Behind Dr. Dre’s production are several producers, some known and others not so well known. You got Hi-Tek, DJ Khalil, Mike Elizondo — and also Focus. Focus is a rising producer, who’s been under Dr. Dre for years, and although he’s made a name for himself across the web, your average hip-hop fan may not know who he is.
Although his name is not huge and if you met him or spoke to him, you’d see how down to earth he is, don’t let that fool you. He’s building a quite impressive resume — producing for the likes of Busta Rhymes, Stat Quo, Bishop Lamont, The Game, The Outlawz, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, Petey Pablo and many others. He’s also working on what is said to be Dr. Dre’s last solo effort titled, Detox. With that said, this guy can’t be ignored. He’s a beast.
A friend of BallerStatus.com, Jon Hay (producer, manager and PR) sat down with Focus for an interesting interview about his production habits, some of the the projects he worked on, Dr. Dre, starting his own label and more.
BallerStatus.com: Focus, you are without a doubt one of the elite producers in the Hip-Hop & R&B culture. It is truly an honor to sit down and conduct this interview with you for BallerStatus.
Focus: I appreciate the love… The honor is all mine.
BallerStatus.com: The song you produced, “Project Jerusalem” by Lucy Diamonds, was featured as an exclusive here on BallerStatus and has been spreading throughout the country in an underground internet type of fashion. People across the world are really feeling this song. What is your take on it?
Focus: What she brought to the track is what’s getting people’s attention. She didn’t talk about ice, whips, etc. I was very impressed with where she went with the track. I’m glad our collabo is making people listen.
BallerStatus.com: When Lucy and I went into the studio to record “Project Jerusalem,” I had added an extra kick drum to the song and a bluesy guitar section to it as well (not that it needed anything else). Some producers would have been upset about adding production to the song, but you were very cool about it. Are you usually pretty open about allowing other artists to add to your work?
Focus: Normally I’m not, but I didn’t know where Lucy was taking it and unfortunately, I couldn’t be there and help paint the picture. But when I heard it, I wasn’t upset. It gave it a great feel and a harder edge. By the way, great job.
BallerStatus.com: What projects are you currently working on?
Focus: Right now I’m in with Marsha Ambrosius (formerly of Floetry), we are mixing Chino XL’s new LP The Secret, my mixtape Dedicated and LP, Focal Point: 1172. My artist, EPIK, will be going in soon and of course, Detox.
BallerStatus.com: You use a lot of live instrumentation in your music whereas most producers now use synthesizers, but somehow in your creative genius, you are able to merge these two together into one perfect marriage. Would you call this your signature touch?
Focus: I appreciate the love, but I can’t take any credit. I grew up listening to REAL music, so it’s really all I know. My dad played bass, so I incorporate a lot of bass in my tracks. I like the texture it gives the music. It’s a better dynamic to me.
BallerStatus.com: Can you announce officially that you will have production on Dr. Dre’s highly-anticipated upcoming album Detox? If so, how many songs do you foresee yourself being a part of?
Focus: I do have tracks that the Doc is interested in, so I feel good about my placements on his LP and as far as how many, that hasn’t been determined yet. I’m striving for at least three.
BallerStatus.com: Is there one thing in particular you can mention that you’ve learned from Dr. Dre?
Focus: Yes. Being very particular with how I let the world hear my music. He is the definition of a perfectionist and I really look up to him for that. He could just do whatever because of his name, but he never chose to. He stays in the studio like he’s broke, like he has no hits, like he needs no sleep. That’s that work ethic I believe in and that I’m all about.
BallerStatus.com: The world knows that you are down with Aftermath, but can you talk a little about your own company a.Fam?
Focus: Well, a.Fam Entertainment, Inc. has been my brain child for some years now and I’m trying to make a label where the artist can empower themselves and be themselves. I don’t ask my artists to be LIKE anyone else, plus I want our label to be the first with integrity. There is a lot of money to be made for a great talent. I don’t need their publishing, nor do I need crazy recoups, etc. I try to keep them happy. It doesn’t always work, but I do try.
BallerStatus.com: What is your vision for aFam Entertainment from ’08 to infinity?
Focus: I’m looking for the label to be a major contender. I have a great team (G. Mayers, E. “Glam” Batiste, Shantelle Pretty, Tyhiem Cannon), and they support my beliefs and stand by me 150%. There would be no a.Fam without my team.
BallerStatus.com: Anne at BallerStatus loves the work you did on the Salah Edin album Nederlands Grootste Hachtmerrie. How did you get involved with this project and how do you feel about the overall outcome of it?
Focus: Thank her for me. It is crazy, but Cilvaringz sought me out. He is the liaison between me and Salah’s project. He got me online, asked for some beats and ran with them. Next thing I know, they have a whole damn LP and it’s incredible. We definitely pushed issues on there. I feel so confident that it will go down in history as “classic.” I let him do whatever he felt and I supported him with every word, (even though I can’t speak a lick). Salah told me that we got urban LP of the year in Amsterdam, so I am even more proud of our body of work. That’s my brother, both he and Ringz.
BallerStatus.com: Who are your personal top ten MCs of all-time?
Focus: 10. KRS One, 9. Rakim, 8. Big Daddy Kane, 7. Kurupt, 6. Q- Tip, 5. Busta Buss, 4. Chino XL, 3. Eminem, 2. Jay-Z, 1. Biggie Smalls.
BallerStatus.com: When I was preparing this interview, someone said, “Focus is like today’s version of Quincy Jones.” How does such an honorable statement like that make you feel?
Focus: Incredible because I definitely look up to producers-legends like that. Quincy, Teddy Riley, Prince, Chuckii Booker, Patrice Rushen, etc. I could go on for days and days.
BallerStatus.com: What is your all-time favorite Quincy Jones production?
Focus: I loved the stuff he did with Michael Jackson of course, but I equally love the early stuff he did with Patti Austin.
BallerStatus.com: If you had unlimited musical resources available to you, including the best analog or digital recording studio in the world, what would choose? What would be your preferred format, analog or digital?
Focus: Analog all day!!! 24 track reel to reel. I love the warmth and the depth it gives to music. It’s not easy to manipulate but, damn, it sounds great.
BallerStatus.com: I enjoy reading production credits and album liner notes, but with the digital revolution of iTunes (and digital distribution in general) quickly becoming the fastest retailer for music today. Do you see this as a dying side to the business? Do you feel we will lose the concept of CD booklets all together?
Focus: I think kids that want to know who did what will find a way to keep the “booklet” alive. I was a fiend for seeing who did what on my favorite artists and that’s how I found my mentors.
BallerStatus.com: Do you personally play the majority of the piano parts in your songs?
Focus: I play every instrument in my songs unless a sample is being used. I don’t really collabo just because a lot of cats don’t work like I do. They are worried about money and splits instead of great music.
BallerStatus.com: What is your favorite piano that you have ever played?
Focus: The piano I grew up on. A pearl Yamaha baby grand.
BallerStatus.com: I’m going to list five different artists you’ve worked with in the past. Please describe each recording experience in only one sentence or less… Game?
Focus: We didn’t record together, but we were in the same studio. It was cool.
BallerStatus.com: Tony Yayo?
Focus: I just sent his beats because they were in New York.
BallerStatus.com: Pussycat Dolls?
Focus: Never worked with them…
Focus: She cut the song and I mixed it, but when I brought her the mix, it was definitely cool to vibe with her.
BallerStatus.com: Jennifer Lopez?
Focus: Again, I sent the track and just mixed it…
BallerStatus.com: I know you’ve spent a lot of time traveling from Atlanta to Los Angeles, but where do you call home?
Focus: Wherever my kids are is where I call home and right now we have been in California for about a year.
BallerStatus.com: What is your favorite studio room that you’ve worked in?
Focus: I have two. First one being the B room at Encore Studios in Burbank, California. Second is the A room @ Can Am Studios in Tarzana, California.
BallerStatus.com: When you are in the car, in a club, or just anywhere in general and you hear one of your songs play, does it still give you an amazing feeling after all this time?
Focus: YES!!! I can’t believe people love what I do. I still trip on that… everytime! My brother tells me everytime he hears it and I still bug out.