iHipHop Interview- Production Of The Environment: Keelay & Zaire

12 years ago view-show 820,710

kee-zee-articleWhen it comes to the art of production, (Hip-Hop production to be exact) many beat makers tend to go the journey alone. Just them singular; in the lab having complete control over every key, drum kick, and bass line…

Some might run with the reasoning of not wanting too many chefs in [their] kitchen, and others probably don’t want to share the credit if they don’t have to.

Much to the chagrin of the “solo act,” there are a few production-duos out there who’ve already established themselves as major players, and hoping to join that short list is the pair of Keelay & Zaire.

Unlike most conventional partnerships where each person is within arms reach of the other, this one operates on a wider scale with Kyle “Keelay” Pierce being stationed on the West Coast via the Bay area, and Tim “Zaire” Lewis being 3,000 miles away in Virginia.

Meeting online courtesy of website message boards, they ended up joining forces and creative talents to release their first full-length album, Ridin High. [Click here to read review]

Recruiting some well-known MC’s for their project such as Phonte of Little Brother, Blu, and Emilio Rojas, the two Internet buddies turned dual-boards men have shed some light on their own situation—by being just one click away.

Now only time will tell if the same informational highway they met on, will also be the same road to success…

iHipHop.com: How did you guys first hook up and start working together?

Zaire: Back in 2002-03 I had started making beats, and I would go online to find tips and how to focus on the craft…

Then I ended up going to this site where it had a producer’s forum, and I would check out some of the beats some of the cats were putting on the forum…

It was crazy, because at that time, you had a lot of dope cats that didn’t even get their feet wet, but they were posting their stuff online… Just people like Illmind, M-Phazes, and just a lot of cats like that.

But I was also feeling Keelay’s joints along with this dude J. Fish’s joints. So we hit each other up, and we started passing beats to each other online, and they would give me tips, and help me out with comments here and there.

Then we decided to link up out in Pittsburg, and we never talked on the phone, or knew what each other looked like. So we just met up out there and started connecting and building. That’s how it all got started, and it was a pretty crazy thing, because it was all through the Internet.

iHipHop.com: Both of you guys come from different musical backgrounds, so was it difficult at first when you two began to work with each other?

Keelay: Nah, there’s never been an issue… [Laughs] It’s kind of crazy because I think our styles are very different, but Zaire and I have pretty eclectic taste, and we have the same taste in music, but just different backgrounds.

Working together is really a blessing, because there are certain things that I don’t have exposure to. Like if it comes down to some R&B type-stuff; that’s Zaire all day… But it goes both ways too…

Zaire: My father was a DJ, so I was really into R&B, so I was making a lot of smooth material. With Keelay, he has this gritty sound and hard drums, so I wanted to learn how to do that.

So now our stuff meshes well together, and we’re able to do anything we want. Even with our different backgrounds, it still works out really well…

iHipHop.com: Keelay, I read that you’re originally from Utah. Was there an urban music scene out there when you were growing up? If so, please inform me… [Laughs]

Keelay: [Laughs]… Yeah, I grew up out there because my parents ended up out there after college, but they’re both originally from Southern California. Growing up out there was crazy, especially not being a Mormon, so I was an outcast already…

But to answer your question; there’s really not a lot of urban music out there; at least when I was growing up… I grew up being the only person who listened to rap, or even bumped rap music in school.

iHipHop.com: Do you remember some of the first big placements you guys had that really put you on the map?

Zaire: It was pretty much our own thing…

Keelay: We did a couple of little things… Like we had a joint on College Hoops 2K7, but I think the first really big thing for us was when we put out our Ridin High EP.

That was the first time we actually got put out there on our own, when it came to a national level. Thankfully we had Phonte from Little Brother on the record and Cali Agents. So that was like the first real big look for us personally, and that was just our own record.

iHipHop.com: Do you have any methods you go through when trying to get your material heard?

keelay-article1Keelay: I think for us in today’s day and age with the Internet and the way the music industry is moving; I think it’s a benefit to do it yourself.

The whole reason why Zaire and I even started doing this project was to just get our music out there. Right now everyone make beats, raps, or DJ’s…

So when we looked at it, trying to get a placement on the next “Busta Rhymes” album wouldn’t be the most viable thing for us.

That’s why we wanted to make our own record, and put whom we wanted on there. Just don’t be afraid to be yourself, and don’t be afraid to work hard and grind, because that’s what it takes.

iHipHop.com: With that being said, have you found the world of producing these days to be more competitive, or just oversaturated with everyone thinking they can make good beats?

Keelay: [Laughs]… I think it’s a little bit of both… It’s definitely competitive, I hear beats from other people sometimes, and it makes me want to quit…

Sometimes I’ll hear an Illmind beat, and I’ll be like, “Damn, I don’t even want to make beats anymore!” Sometimes I’ll hear something from Zaire, and that will send me straight to the lab, so in that sense it’s competitive…

But at the same time every time I log into Myspace, I have like ten messages. I have cats asking me to buy beats, so it’s crazy…

It’s so accessible now, and anybody can make beats, buy drums, or get a program off the Internet and make their beat. But I’m a firm believer in the cream rising to the top, and the people who work hard are going to be the ones who make it.

Zaire: I think it’s pretty saturated out there because it doesn’t take anything for someone to go out there and make a beat these days… you can get Reason, Fruity Loops, or whatever your choice may be and get on there and make some beats. I think there are a million cats out there with dope beats, but it takes a lot more hustle behind it besides just making some dope beats.

It takes some investment, and like Keelay said; the cream rises to the top. It’s not just the talent; you have to worry about other aspects, like the business side. The same thing goes for a rapper: There are incredible rappers out there who are just rhyming, but it takes more than you just rhyming to make it somewhere.

iHipHop.com: For the most part are you two usually on the same page when working on a project?

Keelay: We have a really good level of understanding… Sometimes we might not have agreed on something, but it never turned into an issue, we just keep it moving. We never had a problem, right?

Ziare: Nah! Not like that… With any art form, when you’re dealing with two people you might disagree on some things like a placement here, or a snare there, but in the grand scheme of things that’s nothing man… A lot of people have many disagreements on some real sh*t…

iHipHop.com: You guys just released your first full-length album, Ridin High. [Click here to read review]
Was it hard rounding up the artists you wanted on the project?

Keelay: It definitely had its ups and downs… We went through it all, and this project was definitely a learning experience for the both of us… But for the most part, most of the people on the album are like family. So it was real easy, and we hollered at some people through other people, and that was cool.

As for some other cats, the business wasn’t right, or we paid for verses we didn’t use. Sometimes a person would send you vocals, and it would be hella distorted, it was just crazy… It was a blessing though, and it did go pretty smooth, so I can’t complain…

iHipHop.com: How was the process like? Did you have beats for each specific artist, or did you just let them pick and choose?

zaire-article1Zaire: I think that’s the magic of this album… For every song we had; we had a beat and we had the concept.

First off—we had a concept of the album to begin with… Secondly, for each beat we thought out, “Okay, who are we trying to get on this beat, and what are we trying to do with this beat?”

We planned out each one, and like Kee said we had some people that didn’t show up with their game face on, it happens.

For some folks it wasn’t really a priority for them, and that’s cool too because everyone is hustling… But we did plan out each beat, and we went ahead and did it that way.

iHipHop.com: Do each of you have a certain piece of equipment you can’t live without?

Zaire: I do… I live and die with my MOTIF, and hopefully it doesn’t die… It’s just a 61-key keyboard, and I’ve been making beats on it since ’03.

My model is apparently discontinued and whatnot, but it’s been my bread and butter and I just love it.

iHipHop.com: What happens if your MOTIF breaks down? [Laughs]

Zaire: Awe man, I don’t think about stuff like that, it’s bad luck… [Laughs] But if it broke down, I would just have to adapt… A sequence is a sequence; all you have to do is learn it.

But I love my keyboard how it is—even though it’s all banged up and beat up. I was going to change over to the newer version, but I’m still having too much fun with this one right now.

Keelay: For me, it’s just my computer man… I’m trying to move everything into my computer, so I can be portable… [Laughs] If my computer goes, we’re done…


  1. i wasn’t uberly impressed with ridin high. but i have to say, the musicality combo of these two is really dope. while the beats are hot, the collabo of some artists may not be as great. it would really be nice if keelay and zaire could also work with more popular MCs.

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