In an era when nearly every producer wants to hop on the microphone to get some extra fame, no matter how awful, or ghostwritten, their rhymes are, Needlz is a refreshing break from the norm. He’s also, arguably, one of the most successful producers you haven’t heard of. If people read liner notes when they downloaded music they’d realize Needlz has been working with some of hip-hop’s biggest names for a decade now. He currently has a song deal with Atlantic Records, and his work can be heard on Lupe Fiasco’s latest album, as well as on Bruno Mars’ record breaking hit, “Just the Way You Are.” Needlz has also produced for the likes of Drake, 50 Cent, Freeway, Rakim and Busta Rhymes. This week RapReviews caught up with the hitmaking beatsmith to find out more about who he is, how he ended up being involved with one of the biggest pop hits of all-time, and how his higher education has affected his career.

Adam Bernard: You’ve been producing hip-hop on a professional level for ten years, ever since the Ruff Ryders Ryde or Die Vol. 3 compilation. How, with that background, did you end up linking up with Bruno Mars and co-producing “Just The Way You Are.”

Needlz: Actually it came from a hip-hop origin. I was doing a track for Lupe and we had Bruno sing the hook. Originally I thought it was going to be for Lupe, but it was taking a while for them to confirm and they wanted me to make some edits to the drums and do some things here and there. It got quiet for about a month and then I got a phone call that said it’s Bruno’s single. I didn’t set out to do a pop track, but it just came out like that and I can’t complain.

AB: In June it spent its 20th week at #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, making it the longest reigning debut single for any artist in the chart’s nearly 50 year history. Did you think it would have such staying power?

N: When I heard the song, I have a keyboard player, he played the chord progression for me, and I knew then, as soon as I heard the progression I knew it had potential. I definitely had to do a lot of work to it, but I thought the chord progression had potential and once I heard Bruno’s version of the song I knew it had a chance because he had been on such a hot streak before that with “Billionaire” and “Nothin on You.” I knew it had a chance to do something, but I never thought it would be doing what it’s doing.

AB: You mentioned Lupe. You also produced a song on Lasers. There was a bit of controversy surrounding the release of that album. When you produce a beat and an artist uses it, but there’s a chance it may never get heard, how do you deal with that?

N: I try to stay out of it. With the Lupe – Atlantic situation, I’ve known Lupe for a while, since we both started, and we’re both fans of each other, so I knew that there was some drama going on. I don’t know the specifics, so it’s kind of like if I were to comment on something that you don’t really know too much about. Even what you may read in magazine interviews, you really just never know what’s going on day to day. I’ve always been a big fan of Lupe and he knows that. If he ever needs anything from me I’ve got him. With Atlantic I have a pretty good relationship with Aaron Bay-Schuck and Mike Caren up there and a few other A&Rs. I think at the end of the day it seemed like a win-win situation. I don’t know if it was the album that he wanted to necessarily put out, but it’s been extremely successful. I’ve never heard this much Lupe on the radio and it seems like it’s about to go gold and you can’t really complain about that. He still has loyal fans, and this is only the third album, so I’m sure there’s more to come. It’s not like the end of Lupe as we know it.

AB: Gold in 2011 is the new triple platinum.

N: Yeah, it is. That’s the thing. I’m happy to hear Lupe on the radio just because he’s an artist you don’t hear a ton on the radio and just to hear his stuff on the radio is dope to me.

AB: Does it give you an extra sense of satisfaction as a producer to know that here’s an artist you like and you helped get them major airplay, you helped put them in more people’s ears?

N: Yeah, definitely. As producers you have a certain bond with certain artists and you’re friends. It definitely makes it fun when you see your friends succeed, or good guys succeed.

AB: Speaking of people you’ve worked with who’ve succeeded, you’ve worked with Drake. First of all, what was your experience working with him like, and second, why do you feel he’s such a polarizing artist in the scene today? Why does he elicit such strong reactions, both negative and positive?

N: It’s funny, I was talking about him to my artist the other day. He just, he has all of the qualities if you’re trying to make an ultimate emcee/rapper. He can do it all. He has good hooks, he can rap, he’s witty and he can sing. As a commercial artist you really can’t ask for much more. My dealings with Drake have been pretty much when he was working on the So Far Gone mixtape. I was in the studio working with another artist, I went by the room, I heard a few songs and I was asking “who produced this joint?” And it was 40, and I thought it was cool that they had their own sound. The way “I’m Goin In” came about, Lil’ Wayne had leaked the record and I don’t know if it was meant to do as well as it did, but it caught on in the streets and kind of took of. I met Drake I think once or twice personally. We weren’t in the studio like crafting that song or anything like that.


AB: I’m big on Twitter, and I know you’re big on Twitter. Recently you asked your followers which album you should buy, Lloyd or Big Sean. One reply was to buy neither, and to pick up Lil’ B’s instead. You replied that you refuse to do that. Are you not a fan of the based god?

N: {*laughs*} I mean… I just heard one song, like you really can’t base an artist by one song, but I saw this song and the video and I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t know if it was a joke or what. I was sexy bitch, or pretty bitch, or something like that. He was like in a robe and on a bed and it was just too much for me. I think I’m an open minded person, but I don’t HAVE to listen to anything. I don’t have a problem with him but I don’t think he’s for me, you know what I mean? I would maybe one day try to take a listen to his album, but I got kids and I haven’t taken the time or have the time to try to get into that, maybe because I was just turned off by some of the earlier stuff. That was just me. There are so many other artists out there that I think I would give a chance at buying their CD. And he has his own following, which is cool, and I respect that, but it’s just not for me. Soulja Boy is not for me. I’m not dissin them, I just won’t ride around playing their stuff.

AB: You mentioned early stuff, diving into your early stuff, you are a highly educated man. You did your undergrad at Florida A&M and FSU, and grad school at NYU. We live in a world now where people download a program and call themselves producers. With that in mind, how much of an affect did your education have on your production skills, and would you recommend higher education for aspiring producers?

N: I think my education gave me a broad knowledge of the industry and what I was trying to get into. More importantly it was allowing me to network with my peers, who are always doing things, and put me in different situations. It was also the internships and all the things that went along with the books that really made my education vital for my career. I ended up meeting my first manager through the school. She was an alumni. Everything that came along with it, and the fact that it was in New York, was awesome for me in the early 2000s. A lot of people I met up there I’m still friends with, network with, I made my mark there. As far as my production skills, I didn’t go to school to be a producer, I went to school just to learn more about the industry and a broad thing. At the time I had just started making beats. It was just a hobby I had really just gotten into. Even in college and early on in my grad career I never really sought out being a producer full time, it was something that just kinda happened. I went to school to be an A&R and it just kind of took a life of its own.

In anything that you do I think it’s important to have some kind of background of knowledge. The schools that they have, the engineerings schools, I don’t know if they have an actual production school, but I know they have engineering and some schools that teach you some of the basics, I think that is cool. I’m all for that, to learn about what you’re doing. I think that’s important. Do I think it’s necessary? No. I think if you want to be a producer it’s something that you just have to really really take seriously and get to know your sound, get to develop your own sound, and kind of go from there. Overall I would advise anybody to go to school, especially in this economy, where it’s such a trying time for everybody and that definitely trickles down to producers. It’s to the point now where these albums aren’t really recouping and you’re not getting any royalties. The artists are doing OK because they’re doing shows and get show money, but since the albums aren’t selling producers aren’t getting the royalties, their advances are getting smaller, so basically I would go to school just to have a backup plan, regardless.

AB: With all that higher education I have to ask, you know that’s not how you spell Needles, right?

N: {*laughs*} Yeah man, I had to try to find some way to make it funky and do a little lz on there.

AB: What are some of your favorite tools of the trade, and is there any production equipment you have no use for?

N: I think you can make music with anything. I don’t have any bad tastes for anything. I do get tired of people using the same 808 kit. I understand why, I guess, I’m just not a big fan of people doing the same thing over and over again, everything sounding the same. The whole 808 kit, I would do without for the most part, but other than that you can make beats with anything and whatever, at the end of the day, whatever inspires you to try to make something that stands out is what I’m about. Right now I use a combination of hardware, software, a little bit of analog, a little bit of digital. I kind of mix it all up. That’s what I’m working with right now.

AB: You interned at Bad Boy Records during some incredible years. What was that experience like? Could you share an especially memorable story from your time there?

N: I interned for Francesca Spero, she managed Puffy’s producers, The Hitmen. I worked with her and her assistant, Damon Eden, who went on to be an A&R, as well. I think it was really having an opportunity to listen to all these producers’ music and really seeing what I’m competing against. That was awesome, just to see that, and I think another cool thing was the fact that… I don’t know, I didn’t see Puff a lot, it was a lot of little small things they made me do that kind of discouraged me from really wanting to be on that side of the business, on the A&R side. That whole experience, all that ass kissing, and all that stuff, it kind of threw me off and really made me want to go hard on the beats, on the music side. It was definitely a good experience. I met cool people. Actually that’s how I met my manager. Damon Eaton sent some of my music for Method Man, he sent it to Def Jam for this Method Man project, and the A&R at the time, Saleemah Knight, really really liked my stuff. We met shortly after. I kept going up there, sending her stuff, and one day she just said “let me manage you.” She was the one responsible for my career until like 08 or 09.

AB: Finally, we’ve dealt with the past and the present, what do you have coming up next?

N: I’m putting a lot of focus on my artist, his name is Honors English. I think it’s a really dope project. We’re aiming to do something that is different and refreshing and something more along the lines of what we think hip-hop is, or could be, or should be. It’s not like a throwback, but I think it’s kind of like some next level hip-hop stuff. His website is and I’ve really really been focused on that. It’s a full length project we’re trying to put out in October or November. We have a few songs on the site right now. We have videos that are getting edited. We’re tying to make a big push in the fall. Outside of that I’m always making beats for different projects, but I would say my main focus is getting my artist and my production company out there. Dry Rain Entertainment.