"Is This the Playboy Mansion, or a Studio?" Creating Hip Hop's Fantasy Camp
Last year, as SXSW'ers swarmed downtown Austin, Texas, Alexander "DJ RTC" Fruchter rented a palatial mansion in the nearby hills for four days and set about creating a "hip-hop fantasy camp." Rappers like Freddie Gibbs, Fashawn, Rhymefest, and Kanye West associate GLC passed through, hung out, and wrote music together. Along with compiling the best of those sessions for an album project, video footage of the bonds the artists forged was recorded for an accompanying documentary. As Fruchter puts it, the aim was to "not just document the culture and the art that came out of those four days but to tell the story of the artists and what makes them unique." With Closed Sessions: ATX released on March 15th, we asked Gibbs, Fashawn, GLC, RTC and Dilated Peoples' Rakaa to look back on their time inside hip-hop's most grandiose recording spot.
Freddie Gibbs: The mansion was on some international players shit! I was like, "Damn, am I coming into the Playboy mansion or a studio?" I'm glad they invited me.
DJ RTC: The mansion was a certified Austin landmark. I believe the owner of it had the first grocery store in Austin. It was made out of marble stone -- it wasn't super modern or overdone, it was sophisticated. Inside there were skeletons painted on the walls, like a Grateful Dead thing.
Rakaa: It looked like a castle, almost, but it felt comfortable to us. It was a huge property with multiple wings and a stone facade and huge yards and patios overlooking more property. We were barbecuing, smoking, just having a good time.
Fashawn: Ah, man, it was just a beautiful view from it. It was in the hills of Austin and you'd see nothing but trees and then beyond the trees nothing but the city. And there was a nice refrigerator that was very well stocked with lots of San Pellegrino and fresh orange juice, which is my favorite. I was mainly going from the studio to the fridge, that was my thing.
GLC: We had like catered food, like Subway on some days or a little bit more eclectic on other days. If somebody with a player mentality was ordering, you'd get better food. But really, it was like a playerism palace. There were a lot of girls who wanted to come around and manifest and embrace the concept. The bathrooms were big and pretty nice and often smoke filled, and it could have been the spot to manifest in a little concept with a young lady!
Fashawn: When I first walked in my man Naledge from Kidz In The Hall was just sitting there writing a song, then GLC came in. I just started writing to whatever was playing at the moment -- that was the whole concept of the mansion.
Rakaa: They gave out the address and people came through and met up there. It was like, "What beat is that one playing now? I like that one! Who's on it? Oh, Fashawn's on it? Cool, let me get on that." That's how my song with GLC and CurT@!n$ came about.
RTC: At first it was a combination of us reaching out and inviting artists to come through and artists themselves reaching out, like GLC who knows Kanye West and who knows a lot of people. But after the first two days the word got out and people started just showing up. Artists would come to chill there to get away from the hustle of downtown and they'd just hang out and share stories.
Fashawn: The way my song "Theme Music" came together, they was playing mostly Babu, who was there rocking it down, and I chose this beat that came on. I started the record off 'cause I was really just affected by what Babu was doing. I felt like the music he was playing was theme music for wherever you were from, from Cali to Detroit to Chicago. I wanted to do a song intertwining where everyone was from. I remember telling Buff 1 to just spit darts for his verse.
Rakaa: I love Fashawn's verse, and Scheme from Chicago is crazy. I didn't hear a weak verse while I was there.
RTC: For one day we had Babu as the anchor, just playing his productions all day.
GLC: When you got there it was constant entertainment and creativity in the rooms. There were beautiful girls, camaraderie, and something to raise our mind states, a little mental green elevation. We all had a blast.
Freddie Gibbs: Everyone was writing their lyrics while they were there. I pretty much always do all my lyrics when I get there. I don't really do the pre-writing stuff 'cause I think that's bullshit 'cause when you hear a beat for the first time you want to make that marriage with the beat and the rhyme. I like my shit to be tailor fitted.
GLC: We wrote on the spot. They played the beat, the people was there, it was gladiator time, time to show out. It was a meeting of the elite, the best among the best.
RTC: One of my favorite moments was watching CurT@!n$, who's originally from Brooklyn but now lives in LA, record his song ["The Roadhouse"]. He came in and the beat was already playing, Babu was there, GLC was right next to him, and Rakaa from Dilated Peoples was encouraging him. CurT@!n$ heard the music, started pacing in circles in the living room, rapping to himself, for like 20 minutes. Then he went in [to the booth], and exploded!
Fashawn: There were cameras around, 'cause there was a documentary part of it, and I don't usually have cameras when I'm in the booth and recording, but that time I just really felt open and free to the vibe they created so I let the guy come in the booth. When I'm in the booth I like to, man, I like to hit things! If I mess up on a line, I might hit the wall or hit my knee or something. I'm really live in the booth. I'm probably liver in the booth than on the stage -- that's something I'm working on right now. But, yeah, I was comfortable there, and I'm glad it was being documented.
RTC: Rhymefest is another one who brings a lot of energy and is a very active guy when he's writing his rhymes. A lot of the rappers go off on their own to do the actual writing, but Rhymefest writes with other people and is very involved.
Freddie Gibbs: I'm on a song with GLC ["Heads Of The Heads"]. That's the homie, we both from the same area, so we already knew each other. We weren't treating the rap shit like a job that day -- it was more like a hobby for us. It's always best to record in person, to bounce ideas around. It makes a difference to the final song you make.
GLC: Gibbs set the vibe and the tone for the song and then I just came in and murdered it.
RTC: I love the song that Naledge and Babu did ["The Only Life We Know"]. Naledge is someone I grew up with -- we came up playing baseball together -- and Babu is one of my influences as a DJ. The other one that's really special is the combination of Rakaa, GLC and CurT@!n$. That represents the older generation with Rakaa and two artists from the new generation, all coming together. By having everyone there in person, we were able to set up cross-generational collaborations like that.
GLC: I like Hollywood Holt, his verse on "Natural High." But I ended up on four different records. Let me see, I lose count 'cause I've done so many features up to this point... I was with Rakaa from Dilated Peoples, CurT@!n$, then Corey Mo and The Kid Daytona on a track by Double-O, and Naledge and Freddie Gibbs. That makes six collaborations all together.
Fashawn: I love how GLC's personality and charisma comes through. He has so much personality he doesn't have to get too technical. GLC's just so much fun to be around. It was really inspirational to be in the presence of some of the people whose voices I know from some of my favorite records and then getting to build with them. There are definitely going to be collaborations in the future that came from meeting there.
GLC: It was dope to have everyone recording with each other in person 'cause it eliminated the Pro Tools posse cuts. There's nothing wrong with that, with everyone being in their own place and sending stuff in, but this was different. This was some raw, organic hip-hop. It was in the flesh, it was church on the move.