“Everyone's looking for that new, new provocative music. A lot of people are still looking at hip hop. You can't look in the same places.” So says Trackademicks, an Oakland resident (and Alameda native) who's probably best known as the creator of an unofficial, but absolutely mind-blowing, remix of E-40's “Tell Me When to Go.”
In that tune, Tracks frees the lyrics from the original Rick Rock beat and constructs an entirely new song structure, creating a fresh context that transcends hyphy's limitations. With remixes, Tracks explains, his approach is “let me put an energy to this song that's not in the original.” His version of “Tell Me When to Go” was made to confound “people who say they don't understand the Bay aesthetic,” or downplay the region's artistic talent. Just to prove his point that “we're musical,” he built the track around a vocal harmony loop, the source of which he'll only offer the hint that J Dilla used that same group on Slum Village's “Players.”
From inside the small studio Trackademicks rents around the corner from Oakland's Cafe Van Kleef (a space he's been in since November, after a fire destroyed his original studio), he plays some of his recent work: an unofficial Pharrell/Snoop remix with a decidedly '80s retro-soul feel; an official remix for U.K. rock band the Editors, which now boasts a New Order-esque swirl of synchronous patterned keyboards; an up-tempo B'More-style track featuring a prominent Federation sample; and a Mac Dre tribute by Mistah F.A.B. — Tracks produced six songs on F.A.B.'s Son of a Pimp album — which may or may not make the cut for the rapper's upcoming Atlantic Records debut in March. Together, the songs reveal Tracks' wide stylistic range, eclectic influences, and knack for originality.
The inherent musicality of Trackademicks' work is the result of his musical background; he recalls his mother telling him, when he was in fourth grade, “You're gonna do music.” For many years, he played saxophone in the school band (paralleling Bay Area legends Too Short and E-40, who played drums and trombone, respectively, before becoming rappers), graduating to keyboards and beat-making after discovering hip hop.
But Tracks is not just a producer, he's also a rapper. Ironically, he says, his remix work grew out of frustration with not being able to get his own sound the way he wanted. “I'm kind of an introverted dude,” he explains. He unapologetically calls himself a “nerd” who shares an equal appreciation for Tears for Fears, Bobby Brown, and mid- to late-'90s Bay Area “mobb” music. “Trackademicks = academic,” he emphasizes of his music-geek pride.
In between making beats for his crew Honor Roll and local artists Baby Jaymes, Lyrics Born, and Balance, crafting broken beat remixes of Keak Da Sneak tunes, and working with Los Angeles' J'Davey, Chicago's Kid Sister, New York City's Yummy Bingham, and Australia's Macromantics, Tracks stays up late working on his own material. A duet he's recorded with F.A.B. blasts out of the studio monitors; anchored by staccato synths and a replayed Fatback Band bass line, Tracks holds his own on the microphone, placing him in the same category as Traxamillion, a San Jose producer-rapper he's often mistaken for. In fact, Tracks says he's planning to work with Trax on an upcoming project featuring Bay Area artists.
But while he's into a lot of Bay Area rap, Trackademicks also checks around for indie rock and broken beat. “It's important that people don't get pigeonholed,” he says. It's equally critical, he adds, to have a creative musical vision. “That's the difference between a beat-maker and a producer.”