• Howard Butler

Ghostrage talks first platinum plaque, his story, and the importance of SoundCloud

If you work hard enough for long enough, success will inevitably follow. This is the summarized and simplified viewpoint that was shared with me from my conversation with record producer Ghostrage. Hailing from California, Ghostrage grew up as a connoisseur of music and as a producer addicted to the grind. Starting off with placements for legends of Soundcloud's underground emo rap scene, he has since seen immense success combining his West Coast influence with his passion for the Atlanta trap scene.

Melodies are just melodies, and without impressive drums, listeners may not feel the song the way they need to to connect with it. That's where Ghostrage comes into the pictureboasting booming 808s and quality kicks.

His constant drive to better himself has led to gaining the attention of those representing Rico Nasty, Lil Keed, and most impressively, Future and Lil Baby. Ghostrage has no plans on slowing down after receiving his first platinum plaque.

We got together with Ghostrage to talk about "Out The Mud," his early life in the Valley, and his adoration for Tropic Thunder's Less Grossman.

Who is Ghostrage, and how did the name come about?

Ghostrage is a producer who works with the likes of Future, Lil Baby, Lil Keed, NLE Choppa, Rico Nasty, and a whole bunch of artists. The name came about when I was in eighth grade. At that period in my life, I was kind of an antisocial kid. I didn’t have a lot of friends; I was kind of antisocial and did my own thing. As a result, I needed a hobby because I didn’t play sports. I did capoeira when I was younger, which was a Brazilian martial art. The first instrument I learned to play was the berimbau; I was six years old, so I like to think I’ve always been somewhat musically inclined. I needed something to do; for me, this became rock music. I learned to play guitar, drums, and bass at age eleven. I was arranging bands as well as writing, organizing, and recording songs. Unfortunately, it becomes difficult to work on one song with five people; I feel like that is a lot of input. It became easier for me to want to focus on production.

In eighth grade, I started fucking around with Garageband. My band had broken up, so I would tell people that I made beats. The beats weren’t even that good—it was all painfully simple stuff that you could do with stock sounds. Wow, I’m having flashbacks to all the times I got kicked out of class for making beats. I was definitely not careful enough with the volume knob. Right when I wanted to make sure it was fire, people around me would always notice and say something to the teacher.

So yeah, I started making beats then, and I didn’t have a production name. I was visiting high schools to potentially go to, and I got asked by some kids on this tour what I did. Like I said, I wasn’t really doing a whole lot of extracurriculars, so I needed to say something. One of these kids I was with was trying to test me to see if I was a real producer by asking me what my producer name is. He was like, “Oh, really? If you’re a producer, then what’s your producer name?” I didn’t really know what to say, so I just threw it out there: Ghostrage. The kid looked at me, taken aback, and he’s like, “Oh shit, Ghostrage. That’s kinda cool.”

What part of California are you from?

I grew up around the center of Los Angeles, like where Fairfax and Melrose is. That’s pretty much where I grew up. When I was about 12 or 13—when you had to make the switch to go from eighth grade to high school—my parents moved to the Valley so I could go to this performing arts school. I grew up in LA for real, but lived in the Valley as I got older. That’s where I’m at now, too; the Valley is super comfortable.

What technically is “The Valley?”

Everyone who is from LA knows this. Hollywood is the craziest shit for everything; it’s just an energetic place to live. People are coming from all over the world to see the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and just a few blocks down is where Amoeba Music used to be. It still breaks my heart that they closed, because I used to buy hella records there. There’s also a fashion-type district where Round Two is, as well as a bunch of other stores. Personally, I like living in the Valley because it’s very calm and laidback compared to LA. Geographically though, you’re still right there; I can still make a session if I need to.

Do you think your California upbringing influenced your work?

It definitely did; I used to listen to a lot of classic West Coast music. I was listening to The Chronic earlier this week and I was just thinking, “Man, how are these so hard all these years later?” I listen to a lot of N.W.A.; they were what I considered to be really aggressive music. Keep in mind that I came from a rock background, so I wanted to find something that could match that level of aggression. A lot of the music I grew up listening to was from LA: Rage Against The Machine, N.W.A. for sure, Linkin Park. Being in LA influenced my music, for sure—maybe not as much as Atlanta has. We consider this current West Coast sound to be like the “DJ Mustard” type beats, or like the old-school G Funk beats that Snoop used to rap on. I don’t make those beats as much, per se, but I still try everything. If you took the aggression of Los Angeles rock and infuse it with Atlanta, I am what comes out.

How long have you been making music? What is your favorite beat you’ve ever made?

I’ve been making music since I was eight years old. My dad used to tell me this story all the time: when I was a toddler, I used to break out of my room at night. He would find me playing with his guitar or banging pots and pans; I’ve always been doing music since the jump. From an early age, I was musically inclined. When it comes to serious beats, though, I started when I was probably like 14. It’s been eight years, and in that time, I would have to say “Out The Mud,” for sure.

The way that song came about was crazy; it was honestly surreal. A lot of my music before had been done with a lot of underground Soundcloud artists, and my sound had always swayed to be more dark, moody, and atmospheric. After a while, I got kind of bored of that sound. I felt I was able to do much more that I wasn’t exactly tapping into. I decided to try to make more Atlanta trap-sounding beats instead of this dark, murky stuff. I would try giving them to the artists I was friends with, and nobody wanted them. I dropped the original melody loop to the song into this massive group chat and asked what they all thought. Pretty much everyone was saying it was fire, and someone from the chat hit me later like, “Bro, you’re giving these beats to your friends, but they’re rapping on the shit you used to do. If you really want to shape the sound, you have to start giving these beats to like Future and Migos.” It was funny; Future was literally the first name he brought up when I played the beat.

I didn’t have direct communication with Future, so I started sending the loop out to producers that might. A loop is basically anything from an 8-bar melody that can be easily dragged and dropped into a production software for their producers to use. I gave that sample to a lot of different people, and I didn’t hear a lot back. A lot of people actually hit me to tell me they didn’t like it. I’m being dead serious; a big-time producer hit me to tell me that he just flat out didn’t like it. I was like, “Nah, fuck that. This loop is hard.” I think it was at 3:00 A.M... Quay [Global], the lead producer on it, was on Live and he posted his email. He was just listening to stuff and having fun; it didn’t matter if it was a beat or a loop or a song.

The music industry has a lot of strong personalities, and I was very hesitant on whether I should send him something. I didn’t want to send him a loop if he was looking for songs, or send him a beat if he was looking for loops. I knew that he hardly used loops in his beats, and the majority of his placements were just himself. I didn’t think he was even going to open the email. I sent him the melody to “Out The Mud,” saying to myself that it wouldn’t hurt to send it. I sent him a couple others, too, before I went to bed. I woke up the next day, went to do my daily routine, and in the middle of brushing my teeth, I saw that “QuayGlobal has followed you.” I thought it was a fan page at first, but it was really him. I even had a message from him saying, “Bro you are so hard! I am fucking with that sample pack.” We just started chopping it up, having a general conversation. I was still sending him loops as well as doing my own thing with independent artists around LA who I’d already been working with. I was still doing shows and making loops for fun, because I felt I had to get a credit. I was still doing everything, because I think that you should never turn down an opportunity.

One day, Quay sends me a Lil Baby Instagram story, and it’s a snippet of Lil Baby rapping on a beat made with the melody. I’m super hype, like, “Hell yeah, I just got a Lil Baby placement.” After he posted the cover art for the single with the dollar bill in the mud, I texted Quay and said, “Congratulations! A Baby and Future collab is huge.” He just goes, “Bro, this is the one that me and you did!” It came out a week later. Him and I have been keeping in touch and working; we just did a song for NLE Choppa called “100 Shots.”

What did it mean to you to get your father’s blessing to drop out of college and pursue music full-time after securing your first placement on Rico Nasty’s “Oreo?

I don’t think mixed feelings is the right way to describe how I felt about college, per se. I just didn’t think it was the right thing for me, or the right thing for anyone else trying to become a music producer full-time. I believe it’s a great environment for people who want to study certain fields. If you want to be a college professor, you’re for sure going to want to have a college degree.

I was already doing shit before college. I was already going to studio sessions, getting songs on Soundcloud, and making some pretty killer beats. I was starting to build my first fanbase, and going to college put me at a disadvantage because it wasn’t allowing me to pursue a lot of the things I wanted to. At the same time, the effort I was focusing was going to something I honestly didn’t care too much about. I had originally gone for business, and I left within a year. My dad giving me his blessing was huge; that was pretty much the only thing keeping me there—him wanting me to be there. I had no problem sticking around; the UC-Santa Cruz campus was beautiful. I loved being surrounded by nature and forests—I would actually see deer on my way to campus a lot. I got to drive around the coast with other kids who made beats, which was cool. They started to tell me I shouldn’t even be there in the first place. I was literally making more money before college than when I was in college; I didn’t have time to chase placements and work on beats. At a certain point, I called my dad the day the song dropped and the next day was the day I packed up everything and took off.

Have you had the chance to link with any of your big placement artists?

It’s weird, because there’s always stories about how you link with someone before you work with them in-person, but for me, it’s always the opposite. It seems like I always do a song with someone over email, and then I’ll go meet them. I’ve linked with Rico numerous times, and I have songs with her that haven’t come out. I linked with Quay after “Out The Mud” dropped. I’ve met Lil Keed before—that was actually before I did a song with him. I doubt he even knows I co-produced the song; I was basically just sending out melodies on the internet. I met him at Lennox, he’s cool people.

You praise Soundcloud a lot for its impact on modern hip-hopis there another software or application that you think is equally as important?

I would say YouTube. There are a lot of artists doing crazy numbers on YouTube, and it’s really cool. I would consider NBA YoungBoy as someone who is really taking advantage of YouTube—he gets like 70-100 million views per video. You can be listening to music and find a bunch of songs with uncleared samples and shit. I would say YouTube has a pretty good algorithm—considering what content a user will want to see based off previous videos. Visuals are very important, too; they add depth to a song. So, I would praise YouTube a lot.

How do you want to be remembered?

I want to be remembered for my versatility and for the growth my music has seen over my career. I want to be remembered as a diverse and capable producer. A lot of the time when I put my all into my music, I’ll be using analog gear—actually playing an actual piano and real guitars. I just want to be remembered as someone who was dedicated, had a great work ethic, and inspired people. It legitimately makes my day when I get a DM or get mentioned on Twitter when someone says how much they like my music. Being called anyone’s favorite producer is a bold-ass statement. Music is an extension of oneself in a lot of aspects, and hundreds of years after I’m gone, those songs are still going to be there. It’s a permanent creation that someone made, and long after they’ve passed, their work is still going to be there; that’s a beautiful thing. Eventually, I want to also start going and getting more involved in charities and stuff along those lines—philanthropic stuff.

Do you just want to help people, or do you have a specific group or organization already picked out?

I was a part of a collective—it’s actually funny—it’s a group chat I made around a year ago. It’s just a bunch of producers, and we put out a sample pack and we donated the proceeds to over 70 different Black Lives Matter organizations. We raised damn near $13,000.

I definitely want to help people that come from broken homes, because I came from a broken home. I love my dad; my mom is not in my life. She was a really abusive person. I definitely want to get into that and provide resources to people. If I didn’t have all the opportunities at my disposal, I never would’ve been able to get to where I’m at. I for sure want to give back; there could always be the next greatest music mind of all-time, and they simply can’t do it because of their lack of resources or bad environment.

We spoke about different cities in hip-hopwhich city do you think is currently the wave in hip-hop?

There are different waves; I don’t think there’s only one. Every geographical location has its own sound. Atlanta trap will always be my favorite. A lot of the artists in Florida are killing it, especially with the emotional beats. Chicago is going hard with its own wave; I like Lil Durk’s music a lot. I am also a big fan of Rod Wave and Jackboy, as well. So, I would say a mix of Atlanta, Florida, and Chicago.

Speaking of Atlanta, I read that Slaughter King was the first mixtape you got a copy of. What did you think of Savage Mode II?

This is true, but Savage Mode II was fire. I would say it was better than Savage Mode, and I loved the first one. I’ve been a fan of 21 since the #FREEGUWOP EP he did with Sonny, which was his first project and it had “Red Opps” on it. There’s two different types of 21 that listeners get depending on the song; there’s the “professional” 21 we heard on I AM > I WAS where it’s very well-polished and suitable for households and shit like that, and then there’s “savage” 21 where it’s feel like, “I’m going to shoot you in the face.” This has got to be his darkest and most polished evil album since Without Warning. From front-to-back, a lot of the beats are incredible and I can tell that he and Metro really put their all into this. The Morgan Freeman narration is crazy ,too; I was sending this meme to a bunch of my homies in 21 Savage’s camp.

(insert black air force ones penguins of madagascar meme from Burbsent DMs)

Who would you want narrating your album?

Morgan Freeman, if that’s still an available option. If I ever had someone to do narrations, it would always be Morgan Freeman.

Who would be on your Mount Rushmore from their influence on production?

Dr. Dre, Lex Luger, Timbaland, Metro Boomin. Timabland is insane; he’s literally a production master.

What about beat selection?

Travis Scott, Chief Keef, Future, Thug.

We were talking about group chats and friendly banterwho are some of your closest producer friends?

I’m cool with a lot of people in 21 Savage’s camp; shoutout to DJ Mark B and Kid Hazel—I’m cool with them. Supah Mario undoubtedly; the shit he does musically is crazy. We’re friends and shit, but it’s cooler than that—I look up to him and he looks up to me. Those are some of the people I’m really cool with.

2020 has been notoriously known for being a dogshit year...

You know, the year doesn’t even feel like it actually happened. It feels like a TV show. There was a pandemic, locust storms, my state was on fire, a hell of a lot of people died. I was thinking about it, and I can’t believe I actually went out to a New Year’s Party and celebrated January 1, 2020. That shit is crazy to me.

Speaking of people who passed, we lost a lot of important people in music this year. Is there a certain deceased artist you would want to work with?

In rap, it would undoubtedly be Tupac. I remember listening to a fan-made NBA YoungBoy featuring Tupac track on the internet, and it went hard. I just want to hear Pac on a trap beat; I think he’s one of the greatest of all-time. For rock music, I would have to say Eddie Van Halen or Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. Working with John Bonham would’ve been crazy, too; I know he was a drummer, but that man was a huge influence for me. I remember being 11 or 12 and spending damn near a month and a half trying to learn the drums to “Fool in the Rain.”

Another thing taken away from us in 2020 was live music. What’s been your favorite experience with performing or attending concerts?

I used to DJ clubs and shit, but to be real with you, I just miss crowds. I miss being able to hit play on a song and just see a crowd go insane. My favorite concert experience ever was definitely Travis Scott at Coachella; I accidentally drank a bunch of molly water. I was with a group of friends and I was super dehydrated, so I started drinking the only liquid I could see. It made seeing him come out to “90210” unreal, though. I don’t remember much because I was clearly fucked up, but I do remember that there were a bunch of life-size Rodeo action figures around the stage. I couldn’t figure out which one was him, which was so funny to me. I want to see him perform again so bad; I need to see that new “Franchise” track live. The bass on that track is so unreal to me.

I’ve read in interviews that you really value hustle and going out to get it on your own first and foremost, can you speak on what hustle means to you.

Hustling to me is just about pushing yourself to the limit to do the best you can. Pushing yourself to limits you didn’t think you could accomplish. I think of hustling like running: you hit that point where you’re so exhausted that you think you have to stop, but you get your runner’s high and the light flicks on in your head and you just take off. That’s the best way I can illustrate it to people—push yourself to limits that you didn’t know were possible.

I’m not joking when I say this. I had a goal list for 2019—it had stuff like work with Lil Baby, go platinum, and a bunch of other stuff. I wanted to put Future on there, but I never thought it would happen. It’s crazy because not only did I accomplish tons of stuff on my list, but I did a bunch of stuff that wasn’t even on my list.

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