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The Waco-born, Dallas-based artist (real name: Larry D. Griffin Jr.) parlayed his modest success with the hip-hop trio Strange Fruit Project into producing tracks for artists like Ghostface, Erykah Badu, the iconoclastic rapper Rhymefest, and most recently, Kanye West. Their first collaboration, “Power,” from West’s yet-to-be-released new album, is already a hit. A new Strange Fruit Project CD is expected later this year.
Rhymefest isn’t exactly a household name, but he’s well respected in the rap world and wound up having a pretty major effect on your career. How did you meet up with him?
Through Phonte, a rapper from North Carolina I’d worked with. Rhymefest was putting together an album and Phonte was on one of the songs, but for some reason Rhymefest couldn’t use the original beat. So Phonte was like, “Yo, I know this cat Symbolyc One and his man Caleb [McCampbell, Symbolyc’s frequent collaborator]. They can redo this beat and make it better than the original.” So Rhymefest sent me the track, and he loved what we did with it.
That’s almost exactly the same story of how Rhymefest introduced you to Kanye West.
That’s right. Like I tell a lot of people, relationships are everything. Rhymefest felt like I scratched his back, so he was going to scratch mine. He was in the studio with Kanye and he happened to play him some of my beats. Kanye loved what he heard, and two days later I was on a flight out to Hawaii to work with him.
That must have been mind-blowing.
I got the initial text that said, “Kanye is loving your stuff. He says he’s about to change your life,” and I was pretty excited. A couple of days later I got an itinerary saying that my flight leaves in the next four hours. My wife and I were at Red Lobster; we had already ordered our food, but it hadn’t come out yet, so they had to pack it up. I ran home and started throwing stuff in suitcases.
When you got to the studio in Hawaii, Kanye had already recorded “Power.”
Yeah, he had demoed it. It was completely different from what it is now. He spent so much time, put so much detail into the song.
So Kanye has changed your life.
Yeah, it’s been good, man. Having a single with one of the biggest artists in the world, so much comes from that. It’s definitely been a blessing. My music and my art have been showcased to the world now.
Speaking of blessings—you’re known as an observant Christian, but your religious beliefs don’t really show up in your music. Do you consider yourself a Christian artist?
The way I look at it, I’m an artist and I’m a Christian. So if you refer to me as that, that’s cool. As far as my music goes, I don’t use any profanity or anything like that.
Yet you’re now associated with artists, like Kanye, who clearly do. How do you reconcile that?
Producing is my occupation; it’s how I support my family. I provide a service to artists. I provide a service to labels. And whatever they do with that, that’s them.
Do any of the artists that you work with ever kid you about your beliefs?
Oh, no! Everybody I’ve been around, they respect that. They’re like, “Man, S1, there’s something about you! We just love your spirit.” When people like Kanye tell me that, it’s confirmation that I’m doing something right, because it shows that they know who I am, without me even telling them, without me taking a Bible everywhere just to show people. That’s confirmation right there. And it means everything in the world to me.