendo games are just me playing various synths.

Back to the actual question, I think it must be Mega Man 2. Because I was a kid, I really like the Nintendo when I got it. I always wanted to play it for hours on end but my mom always wanted to limit my playing time. Partially because she didn’t want me to be a lazy ass and the living room and the kitchen were right next to each other. She’d cook dinner a lot, and I’d be there playing some stupid game with the same 8 bars of music looping over and over again. That being said, I didn’t have so many games. I played the ones I had a lot and Mega Man 2 was definitely my favourite game. The music was really dope, especially the introduction theme.

Is there something you wouldn’t sample?
Anything that makes noise is fair game. As long as there is a way to record it and get it into the machine.

Always wanted to ask beatmakers this. How do you guys come out with song titles? Some of your track names are oddly food-based for example.
The food-based titles are just because under my slim exterior I’m a 300-pound fat man. I love food. Song titles come from something I’d be thinking about when I’m working on the songs, and that happens to be food a lot of the times. The titles just come from random experiences I had, really. No special process in coming out with ‘em, haha.

Tell us your thought process when crafting a beat.
It varies. It’s not always the same. Sometimes I start with the drums, sometimes I have a melody in my head and I play that out. There’s no standard process.

Are you a cat person? Did you sample your own cat on ‘Kitties’?
I love cats. But nah, it’s not my own cat, it’s a random recording. I don’t have a cat unfortunately, I’d like to have one but my lifestyle doesn’t really permit me to have a cat. I wouldn’t be able to support one like I’d like to have to. I had always liked cats, I had some when I was a kid. Probably still to this point in my life one of those cats was one of the best friends I ever had. We had those cats for a few years, the saddest day of my life was when my parents found a new home for those cats. So many people in my family, including myself but mildly, are allergic to cats.

What are you currently working on now?
Just new music in general. Stuff I’ve been working on lately is a little different than the sound on the album, it’s more to Rap Beats Vol. 1. I’m sampling more records lately, getting back to chopping records and making beats that way. I’ve been doing some of that here in Asia, like in Hong Kong I was chopping up some random Japanese and Chinese records that my friend found. Got a few new projects that are coming out in the future.

Any you’d like to share?
Rap Beats Vol. 2 has been done, could come out this year if everything goes as planned. Or very early next year.

What do you have to say to aspiring beatmakers?
What I always say, listen to music and learn.

Samiyam played at Home Club, Singapore on 1 October 2011 thanks to Syndicate SG. Find Sam Baker’s beats at