Let’s introduce you to a rising producer hailing from the Inland Empire (I.E.) area of California. His name is Fingazz. He has been doing his thing behind the boards for over 10 years, but overall, his experience in the music industry extends beyond his years as strictly a producer.
He began his career as a keyboard player for several funk bands and later En Vogue. However, Fingazz always had an itch to craft music in the studio, rather than being on the road. After a long stint playing in bands, he and his partner finally scrapped together enough cash and puchased the equipment they needed to launch their own studio, Street Light Music, and the rest is history … so to speak.
After years of grinding with local indie artists, Fingazz has earned a reputation of being one of the “go to” guys on the west coast for independents looking for a sound that could possibly get their radio play. Popular SoCal Chicano artists such as Lil Rob, Mr. Capone-E, and most recently Down (who broke onto the charts last year with “Lean Like A Cholo”), as well as rappers like Kurupt and Roscoe, have all enlisted Fingazz’s skills, and now, finally, others are following suit.
BallerStatus.com had a chance to chop it up with the producer from the high desert about his beginnings, his efforts at trying to break in an industry-less area, how far he’s come, and where he’s going.
BallerStatus.com: How long have you been in the game, and how you started?
Fingazz: I started out playing music. I was a working musician, playing with funk bands on the keyboards. That’s where I got the name Fingazz. I was a young kid, playing with a bunch of older dudes. I was just playing hella fast and they saw my fingers going, and I got the name Fingazz from that. I played on stage with groups that would open for The Time, Parliament, and Roger & Zapp. That was kind of my thing. At the end of my musician thing, I toured with En Vogue playing keyboards. I did that whole side of it, but I really wanted to be in the studio.
I met my partner Flossy in ’97. We started a studio, and we started this Street Light Music thing. He had the dough to get the gear and get us started with a studio, so I could start producing. We’re out in the I.E., so I started scooping up independent artists, local talent. We did a couple compilations to just try to blow up the I.E. That was kind of our thing. We had I.E. Records, and we were actually trying to be a record label and break artists. We didn’t really know how much work that really was, so it really turned more into a production company.
It’s been a long time. Like I said, we started that in ’97. We’re looking at over 11 years.
BallerStatus.com: You mentioned starting with funk bands, so was hip-hop something you were always into? Or wanted to get into?
Fingazz: To be honest, like growing I was kinda like schizophrenic. I loved music so much, I loved all music. I kind of had my little fazes where I was into everything. I’d be really into it for a short period of time though. I think when I really got into funk music, that was the first thing that kinda locked me into one thing for a really long time. That kinda led me more into hip-hop. At the time, around ’93, that’s when the whole west coast gangster rap sh** was poppin’ — all that Ice Cube where they were using [George] Clinton samples. Really, there was so much funk in the west coast rap music, it kinda drew me to be able to do that kind of music because I was already making funk music. For me to do west coast gangster rap, it was nothing because there was already elements like that, with the big heavy claps and the phat bass lines. That whole Battlecat sound is just all funk driven. It was real easy for me to just jump into that.
When I met cats like Kurupt, Roscoe, Bad Azz and them, they were already digging what I was doing, even though I hadn’t been doing hip-hop beats my whole life. It was just something I grew into from funk music.
BallerStatus.com: What about moving to producing? Was the progression or transition from keyboards to the studio difficult, or easy?
Fingazz: I didn’t just play keys the whole time. I was actually trying to be a musician all through that. For me to create music, it was always something I’ve been doing. As far as recording, I learned along the way. When I was doing this, there wasn’t computers how there are now. When I was doing this, you were lucky to even have a computer. It is real easy now. Back then, you couldn’t even record sh** unless you had an Escalade worth of money or you weren’t recording sh**. It was easy for me to get into the beats because I was already doing production, but like practice into sequencers and sh**. I was already putting music together with a drum machine on the side, and a keyboard to layer parts. It was like the beginning stages until I got all the gear to do it right and I just jumped into it.
BallerStatus.com: Although you had a foot in the door starting as a keyboard player, was it hard for you to try to break out being based in the I.E. when there isn’t much of a music industry out there?
Fingazz: Yea, it definitely was hard. But, it’s just funny, because it seems like the industry has been coming to us. It’s taken longer. We started by looking for local talent — there’s a lot of dope artists in the I.E. Like I said, like Bad Azz and people from Long Beach were coming out and messing with people from out there ’cause half these cats own houses out here. You got all these Dogg Pound cats coming out here — even Snoop lives out here — and they hear the buzz about me and come through my studio. That links to bigger people, and next thing you know, I’m working with Kurupt who, at the time, was one of my top 3 MCs I’d want to work with. It just kind of came to us.
BallerStatus.com: So far, it seems that you’re starting to break out a little with some of the tracks you produced. How’s it going for you right now?
Fingazz: It’s going real good. This last summer was a really big one for us. We had this “Lean Like A Cholo” record that was certified gold, could possibly touch platinum as far as ringtones and downloads, which was a big achievement. I haven’t touched that scale yet. That was a big summer for me. It’s just gonna get bigger I think.
Our whole thing is just trying to help independents to compete and win. To see radio dominated by labels and major money, we do more than make the beat. My partner Flossy has been real instrumental in getting the artists’ music that we work with to the places it needs to go, as far as radio, shelves, or distribution. Instead of me just doing the beat and saying “Good luck,” we do as much as we can to make sure it goes as far as it can. That’s kind of why I think things had been successful for us.
BallerStatus.com: With the industry being so producer driven these days and you starting to get more exposure with singles on the radio, how has the response been to you? Are people starting to reach out more to you now?
Fingazz: Yea, there’s definitely a lot more people hitting me up. But, it’s also a lot of people who are just at a point in their career — even if they’re independent — where they’re real serious about trying to get on the radio and make a major move. The good thing about, like you said, the producer driven industry is that someone can maybe come to me, where as with some people at radio my name might carry a little bit of weight and help maybe get an artist that’s newer and not known at radio a little better look. It’s not gonna be Timbaland prices. That’s what kinda made things get a little more poppin’, being able to give these artists a little more of a shot.
BallerStatus.com: How would you describe your sound?
Fingazz: I think the only way I can answer that is … because I don’t have one distinct style like someone like an Alchemist or Swizz Beatz like where their beat comes on and in two seconds you know. I don’t think I’m ever gonna be that dude because I get bored with just one sound. I don’t consider myself a beatmaker. By definition of producers, I think there are some who are beatmakers and they just sell beats and an artist puts something on top of it. A producer to me is someone that takes and creates a sound for that artist, and brings the best out of that artist. That’s what I try to do. When I work with an artist, I kind of create a whole sound that’s just for them.
When I did “Lean Like A Cholo” — I work with a lot of Chicano artists, but I never done anything that sounded like that. We talked about it. I said “You wanna do something different and make you stand out? And maybe get a look for a Chicano artist in the clubs?” He was like “Yea I’m down, let’s do it.” I told him I’d still keep it a little west coast and we’re gonna try to do it. We did the whole album, trying to approach it differently and try to create a new sound for a Chicano artist. It worked.
I don’t do one sound. Maybe me putting my stamp on it with “Fingazz on the track” is the only indication, in a lot of cases. Some records are gonna sound similar, and that’s because they’re asking for the same thing. I have to — to make my client happy — make the same record over.
BallerStatus.com: For any artist trying to get in touch with you, how do they do that?
Fingazz: We gonna launch here pretty soon a brand new Street Light website at StreetLightMusic.net. They can get all the updates, the downloads, free downloads, and updates on all our artists and new releases. We’re gonna utilize this internet thing right finally.